Actual Play – Dirty Secrets (02/28/2009)

The second session of Boycon hosted two games, Zach’s Dirty Secrets and Skippy’s Fables game (using the Mouseguard system).

I got into Dirty Secrets as it was a game I’d heard about but never played. The setup is that crimes have been committed and we’re going to tell the story of how an investigator discovers the sordid details of “who done it” and why. The game is set with a single protagonist and several “GMs” that each provide conflicts for that protagonist to spring them forward into the mired connections that eventually explain the game.

What rocked

Like zombie cinema, this game is truly a pickup game. All you need are a couple of people who have seen L.A. Confidential to understand how this game should work. The game encourages you to work up theories of who done it, but like a good crime novel or movie, you never know until the end.

The “revelation” mechanic is really amazing. It forces an exposition from some character or clue that shows two characters are connected in a romantic, familial or business relationship. The protagonist can pick one of the characters involved but the rest (with some small influence from the current GM) is up to the dice. This made for some great connections and some amazing twists in the story.

Scene directed by the protagonist vs. scenes directed by the GM. In each Chapter, the protagonists states he’ll either had an investigation, revelation or reflection scene. The GM then has the option of either accepting the protagonist’s scene or blocking with a different investigation scene (example “you went looking for the idol to do some research, but when you get to the museum it’s stolen, but you find a different clue that sends you in a new direction”) or violence. What this means is that at any time guys with guns come kicking in the doors. Very noir.

The collaboration. All players (GMs and protagonist) can and should suggest ides for the current narrator. We had a number of time when connections were made and we all looked a little confused for a bit until someone thought of a way to fit it into our story. This really took the pressure off any individual GM

What could have been improved

The learning curve for understanding scene framing, conflict resolution and the crime resolution mechanic was a bit steep. Once we had run a few scenes it was easier, but it took some time to learn.

Immersion was difficult as we kept wearing different hats between GM, audience, and designer. We were able to get some good role-playing scenes in, but it wasn’t consistent.

It seemed liked our GMs were depleting their resources rather quickly, while the protagonist never lost any of hers. This probably came down to lucky rolls and the player being a better player of Liar’s dice (the core mechanic of the game) than the rest of us. By the end we had two (of the four) GMs that had been totally taken out so scenes with them meant the protagonist automatically won any conflict. It was fine because the story was about to end anyway, but had it been a longer game I would have been worried that there would be no challenge.

A somewhat awkward attempt at rich rolling. There game is all d6s but it tries to use different color dice to do different things. The problem is that some of them you roll and some you just set to a value you want. The one you set, even though hidden with the once you roll don’t work in the same mechanic as the rolled dice, but later may be rolled itself if re-rolling the other dice. Sound confusing? Well, it’s not so bad as it sounds, but it certainly isn’t as elegant as the rest of the game. I think the designers were trying to cram an extra idea inside the roll, couldn’t figure out how to do it so they tacked on an extra die.