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Just a cool Dogs scene

Started by Adam Dray, August 27, 2006, 10:17:27 PM

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Adam Dray

At Games on Demand at GenCon this year, Carl Rigney runs Dogs in the Vineyard for me, Piers, Clyde, and Nathan.  Forgive me if I have the names wrong; GenCon was a blur and I find myself mixing up games I was in.

I play Balthazar, a young (14) but smart kid ("Encyclopedic knowledge 2d10") who liked to talk ("I get what I want 2d6") rather than shoot ("I hate guns 1d4"). He had a rough upbringing ("I killed my own demon-possessed sister 3d4").

In Spanish Fork, we meet a girl, Alice, and I take a relationship to her, "Alice reminds me of my sister 3d6."

After dealing with an abusive father and some young girls (including Alice) who were inadvertently creating a false priesthood, we gather the entire town together and perform a giant ritual to cleanse them of demons. We are about to win but most of us are out of dice and traits and the GM has two dice left, 8+7.

He raises, "Two days after this is all over, little Alice comes into the room where you all sleep and shoots you in the head, killing you."  I don't have the dice or traits to see it. I have to take the blow or give. Tim and Clyde are in a similar position as me.

Nathan immediately gives. Essentially, he's saying, "Fuck the town. It's not worth it."

Now, Piers still has some traits left. He rolls well. He can see the raise and thus not give up the town. Clyde and I could now give and Piers could handle everything. But is that who my character is? Does he give up on the town because a little girl might shoot him in the head later? No. So I take the blow with 5 dice. 5d10 fallout.

So does Clyde. 4d10 fallout plus the boatload he'd already taken. Clyde and I agree, this is who we are. We could "game the system" and still accomplish our goal of clearing the town of sin but at what cost? The "time trick" makes it a bit complicated. There's some stance-shifting in my head. What would Balthazar do? What would I do? What should I do as a player? What makes the best story? What do I want really want to say about this?

Piers' character saves the town, but a few days later, Alice comes in and shoots me and Clyde in the head. The other two dogs shoot Alice dead but Balthazar doesn't know that.

Clyde rolls fallout and gets two 10's and his character dies instantly. I roll 9+10. I'm mortally wounded. The GM starts to do a healing conflict. I wave him off. "I'm going to die here," I tell the players. The GM and I confer privately a bit because I want to work out the scene details with them and do a bit of GMing on my own, sorta.

Balthazar pulls the other Dogs around his body. He's happy and smiling. "We did a good thing. We saved the town, right?" They nod.

"And we saved Alice, right?"  I want them to decide whether or not to tell a dying boy the harsh truth on his death bed.

They decide not to tell me anything. Piers' character tells me, "You'll have to ask the King of Life that yourself when you see him."

That was a great game.
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Clyde L. Rhoer

I forgive you Adam. *grins* I didn't play Dogs at Gen Con.

I remember you and Piers talking about this game later at the discussion at the Embassy suites. Even though it seems legal, I think the situation with the girl killing everyone would bother me as I don't like the idea of someone essentially establishing the results of a new scene. What would happen if the situation was a bit different and one of you could have turned the blow? Would you then be spending a lot of energy going back and forth about a scene that hasn't happened yet? Does that help or lessen the strength of the scene you are already in? It seems similar to our discussion of making sure you establish where in the IIEE your stake setting takes place.  Fortunately you were all down for that conclusion of the second scene so there wasn't a conflict because of it.
Theory from the Closet , A Netcast/Podcast about RPG theory and design., Clyde's personal blog.

Adam Dray

Damn. Then who was that other player? Anyway...

It just seemed like a time trick to me and it seemed totally fair in play. If we didn't like it, we could have said something to Carl. To me, it wasn't establishing the results of new scene. It was a time trick with escalation to guns and subsequent d10 fallout as a result.

