Dirty Secrets at MRW2011

I went along to MegaRoleplayingWeekend (MRW) with a pretty straightforward agenda: play Dirty Secrets with Hix. And without much effort, I grabbed up Steve, Svend and Donna to play through a game of lies, truths, conflict and crime.

The first thing I did, mentally, was jettison all of the author’s advice on confrontation based gaming. It’s just totally barking up the wrong tree about what works at a gaming table as opposed to an authored narrative. That still leaves scope for conflict, but it’s about choosing alternatives rather than blocking progress.

We then discussed the genre a bit as a group, and jettisoned his other key bit of advice about setting the game locally. Svend eloquently argued that it was easier to deal with truly dark material at a bit of a distance – a comment that encapsulates a huge swath of what works and doesn’t about some games.

We settled on Prohibition Era New York, and used the game mechanics as written to establish the basic parameters of victim, suspect and investigator. The details aren’t too important, but what we came up with was a more natural-looking character set than my previous outing, and we amended some character details not in the adversarial way predicated by the book, but by a really efficient negotiation, finding out what people thought worked and was cool.

And then we began to play. Completely de-emphasizing the player v. player aesthetic of the game system worked really well: we shifted the conflicts distinctly into the fiction. The detective wants something inside the story: can he have it? And I think that when he couldn’t, we still managed to narrate some forward-pointing information, avoiding much of the blocking that stale-mated my first foray into this game.

Pretty early on, I think that the whole table assumed some key facts and relationships, none of which were eventually compromised. Details came out unexpectedly, but because the core dynamic of the NPCs was relatively stable, we were able to actually usefully invent details, rather than being continually stumped and blind-sided as I remember the plot of the first run through. We never seemed to completely un-learn what we thought we knew, just see new angles and hidden depths.

All in all, it was a very satisfying experience for me, and I think that the narrative we played through worked on the level of both a gaming experience and as a hardboiled narrative. Which means that somewhere inside that game, is something that’s workable. However, when I look at how much of the game meta-structure we had to cull, and when I look at just how fiddly some aspects of the game are… well, let’s just say that I think the game is ripe for a second edition. I can think of a dozen or more things to improve straight off.

I think that rpgactionfigure‘s “demo” of Dead of Night still leads the way in terms of my best noir RPG experience, with this being a distant second. However, I will definitely be coming back to this game in the future!

This entry was posted in Actual Play, The Mystery-Investigation Complex and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dirty Secrets at MRW2011

  1. steve_hix says:

    That was a good time! I found it extremely challenging to play (on a par with Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, and Burning Empires). I had two thoughts for improvements after our game.

    First, I’d be happy to use the ‘Suspicion’ squares as a pacing device, throwing a few more of them onto the grid if the game seems to be running long.

    Second, does the game give any guidance on best practice for keeping track of information, creating theories, and deciding on leads to follow up next? It could really benefit from it, I reckon.

    Have you read The Sorceror’s Soul (a supplement for the Sorceror RPG)? It contains some advice for using noir novels as the basis for adventures that I think you’d find interesting.

    • mashugenah says:

      Challenging is a good word – I think you need a really strong intuitive understanding of stories to play the game. I can imagine it (wait, have experienced it) going awry with conflicting genre expectations.

      My considered opinion is that that gives no useful guidance at all on anything. 🙂 It provides some rules which could lead to a noir story…

      I haven’t read any of the Sorcerer line. It’s one of those games that intrigues me and I’d love to try, but the opportunity hasn’t spontaneously arisen, and it’s never made it to the top of my “want to try” list.

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