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Gadianton Robbers

Started by Brand_Robins, September 07, 2004, 09:51:31 PM

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I've been over the .pdf of Dogs and I've got my first game coming up this weekend. (It isn't clear yet if I'll be a player or GM, but I'm good either way.) I'm very enthused about what I've seen so far, but am holding off final judgement till after the first game. So far I like the look of the game from an LDS POV, but I suspect it may be due to my own stance about personal responsibility and judgement, and so remain unsure about what my more conventional brethren might think. I suspect the proof will be in the pudding, and will report further after game.

One of the things another player/possible GM brought up after going over the book with me was that she loved the episodic nature of the game, as it let her use her TV structure knowledge to work out things to do with the game. Her one concern was that she likes games that have an over-arching plot as well as a local plot – things like the seasonal Big Bad on Buffy or the Shadow War on B5. Because she's seriously thinking about running she asked me for ideas, from a Mormon, about things that could be a good Big Bad, and how to handle it, without ruining the player-driven nature of the game or the quasi-Mormon feel.

I've been kicking ideas around about that issue while making my wife a birthday cake, and came up with the idea of using the Gadianton Robbers. In the Book of Mormon the Gadianton Robbers are one of the biggest enemies/challenges that the Nephites ever face, and the interesting and very Dogs thing about them is that they started as an internal threat (where many of the other big crises in the BoM were at least partly external). The Robbers were, in essence, a secret cult/gang that subverted or murdered local authorities in order to "get gain and perform murders." They grew in numbers and power until they were a massive army, capable of falling upon large cities and plundering them. They were defeated by great faith several times, but would return whenever the people turned towards wickedness.

The way I see the Gadianton Robbers working in Dogs terms is that when the Dogs fail to dig out wickedness (especially false priesthoods) the town in question becomes vulnerable to being tainted by the Gadianton Robbers. The Robbers start at a low-level, a minor cult of their own that has slightly greater ambitions than most – they want to connect the sorcerers of different towns into a lose affiliation that can use their power to protect each others' wickedness. It starts there, then slowly grows tighter and tighter with the cult perhaps joining up with wicked Mountain Folk and Non-Faithful to make a cult of secret combinations that has the power to seriously challenge either/or/both the Church leadership and the Territorial Authority. This could lead to some big time challenges in which the Dogs have to ride in force, bringing fire and judgement and weathering sieges of arms and spirit, maybe even having to work with the Territorial Army to do it. (Or fighting a three-way battle between.)

The problem with this set up, in practical terms, is making it work with PC actions rather than rail-roading them towards a metaplot where the Robbers will be the unavoidable Big Bad. For a bit I was thinking about ways the GM would asses the things that PCs had done in a town and score them on it – but that too seemed wrong. So my current inclination is to use the "reflection/post game" phase to get the PCs to score themselves. In talking about the game, and what should happen next, the GM should get the Players to talk about how satisfied/unsatisfied, safe/unnerved, and liking/hating they were with their Characters in the game. Did they feel the town is better after them? Do they think their characters made the right choices? Do they see the potential for future problems caused by (or at least not corrected by) their character's judgements?

Any town with which the players are completely satisfied is safe. Any town in which they feel there were problematics becomes a potential for future robber problems. And any town in which the players feel their characters failed, the Robbers begin to take root.

Towns that are potentials can be returned to and fixed up before the problems get worse. Towns that are rooted can be returned to and fixed, but it'll be a whole new adventure as the problem will have shifted and grown far worse. Of course any town that isn't returned to a fixed will rot, and that rot will spread to other towns around it.

At some point the GM should start working in the idea that there is something bigger than local corruption going on. Ideally this would be after several towns have rooted evil in them, and can be played opportunistically to make sense of events in game. When the sorcerer in a town vanishes and can't be tracked because the PCs lost the contest, but the town is otherwise clean, it can be because he fled to a Robber safe-house. Towns near the rooted towns may start to have higher levels of demonic activity than is fitting to their level of sin. Even towns with minor sins may start to manifest sorcerous levels of evil, for example, because the robbers are corrupting the whole community at a grass-roots level.

Once the PCs start noticing this they'll probably get motivated to start investigating, and after that the high-level of sorcerous, demonic, networked, armed, and capable opposition spread through the Territory should make for one hell of a show down.

Any thoughts on this? Problems? More ideas? I'd like to get it to a stable point where it should be comfortable for the other potential GM before dropping it on her, so feedback is wanted.
- Brand Robins


I like the idea.  I'm completely unfamiliar with the source, but what you've sketched sounds very handy.

If you're afraid of railroading, you could have the last few episodes of the season be linked.  Have the sorceror, false cult, or whatever, spring up around someone who came to town recently.  When the players notice the pattern, they may seek out the source... a conspiracy so strong that they're corrupting other towns, sending out "false prophets" and the like.  [It's not a perfect fit, but it seemed like a good 'inspired by'.]

-- Scott
Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.


I'm a hard-liner, but if it were me, I'd play it town-by-town for some sessions before I'd seriously consider candidates for a big bad. Think about Buffy - the early episodes in each season totally don't establish the season's villain, and that's good. If you choose a villain up front, you'll be setting yourself up against your players; wait to see what's interesting to them before you create their enemies.

