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[Clement's Patch] new game, new group, return to play

Started by Alex F, January 22, 2006, 12:24:05 PM

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Alex F

So last week I played a fair bit of Dogs, first games for me and the other players. Relevant backdrop:
I had never played with most of the players before.
I have not played a roleplaying game (this includes GMing) for over a decade, and was not unique within the group.

After an abortive attempt to get a minimum of players together before Christmas, I ended up hooking me six willing players for the same weekend. I felt that although cramming everyone into one session might not break the game, it sure would break me, and having no other plans I broke things into 2 sessions, a Saturday and a Sunday. I knew everyone and most people knew one another; both sessions spilled over onto other days, which was cool with everyone.

Oh, and the other thing, I played the same town with both groups. Smart-smart or smart-wayyyy stupid? It seemed sensible beforehand, as it cut down on the prep and familiarisation I needed to do: this was pretty much true. I also had an idea that this setup could explore how situations metamorphose into entirely new beasts, given the right fodder. This was smart-stupid: I had enough on my hands playing the town to be considering meta-issues of whether the situation I was presenting was or wasn't similar in each case. Plus, I felt that my excitement about the town was ever so slightly blunted by the not-quite freshness of every townsperson; altered colour and the variance in how they entered conflicts prevented this getting acute, but I should have seen this coming. Stoopid.

The town was Clement's Patch. I picked it as I dug it as written. Moreover, I can see subsequent groups being a mishmash of the currrent two, and felt that the town components were universal enough that it wouldn't spear continuity if Bros Rugged and Hirsute toured together after separately dealing with situations seeded the same way.

Both games were spread over multiple sessions - 2 and three respectively. What can I say? New group, new game, some new gamers (and most at least pretty rust). The triple session was a bit much, and if it would have worked I would have wrapped it up short. I'll talk about The first group (daubed Mauve coats pre-game, this having no actual impact upon coat colours) in this post.

Mauve Coats: Saturday
Players: Alex A, Andy and Tom. Tom and Alex A are brothers; Tom and Andy were at university together.  I lived with Tom and Andy for a year in a big house and have known them on and off for about six years.

I ran the town as written, taking on board some of the suggestions in the following thread, and creating a bit of a bang with a critter skinned by the boy of the house; just a tension crank really, and a way to distribute some attention to the kid who otherwise feels a bit peripheral.

Alex A's character was Bro Hiram, a nice guy  dog with a strong history.
Ac: 4 Bo: 2  He: 5  Wi: 2
Traits: I'm a dog 1d6;  I don't like blood 1d10; I enjoy small talk 2d8; My childhood broken leg never healed proper 1d8; I'm a likable guy 1d6; Kal's laugh (a mutual friend, with an unforgettable howl) 1d6; I always believe what people say 1d6.
Relationships: My mother who most influenced my childhood 1d8; I wish my friend Newton didn't lie so much 1d4.
Notable belongings: excellent boots, family portrait.
Coat: Brown, with the tree of life permeating through it in orange
His accomplishment was to see whether he could get through small talk without seeming like a  soft touch. The conflict began with a physical obstacle to be overcome, and flash-forward to a corridor confrontation with a bully, which Hiram got through without escalating to violence, and even ended up taking the bully dog as a relationship. This  was the first accomplishment, and was cool!

