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Author Topic: [DitV] -- First Session falls a little flat. Help!  (Read 9254 times)
Darcy Burgess
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« on: June 21, 2006, 06:24:15 AM »

So, we played our first town last night.  Generally, it was ok.  Everyone got involved and mixed things up.

However, I just didn't feel that the session was...well...grabby.

I'm interested in sorting through the events leading up to and including play to get some feedback from people who know the game better than me.

With that in mind, I'll start with the town writeup.  I'd like to look at that for a day or two and then proceed to AP.

So, I'm looking for wiser eyes than mine to review what I put up and go "oh.  man, that's something you should never do" or "hrm.  had you thought about trying this instead".  Feedback, suggestions, etc.

All of this is aimed squarely at making the next session (two weeks hence) grabbier than a big bag of grabby things.
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Darcy Burgess
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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2006, 06:29:45 AM »

Prudence Gulch

Backdrop: 20-odd years ago, Brother Phineas cheated on his wife (Sister Constance) with another woman.  It was a really tough patch for both of them -- it looked like their marriage would fall apart.  However, they managed to pull things together and get on with their lives.  Their love was battered, but not broken.

Fast-forward to the present.  Brother Phineas is slipping into senility.  In his delusional state, he's become convinced that those tough spots of 20 years ago are happening right now.  He's reliving all the old pain and desperation, and he's driven to save his marriage.


Pride: Phineas is attempting to "regain" his wife's love by buying her extravagent gifts, and in so doing is living beyond his means.


Injustice:
- Br Derrick (Phineas' son) can't go to school out east because the family is cash-strapped.
- Sr Althea (Phineas' daughter) can't marry Br Hiram because her father insists on her having a dowry before marriage -- a dowry he can't provide.

Sister Clementine (Hiram's mother) is constantly pressuring Phineas & Constance to allow the marriage to go ahead.  She wants what's best for her son, and they're standing in the way.  She's also unhappy that the Steward can't seem to sort this thing out.


Sin: Althea has turned to the local Mountain People tribe for a cure for Phineas.  She hopes that if he gets better, the rediculous gifts will stop and she can get on with her life -- she and Hiram are in true love.


Demonic Attacks:  Take the form of "freak weather", further isolating this already fringe community.  Specific events include a flash flood that washed out the road into town (and killed Hiram's father) and a lightining strike that killed the circuit judge (TA man) on his way to Prudence Gulch.

The loss of her husband has heightened Clementine's determination to usurp the Steward.


False Doctrine: Althea now believes that the mountain people's ceremonies are OK because they used to be faithful.  It doesn't hurt that the medicine she's getting is actually starting to help her father...


Corrupt Worship: Althea and Hiram have taken to participating in tMP ceremonies, because it's curing Phineas.

Town now deemed fully baked, on to the NPCs


What they want from the Dogs
Constance: make Clementine stop bugging her.
Derrick: the Steward should pay for his schooling, since his father can't.
Althea: get married to Hiram.
Hiram: drive Catathes (the MP guy they worship with) away -- he doesn't like the way he looks at Althea.
Clementine: get rid of the current Steward, he's useless.
Steward (Br Obed): support his authority.

Demons: keep isolating the town, and driving Clementine's agenda.


Eventually, if the Dogs didn't come... Obed gets lynched.
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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2006, 06:58:18 AM »

For a first town, go up to hate and murder!

What you're doing with this town is asking the players to become involved based on - what - whether they feel passionately in their guts that Mountain Person ceremonies are evil. Obviously, they don't feel any such thing! 100 to 1 you don't either.

So you need to go past that. Especially, you need a sorcerer in action. See, the defining characteristic of a sorcerer isn't that he brings in demonic magic, that's a side effect. The defining characteristic of a sorcerer is that he'll screw the town to get what he wants. Screw the innocent to get what he wants.

The way you know a town is baked is when it makes you feel sick to your stomach.

-Vincent
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2006, 06:42:33 AM »

What Vincent said, of course. But furthremore, the outcome is that Br. Obed gets lynched? Why do we care about this guy? He's only got one tie to the relationships, and he's doing a shitty job as Steward. He's got no conflict of interest.

Now, combine these. Let's tie the Steward in to the relationships some. Let's say that he's being passive aggressive because he wants Sr. Althea himself. She's really pretty where his wife is old and ugly and mean.

Br. Derrick has cut a deal where he'll keep his father acting all crazy to prevent the marriage if Br. Obed will pay for him to go to school.

The Dogs show up just as Derrick is discovering that Obed doesn't have the money and is being shot down by Obed's deputies on a frame charge that he was stealing to get the money.
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I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2006, 08:20:40 AM »

Vincent & Joshua -- many, many thanks.  That's exactly the sort of stuff I'm looking for.

