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[DitV] Whitevein, via AIM

Started by Brendan, February 19, 2006, 10:05:34 PM

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It turns out instant messenger is a lot slower than talking!  This is an account of my first time running Dogs, which I did over AOL Instant Messenger with players in Los Angeles, Chicago and...  Connecticut or something.  (I have no idea where you actually live, Ben.)  I myself am in Louisville.  The game took a total of six multi-hour sessions, from character creation near the end of last December through reflection last night.  It was exhausting but rewarding.  (For the record, yes, we've considered Skype or Google Talk or something; unfortunately, one of our players is on dial-up and has no microphone, which makes things more complicated.)

Whitevein is a mountainside mining community with a small enclave of the Faithful--five families out of about thirty.  The Territorial Authority has a strong presence, bolstered by "donations" from the mine's owners Back East.  Nobody in town is allowed to bear arms except the TA and their friends; visitors must hand their guns over on entry.

People in the town have two sources of food:  the overpriced company store, which keeps the miners in debt, and the Faithful, who are not miners but hunters and trappers (except the Steward, Brother Zider, who runs an inn).  The meat the Faithful sell is fresher and less expensive, and the mine owners don't much care for that dynamic.

Pride:  Steward Zider is a widower.  He and his eighteen-year-old son, Beven, both desire the same woman--Sister Abigail, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Brother Selim (the lead hunter) and Sister Ella.  Abigail loves the attention and plays them off each other for expensive gifts.  Ella, who remembers once being the most desired woman in town, is jealous of her daughter.

Injustice:  Zider finally tells his son point blank that if Abigail chooses Beven, he'll cast them out of the community.

Sin:  Beven, furious, renounces the Faith entirely and goes out to join the TA.  Zider marries himself to Abigail (even though he's on shaky ground, there, authority-wise).

Demonic Attacks:  Prodded by the mine owners, the Sheriff, Henry Redlock, starts levying extra taxes against the Faithful: fees for each deer caught after the third, furs classed as a luxury item, and levies on the inn for being a product, a service and indigent housing.

The Faithful have difficulty coming up with the money, and start to go--like everyone else--in debt to the company store.  The Steward is hit hardest of all.  When Redlock rides up to sieze the inn for tax auction, Zider desperately offers his wife instead.

False Doctrine:  Redlock grins.  Abigail begins to object, but Zider strikes her, whispering harshly that A WIFE IS LIKE ANY OTHER PROPERTY.

Corrupt Practice:  Zider announces this new tenet in his Sunday sermon that week.  Most of the congregation misses his meaning; a few, including Abigail's father Selim, understand exactly what he means.

False Priesthood:  Brother August, a bachelor who is tired of the taxes, and Sister Ella, glad to see her daughter put in her place, go up to Zider after the service and tell him that they agree completely.

In addition, when Redlock returns that week to "collect" more "taxes," he brings his two deputies with him--one of whom is young (ex-) Brother Beven.  All three have their turns with Abigail; in doing so, Beven implicitly becomes a member of the cult.

Sorcery:  Brother Selim walks into the inn that night with an axe, demanding to see Zider.  August and Ella are already there, and restrain him with inhuman strength before pulling him onto the inn's big table.

Hate and Murder:  Zider slits Selim's throat, and the three of them throw his body down a disused mine shaft.

What They Want

Steward Zider fears the coming of the Dogs; he doesn't understand the extent of his power and wants them to see that he was only doing what was necessary to protect his flock.  He wants them first to miss what's going on, and failing that, to kill the Sheriff and relieve the taxes.

Brother Beven honestly believes he's free of the Faith now--but while he doesn't fear the Dogs, he still knows the power they represent.  He wants the Dogs to strip his father of his authority and divorce him from Abigail, leaving them (Abigail and Beven) to marry at last and get out of town.  (He's not sure how to get Abigail to overlook his having essentially raped her, but he'll think of something.)

