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Author Topic: Commissars in the Vineyard  (Read 13256 times)
DannyK
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« on: September 19, 2004, 11:05:42 PM »

I was jogging today while listening to John LeCarre's latest novel on earphones, and it struck me that DitV could be used in the modern day, as long as you change all the "religion" to "ideology".

So the modern-day dogs could easily be commissars or political police in a dictatorship, either the communist kind or the fascist kind.   Instead of gunning a sinner down on main street, the political officer writes someone up for wrecking or subversion and they disappear for months or years or forever.  

I'm still mulling it over in my head, but I'm thinking that ideology and procedure would take the place of ceremony.  Political influence would be represented as Traits:

My father was part of El Supremo's inner circle 2D8 (good for NPC's!)
My brother defected to the West two years ago 1D4

Political Fallout from conflicts could be very dangerous, for example if a Comissar compromises ideological principle to protect an innocent man, and gets a reputation as soft or deviationist.

There's a small subgenre of mystery novels where the protagonist is a policeman serving in a police state:
SS-GB by Len Deighton (Nazis in the UK!)
Fatherland by Robert Harris (victorious Nazis)
Murder on the 31st Floor by Per Wahloo
Philip K. Dick's masterful Man in the High Castle has some elements of this genre, although Mr. Tagomi is not a policeman.  

I'm not sure what to call it.  The original Russian political police, the Oprichniki, dressed in black and had a dog-and-broom emblem as their symbol: a dog to sniff out treason, a broom to sweep it away.  You can't get away from the dog symbolism, I guess.  

If my vanilla DitV game goes well, I might try running this, set in an unnamed European country.  It's hard to decide which abhorrent ideology is more interesting to play -- I'd be tempted to run with sort of a corporate fascist state in order to satirize some elements of the world we live in.  The idea of running a game set in Eastern Europe during the Cold War is also appealing, but I don't know I could find players knowledgeable enough to properly accuse an NPC of Trotskyism.  :)

Either way, this game would keep the mechanics and many of the ideas while flipping theme and setting: instead of Dogs being holy anointed judges of God with brightly colored coats,  they are civil servants dressed in cheap suits, dispatched by a brooding monster of a state, bringing fear and paranoia wherever they come.  Instead of rushing streams and snow-capped mountains, the setting is full of crumbling appartment blocks, pollution, drunks, and petty corruption.  In case you can't tell, I really like this idea.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2004, 06:38:06 AM »

I'd be careful about making characters your players (and you) can't sympathize with. The Dogs really are the hand of the King; what they do is His will. There's no moral ambiguity in their job, though there might be (and it's most fun if there is) within and between the characters. I know I couldn't play a Nazi or Stalinist, or rather, I'd try it, enjoy aspects of it, and then would misschedule the next week.

How about this: figure out an ideology that's defendable. Say, some Marxist-like situation, and there really are Capitalists trying to recruit and sabotage your society, and the Worker's Council or what-have-you really is working in the interests of The People.

The Capitalists want to arrange to steal your oil, make war on you, and conquor the world to feed their insatiable greed. Among the Capitalists are, of course, Workers, and sometimes you're sent to free them.

I'd choose Vincent's tactic of making a non-real-world environment to do this in; otherwise you'll get too bogged down in history, in which greedy, violent, self-serving "Communists" and philanthropic Capitalists would really stink up your environment. I'm thinking of something like a serious Top Secret, where there's a Cold War/WWII Us vs. Them principle at work, but it's historically totally inaccurate.

The Dogs are the good guys, remember. If you make what they're fighting for real (as opposed to propaganda) than it's much more interesting than parody. I can even see a Nazi-inspired game, where your society's been crushed for previous indiscretions that were no worse than anyone else's, where you're beset by other cultures trying to take over your proud, beaten people.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
DannyK
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« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2004, 10:10:17 AM »

True.  I have a feeling a game like this would be easier to run in Europe or the UK than for your average US gamers.  If it were a setting like Russia right after the October Revolution, or Cuba in 1960, where there's still lots of enthusiasm and optimism about the course of history, it might work.

I'm not too worried about player sympathy, though.  Years of White Wolf gaming have made me very comfortable with running anti-heroes or sympathetic villains.  