In hindsight, I can see the immense importance of having a first town steeped in murder.  Until the players experience the full implications of Dogs' metaphysical ladder (pride-injustice-...-murder), they're going to base their judgements on what they are dealing with, not what could be.

In particular, I'm interested in the touchstone regarding "fully baked" -- is the sick to your stomach criteria applicable in general, or to first towns in particular?

The really funny thing about "Obed gets lynched" was that man, when I was done crafting the town, did I ever feel good about it.  Upon reflection, yeah, the Rmap was totally weak.  Super weak.  The connections were totally lop-sided, and "what people want" was generally not bity at all.

As a footnote, Joshua's comments have made me aware that:
  1) my situation-crafting skills are a long way from where I want them
  2) damn, I've got to get me some Newman-run-game action, pronto!
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lumpley
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« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2006, 08:46:26 AM »

Yeah, sick to your stomach is the criterion throughout.

As you keep playing, subtler doctrinal points will become charged with significance, and it'll take apparently less and less to make you sick to your stomach. Five towns from now, who's to say that "Althea and Hiram have taken to participating in tMP ceremonies" won't make you pale and ill with dread.

-Vincent
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2006, 09:54:23 AM »

Hrmph.  This whole business got a whole lot more complicated.  When I started, I was expecting a whole mess of "yup...town's ok, next?" followed by a couple more "check", "ok", etc.

Go and throw a wrench into things, why doncha? >grin<  I guess what that rambling ^^^ means is that the errors I know damn well I committed in AP were not only compounded by the town writeup, but also partially a result of them.

Case in point: the "meet and greet the dogs" scene.  In which I know it's my job to go "blah.  here's the problem.  FIX!", using NPCs as a voice for the situation.

What did I do?  Play it all cagey, have just about every NPC lie (although, just like Vincent says in the book, if you do it "right", your players know that the NPCs are lying).  What ended up happening was that the Dogs were sort of chasing their tails -- they knew something was going on, that a whole bunch of people were lying about it, but they didn't have anything to bite on.  Eventually, one of the players had enough and forced the deal out of an NPC, but I felt that it took altogether too long to get to that stage.  I'm all ok with building tension -- think Alien.  This didn't feel like that.  It felt like Mission to Mars, bad soundtrack and all.

Couple old GM habits with the fact that, really, there wasn't anything obviously wrong in the town, and you have a recipe for mediocre play.

So, to revisit my earlier thesis -- not only did old habits compound the toothless situation, but I think that they also grew out of it -- if I'd had something that the townspeople were more worried about, then when I was "in character", they would have been a whole lot more eager to demand the Dogs' help.

Support, refute, revise?
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lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2006, 06:15:38 PM »

Support. One hundred ever-lovin' percent.

-Vincent
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« Reply #8 on: June 27, 2006, 04:07:06 PM »

Cool.  That ^^^ won't be happening again...

well, shouldn't happen again...

I'm suspicious that resolving this next bit will close this thread out, but let's not count on it...

OK, who let the Hydra play?
This one's a multi-headed monster.  But these individual issues seemed to crop up en masse several times throughout play:
  ·  Multiple "named" NPCs always seemed to be working as a group -- which barely improves their efficacy.
  ·  What's an effective technique for handling multiple parallel conflicts (parallel = occur at same time & in same place, but not necessarily with compatible stakes).
  ·  A specific case: the Dogs decide to gather all the NPCs into the same room, with the agenda of "sorting out the town's troubles".  How do I stop this from devolving into one big messy (mechanical) conflict centering around stakes like "fix the town"?  I know those aren't the best stakes in the world -- they're not focused enough.  But one thing I find daunting in Dogs as in other games is handling scenese with large groups of people, many of whom are going in multiple dramatic directions.

So, someone wade in with their +2 wyrmslayer, ok?
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Call Me Curly
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« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2006, 12:33:49 AM »

I’ve presumptuously taken a stab at jazzing-up the town...

(Jerry) Springer Gulch

Backdrop: 20-odd years ago, Sister Constance cheated on Brother Phineas with Brother Clement: a blood relation of one of the Dogs.  It was a tough patch for Constance and Phineas. However, they managed to pull things together and get on with their marriage. 

Fast-forward to the present.  Brother Phineas is slipping into senility.  In his delusional state, he's become convinced that those tough spots of 20 years ago are happening right now.  He's reliving all the old pain and desperation and he’s already attempted to murder his wife, failing.

