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Author Topic: On Dogs and Doglikes  (Read 3482 times)
Ben Lehman
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« on: September 21, 2004, 02:28:35 PM »

Hi everyone.

So there have been a great plethora of threads recently, regarding playing other types of people in the positions of the Dogs.  Some of these are groups which have been regarded by history as evil (eastern european communists, inquisitors, american witchhunters), and others were regarded as villains in their time and history thinks of them as heroes (ghostdancers.)  I have my own mods that I want to do with the game, although not really to the system, so I haven't posted here, but this is all just background for the main issue.

There are a few things that I want to just make clear about my opinion on these mods.  Because these have come up repeatedly, in lots of different threads, and I really would rather not post these messages, over and over again, to each thread.

I'm going to suggest that those who have general statements to make about modifying Dogs to new settings post them to this thread, and then use it as a referal whenever the topic comes up.  Clearly, if you have topics on the specifics of the setting, those belong in the other thread.

Okay, so my general comments on dog-likes:

1)  I suggest that the system needs little or no modification to run a variant.  To this end, it is probably a good idea to *try out your idea in actual play* first, just with friends, and then afterwards work it out on the forums if there are things that want for changing.

2)  Consider the social structures and status quo that your PC group is trying to maintain.  Social breakdown and social repair are key elements of Dogs, and I think are often overlooked in favor of the flashier "absolute power and absolute judgement" aspects of the game's Situation.

3)  Do not worry about the moral status of the character group, particularly in regards to historical judgment.  All that you need to worry about is:
a) The characters think that they are on the side of right.
b) The game presents the evil that comes from the character's decisions as the result of honest mistakes or for the greater good, anyway.  i.e. their doctrine is not treated as flawed in the course of play, and the characters really try to do right.

If you really want to play Nazis, or Communists, or Inquisitors -- do!  No fair balking because someone might be offended.  Similarly, no fair pissing on someone else because you thought that their group was offensive.

For what it is worth, I will say this:  Vincent has taken one of the most morally abhorrent groups in history and made them totally the good guys.  (I'm not talking about Mormons.  I'm talking about the settlers of the American West in general.  If you want to complain about that, let's take it to PM.)  So, honestly, it's not like the people that the Dogs were representing were somehow better than any other group that might come up.

Condensed version -- Play the game.  Have fun.  Enjoy the Premise.  No hand-wringing, please.

yrs--
--Ben
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DannyK
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« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2004, 08:09:44 AM »

Excellent points all, Ben.  I definitely plan to play at least a couple games of "vanilla" Dogs before getting jiggy with it.  

It's just that I've been looking for a game to explore that specific (revolutionary) situation for a while: Mage wasn't it; Sorcerer wasn't quite right either, at least I wasn't clever enough to make it work.  So Dogs is quite exciting for me in that way.
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clehrich
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2004, 12:13:08 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
1)  I suggest that the system needs little or no modification to run a variant.  To this end, it is probably a good idea to *try out your idea in actual play* first, just with friends, and then afterwards work it out on the forums if there are things that want for changing.
Sure, that makes sense, Ben, but one does need to think a bit before actually running something.  I would think discussing the issues with people who are into Dogs is a plausible thing to do.  After all, if you propose something that really cuts across the point of Dogs, you might not see it yourself, and folks here are perhaps more likely to do so.  Besides, I for one do not have a permanent floating test group to try things on, so I tend to do a lot of work in advance and save up for when I have opportunity.
Quote
2)  Consider the social structures and status quo that your PC group is trying to maintain.  Social breakdown and social repair are key elements of Dogs, and I think are often overlooked in favor of the flashier "absolute power and absolute judgement" aspects of the game's Situation.
Fair enough.  But bear in mind that Dogs is set up such that the "social structures" are in some respects fairly simple.  These towns are pretty isolated, and there's a definite frontier mentality.  When transposing Dogs into a situation where the social structures are hideously complicated and get into geopolitics or the like, it's not as simple as you make out.  Certainly one should not overplay the "absolute power and judgment" thing, though.
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3)  Do not worry about the moral status of the character group, particularly in regards to historical judgment.  All that you need to worry about is:
a) The characters think that they are on the side of right.
b) The game presents the evil that comes from the character's decisions as the result of honest mistakes or for the greater good, anyway.  i.e. their doctrine is not treated as flawed in the course of play, and the characters really try to do right.
I just don't think that's true, I'm afraid.  If the PCs are Gestapo agents, that's a VERY different game from Dogs -- not necessarily a bad one, but very different.  I agree with you that frontier justice was not a good thing, and Vincent has made some very disturbing folks into the heroes in a very complex way, but I do not think these early LDS "Dogs" or their equivalents were the same as Gestapo agents.  Furthermore, I don't think a whole lot of readers have all that many strong preconceptions about the Dogs, or the Sons of Dan, or whatever.  They are willing to take this on as something of a fantasy, albeit with historical roots.  But I know a lot of people who have extremely strong reactions to things like, "Hey, let's all be Stalinist secret police, that'll be fun!"

Take "Hounds of God", for example, the Inquisition thing I'm working on.  If I set it in 16th-C. Germany, focused on witch-hunts, that's one thing.  If I set it in Spain and focus on hunting Jews, that's another.  If I set it in Italian backwaters and focus on community problems, that's yet another.  I have very strong opinions about the Spanish Inquisition against the Jews, and I also have strong (though slightly different) opinions about the German witch hunts.  Both of these are extremely negative: I find it hard to sympathize with their position.  But when you read about Italian Inquisitions dealing with local community problems, it's a very different matter.  I think one of the greatest contributions of Carlo Ginzburg to an understanding of the early modern period is precisely that he showed us that these folks weren't monsters, and I think their moral difficulties could make for a great game.  And I wouldn't have seen that I should limit the variant in this way without the discussions with Nikola, Ralph, and Vincent (among others).

Everything you're saying is true, but it's just not that simple.
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Play the game.  Have fun.  Enjoy the Premise.  No hand-wringing, please.
I may be misreading, but I didn't see a lot of hand-wringing 'round these parts.  The big questions I have seen are:
    How historical should it be?
    How do we focus on the essential points in a transposition?
    What issues arise when we make such transpositions, and how do we deal with them (e.g. torture)?[/list:u]I take your point, Ben, but I just don't see it as you do.  I think that these discussions of variants haven't been about hand-wringing, but about getting at the fundamentals of what Dogs does and seeing how those transpose to other situations.

    Am I missing something?
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Chris Lehrich
Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2004, 01:21:19 PM »

I think you just said, in fewer and better-chosen words, what I was trying to say elsethreads.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
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