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Author Topic: [DitV] Convention Play at MACE  (Read 7276 times)
Adam Dray
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« on: November 15, 2005, 10:40:30 AM »

I played in Eric Provost's Dogs in the Vineyard game at MACE in High Point, NC, this past Sunday. We had six (!!) players plus Eric, and none of the players had played the game before. One or two of the others had played in one or two indie games at convention; I heard Mountain Witch mentioned by one of the players. Mostly, they were experienced players of "traditional" RPGs.

I'd played in a handful of indie games the prior day -- those games were my first indie game experiences from the player side. I'd run My Life with Master a couple times and I have my own indie game project underway. This was the first time I'd played Dogs, though I'd read the rules several times and read many Actual Play reports.

Eric did a great job of explaining the rules and helping us through character creation. He had useful cheat sheets to summarize the stuff we needed to know to make characters, rulewise. He gave a verbal summary of the setting background. Eric walked us step by step through character creation and we filled everything out except Relationships, which he had us leave blank.

I played Socrates Smith, whom I described to the group as "big, dumb, and nice." The others had characters that captured my interest and imagination. One player, a young woman sitting across from me -- let's call her Maddy, though I know that isn't her real name, which escapes me -- described her character to the group in painful and lengthy detail, down to her character's eyes being hazel. Nonetheless, her concept as a nerdish bookworm Dog was fun.

Because Eric knew me and because I had passing familiarity with the rules, he started the game with my Initiation. I fumbled a bit with the dice but picked it up quickly. I was having a hard time remembering which traits I'd used in the conflict ("Did I learn not to punch my trainer when I was frustrated?").  Socrates muscled through his challenge and did learn some patience, and Eric moved onto the others.

Taking six new players through Dogs Initiation takes some time, especially when they don't get it. Maddy had a hard time with her Initiation. She had a good conflict ("Do I win the Territory archery contest?") and Eric did a good job of explaining temporal options (the moment of the release of the arrow, flashbacks to preparation for the contest, etc.). Maddy wanted to make this a non-physical challenge, probably because that's where all her dice were. I don't think she understood that she could escalate to physical later. She had a hard time framing her challenge in non-physical terms, and she framed a scene with no conflict at all. Eric explained that she had to present a situation that he could not ignore and she struggled more with that. When she got frustrated, Eric offered to help and she readily accepted Eric's framing.

I caught Eric cutting off final narration once or twice when the players were rambling a bit. Maddy had a tendency to focus in on fine details that no one else seemed to care about. She was in full glory as she described every step her character took down the hall to the library, bending over to find a book, etc. She looked a bit disappointed when Eric interrupted her (when she paused to breathe) as if she had finished and went to the next player. I know I was relieved that her turn was over.

It was probably 90 minutes from the game's start before we started the Town. I don't recall its name, which is written in my notebook at home. The information about the town came out fast. Within a short amount of time, Eric let the group know that there was nothing else to discover. He'd warned us before the game started that this wasn't a murder mystery but a game about judgment.

And the judgment did start. Most of the game hinged on two NPCs. Elder Honor had apparently convinced Brother Virgil to stab a dark-skinned man, Timone, while he slept because she believed Timone was a demon. Apparently Honor was there with Virgil for the murder, but Virgil held the dagger.

Everyone agreed that both should be punished. Everyone agreed Elder Honor should die. What surprised me most was that half the players wanted to make a decision via a formal vote. I'd given my character traits like "I ain't much with words, but I do know this..." and "I ain't ever seen a problem that can't be fixed with some hittin'." So I played up hating all the talking. Suddenly the group was in conflict. Three of us didn't feel this had to be voted on; after all, we each had the authority to judge as we saw fit. The other three wanted a vote. I said I voted with my feet. I was off to Honor's to take care of business.

