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Author Topic: Missing Suspense in the Dog's Bidding System  (Read 6123 times)
Tancred
Member

Posts: 53


« on: August 13, 2006, 07:08:16 AM »

Hi,

I'm looking for advice on a problem that's come up when I recently played Dogs in the Vineyard. When a conflict's arisen and the dice have been rolled we seem to find the outcome is usually immediately obvious. Sure, there's the possibility of adding in traits later and escalation can help shift things, but generally despite these the outcome has remained clear from the outset, before the process of raising and seeing has become involved and as a result the mechanical side of the conflict has felt flat and the conflict's conclusion foregone.

I've heard the argument that the tension in conflicts comes not from the raising and seeing but from the decision to escalate or not, but it seems to me there's plenty of potential room for both, yet it didn't seem to be happening when I ran the game. Even the decision to escalate or not has been muted, as in practice it seldom seemed to change the outcome as long as the other party was willing to escalate too.

Does anyone else know what I'm talking about? Any way round this or is there something crucial I'm missing? I have considered keeping the rolled results secret with the actual results only revealed as the players raise and see, which incorporates more uncertainty and the possibility of bluffing each other, but I get the impression this isn't the intended way of running the game.

Any help and advice appreciated,


Adrian.

I have heard the argument that it's not about the
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Gugliandalf
Member

Posts: 33


« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2006, 08:29:59 AM »

In my experience, suspense creeps in by player's (GM included) choices. More than escalating or bringing in traits or relations, the ways they get the better of an apparently helpless situation.

Apart from that, there is suspense anyway, it's just that conflicts are a "perfect information" games (e.g. chess), in which any player always knows everything about game situation (can see checkboard and pieces), were with more traditional RPGs it was always an "incomplete information" thing, like cards. Where in RPGs you know in advance your opponent's stats, but not the dice rolls, and in cards you know various things like the size of your opponent's hand, cards revealed so far etc., but not your opponent's hand.
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Gugliandalf
aka Guglia aka Giovanni Gugliantini
Remember, Luke, say "yes" or roll dice
JMendes
Member

Posts: 379


WWW
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2006, 08:59:05 AM »

Ahey, :)

You might consider that the very content of each raise (and, more limitedly, of each see) makes for good suspense. It's said that Dogs is not about winning the conflicts but about how they are won. Well, get specific on that. The "how" is not which dice are rolled and which dice are advanced, but rather, what is said, exactly, with each raise. Get yourself involved in what the players are gonna say next.

The other side of this particular coin, of course, is if, at your table, people are much more concerned about which dice to put forward than to what exactly they're gonna say. If the content of each raise (or see) is perceived by the people at the table as being "just color, something they have to come up with in order to earn the right to advance dice", this may be harder to do.

Anyway, just a thought... :)

Cheers,
J.
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url=http://lisbongamer.mc-two.com/]Lisbon Gamer[/urlLisbon Gamer
Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 389


« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2006, 09:41:44 AM »

When a conflict's arisen and the dice have been rolled we seem to find the outcome is usually immediately obvious. Sure, there's the possibility of adding in traits later and escalation can help shift things, but generally despite these the outcome has remained clear from the outset, before the process of raising and seeing has become involved and as a result the mechanical side of the conflict has felt flat and the conflict's conclusion foregone.

I've heard the argument that the tension in conflicts comes not from the raising and seeing but from the decision to escalate or not, but it seems to me there's plenty of potential room for both, yet it didn't seem to be happening when I ran the game. Even the decision to escalate or not has been muted, as in practice it seldom seemed to change the outcome as long as the other party was willing to escalate too.

Does anyone else know what I'm talking about? Any way round this or is there something crucial I'm missing?

I don't know if you are "missing" it, because you talk in your post about the choice to escalate and the use of traits, that are a subset of what I see as the "tactical surprises" in the game, but it seems (to me, at least) that you are really underusing these aspect of the game.

