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Author Topic: [DitV] Shifting gears makes for a bumpy ride.  (Read 10242 times)
Eric Provost
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« on: November 16, 2004, 07:58:12 AM »

After weeks of persistant arm-twisting, I finally managed to get two players to join me in a test drive of Dogs in the Vineyard, and I think it's had a profound effect on how the three of us will view any RPG we play in the future.

I'm struggling for words to describe the effect that Dogs has had on us without turning into a gushing fan-boy, so I think I'll just dive into our play session.  Perhaps by showing our clumsyness in playing Dogs for our first time, I will illustrate how it's changed us.

But first, perhaps, I should introduce the three of us.  As some of you may know, my name is Eric, and that I'm a bit of a struggling GM.  One day I might be so inclined to write out the long details of how & why I struggle as a GM, but for now, I think it's sufficient to note that I've come to discover that I'm a narrativist trapped in the OTW of Sim (and struggling to escape.)  My wife, Lisa, who comes in here irregularly under the handle of UrbanPagan, has been a player in almost ever group I've run since we met in '92.  The third of our trio is a new gamer to our circle;  Ullyses.  Ullyses RPG history includes such titles as D&D and Palladium, and I'd occationally felt a strong OTW-Sim vibe from him when we discussed gaming.

When I first told Ullyses about Dogs, he verbally wrinkled his nose at the game.  He cited some dislikes for the Western genre, so I kinda sideways talked him into giving it a try by telling him how easily the game could be converted to a fantasy-oriental setting, but that I'd like to try the game as-is first.  

When I told Lisa about the game (before I even ordered it from Vincent), she was immediately excited.  Historically she usually shows excitement in a game when I do.  However, at some point after a particularly frustrating night of D&D, apparently feeling that I was getting 'burnt out', she suggested that, after we finish the current D&D story-line, that she might run something to give me a breather.  She mentioned Dogs.  My eyes lit up and I almost literally jumped on her;  "Yes!  You should totally run Dogs!"  See, it'd occurred to me that Vincent had written Dogs with the intent of teaching an adult non-gamer to play.  Lisa'd been a gamer for her entire adult life, but had GM'd so few times you could count the sessions on one hand.  So, I thought that, at the same time, Lisa would benefit from the well-written How to GM material that Dogs includes, and perhaps we'd find a little insight for how to write to someone who's never (or rarely) run games before.

Whew.  That was a little more introduction than I'd imagined when I started writing, but hopefully it'll give you a little insight into how & why our Dogs came out how it did.

Actual Play

Character Creations & Initiations

When we were seated at my little hex-shaped table, dice ready, and character sheets all around, I took Dogs' advice and started discussing with Lisa and Ullyses about what kind of character we should make.  I started right off the top by suggesting that we make characters that both compliment and oppose each other.  Ullyses suggested the phrase "Good Cop - Bad Cop"  We went with it.

I created the Bad Cop.  Brother Divid.  Brother Divid had a Complicated History.  See, he always was a bad-tempered child prone to saying exactly what was on his mind, and settling any conflict with his fists.  When he was chosen to become a Dog, his family and community were both surprised and relieved (that he would be spending so much time away)

Ullyses created the Good Cop.  Brother Theophilus.  Brother Theo was orphaned young, and had a tendancy to get picked on.  He developed the skills and abilities to talk himself out of all the fights and confrontations that came his way.  

We decided that Divid and Theo met when training to become Dogs, and each had the tendancy to think he was looking out for the other.

Divid's initation spurred from a Belonging I picked out of random quirkyness.  I wrote; Horse 1d4, and explained that my horse is pretty strong willed, and has a tendancy to do what he wants, rather than what he's told.  "I hope I learn to control my horse." immediately became my initiation.  To cut down the details here a little bit, as it turned out, Divid did learn to control his horse, but picked up the Long Term Fallout of 'Easily Frustrated - 1d4'.

