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[Dogs in the Vineyard] Chinese immigrants from Out West

Started by Paul T, April 02, 2010, 10:39:54 AM

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Paul T

I just started up a Dogs game with four other players, and I think it's going to be a blast. We all met for dinner, hung out a bit, then made characters together, ran quickly through some accomplishment/initiation scenes, and played for a couple of hours.

(I'm hoping you four will say hello and share your thoughts on the game!)

It's my first time a) running a Dogs game for so many (four players), and b) running a Dogs game that's not a one-shot. I'm looking forward to taking advantage of both of these possibilities as much as possible, although I do worry a little bit that spotlight time might get brief for each individual player, since Dogs is a game that often requires a lot of handling time (and especially if people are learning the rules, as is the case, making some decisions in conflict slower).


I'd only met two of the players before the game, and only played a few sessions (In a Wicked Age...) with one of them. But I think we all hit it off pretty quickly. These guys are awesome to play with! I had them send me a brief character concept ("Why are you a Dog?") and two important relationships before we got together, and, man, all four sent me some great stuff. I have a bunch of great issues and materials I can hit on in the game. The Towns practically write themselves--check it out, one of the Dogs killed someone and then became a Dog so as to justify that the earlier murder was right in the King of Life's eyes. Very juicy!

At the table, it was just as good--they engage very fully with the stuff I'm throwing at them, and even though this is our first time playing together, the game is off to go a great start. They're an existing group with a group dynamic, and it's fun for me to be able to just jump in on that. I feel like I'm welcome to be part of the group, and we all seem to engage strongly with the play material. It's great to play with a group where there doesn't seem to be any weird social tension or awkward gamer-baggage going on--we can get straight to the good stuff, and have fun all along the way.

Since all four characters have important relationships in their home towns, I've decided that our three-Town arc of the game will consist of these four brand new Dogs visiting their home towns. The first one is Brother Jasper's home town, Pilgrim's Rest, a small village community in a mountain pass on the Western edge of Faithful country. That's the one we started last night. After that, we'll hit Brother Nathaniel's home town, where there might be some potential friction with local Mountain People, and finally conclude in the town where the two remaining Dogs, Daniel and Clyde, are from. That Town sounds like it has some bigger issues going on, with Chinese immigrants coming in from the West and the first railroad being built on the virgin land ("the Wild West that never was...").

Pilgrim's Rest

I don't have too much time to write about the details of the Town (although I welcome the other players to share them here, if they would like), but I have two observations and two questions.


As I said, with so much juicy stuff coming out of the characters the guys have come up with*, writing up the Town was a piece of cake. The hardest thing was NOT including everything they've hinted at or come up with, so I can save some of it for the other two Towns. Already, even the limited material I've used feels pretty intense. On paper, the Town is not that complex (although a little more complex than the first couple example Towns in the book), but as soon as human personalities come into play, things get complicated quick.

Related to that, I'm, as always, surprised by how easy it is to run Dogs. I just follow the advice in the book, and the game just grabs right away! It's hard to miss with Dogs (assuming you understand how to implement the guidelines; but they're just solid and very, very thorough).

I think we've started perhaps a little slower than some people's Dogs games--in two hours, we've only had a handful of conflicts, and none escalating further than Physical--but I like a slower build, and it gives us time to get to know the characters (both PC and NPC) as well as familiarize ourselves with the flow of gameplay. I think the players are cool with this. In any case, this is Dogs, so that can't possibly last too much longer.

*: Guys, can you post your accomplishment Traits here, for my reference? I'm having trouble remembering them all.


1. What in the world do wives who are married to the same husband call each other? Is there a term for this? The best I can do is, "sister-wife". As in, "Oh, yeah, Sister Hannah is my sister-wife." But it's awkward. Is there another term?

2. One of the initiations was a little awkward. We had a character who wanted to confront a man who had attacked him long ago, We decided that what was at stake was, "Can Brother Clyde learn to forgive a man?" This was the only accomplishment conflict where we did the thing where the player took the side of his character being stubborn and unforgiving, and I as the GM tried to come up with Raises that would push him towards forgiveness. I've never been able to make one of these work just right, because I think the player felt like he could just Give at any time and thereby decide how the scene would end.

Really, I got the impression that Clyde's player was more interested in *finding out* how things would turn out, as opposed to having to decide it himself. Truth is, I've never had much luck with that kind of reversed "growth conflict". Any advice on how we could have done this better? Clyde's player, am I reading you right on this?

Thanks for the great game! I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.


We finished character creation and the accomplishment scenes at 10pm, and decided to take one more hour to open the game proper.  The next time any of us looked at a timepiece it was midnight!  Totally engaging game once we got into it, well done Paul!

