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[Dogs] Wolves of the North

Started by John Harper, September 08, 2005, 05:01:07 AM

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John Harper

We finally got to play Dogs in the Vineyard. Or, more accurately, "Wolves of the North."

I was GM. Tony, Phil, and Brandon were the players. For various reasons, we decided to change the color of the game to Norse sword epic instead of Western. We didn't change any rules or procedures, though. Our "Wolves of Thor" have the same job description as Dogs; sins and towns are the same; there are demons, sorcerers, ceremony and all that. We just have swords instead of six-guns and folks are named Astrid instead of Abigail.

The overall verdict: It was great fun. Everyone had the leopard look. Dogs certainly delivers what it promises.

I have lots to say about this game. I'll try to organize my thoughts so they make some sense. I'm going to talk a bit about things that happened in the fictional world, but only so I can say something about what the players were doing to make it happen.

An Epiphany per Minute
We were all new to Dogs, and the players are new to system-supported Nar play in general. Every scene, every conflict beginning and end, every NPC interaction -- one or all of the players would kind of push back from the table and go, "Oh man. I never knew it could be like this!" There was a palpable sense that we were getting away with something. Like we had eaten from the gaming tree of life when god's back was turned and were having more fun than we were allowed to have. It was Story Now, right in our faces.

The Wolves
Einar (Tony): His brother was going to be a Wolf, but died during training. Einar is trying to live up to his brother's memory. Einar's accomplishment scene involved killing the boar that had killed his brother. Which he did. "I succeeded where my brother failed: 1d6." Right next to, "My brother should have been a Wolf, not me: 1d8." Pow.

Kveld (Brandon): The Exorcist. A medicine-bag carrying, fast-talking, demon fighter. Also, interestingly, a Sorcerer (he started the game with a relationship with a demon). His accomplishment scene was to exorcise a demon from a man. Which he did by connecting to the human being inside. Great scene.

Bren (Phil): A tough swordmaiden of Thor. Bren was once engaged, but broke it off and became a Wolf instead. "I need no man" is the trait that says the most about her. Her accomplishment was beating all the men at the Wolves' temple at swordplay (including Einar and Kveld, which Brandon and Tony played and enjoyed).

The Town
Idun's Reach is a community of zealots. Two years ago, Thor gave a vision to Hermod, a priest. Hermod was commanded to go and found a village on the slopes of Idun's Reach, a massive rocky mountain to the West. Some true-believers followed Hermod, but most people thought he was crazy to try to live above the treeline where no crops could grow and no game could be hunted. No one has heard from them since they left. So, the Wolves are sent to find out what happened.

What happened was, the people starved. And in his desperation, Hermod took one of the bodies, perpared it with secret rites from the dark ancient days, and convinced the people that it was magical food sent by Thor. The people ate the dead, and believed the lie. The demons followed close behind.

Now, the people have a regular source of food, thanks to some powerful dark mojo courtesy of the sorcerer Hermod and the demons. A group of "chosen" are put into a trance in which they travel to the astral realms of the gods and hunt upon Thor's Fields. There, they slay a white stag and bring its body back with them to Midgard. What really happens is they allow demons to possess them, travel down the mountain to the lands of the Skraelings, kill one, and drag its body home. But, thanks to the magic, the Skraeling is transformed into the body of a stag. So the people really do believe in Hermod's false doctrine.

So, town full of cannibals. Plus a pretty heavy sorcerer and demon cult. They keep the town alive and no one's the wiser, right? Yick.

Skraelings on the Trail
On the way up the mountain, the wolves come across a scene of battle. Some Skraelings are fighting some People of Odin (the wolves' kin). The Skraelings are trying to drag off one of the men. The Wolves leap into action, and we have our first group conflict. The system worked great, and the players figured out immediately how to Raise and See across the whole battle, fighting on different fronts, the whole shebang. When it's done, they win the stakes which were "Keep the Skraelings from kidnapping the man." They then launch a follow-up conflict: "Catch a Skraeling and get him to talk." I immediately give on the follow-up since I'm dying to have the Skraeling spill his guts.

The Skraeling tells Kveld that they are on a raid to capture a "demon" from the mountain. The "demon people" come down off the mountain and steal their men sometimes. So the Skraelings have decided to go capture a demon so they can trade hostages. Kveld has a trait like "Root out Loki's influence wherever I find it," so I give this Skraeling a crude pendant in the shape of a symbol of Loki. Instead of rebuking this "obvious" devil worshipper, though, Brandon has Kveld swear an oath to the Skraeling that he will find the kidnapped man and return him to his tribe.

