Dogs in the Vineyard, the long intro

K, I don’t know how on earth folks have missed my references to Dogs in the Vineyard up to this point, but let me fix this right now.


Here is where I quote an explanation of the elegant, gorgeous dice mechanics, and here’s the RPG.net thread discussing the game in general that I also linked to in that post.
This set of characters were eventually played in a game, and the report of actual play got included in the thread above — but you can jump right to it here
Finally, this links to an online character generation for six Dogs that I took part in — quite illuminating in it’s own way.
Now, I don’t have the book with me (and I’m glad Dave mentioned reading it, because I’ve been looking for it all damn night), but I’m going to give a shot at explaining the basic concept of the setting.
Your home territory is a land of lush farmlands bordered by high mountains on one side and dry butte desert on the other. Almost everyone in this territory is (or at least professes to be) a member of the Faith. You are young gunslingers chosen for… well, there are lots of different reasons why, but chosen you were. You were proven, trained, and initiated, then sent out with a couple of your peers on a route that takes you from town to town.
In a perfect world, you’ll deliver the mail, name a few babies, bless a wedding or two, and that’s it.
It’s not a perfect world.
The reality is that you’ll usually come to a town and there will be Pride. That Pride leads to some kind of Sin, and that Sin has allowed a town to become corrupted. Specifically, it lets Demons into the township — until that point, a town is secure in the Faith.
Sometimes it’s not that bad — there’s a little jealousy, a little rumoring, and that’s it. You might slap a hand or two. You might bond two feuding families by marrying their oldest children to each other.
Sometimes it awful — there’s False Priests and sorcerers doing all manner of unspeakable things. You might hold a sinner’s hand over an open flame to break through the miasma of drink in him. You might drag someone into the street and shoot them right there. You might kill dozens. Whatever it takes to save the body as a whole.
Now… yeah. I hear what you’re saying — inquisition. Fanatics. Puritans with pistols. Whatever. Let me lay a spin on you to put this in perspective.
Demons are Real.
Stop. Just let that sink in for a second. This isn’t a belief system that some nutjobs are using to keep people in line — this is the reality of the setting: Demons are real, and they will destroy every. last. one. of you if you let them.
This is not a Faith you take on faith — this is the one Truth in a world of shit and lies. The rich cities back East are ruled by rail barons that got their power through the pacts they have made with demons — it’s a deadly dangerous place for one of the Faith to go.
Are you a cold bastard for burning that guy’s arm? Maybe. More likely, you saved his life. One man (or woman) got shot in the street? Well, you saved the town, and that’s what you were there to do. That’s your mandate. You are the Watchdogs of the King of Life and what you say is right is right and what you say is wrong IS wrong. That’s it. You don’t answer to anyone but yourself, and that’s the truth.
Now, there’s dials you can set to this
— It could be a subtle kind of game where the demons might be mostly metaphorical (or so it seems) — there is Sin, and as a result they’ve blighted the crops and there’s sickly children and lots of anger. Find it. Fix it.
(There’s some fine examples of this already online.)
— It could be the kind of game where 2 out of every three towns are like the one above, but every so often, when the Demons have got their fingers in tight around the town’s throat, well, that’s when people’s heads start doing full 360’s and spitting acid bile and the little girl with the pretty singing voice can float in mid-air and set haystacks on fire. Find the problem. Fix the problem.
(I’d say that’s about where I am on the scale.)
— It could be full out, balls to the wall — when you find demons and force them out, you’d better be ready with some blessed clay and good shotgun, because it’s going to look like the Wild Bunch crossed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
(I’d say that’s about where my little game with Justin is going to fall.)
The bitch of it is: you’re the ones who get to say what’s right, and … well, no one will doubt you, except you. What you decide might as well be gospel, and the results might be your own little hell 🙂
It’s the best game containing religion (not just Magic from Gawds, but a real RELIGION) in it I’ve ever seen. I daresay that any other game I can think of, with the POSSIBLE exception of Heroquest, amounts to nothing better than a Jedi Order. At BEST.