Before we got into the accomplishment scenes, Paul warned us that they can run a bit long and "some people just skip them," but we wanted to get the full experience with our first time playing Dogs.  He was right, we probably spent 90mins on the four of us, but it was a valuable introduction to the game's conflict mechanics.  I wouldn't have wanted to be fumbling around like that during the main story.  All four of us succeeded in our accomplishment conflict, and I felt like the rules were set up to favour that outcome pretty strongly.

I'm Nathaniel Romney, the kid who became a Dog to gain the authority to retroactively justify the murder he'd done.  In my accomplishment scene (unrelated to that), I was hoping to succeed in some sort of conflict with a demon.  After some discussion of options, we refined that hope and set up a scene in which a possessed girl was brought to Bridal Falls by her family.  Nathaniel was left to watch the stricken girl while the Elders gathered their exorcism gear.  Once alone with me, the girl began some decidedly demon-like behaviour (cat-like eyes catching the moonlight, speaking in tongues and attacking me with clawed hands).  One of my traits that I rolled in was "Darkness doesn't bother me."  I managed to avoid being intimidated or clawed, and held her at bay until help arrived.  My new trait:

"I held a possessed person at bay with my faith. 1d6"

Pilgrim's Rest: I was impressed by how Paul was able to "hook" all four of the characters very quickly by weaving in elements from the back stories.  I'm also pleasantly surprised at how ambiguous the "fault" is in this town.  Clearly there's a stew of sin here, but so far all the principle townsfolk seem to be both sinner and victim.  I was expecting the source of the sin to be fairly obvious, and am pleased that isn't the case.

In one scene, an old widow unexpectedly cornered me and insisted that I absolve her of blame for her quite substantial sins.  I really didn't want to, but ran out of dice and didn't want to escalate to violence with this little old lady, so I gave.  Now I've made things worse for all of us Dogs, I fear!  A wonderfully sticky situation!

I'm not surprised at the lack of gun play so far, as we're mainly dealing with elderly folk and relatives of the PCs.  But I can see at least one major conflict brewing between Nathaniel and one other Dog... we'll see how that plays out!  Hey Ry: I'm guessing that, at some point, you'll be going to deal with the Mountain Folk girl... with extreme prejudice.  Let's just make sure that I have a chance to arrive on the scene first.  Nathaniel's and Jasper's opposing pasts with Mountain Folk (let alone with this girl in particular) should make that scene deliciously complicated! 

By the way Ry, I'm seeing more than a little similarity between Jasper and a certain eight-fingered fire-fighter we know... ;-)

Looking forward to the next one.  Thanks Paul,

Paul T

Very cool, thanks, John! It's great to hear your thoughts and impressions on the session. Do you have any confusion about the rules that we could address in this thread?

I've been wondering about that conflict with Sister Constance asking for forgiveness. I figure it would have been totally kosher for you to escalate to Physical by shoving people around in a non-violent way: either offering physical comfort to Constance, or pushing other people (or her) out of the room to get her on her own. Maybe even running away.

I also can't remember if we narrated any outcome to that conflict? I seem to remember that we just cut to the scene outside the house, with Jasper and Clyde. Am I forgetting something? It's interesting to see how your character will handle some kind of reluctant (or maybe not reluctant--maybe he's been won over?) pledge of forgiveness?

By the way, Ry, Jasper is the Dog that thinks "the Dogs aren't hard enough", isn't he? Yikes...

Paul T

Quote from: Paiku on April 02, 2010, 05:48:49 PM
Pilgrim's Rest: I was impressed by how Paul was able to "hook" all four of the characters very quickly by weaving in elements from the back stories. 

Oh, I can share my process on this, as well. If the various threads on Vincent's forum are to be believed, a lot of people struggle with making Relationships make sense in Dogs, since it's a game where the characters are continually traveling from place to place.

What I like to do for Dogs (and this works for many other games, too) is to go through Town Creation first. I end up with a small relationship map with certain people in the village playing certain roles in the town as well as in terms of backstory.

Then I have players write up some NPCs. Finally, I grab these and just drop them into the relationship map, combining their personality and details with the roles (or "slots") they play in the relationship map. The combinations create interesting surprises, both for me and for the players, since they throw both the characters' relationships and my Town-specific NPCs into a different light.

I think Town Creation is going to get very interesting as we go into the second and third Towns. Having only played one-shots of Dogs until now, I'm really looking forward to that!

Paul T

Just a note:

I posted some of the rules questions that came up in the lumpley games forum, and there a few answers. Sounds like we handled everything right on.


as I said before I'm loving this game and I LOVE playing Jasper.

One little niggling thing at the back of my mind: maybe it's just a product of a short play arc, but I do find the fact that Every dog is so tightly wound into this town pushed just slightly on my 'really? In a dozen-building village?'


Paul T

Hey, excellent!

Jasper is one heck of an interesting Dog, I've got to say.