I was stunned. First, Brandon's character becomes a sorcerer during character creation. Now, in front of the other wolves and the villagers, he swears an oath to a Loki-worshipper. Bam! None of the men from the village have the nerve to say anything about it, though. And his fellow wolves apparently ignore it.

Lost Love
So, they pick up the man that the Skraelings were trying to abduct. Guess who it is? It's Bren's ex-fiance, Sigurd. The man she dumped so she could become a Wolf. Phil, playing Bren, just shakes his head at this, like, "of course it's him." Tony looks at me wild eyed and grinning. He says, "You're good at this." I just point at Phil's sheet, under relationships, where it says "Sigurd" and I say, "Nope. I just do what I'm told."

Sigurd is overjoyed to see Bren, of course. When she dumped him, he was bereft and wandered the Earth (yes, like Kane in Kung Fu). He got himself a vision from Thor and he found the village on Idun's Reach. He's been living with them for a year. This is not the Sigurd Bren once knew. This is lean, wild, religious-zealot Sigurd. I tell Phil, even though Sigurd doesn't say it, it's plain to see that he believes that Thor has delivered Bren back to him. "I need no man" eh? What about when the man needs you?

The Eaters of the Dead
So, the Wolves get to town. The people come out to greet them. The Wolves pass messages and collect news about births and deaths and such. The village clinging to the rocky crag of Idun's Reach seems to be doing just fine. The village head-man and skald, Hermod, is absent.

Sigurd's House
The Wolves split up. Sigurd takes Bren to his house. He is bursting with pride to show her how great he has become. He's not that silly boy anymore. And also, still a bachelor! In case she hadn't noticed. He's so proud because, like her, he has a religious calling. Thor speaks to him in dreams. And Hermod has made him a "chosen one." Once a month, he goes with the others to Hermod's house and goes into the trance that sends his spirit to the fields of the gods so he can hunt the white stag to feed his people.

Phil says, "Have I ever heard of anything like this?" And I say, "What do you think?" And he says, "Uh, no. Crap."

The Death Rites
Meanwhile, a girl approaches Einar and asks him if he would say the rites of death over her father. He doesn't have long to live, and Hermod is away. So Tony has Einar go with her to the house of the man who has starved to death. When I tell Tony about the man's condition, he gives me a very worried look. At this point, he knows. But he wants to hear it. So he questions the girl gently about her father. How did he starve? "Oh, he fell from Thor's grace. He refused to eat the food of the gods. He even condemned the rest of us and called us demons. He was raving at the end." And of course Tony wants to know about this "food of the gods" business. She's not giving straight answers, so he wants a conflict. Which he easily wins (I should have just "said yes" here, but Tony clearly wanted to roll some dice for it, so...).

The girl tells Einar a similar story to Sigurd's. She's very vague on the specifics. So Tony finally has to say it, to the players in general, "They're cannibals, aren't they?" I nod solemnly. "But the girl doesn't know it. I guess her father did." Tony has Einar say the death rites over the man, and tries to send him to a better place.

Back at Sigurd's Phil has decided what to do. He calls a conflict. Bren will convince Sigurd "to give up all this nonsense." Hoo boy. We proceed to talking. Bren is winning, but barely. I can escalate and have a chance, unless Bren is willing to go for her sword. But I can't do it. I can't have Sigurd lift a finger against her. I give.

Brandon catches my eye at this point. Brandon is the self-acknowledged "min-maxer" in the group. He has seen Sigurd on my sheet of NPCs. He knows I have more dice to roll, and I can maybe even win. But I don't even try. He's looking at me, and wheels are turning at 1,000 RPM behind his eyes. He already knew that this game was like that, but now he sees it right in front of him. Stuff You Do Matters.

Hermod's House
Brandon's character, Kveld, goes to see Hermod. Who is not at home. But his apprentice, Jarl, is there. Jarl is a big, friendly guy. At first. He treats the Wolf as an equal. Like the other two, Brandon wants Jarl to spill the beans about this "white stag" business. And Jarl gets a little hostile. We escalate up to some shoving before it's over. Jarl even busts out his "I was once a Wolf" trait. But, Brandon wins the stakes, "Jarl tells me his secrets." There are a few, but the big one is this, "Hermod is greater than all the Wolves. He can even call on Loki and command demons to do his bidding -- such is his strength in Thor." Jarl also tells Kveld about Hermod's cave where he prepares the stags. Hermod is there now, preparing for tonight's feast. Jarl wants to take the Wolf there, to show him how mighty his master really is. Kveld convinces Jarl to leave Hermod undisturbed for now.