If I could have reversed the blow, I'd have narrated something like, "In the town square, I see her glaring at me and I force the demon out of her by calling her by name and demanding she be set free!" It can totally be brought back into present time. Even so, that's not necessary. I could narrate, "She's thinking about coming into my room and shooting me in the head with her pistol but she remembers what I said to her in the town square, feels guilty, and the last hold of possession slips through the demon's figurative fingers and she is free. She drops the pistol, breaks down, and cries. I hear her and come outside and hug her."

I don't think it affects the strength of the scene one way or another. It's all about framing and narration. How do you think it might affect the strength?

Yeah, you can see why I brought up this scene at Ron's stakes talk.
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Ron Edwards

Hi Adam,

The time/locale shift is a red herring. Time-tricks and skips across the locale aren't the issue I was bringing up.

The issue I was bringing up concerned pre-narration of conflict resolution outcomes based on overall success or failure. You were talking about a subroutine of the system, which is built to generate side-effects. That's what Raises and Sees and Taking the Blow do in Dogs conflict.

A simple example ...

Jeb: I fan my hammer and shoot the skunk down. (establishing conflict of interest)

Obadiah (the target): I shoot that stupid fuck right back.

(or "too," or "first," basically they're shooting at each other)

During the course of the resolution, Obadiah Takes a Blow by having a bullet plow into his thigh.

You know as well as I do that this event has nothing to do with resolving the stated conflict of interest. That will be determined by playing the system out to the fullest, either when one of them Gives (automatically dying), or when one of them is run out of dice to the bitter end, with the potential Fallout of going to the dying-rules.

Now, for whatever reason, that Take the Blow might be stated as occurring ten years in the future or ten miles over to the southwest. Granted, that's not very common; the thigh wound is more like Taking the Blow in the games I typically play. But I've also used time-shifts and locale-shifts as side-effects, in all sorts of games. No big deal, as Vincent pointed out at the time. I was distracted by the point I was trying to make and failed to focus your attention on the issue at hand, which I'm attempting to correct in this post.

The issue at hand is whether Obadiah gets shot down and/or whether Jeb gets shot down. That's the conflict of interest, the over-routine, or whatever computer programmers call it, of which Taking the Blow (and so on) is just a subroutine.

What I'm saying is this: once the basic conflict of interest is established, there is no need to establish more and different effects on the SIS prior to rolling, as possible outcomes of it. In a game like Dust Devils, Trollbabe, Universalis, Nine Worlds, or PTA, for example, that is why a narrator is designated as part of the system - assigning the authority for someone to state such outcomes after they see how the immediate conflict turned out.

Therefor, what one does not see in Dogs play is this:

Jeb: I'm shooting him!

Obadiah: I'm shooting him back!

Jeb: And if I win, Betty Sue marries me!

Obadiah: Oh yeah? Well if I win, the town well gets mysteriously poisoned!

... et cetera.

That's what I'm objecting to: the escalation of what "will happen if," prior to the initiation of the resolution system, beyond the point when that system has been invoked into use. That's what some people are calling "stakes," and I call it an abomination - as far as I can tel, it's a non-fun marriage of Polaris ("but only if") and PTA. A lot of people have mis-read The Shadow of Yesterday as advocating this technique (or pseudo-technique), and Clinton very clearly disavowed this reading at that conversation. I was surprised during a recent Sorcerer game when I said, "He's shooting at you! What do you do?" and the player asked, "So what are the stakes?" Urh? Stakes? He's shooting at you, bozo. State your action and pick up the dice. This isn't fucking competitive story-hour.

We're all familiar with the tendency of players and GM to argue after a dice roll, especially when it involves what a character would have seen or done. This tends not to happen with games developed with/among/near to Forge-type discourse. However, what I'm describing here is the same beast appearing in a new position, before the dice roll. It's not negotiation; it's not establishing stakes. It's just ass.

The key is to remember: once a conflict of interest has been established among characters, then friggin' well move into the conflict resolution mechanics. Don't screw around with pre-narrating potential stuff-to-happen beyond the scope of what that game is built to do, and beyond the scope of what that conflict of interest is about. (carry is very very interesting in this regard, because it does involve some comparative pre-narration. That will merit some special attention in actual play, which I have not done enough to comment on yet.)