Pride: Brother Derrick suddenly realizes he is the child of infidelity—his actual sire is Clement not Phineas.  Derrick pridefully thinks it’s his place withhold forgiveness from his mother, rather than leave it to Phineas to forgive or not.  Derrick wants the Watchdog who is his (newly discovered) blood relative—to share his indignant anger.

Injustice: Hiram won’t marry Sr Althea (Phineas' daughter) because a flash flood killed Hiram’s father Joseph—and Althea’s family problems led to that Demonic Attack.

Sin: Constance has run off to the local Mountain People, to hide from Phineas’ gun, rather than relying on Faithful channels (the Steward or the Dogs) for help.

False Doctrine: Althea joins her mother in the Mountains and returns with magic to make Hiram want to marry her again.  She cites the Mountain People’s Faithful past, to justify their methods.

Corrupt Worship: Clement (guilty at what he long-ago wrought with Constance) and the Steward are using Mountain People magic, in an attempt to cure Phineas. And it was working… with the side-effect of Demonic Attacks:  in the form of "freak weather".  Including a flash flood killed Hiram's father. Clement wants the Dog he's related to-- to sanction the Mountain People cure, so as to make it a Faithful method.

Murder: After the Dogs arrive, Phineas kills Derrick... "no son of mine, bastard".
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2006, 04:45:43 AM »

Curly --

presumptuous?  nah.
off-topic?  maybe not a few posts back, but for my purposes now, yeah.

So, I've split the thread off over here, because:

a) your suggestions are cool, and I don't want to dismiss them
b) they raise some interesting rules questions

From here on in, I'd like to reserve this thread for discussing my "hydra" problems (and any other things that crop up out of that discussion).

Cool?
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2006, 06:30:42 AM »

This one's a multi-headed monster. But these individual issues seemed to crop up en masse several times throughout play:
 · Multiple "named" NPCs always seemed to be working as a group -- which barely improves their efficacy.
 · What's an effective technique for handling multiple parallel conflicts (parallel = occur at same time & in same place, but not necessarily with compatible stakes).
 · A specific case: the Dogs decide to gather all the NPCs into the same room, with the agenda of "sorting out the town's troubles". How do I stop this from devolving into one big messy (mechanical) conflict centering around stakes like "fix the town"? I know those aren't the best stakes in the world -- they're not focused enough. But one thing I find daunting in Dogs as in other games is handling scenese with large groups of people, many of whom are going in multiple dramatic directions.

So, someone wade in with their +2 wyrmslayer, ok?

Multiple parallel conflicts is the answer precisely.

You handle multiple parallel conflicts by just handling them. Start by making them manageable - set givable stakes; cut PCs out of immediate participation ruthlessly, by giving them their own parallel conflicts; be very clear about who's where doing what; use constraints like "okay, this conflict has to resolve in the instant between when Mitch's character notices what's happening and when he gets his gun out of its holster, or else you have to give right now."

So make 'em as handleable as you can, and then handle them!

In your example, how you stop it from becoming one big stupid conflict is by saying "that's a big stupid conflict, no way we're playing that. Let's find individual stakes for everybody. Mitch, what precise little thing are you trying to get out of this? What precise individual NPC do you see as your real opponent? Martha, how about you?"

-Vincent
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Darcy Burgess
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Posts: 476


« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2006, 08:33:45 AM »

So, a small history lesson:

We started play on our second town, Little Snowmelt last Tuesday.  Alas, real life has intervened unexpectedly and I'm going to have to step down as GM.  I'm hoping to hand the torch off to one of my players, and want to give them the best package I can to run with things.

As a general rule, all the NPCs mentioned in the writeup are faithful unless mentioned otherwise.


Little Snowmelt

Backdrop
A town on the far western edge of the Land, Little Snowmelt is notable for two things: its soaring countryside and that it's a gateway to the west.  Nominally a faithful community, the citizenry has had to deal with the fact that non-believers flock to and through their town.  Resulting from this resignation, a number of decidedly non-faithful operations have sprung up just outside of town limits.  These fringe endeavours are not garish or blatant -- in fact they're rather tasteful.  However, they include both a larger tavern/bordello as well as several small hotel/gambling den operations.

The town elders tolerate these faithless practices because they are indeed vital to the town's continued economic survival.  They have a tacit agreement with the non-believers that all “proper” business will be conducted in the town by faithful citizens, and all faithless activities will remain firmly outside.


Recent Events
Sr Submit (a quasi-romantic relationship to one of the Dogs, and a Dog herself) was severely wounded on the trail.  She has returned home to Little Snowmelt to recover.  Town scuttlebutt has it that the wounds were sustained at the hands of the Mountain People.

