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Author Topic: [Dogs] What are the demons for?  (Read 7678 times)
Simon C
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« on: October 01, 2009, 09:05:21 PM »

As mentioned in the other thread (which I found super useful, thanks everyone), we've just wrapped up our fifth Dogs town, and are moving on to our sixth. 

We've been playing with the GM role revolving between players, in part because for most of us, it's our favourite part of play, and also to accommodate people dropping in and out if they can't make it (although in practice we've all made it every time).

Each of us has a slightly different take on the supernatural in the game.  Steve plays at about a 1 or 2 (out of ten), Malcolm runs his towns at about a 3, and I run towns at a solid zero.

I guess what I'm wondering about is what obvious supernatural stuff adds to the game.  In the towns I've played, supernatural stuff has tended to make things much easier to judge.  When someone "vamps out" with supernatural things going on, the reactions from the dogs is typically "oh, so you're the bad guy then."  In towns where there's less supernatural, it seems more ambiguous.  You're never sure if the person you're judging is really at the root of the problem.

So what I'm asking I suppose is what does supernatural stuff add to the game?  More broadly, what do the demons add to the game?  What do you lose if you don't define what the demons want?  I'd like to go a little more supernatural in the next town I make, but I'd like to do it right.
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2009, 05:03:21 AM »

Help me understand!

Why would you like to go more supernatural?

How could you do it wrong?

-Vincent
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David Artman
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« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2009, 07:31:30 AM »

I think I might be following your concerns. I'll try ot unpack a bit.

First, Demonic Influence doesn't have to be obvious--Possession in particular is the "vamp out" stuff.
* What does DI get you? d10s to use against the Dogs (i.e. about the only7 way to REALLY hammer more than one Dog into giving).
* What does Possession give you? A bunch of sweet powers that makes a Sorcerer even MORE difficult to defeat.

And here's a though: have you considered making the embodiment of Possession something... angelic-looking? If "vamping out" looked to the False Worshipers like the coming of Gabriel, then you get NPCs piling into the conflict, too. (This might not be "canon" for the RAW.)

Also, don't forget that "conventional" DITV play is VERY open, GM-to-players. If you enjoy "investigation," then fine--go for it, have a ball, and the vamping out must be minimal. But if you play vanilla DITV, the "perps" are crystal clear to the players; it's not so much "who's the bad guy" as "how do I deal with the bad guy that's my aunt/brother/5-year-old cousin?" Remember the DITV Mantra: "Oh, really? OK, how about NOW?" If you are using relationships and pushing at the Dogs (or even dividing them, when players have disagreements about "morality"), then a vamp-out won't much matter: they know it was the aunt/brother/etc all along, NOW the town knows... but NOW it's a hell of a lot tougher to deal with (buncha d10s, buncha powers) and I *still* ain't gonna put bullet holes in a misguided kid/my aunt/my brother!

That said... many DITV games are blood baths. Which is why I like to play pacifist Dogs: I don't HAVE the luxury of just filling all the corrupt with lead and letting the town try to rebuild with fewer work hands (keep that in mind, too, by the way: every strong person put in the ground is one less person to keep these small towns viable--this is STILL a frontier, mind you!).

Hope this helps... I might be way out in left field vis a vis your questions (I don't feel Vincent's confusion... so maybe I'M the huckleberry....)
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jburneko
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« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2009, 12:12:31 PM »

I like playing Dogs in the Vineyard with the supernatural dial turned to eleven.  I rarely build towns that don't got to Hate & Murder and my Sorcery is always over-the-top horribly impossible stuff.

This is common concern: Why doesn't the presence of overt demonic action null and void the moral questions underlying the game?

Answer: Trust town creation.

Everyone thinks town creation is awesome because it's this explicit process for creating scenarios.  Pffft.  Call of Cthulhu has an explicit process for creating adventures.  Here's what REALLY makes Town Creation different.  In Call of Cthulhu you usually START with the REALLY BAD GUY/THING.  You work backwards from that so all you really have is the bad guy and the bad thing he's doing.  In Dogs in the Vineyard you start with ordinary sympathetic folks and you work forward to the REALLY BAD GUY.

That means that shooting the bad guy doesn't solve the problem.  In fact, it can often make the problem worse because now that the really big scary dude is gone everyone else kind of flips out because hey, they were buddies with the really bad guy, does that mean the dogs will kill them next?

Example:

Pride: Brother Callan, the 15 year old son of Brother Joseph and Sister Constance, thinks he's old enough to have his own family.
Injustice: Brother Callan is always off "courting" Sister Emily, the 13 year old daughter of Brother Ebediah instead of helping his father work the fields.

