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Author Topic: [DitV] Ethics Crunching  (Read 5271 times)
Rustin
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« on: August 03, 2005, 11:50:46 AM »

Hello. Noobler here. I have yet to play DitV.  I've skimmed the rules but haven't given them a real studious treatment.  I hope to spring it on my gaming group soon.  They are, however, d20 3.5 gamist types of players.  Occasionally we do a bit of Cthulhu. 

One thing that usually happens when we try a new system is players will try to "crunch" the numbers to break the game.  So, when I read the thread where the player made a really good killing machine I said to myself: "this is exactly what my players are going to do."

I was despondent. I mused on how to solve the problem.  I pondered things I could say to my group. I began to formulate instructions to prevent this from happening. 

Here is my proposed solution, let me know if this is wise or encouraging chaos.

I'll say: "Now, if you want to crunch, make the character who will best be able to resolve ethical dilemmas.   If you think violence is the best way to resolve conflicts then by all means make a killer.  This may reduce all your choices in this game to whether you kill a sinner or not-- which may actually hurt your ability to resolve ethical choices which many not necessarily be killing problem." (Little baby Sally's been stealing candied sweets..)

On the flip side, we are dealing in a universe where some phenomena are true: demons.  Which means you can't just import your basic Americanized, liberty based ethic to the party.  In the game, because sin is real, some conduct does create actual harm to society. Whereas in real life most acts considered "sinful" don't actually impact or harm society.  ie: Cheating on your wife won't make the crops go sour in our world…

So players may want to have some ability to turn to violent enforcement of the rules lest the demons take over. 

If they don't take this advice seriously, if they make a gun slinging brute I'm still not exactly sure how I'll handle it. 

Most likely I'll have the NPC's react as would be expected: fearful, obedient and resentful.  They will lie: "Ok, Ok I won't drink the whiskey anymore, just don't shoot me."  Once the dogs leave, he's back to drinking.  Maybe even more bitter than before.  (A nice place for some sort of fall out trait).

To me obedience out of fear is not a moral choice-- and I don't see how the demons will or should react to behavior curtailed in such a way.  Perhaps the demons would rejoice in such acts?  In fact, that could be a great basis for a town: having the local steward be an ultra violent, brute that enforces the good word with Taliban-like relish in the sword-- and because of the violent oppression the demons are taking over.  The people appear devout out of fear, but their hearts are still set on sinning.   The Steward suffers pride through violence….

In any case, if I reduce ethics to real world consequences, and as GM I direct the real world consequences-- am I not taking away the Dog's power to define morality?

I suppose the question would be: If a dog said that Adultery was not a sin, would the demons still have power?

Maybe I should start with MLwM first…
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2005, 12:01:16 PM »

Don't borrow trouble!

During character creation, make sure that everybody gets that they should make a character who will, like it says, stand between God's Law and the best intentions of the weak. Their job is not to enforce obedience to some institutional legislation, but to make people's lives better.

Then they can optimize their characters all they like, toward whatever end they like, no problem.

-Vincent
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2005, 01:50:36 PM »

Quote
In fact, that could be a great basis for a town: having the local steward be an ultra violent, brute that enforces the good word with Taliban-like relish in the sword-- and because of the violent oppression the demons are taking over.  The people appear devout out of fear, but their hearts are still set on sinning.   The Steward suffers pride through violence….

I see some risk here. Best results are often acchieved with a town full of honestly good people who've just made some mistakes of doctrine, and have been egged on too far, either by honest-to-the-King supernatural demons, or the "demons" of human nature. If you must have a villain, try to make them sympathetic; The path followed from pride to out and out evil should be one that can be traced as one ill-considered choice after another.. As they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. That holds true for citizen, and for Dog..

That isn't to say that some powerful play cannot be had where violence is more obvious a solution. But it seems to me that you're dismayed about the possibility of violence being the default answer; If that's the case, try to make a town where any amount of wanton violence is going to leave a sour taste in your players' mouths. And if it ends up going that way anyhow, where violence and killin' are the first solutions, and your players don't seem to care.. Well, that's still saying something about morality, isn't it?
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2005, 01:51:55 PM »

Couple things to know about Dogs.

Gunslinging vs. Word Slinging is a perfectly viable conflict.  Guns don't trump negotiation.