Theo's initation was an important scene for us.  See, we were following the rules, step by step, without looking too far ahead.  Which turned out to be a good thing.  Ullyses had decided that Theo had a habit of flipping an old coin to make decisions, and that he viewed the result of the coin as the Will of the King.  Ully declared that he hoped that Theo "Learned to trust the turn of the coin."  And here's the important thing;  That Stake, learning to trust the turn of the coin, nearly shut down the intro for us.  In the first few minutes after he declared it, none of us had any idea how to use the rules at hand to settle this conflict.  How to set the stage?  How to roll the dice?  I totally blanked.  It's for this scene that I'm so terribly grateful that Lisa had agreed to run the game.  It was my instinct, at that frozen moment in time, to try to pursuade Ullyses to come up with a 'better' Stake.  One that we could better visualize into play.  But, I'd promised myself (and Lisa) that I'd sit back, shut up, and let her run the game.  So, after a moment's pondering, Lisa set the stage as one of our teachers had brought Theo to a court-house, to hear the proclimations of the judge, and to see if his coin told him the truth.  At that time, we had a little player to player discussion about how Ullyses should not actually flip a coin, then roll the confrontation dice to see if they matched, but rather how he should use the confrontation dice and his own narration to see how things come out.  Well, the scene stayed bumpy for a bit.  I suppose, if there were bold sub-titling to show what was going through our heads during that early scene, it would have been something like "What do these dice represent?  How do I adjudicate a Block/Dodge or Take the Blow here?"  I felt totally over my head, drowning in the waters of Narrativism, right up untill it became obvious that Theo was about to loose his initiation.  He was out of decent dice, and the GM had just raised with big numbers.  We were trying to figure out how Theo could escalate from Non-Physical to Physical while observinig a court-room case.  We kept imagining Theo standing up & decking his teacher!  We didn't want that!  Then it struck me.  Struck me like a lightning bolt.  "Flip the coin!  Flipping the coin is Physical!!!"  I nearly jumped out of my shoes when the thought struck me.  So, Ullyses rolled more dice for both his Body and his Coin.  His numbers came up HUGE, so he not only Blocked what Lisa had sent at him, but he then was able to Raise & narrate how the coin came down, landed on heads (I think), and how the fall of the coin told him how things were going to pan out in the trial.  With no more dice to call him, Lisa narrated that the trial did indeed pan out just exactly how the coin told him it would.

It was just huge for me.  Going from the inclination to avoid the Stake entirely to discovering just how cool that the Stake really was, and how it made for stronger and more entertaining narration.

There's so much more to tell, but I'm already behind in my work.  There were epiphanies for all at that table, I think, but the rest will have to wait for later.

-Eric
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ScottM
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« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2004, 08:49:50 AM »

Sounds great so far.  My group has struggled (and continues to do so), but yeah-- when you trust the game and play it as written (no shortcuts), it delivers.

Did Ullyses buy into the western setting as the game went on, or is that still a stumbling block?

--Scott
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Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.
lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2004, 09:05:37 AM »

I can't wait to hear more.

-Vincent
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Lisa Provost
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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2004, 10:02:55 AM »

Quote from: ScottM
Sounds great so far.  My group has struggled (and continues to do so), but yeah-- when you trust the game and play it as written (no shortcuts), it delivers.


I can tell you that playing the game as it is written and trusting in how things will go was actually a little hard for me at first, but I did get over it.  :)  (It took about 15 minutes.)  

Let me tell you what I mean.  I had read the rules a bunch of times.  When I sat down to make my town, I was at work and while I had the book with me, I did not reference it at all so as you can see from my post last Friday, it most certainly was missing a few things and what I did have was a bit scattered.  Having run the game now, I can see where, whilei t's good to prepare, have those hooks and the ideas in mind for the NPC's, there is no reason at all to write as nush as I did for the rest of it.  :P  I changed so much that it seems like a different game than what I had planned and see, there was my problem.  I planned the game.  Next time, I know better and will reference book at each step.   Actually, Eric and I are working out a reference sheet so it will be easier for us (me really)  to make towns.  Having gaming books sitting on my desk at work, leads to some interesting looks...  ;)

