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Author Topic: The ulimate arbiter of evil  (Read 5617 times)
Pelgrane
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Posts: 125


« on: December 22, 2006, 06:54:40 AM »

I've read a few threads around this topic, and I don't think there has been a clear answer.

It seems from the rules that the players are the ulimate arbiters of morality, and this posts assumes this is true.

However, the town creation process suggests that the GM prejudges what is good and evil. I'll use What the Demons Want as the example of this.

My question is, if the PCs wishes or outcomes are the same as What the Demons Want, what happens? I'm after the official position.

1. The GM retcons the town so that What the Demons Want is different to what the PCs are trying to achieve. This can mean completely rewriting the town on the fly, but my guess is that is what is intended.

2. If the demons get what they want, the PCs have failed by an definite external criterion. I'm guessing that this is not right.

3. It is possible that what the demons want and what the PCs want is the same thing, but for different reasons. I don't see how this can be true, because by definition what the PCs want is morally correct, and what the demons want is evil, so by definition they can't be the same. I suppose that they there could be a waypoint which suits both sides (eg we both agree that Armageddon is the place for the final battle) but that seems to be weaselling out of central premise of the game.

There might be another possibilty I haven't considered, of course.
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Darren Hill
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Posts: 861


« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2006, 07:13:18 AM »

I've seen this question pop up a lot, and I've asked it myself.

Here's what I think Vincent will say (I hope I'm not being presumptuous): It doesn't matter. Play the town as written, and you'll find it's not a big a deal as people think it is.

Here's what I think I've figured out from reading responses to this question from people who know better:
What the Demons Want: this is just a tool - one of the things that give a GM some direction during play. If players agree that what the demons want is the right thing, they still have to go through the "Reveal and the town and judge it" process, and that's what the game is about. The GM will still have NPCs to play (escalate, escalate, escalate!), some of which will still not agree with the players (since as part of designing the town, you have to come up with a few mutually incompatible agendas). So you'll still get meaty conflict, and the players will make their judgement and reflect on it afterwards.

The Dogs are Morally right: this is another thing that I think people take too literally, and which I did too. Notice: two Dogs might disagree with each other about what the right thing is - who is Right then?
I find it easiest to look at it this way: during play, no-one knows whether the Dogs are doing good, it's only after the town is finished and the players look back (the Reflection phase) where they then realise: "Hey, we did a good thing there," or "Damn, did our Dogs really do that?" The Dogs can make mistakes, but the point is, the GM is not in a privileged position to be able to judge them and have that judgement mean anything. "The Dogs are always right" is really "The GM can't direct the players to his preferred solution, " and "There is no higher power to judge the players - only they can judge themselves."
Also, even after reflection, some players may think what they did was right, and others disagree, and that's okay. That's the whole point of Dogs, I think.

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Pelgrane
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Posts: 125


« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2006, 07:55:29 AM »

I've seen this question pop up a lot, and I've asked it myself.

Here's what I think Vincent will say (I hope I'm not being presumptuous): It doesn't matter. Play the town as written, and you'll find it's not a big a deal as people think it is.

Thanks for the feedback. However, I've played the game as written, and it was a big deal, at least to me.

I find it easiest to look at it this way: during play, no-one knows whether the Dogs are doing good, it's only after the town is finished and the players look back (the Reflection phase) where they then realise: "Hey, we did a good thing there," or "Damn, did our Dogs really do that?" The Dogs can make mistakes, but the point is, the GM is not in a privileged position to be able to judge them and have that judgement mean anything. "The Dogs are always right" is really "The GM can't direct the players to his preferred solution, " and "There is no higher power to judge the players - only they can judge themselves."

This will only work if you retcon what the demons want. If what they achieve is what the demons want, and that is fixed in stone, then they have done evil by an external criterion.

Also, even after reflection, some players may think what they did was right, and others disagree, and that's okay. That's the whole point of Dogs, I think.