18 Replies to “Dogs in the Vineyard, the long intro”

  1. I should have mentioned also that lots of stuff can be dialed up and down. I’m not as interested in some aspects of the setting as others, so I’m going to de-emphasize them unless or until one of the player’s decides that that’s something they want to make more important.
    For me, I want dusty saddles, big guns, and problems that put the players (not just the characters) in a position where there are rough decisions to make.
    I’m not as interested in the specific details of the Faith as I am in fallible but faithful people given a mandate to act as god’s watchdogs. What does that do to them? What kind of parallels will they see to their own lives? What happens when the judges come back to their home, what will they see now?
    It’s NOT about mysteries — things are wrong, it’s going to be obvious that they’re wrong, and you can find out what that thing is pretty easy — that’s not the problem. The problem is what you’re going to do about it.
    The town blacksmith lost his temper and hit someone. That someone has a friend. That friend is walking into town with a gun and he’s going to shoot that blacksmith. Right now.
    What do you do?
    Oh, and the friend with the gun is twelve. And the girl the blacksmith hit is seven, and she may never speak again. Or see right out of that eye.
    The blacksmith’s your uncle, and he’s got four kids and his wife died last month in a snowstorm.
    What do you do?
    (And hey, that’s in a town where the demon’s are working subtly 🙂

  2. Not only does hit handle the escalation from dialog to fistfighting to guns well, it also encourages players toward that escalation.
    Because Fallout dice from the social phase are d4, they are more likely to result in the much-desired ‘1’ (worthwhile experience gain) when rolled. So by 1) having a talking prelude phase and 2) taking a hit or two during it, you’ve increased your chance for gaining experience! And you’ve shifted the story structure to one I think most of us would agree is more narratively satisfying.
    Elegant little trick, isn’t it?

  3. It’s the best game containing religion (not just Magic from Gawds, but a real RELIGION) in it I’ve ever seen. I daresay that any other game I can think of, with the POSSIBLE exception of Heroquest, amounts to nothing better than a Jedi Order. At BEST.
    That’s part of what fascinates me about it. And we’re not talking here about dicking around and coming up with a bunch of names of priests and temples and rituals and the like. These people *live* their religion (and lack of it), and it affects them. Aside from that being of interests to me, it’s also rather unique.
    Actually, as I think of it, the Jedi are (conceptually) not all that different. Lone (or small-teamed) judges and juries, in tune with the divine spirit, sent on missions or just determining what’s up, You could do up the whole cantina scene from Ep4 pretty easily in DitV …
    Now, if only Lucas hadn’t ruined it.
    I’m not as interested in the specific details of the Faith as I am in fallible but faithful people given a mandate to act as god’s watchdogs. What does that do to them? What kind of parallels will they see to their own lives? What happens when the judges come back to their home, what will they see now?
    It’s NOT about mysteries — things are wrong, it’s going to be obvious that they’re wrong, and you can find out what that thing is pretty easy — that’s not the problem. The problem is what you’re going to do about it.
    Exactically. That’s what’s got my juices flowing.

  4. Now — here’s my concern. It may be allayed by shifting my PoV on it, or it may be allayed by further actual play, but here it is:
    I want to have a dramatic scene with that kid with the gun. I want to try and talk him down from it, and, if that fails, try to take him down gently and defuse the situation that way.
    “Normal” RPG (say, D20), I do the dialog. The GM dialogs back. Mostly, we talk (if we’re tired, or rushed, or bored, or whatever, maybe we third person the dialog). At key points, maybe I roll a Sense Motive or a Bluff or something, to see if I sway him. But it’s mostly the role-playing that happens. Until we fight, of course, at which point it’s all die rolling and hit points. Bleah. But until then, we can focus on what’s being said, relatively uninterrupted.
    DitV, from word one (unless I’m just going to say “yes,” which I’m not), each verbal exchange goes back to my dice pool and any traits/relationships I want to throw in, to determine its success. On the one hand, neat, elegant, believable mechanic. On the other hand, I can’t get more than a sentence or out edgewise without going back to the damned dice, even if (with practice) for another few seconds. Ditto you retort, and your rejoinder. Etc.
    The mechanic permeates everything, which is good for simulating things (and keeps the GM from unrealistically railroading either the kid collapsing or the kid bulling through, or having a single Bluff/Sense Motive/Reaction roll decide things), but it *sounds* (with only the limited, unexperienced play we’ve had) like it might stifle as free a role-plyaing as might be possible otherwise (though, for those less glib, it might also give a *better* chance to come up with the proper bits).
    I remain open to seeing how that turns out not to be the case. Indeed, I’m anticipating it eagerly.

