[Dirty Secrets] A painful reunion

(This post was cross-posted to the Forge.)

Yay! More playtesting! And today, since I’m getting into the groove, I’ll actually do it up as a full-blown AP report. Aren’t you happy?


“I just want to see him get along with his daughter….�

“And not backhand her across the room?�


Play Report

Tracking this story is a bit difficult, especially as a large portion of the mental effort for the game has been tweaking rules and such. Plus, there’s the ongoing mysteries to which we, mere players, are not privy. Allowing for that, I’ll try to give a brief outline of the story so far.

The intro to the case was Debbie Sandberg’s coming to see Robert George, a DEA desk jockey. Agent George had been involved in Debbie’s arrest for drug dealing, but he had dealt fairly with her (or so she thought). Debbie suspected that her probation officer (Courtney Jackson) had stolen her address book, which still included a number of old drug-dealing contacts. She wanted Robert to recover the book for her.

Well, it’s been several sessions. In the intervening time, we’ve uncovered a possible drug-dealing ring headed up by Jackson (the P.O.), a murdered security guard that worked for Jackson, a couple of ugly love triangles, and discovered Robert’s estranged daughter is smack dab in the middle of it all. Oh yes, and she is pregnant with the child of the murdered security guard, who may or may not be dirty.

And there’s a stash of cocaine worth a million dollars hidden out there somewhere, and everyone wants it.

As Crystal said last night, “Why do we do this to ourselves?� Or, to quote the movie Brick, “There’s not much chance of coming out clean.� Nope. Not for any of them. Not even Robert George.

And last night, it got worse.

When we last left Robert, he had established that, indeed, Courtney had stolen Debbie’s address book, which lends a great deal of weight to Debbie’s claim that Courtney is running a drug ring. During this session, Robert went to follow up on another lead. He had discovered that Debbie had been in contact with her old cell mate, Stephanie, and he got the address where Stephanie had gone.

But first, he ended up meeting with Steven Sandberg, Debbie’s husband, who doesn’t know anything. Poor guy. He fell for a cute skirt, and now he’s starting to pay the price.

Robert refused to tell him anything, but since he is a DEA agent, Steven is starting to suspect something.

Then Robert went to where Stephanie had gone: her boyfriend’s house.

Turns out that the boyfriend’s “house� is actually a trailer in a local trailer park. Debbie’s car was there, too. Robert noticed a joint in the ashtray of her car. Then, when he knocked on the door of the trailer, his daughter Mollie answered. Upon seeing him, she slammed the door and locked it.

Debbie came out and tried to wrap up business with Robert so that he would go away and leave them alone. Instead, Robert tried to get into the trailer. When Debbie stood in front of the door, he pushed her out of the way and forced his way in. There stood Mollie, gun in hand, pointed at him.

Then Robert drew on her. “Let me in,� he said. Then he moved forward, pushing her gun hand to the side.

The gun went off. Outside Debbie screamed.

Mollie tried to bring the gun back in line. Robert chopped at her wrist and then backhanded her. For a split second, he had a flash of doing the same to her mother. She fell backwards, hitting her head and lying quite still. Alive, but unconscious.

Stephanie was in the living room with a shocked look on her face. Laid out on the coffee table were several firearms. Apparently these women were going to war. But why?

The answer would have to wait until another day. We declared the session over.

The Setting

I don’t want Dirty Secretsto have to be about the noir genre in its look-and-feel. I wrote Legends of Alyria to try to get at the roots of fantasy without needing to have orks and elves and things like that. In a similar way, Dirty Secrets isn’t about femme fatales making eyes across a smoky nightclub. You can certainly do that, but I wanted to bring it closer to home.

Thus, my default setting, which I phrase like this: Your town, last week.

The idea is that you should set your story in your town, drawing on your knowledge of the geography and underside of your town. As a result, our game is set in Peoria. So far, that’s been working quite well. There’s the silly fun of messing around with familiar locations in our town. But, more significantly, geography becomes an easy way of communicating character to each other, simply by defining where different characters live. So, for example, Steven and Debbie Sandberg are fairly well-off. So, they live up in the Lynnhurst subdivision. (Actually, they live in Ralph’s house. That was fun.) Conversely, Bill Cornman and Mollie George were living together in one of the projects on the South Side, and Jeff’s trailer was located in King’s Park, next door to Billy Dennis. The players are all familiar with these locations, and there was general nods of agreement when characters were situated accordingly.

Some System Insights

How about that final scene? Pretty nasty, wasn’t it? Yeah, we didn’t like it, either. In fact, we really don’t like Robert at all. He is going to have to do something fairly impressive to redeem himself in our eyes.

I was the opposing player for the final scene. In certain respects, that makes me the “GM� for the scene. I decided that I wanted to mix some things up a bit. First, I introduced Mollie into the scene, which no one was expecting. Her relationship with her father is quite possibly the only humanizing point about Robert right now, and I wanted to put it under stress. Next, as we headed into conflict, I decided to put Robert in a situation where he and Mollie were forcefully opposed to each other. Having two of the Violence sync up was helpful as well.

That’s when I figured something out about my game. Conflict resolution can be tricky to win, especially if you’re opposed by a player who is good at Liar’s Dice. But, if you’re willing to sacrifice some dice, you can dictate at least most of the Violence in the scene. So, in this case, my Violence die and the public Violence die were both “6�s. That means that, if the final bid was for dice with a face value of six, there would be two points of Violence required in the narration, regardless of who won. And so, that’s what I did. I bid in 6’s, which I was hoping to win, I admit. However, even though I lost, I was able to shape the corresponding narration through the Violence Dice.

Then, I pushed the conflict with a Violence conflict. This is similar to the “Challenge� round of regular Liar’s Dice. Whoever makes the initial bid locks the face value of the bid. Aces are not wild for this round. Then, when it is called, instead of losing dice, the difference between the bid and actual number of dice is the amount of Violence produced by the conflict. This portion of the conflict resulted in Robert’s actual attack on Mollie. Again, even though I lost the conflict, I was able to shape the outcome through Violence.

Now, there’s an important point to be made here. The rules state that the winner of the conflict gets to assign the Violence to any Character that he wants, and that it must be the result of Character agency. What that means is that you can win a conflict and assign the Violence to your own character. In this case, it means that Crystal could have chosen to assign that Violence to Robert, if she had wanted. This allowed her to choose the thematic statement being made with the Violence. Would Robert sacrifice himself to be a loving father? Or was the job more important?

His answer was very clear.

This was nifty because, while the game has certain random requirements that are dictated to the players, it still allows a lot of freedom to guide the story within the parameters given. Ultimately, the outcome of that final scene was informed by the dice but chosen by the players. Which is exactly the way I want it to work.

More Research Help

We tested the Research idea from the last post about drawing random words or phrases from a hat. It didn’t really work out well. I’m thinking that I’ll try with a preset word list, or something. So, the quest still goes on for a good research system. I’m open to ideas.


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