The three "vote" players tried to talk me out of it. Eric jumped on things and made it an in-game conflict and we tried to resolve it using dice, three players against three players. Here the rules seemed to break down a bit. It was still non-physical and we rolled our dice. Their side got the highest two dice so they started raising. Each of the three voters raised (one at a time) and each of us three non-voters had to see. I felt like seeing the raises of three players in a row without a chance to raise myself was pretty painful and ate all my resources that I would have used on my own raise. Nonetheless, I'd saved 10, 8 and some change for my own turn. Eric started our side with the other two players. They raised and the other side saw those challenges.

Somewhere in all that non-physical challenge, Eric thought we'd resolved it by talking as players. I was disappointed I didn't get to use my dice and end the thing definitively. I complained a little. At stake was whether I got to walk away from the talking, and now I was stuck talking again.

Eric felt that the players didn't know what all the other players wanted out of the conflicts. We spent some time talking as players and making our goals clear. All of us wanted Honor dead. Most of them wanted her to die by drowning (Honor had been collecting rocks to drown a young girl who had been possessed by demons); I was just gonna shoot her but didn't really care as long as she died for her crimes.

I wanted Virgil to die alongside Honor. All of the other five thought Virgil should be sent to prison or exiled, not killed. I couldn't understand how the players could see Honor's crime as worse than Virgil, but that's what makes the game fascinating and fun.

Eventually, I had Socrates leave the group on his own to go take care of Virgil. Another Dog, Virgell (slightly confusing during the game, too), hatched a plan to drag Virgil into the street and shoot him with his shot gun, only he'd loaded it with rock salt. The plan was to trick me into thinking Virgil was dead, then they'd exile him or whatever. Eric framed the conflict as "Does Virgil actually die?" and we started playing it out.

It started non-physical. Dog Virgell had traits like "Everything is a poker game" and was well-suited to trickery. At first, I was believing it. I narrated that I had seen Virgell load the rock salt earlier and "I ain't much with words, but I do know" that rock salt ain't gonna kill Virgil. When he tried to trick me further, I escalated to physical and punched him and brought in a boatload more dice. The scene ended with me knocking Virgell cold (lots of fallout left him needing medical attention). I loaded Virgell's shotgun with shells and finished murderer-Virgil right there. I slung Dog Virgell over my shoulder and carried him back to the rest of the group, who were dealing with Honor. On arrival: "I done took care of BOTH of the Virgils."

The other Dogs were horrified. In their eyes, without majority vote of the group, what I did was murder, not justice. Fascinating! They quickly decided -- without a vote, I must add -- that I was a murderer and prepared to take me down. Socrates asked them if the three of them agreed that I didn't have the authority to decide that on my own, and they agreed. I accused them of False Prophecy and attacked their leader with my fists and my Big, Excellent Boots a-Kickin'. I knew I had no chance, but I was having a blast. Three of them took down poor Virgil. I took like 8d10 fallout and rolled at least two 10's and died. We ended there.

I had pushed the conflict pretty hard when I thought the group would spend the entire game session bickering and talking and not rolling dice. I was a concrete form of the argument. It wasn't "what should we do?" but "should we shoot Socrates or go along with him and shoot Virgil?" Eric told me later that he thought I'd saved the last half of the game.

In summary, I think the game was a blast. I'm not convinced Dogs works well for 3x3 conflict but maybe we played it wrong. Running six players through Initiations takes a long time and probably isn't a good idea for a con game, though we did finish, albeit 60-90 minutes past the end of our 4-hour slot. What one person thinks is a clear cut moral decision might be the lonely opinion in a dusty western town. And it might be worth dying for.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2005, 11:04:31 AM »

I felt a pang of sympathy for Eric when I looked over and realized that he had six players to amuse and edify.  It sounds like you were a big help, Adam!

What we should have done is dragged Lisa out of my Roach game and run two games of Dogs.  Hindsight.  I already apologized to him for our insane, Roach-fuelled cacophony.

