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[DitV] What should possession look like in a low supernatural dial game?

Started by Jon Hastings, June 04, 2007, 06:59:54 PM

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Jon Hastings

So - I'm GMing my first game of Dogs for James and Scott.  James has skimmed through the rules before and Scott is coming to the table having heard about the game but knowing no details.  I try to give some pointers on the setting, etc., but, in the interest of starting play, I necessarily leave out lots of the material from the book, including anything more than a vague reference to the potential supernatural element of the game.  Not surprisingly then, we go through character creation and initiation scenes with the supernatural dial set very, very low.

Now, we're playing the game: James and Scott are having their Dogs run around Prophet's Valley branch, they're talking with NPCs, getting into conflicts when necessary.  We're getting a feel for the system and things are mostly going smoothly (if a bit slowly - there's some wrangling & second guessing over how large the scope of conflicts should be).  We're at the point where they've dealt with just about every major NPC, when the Dogs, Br. Ben and Br. Jonah, go out to check in on Br. Asher, who've they heard a lot about but have yet to meet.  They suspect Br. Asher of taking part in some kind of nastiness, so Br. Ben gets into a conflict with him - Stakes: "Does Br. Asher tell what he knows?"  Br. Asher really doesn't want this to happen, so he escalates to knife fighting.  Br. Ben gives - taking his escalation as a kind of admission of guilt - and then he and Br. Jonah declare a follow-up conflict: "Subdue & restrain Br. Asher".

Now - we're rolling the dice to start the conflict and I pick up Br. Asher's relevant Stat dice and I also pick up 2d10.  Scott asks me what those 2d10 are for, and I, in the interest of transparency/teaching the game/etc. say: "He gets those because he's possessed by a demon."

This was a bit of a moment: for one thing, Scott and James seemed a bit taken aback in that everything regarding who was guilty of what, up to that point, had been pretty ambiguous, but, now, here was concrete proof (2d10's worth) of demonic influence.  For another, like I said, the supernatural dial had been set pretty low, so they were thrown a bit by its sudden appearance and influence on the game.

Disclosure: in setting up the town (which I did before we created characters), I had decided that Br. Asher would be possessed.

Part of the issue here is just that James and Scott were not familiar with all the ins-and-outs of the setting and we didn't want to take time to go into all the details.  But I have some more general questions about how people have handled this type of situation in the past:

1. It doesn't seem like the GM should keep too many secrets from the players, but can't admitting that, "Yeah, this guy is possessed" be kind of a spoiler?  Is demonic possession one of the things that GMs tend to keep under wraps until it overtly manifests itself?

2. Even more generally: how do GMs handle possession and sorcery in games where the supernatural dial is set very low?

Darren Hill

This is a good question, and I'm very interested in hearing how other people do it.

When I've drawn in demonic possession dice, I've never said "these are because he has been possessed." I take the dice, one at a time over different raises and sees, and when I take it, I incorporate some strangeness into the raise or see -
"You're momentarily distracted as the wind slams the door shut, and he punches you at that very moment, as if he was expecting it."
"As you squeeze your trigger finger, you see in his eyes a vision of your own death and freeze."
That kind of thing.

For context, most of the games I've played have had the supernatural dial somewhere in the middle - supernatural exists, but it's not too flashy.


Another raise-and-see tactics for a low-dial-supernatural game is for the GM to confront players with seemingly supernatural effects, and they block or dodge with real-world explanations.


QuoteGM: "She clutches your arm with demonic strength" (raise with 11)

Player: "No, it's just a seizure. I take her head into my hands and calm her down with soft words" (see with 14)


QuoteGM: "He is quoting the Book of Life backwards, sucking away the power of the Tree of Life." (raise with 8)

Player: "I feel a burning sensation where my holy symbol touches the chest... collect my self and realize that he's just stammering nonsense" (take the blow with 9 and three dice)


QuoteGM: "The powerful sorcery drowns away your senses after the witch-boy hits you with his arcane staff" (raise with 9, fighting)

Player: "I try to convince myself it's just a side effect from the concussion, but panic overcomes me as I drop to the eath limpless" (take the blow with 11 and four dice).