And if what the PCs are doing is what the demons want? The demons will surely start helping them on their way unless you retcon it. If there is an absolute unchangeable standard of evil in the game, then the PCs actions cannot help be measured against this standard, and I think this is something the rules are against.

Play it by ear is useful advice, but I am hoping for concrete direction.
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2006, 09:45:19 AM »

Pelgrane,

The Demons want to sow chaos and destroy the town.  Always.  How they go about doing this is different for each town but in the end they want people killing each other and the community to disolve.  (Please, note that community isn't referring to people just living in proximity to each other. There's a functional social order that is what is really at stake.) 

The Dogs want to preserve the town.  They want to maintain the overall health of the community.  They have to be working towards this in order to actually be playing Dogs.  How they go about accomplishing this might differ radically between towns.

The town creation rules simply create a situation that allows the Demons an opportunity to get what they always want.  The Demons want to resolve the situation in a way that dissolves community.  The Dogs want to resolve the situation in a manner that preserves community.  They are mutually exclusive.  Their methods of accomplishing their goals might look pretty similiar at times but the end result can't be a victory for both sides.

So this isn't an exercise in "what if's" and "could be's", is there a specific situation you can show us?  If it actually happened in play, that'd be even better.  I've got one but I'd rather work with yours since you brought the subject up.

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Brian Newman
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Posts: 53


« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2006, 12:42:20 PM »

I always took "The Dogs are always right" to mean "No one has the moral high ground to rule what the Dogs do as WRONG", not "Universal Truth redefines the nature of the universe to align with whatever the Dogs just did".

In the world of DITV, there may or may not actually be a King of Life, but if there is, I imagine he might judge some things Dogs do as morally incorrect.  Does that mean that Dogs = Demons?

If your players ride into town, cause chaos, and randomly blow people away, then declare the town judged, well, I think that's an interesting result that would be worth discussing afterward, especially why the players felt it was the right call or if they disagree with what their characters did.

If they do it in town after town, that might be interesting too, but it's not quite DITV as written, and they might be more interested in a different style of campaign than you are.
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Pelgrane
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Posts: 125


« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2006, 02:36:28 PM »

Sorry - I will check out responses to this thread just after Christmas. Suffice to say, I'm not after a big chunk of actual play being analysed, I'd just like this apparent contradiction resolved before I run the game in the New Year. "It's only an apparent problem" or "It'll work out in play" are answered I've already considered.

Simon
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #6 on: December 22, 2006, 03:02:14 PM »

It's not that the Dogs are always morally right - they have moral authority - but can be wrong, and will be if the players - not the GM! - wish so.

When I had a scene where the PCs were doing exactly what the demons wanted because it would further the dissolution of the society at hand, I gave the PCs some d10 from demonic influence (this is a liberal interpretation of the demonic influence rules). That was a bit judgemental, but it was a cool in-game moment as well. And it would have been very interesting if the players had rolled with it and stayed to their initial plan.

As with the other posters, it depends on the town writeup and the contradiction that came up. Don't forget that the motivation of an act is also important to the whole setup. Let's say the demons want Brother Eliah to be dead because he is an important pillar of society but he stole to feed his children, which is bad. A dog shoots Brother Eliah in the face because of the sin of theft. This is exactly what the demons want, right? Except the demons didn't know about the dogs in the first place, and the whole act takes on new meaning because a dog did it.

Imagine the demons as people who always want you to do the thing you're not supposed to, just for kicks. They know you will get hurt by this in the end, but they don't get their kick out of the hurting, but out of the doing things that aren't supposed to happen. Now those guys come along who tell everyone what they're supposed to do, and they do that thing the demons thought is not what one is supposed to do. This will confuse the demons very much - they want to corrupt, but what they wanted obviously is for the good, not the bad. What now? The demons face a different situation now, and probably need to start improvising, driving home their point in another, more sickening way.

There is still the possibility that the players want their characters to fuck up the town for ... aesthetic reasons. This is what reflection is for after you finished the town. Ask the players if their characters did well or not, and feed that back into the next town. It also relieves you from the whole judging process.