With regards to the initiation scence that Eric described above, there was one poitn when after Ullyses had stated what he felt was at stake that I grabbed the book and began to read.  I stopped myself.  "Why do I need to reference the rules book?  There is no grand chart or spreadsheet enclosed that will tell me what I need to roll as a target number!  Sheesh!"    I rolled as if I was Brother Ezikial (the Dog that took Brother Theo to the presiding) and we saw and raised back and forth as though Brother Ezikial was trying to sow doubt into Brother Theo.  Not to be mean or hurtful, but to get him to learn.  I saw Brother Ezikial as his mentor, and when Eric blurted "Flipping the coin is physical!" Ullyses rolled the physical, and I was able to tell him (as Brother Ezikial) to "trust in the King of Life.  He guides your coin thus you know his wishes more so than others and will be a wise Dog."  I know Ullyses dug it because he was grinning like a little boy.  I had completely winged it, and it worked well.  

There was one point in the game where Brother Divid (Eric's character) said he was going to throw his lit lantern through the window of the Mayor's house.  I immediately grabbed dice.  Reflex I guess.  I remembered though... "just say yes!" and put the dice down.  Throughout the evening, I saw Ullyses and Eric pick up dice as well... each time, they put them down with a slightly quizical look on their faces.  :)

Quote from: ScottM
Did Ullyses buy into the western setting as the game went on, or is that still a stumbling block?


He didn't say a peep and seemed to have a grand old time.  He had me use my paypal account to order him a copy of the rules right after our session was done so I can assume he's got no problem with the setting now.  :)

Lisa
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2004, 11:22:51 AM »

I've only a few free minutes right now, but I thought I'd continue with the story.

Quote from: ScottM
Did Ullyses buy into the western setting as the game went on, or is that still a stumbling block?


As it turns out, Ullyses has decided to take a screen name here at the Forge, so I'll let him field that question.  He may be a while in responding, as he's just got a new car sterio, and will likely spend the rest of the day installing it.

So, after our initiation scenes, and my giddy feeling from the adaptability of the Dogs system, we rode into Town.

Now, I got the vibe right off the bat that Lisa had picked up a lot of my bad GMing habbits in the first few minutes.  But, this turned out to be a great thing for me to reflect upon.  I'll explain.  As Brother Divid and Theo rode into town, Lisa first described the overview of the town, then the buildings of the town, then some of the people in the town.  I could plainly hear that sound in her voice that told me "The GM says this person and this place is important."  That is, a sudden torrent of inconsequential trivial details about a handful of NPCs that are doing nothing important or consequential.  You know the stuff.  I think everyone does it.  When a GM puts a lot of thought into a particular NPC, the image of that character easily gets stuck in the GM's head.  Then, the GM feels the unconcrontrollable urge to describe, in excessive detail, a character that's supposed to be 'somone just standning there,looking at you."  Occationally, between these floods of detail, she would pause, apparently waiting to see if we'd like to respond to her NPC of Interest.  We didn't.  We followed the path of intro-story she laid down for us, from the opening street, down the main road, past the NPCs of Interest, to the Steward's house, where we were introduced to the Steward's daughter.

As Lisa's Monologue of Introduction went on, I kept one ear open so as not to miss anything, kept the town in my mind's eye, but couldn't help reflecting upon the style and flavor of our introduction to the Town.  The first thing I reflected upon was that it was boring.  The second, and so terribly more important bit was that I had used this very same style and flavor of introduction for countless stories before.  I had sat through countless Monologues before, always just hanging on, waiting for the time when something 'interesting' would happen.  I recall that I've always been bored with it.  I've known that it's boring for the players.  However, I realized that I've always considered this slow, tasteless, boring, snooze-fest of an intro to be a necessary evil.  I didn't think there was any other way.  I also reflected upon different threads & essays that I've read both here at the Forge and in other places that addressed this issue.  And sitting there, being subjected to the same boredome that I'd subjected dozens before to, all in the name of Getting Started,... Well,...  it felt like that was the last piece of the puzzle falling into place.  I realized that I not only have the tools to fix this problem now, but I have the obligation to do so.  Immediately.  My very next game session.  And for every game session I ever run again.

