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Author Topic: [DitV] I can't kill characters  (Read 6631 times)
Adam Cerling
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Posts: 159

WhiteRat


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« on: December 11, 2005, 08:34:54 PM »

I ran a one-shot session of Dogs this weekend, my first time running the game. Great fun was had by all: the five of us played literally all day. Unfortunately, it being their first time playing and my first time running, we didn't really understand how deadly the Fallout is from gunfighting.

I knew going into this that death by violence is important in Dogs. It says that your Dog believed in what she was fighting for enough to die for it. The rules are unforgiving: certain results mean your character dies, and the text allows no room for fudging. I read that, and I thought I understood that.

But as the dice were coming down -- I hated it.

It wasn't an angry hate, just a visceral revulsion writhing in the pit of my stomach. My players and I had spent all day getting to know and care about these characters, and now some damned plastic polyhedra were going to take them away? A few paragraphs in the rules and random chance were going to force me to look a player in the eye and say, "No, sorry, but -- you're not allowed to play anymore with this character you invested so much in?"

After the climactic gunfight, everyone had multiple d10s in Fallout. Everyone rolled. I heard gasps of relief as player after player escaped the death knell of double-tens. One player rolled 8d10 fallout and scored only a nineteen as his highest pair: he cried out in surprise. But then I heard a wail from the girl who rolled only 3d10 Fallout. "Twenty? Twenty means I'm dead?"

There was such shock on her face. She was a new player, having hardly if ever roleplayed before. Like many new roleplayers, she decided to play a character very much like herself. (Although unlike many new players, she was conscious of the fact.) She'd really been enjoying herself all night. I gaped. I had to take this character away from her now? The rest of the players and I shared a moment of stunned silence.

Then the player beside her leaned over to look at her dice. "No, no, you don't add them all -- just the highest two!"

The wave of relief that washed through the group was palpable.

Of course, then I had five Dogs dying on my hands. I really wanted to hand-wave the whole thing, to just declare that sure, the town doctor patches you all up with no problems, hooray, let's move on -- but I didn't. I tried to stick to the rules. I engaged them each in separate followup conflicts, seeing whether they'd fight their way back to life under the doctor's care.

The second such conflict saw another player on the ropes against my teriffic roll. I had all but run him out of dice. As I was killing him I was internally arguing with myself over whether this was okay. "I'm not supposed to fudge or pull punches. I won't. I won't! This player didn't seem to like his character as much as the others liked theirs. It was the most difficult character to relate to. It's okay if his character dies; it's okay. It won't hurt as much."

Then in a moment of creativity fueled by desperation, the player managed to pull in two more dice that turned the tables. His character would live.

Ultimately, I didn't have to kill anyone.

Today, I don't even think I could have. I'd have scrambled for some kind of "out," a house rule or something, and proposed it to the group on the spot. Maybe they would have refused me and just have accepted the death; I don't know. But I would be unable to accept the death myself unless we reached a separate agreement that this particular death is right: a separate agreement, distinct from the rulebook and dice, in full acknowledgment that fiat by consensus could fairly undo the death. Only then would it be okay.

It hurts, killing characters. I feel like I simply cannot trust a System to handle it -- even an exemplary system like Dogs in the Vineyard.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Brand_Robins
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Posts: 650


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« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2005, 08:50:48 PM »

A handful of thoughts:

1. It isn't as lethal as you feared it would be. After the scare, no one actually died when following the rules. You did, however, get a lot of tension out of it. Some of the tension was probably good (when was the last time you got that much of a punch from game?) and some of it sounds not so good (too much of a punch), but it certainly was something worth thinking about.

2. You don't kill characters, players kill their characters. I know this takes a change in the way you view games, at least it did for me, but when someone is facing multiple d10s of fallout it is because the player chose to take it. If they do not, cannot, will not lose their character all they have to do is give and fold out when that huge raise they can't see comes along. If they do take the blow in order to keep fighting then they are saying "This is worth dying for."

The system isn't taking their character from, they are setting their character up to have the potential to die. You are not killing thier characters, they are. If you take the death potential away from this, you take the choice away from them. At that point the choice to take that 8d10 fallout, knowing it can't actually kill you, isn't really that much of a choice -- it's just an issue of getting some fallout traits.

Now that you've seen it happen, and your players have too, next time you'll all know. The first time I had a Dog die I felt the same as you do. Now I don't because when we're playing we know what taking a bullet with 6 dice means. I wouldn't take that choice away from my players, at least not in this type of game.

