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Title: [Dogs in the Vineyard] In the line of duty….
Post by: GreatWolf on December 31, 2007, 11:31:36 AM
Introduction

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names.
 An' he decides who to free and who to blame.
Everybody won't be treated all the same.
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down.
When the man comes around.


--Johnny Cash, “When the Man Comes Around”

Recently I decided that, to further my design efforts, I really needed to have some of the classic indie RPGs around.  That way I could play them and perhaps absorb some of the design lessons from those games.  Plus, I could find out what everyone else has been raving about.  I’ve read a number of these games, but that’s no substitute for playing them.

One of the games in the Happy Box of Goodness that I received from Indie Press Revolution (http://www.indiepressrevolution.com) was my very own copy of Dogs in the Vineyard (http://www.lumpley.com/games/dogsources.html).  I tried running this when it first came out, and it just didn’t go well.  Since then, I’ve gotten a better handle on the game, and I wanted to give it another shot.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  First was my designing Dirty Secrets and really absorbing the noir detective genre.  Along the way, Ron commented to me that Dogs in the Vineyard was a direct descendant of Trollbabe, which was directly inspired by Ross MacDonald’s crime fiction.  (I discuss some of this here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25069.msg242526#msg242526).)  The lightbulb went on in my head.  Dogs in the Vineyard isn’t a Western game; it’s a noir game.

The second reason was my realization that, without polygamy, the Faith in Dogs in the Vineyard is just a conversative Christian-ish religion.  I’m a conservative Christian.  Many of the values put forth by the Faith are ones to which I’m sympathetic.  The Faithful are my people.

Suddenly, Dogs in the Vineyard ceased to be a fantasy game about mystical paladin gunslingers.  Instead, it became a noir game, set in my home religion, about issues that lie close to home for me.

Awesome.

So, I’m going to create towns of the Faithful, each with their dark noir-style secrets that need to be revealed and addressed.  And then, we’re going to take idealistic, barely mature young people, armed with guns, Bibles and a couple months training, and set them loose on these nasty, dark, complicated situations.

Even more awesome.

Selling Gabrielle on this was easy.  She had good memories of our previous go at Dogs in the Vineyard, and she was willing to try again.  Crystal…well, she tried it again because she loves me.  I assured her that I was confident that this would be a better experience than before.

Boy, was I right.

Dramatis Personae

Gabrielle played Brother Daniel Brooks, an honest farmboy who grew up in the Faith.  He’s armed with his daddy’s shotgun and all his daddy’s wisdom.  He has a girl back home who he’s going to marry when he gets back from being a Dog.  Well, they aren’t exactly engaged or anything, but there’s always been an understanding between his family and hers.  You know what I mean?

Acuity: 3d6
Body: 3d6
Heart: 4d6
Will: 3d6

Traits
Honest Face 3d6
Been shootin’ for years 3d8
Good old fashioned farmboy 1d10
Carryin’ all my daddy’s wisdom 2d10
I’m a Dog 1d8
“That just ain’t right” 1d6

Relationships
My daddy 1d6
Temperance James 1d8
Self-righteous 1d6

In contrast, Crystal played Sister Content Green.  Her original name was Hazel, but her teachers at the Dogs’ Temple renamed her at her request.  Her past is murky.  She’s a relatively new convert with a dark past.  Crystal knew some of the details of this dark past going into the game, but we’re elaborating as we go.

Oh, I should note that Crystal actually drew her Dog with her coat, including all the symbolism of the design.  Content made her own coat; she didn’t have a town to back her up.

Acuity: 2d6
Body: 5d6
Heart: 3d6
Will: 5d6

Traits
Violent temper 2d10
Brutally honest 1d6
Fanatically faithful 1d6
Fearsome fist 4d4
Not totally alone 1d6

Relationships
I’m a Dog 2d4
Domestic Abuse 2d6


I was the GM, so that means I played the town.