Tom's character, Bro Nathaniel, came from a complicated history which included a beginning in a non-faithful town where he learned gunplay young on the streets, and was blinded in a gunfight at the age of 12.
Ac: 6 Bo: 3  He: 2  Wi: 4
Traits: Blind 1d4; Blunt straight talker 2d6; Spent childhood fighting gun duels 2d4; Tall and imposing 1d10; Bubbly scarred eyes 1d4; I'm a dog 1d4.
Relationships: A problematic one with the steward who took him in but may have mistreated him 2d6.
Notable belongings - quality ornate pistol, big black hat.
Coat: Brown faded patches of maroon, dark green, dark red, used to belong to his steward.
His accomplishment was to  memorise the book of life, as without eyes he could not recite from it. I struggled a little bit in this conflict, as we set the scene as the final exam testing scripture, and the nature of the narration (a few blows taken) made it clear that there were some aspects of the book where  Nathaniel's knowledge was inperfect. I tried to push the conflict into a shape that seemed to make logical sense to me - `"OK, so given that you've admitted an error here, maybe your next raise could be to ask the teacher to give you extra lessons after the test, and that's how you get it perfect.'' But this wasn't how the player wanted to do it - and he was right: it was a cool scene and we needed to complete it. It finished with the Dog showing that even if he didn't know all those soft verses from the Song of Solomon, he commanded all the parts that matter - the words of a righteous judging god. He took a trait of `"I can recite from the books of prophecy and revelation''. In my opinion it turned out cool.

Andy took on Bro Newton from a complicated community. The complicated community was a travelling sideshow/circus precursor, playing exotic music and displaying oddness.
Ac: 5  Bo: 3   He: 5   Wi: 3 
Traits A knack for lying 2d6; Shoots his mouth off 1d6; Forgetful 1d8; an eye for detail 1d8; acrobatic 2d6.
Relationships [NB we fell off the wagon here, and started with more than 2 relationships]: Watchdogs of the king of life 2d8; Circus Giant 1d10; Polish John (a mystery: Newton can't remember him, but will recognise him when he sees him) 1d4; Mayor baggins (who ridiculed him so much that he left the circus in a weeping rage, to find a community that coudl stand proud) 2d4.
Notable belongings: Clockwork timepiece/device purloined from his travels
Coat: Oversized, half grey half black

His allegience was clearly still with the circus, as his accomplishment stake was ``Do I get people to respect the circus?'' In a way, this was my favorite accomplishment. The scene was the dinner table on the first night this batch of dogs were brought in, with the newbies discussing their background. Newton tried to defend his heritage against some hostile other trainees. Due to some high dice on my side, Newtons lying raise was exposed (reversed the blow) and his snooty adversary proclaimed him a perfect example of why circus folks were bad. Andy could have gave, but he decided to escalate up and pop that girl in the jaw as his see, taking some fallout but getting enough dice to finally raise it all out, snarling at the stunned table that THIS was why you should be respecting the circus folk, and staring each of them down. He took the dog he decked, Sister Fidelia, as a 1d4 relationship from fallout.

I'll put the town play up presently. Chargen took a little while, but the system was new to the other players, and none of them have played Narr-heavy games like Dogs; Andy's never played any rpg before. The initiations came together really well, and created a safe place for everyone to explore the system. There was laughter and appreciation through each one, and we were nearly gasping through Newton's: "I can't believe you did that - but it's so cool that you did. Mate, those are issues."

Alex F

Mauve Coats - Saturday - Town
Overall the town produced some really great play. I was pleased to find we seemed to be all on the same page, if not the same paragraph, when it came to flexibility with raises. Jump-cuts and slo-mos were grokked as a cool option, stepping away from task resolution quite happily; on the other hand, bringing in really tenuous traits was called out on both sides. A mistake I made with both groups was equivocating on whether multiple traits can be brought in on a raise: of course they can, and I should have welcomed that. Also,  players seemed quickly prepared to take seemingly harsher fallout, such as dropping die sizes, when this was thematically appropriate, as well as offering raises that didn't effect all their opponents. It happened so naturally that it didn't seem weird, but the fact that we could be privileging story while still all up in the dice mechanic (and loving it) was cool.

To recap for those not interested in reading the town description, Pride = Bro Pleasant's desire to have it as good as Bro Derrick without putting in the work; Injustice = his according treatment of his family; Sin = his families actions: wife Sister Ninea prays for his death; son Jada takes to hunting and killing for attention; daughter Sister Althea begins prostitution; Demonic Attacks lead to oprhaning Sister Marille, who joins the family, and is lead into Althea's sin; False Doctrine = belief that whoring is right, and Corrupt Worship = celebration of this, and attempts to win over a third girl, Sister Electa, an unfaithful (in my rendering a dogmatist).