Sister Abigail wants out of all of this.  She wants to know what happened to her father.  More pressingly, she wants the Dogs to separate her from Zider, so she can seduce someone--anyone, but preferably a Dog--who will take her out of Whitevein.  She no longer cares for Beven.

Sister Ella wants the Dogs to marry her to Zider and declare Abigail officially his second, lesser wife.

Brother August is afraid of his newfound strength, and the weight of Selim's murder is growing on him.  He wants absolution, and will confess if necessary, but he won't sell Zider or Ella out for it.

Henry Redlock wants the Dogs to hand over their guns and have a nice time with their preaching.

The Demons want the Dogs to kill Zider and appoint Beven the apostate in his place, marry him to both Ella and Abigail, and let things continue apace.  They'd also like it if Redlock were killed and the wrath of the TA were brought to bear on the Faithful.

What would happen if the Dogs never came?  Abigail would strangle Zider in his sleep and run to Beven, whom she thinks she can use to get out of town.  Beven would marry her, refuse to let her leave and assume control of the community.  The pressure of taxation would force the Faithful to give up hunting; Beven would send them to work in the mines, and into company-store debt.  Their spirit would gutter, and the Faith in Whitevein would die.

What do the Dogs find when they ride into town?  The Faithful are too busy or exhausted to come out and greet them.  Beven and another deputy are standing guard at the front door of the inn as Redlock and Abigail couple loudly inside.  Zider is in the back yard by the pump, ignoring all of this, scrubbing obsessively on the inn's big table.

(Initiation and AP to follow.)


Character Creation

The players came to the game with a lot of ideas about traits and relationships--I certainly didn't need to prod them with "is he a good shot?"  They actually ended up spending probably too many relationship dice to begin with, but a lot of those got used in our first game, which is a good sign.

Ben created Brother Ezekial, who went to college Back East and returned after his brother--also a Dog--fell in the line of duty.  Zeke carries his brother's gun, coat and legacy.  Some of his traits:  book smarts 3d8, where'd a city boy learn to shoot like that? 1d10, medical training 2d6, I go in the Glory of the King of Life 1d10, knows your name 1d10.  (He had a Strong History; also, that's the current standing--I'm pretty sure some of those were smaller before we played the town.)

David created Brother Benedict, child of a possessed mother.  Some of his traits:  used to shoot game birds for food 2d6, can orient by the stars 1d8, very adept at climbing due to logging 2d6, ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will never do on my watch 3d6.  He also had a 1d4 relationship with Lust (2d4 after initiation), 1d10 with his mother (I can't remember if she was alive or dead), and 1d4 with Varaethian, the demon who possessed his mother.  I hesitated at that last, since the book states that demons don't have names, but I figured that was a big fat Flag--I certainly wasn't going to stop a player who wanted to start the game with sorcery in his back pocket.  I figured that was the name his mother had given her possessor, and Benedict took it as a name in fact.

Ian created Brother Saul, a convert to the Faith from orthodox Judaism.  Some of his traits:  scavengers steer clear of honest men 2d6, photographic memory 1d8, passive-aggressive 2d6, I was born in sin, but reborn a Dog 2d6, in exchange for a strong arm, I will teach you the Faith 1d8.  I had a lot of fun with that first trait.  Saul also started the game with three relationships (Mom, animals, the Book of Life) and ended our first town with three more.


We did Zeke's initiation first, and I think it was the weakest--I made some significant mistakes, in failing to take a cue, and also encouraging Ben to tie everything his character said to a See or Raise when he clearly wanted to talk more between them.

He requested that his side of the stakes be "did I kick a demon's ass?"  I should have taken a cue from that and set up a physical or gunfighting confrontation of some kind, but I didn't (although I did set my side of the conflict to "did he brand his name on your neck?").  Instead, we agreed that Zeke had been praying in the desert for three days when a stranger all in white came up and offered him some water.  Zeke took the canteen, but demanded to know his name before drinking; the demon refused and made scorpions boil out of the canteen; Zeke escalated to physical nonfighting, threw it down and abjured him in the King's name to begone.  The man turned to sand and blew away.  Ben and I agreed that the whole thing was a bit of a letdown--no actual ass-kicking involved.  Zeke's trait was "knows a demon when he sees one."