  5. Hmmm…
    If you posit that the deamons are real, then in the Blacksmith example both the Black smith and the kid need to die.

  6. Oh, narrow thinking.
    It is not your job to punish people for their sins, past or present.
    Sure, you can, but that’s not the actual job.
    The *job* is to make the town free of Sin. A town free of Sin simply can NOT be affected by Demons. Period. “Secure in the Faith” is literal.
    You’re job is to make the town secure again by removing that Sin. The Sin rose from Injustice, and that Injustice rose from Pride.
    In other words, the Sin has a SOURCE, and that Source has to be removed.
    You kill the kid and blacksmith (and why should you have to kill either of them, even if they are the problem?), well, you’ve punished the Sin (in the case of the kid… FAR beyond the sin he’s currently commiting — walking around with hate in his heart).
    But have you wiped out the Source? How do you know?

  7. DitV, from word one (unless I’m just going to say “yes,” which I’m not), each verbal exchange goes back to my dice pool and any traits/relationships I want to throw in, to determine its success.
    Two things. Maybe three.
    Why not say yes? The kids pissed. The Dogs want to know where he’s going with the gun. HE thinks “Hey, they’re Dogs, they can FIX this,” and he tells them everything.
    Second, we roll. Let’s say there’s three Dogs. Let’s say all three of you want in on this little conversation. Let’s say what’s at stake is “What is going on.”
    You three will win. Period. Three against one, you’ll win, and I’m probably a putz for even making all three of you roll, unless I want to see about Fallout for you or the kid. So, you win, and you get to decide what happens with the stakes in broad terms: “He tells us what’s going on.” Done. Fine.
    Option three: nothing’s at stake. This pry doesn’t work with the kid at all, but maybe you’re in town and you’re just shooting the bull with the town grocer and you don’t want anything. Nothing’s at stake. You don’t roll, and I don’t have to say yes because there is. no. conflict. The grocer might want to tell you something he’s been trying to get off his chest, but that’s it.
    You just, as you say, roleplay. Freely.
    But I, as the GM, want to address the issue of this town NOW. I want to drive the town and escalate, so I’ll tell you this straight out — option three isn’t going to last very long, because if there’s nothing you want, and there’s nothing at stake, then WHY AM I WASTING TIME ON IT.
    Heck, why are either of us? It’s arguably character building, but so is dialogue with something at stake — let’s get to that, because that’s where the real story is.
    It might stifle as free a role-plyaing as might be possible otherwise.
    We do a lot of “free role-playing” in a lot of our games — maybe all of them — and we get about 1.5 scenes done a session and grouse all week that we didn’t get anything accomplished. Frankly, I’m ready to trim the fat a bit.
    DitV is a TV show. I don’t watch a show that’s just a lot of wandering talk that doesn’t go anywhere more than once every seven episodes (*coff*soap opera*coff), and when –.
    Let’s put it this way: on a good TV show, when you see a scene that doesn’t seem to have any point — you immediately look ahead to the rest of the show to see what the point was — because you know it has to be there somewhere. And if that reason never comes up, you’ll wonder why the hell that wasted scene was even there. They could have used that scene for something that *mattered*.

  8. Hmmm. I see the point. Not saying I’m fully convinced, but I think it’s actual gameplay that will do that. 🙂

  9. Ummm…
    Your dealing with real demons, anyone that may have been touched by them needs to die. Start at the boy and the black-smith and work your way down the the list.

