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Alternative settings - why racist Dogs break the game

Started by Sydney Freedberg, September 19, 2005, 07:52:39 PM

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Sydney Freedberg

People have lots of fun pondering alternative settings for Dogs in the Vineyard, and given that the Faith in the game-as-written is quite deliberately at odds with modern, Western, liberal values in key ways (e.g. women are subordinate to men, capital punishment without trial is an option), someone occasionally proposes an alternative setting with an outright racist ideology -- most recently, the extremist Black Muslim idea mentioned in this thread. I've been thinking about this for a while, and I don't think Dogs driven by racism will work (Dogs who happen to be racist are fine, you'll be glad to know).

Okay, why?

Talking about the (distinctly unappealing) idea of "SS in the Valley" a while back,

Quote from: lumpley on December 28, 2004, 02:34:04 PM
If you set up to play SSitV, you must make town rules where having a Jew in your town means that other townspeople go hungry.

If you set up to play DitV, you can use my town rules, where having two men fall in love in your town, or having a woman act uppity, or having teenagers fool around with each other, means that other townspeople go hungry.

DitV is as offensive as SSitV. No doubt about it.

What you can't do if you set up to play DitV or SSitV is go without town creation rules at all. My impatience with SSitV and all its type is that I'm not seeing any town creation rules. Bring 'em on.

Here's where I think Vincent is right, and here's where I think he's wrong:

The town creation rules are essential: They're what creates problems for the Dogs to get at the root of. Specifically, they create complex problems where there is no immediate, easy answer (e.g. "kill the villain") because of the multi-step process that traces all the horrible goings-on to someone's small inward fall into Pride, after which people respond by making more and more mutually compounding bad choices.

But if you replace the game's fictional Faith with an ideology that's all about superior and inferior races, you can't have choices anymore. People do bad things because they come from bad ancestors; people do good things because they come from good ancestors. Period. "A Jew in your town causes people to go hungry" is not problematic because it's offensive (which it is); it's problematic because it's boring: Okay, he's Jewish, of course he's bad, throw him on the train to Birkenau and move on to the next town. Where did either the "bad guys" or the "good guys" in that story get to make any decisions? Which means, where did the players behind those characters get to make any interesting decisions?

Which brings me to "actually, Vincent is wrong": Therefore, Dogs in the Valley is not as offensive as SS in the Valley. Because no matter how wrong the moral code the protagonists enforce in Dogs might be, people still have a choice about whether they violate it or not. For the SS, people have no choice about whether they violated the code or not: The only crime that counts is being born.

Joshua A.C. Newman

I hate to say it, Sydney, but while I wish you were right, I think you're not.

Jews, homosexuals, and Blacks could be like Demons: after all, according to Umberto Eco's Eternal Fascism, one of the consistent features of ur-Fascism is a doctorine of simultaneous strength and underdogness. So the problem isn't that there's a Jew corrupting Aryan maidens. That's a symptom. The problems are in the corruption itself.

What you have to do is find out who the secret Jew is (you follow the strains of jazz to the underground club with Dada on the walls and a Nigger-Kike Jungle Music band on the stage, presumably). Then you have to deal with those who fell for the corruption. What they're saying, how they're making the town decay.

Oh, it's doable. It's just reprehensible.

Don't forget that Dogs has its own hated people, the Mountain People, whose religion is inherently demonic. And Mormonism has a pretty bad history of racism, too.
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.


Yowza... so SSitV would not be about the SS dragging Jews away in the night (which would be appalling) but about the SS judging the Aryans there for not having done it already (which would be worse).

Do you excuse a grandmother who sees the echoes of her own grand-children in the face of a frightened Jewish boy, and so shows (sinful) mercy and lets him escape?  If that's forgivable (perhaps with appropriate penance), what about somebody who actually goes so far as to harbor members of the mud-races, from the same sense of human mercy?