I was thinking that instead of making the PC's political officers, perhaps they should be the equivalent of the criminal police.  In Soviet terms, NKVD militiamen as opposed to KGB officers.  In Nazi terms, Kripo instead of Gestapo.  That makes them more sympathetic almost from the outset, because they're obviously so much better than the political boys.  And the political police would be a useful source of antagonism, sort of like the Territorial authorities in Dogs.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2004, 01:10:27 PM »

Quote from: DannyK
True.  I have a feeling a game like this would be easier to run in Europe or the UK than for your average US gamers.  If it were a setting like Russia right after the October Revolution, or Cuba in 1960, where there's still lots of enthusiasm and optimism about the course of history, it might work.

I'm not too worried about player sympathy, though.  Years of White Wolf gaming have made me very comfortable with running anti-heroes or sympathetic villains.  


NAZIS. You're talking about Nazis. They're the worst thing in the 20th century, grinding millions upon millions under their tank treads and burning houses full of children. That's not sympathetic. That's psychopathic. No, wait, it's worse: it's deliberate, cruel, and bloodthirsty. It's human in the worst way; it's entire populations falling as a scapegoat for Industrialist military greed. There's no antiheroism to be had, just villainy.

Quote
I was thinking that instead of making the PC's political officers, perhaps they should be the equivalent of the criminal police.  In Soviet terms, NKVD militiamen as opposed to KGB officers.  In Nazi terms, Kripo instead of Gestapo.  That makes them more sympathetic almost from the outset, because they're obviously so much better than the political boys.  And the political police would be a useful source of antagonism, sort of like the Territorial authorities in Dogs.


I don't think this works historically. I really don't. Set up something where judgement is passed for reasons other than selfish political ones. Find a way to show that your agents are really forces for good. You'll have a hard time showing that Nazis are really just misunderstood (and you'll earn some real, deserved antagonism), and we all know how Soviet Communism worked out, and your players will, too, and they'll be hard-pressed to take an optimistic view.

Take responsibility for your world, though, and things change. Make something that your players can get behind (with personal variety and interpretation) and you'll have something worth playing twice. Take what the Bolsheviks said and make it true: where their culture is under attack from the Owning Class, where there's a worldwide conspiracy of Rothchilds and the like, where towns work together for the common good until greed intercedes, and you have something to work with. Because sometimes that greed is justifiable, and it'll wreck the town anyway.

-------
Umberto Eco said that "Fascism is a fuzzy totalitarianism characterized by selective populism, contempt for the weak, fear of difference, obsession with plots, and a cult of tradition."
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2004, 01:26:00 PM »

That does it.

Nikola, you are really pissing me off with your fevered protection of the Innocents everywhere.

First it's what some unspecified "audience" will think. Now it's the players who will be justly disgusted and horrified by playing Nazis. What next, the starving children? The fearful who dare not speak?

Mustn't offend! Mustn't give cause for anyone to be angry! What're you going to do if someone does, write a scathing letter? Who put you in charge of protecting others who "might" be offended?

To be clear: no one asked you whether this, or anything, was right or wrong. I don't recall you getting to be moral monitor for this discussion forum.

Maybe they are a bunch of disgusting, ethically-stunted bastards. Maybe their understanding of Nazis is totally messed up. Maybe they are performing an unconscionable act by playing this game. If Danny and his crew want to play Commissars, what's it to you?

"Well, I wouldn't play it." Whooo! What an insight. Maybe I wouldn't either. But you won't see me spraying my indictment on anyone. Let the players take care of their own selves.

Best,
Ron
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DannyK
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« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2004, 01:38:46 PM »

I think it's fair feedback, Nikola; I have a hard time telling how far out of the mainstream I'm getting, and I'm sure I've sabotaged some games by pushing too many hot-buttons in too agressive a way.  

However, I'd also like to point out that we don't know all that much about each other here and one shouldn't presume too much.  I'm Jewish and I lived in Germany for about 6 years, and I've spent a fair amount of time in Eastern Europe when it was still communist.  I suspect that this experience is part of why I'm fascinated by these themes.   The human capacity for collaboration with evil is a lifelong subject of fascination for me, which is probably why "Commissars" occurred to me in the first place as a neat thing to do.  

I'm very interested in any other thoughts on making this work -- it seems like one end of spectrum of moral darkness, with "Inquisitors" half-way up and Dogs higher still.  I don't think you could remove the darkness entirely and still have the game work the same way.
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MajorKiz
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« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2004, 03:20:41 PM »

And who knows... if the Nazi military conspirators had succeeded in assassinating Hitler and Himmler and replacing them with someone sane, folks might not consider the term "Nazi" to be synonymous with "evil" these days.