Sin: Brother Callan and Sister Emily sleep together.
Demonic Attacks: Sister Emily gets pregnant and Brother Ebediah is killed in a farming accident that Brother Callan could have prevented had he been there.

False Doctrine: The Steward, Brother Garret, believes that the youth is wasted on the young.
Corrupt Worship: Sister Emily is banished (still pregnant) to live in a shack out in the desert plains.  Every Sunday Brother Garret has the childen of the town line up and he whips Brother Callan as a reminder of what happens to those who give in to youthful indiscretion.

False Priesthood: Sister Constance, Brother Ebediah, and Steward Garret agree that something must be done with youths who transgress.  Also, Sister Constance agrees to become Brother Ebediah's second wife.  They have bonded over shared family tragedy.
Sorcery: Steward Garret sends all youths who step out of line to a nearby silver mine.  While working there they rapidly age and Sister Constance, Brother Ebediah and Steward Garret all grow younger.

Hate & Murder: Brother Nolan is one of the youths sent to the mines.  His brother, Brother Cameron, age 16, goes looking for Brother Nolan and discovers what is going out at the mines.  Steward Garret has Brother Cameron publically hanged as another "example."

I won't go into the What do the Demons Want and What do the people want from the Dogs stuff.  I think most of that is pretty obvious from what's here.  Two important things of note:

1) When I run this town I always start with the Dogs seeing the scaffold with Brother Cameron's body hanging there.  I mention there's a sign posted that reads, "Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child."
2) I immediately follow this with someone in the Town mentioning that they hope the Dogs stay long enough to bless the upcoming marriage of Sister Constance and Brother Ebediah.
3) I never have Steward Garret affraid to go all demon crazy.  I change it up a bit from run to run but I mean, in one game he had wings and talons and fangs!

So yeah, at some point Steward Garret dies.  That's really not an issue.  He's effectively a vampire.  But what he's done and how ridiculously evil he is, is not the issue.  He's just a bit of fantasy fun.

What's really stake is:

1) How culpable are Brother Ebediah and Sister Constance?  Their families were legitimately destroyed and they were just following the leadership of their Steward like good faithful.  Is their marriage a good thing?
2) What about Brother Callan, Sister Emily and their baby?  Is that a family or just children playing parenthood?
3) Another interesting thing is what the Dogs choose to do about the children who have been aged.  Since the supernatural dial is so high that's wide open.  I've seen everything from, "Sorry, enjoy what little life you have left" to "We use Ceremony against the demons to reverse the process."  That's not an insignificant choice.

Does that help?

Jesse



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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2009, 01:36:08 PM »

After our game I thought about this, Simon: the demons give us someone to blame.

Say the supernatural dial is turned way down low. That means the Faithful are sinning and screwing and generally being human. But we can blame it all on the demons and the hierarchy of sin. After the Dogs perform a few exorcisms and slap a few people around (and possibly do both of those things at the same time), we can say the demons are gone and the sin's been punished.

Say the supernatural dial is turned way up high. That means the Faithful are sinning and screwing and generally being human, but there are freaking demons and people with cats eyes. Man, of course we have to blame all the problems on the demons and the hierarchy of sin. They're right there in front of us. After the Dogs perform a few exorcisms and shoot a few people around (and possibly do both of those things at the same time), we can say the demons are gone and the sin's been punished.

In both cases, the Faithful are seen as the victims of the demons. The demons give us someone to blame; they give us an excuse not to face up to our own culpability, our own human responsibilities for causing the sin in the first place.
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Cheers,
Steve

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greyorm
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2009, 05:36:47 PM »

After our game I thought about this, Simon: the demons give us someone to blame...they give us an excuse not to face up to our own culpability, our own human responsibilities for causing the sin in the first place.

I've always seen that as a cop-out response to the issue because it just doesn't hold for me.

Consider: there are demons and sorcery and crazy-bug-eyed things everywhere in Sorcerer, and no one ever says "Gee, all those demons and things really removes the moral weight of the game."

I guess I'm thinking that if you're doing it right, no one gets off blameless: they were there, they did it, they chose to be where they are doing what they're doing, demons or not. There weren't things in their head forcing them to do anything or follow anyone, at least nothing they didn't put there themselves.

I would think "The Devil made me do it!" would be false doctrine? Especially since the situations, and the progression of demonic influence in the town, are built up from someone sinning, not from a creepy crawly sneaking into someone's head and making them go out and hate children or commit rape or forced marriage or etc?