3. Even if you get the 20 you aren't dead right there on the floor, you still have another scene to do (if you want). Those scenes can be very, very powerful. Do not fear them, use them as a requiem and let the character go out in the manner the player finds most pleasing. If a player has the power to end their character in their own scene it makes a huge difference to how they feel about the game and their character.

4. Groups that aren't about the hard choices and hard consequences may not like Dogs. Despite the awesomeness that is me GMing Dogs, I have a lot of friends who don't enjoy the game because of issues like those you bring up (or don't mind the death, but just don't like the judgement at all). If, after a couple of times of trying it, you still don't like it, then it could just be that you're not on the same agenda that Dogs is.

5. Have you ever played Everway?
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- Brand Robins
Blankshield
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« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2005, 08:55:30 PM »

Brand's brought up some good points, so most of this has been eviscertated, 'cause he already said it.

However, the one thing he didn't say, I'm going to: Can you post the town and the run through the Dogs gave it, even in abbreviated form?  I really want to see the town that left 5 Dogs bleeding on the floor!

James
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2005, 08:55:52 PM »

Trying again...

5. Have you ever played Everway? Or read the articles about fortune/karma/drama and their use as resolution mechanics? Under that kind of setup, when would you be willing (comfortable) killing characters? Or letting players chose to kill their own character?

Dogs uses fortune for it, so is it the cold dice that are the problem? What if the player in the middle of a Dogs game said, "I want to kill the sorcerer now, and in return my character dies?" What if it felt right at the moment to you but not the player? The player but not to you? Is it about the character dying, or about you killing the character?
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- Brand Robins
C. Edwards
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Posts: 558

savage / sublime


« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2005, 10:26:31 PM »

Hey Adam,

As a player that lives for the kind of moments you describe, I'd be very upset were you to attempt to somehow take those moments away through fudging or a house rule. Make certain that should your group decide to go the way of the house rule that everyone truly is on board with the decision and not just going along cause they think it's what they're supposed to do. The sort of choices that a game like Dogs forces you to make mean nothing without the consequences of those choices.

Of course, you may find that once that risk is alleviated that you actually miss it...


-Chris
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Judd
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Please call me Judd.


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« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2005, 12:10:08 AM »


Ultimately, I didn't have to kill anyone.


Players are only killed when they stay in those conflicts and elect to take the fallout.

They could always drop out of the conflict and if the stakes were set well, that'll be fine.  The player won't get their way but sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles.

The GM kills no one, the players elect to stay in a conflict in which they could be killed.

Does that make sense?
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Kintara
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Posts: 48


« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2005, 01:32:31 AM »

Hmm, I think that perhaps this is just a matter of fully coming to grips with the consequences of raising the stakes, and realizing when something is worth dying for and when something isn't.  Even Dogs has a mechanical point where if you do this sort of thing then you are risking everything, and that point is guns.  I think it might be worth just thinking about that.
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a.k.a. Adam, but I like my screen name.
Frank T
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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2005, 01:48:12 AM »

While I agree with everything that has been said in this thread, there is one thing to point out. To make a choice, the player has got to know the possible consequences. For that, it may not be enough to have read the rules. For my part, I didn't realize upon reading how tough fallout really gets. I mean, 8d10 fallout is bad even if you don't roll a 20. That's one hell of a healing conflict.

Adam, I think now that your players have seen what fallout can do to them, it'll make the game even better. Apart from that, you post sounds like an awesome game already and everything did turn out well, didn't it? No need to worry. Not that you sound all that worried to me.

- Frank
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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2005, 02:05:05 AM »

I know someone who once hand-waved a dying-conflct to save a dog. He's alive to this very day and the indie-game police haven't come to take away his copy of DitV. Really, I think the issue largely one of familiarity. I have played in lots of low-mortality games where the low/no mortality was achieved by a pretty good understanding of the rules.

Once the players are more familiar with the the mechanics a lot of this issue will go away (especially with DitV where death is only a possibility if the player chooses it to be).

-Marco
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2005, 05:34:31 AM »

Rules question:

Once the player's taken fallout, it's there, and 2d10 or more mixed in means death is possible.

But. Assume you're in that 16-19 range. Is there any reason the GM can't give on the follow-up conflict? In a game with newbies especially, I would consider this option quite strongly. Also if the death didn't seem all we thought it would be when we were heading towards it, perhaps.

I don't see a textual argument against the GM doing this offhand.