Like what if it turns out that the players want to go contemplative and self-inspecting, and the big bad needs to be their own weaknesses? Or what if they fix upon intellectualism as the worst pride (which they might well do), and the big bad needs to be university-educated soft-spoken snake-tongued Easterners?

Or to put it another way, the demons are already what you're looking for. Give the demons, in each town, the particular incarnation your players seem to demand, right now. You won't be wrong, and you'll get your hell of a showdown.



For game purposes I agree with Vincent.  Even in B5 the story arc doesn't manifest until well into the second season.

But the Gadianton Robbers are quite interesting.  Are they an actual historical group, or are they primarily metaphorical, like a parable?


Brand, of course the other option is: sure! Go with the Gadianton Robbers! You're the GM, you get to decide what's going on in the towns, feel totally free.

My advice then would be: remember that you want to show your players what's going on, not keep it from them. Fill the game world with true information about the Gadianton Robbers. Don't commit yourself to a particular showdown or especially a particular trail of clues, totally just put it all up front (in character for your towns and NPCs, of course) and let your players decide how to deal with it. They may go after the Robbers after town one! Make sure you're fine with that.

Also don't expect your players to see the precise same thing wrong with the Robbers that you do. In fact, what if the Dogs decide that the best thing to do with a particular town is deputize and legitimize the local Robbers? That'd be within their judgement and calling. You still should follow their lead.

After the Dogs leave a town, it's entirely in your hands how the town copes with what happened. You get to decide what state the town's in when they come back through. You can ab-so-lutely have townspeople respond with Pride to the Dogs' decisions, and if that escalates into Robber takeover, cool! My point here is to base it on the Dogs' concrete actions in the concrete town, not on the players' assessment of their Dogs' consciences.

Make sense?

Ralph, the Gadianton Robbers are characters in the Book of Mormon. Faithful Mormons take the position that the Book of Mormon is the history of a civilization in the Americas, 600 BC-600 AD or thereabouts. If they're right, the Gadianton Robbers are an actual historical group, from somewhere in that time range (Brand can probably tell you when). Either way they didn't exist in the 19th century, if that's what you're wondering about.



So I took you guys advice (and some things from another thread on and went back to Girl X, and we chewed on it for a bit. She's decided that if she runs (she still isn't sure about that, more in a minute) she may use the Robbers, but not until we've had at least a dozen games and everyone is getting a sense of what, exactly, they'd want the Robbers to be.

We may, however, have found another way to make the game work to her liking without any such group, and I'm more likely to use it if I run. (I'm more confidant/arrogant in my abilities than anyone else in the group.) Simply put I'll do the unthinkable and actually do what the book tells me, building the "series arch" as a thematic statement about sin and judgement by having the same sins come up over and over, and seeing how the character's judgement varies on it by circumstance. The "series" thus becomes more like the various seasons of Law and Order, in which the political biases/ideals of the characters come out when taken as a whole.

So, gee, who'da thunk – but the guy that wrote the game already had some indication of how to make a series in the book. Of course it could possibly use some further explication, but the start is there.

Now, for the second issue, (and feel free to split this if you think fitting), the one problem I'm having with the group right now is a reluctance to play the game with me. Not that they're reluctant in the general sense, but that my non-Mormon friends all get a little odd about playing a pseudo-Mormon game with the Mormon me. I've talked with them about this a little, trying to get to the heart of what bothers them and stressing that it isn't a game about the LDS Church, it's a game about a part of the mythic west, and no more real than Legend of the Five Rings.

So far the responses I've gotten have been:

1. "I know, but it still feels odd to play with something that looks so much like a real world religion, especially one that I'm (no offence Brand, love you to death,) not always comfortable with."
(This player did seem comfortable with making the game Solomon Kane, with Protestant Witch Hunters – which makes me wonder about the accuracy of some of their protestations, but at least offers a possible solution.)

2. "Yea, I know, I'm just a little odd about it. Don't know why."
(Attempts at further clarification have not yielded anything more usable yet. This player, however, is someone who has never talked about religion with –anyone- in their whole life for more than 5 minutes without getting uncomfortable.)

3. "I think I'd be okay with playing, but I don't want to run for you. How could I ever feel like I have authority over the subject matter when it's real world analog is something you'll always know more about than I do."
(This lead to a long discussion about "authority" in RPGs that was quasi-helpful. However the suggestion of the Solomon Kane game didn't help, and the player is new to Nar style play and so still has "GM MUST CONTROL" issues.)

So, I'm still dealing with people's comfort levels and trying to overcome or find ways around issues that people aren't willing to deal with. Anyone else have similar experiences?
- Brand Robins


Quote from: ValamirBut the Gadianton Robbers are quite interesting.  Are they an actual historical group, or are they primarily metaphorical, like a parable?

Vincent already covered most of this, but I'll add a few notes. While Mormons do see the Robbers as being a real group they also see them as being a type, and the record of their history forms a cautionary tale. (Mormons are generally quite adept at taking scripture as both parable and history.) The Robbers were a group that existed, but they're also typal of the sorts of groups that do murder and use secrecy to gain power.

There are a few, um... interesting..., articles about the subject here:
- Brand Robins