These are my throughs about "suspense" in the "conflict resolution system" of DitV:

1) I accept that "the random roll" it's not the principal source of "suspense" in the game.  Vincent wrote about it in http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html. Notice that the kind of Suspense that Vincent is talking about, require that the player know in advance what he has to "give" to win.  If the player don't know the strength of his opponent, his character's choices become less moral and more statistical, more "I feel lucky" and less "I have to do this".

2) But these choices are made even inside the conflict (the choice to escalate, for example, but it's not the only one). If you find that in your conflicts both opponents always escalate, I think that you have to change the type of conflicts you use in your game, making it harder to escalate.
You should use some very nasty raise on your players, to show them that it's possible to play the conflict in a way that make "losing" it a better alternative to "win" seeing that raise [as an aside: the rule change in "afraid" about the escalation that block automatically every raise diminish the tactical importance of the choice of the raise, but augment the tactical importance of choosing WHEN to escalate. The choice to escalate now isn't "free" anymore, it cost you a "block every raise" card...]
In my games, the choices of the (player's) characters are the principal source of "surprises" in the conflict resolution system, much more than the die roll.  With the right raises, you can "win" against stronger opponents. You can force them to choose between seeing your raise or doing the right thing. Or you can raise so high that to "see" that raise he have to take a lot of d10 fallout, even if at the end he would win because he has more dices. I have seen many times someone "win" in this manner.

3) The choices of the players inside a conflict can add many different dices to the conflict after it has begun.  You dismiss the rolling of traits, but I see with regularity in my games examples like this: at the beginning of the conflict you bot have only 9d6 (two stats) + 1d6 (relationship). AFTER the conflict begin, you manipulate the events until you can use the following traits: "i am a dog" (4d10), "I shoot faster than anybody else" (5d10), "I don't have patience for fools" (2d8), "I am not afraid" (3d8), and "I love the color green" (3d4).
You think that 9d10+5d8+3d4 added to 10d6 would not change the conflict against 10d6?

4) The dices I talked about in point (3) have to be rolled.  This is an example from an actual play of mine. I was at the end of a conflict, after both characters had rolled and used almost every trait and stats they could use (I had really used every escalation and every trait). I wanted to win dealing out the most lethal fallout and getting none, so I used all my "bigger numbers" in raises, leaving me at the end without any number high enough to stop the last raises of the GM. But I already calculated this. I had 2d10 in reserve, in the "relationship dices still not assigned" pool. When the GM raised, I took a 2d10 relationship with my opponent. This should have got me the dices to block that raise, and win the conflict. I only needed a five to block (or a ten to turn the attack), with 2d10. Easy, eh?
Well, I got two "1". To see that raise, I would have to accept a 4d10 fallout, without anyone around to cure me after the conflict. I decided to fold, losing the stakes.

All in all, I still see a lot of "praying for the right dices" at the table, even in DitV...

Ah, I almost forgot...

5) If the choices of the players or the randomness of the dices STILL are not enough to give some for of "suspense" to the resolution, I don't see why there is a conflict at all.  Say Yes and be done with it. Why roll the dices if they can't change anything?
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Tancred
Member

Posts: 53


« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2006, 11:47:00 AM »

Ahey, :)

You might consider that the very content of each raise (and, more limitedly, of each see) makes for good suspense. It's said that Dogs is not about winning the conflicts but about how they are won. Well, get specific on that. The "how" is not which dice are rolled and which dice are advanced, but rather, what is said, exactly, with each raise. Get yourself involved in what the players are gonna say next.

The other side of this particular coin, of course, is if, at your table, people are much more concerned about which dice to put forward than to what exactly they're gonna say. If the content of each raise (or see) is perceived by the people at the table as being "just color, something they have to come up with in order to earn the right to advance dice", this may be harder to do.

Anyway, just a thought... :)

Cheers,
J.

