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Author Topic: [Dirty Secrets] How I Accidentally Playtested Dirty Cities.  (Read 4403 times)
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1429


« on: February 17, 2009, 12:10:33 AM »

Hello,

So this weekend at OrcCon I played a very awesome but highly unusual Dirty Secrets game.  It was my intension to experiment with recording all my sessions this con but I forgot and no game made me regret that more than this one.  Since we were in a room with another game that may not have panned out well anyway, but it was that good.  Present were myself, Ryan Macklin, Will Huggins, Eric Boyd and Sayler VanMerlin.  I’ve played with all of these people before at one time or another.  Of them I feel like I know Sayler the least as I only run into him at the cons.

Ryan Macklin was playing the investigator.  Around here we have an expression, “to Macklin a game.”  It means to take the central premise of the given game at hand and inflate it to extreme and unexpected degree.  As an analogy when someone says they are going skydiving it suggests that they intend to jump out of a plane with a parachute, count to 10, pull the rip cord and sail happily to the ground.  If we were to “Macklin” skydiving it would consist of first throwing the parachute out of the plane, counting to three and diving after it.  The activity at hand is still recognizably skydiving.  It’s just not quite what one normally has in mind.  To be clear this is not a dick or asshole move on Ryan’s part.  He does it with full knowledge that if he were to say, splatter all over the ground, that would not only be a big bummer for him but kind of fuck up the day for everyone else and that’s not his goal.

So what we had here is Ryan playing the investigator in the vein of Vic Mackey from The Shield.  To this end I think we ran into a functional limit of the system.  It strikes me that a conceit of Dirty Secrets is that violence is an unfortunate side effect of conflict.  As such it makes it very, very difficult to play an investigator who uses violence as his primary method of getting things done.  Because of the rules, you can’t narrate the investigator breaking fingers or kneecapping people.  It makes it hard to handle situations like when the investigator thinks his partner is responsible for some of the crimes and wants to help him cover it up by possibly murdering people himself.  Ryan found himself wanting to call for Violence Scenes himself and by the rules he can’t (although if I’m not mistaken he could have converted some Investigation Scenes into Violence Scenes during one of the times he pushed).

To help deal with this issue we found ourselves stretching the injury rules a bit.  For example, a couple of times we allowed the investigator to murder a non-declared character and called it “serious injury” inflicted up on a declared Character.  The first instance of this was when the investigator killed the boyfriend of an art fence who was trying to prevent him from roughing her up.  The boyfriend was not a Character but the art fence was.

Interestingly, I learned a lot about the game.  In some sense I felt like I “grew” as a Dirty Secrets player.  First of all this was the tightest and most coherent game of Dirty Secrets I have played to date.  Even though we were playing a Novella, I don’t think we exceeded the Character limit for a Short Story.  I credit this to the direct personal involvement of investigator.  The starting situation included the investigator’s partner being the initial suspect of the theft of a Japanese sword from his Hollywood starlet girlfriend and an internal affairs officer who was already investigating them for abuses of power.  The art fence was also part of the initial setup.  To that we added only three Characters.  The bartender/bag man friend of the investigator, a newspaper reporter and the replacement internal affairs officer who showed up after the first internal affairs officer ended up murdered.

I used to think that violence was a little too random in the game.  There really didn’t seem to be anyway to increase the likelihood of violence occurring.  Not only was I wrong I figured out the strategy to do it.  Here’s how it works.

First, observe the result of the public violence die.  Second, pull out all the dice that match that die as well as the violence die (which by the rules you have to match the public die if you don’t re-roll it with the others) and re-roll the remainder.  Bid that die face value.  Repeat.  Not only does this increase the likelihood of the player doing the same, it actively increases the tension of the narrative.  There came one conflict where Ryan and I both had four ones showing and one die under each of our cups remaining.  The bid was nine ones.  Did either of us have a one on our last remaining die?  You could have cut the tension with a knife.  Technically, this was a Violence Scene so there was no red die involved, however, it was during this scene that I realized that the same strategy increases the likelihood of violence occurring in a Investigation Scene if you manipulate the red die in the manner I describe.

This game got the most use of the Appeal rules I have ever seen.  They weren’t ever applied in their formalized form but there was a lot of hesitant contributions with a clear willingness to back off if anyone objected which happened a few times.  I think this is because it was very obvious that we were riding the razor’s edge of both the genre and the system and we were trying really hard not to go over that edge.  As an example, I narrated the death of the investigator’s partner with the explicit qualifier before hand of, “If this doesn’t work for you say so...” and more than one person did, so I just backed off and did something else.

There was one point in the game where I had a very odd cognitive experience.  It reminded me of very old discussions where people talked about how more than one person sharing a character was a bad idea because it would result in character inconsistency.  In one scene I was playing the investigator’s partner and the investigator was accusing him of restarting his cocaine habit.  We had a conflict and I won.  I narrated the partner’s anger and used the line, “I thought this job was about trust.”

Later Will narrated the partner showing pictures of him doing cocaine to the investigator. (This became our third Crime: Blackmail).  Ryan narrated the investigator saying, “You were the one who said this job was about trust!”  Him saying that struck me in a very odd way and it took me a few moments to figure out why: I had completely lost track of the fact that it was *I* who had the partner say that as opposed to Will who was playing him now.  Cognitively I was “watching” a single entity in the fiction despite multiple people having done stuff with him.