We can have a conflict where the stakes are "Does Rustin kill this sinner" and you are maxed to the gills in all manner of dealing death.  I simply oppose you with my silver tongue and knowledge of the book and in my best baptist preacher imitation extoll you to be merciful and forgiving.  Its your dice against mine.  You have tons in shooting stuff, I have tons in talking about stuff...we're dead even.  If I win...you don't kill the sinner...period...I don't care how many times you tried to shoot him.

Second example: the stakes are "Can I convice Rustin to keep his gun in his holster while we talk to the corrupt steward".  My silver tongue against your not so silver tongue.  Unless you're prepared to whip out your guns and shoot a fellow dog over it, you're likely to lose.  And having lost...for the duration of that conversation with the steward...you can't pull your guns.  Its very easy to declaw an overtly violent character in Dogs...as long as you have other players who want to take a different path and are willing to stand up and make a conflict out of it.



Second thing to keep in mind...toss all traditional notions you have of making things difficult for the characters.  Toss em.  Toss em and burn em.  Your job as GM is not to make things hard for the characters in terms of likely hood of success.  Dogs will succeed at just about anything they have a mind to...even ones who aren't min maxed.  Between multiple Dogs working together, the normal high level of competence Dogs have even at the start, and the relatively quick acquisition of additional traits with Experience and fall out...be prepared for your Dogs to win.

As a rule, a Dog can virtually always win any conflict they are extremely committed to.  Your job as GM is not to change that by making it harder for them to win.  Your job as GM is to make it hard for them to decide what to commit to.  If a Dog is willing to escalate they can win just about everything.  Your job is to make the PLAYER not want to escalate by making sure the situations in the town aren't simply black and white "good vs. evil" caricatures.  If as Vincent says, you make sure players understand they are to create characters whose role is to make people's lives better...that becomes a very easy thing to do.


The boy is a sinner and ostracized by the town.  The Dogs can EASILY persuade the town to forgive him.  The Dogs can EASILY just kill him in righteous fury.  Your job is not to make either of those things hard.  Your job is to make it difficult for the players to choose between them by making the sinners as sympathetic (or even more so) than the saints.  Sinners aren't vile horrible dastards with "Chaotic Evil" printed right there in their stat block.  Sinners are good mostly wholesome people just struggling to get by as best they can and falling prey to human frailty (starting with pride...there's a reason why all towns in Dogs start with pride).  

One can easily sympathize with the father who doesn't want his only daughter to marry the town deadbeat.  One can easily sympathize with the daughter who's madly in love with the town dead beat.  One can easily sympathize with the town deadbeat who's never really been given a chance and has been unfairly judged.  One can easily sympathisize with the town steward who just wants the whole mess to go away and leave him in peace.  Its up to the Dogs to sort that all out.  Who really gives a rip if the character is munchkined to the nines?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2005, 03:07:12 PM »

I'm simple, so enlighten me:
1) How can you "crunch" in Dogs? Specifically, how can you analyze the system and come to a conclusion that it's a good idea to do this or that or the other thing? What are the goals one hopes to achieve, and what kind of character does he make to achieve those goals? An example would be nice, with discussion of how the example character is a problem.
2) Where in the book all this stuff about the physics of the game world comes from? I'm especially talking about the idea of a scientific connection between demonic activity and sins. Or am I misreading you? Because when I read the good book (DiV rules, that is), what I'm seeing is a description of an in-game theological system the characters subscribe in. So banning certain moralities, like the liberal one, doesn't seem to be supported by the setting. The religious dogma of the Faith agrees with you, though. Are you saying that the dogma is, like, scientific fact in the setting instead of a culture the characters live in?

As for the specific question of what to do when a Dog clearly, unabashedly rejects dogma as detailed in the setting: hunt him down and hang him high. Specifically, here's some of the things that might happen when a Dog decides that adultery is not a sin as a general principle, and enforces it again and again:
- Likeminded people start gathering around him, using him as a theological banner and proof of the position.
- The other PCs interfere and stop him.
- The elders of the faith send hit-men (other dogs, that is) for him, as he's clearly a cult leader.
- The demons (through human pawns) start getting friendly, because his activity is rending the Faithfull society apart.
- The consequences of his teachings are various, some positive, some not so.
- His relatives and loved ones come and try to dissuade him from his course.
- His fame spreads, so towns and Stewards may start to greet him with guns drawn.
So I don't see a problem. Lot's to work with here. Actually, you have more ways of proceeding than when the player toes the line. So I see no need to see this as any kind of problem. To the contrary: make sure to add on the pressure every time he makes this particular decision. See if the character is willing to die for his convinctions. That's what the GMing advice says to do with all characters, you know.

