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Author Topic: Washing the blood off our hands  (Read 9824 times)
Solamasa
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Posts: 50


« on: February 25, 2005, 08:30:19 AM »

I was struggling this morning with how best to memorialize the end of our Dogs in the Vineyard game.  A memorial was surely justified, I reasoned, as last night's session marked the most emotionally charged ending to the most intense roleplaying game I've ever played.  From a beginning in Logan's Nest, where a youth educated back East was toying with apostasy; to the twisted ghost town of Edwin Flats where the actions of the previous Dogs had brought about a reign of horror, blasphemy, cannibalism, sorcery, and a plague of madness; to a desperate, agonizingly misguided final stand at Garrison's Peak -- and a pair of other towns full of iniquity and vice in between -- the King's Watchdogs struggled to uphold their duty, always balancing sin and justice, punishment and mercy.  I had to put it all down.

But this morning I read my wife's commentary on her LiveJournal, and it was a perfect tribute.  Of course, being the player of Brother Hector, I don't quite agree with all her  interpretations of the events below, but for all intents and purposes it's a faithful (Faithful!) record of the last hours of our Dogs in the Vineyard game.

For details on what lead us to this point, there are two threads here.  One was written by our GM Aaron, http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14247.  Good character synopsis, and outlines some of the issues we've been dealing with.  The other is what I wrote two weeks ago, http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=14293, about putting character back-story in action.

Thank you so much for this remarkable game, Vincent!  Superlatives fail me.

And without further ado, and reprinted by permission...

***
Things had been rough between our Dogs characters for a while. K's character, Brother Hector, was a sanctimonious prick and was a source of much of the tension within the group. His tendency to shoot first and let the King of Life sort 'em all out was something that caused so small amount of problems. Then there was Brother Lazarus, who was at the opposite end of the scale and, if anything, too merciful. In addition, Brother Lazarus was also a Mountain Person who had retained his heathen ways. Throw into the mix Brother Ishmael, who thought that the Dogs should be unified and always wound up aggravated when we inevitably fought. And top it off with my character, Brother Simeon, with his whopping 2d8 worth of 'I'm Not Very Nice' and his minimum Heart score, and you've got a recipe for conflict.

But despite our differences, despite countless fights between Hector and Simeon (Hector wound up with 'I'm Concerned For Simeon's Soul 1d10' on his character sheet, while Simeon wound up with 'Hector is a tool 1d8' on his character sheet as well as 'Hector gave me bleeding ulcers 1d4') we still managed to hold things together and do our job. We may not have done it perfectly, but we rooted out sin, fought demons, and preserved the health of the community. That is, until this last town. And then everything fell all to hell.

What the Dogs quickly discovered as the sin in this town was the fact that two of the towns young unmarried men had been sleeping together (as well as having threesomes with Sister Odetta). Brother Robert, one of the young men, sought out Brother Hector to confide in - which in other circumstances might have been the worst possible decision. After all, Brother Hector had pulled for having someone executed for preaching The Book of Life incorrectly. Things might have gone badly for Brother Robert were it not for the trait on Hector's character sheet that had been quietly unused the entire campaign - 'my ex-lover Gideon'.

Hector, unable to separate his own life from Brother Roberts, does the unthinkable (at least to a Dog) and forgives Brother Robert, tells him to go and sin no more. What's more, he stands up to the other Dogs and refuses to acknowledge that they should be punished for what they have done. Brother Robert promised that he will sin no more, was his rallying cry. But the Faith is not a happy, fun, merciful religion. It calls for justice, and homosexual relations are one of the most grievous sins that can be committed against the King of Life. In this case, Brother Hector was clearly in the wrong. Unable to win the argument, he stormed off and appointed himself guard over Brother Robert.

