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[DitV]First try and observations about different gaming goals

Started by JasperN., August 01, 2006, 10:22:46 AM

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So we got together yesterday to play Dogs for the first time. Players were me, Lukas (my partner) and Niklas (a friend of ours). We´ve known each other for years and have been playing for some time together, too, starting with "The Dark Eye", then moving on to Unknown Armies. We tried some PtA, which Lukas and Niklas didn´t like that much ("too little actual role - playing", Lukas told me, "though I like the card mechanics" added Niklas). Lukas and I also played Breaking the Ice, which he liked a lot ("uh, maybe those forgy games aren´t that bad, after all"). Both of them have never tried RPGs outside our group and aren´t terribly interested in the hobby in a geeky way - they like to socialize and play a game, any game, I guess, though they concentrate and get into it whenever we game, and actively ask me to GM or start a new game. I, for one, have tried and played a variety of rpgs and have even become a translator for the German UA edition, so I´m the professional, the natural GM, the guy who brings on the new games and introduces them to the group. Yes, I feel that´s a burden. 

In order to tell you about our DitV game and what was great about it, I´ll have to introduce you to my group, so please bear with me for a moment.

I have the impression that Lukas likes to do a lot of what he calls "real role -playing", i.e. getting in character, acting, and acting out behaviors and believes different from those of his real personality. He prefers rules "no to interfere" with that, though he seems to be o.k. with rules bringing about or framing situations for him to act upon, such as stress checks in UA or some of the BtI mechanics. 

Niklas likes strategizing, delving into his resources and playing close situations - fights, car chases, interrogations and such. He loves clear goals and strong, blunt opposition and obstacles. Socially, he sort of bears with Lukas´acting, because, well, we´re all friends, Lukas does a great job, it´s fun to watch him, and sometimes, if in a good mood, he plays along and even seems to enjoy it, but my impression is that he likes getting his dice out and maybe coming up with a cool one -liner ("Prepare to die", "Ve haf means to make you talk...") a lot better.

I would like to see more thematic play happen. It did happen, now and then, in our UA game, but I´d really, really like some mechanics to foster that and, what´s even more important, I´d like everyone to appreciate and enjoy those moments. I want conscious thematic play to happen.

Now, I guess it´s pretty clear that our game eventually had to break, right?  Any two of us got along just fine, more or less: Niklas let Lukas have some of that acting, and Lukas was happy to roll some mean ol´dice, once he got "his guy" to a point where that would make sense. Neither of them could fathom what the heck I was all about with  that "thematic" stuff and what in heaven was wrong for me with the way the game ran. I could get into an acting contest with Lukas (while Niklas was rolling another cigarette) or throw dice with Niklas (while having to keep some acting up for Lukas - which is difficult, you know), and of course feeling that I was catering to their needs but got very little out of the game in terms of my thematic preferences.

I tried to adress these problems, we tried some changes to the game (stronger scene framing, some player empowerment, some meta - game currency,  a more explicit social contract, heck, just some talking about what everybody wants out of our gaming). Dind´t work too well. I got the feeling that the other two tried to be nice and help me out, but, come on, why did they have to talk about gaming such an awful lot all of a sudden? 'Why not, you know, just The problem being, of course, that "just gaming" was a lot of work for ME. After a while, we kind of agreed to disagree and switched to board games. Fine.

Now, along comes Dogs. It was a blast. I had town creation rules, NPC creation rules, and nothing to do besides making my players lives more miserable in a pleasant way and playing my resources to the hilt. Which I did. This pleased Niklas greatly. After the game, he told me "In all the games we played with you as a GM, you´ve never been as strong, I think. For the first time, I felt like we could actually lose. Not because you fudged some dice, or wanted us to lose, but because it just happened that way." I could tell by the way he looked that this was a good thing. Which, incidentally, is the way I  feel about it, too.

Lukas got all crazy with the setting and came up with a gun -slingin´, horse - whispering, kind of young - Robert - Redford dog. The game did a great job of tieing his acting skills in with the dice: He would, of course, say the cool things and all that, but also think about which dice to use and when. He especially found ways to use his traits and relationships in character, which got him more dice. Getting more aspects of your character into play = more dice = more fun. Excellent. 

And there is no way for thematic play NOT to happen in dogs. Which delighted me. You don´t have to try very hard. Prepare the town, say yes or roll dice, say yes or roll dice, and it´s all good.

