Category Archives: Dirty Secrets Actual Play

Of course! It’s so obvious!

Last weekend, several people played a game of Dirty Secrets at OrcCon in Los Angeles. In fact, the actual play report is right here. Last night, before seeing the play report, I talked with Ryan Macklin, who was one of the players in the game. It was a nifty conversation, but he mentioned a couple of things that clicked and were really helpful.

First, he said that this game of Dirty Secrets was like playing The Shield, which is his favorite TV show.

Second, he said that he’d heard about Dirty Cities, and that he’d love to playtest.

And things clicked in my head.

For a while now, I’ve been concerned that I’m trying to cram too much into Dirty Cities, that I want it to do several things that might not actually be compatible with each other. I’d even been toying with taking my different concepts and breaking them into separate games, either as a series of games linked by a campaign system or as an anthology of some kind.

After last night’s conversation, I’m convinced that I need to do something like that. Because I figured out the core of the game I’m currently calling Dirty Cities.

It’s quite simple, really.

1) Make up a crime organization (or a loose affiliation of crime organizations). Work up what they do and how they do it.

2) Make up a special police squad who has the job of stopping it. This can be the Strike Force (a la The Shield) or a detail (The Wire, Seasons 1 and 2) or Major Crimes (The Wire, Seasons 3 and 4 or The Dark Knight)

Now, play characters in both groups. Go!

I haven’t seen The Shield yet, but this would handle The Wire just fine, thank you very much. And, from all accounts, it will handle The Shield too.

So, a big step forward in the development of this game.

This may necessitate a name change, though. One of my ideas is to have a campaign system that would allow me to link together my various crime/urban games. (Yes, I have others bumping around in my head.) So, maybe Dirty Cities would be the campaign system, while this “major crimes” game would have a different name. Not sure yet, but I’ll keep you posted!

Play This With That: Grey Ranks with the Dirty Secrets system

Over on Story Games, someone put together the “Play This with That” roleplaying challenge. You choose your rules system and get blindly assigned a setting. You must then go play a game combining those rules with that setting. Some rules hacking was allowed, but only as much as necessary to make the two fit.

Well, Jesse just weighed in with his report of Grey Ranks played with the Dirty Secrets system. As I’m playing Grey Ranks right now, this is doubly cool.

New Dirty Secrets supplement!

(Heh. I had fun with that title.)

No, I haven’t published anything new, but now that I’ve drawn you in with false advertising, I do have a helpful hint for playing Dirty Secrets.

When you’re playing Dirty Secrets, be sure to have a copy of your local phone book with you at the table. This is helpful for a couple of reasons.

First, if you’re stuck for a name, just flip open the phone book and grab a name. Not only is the phone book a massive list of names, it’s a list of names that comes from your locale. You can’t get much more true to your area than using names that are actually from your area. As a bonus, you’ll get an address to go with the name, which you can use, if you want.

The second reason is similar. If you’re needing a particular type of business, then just hit the Yellow Pages. I actually did this in a recent game of mine. We needed a high-class lawyer, so we consulted the phone book. In our case, we were pretty sure that we knew the one that we wanted, but we checked the phone book to get the correct name.

Other useful resources in a phone book include maps of the area, bus routes, government offices, and pizza coupons for in-game refreshments. It really is the best supplement to Dirty Secrets that you could own. And it’s free!

Thanks to Jason Corley for pointing this out.

Dirty Secrets in Peoria

Well, we started playing a game of Dirty Secrets last night. I’ll have a writeup later (along with audio, I hope), but for now, here’s an article about some of Peoria’s real-life crime history. Read the comments, too.

More Dirty Secrets Actual Play

Christoph Boeckle writes up his game from Lasuanne, Switzerland.

Joe Murphy writes up his game from Scotland.

A satisfied player writes…

A Dirty Secrets player writes:

There’s one scene in particular I would like to talk about. The opening scene with Lucy (who was at this point a non-character) and the investigator. In it, Lucy describes the murder victim and how she was murdered, going into a fair amount of detail, including a blatant rip-off of, or, if one is generous, an homage to, Chinatown, all of which sets up a lot of the action to come.

It was a great opening scene in terms of serving the purpose of opening scenes (laying lots of clues to be followed up on in the middle part of the story).

Later, Lucy is now a character, and it turns out that the murder victim is actually a suicide victim and that Lucy helped cover it up. But, in the opening scene Lucy said it was a murder victim, and spoke about the murder in a very CSI manner, giving out lots of details.