Adam, did you see behaviors or techniques the "new to Dogs" players were exhibiting that caused the trouble?  If so, what could you and/or Eric have done to address them? 
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2005, 11:46:25 AM »

I'm thinking back over my notes. I didn't write that much metagame stuff. I do remember that when the party got all squidgy about splitting up, Eric made a big deal about it and said that, unlike in other games, it wasn't bad in Dogs for the party to split up. I raised my eyebrow at the time because we had SIX FREAKING PLAYERS. ;)

Well, we split up into three groups of two Dogs each. My character Socrates and another Dog, Virgell, ran off to the quarry to investigate the strange writing on the mountain wall we'd been told about. That turned out to present no new information of value (yeah, there are hieroglyphics of some sort here, and it is of demonic origin). No conflict. Then Eric turned to another pair of Dogs and they got to chase Virgil and his grandfather around the woods and have a cool conflict. Then Eric took the last pair of Dogs through a cool encounter with Elder Phineas and his unintentional false priesthood. I think Virgell's player and I were champing at the bit to roll some dice. ;) I do remember writing, "Splitting up the party DOES suck!" Things got better after that, though.

"Maddy" definitely had a lot of gamer baggage. Without help, she was unable to convey her preferences in terms of a conflict. She gloried in agonizing over the details of her character's appearance and mannerisms without bringing them into conflict. I think Eric did a good job helping her through that by suggesting example conflicts but I don't know what to tell a Dogs player who tells you her character's eyes are hazel, especially at a con. She obviously cared a lot about those things. I don't think anyone else did.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2005, 01:18:52 PM »

That's rough.

I bet she didn't write "I have excellent, big hazel eyes 2d8" on her character sheet, either - I bet she wrote stuff she didn't care about.

-Vincent
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2005, 01:30:02 PM »

Bingo.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Eric Provost
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2005, 03:48:22 PM »

Thanks for getting this one started Adam.  I've got lots of acual play to write up from the con and I had to go to work for a two-day trip the morning after I got back.

Did splitting up really suck that much?  The three scenes seemed to slide right by, time wise, but that could have been just my perspective as the GM and all.  For the record, when I said that splitting up was a viable option, I really meant that it wasn't a guarantee of PC death... like it usually seems to be in D&D.  If we'd had three or four Dogs instead of six I don't think that the splitting up thing would have been nearly an issue.

Timewise we took right about two hours to create characters and finish initiations.  I'd been keeping an eye on my watch throughout the session.  We ended play about an hour past our original slot.  Luckily there were a couple cancelations in that room that day so we didn't have to leave at the appointed time.

I think the voting thing was totally gamer baggage.  I think that those three players were stuck in the "party" frame of mind where nothing could be done until everyone agreed that it had to be done.  The potential coolness of Dog vs. Dog dissent hadn't settled on them.  That, combined with an apparent inability for a few of the players to agree on anything at that point, was threatening to blow the whole game apart.  It took maybe half an hour of interrogation for me to get everyone at the table to tell me what they, not their character, wanted to happen next.  Once we got to the bottom of that, which was the most rotten tooth to pull, I started agressively framing up the final few scenes.  We were already past our allotted time at that point, so I was really pushing for some action.  Which, thanks to Adam, we got.

Six players.  Whew.  Yeah, six is no good.  Which I knew already, but it kinda snuck up on me.  I was a bit nervous all weekend that I wouldn't get enough players to support one session or another, so being over-full never even occurred to me.  At first I had five players sit down for the Sunday session.  Two of which had just randomly signed up for my Mountain Witch game on Saturday and were so psyched for it that they decided to show for DitV.  Two others were their female-gaming counter-parts.  One, of course, was Adam.  And once we got started the sixth person just kinda sat down at the table without a word.  "Um... did you want to play?"  "Yeah, sure."  Yikes. 

Next time I'm drawing the line tightly at four.