Vincent: I have no idea if you agree with me in my interpretations of the game (I haven't even played it yet!), but paradoxically it seems to me that lots of people are getting hung up on the paragraphs that tell the GM not to take moral stances. The very same GMs probably wouldn't do the lightning-bolt act anyway, but the advice in the book makes them also think that their NPCs and such shouldn't have an ethical position, either. This then leads to all kinds of funny ideas about how the characters can never face in-game challenges to their authority, because that'd be the GM asserting his stance! So it could be a good idea to reword all that advice to make it clear that it's talking about GM morals, not in-game character morals.

A companion problem is that frequently people seem to be somewhat unclear on what, exactly, is setting fact, what's rules, and what's just preferences or ideas. Physics of the game world, sociology of the Faithful civilisation, degrees of freedom given in the rules, supernatural events and theology get mixed in some pretty strange ways. So it might not be a bad idea to give us a breakdown of it all. For example, it seems to be pretty common to read the book as saying that the Faithful are somehow theologically right a priori, and that their religion is the correct one. Which is interesting, because what I'm reading is that this is what the Faithful themselves think (including the characters), but that the theological issue as a fact of the setting is left wide open. Which is right?
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« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2005, 12:23:52 AM »

So I'll just butt in whilst Vincent's asleep and give you my answers.
1) How can you "crunch" in Dogs? Specifically, how can you analyze the system and come to a conclusion that it's a good idea to do this or that or the other thing? What are the goals one hopes to achieve, and what kind of character does he make to achieve those goals? An example would be nice, with discussion of how the example character is a problem.
There isn't much crunch in Dogs. You can get big excellent equipment or you can get a crowd on your side. Apart from that there aren't many tactical choices before a conflict starts. Once you're in conflict, choices are mostly about not letting the other side reverse the blow, but even then I don't run conflicts as a game. It's not so much about whether you can win with what's on the table, but how much more you are willing to involve to get what you want. So escalation is the key tactical choice, and that usually means consequences.

Which is interesting, because what I'm reading is that this is what the Faithful themselves think (including the characters), but that the theological issue as a fact of the setting is left wide open. Which is right?
I don't really think it matters, given that PCs are all Faithful. So they have to act like it's the case that the Faith is correct. To a certain extent I see this as being similar to the supernatural dial. Demons might have physical existence, or they might be psychological and it's up to your group to choose one when they come to it.
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Darren Hill
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« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2005, 01:04:33 AM »

For example, it seems to be pretty common to read the book as saying that the Faithful are somehow theologically right a priori, and that their religion is the correct one. Which is interesting, because what I'm reading is that this is what the Faithful themselves think (including the characters), but that the theological issue as a fact of the setting is left wide open. Which is right?

Hi, Eero.
The book is littered with statements that strongly support the idea that the King Of Life is real and true.
In fact, this it seems to me is an important design element. If the King of Life is not the only true faith in the world, you open up the game to have theological differences between equally true Faiths and equally true doctrines within a Faith - which inevitably leads to moral relativism. You can't have that in Dogs - it undermines the PCs.

This is the most explicit thing the book has to say. It's in the player's section, but is not contradicted anywhere else - it is in fact reinforced in the rest of the book.
Quote from: The Good Book
The Faith is the only true religion in the world. All other religions are a) actively demonic, cults created by Faithful leaders fallen into sin; b) corrupt and decadent, like the majority religions of the East; or c) idle nonsense, like most of the religions in the wider world.

The book leaves open questions such as "what are demons," and what doctrines must be followed (since players can redefine them), but "The Faith is the One True Faith" seems to be a central, unchangeable, truth of the game.
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rrr
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« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2005, 02:14:43 AM »

For example, it seems to be pretty common to read the book as saying that the Faithful are somehow theologically right a priori, and that their religion is the correct one. Which is interesting, because what I'm reading is that this is what the Faithful themselves think (including the characters), but that the theological issue as a fact of the setting is left wide open. Which is right?

Hi, Eero.
The book is littered with statements that strongly support the idea that the King Of Life is real and true.
In fact, this it seems to me is an important design element. If the King of Life is not the only true faith in the world, you open up the game to have theological differences between equally true Faiths and equally true doctrines within a Faith - which inevitably leads to moral relativism. You can't have that in Dogs - it undermines the PCs.