That's a good point. What tended to happen was the players wanted to push forward their dice then racked their brains to think of a reason to back the dice up - rather than the other way round, as you point out.

I think some of the issue may have come from grappling with a new system. None of us had played before and the actual mechanics of conflict resolution tended to overshadow everything else. Perhaps with some more familiarity with raising and seeing this will diminish, and along with that the emphasis will go off which dice are put forward and onto what the character is doing that is represented by the dice.
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Tancred
Member

Posts: 53


« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2006, 12:14:26 PM »

I don't know if you are "missing" it, because you talk in your post about the choice to escalate and the use of traits, that are a subset of what I see as the "tactical surprises" in the game, but it seems (to me, at least) that you are really underusing these aspect of the game.

These are my throughs about "suspense" in the "conflict resolution system" of DitV:

*snipped*

Thanks for the thorough answer, all good points. It made me realise where our problems seem to stem from though, and that was the one-sidedness of the conflicts. Whether I rolled really badly for the NPCs stats or the Dogs are just that good, overwhelmingly it was me as the GM who was up against the ropes.

Which unfortunately meant all the time the decision to escalate came down to me first, which wasn't so interesting for any of us. The players then had to decide if they'd escalate in kind, but when there was more than one Dog in the conflict they often didn't need to do this to win, and when they did escalate they often felt the NPC escalation justified their escalation.

It meant in practice all your cool advice about working in different traits and the decisions whether to escalate or not were pushed onto the GM first and foremost, rather than the players, when I, as the GM, was more interested in seeing the players in that position rather than me having to go first in all the hard choices.

However, the next time we play we're likely to test drive Afraid, where the PCs aren't quite as competent - maybe everything will resolve itself this way?

Certainly I'm going to focus more on the content of the raises and answers rather than the actual dice put forward. Last time we tended to look at the raising and seeing as round-by-round 'I swing, you swing' actions, which made the narrative content less interesting. If we switch things round and require more justification or at least thought to go into each raise, that might shake things up a bit. I'll try to lead by example. : )

Possibly another contributing factor is the town we played out had trouble based around marriage arrangements and there wasn't much chance of murder over the issues, just unhappiness and resentment. The issues did engage the players well, but it did mean escalation to shooting each other was usually pretty hard to visualise and justify, so most conflicts never got beyond physical or a bit of fist-swinging. Perhaps not extreme enough for our first go at the game?
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lumpley
Administrator
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Posts: 3453


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« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2006, 06:50:03 AM »

Short answers today. Lots to do.

As GM, when you roll dice, your first and foremost concern is forcing the player to take the blow. You're going to lose three conflicts out of four, or more; let winning go. What you want to do is punch the player in the eye while you're losing.

Accordingly, preserve your high dice. A pair of high dice accumulates suspense just by sitting there on the table. You WILL gut-stomp your player with it, and she knows it. She's going to be making hardcore raises trying to get you to throw away your high dice on the see, and the longer you hold out the more awesome the suspense gets.

If it becomes obvious that you can't possibly make a raise high enough to force the player to take it, GIVE RIGHT THEN. Don't drag it out. Launch a stronger, more desperate followup.

-Vincent
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Vaxalon
Member

Posts: 1619


« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2006, 07:09:42 AM »

Hallelujah.

In Dogs revised, there needs to be a page or two on GM dice strategies.
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"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
ffilz
Member

Posts: 468


WWW
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2006, 08:33:59 AM »

A couple more thoughts:

Reveal the town quicker, get those 5d10 demonic influence dice on the table.

When I ran Tower Creek, I ended up only using a few of the trait dice on the NPC sheet for the NPCs in the early conflicts, leaving me with lots of trait dice for the key NPC, the sorceress. We had two rockin conflicts with her.

Look for opportunities to reverse the blow. That single 10 packs a powerful punch when it's used twice. And it's fun to narrate reversing the blow.

Consider cranking up the supernatural dial. Also, make sure your players understand the freedom they have in narrating their raises and sees.