(Plus, isn't the game more about the moral choices the Dogs make, not the NPCs?)
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2009, 06:29:32 PM »

Hold for Simon please, everybody! This could become a whole theory- and nuance-thick conversation, and that could be really fun, but we gotta do right by Simon first.

I really hope you'll answer my questions, Simon. I think they're good ones.

-Vincent
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Simon C
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« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2009, 06:34:22 PM »

Hi Vincent!

Sorry it took me a little while to get back to this.

They're good questions.

The reason I want to go more supernatural is, I think, because I like the aesthetics of it.  I'd like to do something that's a little bit creepy and obviously superntatural, but explore the human factors behind that.  Mostly I think I'd like to experiment with different ways of playing the game.  I've got a handle on very low-supernatural play, and I'm interested to see what I can do with supernatural stuff.

That said, I'm very happy with the effects of low-supernatural play.  The most recent town I ran had a very powerful ending that I think was enhanced by the very human nature of the events in the town.  Brother Jackson had been sleeping with a prostitute, and was betrothed to another woman in the town.  The Dogs told him he'd have to call off the wedding, confess to his father and his betrothed, and live with their scorn.  He refused, and set out to go to California with the prostitute.  The dogs tried to get him to accept their judgement, and feel some remorse.  He pulled a gun, and they killed him.

The players were very conflicted about the decision to kill him.  There was a moment where they were still trying to convince him to accept their judgement, and he'd pulled a gun.  They could have stayed in the conflict, and they almost certainly would have won, but they gave, and then killed the guy, because they'd decided he wasn't worth saving.  It was a very powerful moment, and I think giving the guy some obvious demonic power wouldn't have added anything to the game, and would possibly have robbed the situation of its ambiguity.  That's what I'm worried about when I say I'm worried about doing it wrong.

Does that make sense?  I'm happy to clarify further.
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2009, 06:19:27 AM »

Oh no problem. Take your time.

Was Brother Jackson a sorcerer? Did that town go to hate and murder?

-Vincent
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lumpley
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« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2009, 07:05:36 AM »

Oh I also wanted to say. The basic trick for making a town with a strong villain, but preserving difficult judgment, is to make the villain be a reaction to the town's underlying problem, not the cause of it.

I'll quote myself from another thread:
Here's about humanizing the murderous sorcerer: Don't. He's not human anymore. The Dogs will kill him and it's the right thing for them to do. When have you seen a Western when the guy in the black hat deserved to live?

What to do instead: make sure that it's someone else's pride, not his, and someone else's sin, not his, and maybe even someone else's false doctrine, not his.

I go on in that post to give an example town, check it out. In fact it's a good thread, I recommend the whole thing: [Dogs] Buildin' towns and settin' dials. It probably won't out-and-out answer your questions, Simon, but it might, and it'll shed light anyway.

-Vincent
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Simon C
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« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2009, 10:59:58 AM »

Vincent, that's useful advice, and directly relevant.

Brother Jackson wasn't a Sorcerer.  The town only got as far as "Sin", I think.  Respite is a tiny town of only three families.  There were these three prostitutes who got stranded in the town by a blizzard on their way to California.  The steward (not knowing they're prostitutes) thinks the town can handle a few unfaithful for the winter, so they put them up.  Trouble ensues, as one boy falls in love with one of the prostitutes, another (Jackson) is sleeping with one of them to "get the curiosity out" before his wedding to another woman in the town, and the prostitutes themselves all have their own agendas. 

The whole town was a tangled mess of conflicting desires, and it worked out really intense in play.  I think this is  the first town where the dogs have actually set out to kill someone - i.e. judged them deserving of death.  Granted, Jackson had kind of threatened to kill one of the Dogs if he revealed what had been going on, and then later pulled a gun on them, but it was still a strong judgement.  There was a moment when we knew that if they pushed, they could get him to repent and give up, but they gave, and then killed him.

So I guess this kind of ties into a larger issue.  I've found the towns which stop before "Hate and Murder" generally much more interesting from a moral perspective than others.  "Hate and Murder" towns are often really intense, and push the characters hard, but less intense towns are often more subtly disturbing, and so far have had the most impact in terms of challenging the characters' beliefs.  I'm having trouble understanding your advice to "almost always" go to hate and murder.  To my mind, those are the less interesting towns, both as a GM and as a player.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2009, 12:28:40 PM »

Well, that's fine, of course. If that's what you find more interesting, that's what you find more interesting. It doesn't explain what we're doing in this thread, though. After all, supernatural special effects don't even exist before the town develops a sorcerer, and the only purpose of a sorcerer is to commit or inspire murder.

