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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 47 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Dirty Secrets: Some questions and thoughts  (Read 3519 times)
Martin Higham
Member

Posts: 26


« on: November 29, 2007, 12:51:34 PM »

Let me start by saying that to date I have only read the rules (a couple of times) and am really looking forward to playing my first game of Dirty Secrets. During the reading of the rules and a number of posts here on the Forge a few thoughts and observations came to mind.

Character Limits
I'll start with a simple question. Why is the number of Characters in a game related to the number of players when the amount of time any character will have in the limelight will be closely tied to the Story Type? Wouldn't it be better to have fixed limits for each Story Type. For instance, the Short Story could specify four Characters to start and allow a further three to be introduced. I'm guessing at the numbers but I'm sure you have a good idea of what works best.

Setting
I think the rules should make it explicit that Setting decisions should be made during Setup, before Characters or Crimes are determined. Setting should include Location & era. While the Setting of my home town works for some I cant think of any group I would play with where this would work as our home towns are different and knowledge of my town may be quite limited for a player who may live only ten miles away in one direction and works 20 miles in another. I think the people I know would settle for London (although none of us live there), Glasgow, Raymond Chandler's LA or an imaginary generic Noir'ish American town. Whatever it is the players need to agree it up as part of Setup. Likewise, they need to agree an era. I'm sure there are going to be a many 1930s and '40s games of Dirty Secrets as present day.

Motivations
A lot of the feedback revolves around Character motivation or more importantly a lack of it. There's plenty of advice in the second part of the rule book but most players probably will never read it. You've said that each player should have an idea of what happened.  Is it worth trying to formalise some of the advice into the game itself?  For instance; just before the first chapter each player could be given a sheet of paper and ask to write a few words about who committed the crime & why and also how each of the other characters is involved. I think this would certainly help kick start a SHort Story.

Liar's Dice
I enjoy Liar's dice and have played for many years and fully understand your reasons for its use. I am concerned that it introduces a quite a complex mini-game for around conflict resolution and wonder if a simpler system could be used. However I'll withhold judgement until I actually play the game. I'd be interested in the views of those that have played the game regarding its use.

Cheers

Martin



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Valamir
Member

Posts: 5574


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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2007, 01:23:04 PM »

On Liar's Dice:
I HATE Liar's Dice as a game / activity.  I really do.  I tolerated it as a drinking game...cuz, any excuse to drink...but as a game just to play it <shudder>.  It works REALLY well for Dirty Secrets.  You could probably get the same sort of effect playing a hand of Poker, but the Liar's Dice is more theme neutral and easier to mechanically regulate.  If you like it as a game, you should be pleasantly surprised to see it in play.

On Setting:
I think its REALLY important for you to find a shared geography, especially for your first games.  Even if its just a neighborhood you're all familiar with for various reasons.  Location is important to Noir.  The "stage set" if you will is practically a character in itself.  Having the ability to say "yeah, its in that filthy restroom in that little gas station by George's house" is really helpful.  Even more importantly, Noir is more "social commentary" than "detective fiction" and so rooting the game in a place that you're familiar with can have a big impact.  Its one thing to have a minority kid get killed in a school.  Its another thing entirely to have a minority kid get killed in the school YOU went to...and all of the personal issues / baggage / memories / etc. that that will raise.  It will be nearly impossible for you to play that game without having your play informed by your own experiences at that school.  You lose all that if you set the game in some imaginary place or a place no one has any ties to.  I think you'll lose alot if you go that route.
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Christoph Boeckle
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Posts: 455

Geneva, Switzerland


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« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2007, 08:08:52 AM »

Hi Martin

On motivations: In my small experience of Dirty Secrets and a similar (as far as this topic is concerned) game I'm writing, it is reassuring to have a working theory behind your decisions. The difficult thing is that you will need to discard it completely on a regular basis, because the facts simply won't match up to your ideas.
I'm anxious that if players resort to the act of writing their ideas down, they will get too invested/fixed on it and not be quite as nimble to negotiate a change.

