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Author Topic: [Go Play Peoria][Dirty Secrets] A simple plan….  (Read 3267 times)
GreatWolf
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Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« on: February 26, 2008, 11:21:45 AM »

Why yes, the title is a film reference.  But the concept is so very noir.  We’ll just transgress the boundaries just this once, and no one will get hurt.  The stories that arise prove that this is wrong.

So, we sat down to play Dirty Secrets at Go Play Peoria.  I haven’t had a chance to play my own game of late, so I was pushing pretty hard to get it to the table.  Our table ended up with five players:  myself, Raquel, Tim, Dave, and Ian.  I was particularly pleased with Ian’s presence.  He’s a friend of mine, but he has done little or no roleplaying.  It’s entirely possible that this con was his first serious exposure to roleplaying.  It was certainly his first exposure to Our Games.  On the whole, I thought that he did quite well.

Since we had the time, I pushed for a Novella length game, which ended up being about four and a half hours long.  Not too bad for a con.

The experience levels of the players were varied.  Three of the five had never played Dirty Secrets before, and I’m not sure what prior exposure Dave and Ian had to the genre.  Nonetheless, I thought that the game gelled quite well.

By strict rules of the game, we should have set the game in Peoria, since three of our players were from Peoria and only two from Chicago.  But, since our investigator was from Peoria and because the previous RPG we had played was set in Peoria, we deferred and set the game in Chicago.

What Happened In Play

So, Tim was our investigator, playing Harry Shelton, an ex-PI who had spent some time in jail for an unspecified crime.  Now he’s out, bumming around, not doing much of anything.  He gets pulled into the case by Tanya Ventura, a young woman who he had mentored before he went to jail.  She’s now in college and is being blackmailed for some minor hacking that she’s done.  The blackmailer is threatening to turn her over to the police unless she and her group go to work for the blackmailer.  All Tanya can figure is that the woman who cleans her apartment might have figured something out.

I’m not even going to attempt to reconstruct the series of events that resulted from this start.  Rather, here’s what was really going on.

Juan, Tanya’s partner in crime, wasn’t really her boyfriend, like she had originally claimed.  Rather, Ron Pastor was her boyfriend.  Or, should I say, Agent Ron Pastor?  We never established which agency he was working for, but it didn’t really matter.  The two of them were working together to crack personal information databases and sell the information for money.  Juan was working for Tanya.  Sarah, an undercover cop, figured this out and, rather than arresting them, tried to blackmail Juan and Tanya into giving her a cut of the action. (Crime 1) Instead, Juan murdered Sarah, probably with Ron’s full knowledge.  (Crime 2).  Then, Ron murdered Juan, probably to cover their tracks, although his motive was never really revealed.  (Crime 3).  At the end of the story, the cops had arrested Ron and were trying to get some initial information from him.  But then, a black sedan pulled up, and men “took Ron into custody”.  Was this a cover-up?  Was this a rescue of an agent?  Were these rogues who were assisting Ron?  We will never know.

Throughout the game, Tanya kept falling under suspicion and, as things began to unravel, began to act in increasingly violent ways.  When an agent attempted to gain access to her apartment, Tanya shot him through the door.  Later, she pulled a gun on Harvey while he was driving.  When he escaped from the car and was hit by a passing motorist, she shot the motorist when he stopped to help Harvey.  Then, she chased him down, forcing him to club her with a chunk of cinder block.  But, with all that, Tanya didn’t actually do any of the Crimes that were defined in the game.  A perfect example of the system doing its job.

Our closing scene was classic.  Harvey goes to visit Tanya in jail, trying to get her to blab on Ron for murdering Juan.  She refuses, and Harvey basically says the whole “I raised you better than this” thing, pleading with her.  She turns to him and says something like, “Oh?  And where were you the last few years of my life?  You abandoned me.  I know where you were.”

Harvey says, “I’m sorry I failed you.”  Then he turns and walks away.

The end.


Trusting the System

About halfway through the game, I was thinking, “This isn’t coming together.”  Stuff wasn’t happening, energy was low, the investigator was wandering aimlessly.  It seemed like the game was failing.

Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

I had forgotten that the first stretch of the game is all about building stuff and making things up.  Reincorporation happens later.  I hope that this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I really should have trusted my game more.

I’m curious to hear from the other players at the table.  In my mind, the pivotal scene was when Tanya was getting ready to bug out and then shot the agent.  That revealed that Tanya wasn’t the innocent little girl that she was portraying herself to be.  This seemed to give the rest of the story the necessary energy.