Now, was your example illustrating this problem? No, it was not. The event you accepted by Seeing the Raise did not itself resolve whether you or the other guy won or lost the conflict, nor did it violate the basic rules of Dogs in terms of the procedures of wining/losing that conflict. You guys had established the basic conflict of casting out the demons, and that's what was resolved - you stuck it out, rolled some more dice, and won that conflict. Alice shooting you was a subroutine played out by the rules. The "it happens later" part is an interesting twist but only a twist, not an issue of what I'm describing at all. For example, the GM could have stated some other thing that happened right there (say, a townsperson has a heart attack from all the stress, comes to mind), and you could have Seen that Raise (OK, they do, urk), and gone on to win the conflict. No difference, except that you guys would have had to describe your Fallout differently.

I'm pretty sure you did not see the diagram I drew as that conversation began. I drew out all the versions of conflict resolution as we know them across many games and double-checked them with everyone listening at the time.

When speaking to as many people as I was that evening, with people coming and going, it is very difficult to see where questions are coming from and why they're being asked. In that case, I didn't understand quickly enough why your question looked like an objection but actually wasn't.

It's because you were talking about a subroutine. I was talking about the resolution of the basic, stated crisis which called for the use of the resolution system in the first place. So any locale-shifts or time-shifts about that subroutine are a side issue to my point.

Adam, does that make more sense? My apologies for not being sufficiently with-it to address your question well at the time.

Best, Ron

Clinton R. Nixon

Ron asked me to take a look at what he said about TSOY here, but first: the text of Dogs in the Vineyard isn't as clear as I've seen Vincent be later, but you can't kill someone as a raise. You can, as the book says, state "what your character does" (57, 2nd printing). Killing someone only happens in fallout. But, whatever! You guys had fun.

Ok! Stakes! I use the word six times in The Shadow of Yesterday, and my use of it comes from my experiences in, specifically, Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard. On page 30, I say the really important thing: "the player states the character's intention and the Story Guide sets the stakes." Later, I express the limits of that, addressed to the Story Guide: "Feel free to set nasty stakes for crazy attempts your players will want to make. There's nothing wrong with saying 'If you lose this ability check writing a song for the duke, you'll take level 5 harm in Instinct and be banned from the kingdom.'"

How is that not what we'll call "bad stakes"? It's not what you get if you lose, like a consolation prize, which is how I see this technique used all the time. It's a warning from Story Guide to player: "Hey, if you try this and screw up, this will be a consequence." The player doesn't get to say anything else, like, "Ok, but if I win, the duke's wife comes down and washes my feet."

This is the concept behind two rules. The first is that in normal conflict, success is not determined by the difference between two rolls, but by the success of the higher roll. That roll wins, but the other one is explicitly taken into consideration. There's a difference between, "Hey, I swing my sword, and I roll an Amazing, and you roll a Good," and "Hey, I swing my sword, and I roll an Amazing, and you roll a Great." The outcome of the conflict will be different, as the defender lost, but in a great way the second time. The other rule, which will be obvious, is Bringing Down the Pain, where you might start with the intention of stabbing someone in the ear, and end with the intention of kissing them.

And that last word - intention - is what the real deal is with this and Dogs, and the upcoming In a Wicked Age, and Sorcerer. There aren't "stakes." There's intention: "I intend to shoot you." "Well, then I intend to run the heck away." What really happens isn't bound by those two options, though, which, you know, ties this back to what I thought was a throw-away comment about that character killing your character in the Dogs game. Her intent was to kill you. The result - that's for the resolution system (fallout) to find out.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Clyde L. Rhoer

Adam: If you are going back and forth on some future scene, then you aren't examining the scene you are in. This maybe a limitation on my part but that seems to de-focus on the present scene. I think Clinton stated much better than I the other part that was bothering me. Death is in Fallout.