Benedict's was next, and I think the strongest of the three.  He requested that his stakes be "did I resist temptation?" (I can't remember whether I set my side to anything specific.)  We set it up that he was riding out of Bridal Falls on his way to a fasting retreat like Zeke's when he happened through a certain slum of ill repute.  A comely lass beckoned him to come inside; he advised that she repair certain areas of her dress (and indicated which ones with his big excellent axe).  She mentioned that she and her girlfriends loved to sew...  sometimes two or three of them would "sew" together.  Benedict gave; inside, he was humiliated to find that the whole thing was a setup by his teachers at the Dogs' academy.  His trait:  "never give advice on faulty clothing."

Saul abandoned his first choice of conflict ("I hope that through concentration, I can turn into a rhino") and picked "I hope I can turn my mother from her false faith."  He rode up to his family home, where she denounced him for apostasy; he said he wanted to ensure her place in the Kingdom.  She started throwing his old clothes at him, and he simply picked them up and started quoting the Book at her.  She ran out of dice and threw herself at his feet, asking that he teach her.  (David was a bit outraged that Ian won so easily; I think his line was "wtf!  the whore had a million dice!")  Saul's trait:  "I taught my mother the Faith."

We agreed before all this, incidentally, that we were interested in a very high supernatural dial (this is why there's almost nothing supernatural in the town description; I wanted the Dogs to be a big show by contrast).  I should also note here that they started the game with near-minimum Body scores, and that I failed to notice that, or point out that doing so would put them all at serious risk in gunfights.  (And so it did.)


The Dogs rode into town, repeating all the description I gave them in solemn tones (Me:  "The people here look exhausted and dull-eyed."  Zeke:  "These people certainly look dull-eyed, brothers."  Saul:  "Also gaunt").  They heard the coupling from inside the inn, saw the deputies at the door and sat right there on their horses until the Sheriff emerged in a disheveled state.  He welcomed them to town and politely requested that they hand over their guns; just as politely, they refused.  Conflict!

My stakes:  "Do you hand over your guns?"  Theirs:  "Do they let us keep the guns, and go away without bothering us further?"

This was basically an exchange of veiled threats, including the first cool thing, Benedict's rolling in his "faulty clothing" trait to remind the Sheriff that his fly was down.  Then Zeke ran out of dice and escalated, shooting the Sheriff's gun right out of his holster.  That was cool thing two.  The third was when the flustered Sheriff demanded that Deputy Beven, the apostate, give him his gun.  I hadn't indicated in any way that Beven was of the Faith, but Ian had Saul point his gun at him and ask "you'd risk your life for a lecherous sinner like him?"  Beven, still in awe of the Dogs, backed down, and the Sheriff gave, trying to laugh the whole thing off.  The three of them left with tails between legs.

The Dogs walked into the inn, and the Steward came crashing in from the back yard in his shirtsleeves.  Abigail came rushing in shortly after, and Zider curtly ordered her to make up rooms for them, then requested their help in getting the table back into the common room.  He also wildly ignored all their comments about the concupiscient activity they'd heard from outside.  As they rolled in the table, and Zider told them half-truths about the town and Selim's disappearance, they kept stepping on cockroaches (as per Saul's trait, "scavengers steer clear from honest men").  He offered them dinner and disappeared into the kitchen.

As soon as he was out of the room, Abigail rushed in and threw herself into Benedict's arms, begging to be taken away and offering to do anything in exchange.  Benedict, remember, has a little problem with lust.  David's response:  "oh shit.  oh shit.  ohshitohshitohshit."  Mine:  "CONFLICT!"  The stakes were "do you swear to take her with you when you leave?" versus "does she agree to stay?"  Benedict quoted a lot of the Book at her, she pouted and finally just kissed him, he still managed to resist, and she ran out of dice.  At this point, the Dogs realized that the Steward had been gone a while, and went into the kitchen to see the back door swinging open.