This left the remaining Dogs in a terrible dilemma. Brother Robert and his two... playmates had to be dealt with, but how? Publicly? Or quietly? Brother Lazarus, tender-hearted and merciful in the extreme, advocated punishing them quietly, sweeping it all under the rug so that Brother Robert's fiancée would not have her reputation damaged in the scandal. But Brother Simeon and Brother Ishmael argued fiercely for dragging them out in the middle of town, flogging and banishing them publicly. In order for the wound to heal, they argued, it must be known. The issue was bitterly fought, and the strain caused Simeon to collapse from bleeding ulcers.

It was ultimately this that convinced Brother Lazarus of the virtue of Simeon's position, strange as that may sound. The Faith is a pretty masochistic religion, and he figured that the King of Life knew that Brother Lazarus did not like seeing those around him get hurt, so he struck down Brother Simeon to show Brother Lazarus the error of his ways. Sadly, it left his faith in his abilities as a Dog severely shaken - which was ironic because Brother Lazarus had managed to strike the most successful balance between mercy and justice (as the Faith saw it) out of any of the Dogs.

But there was still trouble on the horizon - a storm brewing that had no root in the natural. The three Dogs figured they had better round up the randy teens to be dealt with after the storm blew over, and so rode out to the farm where Brother Robert lived, only to find Brother Hector waiting for them on the porch with a shiny new long gun. They argued again, an argument Hector could not hope to win as he was so clearly in the wrong. Brother Simeon looked at Brother Hector with open derision and pity, laughing at Hector's pathetic justifications. And when it became apparent that Brother Simeon would not be stopped, he did the unthinkable. He called upon the demons.

A Dog who renounces mercy, he reasoned, is no Dog. In Hector's mind, Brothers Simeon, Lazarus, and Ishmael had lost the right to their authority, and only he was fit to take it up again. And so he called on the demon Grandfather to aid him in his cause. In Hector's mind, his faith was so true that Grandfather could not control him. But to the other Dogs, Hector had stepped into the abyss, had revoked his own authority as a Dog. Hector began to glow, and his eyes blacked over as he pronounced that he revoked the authority of the other Dogs for renouncing mercy. Which is when the bullets started flying.

The demons were having a field day at this point, and the storm had turned into a veritable hurricane as three funnel clouds danced in the distance off on the plain. Brother Lazarus and Simeon exchanged shots with Brother Hector, who called upon Grandfather to turn the bullets aside.

Brother Ishmael, meanwhile, seeking to solve the problem of the town by simply killing Brother Robert, had snuck in through the house to where Brother Robert and his family were all huddled together. Brother Robert, unaware of the conflict outside, simply smiled up at Brother Ishmael.

Outside, Brother Hector was weakening as he took several direct hits. Simeon had dropped out of the firefight, still too ill from his bleeding ulcers. But Brother Lazarus had scored some serious wounds as well, and both he and Hector were in sad shape when Lazarus finally managed to destroy Hector's gun. Hector collapsed, seriously injured but somehow still alive despite being riddled with bullets. Brother Lazarus, however, looked down to see that his entire side had been blown off.

Inside, Brother Ishmael saw Lazarus fall and he looked down at Brother Robert for a long moment before taking off his coat, the symbol of his authority, and letting the wind take it. The coat fluttered down to settle over Brother Hector, but Brother Ishmael was not there to see it land, he was already mounting his horse and riding for the Fort - one of the largest enclaves of (sinful) Easterners in Faithful territory.

Simeon ignored Hector as he dragged Brother Lazarus in from the gale-force winds, using his coat to shield them both. Both of them knew that Lazarus' time was short. Brother Simeon was genuinely upset, because of all the Dogs he had felt the most kinship with Brother Lazarus. Brother Simeon was half Mountain Person himself, and that made for a strange bond that he didn't have with any of the other Dogs. Knowing that Lazarus still kept the Mountain Folk ways, he tried to say a blessing in the Mountain tongue, but Brother Lazarus stopped him, asking instead for the last rites of the Faith. So Simeon blessed Brother Lazarus and recited the last rites of the Dogs from beginning to end as Lazarus quietly passed away. His last request was to remember mercy, and to do what had to be done.