----------------------

It's possible to overstate the significance of 'you chose it'. It's true that Dogs gives players more control over consequences for their character than most games, and I consider this a big whoppin' feature of the game.

However, even in traditional RPGs, there are often opportunities to run away during the big fight, etc. So in that sense, if you don't want the treasure or whatever, you can bolt in the middle. I have a player in my antediluvian D&D campaign who's carried Dimension Door on his character sheet since about 1980 for just this purpose; I can't count the number of times it's saved his life.

It's usually the case in a traditional RPG that you could have made a different decision that would have saved your character, actually. Dogs vastly improves on this because it's explicit in the rules instead of implicit in the way you parse the GMs sentences and interpret the situation: it's always your choice to take the fallout that carries the risk of death rather than give. But people will still make rash choices that they regret from time to time.

It seems to me that if the player and GM both agree that the potential death indicated by fallout isn't as cool as they thought it would be when they went into the situation, there's nothing wrong with the GM giving on the follow-up healing conflict.
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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aka Sean


« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2005, 05:36:54 AM »

The follow-up to my question for Adam is: if you really didn't want to kill anyone, 'hand waving' was actually (I believe, pending the answer to my rules question) the follow-up was perfectly within the game rules for you. So then do you think your players would have felt cheated?

I think as a learning exercise I would have gone through with at least a couple of the conflicts to teach the players how they worked, but Given rather than killing the PCs in the end if that was how the dice rounds went.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2005, 06:43:24 AM »

Calithena brings up a good point; If your PCs make it past the fallout roll to the healing roll, you can always give. It's perfectly within the rules. But I'll tell you right now, I'd feel cheated if you did it, especially up front. If you absolutely cannot forge through to the death of a PC during the healing conflict, then push it as far as you can before they have to give before you give. Make it tense. Make them think you're doing your best to kill their character. Then give. The reprieve should garner enough relief to cover the sense of disappointment in having the victory handed to them.

Probably your best bet dealing with the whole death thing is to have the conversation now, before you play again. Tell them you won't bend the rules. Make sure they realize that, by accepting d10 fallout, they could be killed instantly. And suggest the idea that maybe, just maybe, that is not only okay, but it's actually really, really cool. Have you read the Actual Play post about the Dogs that turned on each other? I'm sure someone has the link handy or remembers the poster, or the thread, or a PC name or something to do a search for and can post it. That was a totally unplanned near-Total-Party-Kill that everyone was blown away by, to include people who weren't even there, and had no emotional investment in the PCs. Point your players to read that thread, read it yourself.

Death doesn't have to be a tragedy for the players; It can be one of those cool moments they'll remember fondly for years and a source of growth for the surviving PCs.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
coffeestain
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Posts: 165


« Reply #12 on: December 12, 2005, 07:08:16 AM »

I respect my players far too much to ever fudge their healing conflicts or Give on them.  If they're going to tell me a choice they've made is worth dying for, there's no way I'm going to tell them, "No, it's not really".  I don't even feel that's within my rights as a GM and as a player, I would be so very angry at the deprotagonization of my character from that choice that I'd likely stop playing with a GM who did that.  I would never be able to trust that my most important choices had meaning again.

The trick is to make sure your players are aware of the mechanical choice they're making, even if you have to go so far as to say, "So that's my raise.  If you Take the Blow here there's a VERY real chance your character will die.  So consider that before you choose whether you're going to Give or continue on."
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Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2005, 07:12:53 AM »

Wolfen, Coffeestain -

I tend to feel the same way as you guys, in most cases. But you recognize that's a matter of personal preference, right?

If either the player or the GM wants to abide by the conflict rules to determine life and death, than that's what ought to happen, and the GM should respect that and not give, I think. But if the player and GM both think that the scene didn't play out the way they wanted, and that what seemed like something worth staking a life on actually wasn't, I've got no problem with them giving.

Keep in mind also that if you, the player, want your character to die, you can Give too, and die. It cuts both ways.
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coffeestain
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Posts: 165


« Reply #14 on: December 12, 2005, 07:51:06 AM »

Sean,

It doesn't exactly cut both ways because if the player chooses to Give, both options are completely in the player's hands where they should be.

Honestly, though it's not addressed specifically (as far as I know), I think this fits within the guidelines that the GM shouldn't  judge the characters and shouldn't have a solution in mind.  Certainly, it's all a matter of personal preference, just the same as it's a matter of personal preference to choose to play by any rule or guideline in the book.  I just don't think it's within the spirit of the game.

Regards,

Daniel
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