(This post has been cross-posted to the Forge.)
See, guys! I used the right name!
The last couple of Fridays, I was able to playtest Dirty Secrets with my regular gaming group. Last session was particularly memorable, and Ralph demanded that I write it up. I agreed with him, so here goes!
We actually played the first session of Dirty Secrets because Gabrielle wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t available for gaming that night. So, Ralph, Keith, Crystal, and I sat down to play.
Dirty Secrets has a quick-and-dirty situation generator that is intended to get the group up and running pretty quickly. This test worked pretty well, but it showed up a couple of interesting Ã¢â‚¬Å“featuresÃ¢â‚¬?. First, it was possible to end up with a private investigator that is only 12. The second is that, at least in the four-player game, the investigator player doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually get to name the investigator.
The first item is no good, and it prompted a rules change that minors can only be citizens. The second item is actually a feature for me. Even though the investigator is played by a single player, I still want there to be a sense of group ownership over the character. So, not forcing naming privileges to the investigator player is actually a good thing by my book.
Thus, in this case, we ended up with an investigator who a nineteen year old preppie who plays tennis at the country club. His name: Reginald Hastings, III. Or, as we all called him, Ã¢â‚¬Å“ReggieÃ¢â‚¬?.
We ended up with Jim Brown approaching Reggie for some help. Jim Brown is a retired police officer who works as a groundskeeper at the country club. Oh yes, he is black, and Reggie is white.
Actual Play, Part 1
This is my best recollections of two sessions worth of gameplay. These stories are turning out to be as twisty as the source material, which is good, but makes it a bit difficult to explain if you werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t there. That being said, here goesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
JimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s old police revolver has been stolen, and Jim thinks that his granddaughter LaTeesha might be responsible. Reggie used to babysit for LaTeesha, and Jim figures that Reggie can find out more easily than he can. A little weak as an opening, I admit, but, as youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see, it actually worked out well in play.
So, Reggie goes to confront LaTeesha. This led to a hysterically funny moment, as Reggie ultimately rips LaTeeshaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s backpack away from her to go through it and ends up being chased down the street by a protective neighbor with a baseball bat. ReggieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s car gets smashed up a bit, and he finds nothing in the backpack except a notebook that says Ã¢â‚¬Å“I love ReggieÃ¢â‚¬? and things like that. Apparently LaTeesha has a bit of a crush on her former baby-sitter.
Overcome with guilty, Reggie attempts to return the backpack to LaTeeshaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house without being seen. Unfortunately, the police have been called and are interviewing LaTeesha and her parents. The helpful neighbor with the baseball bat points out Reggie, who tries to escape. The police give chase, which ends up resulting in ReggieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crashing his car and being arrested by the police.
ReggieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father bails him out. This led to our first Reflection scene, with Reggie staring out the window, brooding, while his father chewed him out on the way home from the police station. Then I tapped ReggieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father (Reginald Hastings, II)
Reggie decided to find out from Jim Brown what is so important about this stupid gun anyways. So he drove over to JimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house in a rental car to talk to him. Jim wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t home. However, JimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s girlfriend Cherry was at home with another man. They were arguing about something, but Reggie couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hear what it was. So, when the other man left the house, Reggie called Jim and then tailed the man. This other man walked down the street into another house. Suddenly there was a gunshot. Reggie called 911 and waited while the police and emergency crews showed up. The murder victim: Mike Washington. LaTeeshaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father.
We got to resolve a Crime at this point and determined that, yes indeed, LaTeesha had stolen JimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s revolver. Now, with her father dead, we wondered if she knew that something was going to go downÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
At this point, we wrapped up for the night. We had some good rules discussion, and Ralph solved my Research problem.
As IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve mentioned elsewhere, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been struggling with the rules for Research. But no more! Ralph suggested that what Research really ought to do is Ã¢â‚¬Å“revealÃ¢â‚¬? a new relationship between Characters. After all, the goal of Research is to provide inspiration to the players, not really to provide more raw data.
So, here are the new Research rules. If the investigator calls for Research, we create a new relationship between two Characters. The investigator may choose one of the two characters or choose the type of relationship from the Research table. The other two items are chosen randomly. After determining the new relationship, the investigator gets to narrate how he discovered this new relationship.