When Simeon stood up, he noticed that the wind had died down without him even realizing it. Turning to Brother Robert, Brother Simeon hefted his rifle, but his heart wasn't in it after all of the bloodshed he'd witnessed and he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger.

Outside, Brother Hector had been slowly healing himself from his wounds using the power of the demons. He sat up to see Brother Simeon standing over Brother Robert with his gun. At that point he might yet have won the day, he might yet have used the power of the demons to stop Brother Simeon. But even Hector realized how far he had fallen. "No," he said simply as he turned his gun on himself and shot himself in the head.

Out of the corner of his eye, Simeon saw Hector's hand with the gun fall limply to the ground. With an intensity that would have frightened the piss out of any normal man, he weighed Brother Robert's life. But Brother Lazarus' plea for mercy stayed with him. "Go," he said at last. "Find Brother Joseph and Sister Odetta and leave, go far, far away and never return. If you do, I will hunt you all." And without saying a word to his family, Brother Robert fled out into the dying storm, thankful to have escaped with his life.

With that, Simeon got on his horse and set off in the direction of Bridal Falls - home of the Faith and of the Dogs. From the front porch, where Hector lay, the demon Grandfather closed Hector's eyes and as he watched Simeon ride for Bridal Falls, he laughed.
***

Just a note about the deaths:  in the final gunbattle Br. Hector sustained an astonishing 9d10+7d4 fallout, and Br. Lazarus took 5d10.  It was grisly. :)
- Kit
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xenopulse
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Heretic Forgite


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« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2005, 08:51:22 AM »

This gave me goosebumps just reading it. Thanks for sharing.

I really need to find myself a group to play Dogs with.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2005, 09:04:21 AM »

Good ending. It's always the hardest part to write.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2005, 09:38:37 AM »

Yikes. Blood and damnation!

Did you know going into this session that it would be the last?

Kit, what were your favorite moments?

Anybody else in your group reading this, I'd love to hear from you too.

-Vincent
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ironick
Member

Posts: 68


« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2005, 11:45:44 AM »

Ho there, this is ironick, player of Br. Lazarus!

The funny thing is, we were *supposed* to have two more towns on our route before we returned to Bridal Falls.  Obviously, that didn't happen...

I'm glad it did end there, though.  I can't even imagine a more fitting ending for this campaign.  On a side note, I've come to the realization that 6 or 7 times out of ten, my characters end up dying in the last session.  I totally didn't plan to do so this time, but those two 10's on the Fallout dice cannot be denied.  I don't think any of us, aside from the GM (possibly), saw this type of thing happening.  This town had already taken up the two previous sessions, and we were all eager to finish it up and get on to the next two towns.  As far as endings go, however, this was about as fantastic as they come, and best of all, it was completely character-driven.

Kudos to you, Vincent!  To bite off 8-Bit Theater; DitV is ten gallons of ass-kicking in a five-gallon jug!
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Solamasa
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Posts: 50


« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2005, 12:46:47 PM »

None of us knew this was to be the end, but of course I don't think things could have been tied up more sweetly than that.  Aaron still had two towns in the planning stages left on the route for the Dogs.  After the session he mentioned that he came into this town knowing it would be a big deal, but had no clue it would escalate so dramatically.  The rest of us also saw the trouble brewing, of course, but not the severity.  

Now, I must add a caveat to the above because this was our third session in this town, and by the end of the previous session I had pretty much decided that Garrison's Peak would be Br. Hector's swan song.  I was really savouring Hector's inability to reconcile his duty as a Dog with the shades of his past.  I was certainly not planning to fill my fellow Dogs with lead, but perhaps, given the awesome temptation inherent in escalation, that was a wee bit of naiveté on my part. I was thinking of something a bit more peaceful and graceful and thinking, hey, who am I going to make to accompany the three Dogs on their last two towns!

Because I can't resist the pun at this point, Br. Hector, of course, would have maintained the whole fiasco was all Br. Ishmael's fault.  Ishmael really should have just let sleeping Dogs lie.  Hey, triple entendre!
Quote from: Vincent
Kit, what were your favorite moments?