Topic at hand: I want to try restating things to make sure I'm understanding. What's being said is that presently many people are confusing narration with declaring intention. Folks are essentially narrating the results, when narration is determined after contact with the system. This pre-narration is considered bogus. So I stab you in the ear and you die, should be more properly... I'm trying to stab you in the ear, or I'm trying to kill you, if that's the intent. Then after the dice hit the table, if you win you can narrate the death, or ear stabbing, if the system presents that as a legitimate narration option. Am I close or far off on this?
Theory from the Closet , A Netcast/Podcast about RPG theory and design., Clyde's personal blog.

Ron Edwards

You're pretty close, Clyde! As close as necessary for 90% of the hassles that arise from all this confusion.

Adam, I don't want to jack your thread worse than I already have. My impression is that you wanted to discuss the stakes-stuff more, and that this thread is an appropriate spot for it. Let me know if that impression is correct.

If it is, then I can try to post that diagram, which is easy and not intended to be some kind of mind-wrencher heavy-concept thing. If I can do that, then the other 10% lurking around the corners in Clyde's post can be addressed.

Also, thanks Clinton!

Best, Ron

Frank T

So... urm... if you had won the stakes, and driven the demons out right there and then, why did the little girl shoot you in the head two days later? Am I the only one to whom this doesn't make sense?

- Frank

Adam Dray


The thread isn't jacked. I had hoped to get to this stakes stuff, too, but I wanted to get that scene out of my head and into words so I could talk about how cool I thought it was. Post the diagram and we can talk about that here.

Yes, I had missed the first half hour or so of your discussion, including the diagram. We sorted that out eventually and you returned to the diagram for my sake. This thread clears up my last questions about your premise.

To restate what I think you're saying, in my Dogs game, we didn't negotiate bizarre stakes prior to getting dirty with the resolution mechanics; the weird little fact of Alice shooting us in our beds was a consequence of the resolution mechanics and, in fact, was handled through the typical Fallout rules that we'd have used if Alice had pulled the gun out right there in the town square and shot us in the head in front of her parents and all creation. The time trick was just a bit of dramatic dressing.

The piece I didn't have before this thread was that you were saying that negotiating bizarre stakes that are, at best, better handled through a follow-up conflict or, at worst, totally unrelated to the current conflict -- and doing so before engaging the resolution system -- is bogus.

My question wasn't an objection as much as a clarification. I wanted to understand what had happened in terms of your framework. Were you saying that was bogus or not? The answer is not: The stakes were saving the town and Alice shooting us happened within the terms of the resolution system, not as a prenegotiated add-on to the stakes.

By the way, we programmer types often refer to the "over-routine" as the "caller."


I consider the time trick to be part of the scene we were in. There were no new stakes. We handled this naturally through the Raise-See mechanics.

Again, as I said to Ron, this was no different than Alice shooting us in front of everyone right then, in the town square. Carl just made it more dramatic with the time trick that had her doing it in the dark, days after, while we slept in our beds thinking we'd fixed everything.


We didn't feel it bent the fiction to do this.  We would have left the town square thinking we'd cleaned the town (and we had, but the effect would not complete for a few days because we players accepted a new condition, that Alice would not be cured for a few days so she could shoot us in the head). Presumably, once Alice did this, the demons would be finally exorcized and the town would be 100% cured. In fact, the other two dogs killed Alice dead and that was that.

If we'd had a problem with this, we could have made that clear to Carl, and I'm sure he'd have changed his Raise.
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Adam, thanks!! Without actual play to work with, this whole follow-up to the stakes-talk would have sucked and been an internet dust-up with all kinds of bad coming out of it. So you have totally laid the foundation for it to be constructive.

I'd like to make sure I understand the use of the See and Raise, as well as Frank. I totally agree with you that it's the same as if the girl shot you right there in the conflict itself. Basically, it's really a way of talking about how Fallout might be described later. Let's say you guys rolled all 1's for Fallout, hence generating no chance of dying from it. That would mean she did sneak in and shoot you in the head, but you aren't really in any danger, its just more minor Fallout. And on reflection, that's what all Sees/Raises do. (This also clarifies a little bit of what Clinton was objecting to, because the GM saying "she shoots you in the head" doesn't mean "you die" unless the Fallout is big enough to entail that possibility.)

