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Author Topic: How Dogs made me reform my wicked ways  (Read 4578 times)
Solamasa
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Posts: 50


« on: February 11, 2005, 08:54:00 AM »

I've always been a maniac for character back-story.  A real maniac.  I'm one of those types GMs complain about:  I'm the guy who writes page after page of purple prose.  I'm sure it's because writing was always the highlight of many of my gaming endeavours; I almost knew that writing about these nuanced moments, torrid affairs, and heroic triumphs was the only way I was going to experience them.  It was vicarious roleplaying.

(Plenary indulgences!  Write ten pages of character history, and you'll be forgiven for having pathetic gaming experiences!)

So now I'm playing Dogs.  My Dog, Brother Hector, is a righteous bastard, from the group Fruitsmack mentions in a thread below (Aaron, I've got a new trait: "I was tempted to look but didn't, 1d4").  And here I am, astounded that the only character history I have is right there on my character sheet:  

I survived consumption, 1d6.  
I grapple with hubris, 1d4.  
I showed up the ceremonies master, 1d6.  
Coat: burned by my mother, but I still wear it, 1d4.

All these are great, and every time I pick a trait for a conflict it slaps me in the face.  It says:  why are you using me?  What's going on here?  This time I roll "I grapple with hubris", is it because Br. Hector is sliding down a slippery slope, or is it because he's mortified at himself?  And what about that relationship with the demon, Grandfather?  Do I roll it?  Do I?  Do I?  All these traits are character history in action, and I'm revelling in it.  

But what finally brought poor Br. Hector home for me was the town last night, Garrison's Peak.  It showed me more than anything what a team players and GM make, and that when they're on the same page all hell breaks loose.

Br. Robert has been courting Sr. Ruth, and Robert's best friend, Br. Joseph, has been courting Sr. Odetta.  But Robert gets a little tired of Ruth, and so plays around with Odetta.  And Br. Joseph is there when the playing around is going on and joins in.  And wouldn't you know it, Robert finds that of them all, he likes playing around with Joseph the most.

So.  What about the redoubtable Br. Hector?  He has had a relationship on his character sheet since day one.  It's a relationship I've never touched, but it crawls around the corners of all our minds:

My ex-lover Gideon, 1d10.

So of course Robert comes to confess to Hector.  And I know the chips are down.  Every trait on that character sheet jumps out at me as the two of them converse.  I won't deny that Br. Hector has been an asshole through the entire game, that he's a sanctimonious prick, that for him the world is rendered starkly black and white, and that even the other Dogs aren't always worthy in his eyes ("I fear for Br. Simeon's soul, 1d10").  But then, he does have moments of doubt ("I hung a man, 1d6"), and compassion, and fear.  He's may be a Dog, but he's also just a man.

Will he be a hypocrite and put a bullet in Robert's head?  Risk being a bigger hypocrite by letting him go?  Will he think he's better than Robert, that he deserved to seek redemption by entering the Dogs but Robert's just a stupid, sinning kid?  Or will he give Robert the same chance he got?  Will he even decide there is no redemption, that there never was a sin, and that it's not the King of Life who condemns the romantic concourse between two men as forbidden but proud Ancients who will not bow their heads to the sanctity of love?

It's beautiful melodrama, but it's engaging.  Gripping.  When things are running right, Dogs doesn't let you be passive.  Dogs makes you choose.  Dogs will tempt you.  Dogs forces gruelling decisions on you: decisions about who your character is, what he's doing, where he's coming from.  All this, and there isn't a single page of character history in my character notebook.  I think I'll write in little block letters under the title of the game on the cover of the rulebook, "Warning: No vicarious roleplaying allowed."

- Kit
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2005, 09:01:20 AM »

Kit! Welcome to the Forge. Welcome to my forum!
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Will he be a hypocrite and put a bullet in Robert's head? Risk being a bigger hypocrite by letting him go? Will he think he's better than Robert, that he deserved to seek redemption by entering the Dogs but Robert's just a stupid, sinning kid? Or will he give Robert the same chance he got? Will he even decide there is no redemption, that there never was a sin, and that it's not the King of Life who condemns the romantic concourse between two men as forbidden but proud Ancients who will not bow their heads to the sanctity of love?

Yaaah! You can't just leave me there. Did he? Didn't he? What's love? WHAT DID YOU DO?