Sympathy for the Character

Dirty Secrets uses a rotating semi-GM system, where players take turns being responsible for Chapters of play.  However, being the Authority (as the game calls it) doesn’t require you to portray all the Characters.  The narration rules allow anyone to narrate whatever they desire, subject to the Authority, and a specific application of this is that the Authority may assign the role of a Character to another player.

We used this to good effect in our game.  Raquel really empathized with Tanya.  So, without consciously discussing this, I noticed that our group fell into a discernable pattern.  First, we’d have Tanya do something awful.  Like, shooting an innocent motorist who was just trying to help.  Then, we’d give Tanya to Raquel to portray, who would then try to do her best to portray her as sympathetic.  Repeat until end of story.

This produced a fascinating dynamic, where we ended up with a surprisingly deep character who, despite all the horrible things she had done, managed to remain a sympathetic person that you could still empathize with.

Now, this was a designed feature of Dirty Secrets, but I wonder if this technique can be adapted to other games.  Any thoughts from folks?


Conclusion

I want to give a big shout out to my fellow players.  I really appreciated the chance to be able to play my game again, and I enjoyed being able to play this with you.  I felt like we were able to quickly enter a cooperative zone and work together to construct a satisfying story.  So, thank you very much.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Nev the Deranged
Member

Posts: 742

Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2008, 03:47:23 PM »

Man, this game should have been called "A Lot of Not Very Nice People Get What's Coming to Them... And Some Innocent Ones, Too"

I think the least sympathetic character ended up being Harry. Tim's portrayal of him was great, but the character himself ended up being by turns incompetent and brutal. It's definitely not a surprise that he spent some time in the clink.

Dirty Secrets is kind of like Clue played from the opposite direction, if that makes any sense. You never knew what was going to happen, or which characters were going to show their dark sides. Toward the end, I felt like I had an obligation to portray the elderly cleaning woman as completely innocent, just so there'd be at least one redeemable character in the story... and Harry cold-cocked her and left her for dead just for putting sugar in his tea.

Interestingly, one of the "bogeymen" of Dirty Secrets, the whole race/class thing, didn't seem to really have any impact on our game. Maybe others disagree? Aside from one instance of Sarah, who was Asian, conveniently speaking Cantonese, it never really came up. Not sure what that says, if anything.

I dig the game. It's almost simple enough that I'd consider trying to get my boardgamers to try it, but not quite. Alas. I'd definitely play again myself, though.

Thanks, Seth, for facilitating; and to Tim, Raquel, and Ian for playing. Good times.
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Raquel
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2008, 04:37:50 PM »

At the risk of simply being repetitive, I enjoyed this game a lot. This is the first time I'd played it since it was officially out of playtest, and it was just as beautifully painful as I remembered.

I think the least sympathetic character ended up being Harry. Tim's portrayal of him was great, but the character himself ended up being by turns incompetent and brutal. It's definitely not a surprise that he spent some time in the clink.

Huh. I actually found Harry to be a sympathetic character. Admittedly though, I spent most of my time viewing Harry through Tanya's eyes, and as we established at the end, she really did come to him for help. Well, sort of. And if you explain away the little episode where she tried to kill him...

So, yeah--thank you Seth, for facilitating one of the most enjoyable afternoons I've had getting my heart ripped out and stomped on. It was great.
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2008, 06:06:37 PM »

Interestingly, one of the "bogeymen" of Dirty Secrets, the whole race/class thing, didn't seem to really have any impact on our game. Maybe others disagree? Aside from one instance of Sarah, who was Asian, conveniently speaking Cantonese, it never really came up. Not sure what that says, if anything.

I was thinking about this, too.  I assert that the Demographics will have their effect in every game, although it's impossible to know before the game which will be critical.

So, try this on for size.

You have Tanya, who is ultimately defined as being young.  I mean, all the really bad stuff that she did during the game was the result of her panicking, as opposed to being premeditated.

Whereas you have two men near here (Harry and Ron) who are both older.  It's probably not much of a stretch to begin analyzing Tanya's relationship with Ron as being connected to her understanding of her relationship with Harry.  Ron was obviously a bad influence.  Harry...well, that depends on what you think of him.  Was he actually good for Tanya?

Actually, that would be an interesting question.  I agree with Raquel that I found Harry to be sympathetic, as was Tanya.  Ron was definitely bad, and, in my head, he got away scot-free, which is a big deal.  Juan and Consuela just got stuck in the middle, I think.

Hey, there's a race thing.  The Latino characters were less criminal than the other characters.  Make of that what you will.