I'll work on the diagram thing today. Again, it's not hard and is intended to be an easy jumping-off point for the real issue.

Best, Ron

P.S. I've also posted on a current Story Games thread, Big GenCon stakes discussion, in hopes of using that friendly not-me-moderated environment for a Q&A about the whole issue.

Adam Dray

Yeah, if we'd rolled all 1's in Fallout, she'd have nicked us or something.

I'll go read the Story Games thread. Fantastic!
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Clyde L. Rhoer

Hey Adam,

Just want to give this one more try. I may not be communicating effectively. I don't think anything about your game was wrong. I'm basically saying I would not have enjoyed the way it played out. Which at this point is probrably not very constructive.
Theory from the Closet , A Netcast/Podcast about RPG theory and design., Clyde's personal blog.


Quoteyou can't kill [a PC] as a raise.

Of course.  Raising 15 "Alice shoots you in the head" was just a strong way of saying "This'll be d10 fallout" and the actual fallout determines who lives and dies.  (And as always, keeping in mind that "death" means the end of their life as a Dog, although I've yet to see someone take that out.)

The players were Matt Philips (who was also in my Polaris and Zombies in the Vineyard games) who played Brother Wesley, who got shot but lived long enough to drag himself into Brother Ryman's room and shoot Alice dead just after Ryman (played by Piers) had disarmed her (by blocking her raise of 15). Only Wesley (and Matt) know if Wesley saw she'd been disarmed or still had a gun (it being dark and all) when he killed her, and I really liked that ambiguity. Wesley rolled 20 on 4d4+4d10 fallout and died.

Brother Nathaniel was played by Matt's friend Nathan, and gave in that final conflict rather than being shot.  He retired a year later and returned to marry the Steward's older daughter.

Brother Ryman (played by Piers) never walked again, because of the paralyzing sickness he caught trying to heal Faith's younger siblings of the paralyzing sickness, but retired as a Dog and married her.

Brother Balthazar died after his last words of "Did she live?", and hearing Ryman's answer "The King will tell you the truth."

Character sheets are at . Their accomplishments were:

Brother Balthazar: "I used my intelligence to avoid a fight" (taken as "The old switcheroo 1d6").

Brother Ryman: "My past didn't come out" (taken as "I killed to keep my past a secret 1d6").

Brother Nathaniel "I saved a Dog 1d6"

Brother Wesley "I didn't show compassion 1d6" with experience being used to add a belonging "The rope I hung my father with 2d6"

The conflicts that went to dice were:

"Convincing Paul Akeley Jr that useless things don't have to be destroyed" (successful).

"Do Mercy & Peter heal?" (they didn't then, although after the town was purified at the end they made a full recovery) That's the conflict where Brother Ryman got sick (Raise 18), and later gave rather than see the twins' s older sister Faith catch it and die (Raise 14).  He wound up marrying Faith in the epilogue.

"Does Brother Wesley shut up?"  (yes, and as temporary fallout stalked off for the next scene.)

"Do the steward's older two daughters Lavinia and Genevieve tell their Pa the truth about the doll burning?" (yes)

"Does Paul Sr. admit he's a bad father and husband?"  (yes)

"Does Paul Sr. beat his wife to death?"  (no, and he got badly hurt by Brother Ryman in the process.
Brother Wesley didn't use his father-hanging rope, which I was hoping for.)

Healing conflict for that was "Does Paul Sr die?" and Ryman saved him.

And finally the big "Do the Dogs purify the town?" which I know is bigger stakes than Dogs usually calls for, but we were close to out of time and it fit well.

I now return the conversation to its ongoing track, with great interest.

Adam Dray

Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Clyde L. Rhoer

Hi Carl,

It's been awhile since I've played, but if I remember correctly death in dogs is narrated by the dying player. That raise takes that away from the player. Again, everyone enjoyed the raise and acceded to it, so I don't think it was a problem. Could that kind of raise be a problem?
Theory from the Closet , A Netcast/Podcast about RPG theory and design., Clyde's personal blog.