So, all the pieces are laid out there now. Sin, possession, sorcery, and murder. To keep the people from starving.

The Possessed Groom
Sigurd has gone off to tell his friend Dain that this whole "chosen one" business is a sham-- and worse. The Wolves said so! Sigurd wants Dain to quit just like he has. Dain's betrothed hears this and runs off to tell Hermod. Things get out of hand. The Wolves rush over to keep things bottled up. But Dain's a true-believer. He believes in the cult leader with all his heart, and has murdered in his name. All to keep the townspeople from starving to death. He is righteous.

When the Dogs confront him and start talking, he escalates to swords, transforms before their eyes and tries to kill Sigurd, in an impressive display of fiery demonic special effects. I tried to make his guy inhuman. I was trying to put a "monster" in the town to see what the players would do. I mean, if anyone was getting slayed with righteous fury, it was this guy.

Or not. The players really surprised me, which should not surprise me. They decided that this was all the demons' fault. This poor fella needed saving! So they went into ultra supernatural ceremony battle mode and exorcised the damn thing. Their "Three in Authority" becomes a triangular shield of force against the demon's burning blade! Kveld's invocation of the ancients hurls the demon across the room! It's Sam Raimi-style, strobe-light, crazy demon-fighting action.

And when the guy had a nasty Fallout roll, they jumped into the medical conflict and saved his life. The willful possession and murder? Washed away. He gets mercy, with both barrels.

The Finale
Of course, we have a big ol' showdown with Hermod. Everyone expects him to be a true sorcerous badass, and he is. The demon-fight was just a warm-up. Hermod is about to ritually kill the Skraeling captive, and Kveld and Einar leap in to stop him.

Bren? She's busy. See Sigurd really isn't "out" of the cult just yet. It's not that simple. Hermod has the demons possess him, and he goes demonic on Bren's ass. So, we have a two conflicts going. I think I rolled all the dice I own. Phil takes an interesting tack in his conflict. Bren is built to be a sword-slinging badass. First, Phil has the option to participate in the conflict with Hermod. In which case, it will be Hermod and Sigurd against the Wolves, with d10 Fallout raining down. Bren will get to kick much ass though, which she is made to do.

Instead, Phil spins off his own conflict to exorcise Sigurd's demon. Which she does by laying hands upon Sigurd, gently, while he demons-out and claws and bites her in a fury. She just holds him, taking the wounds, and refusing to escalate back. Phil brings in one of his belongings, a locket with Sigurd's portrait in it. The demon snatches it and crushes it. She raises with stories of when they were kids. The demon mocks her in a false Sigurd voice. But Bren just endures. She takes the high road. Or rather, Phil does, by using the system in just the way he wants. And he wins too. Sigurd never takes worse than d6 Fallout from Ceremony. The demon is washed away, and Sigurd is there, unharmed.

It was awesome.

Meanwhile, Hermod is laying into Einar and Kveld with some major sorcerer mojo. Fire and invocations and a wicked huge sword. Kveld fights him with Ceremony and spiritual power while Einar wades into the sword fight. Hermod has "Viscious" so the d10 Fallout comes out right away. Lots of it. And then lots more. And Brandon and Tony don't give. The conflict is "Save the Skraeling's life." And they take more d10s. And they don't give. They want to defeat Hermod and save the village! They can just give, let the Skraeling die, and then keep their high dice for the follow-up to kick Hermod's evil ass!

But no. The life of this stranger matters to them so much, they are pushing themselves to the brink of death for him. They win the conflict. The Skraeling lives. Einar and Kveld collapse. And so does Bren. They all need a healer or they'll die. So who heals them? The Skraeling of course. He returns the favor and saves their lives right back.

Hermod doesn't die though. He gets away. With one last word to Brandon's character, "I'll see you again, sorcerer." That put some fire in Brandon's eye. He was stewing about that one.

The Wrap-Up
And we were out of time. The town wasn't saved, exactly. There was more to do. But for our Dogs mini 2-shot, this was enough. What remains is a truly epic conflict with the Skraelings and the Wolves against Hermod and the possessed. And then the Wolves have to figure out what to do with the town. The players talked about this briefly and we quickly discovered that they each had their own idea about what was "obviously" the right thing to do with the village. Much more story fuel there if we go back to it.