Here's the assembled wisdom I intend to inact in the future:
1)  Player Hooks.  Not character hooks.  Character hooks are easy.  I remember reading somewhere that, if the Players are not hooked into the plot in the first ten minutes that the GM had failed.  That's so right.  I remember, when I first read that, that I felt it was a little extreme.  "A few hours isn't so bad" I thought.  Dang.  I can't even believe that I used to think a couple hours of boredom while the game got started was ok.  Now, my goal is 5 minutes.  The Players will be hooked into the game in 5 minutes, or I've dropped the ball.

2)  Immediate and clear choices to make.  That is, the players have to be given a situation where they have a choice to make, even if the choice is to do nothing.  The players simply aren't going to be as interested in the story at hand if I'm just leading them by the hand.  If I've got some interesting/important facts to provide to them, those tidbits can just wait 'till after the opening scene.  Once the players have invested themselves a little bit in the situation at hand, they might be a little more interested in the archetecture of the city hall.

Okies.  That's it for now.  Next post will likely illustrate how we, the Dogs, wandered about the town & cast judgement.  There was a really fantastic scene where Divid wanted to break into the Mayor's house.  But that'll be next post.

-Eric
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2004, 07:46:39 PM »

Alrighty.  Time to finish the story I think.

Divid and Theo met the town steward and his daughter, and came to quickly discover two important facts.  There was a new church under construction, and the old church was being vandalized.

After a few short interrogation scenes where Divid and Theo got all the information they desired from the Steward, the Mayor (who was building the new church), and those close to them, Divid decided that it was likely the Mayor who was at fault, and who was possibly harborning demons.

We went to his house, a particularly nice house.  The only house we'd seen in the entire town that had locks on the doors.  I decided that Divid was going to break into that nice, locked house and see what he could see.  And that's when I found another part of Dogs that I now love.  See, there was a servant woman out front.  A member of the mountain-people whom we suspected were being held as slaves by the Mayor and his wife.  When Divid made his move towards the door, intending to break in, the mountain woman stood in his way.  I never did list the stats for Divid, but lets say that I built him to pursuade people with his size.  When the mountain woman stood up to get in Divid's way, I was confident that she wouldn't be a problem.  I had 8d6 + 1d10 + 3d4 to push my way in.  It was a sure thing.  Untill Theo said that he was going to join in the conflict... to prevent Divid from entering.  Exciting!  I totally threw the poor old mountain woman off to the side without a second thought.  (I had a 10 on that d10, and used it right off the bat).  Then, Brother Theo started using logic and his natural pursuasiveness on Divid.  I just didn't stand a chance.  Divid walked away from that door declaring "Fine, we'll do it your way.  So, what do we do next?"  

I'll tell ya' why I loved that confrontation.  In another game, it would have been settled with a discussion between me and Ullyses.  If Ullyses convinced me that it would be better to wait, I would have waited.  Likely I would have decided that Divid was just too stubborn, and gone in anyway.  But here, in Dogs, it wasn't between myself and Ullyses.  It was between Divid and Theo.  And Theo's ability to talk an eskimo into a new refrigerator won out over Divid's brawn.  It was simply exciting.

After a few uneventful short scenes, I decided that Divid was going to stake out the old church and wait to see if anyone tried to vandalize it.  I wasn't dissapointed.  While Theo and Divid stood in the street, discussing the events of the day, we were struck by a rock thrown from an alley.  We began a confrontation where the Stake was "Do we catch the rock-thrower."  Divid used his size to run after the villian, but Theo took a more direct action and drew his rifle.  In the midst of the confrontation we had a great little discussion about how, no matter how well Theo shot, we weren't in danger of accidentally killing the villian before we could interrogate him, as our stake was "Do we catch him."

