Passionate Game Design

Dirty Secrets of the Mad City

For a while now I’ve wanted to play Dirty Secrets set in the Mad City from Don’t Rest Your Head. I’ve finally nailed down the ruleset application I’d use. My goal whenever I create a “hack” is to use as much of the existing rule set as possible. So what I’ve done here is try and figure out what Nightmares and Madness “mean” in a Dirty Secrets game. Enjoy.


The Mad City is a dream like version of Your Home Town, Every Time and No Time.

Violence serves the role of Exhaustion (with one exception) in Don’t Rest Your Head. The Violence rules are otherwise unchanged.

The Corrupt Investigator rules are always in play for reasons you’ll see in a minute.

Madness Die: In addition to the Red Violence Die used in Investigation Scenes, use a Blue Madness Die in similar fashion (i.e. one public, one for the investigator, one for the authority).

Unlike Violence, Madness may always be distributed.

For each point of Madness delivered to a character the assigner may do one of the following:
Apply the Mistaken Identity rules without using up a Character card.
Apply the Alias rules without using up a Character Card.
Change one demographic on the Character Card.
Run the Revelation Scene rules with that character fixed as one of the two people involved in the relationship. In this case the decisions normally made by the Investigator are made by the winner of the conflict that generated the madness, and the decisions normally made by the Authority are made by the loser.

Yes, all of the above applies to the Investigator.

Just to be clear, there is no new special “Madness Scene” similar to “Violence Scenes” (See the Nightmare rules instead).

The Madness Die is NOT used in the Finale. The Investigator needs some stability in the climax.

Nightmares: Every Crime generates a Nightmare. Whoever declares a Crime should also declare a Nightmare spawned from that Crime. During Setup the Investigator declares the Nightmare spawned from the Crime.

Nightmares may be used as the basis for a Violence scene or “show up” as the basis for converting an Investigation scene into a Violence scene (under the normal Pushing rules). When this happens their Special Ability is in play.

When a Nightmare is created it should be given one of the following Special Abilities.

Generates Violence (This means that when used as the basis for a Violence Scene it generates Violence as per the normal rules)
Generates Madness (Instead of generating Violence the scene generates Madness instead)
Generates Exhaustion (Instead of generating Violence or Madness the Nightmare causes Dice Loss as if this were an Investigation Scene)

When a Nightmare is used as the basis for a Violence Scene the Witness does NOT move at the end of the conflict.

A Nightmare can be included in a Revelation Scene (even on the random side of a Madness generated one).

A Nightmare can not be written down on the Crime Grid.

A Nightmare can not receive Madness at all.

A Nightmare can not be the victim of a Crime.

A Nightmare can not be included in an Alias or Mistaken Identity.

A Nightmare can not receive three points of Violence in a conflict until the Crime that spawned it has been resolved.

Just to be clear, a Nightmare can not be killed or otherwise destroyed until the Crime that spawned it has been resolved.


My main point of curiosity is whether the resulting narrative can maintain any kind of thematic coherency. Or if it’s just going to turn into one crazy mess.

6 responses

  1. oberonthefool

    Ow. My brain hurts >_<

    April 12, 2010 at 3:22 am

    • jburneko

      I hope in a good way. I haven’t had a chance to try this out, yet.


      April 12, 2010 at 3:28 am

  2. standardgravity

    I just read Don’t Rest Your Head. What do you not like about that game, if anything? (Assuming that’s why you lifted Mad City into Dirty Secrets.)

    If you don’t mind me asking.


    July 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    • jburneko

      Sorry for the delay before responding. I actually don’t have ANY problem with the mechanics of Don’t Rest Your Head. My hack isn’t here to suggest that Dirty Secrets some how does the Mad City better than Don’t Rest Your Head.

      Rather Dirty Secrets does noir detective stories very, very well and I wanted to play noir detective story set in the Mad City from Don’t Rest Your Head. If I were just playing straight Don’t Rest Your Head I’d use the original system.


      July 14, 2010 at 1:31 am

      • standardgravity

        Thanks for explaining, cheers!

        July 14, 2010 at 8:27 am

  3. Pingback: Lista de RPG Indie - Cavaleiros Insones

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