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Modern morality and Dogs

Started by Alephnul, February 21, 2006, 07:16:51 AM

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I am just starting out my first game of Dogs, and I'm interested in doing it short campaign style (I am totally coming from the perspective of multi-year games, so the idea of one-shots is oddly off-putting). From APs that I've read, it seems like Dogs often end up gunning each other down, and it seems to happen most when the moral conflicts of the story are ones where a modern liberal is going to take a radically different position than a 19th century Mormon. I've seen it in ones where attitudes towards gays and lesbians come up, or where the position of women in the society comes up. Also with the Mountain People. I suspect it happens with black-white racial issues as well. Someone who is playing a Dog with an under-layer of 21st C morality turns on someone who is playing hard-core, fire-and-brimstone 19th morality, and the guns come out.

Does this actually happen as often as I think it does? Are there other issues involved? Is there a way to hit those sorts of hot button issues and stave off the inter-party death?

I like the hot button issues, I think they will take the players hard and fast to the questions of communitarian morality, but I am not enthusiastic about pushing it to Dog shoots Dog. Are there other questions that raise the communitarian issues powerfully? By communitarian, I mean that the community benefits from its tight morality that supports the social cohesion and mutual reliance, but individuals who don't fit the tight morality suffer horribly, and the Dogs have to choose between the suffering individual and the healthy community. To me, the hierarchy of sin is all about this, and all about why the dissenting individual, of almost perfectly good will to start off with, is destroying their community. Sins that are only (to our eyes) sins because the community calls them sins make this much more obvious than sins that we think any community would have to call a sin are.

So what other sins than unaccepted sexual orientation and desire for gender equality are there that highlight this?


If you're playing a short campaign, and people die at the end of it in a final conflict over some moral issue, is that really a problem? I don't see why - what a great way to make a statement, to lay your life down on an issue one way or another. Just because it's not Call of Cthulhu doesn't mean PCs can't die.

And of course if they don't want to kill each other's characters or die to make a statement they can Give or refuse to Escalate.

To answer your closing question: some of us in the modern world have much more tolerant attitudes towards all forms of fucking than historical peoples often did. I think that this makes sense: homosexuality etc. are no problem when you've vastly overpopulated the earth - there's no obligation to procreate any more, for anyone - and birth control and abortion mean we can fuck all we want as long as we avoid disease and not worry about pregnancy and the economic burdens pertaining thereto. Which is GREAT! Fucking is awesome!

But, these issues do create problems for playing Dogs. I was playing in this game where my Dog was beating up some woman and calling her a whore because she was sleeping with a young man who truly loved her to feed her family. There was no inter-dog conflict over this, but I just plain snapped. I could not continue to play the character the way I had originally wanted to, as a sort of hard-assed judgmental 'absolute moral law' kind of guy. I switched into 'protect the community', utilitarian greatest-happiness-for-the-greatest-number mode and, basically, helped her cover the thing up. Which the other Dogs went along with, interestingly.

But, anyway, I guess I'd say it's part of the fun of the game to work out these conflicts either internally with yourself (as I did) or externally with the group (as the blood opera type sessions you've mentioned did). It's interesting to find out how far one or one's group can go in embodying a perspective like this. I imagine for some it would be quite easy - the savage superstitions that animate the Dogs' lives are far from eradicated in the modern world, alas - whereas for others, grandchildren of the Enlightenment, it can be quite a challenge indeed.


It's funny, my players have had no problems adopting the 19th century mindset about sex.  When they met a genuine feminist (think proto sufferagette) they unanimously shouted her down.
"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker

Joshua A.C. Newman

You can't push players to have their Dogs shoot each other. That's their business. The idea is to come up with Towns that make all the players have to make a statement about what they feel about the situation.

Fred's example of a suffragette being shouted down by the Dogs is a great example: those player are all dealing with what they think about the situation. For all I know, they could both be addressing the unfairness of a sexist theocracy by demonstrating it.

This is something for you and your group to work out.

Also, Dogs works fine for 1-shots, but it's fun in series, 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.


Aleph, this is exactly what you want with a dogs want your players to constantly have their view of modern morality in the back of their minds.  The goal isn't to subvert that to some kind of "what would an actual 19th Century person feel about this." exercise.

Where the morals of the Faith clash with the morals of the players is where you find the drama and purpose of the game.

That's not to say that the players are expected to be deliverers of modern day morality to the dark ages either.  But players can't ever really feel what their characters feel (regardless of what some folks try to fool themselves into thinking).  But they can absolutely feel what THEY feel ABOUT what their characters feel...and that's where all of the "oh shit...did I really just do that" moments come from.