We only got into a few conflicts before our first session ended.
The first one was trying to get Sister Ninea to spill the beans. Sister Ninea hints, then goes cold, gets angry, with her strong temper, women of house and meaty paws tries to throw the dogs out, eventually trying to woop them out with a broom, thwacking Nathaniel over the head and tearing his coat. They stand firm and  she gives up that her husband is the source of her woe, and gushes over how her children are shining examples to her. This was fun.  Everyone seemed engaged by the fact that this little housewife was running rings round their agents of the lord through the proper use of system, rather than arbitrary fiat, and the scene was funny with a backdrop of tension. It also provided a real framework for roleplay, which was great as I was incredibly rusty and might have sunk amongst all the townspeople without a mechanical structure to activate and reuse; I suspect it served a similar purpose for Andy.

Cue Sister Althea, leaving to do some chores downtown looking nicely dressed up. The penny quickly drops (I hope I wasn't hiding it) but the dogs go up to speak to Marille, who eventually admits to her situation. They initiate a conflict ``Do we get Marille to give up whoring?'' which goes from a spat in her room to a frosty dinner table denouement with the whole family about to say grace! Her sin was exposed and she reached shameful understanding. Outraged, Ninea hits the roof - ``in my house, this is what we've been reduced to?'' and goes for hubbie (Bro Pleasant) with the rifle. The dogs take her down pretty quick, and snatch up the rifle.

Mauve Coats - Tuesday
This session stepped it up a bit. A bit of mass-email banter had identified that the other group (Grey Coats) had enjoyed some character-character conflict. In addition, I'm sure exposure to the system meant the players were more confident in what they could do. My scene framing and conflict initiation had been too wishy washy the last session so I announced that I would push things harder, and wanted the players to do it too.

It began with Blind Nathaniel barking to Newton to train the confiscated rifle on Bro Pleasant. Andy was all ``what? why? I don't have a beef with him'' and when I suggested a conflict they went straight to it: does Bro Newton train the gun on Pleasant? Some of the conflict was beautiful:
Nathaniel raises: This man is the source of our troubles.  Raise the gun to his head.
Newton dodges: Don't you tell me what to do, brother! I am not subordinate to you!
Newton raises: (A knack for lying) Anyway I am training the gun on him!
Nathaniel takes the blow: (blind) Oh. good.
Nathaniel raises: Because, of course, a real servant of the king of life would recognise that he must be vigilant, and keep sin within his sights!
...keeping the conflict going at an ironic level! This stuff came mostly direct from the players but everyone was pretty open to proposals thrown out at the table. Eventually, the wind was taken out of Nathaniel's sails.

Bro Pleasant implores dogs to sort out the true problem behind it all - Bro derrik - and at this point I engineered a party split - Alex A had been out of the last conflict so I wanted to offer a little spotlight and introduce Jada, who wanted to show the big huntin Dog his spoils. This resulted in a cool tuff dog scene where Hiram pursued a partially skinned demon-inhabited coyote down the street and blasted it to bits. Interesting that the first time the guns came out were when the opponents weren't people. There were no real issues at the table, and it acted as breathing-space between the high-tension familial arguments.

Let me say that again.  Hunting demons was a relief from the real action, dealing with familial issues. I can't help but think of this thread , and think of every great TV show (most clearly encapsulated by something like Buffy) which demonstrate how natural this should be; but still, to systematise it so the game reflects this is a real 'whoa!' for me.

Meanwhile the other dogs played a conflictless scene with Derrik, where I volunteered everything that I felt was worthwhile (he was a decent guy,  didn't give any evidence of hidden secrets or sin under interrogation). I worry that  things sagged a little in this scene as I had nothing really going on in it: the NPC as written (and played) is decent and uncomplicated, and really not involved in the problems at all. Possibly the game felt more of a clue hunt there, and I feel that the players shifted down a gear.  I cut into the scene with the sound of gunshots from the coyote killing outside to step things up, and their final addresses did naturally lead to Derrik providing some impetus, by naming another girl who may have alluded with Althea.