There were a lot of moments I enjoyed last night, but here are the favourites:

While Hector was enjoying the day in his rocking chair out on the front porch at Br. Robert's father's farm (with his new long gun, of course), the other three Dogs were back in town quarrelling about how to handle the sinners.  Their quarrel was very loud and very public, and when the conflicts finally subsided (after Simeon collapsed from bleeding ulcers induced by the stress of the situation), they realized that pretty much the entire town was out there on the main street, just staring at the three of them in mute shock.

Hector calling on Grandfather and assuming the mantle of an Angel of Mercy, revoking the Three in Authority of the other three Dogs, and then stripping them of their positions as Dogs.

The Demonic Influence dice Aaron kept handing me throughout the final conflict.  As a sorcerer, Hector of course had access to that influence, but the town hadn't been all that far along by that point; the actions of the Dogs themselves were increasing that influence.  Every time Aaron handed over another die, we players grew very silent.

Countless excellent Sees or Raises by all players that made us all cheer, shout, applaud, and laugh.  We were all energized by each other, feeding off each other's creativity, excitement, and intensity.

And, last but definitely not least, Lazarus and Hector's death scenes.  They were perfect contrasts.  Lazarus' was full of quiet, powerful, and real heart-rending dignity, from his request that Simeon bring peace to this town, to his refusal to accept the Mountain Folk blessing -- he would go instead to kneel at the feet of the King of Life, with Simeon administering the last rites with grief and solemnity.  

Hector's by comparison was real horror:  the gaping, bloodless wounds in his head and chest twisting closed, his head being pulled around by Grandfather's influence so he could see Simeon raising his rifle to Br. Robert, and then Hector's comprehension of his actions and his decision to choose damnation by suicide.

I should also note that it was almost deliciously sick how the dice told us how things would play out:  Lazarus' 5d10 fallout netted him two 10s, and so he chose the above death scene.  Much of that fallout came from a 17 raise I managed from demonic influence.   (The same raise which Simeon instead Gave to -- the raise was something like:  here's Hector, with a gaping hole in his chest, fanning his revolver, which is still firing long after it has run out of bullets).

And in my 9d10 + 7d4 fallout, my highest total was only a *15*.  And I rolled a 15 with my 3d6 body:  Hector would recover without medical assistance.  It was like the demons wanted him to keep going because, really, how incredibly repugnant was that?  I was heartsick at (but of course ghoulishly fascinated by) the idea.  

Drew (Ishmael) noted after it was all over that the four endings was the Dogs' version of the three ways a Samurai's service can end.  Instead of seppuku, becoming a monk and meeting a violent, heroic end, we had Ishmael quitting the Dogs for good; Simeon riding back to Bridal Falls for a debriefing and new assignment; Hector succumbing to sin and damnation; and Lazarus, well, Lazarus meeting a violent, heroic end.

Real blood opera.

Aaron, share your insights?  I know you kept remarking with gleeful delight how this surpassed your every expectation!

- Kit
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Solamasa
Member

Posts: 50


« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2005, 12:52:41 PM »

Nick!

I'm still sorry for ventilating Lazarus so grievously!  As I mentioned last night, yours was the first PC I’ve ever killed as a player.  

To be introduced to the world of PKing in such a relentlessly vicious fashion was a doozy.  I might not have nightmares about it, but, wow.

- Kit
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LordSmerf
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Posts: 864


« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2005, 01:27:14 PM »

This is pretty dang cool, but I want to know is: where were the conflicts in there?  There was clearly a big dice slinging fight for the shootout, but what about the rest?  Was there a conflict to see if Br. Hector shot himself in the end, a final struggle with the demons?  Was there a conflict to see if Br. Simeon let the three sinners run?

Or were those just narrated out?  Either way is cool, but if they were done with the dice, I just find that to be way cooler...  It's sort of like taking cool, and then layering cool on top of it.