Oh, and regarding this:

Quote
Man, this game should have been called "A Lot of Not Very Nice People Get What's Coming to Them... And Some Innocent Ones, Too"

That pretty much sums up the genre as I understand it
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Nev the Deranged
Member

Posts: 742

Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2008, 02:48:50 PM »

Alright, admission time.

I made Tanya and Juan hackers specifically to play against stereotype. So, in that sense, the demographics did play a part.

I was totally stunned when you guys had Tanya shoot the federal agent, that caught me off guard.

And if everyone else hadn't already been bastards by the time Consuela came in, I would have done my damnedest to make her an agent of the Russian Mafia.
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2008, 03:13:22 PM »

Alright, admission time.

I made Tanya and Juan hackers specifically to play against stereotype. So, in that sense, the demographics did play a part.

Well then, there you go.  *grin*

Quote
I was totally stunned when you guys had Tanya shoot the federal agent, that caught me off guard.

Honestly, it caught me off-guard, too, and it was my idea!

Here's the thing.  I came into the game, thinking that Tanya was the poor victim.  Yes, I know that the game can totally twist a character, but that was my "working theory" of the case:  Tanya is essentially innocent.

But then, during the scene where Harry was grilling Ron over the headset that Harry had found, you started narrating Tanya preparing to bug out.  At the time, I thought, "Hey that's cool.  Extra color and all that."  But then, it occurred to me, "No, she's bailing because she knows more than she's letting on."  Then, as I recall, Tim narrated her pulling the gun as part of the conflict that was in process.  Then Tim had that one point of Violence to use....  Everything followed fairly quickly after that.

So, that turn of the character wasn't any one person pulling on the reins.  Rather, it was an emergent result of the actions of at least three different players (you, me, and Tim).  I think that's really cool.

Quote
And if everyone else hadn't already been bastards by the time Consuela came in, I would have done my damnedest to make her an agent of the Russian Mafia.

Yeah, I know.  But, oddly enough, the way the story was going, despite all the protesting that we were doing at the time, it probably would have made perfect sense, given the information theft and all that.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Nev the Deranged
Member

Posts: 742

Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2008, 03:51:28 PM »

I was totally stunned when you guys had Tanya shoot the federal agent, that caught me off guard.

Honestly, it caught me off-guard, too, and it was my idea!

Here's the thing.  I came into the game, thinking that Tanya was the poor victim.  Yes, I know that the game can totally twist a character, but that was my "working theory" of the case:  Tanya is essentially innocent.

But then, during the scene where Harry was grilling Ron over the headset that Harry had found, you started narrating Tanya preparing to bug out.  At the time, I thought, "Hey that's cool.  Extra color and all that."  But then, it occurred to me, "No, she's bailing because she knows more than she's letting on."  Then, as I recall, Tim narrated her pulling the gun as part of the conflict that was in process.  Then Tim had that one point of Violence to use....  Everything followed fairly quickly after that.

So, that turn of the character wasn't any one person pulling on the reins.  Rather, it was an emergent result of the actions of at least three different players (you, me, and Tim).  I think that's really cool.

Yeah, it was pretty much my intention that she suddenly start to panic because she realized the shit was suddenly getting much deeper. I was planning to have her flee, only to get caught on the way out, to give Harry someone to rescue (frankly, I felt like he needed redeeming with some kind of heroic action). When she pulled the gun, I was like "woah, she's gonna force Harry to drive her from the scene at gunpoint", which technically she did, although in my mind it was going to be more of a desperate gambit rather than a matter of her being a stone cold killer. I guess it turned out to be a little of both.

The Ron+Tanya thing totally came out of nowhere though, seriously. And in retrospect, that really takes a hammer to the subtext of several scenes that came before that revelation.

I forget, was that the result of one of the specific "discover a crazy relationship" scenes, or did it just kind of come up?
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


WWW
« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2008, 07:51:35 AM »

The Ron+Tanya thing totally came out of nowhere though, seriously. And in retrospect, that really takes a hammer to the subtext of several scenes that came before that revelation.

I forget, was that the result of one of the specific "discover a crazy relationship" scenes, or did it just kind of come up?

It was a combination, as I recall.  Tim introduced the idea that Tanya and Ron knew each other, then, immediately following, we discovered a "business relationship" between Juan and Tanya.  We said that this meant that Tanya had lied about their being in a relationship.  I think this was when Ron+Tanya was created.

And, what do you mean about "takes a hammer to the subtext of several scenes that came before that revelation"?  As in, "completely destroyed"?  Or as in "completely twisted into a shape due to this perspective"?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Raquel
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #8 on: February 29, 2008, 12:20:17 PM »

It's probably not much of a stretch to begin analyzing Tanya's relationship with Ron as being connected to her understanding of her relationship with Harry.  Ron was obviously a bad influence.  Harry...well, that depends on what you think of him.  Was he actually good for Tanya?

