[Dogs in the Vineyard] Avarice and Blood Debt!

edited February 2009 in Actual Play
Last week I GMed Dogs in the Vineyard with my brother, my wife and a friend. I was pretty stoked because my bro and I had been wanting to play it together for awhile, and finally the stars aligned!

Matt (my brother) made Bro. Clarence, a shy, studious Dog, self-educated and unassumingly capable. My wife Annie made Sis. Abigail, a pert know-it-all from a rich, sheltered life. And Willem made Jackson Dollar, a guitar-slinging Holy Man with the Light of Life in his music.

The town I designed was Dustriver Gulch Branch. I had asked Willem earlier to give me a one-word prompt for the town, and he said "Silver." So the deal was: The patriarch of Dustriver's most well-off family digs up a strongbox of decommissioned Territorial Army silver on his land. the town's got it's share of problems from crop blight to Mountain folk attacks, and plenty of folks see how the coin could be traded (even with Mtn. Folk; they've got some folk belief about Pure Silver) to solve their woes. But Old Brother Hiram sits on the treasure, insisting that it's his and refusing to be bullied into sharing.

Things get ugly when Brother Azariah, disgusted with the Steward's inaction and desperate to trade for Back East medicine for his daughter's degenerative disease, goes to Hiram's stead to persuade him at gunpoint and accidentally shoots Hiram's adult son. Now Hiram's riding on a tide of victimized self-righteousness, folk are about to starve from the crop blight, and Mountain Folk attacks have worsened. The Steward's helplessly wringing his hands as Azariah stews in guilt and rage, and Hiram broker's a deal with traveling merchant's to get the town their needs on HIS terms.

(Waiting in the wings were agitated Mountain People and a troop of Territorial Soldiers with claim to the treasure. Didn't get to 'em; that would've been more of a multi-session Town kinda thing.)

So the Dogs ride in and Hiram and his wives make sure to meet them first and invite them to dinner to "discuss the urgent trouble in town" (bringing meting revengejustice on Azariah and getting the townfolk off his back). He alludes ominously to his son's funeral. Steward Malachi welcomes them next, and they go to his house to hear from him first what's up. He tells 'em, well, there's all this stuf everyone needs and they're mad at Hiram for being stingy, but the REAL problem is that Brother Azariah doesn't respect my authority, andbythewayheshotandkilledHiram'sson. Clarence is like, hold up there, why didn't you say that first? and goes to hear Azariah's place to hear his side. Jackson and Abigail go to participate in placing the first spade of earth on Hiram's son's grave.

Azariah's all cagey and when Clarence approaches is like, "hold it right there! Did that no-account Steward send you?" Clarence's all "He better let me in, I'm a Dog!" and Matt declares a conflict to humble him. It gets as far as Physical (Azariah barring the door and bracing against it), but he's not quite willing to go to gunplay to keep the Dog out, and Matt runs me out of dice. He lets Brother Clarence in, introduces his awfully sick daughter and tells him his tale of desperation and woe. Brother Azariah gets the temporary trait "I bow to the Dogs' Authority 1D4."

After the funeral they all meet up to go to dinner at Hiram's. He comes on strong about his son, and the Dogs respond that they're here for the Town's interests, not his. There's a big verbal conflict, which the old man tries to escalate to Fighting at the last minute (when Jackson Dollar played his guitar in a blaze of Holy Light to "cast out the demons", but even with his two pretty young wives as Improvised Things he's no match for the united Dogs and has to Give. His main point--that only he has the financial savvy to properly manage the wealth for the town--goes down in flames when Abigail declares that she, coming from money herself, can arrange things just fine. So Brother Hiram is made to give up the Silver to be managed by Abigail for the town's needs--but Clarence declares that Brother Azariah must work a spell for Hiram as an indentured servant to pay the "Blood Debt" of his son!


[Edited for Character names]


  • Whoa, guys, don't all jump in at once!

    OK, so if I want to see some discussion here I suppose I'd better offer some sort of topic to discuss. Here's some interesting issues that cropped up in the game:

    First: my game facilitation skills still need work. We did much better than my first Dogs outing--getting through the initiations AND a town and all--but I still had some awkward stuff going on. Like group character creation--everyone more or less knew what to do, so they sat in stony silence scribbling away, me not sure what to do to break the silence. Well, actually, I found my attention taken up just enough with rules questions and dice-assigning help that I was unable to get in obvious questions like "so, Willem, what idea are you working on over there?" Anyone have any tips on how to facilitate group character creation that actually functions as such--jut just by virtue of happening to occur all in the same room?