  10. Swat a fly on the eggs with a hammer, and y’don’t do the eggs much good.
    The question isn’t who’se been touched by demons (arguably anyone who sins — which includes any of the Dogs — has been so touched). It’s who’s the *source* of the infection. Who got above himself, who willingly started letting the demons in (literally or metaphysically), and started the chain of throwing the social order out of whack. Correct that, and you may well not need to do anything else to anyone else.
    The Dogs are about order. Killing lots of folk doesn’t help much at that, except as a last resort. A doctor that amputates limbs because of scratches isn’t likely to get other folks talking to him about their ailments, which means worse medical conditions might go unchecked. Dogs are about looking at the bigger picture, and that’s part of it.

  11. Dave, twist my arm 🙂
    —-
    Stan… umm… how to put this diplomatically?
    Don’t… ascribe absolutism to the setting without knowing for sure if that’s actually accurate. I’m telling you it’s not that black and white — you’re saying it is… now, *one* of us has read the book… 🙂
    Normally, I wouldn’t sweat it, except it’s this absolutism that seems to be turning you off the setting — which is somethig you’re bringing to the party, so to speak. I’d hate for you to decide you didn’t like the game because of something that isn’t actually there.
    Do you have to deal with the town’s problems? Yes; that is absolute. Does everyone tainted need to die? To quote the magic 8-ball: “Need more information.”
    —-
    Now, just for the record, if you DID decide to play it that way in the game, that DOES become the right thing to do. You’re Dogs — you’ve got the mandate — if you say it’s right, then it’s between you and the King.
    If it doesn’t actually end up solving the problem in the long run… well, that’s between you, the King, and the town.
    But killing? Hard to say that that’s the only way to solve a problem — ESPECIALLY when you read some of the actual play examples (which I linked to *coff*).
    Here’s some examples:
    In one of the actual plays I linked to, the town of Eden is split down the middle between the Steward of the town and the family Benjamin Ibex I, who actually kidnapped a prophet that came through town last year and has him chained up in his basement and faked the man’s disappearance/death. He’s subtly preaching against the Steward’s leadership, because in his pride, he thinks he can do a better job (at least, he can with the chained up prophet as an advisor).
    The Dogs come. The lies start to see the light of day — at least one Ibex boy needs to be shot and the demon in him exorcised. Finally, everyone is called out for judgment.
    The Dogs decide that the town needs both the Steward and Ibex, but the fact that they’ve never got on that well has soured that potentially powerful teamwork. They order the oldest Ibex boy and the Steward’s daughter to get married and ride out of town. With the exception of the possessed boy who shot at them first, they don’t shoot or kill anybody.

  12. I think that thing that sort of gets in people’s way when they think about this game in abstract is the idea that:
    religious = simplistic
    In other words: “Oh, you’re playing people who are deeply religious, with guns, and they’re supposed to keep towns in their care from demonic influence. Well, their religious, which means that if they see any sin a’tall, they’ll kill everyone involved.”
    Which, yeah, I’ll grant you, is a fairly justified blowback from years of smart people watching religious right-wingers on TV who TALK like that all the time and DON’T see the big picture, and being unable (or unwilling) to envision someone deeply religious who actually sees the shades of gray and the big picture.

  13. Doyce…
    Did read it, and found that the characters to be unrealistic in the solution. To namby-pamby and touchy-feely when there is evil afoot. One of the problems of coming from post-renaissance, post-enlightenment worldview is the concept of grey. Six hundred years ago when Demons were real, the destruction on an entire city and its populace were unquestioned doctrines of Faith. Kill them all and let god sort it out. From our perspective this is fairly evil, back then, not really since the innocent would go to heaven upon the return of the messiah, and of course the evil would descend into hell to be punished. And the killers of the city would get a free pass because they would be following just and true orders from a divine leader.
    But true, I?ve not read the book, just the links that you have provided. I?m just looking at this from a more historic perspective. My view of a dog would be John Brown.