Abigail filled them in on what the Steward had skipped, like his deal with the Sheriff and the accompanying doctrine, his friendship with her mother and the hunter August, and Beven's renunciation of the Faith.  She added that she didn't think Zider was a murderer, but that August--who killed for a living--might be.  The Dogs agreed that it was getting late, and they'd wait until tomorrow to go root out the Steward.  Abigail asked to sleep in the hallway so the Dogs would hear if anyone came after her, but an exhasperated Zeke said she would sleep on his bed while he slept on a pallet in the door.

The next morning, Zeke woke as Abigail quietly stepped over him to go downstairs.  He put on his gun belt and followed, to see her sitting quietly at the table across from her mother Ella.  She calmly asked Zeke whether he was up for performing a wedding.

That was the cliffhanger ending of one session, and Zeke's player (Ben) could only stay for a few minutes the following week; we decided that she slammed him into a wall with demonic strength and knocked him unconscious, but that the noise woke Benedict and Saul, who jammed their coats and guns on and ran downstairs.

Significant GM mistake here:  we'd agreed before the town that Ella was Zeke's aunt, but he'd never met Abigail.  I mistakenly assigned the relationship to Saul when she showed up.  From our chat logs:

Me:  She looks up. Ian, it's your aunt, Sister Ella.
David: snap
Ian: that's zeke's aunt
David: snap snap
Me: Wait, dammit, really?
Ian: yeah
Ian: :-p
Ian: err... :-/
Me: Hah!
David: don't make me add another snap
Me: Okay, forget that.
Me: No relation. Relations erased!
Ian: she's gonna have relations with bullets
David: in the ass
David: anal bullet relations
Me: Oh dear.
Ian: which would be a good name for a rock band

Ella demanded that they marry her to Zider; they refused and drew guns.  Stakes:  "Does she beat you senseless?" versus "Do we kill her?"  Ella grabbed Abigail to use as a shield; there was a great deal of Book-quoting; Benedict tried to shoot around Abigail, but Ella successfully blocked with her daughter's body, wounding her badly.  Saul fired too, and Ella dodged.  Ella threw a table, which blow Benedict had to take, but as he fell he shot her in the face.

The disparity we noticed a few times came up here:  the Dogs came to the conflict with guns drawn, so they rolled Acuity + Will to begin with, but then there were a few rounds of insults and condemnation before anybody actually fired a shot.  I think that unless somebody says "these are my stakes, and I shoot / punch him," I'm going to just start asking everybody to start their pools with Acuity + Heart--we seem to talk before shooting every time.

Saul shrugged off the fallout, taking the temporary trait "in Benedict's shadow" and the permanent relationship "hostages 1d6."  Benedict, with 2d6 Body, was in more trouble.  I wasn't interested in killing anyone off this early, so in the healing conflict, I requested that my side of the stakes be "if you lose, you don't heal him in time to see to Abigail."  Ian and Flora were fine with that, and after bringing in pretty much every possession he owned (like using his coat to staunch the bleeding--I think coats got used in every single conflict in this town), Saul managed to win.

They both went to heal Abigail, and rolled in "Death's" fallout to help their side, so that conflict went a lot easier.  Still, I now realize I should have just said yes to their healing her--there wasn't much interesting to be gained either way from the conflict.

After those three conflicts our time was up, and the next week Ben was back but David was gone.  We had Benedict and Abigail stay behind to recover from their wounds while Saul and the recovered Zeke rode off to find August and Zider.  Abigail gave them directions to August's house first, and revealed that while her mother had pinned her hand to the table (by driving her finger right through it!), she'd seen a vision of Ella and August holding her dad while Zider slit his throat on that very surface.

Zeke and Saul found August the hunter, Steward Zider and Deputy Beven at August's little house; Beven had a gun on his father, and August had a gun on Beven.  The Dogs drew on both of them.  During the standoff, August asked for absolution and said that it was his fault Selim was dead (while a bluebottle fly buzzed around him).  Zeke and Saul demanded he tell the whole truth, at which point Zider lunged for August's gun.