This all even works if the demons want the dogs to do one thing or the other - if the dogs disagree, there will be a conflict which sorts this out, and whatever comes from it is what the dogs do, which they do with moral authority. Again, the right place to find out if the dogs did good or bad by shooting eight silver bullets through their former comrades tummy is reflection.
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Ben Lehman
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Blissed


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« Reply #7 on: December 22, 2006, 03:05:10 PM »

It's not that the Dogs are always right (they can be very, very wrong) it's that the GM isn't in an exalted position to tell them whether or not they've done the right thing.

Further, consider that the demons are not perfect.  The demons want things which they think will lead to the town dissolving into chaos and violence, weakening the faith.  If the Dogs then use the same things to make the community and faith stronger, the demons have been hoisted by their own petard.  Moral aikido!

yrs--
--Ben
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2006, 11:05:07 AM »

Hey Simon.

Rewriting the town on the fly is absolutely, positively not what the game intends you to do.

No matter what the players have their Dogs do, even if it lines up point-by-point with what the demons want, your job as the GM is to say "huh, that's interesting," and then create the next town to say, "really? Seriously?"

Are the Dogs on the side of the demons? Maybe they are. You can create the next town with an eye toward finding out.

-Vincent
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lumpley
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« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2006, 12:04:03 PM »

Y'know, maybe a little bit more answer is called for. I haven't written about this recently, this is a good opportunity.

The game doesn't offer, provide or support moral arbitration of any kind. There is no good, no evil. Simon, the contradiction you see isn't real, it arises from your misreading this.

Town creation provides cause and effect in the town's breakdown. It's sociology, not morality; it concerns itself with how a community might actually break down, not with how (some imaginary) God might judge anyone's conscience. It uses the language of absolute morality - sin and evil - but don't be distracted by that. That's not what's going on.

The resolution rules provide cause and effect in the outcome of the town's breakdown + the Dogs' actions. It's sociology too. It concerns itself with how conflicts escalate and how violence propogates. It also uses the language of absolute morality - judgement - but again, don't be distracted by that.

There's this thing floating around, mostly harmless, that in Dogs the players decide whether their Dogs are morally right. It's not true. Nobody decides whether the Dogs are morally right. Instead, everybody (everybody real, the players, the GM, observers, people reading the actual play writeup) everybody judges for themselves whether the Dogs did the right thing. You and I disagree about whether my Dog did the right thing? That's fine. Neither of us has any power to be right, by the rules. We just have opinions, same as how we might disagree about any character in fiction, Conan or Cugel or Captain Kirk or whomever.

Same with the demons. What if all the players agree that, huh, the demons wanted good all along, whoda thunk? That's interesting, surprising probably, but it doesn't signify. The rules don't care one way or the other.

So now Simon, or anyone else I suppose, is this making sense to you? The contradiction isn't real because it's based on two wholly wrong assumptions: that whatever the Dogs do is morally good, and that whatever the demons want is morally evil.

My question is, if the PCs wishes or outcomes are the same as What the Demons Want, what happens? I'm after the official position.

The official position is: nothing special happens; you keep playing by the rules as written. It's interesting to us as participants and observers, probably, but it doesn't have any game-procedural significance at all.

-Vincent
« Last Edit: December 23, 2006, 12:09:42 PM by lumpley » Logged
Pelgrane
Member

Posts: 125


« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2006, 03:23:37 PM »

Thank you everyone, and especially Vince. I've just finished playing a game with this advice in mind, and should have no problem running one, now. A most productive thread, for me at least. I think the issue becomes more pronounced when demons are great furry fire breathing man mountains, but even then, a raised eyebrow and an "interesting..." should do the trick.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2006, 03:53:23 PM »

Terrific!

-Vincent
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Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2006, 11:21:44 PM »

Vincent, that clears some things up for me. Good thread.
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crowyhead
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Posts: 17


« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2006, 08:36:18 PM »

WORD.
I think this thread may have just helped me convince some of the guys I game with to give DitV a try.

Kirsten
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