  14. And I don’t want to diss an idea for a character (I don’t know who John Brown is, but that’s something else entirely).
    The only nit I have with your idea is this: it’s not 600 years ago. It’s the 1800’s — it *is* post-renaissance and post-enlightment — gray *is* a color. This is not the Inquisition or the middle ages. You’ve your mandate from the King, but the people still pay taxes to the Territorial Authority reps — and those reps are ALSO the law, and they aren’t Faithful — y’all can’t just SHOOT them 🙂
    It’s not a cut and dried situation, and it’s not Catholicism in the 1400’s 🙂
    —-
    Heck, more to the point — it’s not *even* 120 years ago — it’s place that’s *like* the mythical old west of 120 years ago, but in a place where people can heal with a touch and bounce bullets off their trenchcoat with the power of their Faith and exorcise demons. It’s a fantasy world. 🙂
    Yeah… that’s a weird thing in your post, Stan — there’s a connection you’ve made between:
    [[Demons exist]] and [[Moral Absolutes]].
    Demons don’t exist in the setting because people only believe in moral absolutes… Demons exist because it’s a fantasy world where demons exist and want to ruin your life and eat your face. 🙂

  15. Which… by none of that do I mean to say that you couldn’t play someone who SEES things that way and ACTS in that way. And they would be RIGHT to do so — so long as you and the other Dogs feel it’s right.
    *sigh* I’m wearing myself out working on something I didn’t want to stress anyone out about. To be clear:
    1) I don’t need to make everyone like the game — more so than other games, this one isn’t for everyone.
    2) I don’t mean to promote DitV’s dice mechanic as the One True Way to play a scene. It isn’t. It’s new and it offers some aspects of play I’m interested in. That’s it.
    YMMV.

  16. John Brown. Same era/time frame as DitV during the Kansas/Missouri border wars and the brief flash prior to the U.S. Civil War.
    I do find the die mechanic interesting, sort of like FATE points in the do-I-spend-them-now-and-hope-I-won?t-need-them-later perspective and better then from what I see/read with sorcerer?s Frisbee full ?o ten siders. Could work with Firefly, but I liked the one Randy and I play tested the one night. It felt right on the character creation. Also, since last week (IDC) when it seemed that the resolution of the confrontations where much clearer then they had been in the first battle that I saw (us v motorcycles) I?m enjoying that mechanic style much more. I would like to see it as a test play and see how things work them selves out over a session.
    I?m not meaning for you to beat yourself up over it, I?m just trying to understand it. Though I doubt that I will be playing it since my perspective would make things unenjoyable for others that want to explore/get different things from DitV game wise.
    Demons don’t exist in the setting because people only believe in moral absolutes… Demons exist because it’s a fantasy world where demons exist and want to ruin your life and eat your face. 🙂
    Yes, I understand this. I looked at it more as X is real. If X is real, then X threat is real, and must be dealt with in the most expeditious manor possible. Kinda of like the bear at the cave entrance problem. If you wanted to look at it as moral absolutism, then it would be along the lines of fact v faith or a Mulder v Skully perspective.

  17. You don’t have to kill someone to drive a demon out. That’s the beauty. The gun is only one tool in the Dog toolbox. My character’s main tools are Attitude, the Book of Life and a big ol’ bucket of consecrated earth.

  18. I’m gratified that the FATE stuff seemed to gel for you last game (me, too). I don’t know as I’d consider the DitV mechanic for IDC (or a FATE mechanic for DitV), but I’m not that experimental of a fellow, as you’re aware.
    Part of what led to the moral absolutism of, say, the middle ages (“Infidels are in the town! Burn it to the ground and let the Lord take the innocent to His bosom”) was a combination of:
    (a) The state was inextricably tied to the fortunes of the faith (and thus willing to tolerate, or even encourage, orthodoxy, even at the cost of slaughter). The Dogs are the absolute moral authority, but not only are they limited (again, think Jedi), but there’s also the secular Territorial Authority that might look askance at simply killing off half a town that way.
    (b) The medieval states had, again, armies with which to do this sort of thing. The Dogs are a much, much smaller force. If they started wholesale killing — well, eventually you’d have whole towns rising up against them in self-defense.
    (c) They suffered from “bad science.” Demons *weren’t* real (for sake of argument), so the efficacy of rooting heresy and demonic infestation it out by internal crusade and slaughter couldn’t be proven or disproven (though areas scourged of “heretics” usually ceased being a problem in their own way). Since they *are* real in this setting, the effective strategies of dealing with them can be a lot more efficient (and demonstrably effective).
    My own two cents.

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