A difficulty with IM as a medium emerged here:  I kept trying to have Zider lunge for the gun and start a bullet-time conflict, but just as I would hit enter to say as much, Ben (Zeke's player) would start a new tack in the conversation and I'd have to rewind.  Obviously, I kept the situation going in the direction the players found interesting, but if we'd been playing in person, I would have had a much better assessment of whether the Dogs were done talking.

We did finally get to bullet time; Zeke shot the gun out of Zider's hands, Beven aimed at his father, and Saul shot Beven in the knee, throwing his aim off.  Zider lay on the floor, crying like a hungry baby.  Beven's wound turned out to be pretty serious, so Zeke (with his medical training) healed him while Saul covered the other two.  (Again, a healing conflict that was fun, but which I definitely could have skipped.)

August finally confessed that he and Ella had held Selim while Zider killed him.  Zider declared that he had done everything for the preservation of his flock and gave himself over to the demons, rising up with his eyes entirely white.  Then Benedict walked in the door and blew his head off--one of the times I did say yes, and rightly so.  Beven said some nasty things about who was allowed to shoot whom, exactly; Benedict took a dislike to him and walked right back out.

Side note:  I'd intended to play August as the bitter man who lost his innocence, and Beven as the noble outcast with some tarnish on his soul.  As it turned out, August rose to the occasion very well (responding to one of Beven's nasty remarks with "for the King's sake, be the man your father wasn't!"), and Beven became very sarcastic and petty.  Possibly this was because the Dogs had shot him to keep him from killing his father, then killed his father right in front of him.  Zeke did a nice job of justifying that, though, with a justice-not-revenge lecture.

August asked for absolution, and Zeke and Saul took him outside to cleanse him with sacred earth and Three in Authority.  Zeke the diplomat asked Beven to help them wrap things up in town:

Me: Beven: "What next, Watchdogs?"
Ian: "The sherriff?"
Ben: "We should probably inform the sheriff about what's been going on in his town."
Ben: (For certain definitions of "inform" and "his")
Ben: (Such as "shoot" and "the king of life's")
Me: (heh heh)
David: (i like that dictionary)

Beven took better to being asked, and agreed to lead them to the Sheriff's office.  The Dogs sent August to go to the inn and apologize to Abigail, left Zider's body, took Beven and rode into town.  In the office (embossed with big brass letters:  "S H E R E F F"), Redlock was cleaning a new gun while the other deputy snoozed.

Ben: *feels the momentary irk of his 1d4 relationship* "Howdy, Redcloak."
Ian: "There's been a bit of trouble in your town, sheriff."
Me: He nods. "Preacher men. My deputy tells me you had a real nice revival down there. He ain't said so, but I'm forced to conclude that he's been done violence in some fashion, as well."
Me: "And it's Redlock. Sheriff Redlock." (+1d10 dudes)
Ben: (Ha, he's not in conflict, wasted!)
Ben: "My mistake. Our last meeting was a bit brief."
Ian: "I apologize for any harm I caused him but I felt the need to avoid him suffering murdering his own father."
David: "sheriff Redlick, seems you got a nasty little demon problem in your town."
Me: Redlock nods. "You shot my deputy. Because of demons."

The Sheriff announced that they were under arrest; Beven sided with the Dogs, telling the Sheriff not to trifle with them; the Sheriff, unable to stand two betrayals in two days, signalled to Deputy No-Name to shoot Beven.  Then we got to go to bullet time again!  Benedict tackled Beven, saving him from the deputy's bullet; Redlock pulled a shotgun from under his desk and fired as well, but Zeke shot him in the arm and slid a die over to Benedict's pool.  With that, Benedict was able to reverse the Sheriff's blow and deflect the bullet into Deputy No-Name's face (I knew he wouldn't be around long enough to be interesting).  Saul and Zeke exchanged several bullets with the Sheriff; Saul was fine as usual, Zeke was seriously injured, and the Sheriff ended up as a fine red mist.