 On some reflection, I would guess that Harry was actually the best influence in Tanya's life. Not that there's much competition... But it seems reasonable to guess that he was her only real adult role model as a teenager. She trusted him, and as a mentor he was probably at least a generic good influence--until he dropped out of her life altogether, that is...


 As I recall the Ron+Tanya discovery hinged mostly on Consuela confusing the names Ron and Juan.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: February 29, 2008, 01:42:46 PM »

Who can blame her?

I was playing something else at another table, and some of the dialogue floated over every so often. After a bit, I was wondering, "What, all the characters have the same name?", and "Isn't there more than one character in Dirty Secrets?" Only afterwards did I discover your rhyming scheme. That's actually why I came up and asked what happened during the game.

Best, Ron
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2008, 01:55:56 PM »

Who can blame her?

I was playing something else at another table, and some of the dialogue floated over every so often. After a bit, I was wondering, "What, all the characters have the same name?", and "Isn't there more than one character in Dirty Secrets?" Only afterwards did I discover your rhyming scheme. That's actually why I came up and asked what happened during the game.

Best, Ron

I don't think that it was even intentional.  Juan was generated during setup, while Ron was created in play.  Though, come to think of it, Dave named them both.  But, unless he 'fesses up, I'm going to say that this was an odd example of the serendipity that I find so enjoyable about roleplaying in general and Dirty Secrets in particular.
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Nev the Deranged
Member

Posts: 742

Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2008, 11:08:56 AM »

And, what do you mean about "takes a hammer to the subtext of several scenes that came before that revelation"?  As in, "completely destroyed"?  Or as in "completely twisted into a shape due to this perspective"?

The second one.

Re: Ron / Juan, I didn't name Juan, I don't think. And if I did, I had no plans for any name confusion. The Conseula confusion thing was totally a spur of the moment stroke of genius.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2008, 01:52:26 PM »

Taking the conversation in an entirely different direction, I wanted to talk about the bit of flailing that we all seemed to experience at the beginning of the game. I was totally amazed that the entire story came together at the end, and I'm not even sure when we reached the tipping point that moved us from from 'aimless wandering' to 'driven crime story'. But I do know that, as we began to play, two things happened:

First, Seth explained how, as a player, it was best to have a working theory of the crime. With that theory in mind, he told us that we should attempt to narrate towards that end, and allow the dynamic nature of the group to complicate things. Complications are often introduced because different players will have different and completing theories of what happened.

On a similar note, the key for me was when Seth mentioned that, as a novella length game, we needed to introduce two new crimes before concluding. I almost immediately narrated Sarah's murder. While the scene was initially awkward (my bad), the introduction of another crime really jump-started play for me. Suddenly I wasn't trying to slowly investigate, but rather I was just trying to keep up with the whirlwind of crime as it unfolded.

Second, Dirty Secrets has a tremendous tipping point. When we first began, we had a whole lot of mystery, and nothing to go on. We slowly added to the pot, and eventually the game simply bubbled over with no signs of stopping. It takes a bit of patience, but knowing what I know now, I wonder if I wouldn't enjoy the game more because I'd know what was coming.
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2008, 03:24:18 PM »

Hey Tim.

Sorry I haven't gotten back to this thread over the last couple of days.  Been sick and not really up for much writing.

But, yeah, what you're describing is the way that Dirty Secrets normally plays.  Ron talks about the first session of Sorcerer being slow, for similar reasons.  You need to allow enough time for stuff to accumulate.  Little details, comments, things like that, which are mostly disposable, occasionally turn out to be significant.  This is a big reason for the Investigator's Notebook and the Notes sections on the Characters.

It's also why I advise against learning to play with a Short Story.  There's not as much time available in a Short Story to simply wander, making stuff up.  As a result, the outcome can be less than satisfying.

That's all well and good, but now, as I'm thinking about our game, I'm realizing that I should have explained some of these things better and that, if I had, it might have smoothed out the experience a bit.  Normally, when I'm teaching a game, I develop a teaching outline in my head of how to present the various concepts of the game.  I haven't really taught Dirty Secrets that much, though, so I haven't developed my teaching outline.

So, fellow thread participants, what sorts of things would you have found helpful to have known at the beginning of the game?  I'm thinking here both of mechanical things (e.g. Jurisdiction) and techniques (e.g. make up lots of stuff early in the game).  This way, I can improve my teaching skills and, perhaps, come to understand my game better.

Thanks!
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
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