There was a great moment when the Wolves entered Hermod's cave. Brandon had the idea to set up some kind of booby-trap (possibly supernatural) to keep possessed people from following them inside. Like a protective barrier or something. This seemed like the typical D&D moment to me. It was tactically sound and within their abilities, probably. So I proposed a conflict. Stakes: "Can we set up the ritual barrier before Hermod sacrifices the Skraeling?" No one took me up on that one. We proceeded to the conflict with Hermod.

That was another moment when Brandon caught my eye across the table as if to say, "You got me, you bastard." I could see him filing it away for future use as Dirty GM Trick #32.

Towards the end of the last conflict, everyone got in a groove of stating their Raises as conflict-ending moves. "I knock Hermod's sword aside, and chop his head off." So then I Block with, "No, he ducks under your blade..." and Raise, "... grabs you around the waist and hip-tosses you over the altar." That was fun. I think that's now our default Raise style.

Whew! This is long. That's all I'll say for now. Maybe the players will drop by and add their two cents, too.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!


I played Einar in this one, and it was one of the high points in my playing career. The demon-busting mojo was cool, but I actually enjoyed the scene with the little girl best of all. You see, I've been dis-satisfied with gaming for a long time. It just doesn't give me the kind of full on story I want. If there's a game that can provide hardcore demon bashing AND a painful heart-to-hear with a little girl about why her father's dying, that's the game for me.

Credit where credit's due: John GM'ed Wolves to the hilt. Flawless execution.

We were all a little awkward with our dice I think. A lot of time was spent trying to justify rolling more dice and come up with killer raises. That may just be an issue with experience.

It was a bit tedious that a long drawn out conflict immeditely segued into: another (healing) conflict. I think I'd like to see a house rule about what traits are applicable to healing and very streamlined healing conflicts. That may just be a function of our group and how we were doing things. Maybe other groups don't spend a lot of time healing up after a demon stomp.

I was a bit surprised how goody-goody we turned out to be. I was expecting to rain down some righteous fury on the townsfolk, but we turned out to be surprisingly merciful. Oh well, Thor's will...
"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"


Quote from: tonyd on September 08, 2005, 05:55:42 AM
I was a bit surprised how goody-goody we turned out to be. I was expecting to rain down some righteous fury on the townsfolk, but we turned out to be surprisingly merciful. Oh well, Thor's will...

I have found that is pretty normal for DitV games.  Players start off excited about this mandate and their power in the community and by the end, if I've done my job right they are chaffing under their quilted coat.

When my players finally dragged someone into the town square and shot him in the head it was a conflicted decision that no one was really happy about.  Two Dogs fought over it in front of the entire town.

Good stuff.

I love that you still get to keep a Tree of Life in your setting.  Great.


Brandon (The Sorcerous Wolf) here.

Great Report John.  I think you really caught the high points of the action and the conflict.  I found myself continually amazed and annoyed at the system as I played it. 

Amazed:  You can do anything you like in the narration but dice are still dice.  You say what happens and that is what happens.  Fallout happens or not, but that doesn't really change what you say.  It was kind of neat. 

Annoyed:  I have all of these dice to roll if I can just come up with a reason to do so.  So, generally, I did.  Even when I knew in my heart of hearts it was a stretch.  I narrated something that was "fine" but not truly applicable.  The fact that people "can't" say no annoys me.  How dare I be expected to police myself.  :)

Amazed:  Conflict lets you get to heart of the issue.  Although I do think that both sides needed to be more forceful in coming to an agreement over what was acceptable to be at stake.  But maybe it is just that I can't handle getting everything that I want out of a single conflict.

Annoyed:  John effectively gave on the Fallout 16 (mortally wounded) conflict.  He was correct when he said, "They are my dice and I can use them as I see fit."  So we all didn't die.  I scowled because it felt like when my DM has just accidentally dropped me to -14 and says, "Do you like your character?"  Then John Blocked and Dodged and Raised with, "You can always just give in the conflict and Die."  Harumph.  Ok.  I live.  But I'm not happy about it.  Strange that.

QuoteIt was a bit tedious that a long drawn out conflict immediately segued into: another (healing) conflict. I think I'd like to see a house rule about what traits are applicable to healing and very streamlined healing conflicts. That may just be a function of our group and how we were doing things. Maybe other groups don't spend a lot of time healing up after a demon stomp.