What I find very useful when blocked is a mix of these (I think they are already explained in the book):
  • As Investigator, try to focus on particular demographics of Characters and unravel what stories lie behind. This actually ties back to Ralph's statement that noir is more of the "social commentary" than "detective" type of fiction. Participants don't need to come up with particularly special stuff at all, it all gets complicated enough in time through relations and the continual build-up of previously established fiction.
  • As another player, do gratuitous stuff from time to time (perhaps via a Violence scene). You don't know why, but your character sure does.
  • When in doubt, do a Revelation. Marvellous mechanic.
  • Don't hesitate to go far into Conflicts, even if your character gets clattered. Forcing violence into a player's hand is quite interesting, I find, because it gives good indications about who just got punished, got their vengeance, is the victim, etc. Then try to investigate on a Demographic to see what the reasons could be, if it isn't already clear.
Using such a mix has, in my experience, worked very well, without resorting to a strong working theory. It's a bit weird, but really, the motives only (sometimes) become clear at the end, and you might actually not really care about the "mystery" stuff any more at all at that point.
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Regards,
Christoph
GreatWolf
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designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2007, 10:23:41 AM »

Hey, Martin.  Thanks for the interest in the game!  I'll answer your questions below:

Character Limits
I'll start with a simple question. Why is the number of Characters in a game related to the number of players when the amount of time any character will have in the limelight will be closely tied to the Story Type? Wouldn't it be better to have fixed limits for each Story Type. For instance, the Short Story could specify four Characters to start and allow a further three to be introduced. I'm guessing at the numbers but I'm sure you have a good idea of what works best.

Well, the number of Characters is related to the Story Type.  For example, the Short Story specified x+2 Characters, where x is the number of players, whereas the Novel is x+10 Characters.

Earlier in the design, there were a fixed number of characters:  5, 9, and 13, as I recall.  The problem is that a Short Story with 5 players uses up all the Characters immediately at the beginning of the game.  This is no good.  Now, there's one Character in play at the start of the game for each player, plus there are a certain number of spares, which is the same, regardless of the number of players.  The variance is only a couple of Characters, and it works more smoothly this way.

Interesting side note:  I determined the number of characters for each Story Type by counting the number of characters in a Ross MacDonald short story and then in one of his novels.  There were about 4 characters in his short stories and about 13 in his novels.

Quote
Setting
I think the rules should make it explicit that Setting decisions should be made during Setup, before Characters or Crimes are determined. Setting should include Location & era. While the Setting of my home town works for some I cant think of any group I would play with where this would work as our home towns are different and knowledge of my town may be quite limited for a player who may live only ten miles away in one direction and works 20 miles in another. I think the people I know would settle for London (although none of us live there), Glasgow, Raymond Chandler's LA or an imaginary generic Noir'ish American town. Whatever it is the players need to agree it up as part of Setup. Likewise, they need to agree an era. I'm sure there are going to be a many 1930s and '40s games of Dirty Secrets as present day.

Well, the rules already make explicit where the Setting is:  your home town, last week.  If the group is divided, then you go with whatever town the majority of players are from. (p. 18)  As Ralph points out, this is because of the social commentary aspect of the genre.

Now, you're probably right that folks will play Dirty Secrets to create period pieces and the like.  I've even told someone that Dirty Secrets  would probably support a Dresden Files game.  However, during the design process, I decided to treat those approaches as game hacks.  Obviously, I can't stop anyone from hacking the game; in fact, I think that it's kinda cool.  But, as written, the rules are clear on Setting, which is why I didn't incorporate an extensive setting discussion into setup.

Quote
Motivations
A lot of the feedback revolves around Character motivation or more importantly a lack of it. There's plenty of advice in the second part of the rule book but most players probably will never read it. You've said that each player should have an idea of what happened.  Is it worth trying to formalise some of the advice into the game itself?  For instance; just before the first chapter each player could be given a sheet of paper and ask to write a few words about who committed the crime & why and also how each of the other characters is involved. I think this would certainly help kick start a SHort Story.

First, as far as the advice in the book, I figure that someone in the gaming group will have read it and will then be able to pass it on to the other players.

