Dogs in the Vineyard: about damned time

Okay, so… it’s been two years since I got Dogs. More than that; I had one of the first pre-Gen Con copies of DitV and I loved it. My enthusiasm for promoting the game to the folks I play with was pretty high, and we even got some characters made, back in October of 2004, and put them through their initiations before it got too late to continue on to the first town. The response was… mixed — “cool setting, cool characters… but man… it feels like the dice get in the way of every single line I want to say when we’re RPing.”
And … after that, what happened? Nothing.
See, November rolled around a week later — I was GMing two ‘regular’ games and secretly participating in my third NaNoWriMo… I was putting down stone tiles in my kitchen and bathroom (which I’d never done before), the holidays were on the way, and on November 28th, I found out my daughter was nine short months away from needing a bedroom. In short, we never got back to the game.
Hell, I really didn’t get back to any game for well OVER a year… damn near two.
So, fast forward to a couple months ago. Things have quieted down a bit — a lot of different things are going on in my life now, but it feels like there’s a rhythm… like I’ve got a system that works, and that wouldn’t be shattered by some gaming, and whether or not I love gaming, I for damn sure hate sitting around with nothing to do, so…
So there’s been a lot of talk about some games, and of course I start pushing all the dirty-hippie games on my shelf, start up a short-lived HQ game, and head back over to the Forge for probably the first time in six months and start reading.
… and read.
… and read.
And there’s so much that’s out that’s new and good. And old and good… and oh my word, there so much I want to play.
And I start talking about all this on my blog, and Dave sort of picks up the vibe some and allows that yeah, he’d both like to play some of this stuff, and y’know, he’d like to GM some too, maybe. Heck, he’s always loved Dogs in the Vineyard, and we never got to play it… maybe he should run it.
And I say “You should!”
And then I say “But… y’know… before that… I could finish running the story for those guys we all made up.
And I read the new DitV book again.
And I read the old characters again.
And I find the first town I wrote up, as an experiment of transferring a relationship map from one source into a totally different genre, and I saw how it could be better…
And I get really excited.
And Friday, 23 months after we made up the characters, we played the first town. Virtue.
Here’s what happened.


  1. It occurs to me, reading that last paragraph (and being annoyed at the typo), that revisiting Sorcerer after Dogs might be really interesting, since alot of the ‘Dogs method’ of dealing with that big pile of dice might be really helpful in making Sorcerer work with less… “OOF, that’s a lot of dice!”
    Especially since only about 3 or 4 of the dice — the high ones — ever matter in Sorcerer. Hmmmm…

  2. Sounds like a good refresher to begin and a good session that has everyone eager to continue.
    I noticed you mentioned escalation and the difficulty Abigail had with initiation– did you escalate on Jezebel’s side, or stick to demonic influence only?

  3. On my side, I only used the dice I rolled initially, but I narrated a physical ‘attack’ on Jezebel’s part – shoving Abigail into a mud puddle, which gave Abigail some d6 fallout via the narration.
    Abi then responded with a physical action of her own (getting back up and hugging Jezebel), which she DID get Body/escalation dice for.

  4. Susannah was born in a pretty rough town; a mix of Faithful and sinnin’ mining folk that was nearly wiped out by bandits when Susannah was pretty young. She was sent off to be raised by her extremely judgmental Aunt and Uncle who couldn’t really wait to be rid of her… think the Dursley’s, as puritans.

    Mountain People, actually. As I recall.
    But, yeah, that’s pretty good summary. Now she’s just struggling between which path she’s going to favor more.
    Actually, in retrospect, I’m having a bit of a problem with her — figuring out the implications of the rather lyrical traits and relationships I gave her. Wouldn’t mind chatting with you a bit about it. As I was playing, I kept going, “What was I *thinking* here?”

    * Destiny wants to see the women’s side of what’s gone on.
    * Abigail ‘knows’ “cousin Constance is going to be my problem.”
    * Eli walks with the tread of a doomed man, already expecting that the Stewards at Temple sent him with these young ladies because they knew they’d need a blunt instrument — he’s hearing about the Coopers and his expression just gets more and more resigned.
    * Susannah… hmm… I don’t know. 🙂

    1. Wants to chat with Jacob some more — he made a comment that hung in the air like (just like) the offhand comment about Amanda’s father quitting the Navy, the inference being that Grand-Uncle Isaiah quit after the previous troubles here. Yeah, she wants to learn more about that.
    2. Wants to chat with the Cooper girl. She has some strong (indoctrinated) beliefs about how a woman should behave (ironically enough) — but she’s also got a suspicion of what’s going on here with the girl that explains her reluctance to be wooed by the Steward’s boy.