Meaning, in the opening scene, Lucy was lying through her teeth. But the really amazing part is, in that opening scene, the two advisors, the investigator, the investigator’s player, and the narrator, all thought she was telling the truth.

Now the opening scene is incredible because it not only set up action, but it also had a character who was deeply involved in everything, up to and including the investigator’s back story, lying big time and nobody knew it.

I can’t think of another system that would make that happen.

Some Dirty Secrets Actual Play

Jesse Burneko writes up his game of Dirty Secrets.

Dirty Secrets movie poster

Look at this cool thing that Jocelyn Robitaille did to prepare for his upcoming game of Dirty Secrets.

[Dirty Secrets] We wrap our first game

(This post has been cross-posted to the Forge.)

Last night we wrapped up our first game of Dirty Secrets. It’s been a bumpy ride at times, especially since the rules have shuffled around during this particular playtest, but it has been a worthwhile run, both from a playtest and story perspective.

Actual Play

When we last left our hero (such as is), Robert had just fought his way into a mobile home past Debbie Sandberg (his client) and Mollie George (his daughter), to discover that they were preparing for a violent confrontation of some kind. Oh yes, his client was accidentally shot, and, in the course of the struggle, he had knocked out his daughter.

So, Robert beats a hasty retreat from the mobile home, especially since the police were coming. Stepping over Debbie, he picks up the check that she had written for him and drives off. He decides that he needs to come clean with Steven Sandberg, the husband of his client. So he finds him and dumps everything on him while driving him to the hospital to see Debbie.

Then, in one of those odd convergences, Robert got a call from the mother of Stephanie Bloskovich. Robert had gone looking for Stephanie at her house earlier that day, and Stephanie’s mother was calling to say that Stephanie’s half-sister had called and left a message for Stephanie. She wanted Stephanie to meet her down at the Rhythm Kitchen. The half-sister? Courtney Jackson.

So Robert goes down to the Riverfront and stakes out the Rhythm Kitchen. Courtney and Stephanie eventually show up, and Robert tails them into the restaurant. Stephanie has been working with Courtney all along. Indeed, she was supposed to set up Debbie and Mollie, and thinks that she has been successful in doing so. Courtney is concerned that Jeff Stuber is going to double-cross them and thinks that Stephanie should keep her distance, but Stephanie isn’t really listening to her. Both of them are prepared for the deal that is about to go down nearby.

After they eat, they walk over to theRiverfront Village parking ramp, where they meet Jeff. He isn’t happy with how things are going. He doesn’t like how they are selling out Debbie, and he wants to back out, along with the drugs that Debbie provided. He pulls a gun to emphasize his point. At this point, the last person shows up: Steven Sandberg. He is drawing on his wife’s old drug connections to coordinate this sale, and then he will leave Debbie holding the bag. Jeff is very unhappy at this point and again demands that he be given the drugs. Steven accedes to his wishes and tells Courtney to get the drugs for Jeff. Courtney goes to a nearby car and pops the trunk. Reaching in, she pulls out a gun and fires.

Robert is witnessing all this without intervening. When the shooting begins, he slips back to one of the Emergency buttons that are all over the Riverfront and summons the police. Then he thinks of Mollie. Maybe this will let her escape the mess that she is in.

Then Steven stumbles around the corner to take cover. He sees Robert and brings his gun around to fire. Robert already has his weapon drawn and uses it to strike Steven in the face. He stumbles backwards, firing wildly. Robert has no other choice but to shoot him. Down he goes, not dead, but seriously wounded. At this time, the police begin to arrive, so Robert makes good his escape.

Robert goes to the hospital to see Debbie and confront her with the truth. There never were any stolen drugs, because Debbie had actually stolen them and hidden them herself before she was arrested. She wanted to pin the blame on someone else for her own double-cross. Robert then takes out the check that she gave him and hands it back to her. “I would like to be paid,”? he says, “but only if you think that I’ve done something worth being paid for.” Then he leaves the hospital room.

Mollie is waiting for him at his apartment. She spills her story. While in the hospital, she lost the baby. But she was already miscarrying because of her drug habit. When she found this out, Bill killed himself out of guilt. He had gotten her pregnant, and he had gotten her hooked on drugs. He blamed himself, and so he killed himself.

When Mollie got up to leave, Robert asked her to wait. He said that she could stay with him. He said that he wanted to be a good father. He said that he wanted one last chance to make it right.

Mollie refused to listen to him. “You already had your last chance,”? she said. Then she walked out the door.

Robert chased after her. “Please,”? he begged. “Just one more chance. I have nothing left except you.”