This is the most explicit thing the book has to say. It's in the player's section, but is not contradicted anywhere else - it is in fact reinforced in the rest of the book.
Quote from: The Good Book
The Faith is the only true religion in the world. All other religions are a) actively demonic, cults created by Faithful leaders fallen into sin; b) corrupt and decadent, like the majority religions of the East; or c) idle nonsense, like most of the religions in the wider world.

The book leaves open questions such as "what are demons," and what doctrines must be followed (since players can redefine them), but "The Faith is the One True Faith" seems to be a central, unchangeable, truth of the game.

Hi Darren,

I don't really agree that's the case.  Infact, like Eero I'd actually interpreted those whole sections as being "beliefs of the Faith" rather than "concrete facts about the game world"  Infact the text prefacing that whole Setting section begins:

Quote from: Dogs In The Vineyard
I’m just making stuff up! I have an image in my head, a picture of what the characters look like, what the towns and landscapes look like, and my thoughts in this chapter follow from it.  As you play the game, you’ll form your own picture of its world. Make up details to fit your picture, don’t worry about sticking to mine.

That kind of suggests to me that Vincent is suggesting ideas, but not presenting fact.

Obviously as far as the Dogs beleive, the Faith is the only true religion; but I don't read the situation as explicitly in-game factual truth. 

I actually think it's quite important that this question can never be definitively answered by the GM or by the rules.  Rather, the issue has to be answered by the players and the GM through play.  DitV doesn't really have a canonical setting / cosmology / metaphysics.  All details are created in play, and each game may be different.  The section about the supernatural continuum is interesting on this count.  Maybe in one game the Dogs are super-powered through the strength of the Faith.  Maybe in another they're just normal folks, who by social and cultural consensus have assumed the position of God's Watchdogs.

Even if the game position is not to state "the Faith is actually true" it doesn't undermine the characters as it doesn't change the fact that as far as the Faithful are concerned the Dogs do have ultimate authority.

However to state that the Faith is factually true by the rules of the game, does in my opinion undermine the players.  Simply because they are then robbed of the ability to make the setting what they will, a key feature of DitV in my opinion.

I'm interested to hear Vincent's take on this question.

Drew
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: August 04, 2005, 05:25:26 AM »

My take is that the question's nonsensical, impossible to answer.

The game presents a procedure for you, the players, to follow. Follow it and you'll create stories of a certain type, and you'll (probably) have fun doing it.

The "physics" and "metaphysics" of the "game world" - I don't even know how to talk about such impossible beasties. There's no "game world," even in your game, just some fictional stuff and events. No "physics" or "metaphysics" underlie them, you create them out of your heads following the procedure I describe.

In the "game world" does "God" "really exist"? You might as well ask whether the clocks in "the world" of Salvador Dali's paintings still tell time. "Do their little gears and stuff work, when they're all floppy like that?" All I can do to answer is blink stupidly. The what?

-Vincent
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Rustin
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« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2005, 12:31:29 PM »

Thanks for the replies everyone.

I think Vincent is correct in as much as I really don't have to worry about these things.  Let the game develop as it develops and what results is the narrative, aesthetic "truth." End of story.

But I do still worry.  Perhaps worry isn't the right word. I'm intrigued. 

My primary concern: That players will try to break the system. Has been relieved. Wolfen and Valamir's comments in particular helped to highlight the mechanics of the game such that I really need not worry.

Eero, I agree with you.  As Valamir pointed out crunching in dogs is a bit of a wasted effort.

Your other point:
Quote
2) Where in the book all this stuff about the physics of the game world comes from? I'm especially talking about the idea of a scientific connection between demonic activity and sins. Or am I misreading you? Because when I read the good book (DiV rules, that is), what I'm seeing is a description of an in-game theological system the characters subscribe in. So banning certain moralities, like the liberal one, doesn't seem to be supported by the setting.

If sinful acts have an actual impact on the environment then it creates an entirely new way to approach what would otherwise be an arbitrary primitive ethic.  It is no longer dogma but practical useful advice. 

If adultery was actually, scientifically observably linked to crop failure, then there is a practical, ethical reason to have laws against adultery.  As GM if I'm author of these world events, then I'm also the author of the basis for ethics.  The Dogs have power only in as much as they observe consequences of the townsfolk's actions and try to curb that behavior to prevent real world harm.