-Eric

p.s.  It was The First Sign of True Valley if you're interested in the town.  Also there's this earlier play report where I ran the same town for my brother and his gf.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2005, 07:49:16 AM »

Did splitting up really suck that much?  The three scenes seemed to slide right by, time wise, but that could have been just my perspective as the GM and all.  For the record, when I said that splitting up was a viable option, I really meant that it wasn't a guarantee of PC death... like it usually seems to be in D&D.  If we'd had three or four Dogs instead of six I don't think that the splitting up thing would have been nearly an issue.

Well, given that we had only one Initiation scene each in the first two hours of play, I was eager to roll some dice in a meaningful conflict. You gave us a "say yes" scene. I didn't get to make any meaningful choices. You could have just given us the information from the quarry quickly and moved us to the next conflict.

Quote
I think the voting thing was totally gamer baggage.  I think that those three players were stuck in the "party" frame of mind where nothing could be done until everyone agreed that it had to be done.

I agree. With six players, I think there's a greater likelihood of party dissent. The group may have sensed that and tried to head it off at the pass with a voting structure. I haven't played Dogs before so I don't know how common voting is, but I suspect a lot of Dogs get shot by other Dogs in most games. ;)

Quote
Six players.  Whew.  Yeah, six is no good.  Which I knew already, but it kinda snuck up on me.  I was a bit nervous all weekend that I wouldn't get enough players to support one session or another, so being over-full never even occurred to me.  At first I had five players sit down for the Sunday session.  Two of which had just randomly signed up for my Mountain Witch game on Saturday and were so psyched for it that they decided to show for DitV.  Two others were their female-gaming counter-parts.  One, of course, was Adam.  And once we got started the sixth person just kinda sat down at the table without a word.  "Um... did you want to play?"  "Yeah, sure."  Yikes. 

(Emphasis added.) For the record, I'm not a female. ;) I also wouldn't classify the two women as the female gaming counterparts to the men. They were gamers in their own right, baggage and all.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
beingfrank
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« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2005, 12:38:15 AM »

That's rough.

I bet she didn't write "I have excellent, big hazel eyes 2d8" on her character sheet, either - I bet she wrote stuff she didn't care about.

I like that.  But I'd probably add 'and I keep them in a little tin' or something.  Though that's not quite the right flavour for DitV.

What I'd love to hear, and I realise it's unlikely to happen, is what some of those other players thought of it all and how they saw what went on.
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Brian Newman
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« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2005, 09:29:15 AM »

I'm still new to Dogs, but it seems to me like the central conflict might not have been framed as productively as it could have been framed.

Instead of "Do I walk away from the discussion?", it might have gone better as something more like "Do we kill Honor?", and have "I walk away" be a See, Raise, Take the Blow, or Give as appropriate.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2005, 09:38:50 AM »

Those are all good ideas Brian, and certainly would have made for better conflicts.

Problem was, the real world conflict was "Do I get all six of these players into some interesting play?" and my opponent was their baggage.  Their baggage had more dice. 

But I was willing to take more fallout.

-Eric
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Brian Newman
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« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2005, 10:25:17 AM »

Oh, fair enough.  That was more a comment for my own benefit and understanding.  And I think you should be glad that they de-escalated from Mystery Solving (with Fallout that can be deadly for a session) to Inter-Party Conflict, where you can just sit back and Take the Blow all day.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2005, 12:35:18 PM »

We had discussed the issues over and over and the other players wanted to talk until they had broken me down and made me change my mind, without rolling any dice. I had made up my mind and wanted to take action. Virgil was a-gonna die.

So I had my character, Socrates, walk away from the discussion to shoot Virgil. That's how it ended up getting framed into "Can we keep Socrates from walking away from the discussion?" conflict.

I would have been fine with making it a "Does Virgil die?" conflict, too. We could have started with talking and convincing and I'd have used my (Big, Excellent) boots 2d8 to Walk Away (escalate to physical?) and then their words wouldn't have been very useful. They could-a shot me in the back, if they wanted, but dammit, Virgil was a-gonna die. ;)
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
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