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Author Topic: [DITV] We keep stumbling when it comes to the supernatural stuff  (Read 5991 times)
Dan Maruschak
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« on: November 01, 2010, 10:27:04 AM »

I am GMing a DITV game over skype with two players. After an initially rocky start (the first town I created ended up being pretty lame), I think we've got things going pretty well, but we keep running into problems with the supernatural and with how the demon mechanics are supposed to work. At character generation one of the players indicated that he wanted to play a character who was really focused on demons so I know he's interested in it, but it hasn't been working well in play. My interpretation of how to "follow the players' lead" on the supernatural stuff was to make things like demonic attacks and sorcery ambiguous until they started forming opinions, but in practice they seem to either treat the things I am throwing out as either non-supernatural or try to interact with them in a way that flummoxes me in terms of the rules. I'll give an example:

In the second town I created, the pride came from a lazy pretty-boy type who believed he could have any girl he wanted. Naturally, most of the courting-age girls in town are crazy about him. The guy takes a trip to another town, takes a fancy to a girl there, and decides to bring her back. On the way home, he convinces her that they're already married in their hearts and they can avoid a lot of hassles if they just tell everyone that the steward in the girl's home town performed a marriage ceremony for them. The lies and sex without marriage stuff opens to door to demonic attacks in the form of a disfiguring pox that strikes some people but not others (the demons want the ugly factor to interfere with romantic relationships and inspire cheating, jealousy, etc.). Also, all those girls that wanted the attractive guy to marry them are pretty resentful. The "married" girl is one Dog's little sister, and the other Dog's cousin is a jealous "popular girl" type. They decide to resolve the situation by forcing the lazy guy and the little sister to confess their sins and then performed a marriage ceremony to officially marry them. We had a conflict where the jealous cousin tried to stop the marriage ceremony, and she pressed the "that horrible girl from another town dragged him into sin with her!" angle, and she lost. I figured that the jealous cousin's natural reaction would be to think that the "married" girl got rewarded for her sin with a prime husband. (This was a really engaging town and we had a lot of fun with it -- the "big brother" player was really torn up because the guy his sister was mixed up with was obviously kind of sleazy but his sister was in love).

A few sessions later we decided to do a revisit of this town. Building on the way they left things with the cousin, I figured she would seduce the lazy husband, then talk the steward into a "well, the way the Dogs solved a problem like this was to just make it official" solution and make her the guy's second wife. Emboldened, she starts throwing her weight around, implying that if people don't do what she says, her cousin the Dog will come and force them to. (There's some other stuff, too, but I'm trying to keep this succinct). The Dogs get most of the backstory, and decide they need to do something about the cousin. In the process of discussing what to do, they decide that there's a possibility that she might be possessed (mechanically she isn't, but she does believe some false doctrine and is positioned to become a sorcerer) and want to perform an exorcism on her. Initially I think this is cool, because accusing her of being posessed and performing ceremonies on her seem like it will increase tension. But when they actually start interacting with her, they want to do the exorcism as a conflict, and things fizzle when we try to figure out what's at stake because, mechanically, she isn't posessed so we can't have a conflict about whether or not an exorcism would succeed. I explain what's going on from my POV, and things kind of unravel further when the guy who's interested in doing the demon stuff starts asking me things like "well, can I tell if she's possessed or not?" It seems like whether or not he interprets things as supernatural should be his decision, but there are certain facts about demons and sorcerers that I decide as GM and it seems like that those rules and decisions keep getting in the way of him putting forward his own interpretations. (We eventually settled on doing a conflict about whether she would stop threatening people in the Dogs' names or not, with the understanding that escalating to ceremony was something they could do if they wanted to, but the stumbles and negotiations that we needed to do to get there were kind of deflating).