Snowy Canyon

Town creation is brilliant.  I hate doing game prep, so any tools that make it focused and simple are immediately my friends.  Town creation is all that and more.  I said it once, and I’ll say it again:  town creation is the genius of this game, even more than the dice system.  Yeah, it’s that good.

For those interested, here’s the town:

Snowy Canyon

Townspeople
Dorothy McCullen
Elias McCullen
Keziah McCullen
Lavina Culver
Aaron Culver
David Cooper
Abiah Cooper

Pride
Elias wants a child of his own.  Keziah is Dorothy’s from when she was a whore, and so she doesn’t quite count.  However, they haven’t been able to get pregnant.

Injustice
Elias obsesses about this lack, leading him to neglect Dorothy and Keziah.

Sin
Elias pays David to impregnate Dorothy.  Both Dorothy and Abiah (David’s wife) agree, at least at first.

Demonic Attacks
Dorothy gets pregnant with twins, and Lavina (midwife and wife of the Steward) finds out the identity of the father

What do the townspeople want from the Dogs?
Dorothy McCullen—make Elias love her
Elias McCullen—bless the birth as legitimate
Keziah McCullen—be allowed to live alone with her mother like they used to
Lavina Culver—just move on without messing anything up
Aaron Culver—mediate the Cooper/McCullen feud
David Cooper—be able to divorce Abiah and marry Dorothy
Abiah Cooper—be given custody of the twins

What do the demons want?
Destroy both families over this issue

What do the demons want from the Dogs?
Side with either the McCullens or Coopers

What would happen if the Dogs didn’t come?
Abiah would murder Dorothy after she gives birth and would kidnap the children.

In looking this over, I think that I skipped a couple of steps.  It’s arguable if I should have pushed the situation down to False Doctrine and Corrupt Worship.  The “what if the Dogs didn’t come” doesn’t really take False Priesthood into account, either.  Doesn’t really matter, though.  It all worked out well.


What Happened in Snowy Canyon

The wind was whipping down the canyon as the Dogs rode into town.  We established that the town was laid out like a West Virginian “holler”, with the town mostly winding along by the river that cut the canyon that the town lies in.  So the Dogs went looking for the meeting house to find the Steward, Aaron Culver.

Both Crystal and Gabrielle established their characters fairly quickly.  Brother Daniel was pretty laid back, using his folksy charm to ease into the situation.  Sister Content started grilling the Steward immediately, looking for any sign of infractions.  Somehow, Daniel managed to calm the situation and get everything moving towards the Steward’s house.

After dinner, Aaron started spilling his concern to Daniel about the McCullen and Cooper families, who had been feuding for the last six months or so.  Content was helping his wife, Lavina, clear up from dinner, so she was only partially in the conversation.  However, Lavina pulled Content aside and tried to persuade her that Aaron was blowing things out of proportion and that everything would blow over soon.  I told Crystal, “She’s lying”.  That’s all it took.  Content accused Lavina of being a liar.  We went to dice to figure out if Content could get the information out of Lavina.  Eventually, Lavina confessed that she knew that David was the father of Dorothy’s babies.

Did Content share this information with Daniel?  Of course not!  So, early on, the Dogs were split up, which was actually quite cool.

The next morning, Daniel went to question Elias, while Content went to talk to Dorothy.  There was some interesting crossing of scenes.  Daniel and Elias were in one room, while Content and Dorothy were in another room.  We played through Daniel’s conversation; when he finished with Elias, he left through the front door, politely taking his leave of the women who were there.

However, as we played out the other scene, we discovered that he had actually accidentally walked through a fairly intense conversation.  Content confronted Dorothy about the babies’ true father, and we went to dice to see if Dorothy would actually confess.  I rolled pretty well for Dorothy, and it looked like Crystal would have to escalate to get the information.  But then we had this exchange.  It went something like this:

CONTENT:  What will you do if the children have red hair? (referring to David)
DOROTHY:  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  And, even if they did, what do you want me to do?  Kill them?
CONTENT:  I did.  I couldn’t stand the idea that he would look like my father.