-Vincent
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Bankuei
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« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2005, 10:19:41 AM »

Hi Kit,

Funny enough, I was talking about the "pages of backstory" phenomena over in the HeroQuest forums.  Just like you say, its usually a result of folks who don't get a chance to actually experience their character concept in play.  Games that allow that to happen, and even have good solid mechanics and techniques to focus on those elements of character- what a difference huh?

It's amazing to see that you don't need pages of backstory- you just need relevant issues and themes brought up in play with the GM pushing those magic buttons during play.  :)

Care to share any other personal feelings about this shift in play?

Chris
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Solamasa
Member

Posts: 50


« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2005, 01:00:19 PM »

Quote
Yaaah! You can't just leave me there. Did he? Didn't he? What's love? WHAT DID YOU DO?

Terribly sorry for the cliffhanger, Vincent, but this game gives so many neat toys to play with, and I was struggling to keep it to one topic.

I loved how Robert stumbled through his confession to Hector because, really, his Faith doesn't give him the tools to express love between two men in any positive way.  It's like falling on analogy, which is all Robert had, was excruciating for him because he felt it was even sinful to be analogizing.  

What ended up mattering to Hector, though, was not "what is love", but "what is power".  Which is more than a little disturbing.  I am a Dog, he said to himself, and thus my sins cannot be unjust.  Also, I am a Dog, so I cannot afford to be a hypocrite.  So he let Robert go.  He told him, you will stop this charade.  You will marry Ruth, Joseph will marry Odetta, you will push all sinful thoughts of Joseph and Odetta from your head.  The King of Life is merciful.  And Robert swore that he would do all these things.

But I think Hector knew it was a cop out, because really, Hector is not a merciful man.  The other Dogs are always talking him down from his hard-line, burn the sinners and the victims alike approach.  So to help Hector cover up his moral ambiguity, and thus, with hope, making the situation worse, I asked for a conflict:  does Hector, looking deep into Robert's eyes, see Robert breaking his vow?

I was soundly trounced.  All Hector could see in Robert's eyes was image after image of a life of wedded bliss, no matter how he tried to pierce the shadows.  But I loved GM Aaron's description of Robert's reaction to this viciously intense stare:  Robert goes from seeing Hector as a confidant and a comrade, who has given him hope that even though he's a sinner he might live happily ever after, to realizing that Hector is a Dog:  judge, jury and executioner.

We stopped there for the night, but what is frightening is that we now have a question hanging in the air.  What happens when a Dog falls down on his duty?  Because fellow Dog Brother Ishmael was lurking in the shadows, and heard every juicy little detail of the exchange between Hector and Robert.  It was a sweet little "dun-dun-dunnnn!" moment.

Quote
It's amazing to see that you don't need pages of backstory- you just need relevant issues and themes brought up in play with the GM pushing those magic buttons during play. :)

Care to share any other personal feelings about this shift in play?

Chris, it is amazing, and a sheer delight.  In our group, though, the button pushing doesn't always come easily, from either players or GM.  It's often a struggle getting there.  The struggle is mutually frustrating, because we are consistently rewarded for arriving at those moments with conflicts that are always edge-of-the-seat nail biters for all.  How do we keep the momentum?  The text, of course, provides the answers, but translating that into reality when we're fighting against ingrained bad habits isn't a cakewalk.

It's also interesting how, when everything's working, the intensity of the conflicts sates my creative impetus on a continuing basis.  In addition to writing long and detailed character history, I'd also tend to write various intra-session character pieces.  With the Dogs game, though, I think, what is there to explore about my character's nature that I haven't brought up in-game, or won't bring up in-game in the future?  The intra-session fiction becomes, essentially, superfluous.

- Kit
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Bankuei
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« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2005, 01:49:49 PM »

Hi Kit,

Right, the pay-off is very visceral, and very immediate.  It may take awhile to overcome play habits, but it'll be very interesting to hear once you guys get the machine oiled and running smoothly.

On note of "fanfic" for the game- I think it can be a fun and neat addition to play, as long as it doesn't replace play as the focus of creative input.  For example, in HeroQuest, a group might write up myths, different religions or cultures, but the point of doing so is to feed it back into play, not to admire it from afar.  But yeah- Dogs will definitely make it clear that you don't need all that, the reward is in the play itself.

Chris
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