One last thing I´d like to relate is how we dealt with the morals of the game. Niklas is a strong atheist/rationalist, who actively does not LIKE the church as an organization. Lukas has more of a spiritual streak, and some positive relations to Christians he knows, but he´s not a member of any church either. I think I can best be described as a pragmatist/humanist or something of that sort - thus, The Faith seems pretty strange to mee, too.

Now, the two of them digged the "western" setting, but all that religious stuff was sort of beyond them. Niklas even resisted that aspect a bit, telling the Steward in town about how "biology plays its part" between husband and wife. But after the first few conflicts, when they´d safely marked the school teacher as a sinner, who spread false doctrine, they sort of woke up.  There were two steps in that process.

Niklas turns to me and says, sort of reluctantly: "Sorry, but  tell me about this game...I mean, what she´s teaching...that´s bad, right? It´s a sin! I would know that, right? And I would with it?".

Me: "Absolutely."

Niklas: "Ahhhhh...."

(a little later)

Niklas (to Lukas): "Hm. I´m thinking. Do you think we should...punish her?"
Lukas (in character): "Yes! Yes! In public!"
Niklas: "Could we even...flog her? In public?"
Lukas (ponders, then): "You know what? I think we could even HANG her!"
Niklas: "I like this. Finally a game where I KNOW what´s right and what´s wrong!"

That made me feel a little uneasy. I mean, were they using their characters as an excuse for not making decisions or what? But after - game talk included a lot of discussion about this point, so I guess it´s gonna work out fine. "Wait...what if we found out she´s spreading false doctrine about men and women just because her hausband is abusing her? What if he habitually rapes her? Or lets his brother have her? What would we do then?" - things like that. Is Dogs a lot like Kill Puppies in that regard? Like, you´re pushing and pushing the limits of what is right until you cannot but make a decision as a player?

Anyway, great game, fun was had by all, we´re gonna do it again. I´ll keep you posted.


I think it's an illusion to think the moral decisions of the characters are not supported by the players. As a GM, you should follow up the discussion of the players to build the next town, which will put them into a harder spot - like, really have someone spread false doctrine because of an abusive father/brother relationship.

Also, it's always right to start dogs with a town that is clear to see for the beginning players, and then tighten the screws of the moral ambuguity inherent in any belief system. It's OK (if not a given) to do this in a way that the dogs start fighting among themselves about what's right or wrong.
I would love to see your town writeup.


Ron Edwards


Tell Lukas hello for me, Jasper. I somehow thought, when we met, that I'd like to role-play with him and the rest of your group, and this post confirms it.

I could be wrong, but I think the reaction "we can do it because it's right" may only be a stage, or transition, to the focus on personal-responsibility which is central to Dogs in the Vineyard. As long as you keep focusing on consequences, keep playing the NPCs consistently with their histories and their changes of heart (because you can do that as a Dogs GM), then then I think it will work out well.

Best, Ron


Ron and Harald,

you are both right about the current attitude being a stage, of course. And I guess even the players realize that, too, and can see the potential for conflict coming along. I told the players about how the rules suggest questioning the decisions made by the Dogs in one town should be questioned in another, like "And this? Still o.k. with you? And this? And this? Do you still feel the same way about this?".

I could also see some lightbulbs going on as regards to scene framing, by the way. When the players arrived at the town, I hit them with some potential conflicts right away and even had an NPC come up to them to ask for help. They decided that, being Dogs, they would not respond to some mere commoner´s request right away, and told him they´d deal with this "tomorrow". Instead, they went to dine with the Steward and  sort of fell into a ´detective plot´kind of strategy,  getting into in-character dialogue and fishing for hints about what was going on. Which, eventually, turned into a conflict with his wife, so it turned out fine. Please note that I´m not blaming them, of course, after all, that´s how it´s supposed to go in most games...and in most games we´ve played, for that matter.

But after the game, Niklas observed that  "when we told that guy, we´d care about that tomorrow, I guess that was our ´Dark Eye´ way of playing. It seems like that´s not necessary here" (his exact words), which kind of blew me away, actually.   

Frank T

Awesome! Next time I come to Berlin, I want to play with you guys.

- Frank


I didn't want to criticize your players or you, just handing out general advice that is already in the book (redundancy is good). Also, the game sounds awesome!, just as Frank said.



no bad feelings here. I appreciate your comments. You confirmed what we were feeling already, so that´s a good thing.

Ron and Frank,

well, meet us in November, then :).