If the GM eliminated this element to the game, then it loses a bit of its punch.  Dogs are the Hand of god-- thus the appeal is the moral quagmire that such primitive religions would create if they were "true."  The conflict and morality set in such a new environment is what drives the game, and makes the players squirm.  (at least, from my grasping of the rules…)  No rational person would argue that polygamy is moral, but in the world of the Dogs there are natural consequences if the practice is not carried out.  Thus, pragmatically speaking, depending on how horrible the consequences, it would be amoral not to enforce polygamy.

Which brings me to another point of the "in character" play vs. " the player" play.  In other rpgs I can play a back biting, evil character and have fun because its "not really me."  But in DitV, this distinction is a bit clouded.  Say I want to play a Dog with a slight case of Down Syndrome.   I'm just not sure it works-- as a player, when confronted with a moral choice I could say, well my character is so dumb she'll think that being violent will solve the problem.  That just sounds like a dissatisfying dodge away from the entire point of DitV.    Makes about as much sense as playing an accountant in D&D. 

I could give trait "a bit on the slow side 2d4" and continue to play an engaged ethical cruncher.. but once I use this trait to sidestep my role as player, I'm no longer playing DitV.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2005, 12:48:53 PM »

Well, I'll pitch in here.  It's a fun thread!

Demonic influence isn't the problem in a town.  The problem is human beings.  Demonic influence is why the Dogs can't shirk their duty to solve said problem.  They'll want to say "Wellll... yeah, sleeping with her while they aren't married... that's sinful.  But they're not hurting anybody, so we'll just let it slide and not take a stance on whether it's right or wrong."  But the Dogs can never say "This isn't hurting anyone, we don't have to make a choice."  If they don't make a choice then the entire town will die in the most horrific ways imaginable.

But that's not in-game consequence, that's just the big old stick that you whack dithering Dogs with to remind them that they want to be addressing these issues.

As long as they're making decisions about the real, insoluble, human conflicts then you are good to go.  So you've got a character so dumb that he takes everything at face value?  Dump him in Kettle Lake (which I mention only because I'm very familiar with it).  Does he kill Makepeace Smith?  That's fine.  Town's still totally screwed around its own problems, plus now they've got a dead body and mourning parents.  Kill Mariah Hawkins to balance the scales?  Doesn't matter.  Town's still totally screwed around its own problems, plus now with 100% more dead bodies and mourning families.

In fact, my litmus test for a good town is "How many people have to die before everyone left would be able to get along?"  If your answer is "Even if you killed everybody but one person in this town, the town would still have irreconcilable arguments going on," then you're in really good shape, and can stop worrying about what your players will choose to do, violence-wise.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2005, 12:18:54 AM »

Hi,

I think it's best to look at the resolution system of Dogs' as dealing with thematic issues, not any physics at all.  The best analogy I would use would be the often pointed out fact of Star Wars that the big guns and armor the Stormtroopers use don't seem to work very well at all.  Realistically?  Yeah, it's implausible.  Cinematically?  Works just fine.

The demons could be literal, or, they could simply be a measure of how much feces is flying at the fan in the town.  Likewise with God, and every other element.

As far as your game, you can play it any way you'd like to.  The example showing the uber cool Dog blocking bullets with his magic coat?  That's one way.  A completely realistic version where the Demons are really just a measure of people falling out of the social order + bad luck together is also valid.

And, arguably, a lot more interesting things crop up when you have no guarantees of the beliefs.

After all, you're shedding blood in the name of God...

Also, numerically, it makes the most sense to max on talking skills.  In the end, it gets you the most dice, because you can always escalate further, while guns skills don't allow you to "escalate down" to less forms.  Once the guns come out, you're pretty much stuck for dice.

Chris
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Nick Brooke
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« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2005, 12:47:52 PM »

If adultery was actually, scientifically observably linked to crop failure, then there is a practical, ethical reason to have laws against adultery.  As GM if I'm author of these world events, then I'm also the author of the basis for ethics.  The Dogs have power only in as much as they observe consequences of the townsfolk's actions and try to curb that behavior to prevent real world harm.

But it ain't science. The Demons (empowered by human frailty) do whatever screws towns up. That doesn't mean that adultery == crop failure. It could mean that the town where adultery runs wild has astonishing harvests, so everyone else for miles around will be tempted to fall from the Faith in the same way. (Of course, the Dogs know better!). Check out the Chimney Rock Branch -- the proud sinner's "punishment" is that the town he was chucked out of is starving, while he's living in a bountiful abundance, "blessed" by the Demons.

Cheers, Nick
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