Gabrielle and I blinked at Crystal.  I looked at my amazing dice, and I Gave on the spot.

Dorothy spilled everything, how Elias paid David to impregnate her.  She looks up at Content and says, “At least, before, they paid me money.  But now we pay?  What kind of messed-up religion is this?”

Meanwhile, Daniel had gone next door to question David and Abiah.  David was gone on a business trip, but a very uptight, angry Abiah was there to greet Daniel.  She didn’t really want to have a conversation with him, and she was about to enforce that with the loaded shotgun that she kept near the door.  We played this as two conflicts.  The first was “Does Abiah get David to leave?” and the second was “Does Abiah give up her part in the deal?”  Daniel won the first conflict by suggesting that they move down to the meeting house to satisfy Abiah’s sense of propriety.  Since we agreed that the stakes meant “Does Abiah manage to break off the conversation?” this satisfied all of us.  So, down to the meeting house, where Daniel continued to press for information.

Things weren’t going well for Abiah, so she escalated very quickly to gunfighting.  She raised the shotgun, and, when Daniel wouldn’t back down, she pulled the trigger.

At this point, I explained Gabrielle’s options to her.  She didn’t have the necessary dice to Block, so she would either have to take the Fallout (3d10, in this case) and take the shot, or she would have to Give to block.  She decided that the information was important enough that she didn’t want to give.  So she took the Fallout, and Daniel was shot.

We introduced Content into the scene, giving Gabrielle a 1d8 Belonging die for Content’s intervention.  Daniel Raises with, “I’m a Dog.  I have the authority to ask these questions.”  That was enough to force Abiah to Give.  “My husband is a bastard,” she hisses.

Before the rest of the data dump, though, it’s time to roll Fallout!

Gabrielle rolls a 20.

We all blink at it.  I say, “Daniel is dead.”

I nearly said, “Just reroll that.”  But I firmly clamped down on that impulse.  Gabrielle knew the risk; she had chosen this.

We worked it out.  Content moves closer to Abiah, as she lays out what David has done.  Daniel sits down on one of the benches, like he’s tired.  Content hears what Abiah has to say, then turns to Daniel.  “What do you think?” she says.

Daniel slumps and falls to the floor.

The shotgun clatters to the floor as Abiah turns to run.

Content dashes to Daniel’s side.  If this were the movie, all the sound would have gone away.  Just like Daniel.  There he lies, clutching his beloved’s handkerchief.

Heavy stuff, mostly because it was so unexpected.  A bolt from the blue.

They buried Daniel in the local graveyard.  Content scattered consecrated earth on the grave before they buried him.  Then someone came running from the McCullen’s house.  Dorothy is in labor.

And a man rolls into town on a wagon.  David Cooper is home.

(to be continued)



Title: Re: [Dogs in the Vineyard] In the line of duty….
Post by: GreatWolf on December 31, 2007, 02:50:05 PM
Judgment in Snowy Canyon

At last, the final player in this dark drama had returned.  Content confronted him.  He wasn’t very happy; after all, he had just heard the news that his wife was a murderer.  And so, he asked Content if she was able to give him a divorce.  Because that’s what he really wanted:  to be able to leave Abiah and marry Dorothy instead.  Content refused to do so, and left the house.

Content then went to see Elias, who was waiting at the Steward’s house for the birth of the twins.  Content politely but firmly evicted Aaron from the room, but we all agreed that he heard everything that was said.

Content told Elias that she knew what had happened.  She grilled him about his relationship with his wife.  Did he really love her?  What if she didn’t give birth to sons?  Would he still love her?  Elias insisted that he would.  So, Content delivered her judgment.  The McCullens and Coopers would each get one of the babies.  Elias didn’t want to do it, but Content reminded him that all four of them deserved death for what they had done.  He bowed to the necessity and agreed.

He got up to leave, but paused at the door.  “Three children, and none of them are really mine.”  He sighed and left the house.