Mollie turned to look at him. “You have nothing left? I have nothing left. Two days ago, I had a home, a man who loved me, and a baby. I have nothing left.”

Robert said, “We can help each other. We can take care of each other.”

Mollie paused for a moment.


Robert watched her as she walked away from him down the street. Then she turned the corner and was gone.

The End.

Thoughts and Stuff

We were all fairly tired last night, which is really too bad. I didn’t feel the game as much as I might normally. Also, since this is a playtest, there were rough rules that we still tripped over.

The biggest one, as noted by Ralph in another thread, is that the 6 x 6 Grid is really big. When we started, the Grid rules were a bit different, but even so, there is a need to tweak it up some. I think that I will make a few center squares impassable. Between this and the addition of some special spaces, I think that it will work much better.

We tried out a rule for Crime Resolution. If you roll a blank space for Crime Resolution, in addition to filling in your current square, you can write in a name anywhere on the Grid. This seemed to work fairly well.

Oddly enough, two of the three Crimes that we had were committed by their Victims. Bill Cornman’s murder turned out to be suicide, and the cocaine theft was actually just a sham. This was particularly weird in Bill’s case, since his name only appeared on the Grid twice.

When you resolve all your Crimes, you play out one last scene, which has to resolve everything. Our final scene was the final conversation between Robert and Mollie. When I said that the conflict was going to be over if Mollie stayed or left, everyone became very intent. Strangely enough, I managed to overcome Crystal in conflict twice in a row during this scene. She never loses Liar’s Dice, but, for some reason, I had her number this time.

After the second exchange, Crystal decided to let the conflict end. She could have pushed further, but her aesthetic sense kicked in. I’m glad that the game allows for that.

As I said, we were all very tired, so there wasn’t a lot of post-game reflection or post-playtest rules thoughts. However, both Gabrielle and Crystal agreed that it had been a satisfying experience.

For myself, I’m pretty stoked that the game seems to be coming together. There are still rough edges that need to be smoothed out, but I’m confident that I will be able to do so.

And now, for a little post-game reflection.

At the time, it certainly seemed like a tragedy that Mollie did not want to be reconciled to Robert. But, thinking about it now, I’m not sure that is true. We had established that Robert was a lousy father when Mollie was younger. We had also established that he hadn’t done much better during the game itself. Sure, he gave Mollie shelter that one night, but when push came to shove, he shoved her. The case was more important that she was, and he physically attacked her as a result of that. Would she really have been safe staying with him? Probably not.

Where will she go now? I really don’t know. But, sadly, I think that it will probably be better than staying with Robert George. And that’s probably the saddest part of this story.

[Dirty Secrets] Reggie’s Bad Day

(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 wasn’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 “features�. 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 doesn’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, “Reggie�.

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 weren’t there. That being said, here goes….

Jim’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 you’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 LaTeesha’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. Reggie’s car gets smashed up a bit, and he finds nothing in the backpack except a notebook that says “I love Reggie� 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 LaTeesha’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 Reggie’s crashing his car and being arrested by the police.

Reggie’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 Reggie’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 Jim’s house in a rental car to talk to him. Jim wasn’t home. However, Jim’s girlfriend Cherry was at home with another man. They were arguing about something, but Reggie couldn’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. LaTeesha’s father.

We got to resolve a Crime at this point and determined that, yes indeed, LaTeesha had stolen Jim’s revolver. Now, with her father dead, we wondered if she knew that something was going to go down….

At this point, we wrapped up for the night. We had some good rules discussion, and Ralph solved my Research problem.

Rules Excursus

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve been struggling with the rules for Research. But no more! Ralph suggested that what Research really ought to do is “reveal� 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. Reggie’s father slapped the letters out of his hands. Reggie started to slap his father, but he wasn’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, Reggie’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 father’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 Washington’s house, and Jim recognized the man. “Chainsaw�. So they drove to Chainsaw’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 wasn’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. “LaTeesha, if you’re going to be my girl, this just won’t do.� In shock, LaTeesha turns to him and says, “What?� Then she accidentally pulls the trigger again, shooting her grandfather in the foot.

It was only one point of Violence, so it wasn’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 LaTeesha’s, but that wasn’t providing any solid handles for us. So we called it in for the night.

Post-Game thoughts

Research suddenly jumped from being a trouble point to being a major cool point for this game. But it’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 investigator’s being able to select one thing. If you don’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 “mature themes� games.

Between this playtest and our other playtest, I’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, I’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.

I’m really happy with how this game is coming together. I’m starting to write the manuscript right now, in fact, and I’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.