And here's another angle - pay attention to your players. Put them in conflict with each other.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Tancred
Member

Posts: 53


« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2006, 10:15:08 AM »

Short answers today. Lots to do.

As GM, when you roll dice, your first and foremost concern is forcing the player to take the blow. You're going to lose three conflicts out of four, or more; let winning go. What you want to do is punch the player in the eye while you're losing.

Accordingly, preserve your high dice. A pair of high dice accumulates suspense just by sitting there on the table. You WILL gut-stomp your player with it, and she knows it. She's going to be making hardcore raises trying to get you to throw away your high dice on the see, and the longer you hold out the more awesome the suspense gets.

If it becomes obvious that you can't possibly make a raise high enough to force the player to take it, GIVE RIGHT THEN. Don't drag it out. Launch a stronger, more desperate followup.

-Vincent

Okay, now that clicks. Makes perfect sense really, and the reassurance that the GM expected to loose three out of four conflicts means I'm no longer wondering what went wrong. I'd been giving (and giving...) on a poor roll, but not particulalry looking to force the characters to take the blow or lose.

Got it!
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Vaxalon
Member

Posts: 1619


« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2006, 04:56:43 AM »

Give when you have a high die.  That 5d10 demonic influence packs even MORE punch when you've retained a 9 in doing so.
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"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
zornwil
Member

Posts: 86


« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2006, 08:02:33 AM »

There's a bit of a red herring in the system in that there's an implication that it's hard to die in Dogs...it's not hard at all, it's just that it's hard to die so long as you're on the watch-out to avoid it, that's the key. 

I bring this up because it's central to suspense and escalations, and you can use the dice still to good effect in this.  What I have found works, through trial and error, is that when you have an NPC who is willing to go to the mat, you don't have to/don't want to go slow in escalating.  Ideally, by the time you've gotten to a legit "I'm making a stand, dammit" confrontation, you've already worked through some of the basic issues of the town and had challenges that may not have gotten out of hand but got more serious.  Whether that's true, the "big deal" confrontation gets pretty serious the first time your NPC kicks out a 14 or such against players who know they will take mortal damage - but you want to do that, IMHO, just after the PCs and NPC(s) have all waded in just knee-deep or thigh-deep, gotten committed, probably physical. ideally taken some minimal Fallout.  Because by then the PCs are getting into that habit we all have of thinking "I'm invested here, and now it's getting dicey - I should stick it out..."  Also, ideally, your NPC has some decent Traits left to use or just kicked in his (perhaps literal) big guns, while the PCs have already "spent" at least a reasonable part of their arsenal.  So they see that 14 (or 12 if it's later and any of them have mediocre hands), know they have not so many things left to call on, know that at least 1 or 2 of them has to Take the Blow (or at the least they have to sweat how they redistribute dice and start having to raise with 1), and suddenly it's serious.  If they're invested in the conflict but see mortal damage coming, they (should) start to worry and start to really get tense about "Do I continue this conflict or not?  How far am I willing to go?"  Mix that with some pride/stubborness and...fun!

Now, I brought up the death thing to start with because if players think that it's hard to die (and if the GM unquestioningly swallows that, too), then people do get lazy about conflicts.  That's where we realized just how easy it is to die...we had 2 PCs (in part this went poorly because there were supposed to be 4 there but a couple didn't show and the 2 there bit off a bit more than they could chew, you could argue that I as GM also didn't "protect" them at all, though I really wasn't attempting to get them killed) who went up against a possessed teenaged girl.  In this case there had been a lot leading up to this, and so escalation was fairly immediate, as soon as the demon could he, via the girl, grabbed one of their guns and started shooting.  With some d10s in the mix, it gets rough on the PCs fast, especially in a town where the demons have 4d10 on their side right from the get-go.  The PCs were absolutely committed to exorcising the girl (in fact, this became very important to them as they felt it was the only way around not killing her - whereas another group of PCs at a con game exorcised her and THEN killed her...), so they took the Fallout...after all, it was "only" 3d10...  :D  Well, the thing is, once you have that and a few d6, well, you start realizing that it's adding up fast.  But they stayed in...and BOTH PCs died, in the end!  One immediately (20), and the other on the makeshift operating table (the poor Doc in that town, he had lots of trouble mending these guys, and was getting over an amphetamine addiction that the Dogs were forcing him to kick...).