Thomas
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ironick
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« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2005, 01:38:27 PM »

Unfortunately, Thomas, all of that was pure narration, which I think worked out better, although I know it wold have been cool to let the mechanics of the game reinforce the coolitude.  I'm actually glad it was just narrated, though; I think that at that point, with all the intensity and emotion we had built up, bringing dice into it would have been superfluous and kind of anticlimactic after a fashion.

Damn.  Run-on alert.

Anyway, even if someone had called for a conflict I think everyone would have just said "yes" and moved on.

P.S.  Kit, you are an evil, evil bastard for having that planned out already!
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2005, 02:09:47 PM »

Well, here's my read: All this narrated conflict that was just so cool wasn't really due to the game.  I mean, you weren't using the rules.  It was just what you felt was appropriate.

Now, of course the game brought you to that point (you know, where all these decisions happened), but it didn't really do anything to help you with them.  That doesn't make them any less cool, it just means that the mechanics didn't support them.  They sure as heck didn't get in the way of all that cool stuff, and that's a big plus right there.

I guess I was just hoping to see the system revving all that cool stuff up, really drawing out those internal struggles...  Ah, well, it was still a fun read, and it sounds like you guys had tons of fun.

Thomas
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urbwar
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« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2005, 02:10:11 PM »

Wow. That was awesome. I really want to play/run DitV after reading this. So much bloodshed and drama. I am impressed.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2005, 02:24:18 PM »

Thomas, my read is that the rules and the group did exactly what each was supposed to do, to staggeringly good effect.

-Vincent
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ironick
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Posts: 68


« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2005, 02:45:53 PM »

While you are correct that the rules *didn't* support us in that particular instance (purely because we chose not to use them), Thomas, they easily could have, and certainly did in several other instances.

At that point we all knew that this was the end scene of the campaign, and I really think that none of us wanted to risk "ruining" the appropriateness of our ending with a bad dice roll.  I look at it the same way as character mortality in DitV: if you don't want to rick your character dying, don't take Fallout.  In this case, no one wanted to risk mucking up the ending, so we didn't.   For me, it enhanced the coolness rather than detracted from it.  But, as always, your mileage may vary.
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: February 25, 2005, 02:52:10 PM »

Hey Thomas.  I'm a big proponent of having the mechanics facilitate the cool stuff, myself.  But I think you have to also acknowledge the role of mechanics as a teaching tool.

Did the mechanics of DitV get used in that precise situation?  No.  But does that mean the mechanics weren't a factor?  Also, I think, no.

DitV mechanics teach you through their use HOW to think about conflict in the game.  How to frame it.  How to identify what's important.  How to narrate the back and forth events.  In otherwords...how to resolve things like a Dog.

If there are scenes in the game where you have players: thinking about conflict that way, framing conflict that way, identifying whats important that way, and narrating the back and forth that way...i.e. resolving things like a Dog.  Then the mechanics served their purpose in getting the players to that point.  Even though they may not have been called upon at that time...they still did the job.
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LordSmerf
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« Reply #14 on: February 25, 2005, 03:53:18 PM »

Hey, don't get me wrong.  I definitely think that the rules had a huge impact on what happened here.  I just want to toss out something real quick for Ralph, if you want to discuss it let's go somewhere else since it's definitely off topic here: What you're talking about is all the players sharing the same mind-set.  Dogs is great at getting people in that mindset.  It's what a lot of systems do.  I think, however, that Dogs is one of those games where the mechanics provide more than just the teaching.  From my little exposure to the game, Dogs provides something that you can't get no matter how good you are at framing and resolving conflicts "Like a Dog" without them.  The rules do something good and special.

Back to the actual play.  I'm not saying it was played wrong, in fact it looks as if it was played iminently right, but I think it's the very exciting (to me) potential for the rules in Dogs to have handled all that stuff that makes me feel (vicariously) that you missed out on something potentially cool.  But, hey, I am crazy...

Thomas
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