The options on the Research table are as follows: sexual/romantic, familial, business, friendship. Why yes, the table is weighted towards sexual and familial relationships? Why do you ask?
This system got a solid test in our next outing.
Actual Play, Part 2
So, last Friday, we gathered again to play. Gabrielle was with us this time, so we slid her in as another player. This was mechanically effective, although Gabrielle said that she never really felt like she got a grip on the Characters. So, that experiment had mixed results.
There were several moments of awesome in this session, though, that need to be reported.
The first was the use of the new Research rules. After being questioned by the police about the murder, Keith decided that Reggie would poke around at the Crime Scene after the cops were gone. He chose to include Mike Washington (the murder victim) in the Research. So the other character and the nature of the relationship were created randomly.
The other character: Reginald Hastings, II.
The relationship: romantic/sexual
This provoked an extensive out-of-game conversation about the rules, but we were okay with it for our game, so off we went.
At the crime scene, Reggie found love letters from his father to Mike Washington. This was one of those discoveries that turns everything sideways. But it got even better. The next scene: Reggie goes to confront his father.
Reggie finds his father on the back nine at the country club. Just as his father putts, he throws the rubber-banded packet of letters on the green, deflecting the ball. Reggie was furious, and when his father tried to talk down to him, Reggie started reading one of the letters out loud, so that all the people standing nearby could hear. ReggieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father slapped the letters out of his hands. Reggie started to slap his father, but he wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fast enough. His father punched him in the face, laying him out on the green. In the meantime, the wind blew away some of the letters, and various individuals who were nearby, including Jim Brown, pocketed some of them. As Reggie lay there on the green, ReggieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father informed him that he needed to be moved out of the house by sundown. Then he strode away.
Reggie packed up his things, then he went down to the Par-a-Dice Hotel, where he proceeded to run up his fatherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s credit card on an expensive hotel room and alcohol. This was our second Reflection scene.
In the morning, Jim Brown came knocking at the door. We figured that he was an ex-cop and knew how to find people. He had news: LaTeesha had gone missing. Reggie told him about seeing the mysterious man go into Mike WashingtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house, and Jim recognized the man. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ChainsawÃ¢â‚¬?. So they drove to ChainsawÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s house and found him in the living room, hands in the air, with LaTeesha pointing a gun at him.
Reggie tried to talk her into putting down the gun, but she wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t having any of it. She had already shot a table lamp, and she shot another one, demanding that Chainsaw tell her why he had murdered her father.
So Reggie lays it all out. Ã¢â‚¬Å“LaTeesha, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to be my girl, this just wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do.Ã¢â‚¬? In shock, LaTeesha turns to him and says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“What?Ã¢â‚¬? Then she accidentally pulls the trigger again, shooting her grandfather in the foot.
It was only one point of Violence, so it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t too bad. I have to say this. Otherwise I would feel bad about how hard I was laughing during the scene. It was truly great.
After this, we ran out of steam pretty quickly. Another Research scene established that Chainsaw is the father of Emily Watson, a friend of LaTeeshaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, but that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t providing any solid handles for us. So we called it in for the night.
Research suddenly jumped from being a trouble point to being a major cool point for this game. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a scary cool point. There are no provisions for Lines within Research. Veils are easy to accomplish, but, as written, there are no Lines. Now, I think that this is ameliorated by the investigatorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s being able to select one thing. If you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want the really icky stuff in your game, then always define the relationship type and all will be well. Still, this is definitely one of those Ã¢â‚¬Å“mature themesÃ¢â‚¬? games.
Between this playtest and our other playtest, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had opportunity to see a fairly competent investigator and a fairly incompetent investigator. However, in both cases, the story continues to advance, despite the personal setbacks of the investigator. Also, in both cases, I have a strong empathy with the investigator, regardless of his actions. I want him to do well and to do right, even when he is being beaten up or being underhanded. I also want him ultimately to succeed, even though, as a player, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m doing my best to oppose him at every turn. So that is definitely a win.
There was some confusion about termination of scenes, which I will need to address better in the next rules draft. However, I think that the rules are just about stabilized.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m really happy with how this game is coming together. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m starting to write the manuscript right now, in fact, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to get a blind playtest draft together within the next couple of weeks. If all goes well, this should be ready by GenCon this year, which is much better than I had originally been anticipating.