I can repeat that "[h]aving a monster in town doesn't make the town easy [or morally unambiguous], it makes the stakes high," but if you haven't found that to be true, my saying so won't make it so.

I can talk about writing up towns that go all the way to hate and murder without becoming morally black and white, but only if you're interested in writing up towns that go all the way to hate and murder in the first place. (The answer is: don't make Jackson the sorcerer. Post your town writeup and I'll bet we can find some better candidates.)

So, your call. You're already playing the game (a) correctly and (b) just the way you want to. How come you want to play it differently, again?

-Vincent
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Simon C
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« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2009, 04:50:07 PM »

You're making some good points. 

Part of it is about working out how to play the kind of towns I'm already enjoying even better.  I feel like the "what do the demons want" step is probably important, but it hasn't felt so in the games I've run.  I'm not sure when I'd invoke the demons.

Another part is about expanding the scope of what I'm comfortable running.  I've run two pretty successful towns (and played in three good ones too), but the towns I've run have been pretty "samey" in terms of having little supernatural stuff, and not going much past "Sin" on the ladder.  I'd like to know how to go up to "Hate and Murder", as well as including supernatural stuff, without making the towns less ambiguous.  Mostly what I'm interested in preserving is the really human interactions between the Dogs and the townsfolk, the sense that these are real people, with understandable problems.

So yeah, I'm not at all unhappy with my current experiences with Dogs, but I'm looking to expand what's possible, and understand how other people enjoy this kind of play.  Kind of "extra for experts" I guess.

Here's my prep for my town, Respite Branch. It's a little abridged because I'm going from memory.

Pride:
The Steward, Phineas, thinks that the town is strong enough to cope with three unfaithful women staying through the winter in their town.  The town's a tiny place with just three houses, a couple of barns, and a general store which services the wagons headed out to California from back east.  The three women are prostitutes headed out to California, stranded by a blizzard and abandoned by the stagecoach driver they payed to take them. 

Injustice:
The Steward's wife, Marilla, is jealous of the attention the steward pays to the eldest of the three women, Ana.  They share a love of books, and Ana's seen plays performed whch Phineas has only read.  The Steward's son, Jackson, lusts after the second eldest of the women, Sheila.  He neglects his fiance, Sister Obedience.  Obedience's younger brother, August, falls in love with the youngest of the prostitutes, Bethany.  Brother Roberts, the father of Obedience and August, and a convert to the faith, knows the women are probably prostitutes, and refuses to have anything to do with them.

Sin:
Jackson sleeps with Sheila, who is trying to get out of the town.  August and Bethany sleep together, planning to get married as soon as possible.  They're in love, and Bethany is willing to convert.  Roberts refuses to go to worship with the rest of the town, and conducts his own ceremonies for his family.


Phineas wants the Dogs to tell him he was right to let the women stay, and to bring Roberts back into the fold.
Marilla wants the Dogs to take the women away.
Jackson wants the Dogs to leave him alone, and get out of town.
Roberts wants the Dogs to run the women out of town, into the snow.
Obedience wants the Dogs to bring Jackson back to her.  She knows he's straying, but she loves him.
August wants the Dogs to marry him to Bethany
Ana wants the Dogs to leave them alone.  The other two prostitutes owe her money for the passage to California, so she doesn't want either of them to stay behind.
Sheila wants to get out of town.  If she can get one of the Dogs to take her, she'll be happy, otherwise she wants to keep Jackson as a back up.
Bethany wants the Dogs to marry her to August, and to help her convert.
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lumpley
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« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2009, 07:48:23 AM »

Great!

If the Dogs never came, what would happen?

Personally, I think that Phineas is right. The town's strong enough to cope with all this. It's easy for me to write up a future for the town where the Dogs never come, but everything works out fine. (In fact, I've done that, I'll share it if you're interested.)

But you think that Phineas is wrong, and these three women will destroy the town? The town needs the Dogs to save it? How come?

What's the worst that could happen?

-Vincent
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Simon C
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« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2009, 10:38:07 AM »

Oh man, I totally forgot that step.  But it's not really the women destroying the town, it's the men's reactions to them.

If the dogs never come, Br. Roberts finds out about August and Bethany, and whips August to a pulp.  August runs off with Bethany.  Sheila convinces Jackson to take her to California.  Phineas and Roberts never resolve their differences, and the town splits in two.  With the two younger men gone, there's noone to do the physical work around the place, and the town falls apart.  Roberts moves away.  Marilla doesn't trust Phineas any more, and with their marriage not working, they close the store.
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