    The Town itself was an interesting learning experience; it was my first time designing my own. I deliberately left things just at Sin and Demonic Attacks, just ready to spill over into Corrupt Worship and False priesthood-mainly because I wanted everyone to be as sympathetic as possible, not eyes blazing with demonic fury, plotting ruin and stirring up a cultish following. Just people acting out of understandable motives, all mired in a mess. Thing is, that gave me little oomph in conflicts--no Demon dice--and the Dogs walked all over the townsfolk, especially when they united at the end. That's not a bad thing necessarily: the town was interesting and engaged the players. But I'd like to figure out how to calibrate towns more expertly.

    One nice thing about the town I designed: it was layered. Like, there was the immediate level of badness that could be addressed fairly simply and directly, which the players did. And having limited time, I said "OK, town solved," and we called it a night. But there was also a lot of conflict waiting in the wings, that if we were down or a more extended play experience, I could have easily brought in to escalate and complicate the nice tidy solution. Even emergent elements of play supported this, like Azariah gaining temporary Fallout in being cowed by the Dogs, setting the stage or him stirring up more trouble as he licks his wounded pride, and as things get worse instead of better. I'd love to do the "long form" version of this Town sometime! But it was awesome that it worked for a quick game as well.

    One thing I've noticed about Town design (or rather, their effects on play) is that the local Steward tends to be pretty limp-dicked and wishy-washy. I think it's a natural result of a Town being in trouble--if the Steward was doing his job, that presumably wouldn't happen. But it'd be nice to have a Town where the Dogs don't uniformly go "Steward, you suck, guess we're doing your job for you now."

    One last thing: had some trouble with the Supernatural dial. There was some mismatch between where different players were drawing that line, which I think was a communication and engagement issue that's too complicated to go into here. But I wanted to highlight a couple of aspects: first, it was difficult to communicate where on the Sin ladder we were at vis a vis Sorcery and such. Willem's character went straight to "I cast out the demons!" when there was in fact no possession--just a bitter, grasping old man. Players know that "sin leads to Demonic Possession and Sorcery," they see an obvious Sinner, they make that mental leap and make with the exorcism. But things might not be that far yet. How do you deal with that in play, in real time? And second, Dogs' text says stuff like "follow the lead of the pickiest player," without actually telling you what that looks like. If player A furrows his brow at player B's input, what do I do? Do I actually call "hey, that's too much/too little/too whatever, let's tweak it" on the spot? Or just push thing in that direction with my own narration? What trips me up, it doesn't just say 'back someone up when they object, it says "follow their lead when they frown." That's tricky territory for me.

  • I'd be tempted to play out the demonic exorcism without the demon dice, narrating goes like "He looks like he's lying" or "You don't think that sounds like something he would say." If the old dude takes a blow, give him a heart attack which could lead to a healing ritual to save his life. The Dog can believe that he's exercised the demon! Who's there to gainsay him?
  • I've been thinking it over, James, and I think the answer is developing an understanding among the players: there's this ladder of Pride, Sin, Sorcery and Murder, and not every situation has moved all the way up the ladder. Heck, even just that sentence (without further explanation of the ladder and its nuance) could go a long way toward saying "be careful, it's not always going to be Demons and Cultists. You might be giving old men heart attacks."

    Incidentally, I've carried the conversation over to the Lumpley Forum at the Forge. I'd like to have discussion consolidated there as much as folks are able.

  • I know this is old Dogs-y and stuff, but I wanted to commiserate:

    I, too, am terrible at getting a group of people to make characters together. How do you make that happen, folks? Do you go one by one, all watching? Do you all shout at each other?

    It sounds so great in theory, but I've never heard a piece of concrete advice on how to make it happen.
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: Paul T.I know this is old Dogs-y and stuff, but I wanted to commiserate:

    I, too, am terrible at getting a group of people to make characters together. How do you make that happen, folks? Do you go one by one, all watching? Do you all shout at each other?

    It sounds so great in theory, but I've never heard a piece of concrete advice on how to make it happen.
    We just sat down with the rules and character sheets, and created characters. Parts out loud (are we in a Relationship? Here's my basic background, what about yours? Ooh, you're a nature-lover? That's a cool trait, I'm gonna take "woodslore" and be, like, your apprentice), parts to ourselves (here's what my coat looks like, ooh, this knife was my weak father's, etc), and when we were done, we read them out loud and left space for others to comment if we had too many possessions or something.

    PS: I also, for a while, felt strange bringing up basic Dogs questions, because, in our fast-paced game-of-the-week culture, Dogs is old, right? And then I realized, people are still playing OD&D. Dogs is not old. I will probably still be discussing it on the internet in 20 years.
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