Not pushing them to shoot each other, pushing them to not shoot each other. What they do in actual play is their own business, certainly, but I feel I am well within my rights as GM to ask, at the start of play, that we not do a one-off blood opera, that that isn't what I want to run for them. If they find that what I give them leads them inescapably to a one-off blood opera, I'm sure it will be interesting and I'll enjoy it, but I think asking that they not go there just for the hell of it is fair. Anyway, my fellow players agreed that it was fair, so that is pretty much the only standard I actually need to meet (agreed that it is something for us to work out, and if they had said, "No, we want blood opera!" I would have said "Okay, lets start with a one-off.").


Certainly, the conflict between player morality and character morality is one of the potential driving engines of the game (although I don't think it is the only one), and not one I intend to avoid. I do intend to hit the splitting issues. I disagree on the character/player feeling question, but that's a question for somewhere else.


3 out of 4 of my players will have no problem playing 19th conservative Mormon morality enforcers. The 4th balked at the idea, and built a character who has covert heterodox views, as I knew she would. So blood opera one-shot was a definite possibility, but one that the characters are somewhat built to avoid (heterodox is a talker who is uncomfortable with the idea of shooting people, so she can both talk the others to her position, and is unlikely to go for the guns).


I think my main issue with one-off blood operas where the characters split along modern vs. Dog morality is that it potentially weakens the fabric of the fiction for me, because it means that the characters, having grown up in a tight knit, orthodox society, having just gone through 2 months of intense indoctrination and bonding experience, get out into the field and find they have neither enough respect for their fellow dogs to not draw guns on them at the first provocation, nor do they have more than a fragment of a coherent shared morality.

[standard disclaimer: Yes, yes, the fiction isn't real, but things that high-light the fiction not being real make the fiction less powerful to me, unless they are done very well.]


Anyway, my players are agreeable to not going Dog shoot Dog in the first session, and we do have a covert heterodox character in the group, so we are likely to get some interesting discussion across modern/19th C divides, so it looks good.

And, I hedged my bets, and my first town does not center on any of the issues where modern and 19th C morality most violently diverge. I'm going for gut wrenching children issues instead. And, somehow, if they shoot each other over those issues, I'll feel more comfortable about it.

Thanks for all your responses. It certainly helps me think through this question. As does confirmation that plenty of people do the splitting issues, and don't end up in blood opera land.

Chargen and most of the initiations done, we get to the first town tonight.

Joshua A.C. Newman

Incidentally, I haven't seen too much Dog-on-Dog violence. But those are the conflicts that stick out in my mind as the most satisfying.
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.


It would make sense that, because they are so satisfying (or so disastrous), they tend to be wildly over-represented in AP reports (and that, because they are something I'm hesitant about, I over estimate how often I've seen them in AP reports). I can definitely see how they'd be satisfying, and the system does seem to be designed to give them good support. Good to know if they aren't really that common. Thanks.

Sydney Freedberg

It's all about the fiction you and your friends create. Setting consistency is wildly over-rated.

That said, 'cause I'm a setting monkey and a history junkie (though no scholar), I cain't help myself:

Attitudes about homosexual, pre-marital, and extra-marital sex are way more flexible in most pre-modern societies than most moderns give them credit for. Of course, sometimes "flexible" means "hypocritical and oppressive," as with the double-standard that married men can have mistresses and even whores on the side, but women are tainted forever if they sleep with more than one man. But sometimes it means (as Vincent suggests in his hierarchy of sin chapter) awfully pragmatic: There were places in 19th and 18th-century America, for example, where the average bride was pregnant at her wedding, and people were okay with it.

And, as I understand it, homosexuality as a blanket term for all same-sex intimacy is a pretty modern idea. To put it gently, in a lot of cultures the penetrator was considered normal, and only the penatratee was seen as effeminate ("it is better to give than to receive"), but either could go on to a perfectly straightforward heterosexual marriage later on. A certain degree of, well, buggering younger boys was expected, even romanticized, in a lot of subcultures, including the best English boarding schools --- where it was one of the few rays of affection in an otherwise brutally competitive environment, according to no less a conservative Christian commentator than C.S. Lewis.

So why do I say "forget historical consistency" and then give you two paragraphs of history? Because real history, and the real people who made it, are inconsistent. Which means you're more likely to be accurate if you don't worry too much about accuracy.


I also like Vincent's point, and I can't remember where exactly I've seen him point it out, that in a plotline involving a same-sex couple, the pride that starts the sin hierarchy moving can easily be someone else who thinks they have a right to butt in. Sometimes, turning a hypocritical blind eye is exactly what the community actually needs to do, and the person who decides to throw the first stone is the one who brings down the avalanche.