James Hands (A non-faithful blood relative of one of the Dogs), a cousin from the "not so bad" part of the family has been drifting for some time, and has ended up in Little Snowmelt.  He's working at the Badger's Arms (one of the hotels outside of town) as a stockboy/muscle.


Pride
Dr. Malachi moved back to Little Snowmelt after completing his training Back East.  He is married and has three children.  When Submit returns to town, he is completely overwhelmed -- the last time he saw her, she was this gangly teenager.  Now, even in her weakened state, she is this paragon of womanhood.  He has become obsessed about her -- healing her, protecting her, cherishing her.  His relationship with Submit has crossed a doctor/patient line and is leading somewhere...else.


Injustice
Malachi's other patients have been suffering, due to his obsession with Submit.  Recent victims include:
  • Br Amos (local shopkeeper & defacto sherriff), whose left arm was improperly set after a stockroom accident.
  • Br Adam & Sr Eliza (farmers), whose son Joel died of the 'flu while Malachi was attending Submit.
  • Sr Isabella (school teacher), whose skin condition has been essentially ignored.

As a result, Sr Eliza started gossiping maliciously against Malachi's wife, Sr Lovina.  The whole town believes that Malachi is cheating on Lovina, and is shunning her from daily activities.  In addition, Malachi's oldest son Ethan is the constant butt of cruel schoolyard pranks.  Sr Isabella does as little as possible to curb the other children's actions.


Sin
Feeling lost, isolated and unsupported, Sr Lovina has sought solace in the arms of Br Amos.  They have been carrying on a tumultuous affair for some time.  Although Lovina initiated the arrangement, Amos has perpetuated it out of spite towards Malachi.  He carries no love for Lovina whatsoever.


Demonic Attacks
Lust & anger has been heightened for everyone in town -- even the most celibate and proper among the town have felt the pull of their baser instincts.  In addition to plain old promiscuity, several assaults and rapes have occurred -- especially at the bordello, where the victims "just don't matter".


False Doctrine
Seeing others descending into her own pit, Lovina has adopted the belief that succumbing to her baser instincts is OK because tKoL made you that way, right?


Corrupt Worship
As the town has become less virtuous, some of the women who were secretly sympathetic to Lovina have started speaking with her again.  Thanks to their renewed social contact, Lovina has brought them around to her way of thinking.  They are all cuckolding their spouses/betrothed and revelling in their new-found freedom and power.


Sorcery
Lovina is lashing out at the folk who ostracised her, especially Eliza.  Isabella's skin condition has deteriorated to the point of grotesqueness (Irrationally, Isabella has decided that it is some sort of Mountain People plague that Submit brought back with her).  Eliza has been beaten by Adam.  Malachi has become convinced that Submit's family are actually trying to hurt the girl.  He sees conspiracy and hate in even the most mundane behaviour.


Hate and Murder
In an effort to further Lovina's power and desire for revenge, the cult kidnapped Eliza's son, Job.  He was raped to death by several of the cult in a bloody ceremony on the outskirts of town.  The cult has somewhat successfully pinned the whole thing on James, whose history and "faithless" nature makes him a very convenient patsy even though he has a questionable alibi.


People
James - not to get lynched
Submit - to escape Malachi's insane clutches
Malachi - to "free" Submit from her murderous family
Amos - to be told that it's ok to beat a confession out of James, regardless of the facts
Eliza - to be blessed in the act of suicide
Adam - to pin his beating of Eliza on James
Isabella - drive Submit out of town
Lovina - get the blame pinned squarely on the "non-believers" -- once that's done, she'll have free run
Ethan - to be told that it's ok that he's glad Job is dead


Demons
Want the town do devolve such that the "town limit" boundary is completely irrelevant.  They really want the dogs to sanction a killing somwehere, somehow.  As the cult's net widens, they also want to implicate Lovina in something so that the cult will adopt new leadership that's more in keeping with their general desires (as opposed to Lovina's narrow desire for revenge).


No Dogs?
To drive her point home, Lovina plans on kidnapping Amos' daughter and killing her.  Let Sherriff Amos explode on everyone.
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Darcy Burgess
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« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2006, 08:35:35 AM »

So, the question couched in that writeup is this:

How would you have opened play in this town?  What instigating events would you have latched on to to get things going?

Because quite frankly, I think the situation is plenty loaded but I'm pretty sure that I bollocks'd it up at the table.

Thanks
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2006, 09:20:46 AM »

Darcy,

My personal choice would probably be to have the Dogs arrive in town during the midst of the lynching.  It's immediate and requires attention.  It also reveals the fact that there are HUGE problems and gets the Dogs right in the middle of it at the very start.  I'd still like to hear Vincent or one of the others who are Dogs gurus comment on this though.  They might have a better idea.

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