I think it was special case for us.  We went from our first combat with a Possessed Guy to Healing the Possessed Guy to Fighting Sorcerer to 3 Healing Conflicts where we each were going to die.  That is going to be a bit much for any group.  I do think though that each person should have a little box for their Healer's score ahead of time (Like I would have 4d6 (Acuity), 2d8 (Medicine Man), 2d6 (Medicine Bag) in that box for easy reference.  Just a thought.

So ... was it fun?   Yes indeed.

Is the potential demon worshipped staying outside the next time we play? ... Hell yes!


John Harper

Brandon commented on how I dealt with the medical conflicts, which has its very own thread here. Short version: I kind of bungled it. Though in this specific case, I'm kind of glad I did. But no more! From now on, I play the "do you die?" conflicts to the hilt.

And Tony, I really want to do a follow up scene with Einar and the little girl whose father stood up against evil. When she finds out the truth? Man, Einar has to be there to see the look in her eyes.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Eric Provost

I dug reading this AP post alot.  Very very good stuff.  I've only got one thing to say.

Quote from: BrandonAnnoyed:  I have all of these dice to roll if I can just come up with a reason to do so.  So, generally, I did.  Even when I knew in my heart of hearts it was a stretch.  I narrated something that was "fine" but not truly applicable.  The fact that people "can't" say no annoys me.  How dare I be expected to police myself.

Good news!  While the GM does not have the singular authority to tell you that you can't bring a particular Trait into play, everyone sitting at the table has the authority to say "Dude, your narration doesn't really tie into that Trait.  So either re-narrate or no dice." 

There's something in the rules about having higher and higher standards for each other's narration and how it'll add to future games.  There is an older post about all this.  Hey, my search-fu didn't suck today!  Read this.


Jason Morningstar

Hey, great post!  My first thought upon reading DitV was "this would work great for the Icelandic sagas".  You proved me right!




Quote from: John Harper on September 08, 2005, 07:19:03 AM
And Tony, I really want to do a follow up scene with Einar and the little girl whose father stood up against evil. When she finds out the truth? Man, Einar has to be there to see the look in her eyes.
well, I DO have a relationship with the little girl now, and we DID distribute the villagers among the existing settlements, so it seems possible I'll run into her again some day.
"Come on you lollygaggers, let's go visit the Thought Lords!"


Wow. I think you totally captured the game. I grinned huge at the "getting away with it" part at the begining. This is why I want to play a whole Dogs campain. Sometime. After a break from demons. Maybe next year.


Very cool. I just wanted to point something out: I notice that, unlike a lot of "we did this in our game" reports, the mechanics were an integral part of the tale about what happened during the game.

Compare that with the typical report of a D&D session, where you hear "my guy did this, and he did that, and..." and you never hear about the mechanics. Perhaps because the mechanics are just there to decide "win or lose", but here, no, you had to talk about what has happening mechanically because they made a huge difference to play.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Sydney Freedberg

Cool with icy Nordic coolness.

Big question: Town creation rules -- how did you use them, exactly? I'd love to see how you went through the sin > injustice > etc. process in terms of this setting.

John Harper

To be honest, I didn't do anything fancy. I had already created the town in the usual way for normal Dogs play, so when we decided to shift things to Norse myth, I just went through and changed the names of my NPCs, and added the bit about hunting the white stag.

I dug out my copy of the Edda at one point, but came to my senses before I went crazy with the Norse stuff. I think the game worked better (for us) with a light veneer of Norse color, instead of some kind of deep exploration of the myths.

Having said that, I do think that Norse material is perfect for the themes Dogs deals with. I mean, Beowulf could be adapted as a Dogs session with little trouble.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!


I have a mechanical question (which has sort of bothered me ever since a few references to samurai and Dogs got my imagination running):

How did you handle the absence of guns in the setting? More specifically, how did you handle the loss of the fourth level of escalation?

It has always seemed to me that you cannot simply remove that top layer. On one hand, there's the cool fact that every trait is used twice, which would no longer be the case with only 3 levels. Also, simply removing a layer means that there's no more d10s as fallout (greatly reducing the chance of serious injury) or that talking would give d6es as fallout which is probably a bit too much.

So anyway, I'd be very interested in hearing from you what solution you used.

John Harper

Swords replace guns. They're d10 fallout, and they get the extra d4. So it goes talking --> physical --> fighting --> swords. Easy as pie.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!