Good God.  I'm getting uncomfortable shivers even typing this.  That would be appalling because it wouldn't be boring.  I don't know whether such a game could "work," but I'll say for damn sure that I don't personally want to go that far.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Joshua A.C. Newman

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.

Spooky Fanboy

And as the someone who brought in that Black Muslim thread, I don't see the primary objective of the Black Muslims in that alternate setting being "throw out or kill the white man." I see them working in the inner cities and deep country trying to purge Black culture of the outside elements dragging it down: the drugs, the temptation toward crime, the temptation to go a "color-blind" route and live within a society that does not support you, the temptations of blind retaliation toward or cowardly acceptance of external aggression, etc.

Just like the Mormons of DiTV, they are a willfully separate culture within a broader culture, trying to keep their beliefs and way of life intact without constant assaults from the majority culture. Whereas the SS example is of a culture on the offense, the culture of the Black Muslims is simply trying to hold their ground---and with few exceptions, all their version of the Dogs will be able to do is maintain what is there, not try to expand. Expansion is someone else's job.
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!

Sydney Freedberg

And I thought I'd come up with a happy thing. You're right, that's pretty damned awful. (And I do not invoke damnation lightly in this context).

I still think the game breaks, because Nazi ideology has too little moral room for those doing the judging to make judgments, at least interesting ones. The strength of the race is the one thing that matters, the welfare of any individual is meaningless, and while you can make purely tactical judgments (shall we keep these untermenschen alive a little longer to make us more weapons, or just kill them now?), you don't get to balance different moral values. The SS ideal spat on any kind of compassion. Tony's hypothetical grandmother wouldn't fare very well.

Could use Dogs you play a game about "Ordinary Germans" (to use the title of a famous book on the subject) who, unlike the hardcore SS, had ordinary human moral values we'd recognize plus a sincere belief that Jews should be exterminated? Quite possibly. I might even be able to steel myself to play such a thing, some day. But I can't think of any outcome for me as a player beside (in the end) rejecting the value of "kill all the Jews" as incompatible with all the other values, which means the decision is made before play even starts, which means, in turn, that whatever else such a game is, it isn't Narrativism aka "thematic play."

(It also isn't fun, but I think we all knew that).

So instead of "Nothing in the rules breaks. The players' (not PCs') relationships with the NPCs break," it's that "the players' relationship with their own PC breaks," and the character is no longer a vehicle for interesting moral choices.

Ben Lehman

I agree with Sydney's original post.  I even said as much way back in the Forums, I think, but I'm way too lazy to find the reference.

The problem is that race is not something that you can atone for.  If we're going to say that Jews or Blacks or Whites are the core of problem, they need to be like Demons -- mysterious and strange and possibly just bad luck.

If you look at the referents of racist ideologies, the hated races don't act like Dog's Demons, and they do it in such a dramatically different way that it really would break the game.

Now, Nazis hunting Communists, spies, and homosexuals: That's fine.  Throw in Jews as color only.



Quote from: Sydney Freedberg on September 19, 2005, 09:13:58 PMThe SS ideal spat on any kind of compassion. Tony's hypothetical grandmother wouldn't fare very well.
Not at all.  In SSitV, whatever the SS decide (even compassion) that's what the Fuerher wants.

Great.  Now I have to go scrub my soul with lye.  Thanks a lot, Sydney.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Sydney Freedberg

Quote from: TonyLB on September 19, 2005, 11:14:35 PMIn SSitV, whatever the SS decide (even compassion) that's what the Fuerher wants.

Oh, Tony. Why'd you have to say that? Because it snagged in my brain on the ironic, nasty fact that the Third Reich was actually one of the most disorganized, Byzantinely disfunctional regimes in modern history, crisscrossed with competing jurisdictions and ruled by an autocrat who changed his mind twice a day and rarely wrote orders down, which means that a Dogs-style "protagonist" who is judge, jury, executioner, and interpreter of the Great One's Will is in fact entirely plausible. And from that the whole ghastly thing coalesced in my mind....

(God help me).