Now, that was really dramatic for the players.  They are (as I have been) more accustomed to "mature" action-adventure games where PCs just don't die, generally, not like that, anyway...but they were pleased because they did save the girl (she's doing okay and her emotional trauma is being treated by that new wonder therapy, shock therapy...this was set in the '50s), and they went out in style, a fleeing demon, blood all over the place, the community at least half-saved and set up for the rest of the way (their replacements and a couple other PCs came in to finish the job)..  And most importantly, it taught everybody in the group just how serious these conflicts can be.

This same scenario was also fatal in my GenCon version, even though I tried to be a lot more careful and very actively warned players "this can get you killed...".  Despite my warnings, one player bought it - the same one who was going on at the beginning of the game that "there's almost no way to die in this" (and whom I VERY carefully warned and explained how that might not be true).

But to get back to your point on suspense, here's a great example of how it went, using Office Dogs, a variant I intend to put on the boards and just haven't polished enough yet.  Basically, in Office Dogs, the players are consultants (for the Davidson-Oligmueller Group...hence DOGs) fixing a troubled company.  In this game, the 2 PCs were at the point of finding a manager in the office they felt was a primary cause of issues.  As they faced him down, it went back and forth...he was Corrupt (which in Office Dogs is like being Possessed), and finally he pulls out, about what would be typically 3/4 of the way through a conflict, one of his last big Traits, and rolls hot, holding onto a 10 he has and playing another 10, for a perfect 20, and smiles and tells the DOGs, "You, I know about your pharmaceutical habits....how about we take that up with your boss?  And you, I think the DOG would not be happy to know the details of your past life."  See, the PCs had these dark secrets (Complicated backgrounds), and since this manager had a trait of dirty tricks, it was natural, with a 20, to take that path.  In Office Dogs, this is a Termination-level escalation ("Your Job is on the Line") and any damage is "mortal," i.e., can get you fired.  One player shakes his head, thinks, and says, "Whoa, okay, hang on, we don't need to go there," and gives - he can't take this.  The other player is dead-on earnest though and is pissed in-character, and refuses to be taken down.  He defies him, and pushes ahead with his own calling in of bosses and challenging authority (more "Your Job is on the Line") - and wins the stakes on his own, but is fired in the process, as his past does come out (Termination damage was too great)!  This was very suspenseful, and it was because of 2 things:  being sure to hold back some higher dice Traits for the latter part of the conflict (not a guarantee of course, but if you space out your higher dice on odds it pays off over time, I think); and finding the right NPC to promote this one the PCs really wanted to nail.  And we got the perfect tension of 1 character giving and 1 forging ahead no matter what the cost - coolness!

But some of it, anyway, does come back to your players "sensing" that their characters can really get killed off.  Don't hesitate to throw them into a mortal situation WHEN it's appropriate, for big stakes, and watch how things change as significant dice come into play at the same time.

Now, another factor might be how you are deploying the dice pool.  I became aware some groups allow the players to work in many, many Traits in one single Raise.  I personally don't like that, as you end up knowing so much of the dice pool so early in the conflict that I think it also cheats suspense a bit.  So my advice is also to try to get Traits and Belongings thrown in discretely, carefully.  Our group's house standard is no more than one Trait and one Belonging in a Raise or See UNLESS it is REALLY compelling and all players can see that clearly.  But that's what works for us...of course may not work for everyone...
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- Wilson
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