So, it feels like I'm probably doing something wrong since these sorts of problems have cropped up several times. Is there something I should be doing differently? Is there something the players should be doing differently? (They're both more comfortable with more traditional RPGs, and we've had more than a few stumbles in identifying conflicts and determining what's at stake, so this might just be a particular instance of that more general problem). In general I'm having a hard time figuring out how to use the supernatural stuff effectively, and also how I'm supposed to follow their lead when it seems like I need to "make the first move" in terms of setting up the demonic attacks and sorcery.
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2010, 07:21:26 PM »

If they're interested in demons, which they are, you follow their lead BY making the first move. Make it!

I have a fear! I hope it's unfounded, a mere omission in your writeup. My fear is: the towns you're creating stop short of hate and murder. It would explain some of your problem, though, since before hate and murder demons are necessarily impotent.

Either way, your best and essential next step is to create a town that goes to hate and murder, murder of the ugliest and most occult sort, and has overt possession and sorcery all through it. Since you're the one in control of possession and sorcery, if they want it, you have to be the one to give it to them. Give it to them with both barrels!

- Vincent
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2010, 09:36:25 PM »

I have a fear! I hope it's unfounded, a mere omission in your writeup. My fear is: the towns you're creating stop short of hate and murder.
In my first town I went to hate and murder. The town was pretty lame in play because 1) I didn't do a good job of hooking the PCs into NPCs in the town so they didn't really care about anybody, 2) because I couldn't figure out goals for the NPCs to use to push conflicts, 3) because I couldn't figure out how to deliver the town's backstory effectively and efficiently, 4) because we had a lot of breakdowns in understanding how to use the rules to interact with the supernatural stuff, and 5) because the players were taking a very "solve the mystery" investigative game approach instead of a "solve the problems" approach that DITV calls for.

The second town, which I described above, went to Corrupt Worship and was really fun and engaging.

In the third town I had intended to have the Dogs witness the sorcerer escalating to hate and murder as they entered the town, but I was off my game that night and screwed up the description so the "sorcery" aspect didn't really come through to them, and I scaled back to a lower level in the sequence rather than retcon the fiction once I realized my mistake.

In the fourth town I went to Corrupt Worship and made it very explicit (a group of people chanting in the town square). I planned to have the cult leader start using sorcery if the Dogs decided not to endorse his view of how to solve the problems, but I rolled well early in the conflict they started with him and thought I was going to win without using full-on possession, and then late in the conflict when things started to turn in the Dogs' favor there wasn't enough mechanical benefit from possession to justify prolonging the situation. We all enjoyed this town a lot, and I think they were satisfied by the level of supernatural stuff, although the gunfighter was more involved in the resolution than the demon guy, because the gunfighter's player was the one that wanted to force the issue with the cult leader.

The fifth town (which we're going to resume for the next session) is the revisit to the second town, from my first post.

Quote
It would explain some of your problem, though, since before hate and murder demons are necessarily impotent.

Either way, your best and essential next step is to create a town that goes to hate and murder, murder of the ugliest and most occult sort, and has overt possession and sorcery all through it.

I'll try, although it seems to me that taking a town to hate and murder makes the towns less interesting (maybe the less-than-stellar experience of that first town is coloring my perception too heavily). I also still have a hard time understanding what kind of things are reasonable stakes to have supernatural conflicts about. In one of the towns, the demonic attacks were manifesting as unnatural wear and breakage at the sawmill, and the players wanted to have a conflict to keep the demons away from the sawmill. Is that a reasonable conflict to have? My interpretation of the game is that the demonic attacks are more like a symptom of a problem (and a way to increase tension in the town) and shouldn't be directly combattable, but it also seems like the Dogs ought to be able to drive demons out of a mill, so I didn't know how to handle that. I suppose that will be less of a problem if I'm really overt about the supernatural stuff, but I am reluctant to lose the element of ambiguity and less flashy "magic".
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lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2010, 06:30:25 AM »

I have lots to say about this stuff! It's a great topic.

Have you read this thread? [Dogs] What are the demons for? If you haven't, I recommend it highly; Simon was struggling with some of the exact stuff you're struggling with, and I think I laid it out pretty clearly for him. So if I can ask you to, go give that thread a quick read? Come back and let me know what you think and I'll be happy to pick up from there.