    Dave mentioned that the town was over-jammed with stuff going on. The funny thing is, I’m about one whole family and one major plot point short of the ‘recommended starting town’ that Vincent and many others have recommended in the past.

    We’re being a lot more cautious heading into Virtue than we might be otherwise — we’re both new as Players and as PCs, so the immediate, “I take Joe-Bob into the street and shoot him,” or “I pull these two into a room and wed them,” or other drop-of-a-hat judgments are a lot slower to happen.
    It’s still unclear to me (dunno about the others) the extent to which the True Faith either proselytizes or tolerates unbelievers. Virtue is, ostensibly, a town run by the Faithful, but there’s three false doctrine churches (from back east) openly built and attended.
    That’s probably the biggest complication that’s holding me back. I know the right answer is, “The answer is whatever the Dogs deem it to be,” but having some better cultural expectations (having just come from the Temple) would be of some help. If nothing else, we need to huddle on this.
    (You have picked, of course, the one area where at least *I*, as a player, am going to be most sensitive, in terms of how people are encouraged or compelled to toe the ecclesiastical line. Intentional or not, it adds to the challenge.)

    The wording of Dave’s aforementioned comment makes me think that my source of inspiration for Virtue is worn a little too openly on the sleeve. Ahh well.

    Well, if you’re going to be inspired, why not be inspired by the best? Yeah, I *think* I’ve got that figured out, though I’m not going to make any assumptions about it (and don’t remember the details enough to do so anyway, aside from the situation and canonical resolution).

    I think the different is that you’re only dealing with a few of those dice at a time, and dealing with each of those discreet sets of dice is also dealing with the whole Conflict in a smaller slice, instead of all at once… almost task-resolution, dare I say.

    I think that’s pretty much it. You could argue that a normal D20 combat situation is a lot of dice, too — if you merged together all the rolls.
    My main recollection of Sorcerer was just big handfuls of D10s (the same-size stuff adding to the sense of “lots of dice”) that we’d drop on the table and then you’d shuffle them around a lot and do stuff with them and eventually there’d be some sort of answer. It was never clear to me how the mechanic actually worked, and I was more interested in what had come before, and what was happening after, the die rolls.
    You’re probably right that I’d have a different perspective now, esp. if I learned the rules. Though, to be honest, the nature of the Sorcerer setting (“you get power by fufilling demonic needs”) is, on the face of it, not all that attractive to me. (I just didn’t *like* the characters.)

    And I start talking about all this on my blog, and Dave sort of picks up the vibe some and allows that yeah, he’d both like to play some of this stuff, and y’know, he’d like to GM some too, maybe. Heck, he’s always loved Dogs in the Vineyard, and we never got to play it… maybe he should run it.
    And I say “You should!”
    And then I say “But… y’know… before that… I could finish running the story for those guys we all made up.

    My own fault, but I’m vaguely disappointed that I didn’t actually get my own game out the chute before you did on this — like I’m concerned (almost certainly without basis) that we’ll hit the major DitV memes and notes in the handful of towns you have planned, or that there won’t be interest (or a time slot, more importantly) for me to do a follow-up Dogs game. Silly, I know …
    … and I’m still not in a position, for a few weeks yet, to do anything about it, so no worries.
    Looking forward to the next installment.

  5. Actually, on the List of Things to Do, Suzannah just wants to talk more to the players — the surly ranch foreman and the ranch owner and the storekeeper. She’s most inclined to believe Jacob’s rendition of what’s going on, but not exclusively; it’s *her* responsibility to choose rightly here.

  6. RE: What the Dogs are ‘allowed’ to do with the nonFaithful.
    1. You can identify a sin of theirs.
    2. You can verbally judge them… provided they stand still and let you.
    3. You can’t punish them for the sin in the way you would a member of the Faithful. That’s where the jurisdiction ends — the actual Branch itself.
    What authority Virgil or Malachi have with the nonFaithful here is because (a) they just sort of let Virgil stand in as Mayor, since the Faithful seem to have a ‘system’ in place for picking one (b) they actually took part in electing Malachi as TA Sheriff.
    So… if you wanted those 3 unFaithful churches out of town… not a lot you can do about it. If you really wanted the Faithful to get away from the non-Faithful, you’d have to order the whole Branch to move.
    And that… presents it’s own problems, of course.
    One of the reasons this town’s remained kind of unfixed for 20 years has been partly because, as Virgil implied, it’s hard to accomplish much when you can only exert strong authority with about half the town.
    It’s a problem, really, with the whole town — look at the definition of “worldliness” — showing comfort in the presence of sin. Folks have just got used to it.