(deep breath)


WEAKNESS (manifests as indiscipline: an Aryan man sleeps with the Polish housekeeper, a child doesn't report a suspicious statement by her father, a camp commander appropriates the gold fillings for his personal enrichment)

... leads to...

FAILURE (manifests as having to retreat from the Russian Winter Offensive, missing production quotas, failing to make an area truly Judenrein)

...leads to...

DISSENT (manifests as blaming the problems on some failure on the part of the Party and questioning National Socialist doctrine)

...leads to...

RACE TREASON (manifests as conspiracies, which may even directly invoke the aid of the hidden Jews)

...leads to...

DEFEAT (manifests as some major and visible reversal, like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of '44)

Judaic Influence is 1d10 if the worst manifestation the SS have seen is weakness and indiscipline,  2d10 if it's failure, 3d10 for dissent, 4d10 for treason, 5d10 for defeat.
Jews do not have any individual traits, statistics, or relationships, and they are not statted out as NPCs. Any time the only opposition is Jews, roll Judaic Influence only.
A traitor may add Judaic Influence to his chosen side of any conflict.

Weakness and indiscipline enter into gender roles if a woman does not want to have one Aryan baby after another, or a man does not want to engage in violence against non-Aryans and traitors; weakness enters into Fuehrership when someone considers their Fuehrership a personal privilege instead of an obligation to the Volk, or when they value any individual in their charge as an individual; weakness enters into love, sex, and marriage when someone has sex with a non-Aryan; and so on, and so on. Please don't make me list more of these.


Just talking: d4s
Physical, not fighting: d6s
Fighting with any weapon (including guns): d8s
Bureaucracy: d10s

Because in a totalitarian society, guns and gas don't kill people. What kills people is the little check mark in their file that sends them away forever: "If you continue to avoid my questions, I will have to put you on report." What saves them is a shield of properly filled-out paper: "But the Gauleiter gave me this letter of authorization...." Pull out your documents and watch the man with gun turn pale.

Papieren, bitte? ("Papers, please?"): d4
Quoting the Fuehrer: d4
Measuring the body ("Note the pronounced elongation of the head, typically Aryan..."): d6
Heil Hitler! (because they have to "Heil" back, right? Crisply, enthusiastically -- or else): d6
Calling in Higher Authority: d8

I see no way to read all this and avoid thinking, "I do not want to live in a world that operates by those rules."

I set out to prove this wasn't possible and ended up writing it. I feel like Dr. Jekyll shortly after he realized what his potion to make the drinker more moral actually did. But, as Vincent warned long ago, the mechanics don't break. My heart might.

P.S. -- a note to the appalled: Although I'm a Christian, I have two Jewish grandparents, which under the Nuremburg Laws makes me a first degree mischling subject to all sorts of sanctions. As of the Wannsee Conference (1942), if not earlier, I'd have been on one of the death trains. And, for the record, no, I am not a damned Nazi -- again, I do not invoke damnation casually in this context -- I do NOT admire the "protagonists" of the game I've just outlined, I do NOT believe in the worldview this outline depicts, and I do not particularly want to play this thing. But, with two degrees in Modern European History and a hearty loathing for the Nazis, I feel (rather like a Manhattan Project scientists) that since someone is going to design this nightmare eventually, better me than someone who knows too little or loathes too little to show evil for what it is.


Tobias op den Brouw

- DitV misses dead gods in Augurann
- My GroupDesign .pdf.


Everybody help me remember this, okay? Now when someone new comes saying "what about ... NAZIS?" we can point them here.

I don't want to make it a sticky, just help me remember.


Sydney Freedberg

I had trouble sleeping for nervousness after posting this... thing. Thanks to Tobias and Vincent for understanding, and to everyone else for not stomping.