I can see some dramatic possibilities involved in playing moral folks enforcing an immoral code as mildly as they can get away with... sort of like if the Dogs worked for the Territorial Authority and the worship of the King of Life was banned, so they had to do His work secretly instead of openly. But it would be a very different setting.
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lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2004, 06:55:34 PM »

Danny, your most recent post above this one makes this one unnecessary, practically. Thank you.

Everybody, Danny's said what's what, respect it. If you can't bring yourself to contribute positively to a thread about playing Nazis, don't, but keep your peace.

J, Ron, please chill. Thank you!

This has been my first ever moderation post! It was fraught, irritating, and sad, and I'll thank you all not to make me do too many of them.

-Vincent
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2004, 07:06:40 PM »

Quote from: DannyK
I think it's fair feedback, Nikola; I have a hard time telling how far out of the mainstream I'm getting, and I'm sure I've sabotaged some games by pushing too many hot-buttons in too agressive a way.  


Yeah, I'm talking about this from experience. Some people have really balked at the drug references in my games, or treatment of social groups, or what-have-you. This is more warning than anything else: if you stick with your theme, e.g., our culture is under attack from insidious forces within, but don't go so far as to make your players complicit in immoral fantasy, then I think you've got something really good: your players will understand how someone can do evil in the name of good. I think that's really interesting. Doing evil in the name of evil is another matter.

Quote
However, I'd also like to point out that we don't know all that much about each other here and one shouldn't presume too much.  I'm Jewish and I lived in Germany for about 6 years, and I've spent a fair amount of time in Eastern Europe when it was still communist.  I suspect that this experience is part of why I'm fascinated by these themes.   The human capacity for collaboration with evil is a lifelong subject of fascination for me, which is probably why "Commissars" occurred to me in the first place as a neat thing to do.


No one does evil because it's bad. People do evil because they want to do good. Even if they want to get attention by smashing puppies with hammers (like PCs in a certain game I can think of) it's because they're trying to do something good in the universe. If you can show how what they're doing is really good then it'll be interesting. If you just say "You're Nazi political police ferreting out anti-fascist Jew-Nigger music listeners and their collaborators" then I think you'll have a hard time getting players on your side.

Quote
I'm very interested in any other thoughts on making this work -- it seems like one end of spectrum of moral darkness, with "Inquisitors" half-way up and Dogs higher still.  I don't think you could remove the darkness entirely and still have the game work the same way.


Sure, OK, but it can't be the focus. Make them do something that's for the good of the world, or for their people, or for the Workers, or for Ultima Thule or whatever. Make the ideology real. Don't cop out and make it sarcastic. And if you can stomach it, I bet your players will. And if they start having "scheduling difficulties", you know you've gone too far.

[Edit]

I hadn't read Ron or Lumpley's posts before I wrote the above, so I'll respond now:

My problem here is fundamentally that Vincent has gone to considerable effort to portray what is basically a horror of history and turn it into a mythology. The truth of the game world is true, and in order to do that, he made considerable changes to the environment. He made a world that, had it been that way, what happened in history would have been OK. It would have been good in fact. If you don't do this - leaving the Nazis the way they really were, for instance - it radically alters the game. It's no longer about people operating as the hand of truth; it's about people collaborating in evil. The players will know it because they know what really happened, and the characters will know it because they're enacting it.

Maybe that's an interesting game. I'd have a hard time playing it, but as Ron pointed out, that doesn't really matter.

Let's be clear about this: I don't want to stop Danny or CLehrich from writing their games, even if it were possible. I object to the worst elements of history being portrayed as moral, and using the Dogs framework implies that to me.

Ron, I haven't tried to do any moral policing here. I've tried to offer ways to abstract history into a mythology.

[Further edit]

Danny, I think this is really interesting all of a sudden. Are you trying to grapple with the societies you've lived in (or at least near) in the same way Vincent's grappling with Mormonism?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
lumpley
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« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2004, 07:30:03 PM »

J, seriously. It doesn't matter whether you think he'll have a hard time getting players on his side. You don't need to speak for his players.

If you're offended, fuckin' say so.

-Vincent
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2004, 07:33:38 PM »

Quote from: lumpley
J, seriously. It doesn't matter whether you think he'll have a hard time getting players on his side. You don't need to speak for his players.


Yeah, OK.

Quote

If you're offended, fuckin' say so.


Well, I was, but I think I'm not, because I think I see what he's getting at, and it's really interesting.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2004, 07:38:49 PM »

Excellent. Please carry on.

-Vincent
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