  7. I don’t know that folks immediately start shooting or marrying folks right off the bat ‘normally’ — they do want to get the full story — so I don’t know that we’re being too slow in this.
    Then again, I’m told that someone grabbed Virtue off the Forge and ran the whole thing in a one-shot, including six Dog initiations, this weekend… which is kind of scary.

  8. Cool. I now have a better view of my (or Suzannah’s) options.
    It does add a *big* complication — yes, I was being a bit flip with dragging people out and shooting them as an immediate thing to do, but anything we *do* do in Virtue will require consideration of how it affects both the Faithful and the Heathen, and their ability to coexist together.

  9. I remember my first time running Dogs (as Jedi, of course) and having to grab the chest of dice. That was something that kept the kids’ attentions better than a lot of the freeform stuff we do. The focus on conflicts was really, really good for the preteen/teenage audience because I could bring up real life issues and give them suggestions on how to handle them, and listen to how they handle it. (I wrote up a little about it at Playing with Dogs.) I really liked how to make ‘towns’ and how it taught the kids to use connections: our games as a whole have been a lot stronger since.

  10. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize my advice on your Amber scenario as being strongly cribbed from Dogs… okay, and Sorcerer and such, but yeah.

  11. When I was describing Dogs for Lee on Saturday, his immediate response was, “Like Jedi, right?”
    Which makes me wonder if doing it as Jedi would get rid of some of the “OMG, we’re going to play evil inquisitors!” kind of aroma that some folks shy away from. Of course, it might give it the “OMG, we’re going to play George Lucas creations!” kind of aroma …

  12. For alternate settings, allow me to direct y’all here: [DitV] Comprehensive Alternate Setting Thread…
    It’s awesome, and covers all the basics (Banthas in the Vineyard was, I think, the very first setting-hack ever proposed). I’ve always thought a Road to Perdition-style thing might be fun in a short game.
    The thread goes on into some really interesting head space, including at least one really inspired “Serenity” is “Dogs” in “Firefly”, and a great spin on the ‘judgement’ motif using the system to run a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy game. 🙂
    Jedi Dogs would be a ton of fun.

  13. Well, I’ve a hankering for the Old West setting, but, yes, Jedi would be fun, too. Someone could dig out all their old Star Wars campaign notes …
    “Queer Dog for the Straight Vineyard” sounds pretty funny. Pride leads to fashion faux pas, leads to false sense of what looks good, leads to local fashion trend, leads to demonic possession. Works …

  14. And, for what it’s worth, I think you don’t need to worry about memes being exhausted within one set of Dogs characters — the things that happen and the decisions that are made are, in my impressions, very much connected to the characters involved. In other words, I believe that a new group of characters (and, at the very least in one case, player-roster) will by itself present a different take on the problems inherent in being a Dog.
    For myself, my original plans for future towns are already being changed by the first town, which is normal and natural — you see what the player bite into and decide on, and there’s a strong draw to come up with another take on that particular problem in a later town, and onward. “You choose that? Really? Okay, how about now? Really? Even now? Yeah? Even NOW? REALLY?”
    For that matter, each character that the players introduce carries a LEAST a couple issues that really cry out to be addresses in some form in the towns they visit — I know that some of the Dogs GMs don’t build even the first town without touching on those issues — and THAT means that each ‘campaign’ will have very different towns and issues.
    – Eli: the nature of duty, both in faith and in family.
    – Destiny: the strange ties of family, the lure of ‘civilization.’
    – Susannah: Mixture of cultures, joy and solemnity, (again) familial duty.
    – Abigail: loss and mourning, external expectations, loneliness in a crowd.

  15. As I noted, the “Jedi” way was a lot easier to explain to the kids, plus it had plenty of setting details I could already use whereas they’re not big on westerns or the Old West genre. I _did_ consider an environmentalist “Earth First” idea with the Dog-analogues setting tree bombs… and an Islamic crossover, but I was the only one who had read the Koran and enough of the mythology background there. [sigh] I need to play more. [pout] (For example, I loved the idea of every character detail being a lyric from a song… and so many options for Very Different Games!)
    Doyce – I hadn’t recognized them specifically as Dogs tropes, but more as the whole thematic side…which reminds me, I need to finish my Long Response.

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