The whole Dogs vs. Stewards vs. Territorial Authority thing maps too, albeit weirdly. Dogs become roving SS troubleshooters in their black uniforms, Stewards become the plainclothes SD (Sicherheitsdienst) or Gestapo secret police chiefs -- both groups reporting to Heinrich Himmler, but through different channels -- and then TA is everyone else in the fucked-up bureaucratic Reichmare of occupied Europe: local German civil government in places like Bavaria that can't figure out what happened to federalism and local self-rule; rival security organizations like the regular Army (Wehrmacht) and its military intelligence service (Abwehr) that just want to win the war, goddamit, would you please stop taking over all the trains; the construction company on steroids called the Todt Organization (Albert Speer's people); puppet regimes in occupied France or Belgium; uneasy allies like the Hungarians ("you want us to send our Jews where?") or the Italians ("but the Fascist Party is more Jewish than Italy as a whole because small business owners are anti-Communist!"); and on and on and on. The General Gouvernement in occupied Poland -- those parts that weren't simply annexed to Germany -- would be the perfect horror of corruption, incompetence, guerrilla warfare, and death camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau's near Krakow, not in Germany at all), with Stalin's Red Army coming closer by the day.

And you know, the one thing I sort of hope for, about this despair-inducing thing? That some wannabe Stormtrooper or "monster I am let monster I wankey wank wank" type Googles up these rules, gets his buddies all psyched about "we're gonna be Knights of the Reich! We're gonna kick some untermensch ass! We're gonna be baaad"; and then halfway through the actual session, the "protagonists" are all stomping on Tony's hypothetical grandmother, and she still won't Give, so they Escalate to bureaucracy and say "Don't want to talk? Fine! See how you like it when we tear up your ration card, bitch! How you gonna eat without your fuckin' ration card?" And the d10 fallout kills her -- not right there, of course, but as sure as a bullet. And all players look at each other and go, "Wait a sec, when did this stop being evilsexycool and just become vile?"

It was always vile, you know. It was just harder to see it.

Sydney Freedberg

Essential reading:
Robert Harris, Fatherland -- a German detective, drafted into the SS, dodges his superiors to investigate a murder in a world where Hitler won.

Essential viewing:
HBO Films, Conspiracy (Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci) -- reenactment, from Adolf Eichmann's notes, of the 1942 Wannsee Conference where all the bureaucracies got together to organize the Final Solution, over a very nice lunch.
Steven Spielberg, Schindler's List (Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley) -- but in the SS worldview, Schindler becomes the villain, bribing officials and undermining the system to preserve his Jewish workforce and his profits.

The measuring-the-body bit is from a scene in a Polish film called Europa, Europa, but I've never seen the whole thing.

John Harper

I can't imagine how I could ever manage to play this.

However, I wanted to say:
"Bureaucracy: d10s" is the coolest thing I've seen in a while. That's just fucking brilliant. The same thing should apply for any Cold War "behind the iron curtain" adaptation of Dogs as well.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Sydney Freedberg

Adapting the Dogs system to the Lenin-era or Stalin-era Soviet Union is straightforward: The Dogs become Chekists, i.e. members of the secret police organization known variously throughout its history as the Cheka, OPGU, NKVD, and finally KGB. (The initials are even the same: KGB is Russian for "Committee on State Security," and at least some uniform insignia dropped the "K," leaving "GB" = "State Security" = "SS"). The Steward is the local Party chief; the Territorial Authority doesn't have a clear equivalent. Demonic influence is capitalist influence, although there's a possibility of a capitalist seeing the light and become a communist in a way that didn't exist in Nazi racial ideology.

After Stalin dies, the system congeals in such a way that it's harder to imagine equivalents to the Dogs. Without Stalin smashing things apart in purges, the KGB, the Red Army, and the civilian core of the Communist Party (as in the professional civilian administrators and ideologists) settle into a rough equilibrium, with a self-correcting balance of power and a pretty clear understanding of how things work. It's still a nightmare of totalitarianism, but it's stable, in an eerie mirror-image of the checks-and-balances of the US system (which is also threefold: executive, legislative, judiciary). There's less room for individuals to take initiative of any kind, which means Dogs doesn't work as well, and which of course is also the reason the Soviet Union collapsed.