Ben raised a question here:  in killing Redlock, the Dogs had essentially resolved all the sources of Demonic Influence in the town--did I still get to roll my 5d10 against him in the healing conflict?  I said yes, that the demons were still around and very unhappy with him, but I'm not entirely sure about that.  Another question answer I didn't satisfy myself with, as Benedict started healing Zeke:

Ian: can i just join in rather than be a belonging?
Me: Nope, healing conflicts have to be one on one, I think
Ben: (No, you're a tool!)
Me: (hah)
Ian: (damn. i was gonna sabotage it anyway)
Me: (dude, harsh)
Ben: (Don't you dare give for bonus dice!)
Ian: ("Here, rub these bullets into the wounds. They'll act like a salve.")

Benedict healed Zeke, but in doing so, took 3d6 fallout--which translated into a 12 and necessitated a healing conflict for him.  We weren't sure how exactly to play that, so I suggested that after all the bloodshed, he was having a crisis of faith and risked falling into atheism.  Saul (the evangelist), in turn, tried to bring him back.

I thought I had one of my coolest strategies here, but I was outwitted anyway.  Remember how Benedict has a relationship with a named demon?  I had a bunch of dice--3s, 4s and a 10--and Saul's player Ian had a smaller pool.  Right after one of Saul's sees, I had a voice whisper in his ear:  "I know one name that will remind him of the power of the Faith--Varaethian," and slid my 10 over into his pool.  Instead, Ian brought in Beven (impressed that Benedict had saved his life) as a large excellent improvised possession, and beat me without ever using that 10.  Curses!  Foiled!  But then, for his experience, Ian added a 1d6 relationship with "Whispering Voice."  Success!

By this time it was two in the morning and we were happy just having gotten through our first town.  The Dogs appointed Beven the new Sheriff (by questionable authority, but hey) and August the new Steward, then rode off into the sunset.



Wow, that was long.  But then the game did take us almost two months to play.  Honestly, I only rolled up one batch of NPCs!

I should mention here that we handled our dice-rolling with some web-based software I wrote called Dogpool.  It uses PHP and MySQL to roll dice, push them forward, and track everybody else's pools, raises and sees.  Since you need your own web site and database to run it, I imagine its appeal will be pretty limited; still, I'm currently rewriting it to make it more secure and cleaner, and I'll release it under a BSD license when I'm done.

Unanswered in-game questions:  What happened to Abigail?  Did she inherit the inn, presumably?  Did she mind the Dogs killing two of her rapists but appointing the third as Sheriff?  Did she forgive August for, y'know, helping kill her father, selling out her husband and getting named Steward for it?  Man, I hope we get to revisit this town later.

Unanswered mechanical questions:  How do we justify taking "serious injury" fallout from a healing conflict?  (I suggested that we house-rule healing fallout as d4s until we came up with a better way to handle it.)  Can multiple Dogs bring dice to a healing conflict?  (This was handled very unsteadily--I let Saul and Benedict work together to heal Abigail, then said only Benedict could heal Zeke later.  Whoops.)  After the demonic influence is cleared from the town, does the Storyteller still get to roll it into healing conflicts?

Things for the Storyteller to remember:  I need to keep a cheat sheet so I can actually remember things like who is whose aunt and where people are standing.  As Ben pointed out after we wrapped up, and as I've tried to note in the account above, I need to say yes more often--especially on things like non-Dog healing conflicts and arguments at gunpoint.

So that's an open question--when you're playing over a medium this slow, and you have to decide between speeding things along and using the fun mechanics, how do you decide when to say yes?  I tried to pick points when there was a) an obvious conflict of interest, and b) an interesting consequence from either side winning.  The players scrambled really hard to win everything anyway, so maybe I wasn't making that clear enough (in fact, the only conflict they lost was allowing Beven to stay in the room while they judged Zider).