Content then went down to the McCullens to see how Dorothy was doing.  But, as she was about to enter the house, Abiah got the drop on her, pointing the shotgun at her.  Abiah demanded that Content give her both the babies after they were born.  We went to dice over this.  Content managed to win by making a simple offer:  she would grant Abiah amnesty in exile.  Abiah needed to leave Snowy Canyon immediately and never return.  If she set foot in Snowy Canyon again, her life would be forfeit.

Abiah took the deal and vanished into the night.

Dorothy gave birth to twin girls.  So, in the morning, Elias came to find Content.  Abiah is gone.  Would they really have to give up one of the babies to a broken family?

By this point, Content was flailing, but she made her decision.  The McCullens would keep both children, and she would expect Elias to love and care for his entire family.

There was only one more thing to do.  On her way out of town, she stopped at the Cooper house.  When David opened the door, she told him that she was granting him his divorce from Abiah.  However, he could not marry Dorothy.  Instead, he needed to help the McCullens take care of their children.

As Content rode out of town, leading Daniel’s empty horse, she passed Keziah, playing in the snow.  She looked up and waved goodbye.


Post-game reflection

Ever seen The Village?  Remember that scene were Lucius was stabbed and you’re suddenly in shock and denial and the entire movie flipped upside down?  Yeah, that’s how we felt when Daniel died.

It’s an apt description for more than just the visceral effect, though.  When you’re watching The Village, you’re not really sure who the movie is about.  That scene definitely established who the movie was about.

When Daniel died, it established that this story is about Content.  Gabrielle is going to make another character, but she’s currently intending on making one that will be a good foil for Content.  Now, maybe we will discover that another twist in the road will make this judgment no longer correct.  But for now, that’s definitely the direction that the game is going.

This brought out something about Dogs in the Vineyard that I haven’t seen expressed elsewhere.  (This may just mean that I’m dense.)  Dogs in the Vineyard is composed of two halves that join together.  The GM brings his Town, which joins up with the specific Dog haracters that the players bring to the table.  That’s not just a matter of personality.  The players should be making characters that are about religious issues.  The characters are the beginning of how the players address Premise in the game.  They shouldn’t just be a bundle of Effectiveness.

Grr.  I’m not saying this well.  Maybe some discussion will help tease this point out.

Hey!  Maybe it’s partly connected to this.

Recently, (maybe in a recent interview (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25257.0)?) Ron commented a bit about Dogs in the Vineyard, saying that people forget that the Dogs are young virgins who are really not equipped to handle the situations that are pitched at them.  Having watched Brick and Veronica Mars, I noticed this theme running through those stories as well.  You have young characters dealing with situations that are really too big for them.  Even more than adults, they are in way over their heads.  The same is true for Dogs.  So, during chargen, I made sure to stress this point.  Dogs are about twenty years old with about two months of training.

Gabrielle got it right away, and it gave her the willies.

Crystal experienced it during play.  Once the badness was well and truly revealed, Content had no idea what to do about it all.  Backing up a step, Crystal had no idea what to do.  The simple ideals of how things “should” work were insufficient to untangle the situation at hand.  So she winged it and did the best that she could.

I think that this is part of what I’m trying to say about players making characters.  You ought to make idealistic characters or characters with issues that need to slam headlong into “real life” problems and ugliness. 

Let’s see.  Other points.

Vincent talks about not holding back secrets about the town.  Give up the details.  I found this to be quite true in play.  Even when I called for conflict to hide information, the Dogs always knew where to go for more information or what to do next.  There was not wandering around, trying to find the magic evidence.  Snowy Canyon yielded its secrets rather easily.  What to do about them…well, that’s a different story altogether.  Plus, as I noted before, pushing for some of those secrets cost Daniel his life.  So, following this procedure doesn’t make the game boring.  Rather, it made the game exciting.