Finally, I recounted part of this game to Laura Bishop who replied, “This sounds like a game played by men.”  And she said it with an emphasis that made “men” sound weighty and capitalized.  If nothing else it made me laugh and reminded me of a big goal I have for playing Dirty Secrets.  I really want to play this game with a woman playing the investigator irregardless of the in-fiction gender of the investigator.

Jesse
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GreatWolf
Member

Posts: 1157

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2009, 07:00:22 AM »

Hey, Jesse. Thanks for the AP! I talked to Ryan last night about this game, too. Sounds like a good one!

So what we had here is Ryan playing the investigator in the vein of Vic Mackey from The Shield.  To this end I think we ran into a functional limit of the system.  It strikes me that a conceit of Dirty Secrets is that violence is an unfortunate side effect of conflict.  As such it makes it very, very difficult to play an investigator who uses violence as his primary method of getting things done.  Because of the rules, you can’t narrate the investigator breaking fingers or kneecapping people.  It makes it hard to handle situations like when the investigator thinks his partner is responsible for some of the crimes and wants to help him cover it up by possibly murdering people himself.  Ryan found himself wanting to call for Violence Scenes himself and by the rules he can’t (although if I’m not mistaken he could have converted some Investigation Scenes into Violence Scenes during one of the times he pushed).

Rules clarification: during "free play", Ryan could have narrated any violence that he wanted. The limitation on narrating violence only applies during conflicts. Even there, you can narrate violent actions; you just have to defer the outcomes. Now, that being said, it is difficult to narrate through an Investigation conflict using, uh, "harsh measures" because of some of those limitations.

Also, you are correct. When you Push a Conflict, you can change it to a Violence Conflict.

Quote
I used to think that violence was a little too random in the game.  There really didn’t seem to be anyway to increase the likelihood of violence occurring.  Not only was I wrong I figured out the strategy to do it.  Here’s how it works.

First, observe the result of the public violence die.  Second, pull out all the dice that match that die as well as the violence die (which by the rules you have to match the public die if you don’t re-roll it with the others) and re-roll the remainder.  Bid that die face value.  Repeat.  Not only does this increase the likelihood of the player doing the same, it actively increases the tension of the narrative.  There came one conflict where Ryan and I both had four ones showing and one die under each of our cups remaining.  The bid was nine ones.  Did either of us have a one on our last remaining die?  You could have cut the tension with a knife.  Technically, this was a Violence Scene so there was no red die involved, however, it was during this scene that I realized that the same strategy increases the likelihood of violence occurring in a Investigation Scene if you manipulate the red die in the manner I describe.

Yep.

This also works on another level. If your Violence die already matches the public Violence die, then just bid up the conflict in the number that matches those dice. Either you'll win the conflict or someone eats at least 2 Violence. Maybe both! Also, smile a lot when you do this. It makes people crazy.

(As an aside, one of my favorite tricks in Dirty Secrets is to bid up, then push out a single die for a reroll. Essentially bidding blind means that my opponent has to gamble pretty hard next bid, because he has very little information to go on from my tells. Of course, he can just do this back to me...but then we're both in strange territory, possibly ridiculously overbid...which also has adds a pleasant spike to the tension level.)

Quote
There was one point in the game where I had a very odd cognitive experience.  It reminded me of very old discussions where people talked about how more than one person sharing a character was a bad idea because it would result in character inconsistency.  In one scene I was playing the investigator’s partner and the investigator was accusing him of restarting his cocaine habit.  We had a conflict and I won.  I narrated the partner’s anger and used the line, “I thought this job was about trust.”

Later Will narrated the partner showing pictures of him doing cocaine to the investigator. (This became our third Crime: Blackmail).  Ryan narrated the investigator saying, “You were the one who said this job was about trust!”  Him saying that struck me in a very odd way and it took me a few moments to figure out why: I had completely lost track of the fact that it was *I* who had the partner say that as opposed to Will who was playing him now.  Cognitively I was “watching” a single entity in the fiction despite multiple people having done stuff with him.

Excellent! That is exactly how it ought to work. As different people layer on various interpretations of a given character (shaped by their working theories), a more fully-formed character emerges, looking different than any one person would have made him.

Quote
Finally, I recounted part of this game to Laura Bishop who replied, “This sounds like a game played by men.”  And she said it with an emphasis that made “men” sound weighty and capitalized.  If nothing else it made me laugh and reminded me of a big goal I have for playing Dirty Secrets.  I really want to play this game with a woman playing the investigator irregardless of the in-fiction gender of the investigator.

Two things about this.

First, she's right; it does sound like a game played by Men. I mean, at the core of your story was this relationship between two male cops. It's the classic "buddy cop" story, rolled up in corruption. And, as Ron discusses in Sex & Sorcery, male stories have a certain feel to them. I mean, I recently watched the pilot of Miami Vice, which was really quite good. And it's definitely one of these male stories, with Crockett's old partner having betrayed him, while he and Tubbs are learning to work together. In fact, someone (maybe Roger Ebert?) said that Michael Mann's work is about relationships between men. I think about Heat and Collateral or even this episode of Miami Vice, and I think that he's right.

Second, I chuckled when I read this, because the bulk of my Dirty Secrets experience has been with a woman playing the investigator. Dirty Secrets has its odd distribution of narrative authority, because I like to play games with my wife. Crystal wants a single character to identify with, whereas I can be quite happy hovering over a collection of characters. So, I wrote Dirty Secrets so she could play her way and I could play my way at the same time.

Also, Crystal is scary good at Liar's Dice.

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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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