Ryan, I'm mainly thinking of our limited timeframe and dramatic needs: i.e. of all the Towns the group could potentially visit, let's say we're only playing out the ones where such unusual coincidences do occur--perhaps there are many other uneventful Towns happening off-screen, right? That said, I'm envisioning the four traveling through a fairly small part of the land of the Faithful, and trusting Vincent's notes that in this long-ago Mormon society, communities were tightly knit to such an extent

That said, what would help things seem more plausible for you? In my head (but unshared with the group) are some assumptions that explain the various coincidences--for instance, in my imagination Jasper's home town lies along the only road that would allow travel from California to Clyde's town, and, therefore, it makes perfect sense that his friend "John" Chan might pass through there. Would having more explanation along these lines make things better for you?

Looking forward to seeing you guys on Thursday!

Paul T

Forgot to complete a sentence here:

Quote from: Paul T on April 11, 2010, 08:07:54 PM
and trusting Vincent's notes that in this long-ago Mormon society, communities were tightly knit to such an extent

...that the Dogs bump into family members and other people who they know of or know of them pretty much everywhere they go. That's the impression I get from the text, anyway. But, I agree, it does take an effort to make it ride that edge of plausibility.


Actually, if Jasper's town is a 'last stop' on the way through to California that's great.  In fact, the game is great without any tweaking - it was just something that stood out for me.

As for Serge = Jasper, Mo's post on Sin Aesthetics is very illuminating.

Paul T

Quote from: Ry on April 11, 2010, 09:44:38 PM
As for Serge = Jasper, Mo's post on Sin Aesthetics is very illuminating.

...and he sure showed that. Jasper's one hell of a tough dude!

Paul T

We just wrapped up the game. Things definitely improved as we went along and had a chance to develop the characters and their personalities as well as get used to the way this particular group approached the mechanics. Here's how it went down:

I planned to make a much more "aggressive" town, with much more hate and murder (and sorcery!). But, really, looking back, all I did
differently was give a bunch of the NPCs guns. They were just carrying them around, mind you--the Dogs ALWAYS drew first! I didn't have to do
any aggressive scene framing or any kind of "the possessed dude attacks you with an axe in the middle of the night!" It got all crazy

(Oh, I had a lot of the people in the Town spit on the ground to underline strong statements. That might have done it, too! But one of
the players took it and ran with it, look:)

One of the Dogs was from this Town, and after a while we had a scene where he was in his father's home, sharing some food in his own home.
At a particularly emotional point in the conversation (see, he and his dad had committed the same sin--killing a Mountain Person and
considering it justified) he said, "Dad, if I weren't in your home, I'd spit on the ground!" That was classic.

It helped that every PC had something pretty intense at stake in the Town. And it was all stuff they wrote themselves, in their character

One Dog met a former enemy--a woodsman who had abandoned him to die years ago. The woodsman was now a sort of "enforcer", hired by the
Territorial Authority to keep the peace in the Town, and was actually totally blameless on the Town's sin ladder front. Of course, the Dog
killed him the very moment he showed up, anyway (but the woodsman tore up his wrist with his teeth in the fight!).

A second Dog had slept with a young girl just before leaving for Bridal Falls--and while he was gone, it was discovered, she was found to be pregnant, and so she fled home and came to this Town, where the Steward (another Dog's father) put her up. Of course, you can imagine what the people in the Town thought, as this young girl living with the Steward (who was already not highly respected in the Town) starting visibly "showing" a few months after she arrived...

She was the sorceress in the Town, and we had a great conflict where her "boyfriend" convinced her that she was not Dog material. In the conflict, she Gave, but revealed that she was pregnant with his son, and that it was why she was in this Town and separated from her family in the first place. The other players noted, "You know, you won that conflict as far as the dice are concerned... but really, she won that one."

The third Dog was confronted with the Steward, a drunk (just like his own father) who was "employing" a small family to help him on his farm. But he was also giving the man of that family alcohol to keep him from complaining about his shitty work or asking for a better deal. That drunk was a man who had stabbed the Dog many years ago over the rape of his own wife, and was now looking for forgiveness. I'd decided to give him "possession" dice any time he was drunk, which I think clouded the supernatural issue nicely: is he possessed by a demon, or is he just a violent drunk?

The fourth Dog was the Steward's son, and his deal was that he had killed a Mountain Person, and thought no one knew. However, in his writeup he said something like, "I can't imagine how my father couldn't have noticed that the rifle wasn't loaded the next day after the shooting, but he never said anything to me." So, in my Town
write-up I had his father kill a Mountain Person and blame the current Steward for his death. He called in the Territorial Authority and had him strung up, which allowed him to take over the Steward's role. This bit of information also came out in the final confrontation in the middle of the Town.

There was shooting and fighting and in the end they all stood staring at each other, blame and guilt in everyone's eyes.

One of the Dogs, though, was bleeding to death. He had fought with the drunk in order to keep him from shouting out (he wanted the pregnant girl to be the Steward of the Town!), and had to kill him in order to win the Stakes--but also was wounded mortally in the process, his face scraped off by the enraged farmer.

We ended with a great little monologue from the dying Dog's player.