The Dogs sped off to the blacksmiths shop to confront the nonFaithful girl Electa, who lives there with her dogmatic invalid mother [mental note: how do a teenage girl and an invalid run a blacksmiths?]. Electa denies that Althea is there, and kicks the dogs around for a while with her Innocent face, Pout and Friendless traits - she won't give up the only girl in the town to give a damn about her non-faithful ass. I forgot then, as throughout the game, to assign relationship dice to characters and draw them into conflicts, which was a major slip. After a fun conflict - looming, fearsome Nathaniel tries to break Electa's pout by meeting her gaze with blasted, bubbled eyesockets, but takes the blow and is staring at the fireplace instead -  The Dogs win out with restraint, but when Althea appears the stakes go way up: the two girls attempt to seduce a Dog.

Kapow! This really set the game alight. Those girls were good. And it unfolded like a scene of great fiction. Clean-cut Hiram opening with small talk to really try and change the subject like the awkward virgin he is, to get everyone to calm down and have a chat - raising everyone in the combat. He gets a reversed, escalated fist in the face from Nathaniel for his troubles. Electa pressing her flesh against Newton, who gets a big helping dice from Nathaniel, as he shakes his bloodied fist in his field of vision to ``help'' him remember the consequences of poor decisions. Yet Nathaniel himself is only immune to their visual charms, and no match for Altheas delicate hands, twitching helplessly (in every sense).  His catastrophing overreaction is to draw and fire on her just as Marille enters to try and address the situation. Gouts of blood from Althea. Whose Tolerant of pain 2d4 keeps her going when she should have gave. Still trying for those stakes, staggering towards Hiram and Newton with a leer of pain and lavisciousness! Of course, Hiram Can't Stand the Sight of Blood 1d10... it all gelled fantastically.

Of course, the girls gave... of course, Althea is seriously injured and starts to die... and of course, Nathaniel takes the responsibility for taking her back from the brink, and raises with his last two dice to do so.

After this, any conflicts seemed superfluous, and the denoument was cracking. Pleasant and Derrock dragged to the boundaries of their plots, in the middle of the night, to have Nathaniel lecture them on the clods of earth they both possess, resonant of the sanctified earth used to plug Althea's wound, and how envy and lethargy present infertile soil to grow upon. Then in a stunning piece of judgment, they conclude that each farmer must henceforth tend the other's ground, and learn from this how to serve as good neighbours! I just said yes, yes, yes.

Feedback after the game has been positive. I haven't had a chance to entirely gauge Andy's take on the whole enterprise, but his at the table demeanour was as involved, if a little more cautious, as the other people playing. If the game was thin on anything it was setting colour - I need to dose up on a few good Westerns, as I kept flailing about for what goes on in a border town besides farming. My imagined story felt a little bit like Dogville at times, conflicts in a suggestive vacuum, which was cool in some senses but I'm not sure what we're all after.

Any input would be valuable. I'll get into the other group's play presently. A few questions:

1. What is the point of scenes such as the one with Derrik?  It felt appropriate to not connive a conflict, especially one based on thin air (``Does Derrik spill whether he's causing problem in  town?'' Roll, roll, give. Uh, He spills, and he's not.) and it seemed to work, more or less, as fallow space between conflicts and  juxtaposition with the action outside. But I couldn't shake the idea that the players were waiting out the scene to see what clues I was saving, and there wasn't anything there. This was a bit more of an issue in the next game.

2. What happens when you escalate on a see? Technically there is no opportunity to deliver the higher fallout, so it seems to maintain the risk the next raise should also be narrated at that level (e.g. a gunshot if shooting). From the book I think this is how it should go, and I'm thinking also that the escalating character should get to do their raise immediately, barring any clear unfairness, otherwise so much can happen narratively meanwhile that forcing the action would seem unfair.