Well, we caught him.  Then we interrogated him.  By the end of it, we'd discovered that the Mayor was at the heart of it.  So, we killed the rock-thrower (during the interrogation, he displayed some demonic-tendancies), and headed on over to the mayor's house.  We saw that there were a considerable number of people moving about the house.  We had lanterns & rifles with us.

I don't remember what the discussion was about, but Theo and Divid had a bit of a debate in front of the Mayor's house about how to approach things; Which ended with the throwing of the lantern that Lisa mentioned.  While we waited for the inhabitants of the house to come fleeing out, a crowd gathered.  Before we could draw a bead on the first of the demons within the house, there was a scream from the crowd.  A posessed mountain man had knifed an innocent in the throng.  While we were distracted dealing with that threat, the Mayor and his wife escaped into the nearby woods.

Once again, I compare Dogs to any other game I've ever played.  The Mayor and his wife would have escaped us.  We weren't trackers.  We had no special skills in finding trails at midnight.  It would have been over, and we would have lost for having taken care of the threat in the crowd.  But not that night.  Not with Dogs.  We set the stakes at tracking them down, and I believe Lisa gave them a temporary trait to reflect the lead they had on us.  We both took a little fallout as we pushed our horses hard through the woods.  We narrated how branches scraped at our faces as we flew across the terrain.

In the scene we had several confrontations, one behind the other.  First we caught the two escapees.  Then we fought with them.  Then, Divid had to try to heal Theo after the Mayor clocked him with a tree limb.  This is where the Stakes rules kicked in again, preventing a common frustration.  It would have made perfect sense in another game for the Mayor and wife to escape while I tended to Theo.  But a previous stake in that scene had been to catch them.  And we won that confrontation.  So, I'm not sure if Dogs supports this call directly, but we decided that, as we'd already won that Stake, there was no reason to re-roll it.  If we decided that the Mayor or wife would take off again, that the Dogs would catch them again without rolling the dice.  

In the woods, the Mayor and his wife had their monologues, claiming and denying blame.  We each took responsibility for dishing out the King's justice.  We shot them both in the head.  

Lisa declared the story over with... but we had one last order of business...

The ankles of the villians were tied to our horses, and we drug them back to town.  We strung them up to a large tree in the center of town, upside down.  While Divid did the dirty-work, Theo preached to the town, declaring the evil vanquished, and that all should look to the Steward for further guidance.

We rode off into the sunrise.

Fantastic game.

And, as it turns out, I'll be running my first town, Clement's Patch, this Thursday evening.  I'll be looking forward to posting how it goes.

Untill then.

-Eric
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2004, 12:13:24 PM »

Very cool!

I wanted to say:
Quote
I'm not sure if Dogs supports this call directly, but we decided that, as we'd already won that Stake, there was no reason to re-roll it. If we decided that the Mayor or wife would take off again, that the Dogs would catch them again without rolling the dice.

Dogs surely does support that call, under "roll dice or say yes."

-Vincent
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rafial
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« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2004, 03:08:03 PM »

Quote from: Technocrat13
no matter how well Theo shot, we weren't in danger of accidentally killing the villian before we could interrogate him, as our stake was "Do we catch him."

Is this necessarily true?  By shooting, that brings in d10 fallout dice, so even if the stake is won, the fallout roll for the NPC could be fatal.  I thought that was the risk of escalating.  After all, the end result could be "yeah, you caught him, because he's dead..."
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2004, 05:29:19 AM »

Rafial,

You're absolutely correct.  There is a danger in someone dying from gunfire in Dogs.  And the result certainly could be "Yeah, you caught him, because he's dead...", but that dosen't have to be the case, no matter how badly shot up he is.

Those who know the game better than I can correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my take that, even if the wounded rolls a 20 for fallout, the players can still call for a follow up conflict where the stakes are something like; "Do we find out who sent him before he dies from his wounds?"  Which is basically what we did.

-Eric
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