Ron Edwards

That's interesting. We do it just about exactly the opposite.

GM-described phenomena are presented in secular terms. However, Dogs' perceptions and responses (and the phrasing of NPCs, i.e., their point of view) often include the supernatural.

So the person starts seizuring and freaking out and saying awful things. The Dogs grab him, and one of them invokes his Name and Three-in-Authority to cast out the demon, as they perceive it.

If the roll succeeds, everyone says, "hooray, the demons are cast out!"

What happened in the fictional "reality"? Well, that's the point - there is no fictional reality, and never was and never can be. We don't address the issue of whether the person was "really" possessed by a "real" demon. Nor do we concern ourselves with, if it worked, how it worked. These concerns are, I think, antithetical to the design and maximally successful play of Dogs.

Best, Ron


that is a cool complementary way to handle this stuff. That way, a GM can easily handle different players' dispositions (and in extension, dogs' world views)  regardless of the dial by going in the opposite direction...


Jon, I've never found revealing that someone's possessed to be a spoiler. When the players roll dice against someone, that's a fantastic time for them to find out that she's possessed.

I like everyone's answers to your second question. I'll add another answer: "...and I'm rolling these 2d10 because she's wearing a black hat." In non-religious Western terms, "sorcerer" just means villain and "possessed" just means thug.



Jon Hastings

Thanks for the responses everyone: they've been very helpful in terms of reflecting on the first session and figuring out how to go forward.


I have used flat-out possession and I think it works fine, so long as the person possessed still comes across as a PERSON to the PCs and then the PCs can still have their own fun deciding "do we rescue this misguide victom of possession?" or "do we kill this person who no doubt brought this on themselves" and so on.  I have a town with a 16 or 17 year old (I forget exactly, notes not in front of me) posseessed high school girl (set in 1950s theocratic America, long story, so if in the traditional Dogs setting I'd make her a bit younger, probably, either on the verge of teen years at 12 or 13, as I did when running this same town in a pseudo-Puritan setting) .  Basically, she had stolen a book that included demonic/voodoo type practices from an elderly man just on the fringe of the community.  The elderly man was playing advisor to the teens because of a situation where the teens did not trust the Steward in town, as the Steward was always being accompanied, even in counselling, by a grizzled ex-Dog with a sense of harsh retributive justice.  The elderly man, however, was at odds with much of the community (in fact, most players immediately suspect he's molesting the children, since it is sort of creepy that you have this elderly guy counselling teens in secret at his house).  He never knew she stole the book, but he kept the heretical text, among others, in his house because of his interest in just reading up on and comparing religions; he considers himself a true believer in the Faith.  In fact, he never told the teens of his books as he did consider that they shouldn't read such things at their age.  But he also is not that much of a church-goer, which he owes to a falling out with the community and his belief that the Steward and ex-Dog were against him (there's a slightly longer back story here but this suffices).  So, anyway, she got this book from him and through using it called up a demon who possessed her as she needed and/or (you be the judge...) as it desired. 

I've run this a couple times, and players took rather different paths here.  One group exorcised her and THEN executed her (that sort of surprised me, I thought they were just going to give he a milder punishmetn), the other group exorcised her and considered her saved.  The big issue for the players tends to be whether they blame Sarah Leeds (the girl) or Old Man Crowley more for what happened.  Each group has executed Old Man Crowley.  One group just took him out and shot him.  Another group (in the Puritan version of this, hence the different style) did a trick I loved:  they burnt him at the stake (not so unusual, right?) but USING HIS OWN HERETICAL BOOKS as the fuel for the fire!  Talk about poetic justice...

My point here is that the situation of the NPC will likely drive the players if you make it interesting enough, not the mere fact the NPC is possessed.
- Wilson