But, as far as having a working theory, Christoph is correct:  the working theory that you use to guide your gameplay needs constant revision.  Having a written working theory will discourage this constant revision.  Also, having the players speculate about the mystery before it begins smacks of "playing before you're playing".  Honestly, at the beginning of the game, you simply don't have enough information to make any reasonable predictions; most of the Characters aren't even in play.  Instead, it's better to wade in, like the book describes.  It doesn't look like it should work, but it really does.  Plus, as a bonus, it recreates the actual source material nicely.  Early on, the investigator tends to bounce around from one "random" encounter to another.  Slowly, though, the pattern emerges....

I will say that the Short Story is difficult for just this reason.  There's little or no time to "wade" into the story and see what happens.  Players need to be more directive when playing a Short Story.  This is why I recommend against playing a Short Story as your first game.  In fact, for a while I toyed with eliminating it from the game altogether.  However, I think that it fills an important niche in the game, provided that the players understand the additional requirements placed on them.

Quote
Liar's Dice
I enjoy Liar's dice and have played for many years and fully understand your reasons for its use. I am concerned that it introduces a quite a complex mini-game for around conflict resolution and wonder if a simpler system could be used. However I'll withhold judgement until I actually play the game. I'd be interested in the views of those that have played the game regarding its use.

I've played the game, but I am a bit biased.  Since I addressed this point on a recent RPGnet review which discussed concerns with the conflict system, I'll copy what I wrote over there:

Quote from: I said:
My goal was actually to provide a thematic experience by analogy. What I mean is this: most conflicts in a game of Dirty Secrets are about bluff and counter-bluff on the character level. So, why not have a conflict system which is about bluff and counter-bluff on the player level? When playing Liar's Dice, you try to read your opponent's dice in his eyes. So, thematically, this connects the players to the characters.

In addition, I actually like the mini-game aspect of conflict.  This drives the game in several ways.

First, there's the possibility of "getting good" at the game.  I like the idea that player skill can be brought to bear in conflict, and that it's not merely based on randomizing factors.

Second, the competition forces the investigator into a corner.  The investigator has a limited pool of resources, relative to the rest of the table.  If he doesn't nimbly approach the various conflicts, then he will be dominated by the other players, which will affect both the investigator and the investigator's player.  In a very real way, the investigator player has to fight to get anything accomplished.

Third, the competition forces the other players to balance aggressive narration with yielding.  Due to the balance of power, while the Authority holds jurisdiction over most of the scene, the Investigator initially controls the Grid.  Also, the Authority's primary method of recovering dice is to give the Investigator what he wants.  An Authority can recover 2 dice (40% of his strength) by allowing the Investigator's Investigation sequence and not triggering a conflict during that sequence.  That means that the Investigator essentially gets what he wants and keeps control of the Crime Grid for that Chapter.  If the Authority doesn't want to roll over like this, then he has to give up his opportunity to refresh those dice.

Fourth, the competition encourages Pushing.  Sometimes, you just hate to lose a conflict, especially to that particular player.  So you throw down again, just because you can.

Again, I note my bias, but conflict is one of my favorite parts of the game.  It really feels like you are engaging the other player in a struggle for the outcome of this confrontation.  It's actually quite a rush, especially when you win.

Christoph's points about conflicts, especially the use of Violence, are also good.

Did this answer your questions?  I'm open for follow-ups!
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Martin Higham
Member

Posts: 26


« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2007, 01:44:24 PM »

Thanks for all the answers. The are seemed to make perfect sense. Hopefully I'll get to play the game soon. Having just played a short game of Spione I can see the similarities and differences between the two and am looking forward to how the end result is affected.

I have one other question and that is about Violent conflicts.

"The violence level equals the difference..."

Does this mean 2 more or 2 fewer matching dice result in the same amount of violence? 

Thanks again

Martin
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GreatWolf
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Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2007, 06:48:24 AM »

Thanks for all the answers. The are seemed to make perfect sense. Hopefully I'll get to play the game soon. Having just played a short game of Spione I can see the similarities and differences between the two and am looking forward to how the end result is affected.

Yep.  Dirty Secrets was heavily influenced by Spione in a number of ways.

Quote
I have one other question and that is about Violent conflicts.

"The violence level equals the difference..."

Does this mean 2 more or 2 fewer matching dice result in the same amount of violence? 

That's correct.

When you're able to play the game, please post Actual Play somewhere.  I'd love to hear about it!
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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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