Now, this doesn’t mean that a single character should have all the information.  Rather, it means that each character has a slice of the problem, seen from his viewpoint, and he should be more than happy to give up the information that will allow him to “win” the current problem.  Of course he will try to protect himself and make himself look good.  Going after that information will probably require a conflict…or maybe it will only require going to talk to someone else.  Gradually the picture emerges, and a previous character suddenly doesn’t look quite as good as he once did.

Honestly, the best way to see this in action is to read some Ross MacDonald.  Watch how the different characters try to use the investigator as a weapon against their enemies by providing portions of the truth.  Gradually, as these portions of truth begin to intersect, the full, nasty picture emerges.

That’s what Vincent means about not holding back secrets.  Go and do likewise.

Crystal also had a small epiphany about her character’s backstory.  The entire bit about her character having had an abortion was created on the spot.  It wasn’t a secret that she was holding onto; it was an immediate reaction in play.  This was far more powerful than if it had been something that had been created during chargen and then integrated into the game.  Crystal felt the vibe and, maybe for the first time, understood why I don’t like discussion in between sessions about what should happen next and similar things.

The power of such moments is a big reason why I roleplay.

Finally, as part of her Reflection Fallout, Content removed a portion of her coat that represented hope and sewed part of Daniel’s coat in its place.  I’m enjoying the symbolic nature of the coats, and I’m hoping to play with this further as we continue playing.


A couple minor points
I printed out the Dogs names list (http://www.bullypulpitgames.com/projects/names/milk_and_honey2.pdf) (PDF) from the Story Games Names Project.  It is very helpful to have on hand.  Names can be tricky in any game, and Dogs in the Vineyard is particularly challenging, at least for me.  I’m particularly pleased with the Town names section.  I rolled to name Snowy Canyon, and I’ll probably continue doing this for my other towns.  This single tool has reduced my prep time immeasurably.  I highly recommend that you download it and use it.  Or, better yet, go buy the book (http://www.lulu.com/content/404111).  I haven’t done so myself, but I probably should.

Finally, this:

When we played, I grabbed a couple music recommendations from the back of the book and popped them into Pandora (http://www.pandora.com).  Vincent, you’re right.  “When The Man Comes Around” is that good.  Now I must go experience more Johnny Cash.

Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom.
 Then the father hen will call his chickens home.
The wise men will bow down before the throne.
And at his feet they'll cast their golden crown.
When the man comes around.



Title: Re: [Dogs in the Vineyard] In the line of duty….
Post by: lumpley on January 02, 2008, 08:37:00 AM
So, this is a spectacular writeup.

This brought out something about Dogs in the Vineyard that I haven’t seen expressed elsewhere.  (This may just mean that I’m dense.)  Dogs in the Vineyard is composed of two halves that join together.  The GM brings his Town, which joins up with the specific Dog haracters that the players bring to the table.  That’s not just a matter of personality.  The players should be making characters that are about religious issues.  The characters are the beginning of how the players address Premise in the game.  They shouldn’t just be a bundle of Effectiveness.
Astute, Seth! This is why I tell people that the real game doesn't usually kick in until session 3. Dealing with a town is fun and fine, but no, the town is not the story, the Dogs are the story. Creating characters on purpose, if you have the foresight and issues in mind, can mean that you're playing the real game before session 3. I'm just now beginning to figure that out myself, with my friends' help.

Johnny Cash: don't miss "God's Gonna Cut You Down." (You can find it on YouTube if you look.)

-Vincent


Title: Re: [Dogs in the Vineyard] In the line of duty….
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 02, 2008, 08:52:56 AM
Hi Seth,

I'm interested in some of the rolls for Content in those final conflicts, because her traits seem oriented toward a rage-filled, dangerous array of reactions, including at least one revenge killing. I can't imagine how most of those traits could have been drawn into the conflicts as she handled them, and I like the way that Crystal's sudden sense of being morally adrift paralleled the character's sense of being cut-off from her usual array of how she handles problems (if I'm reading correctly). Did Crystal find herself specifically avoiding certain traits during the conflicts? Did she roll well enough on the Attribute dice to insulate Content from having to use, for instance, the bad temper, the fanaticism, and the fearsome fist?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [Dogs in the Vineyard] In the line of duty….
Post by: GreatWolf on January 02, 2008, 10:26:06 AM
Quote
So, this is a spectacular writeup.

Thanks, Vincent!  I got some more play in yesterday, so expect to see further writeups soon.

Regarding Johnny Cash:  I now have American III, American IV, and American V on order.  And I've heard Moby's "Run On", so that's close to "God's Gonna Cut You Down", right?  (big cheesy grin)

Ron saith:

Quote
I'm interested in some of the rolls for Content in those final conflicts, because her traits seem oriented toward a rage-filled, dangerous array of reactions, including at least one revenge killing. I can't imagine how most of those traits could have been drawn into the conflicts as she handled them, and I like the way that Crystal's sudden sense of being morally adrift paralleled the character's sense of being cut-off from her usual array of how she handles problems (if I'm reading correctly). Did Crystal find herself specifically avoiding certain traits during the conflicts? Did she roll well enough on the Attribute dice to insulate Content from having to use, for instance, the bad temper, the fanaticism, and the fearsome fist?

Yes, I think that she was avoiding drawing on those Traits.  This makes sense to me completely.  Content would be perfectly willing to bring the wrath of God on someone if she were persuaded in her mind that the person was totally guilty.  However, this situation didn't allow her to make an absolute judgment like that.  Therefore, she restrained herself, mostly out of confusion.

It wasn't for lack of trying on my part.  I'm finding that a guilty pleasure of being a DitV GM is trying to pressure the Dogs into violent confrontation.  I'm always mentioning how they could escalate now, or how that fat 4d10 Trait would become available if only someone would throw a punch....  But, for the most part, the players have been nervous to cross that line.  Which is good.  They should be nervous, but I'm going to keep pushing until they do.  Just for the sheer cussedness of it all.

Now, the seething violence in Content is counter-pointed by a couple of interesting aspects.  The first is that Content is truly devoted to the Faith.  She really does believe, and this is a major component of her life.  The second is that Content is thoroughly suspicious of the religious hierarchy.  So, she's like, "I trust God; it's His servants who I can't stand."  Thus her "I'm a Dog" Relationship being at 2d4.  That was lowered as a result of her initiation conflict where Content managed to get a teacher to admit that she was teaching things that she thought were wrong, simply because the religious hierarchy required it.

Of course, in the wake of Daniel's death, Content is struggling with her faith.  How could God let a good man like Daniel die?  That will be an emerging issue in play as well.

So, Content is just a bundle of dangerous beliefs and emotions.  I'm really looking forward to seeing how she reacts to future towns.


Title: Re: [Dogs in the Vineyard] In the line of duty….
Post by: GreatWolf on January 04, 2008, 09:13:29 AM
Quote
This brought out something about Dogs in the Vineyard that I haven’t seen expressed elsewhere.  (This may just mean that I’m dense.)  Dogs in the Vineyard is composed of two halves that join together.  The GM brings his Town, which joins up with the specific Dog haracters that the players bring to the table.  That’s not just a matter of personality.  The players should be making characters that are about religious issues.  The characters are the beginning of how the players address Premise in the game.  They shouldn’t just be a bundle of Effectiveness.

Ha!  I was looking at anyway for a completely different reason, and I stumbled across this comment (http://lumpley.com/marginalia.php?entry=183&comment=4868) from Vincent:

Quote
The real situation that Dogs in the Vineyard cares about is the one between each of the PCs and each other and the Faith....You know how the real situation that The Mountain Witch cares about is the one between the PCs with their trust and their dark fates, and the GM throws grief at them to simply just apply pressure to that situation? Dogs is the same. It's better to understand a Dogs town with its sin and judgement as an encounter along the way, an attack by Oni or a freezing cold night, than as the thing that really matters.

So, there it is.  It has been said before.  Just thought I'd point it out.