-Vincent
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2010, 02:33:28 PM »

Yes, I've read it (and I just gave it a quick re-read). I think I have a lot of the same concerns that he had initially, in that I'm not sure I know how to reliably take a town to hate and murder without the town becoming less interesting (the murders would tend to start taking out interesting NPCs, for example), and the "oh, so you're the bad guy!" effect. The players in my game, having more experience with traditional "investigative game" type scenarios, have a tendency to slip into "we've got to find the root cause!" mode, so I am reluctant to throw too many things at them that can be easily mistaken for "keystones" that can be removed to tidily wrap up all the problems of a town. Making the "wronged party" into the sorcerer may help with that, but that seems like it may not be as easy to do as it is to say.

On top of that, I think that once my players start seeing overt supernatural stuff their reaction is to try to deal with it as its own thing:
Quote
With everything else in place, you can feel free to give the coldness in Obedience's heart, for instance, a vivid hyper-reality, or a symbolic manifestation, or its own creepy voice, if you want to. Make Roberts' guilt and self-justification into a thing, capable of touching the landscape of the game directly, visible and isolate, if you want to. You'd do it for artistic reasons: atmosphere and tone, emphasis, the inscrutable dictates of your taste and vision. Or you wouldn't do it, for the same.

We're playing Dogs right now, and we're playing with no supernatural special effects. Nevertheless, you can BET that when Brother Swanson is in a conflict, I roll 5d10 in on his side. He's a vicious bastard, is why, with a heart full of murder. The rulebook says "add the current Demonic Influence to his preferred side of any conflict ... by introducing demonic special effects into a See or Raise." In our game, a casual contempt for the Faith counts as a demonic special effect. In games I've played in the past, it wouldn't, I'd need to bring in shadows, voices, blood, empty hollows for eyes, elongated teeth, the smell of brimstone. Either way, it's really his viciousness, desperation, and murderous heart that give him those dice.

Make sense? What do you think?
I think the "it's really his viciousness, desperation, and murderous heart that give him those dice" is the part that's breaking down, because the overt supernatural stuff can maybe make it seem like it isn't him -- it's this separate thing that should be dealt with in a separate way. I think this is the problem I was having with the "we want to perform an exorcism on the cousin" thing -- I was ready to roll with the idea that they could use ceremony in the course of getting her to stop doing what she was doing, basically leaving the level of supernatural as an element of approach, but they were hoping that her bad behavior was a result of being possessed and that they could get an "everybody wins" solution by performing an exorcism to remove the evil influence.
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Noclue
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« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2010, 10:09:45 PM »

"well, can I tell if she's possessed or not?"

I don't think you've instilled a confidence in the players that you will let them know when a demon rears it's ugly head. And that you will reveal the town to them without the need for any "Solve the mystery" behavior on their part. So, they feel the need to ask these kind of questions and to try to search out clues. But you still get to decide who is possessed.

"Well, can I tell if she's possessed or not?"
"Of course you can, you gaze upon her and sense that her soul remains her own, but you can see the demons circling round her feeding on her fears and weaknesses, twisting her hopes and dreams into barbs that have left her soul in tatters, weak and vulnerable and in need of healing. She will not last long without help."
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James R.
lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2010, 04:24:39 AM »

Dan! It's not your job to second-guess your players, who they'll blame, what they'll do about it. It's your job to create a town that goes to hate and murder. If it has an obvious villain in it, that's fine! The game works fine when there's an obvious villain in the town.

-Vincent
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JMendes
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« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2010, 07:34:40 AM »

Hoy, :)

A few sessions later we decided to do a revisit of this town. Building on the way they left things with the cousin [...]

I don't know if this is significant or not, given that it's a bit on the off-topic side, but it sort of segues from Vincent's last post, so, maybe there's something there...

Anyway, I've always been leery of revisiting towns. It sort of puts the GM in a position where he has to extrapolate consequences out of the Dogs' intervetion. Almost like he's saying, "you resolved the main issue, but oh, look, you didn't handle this, and you ignored that, and now this other thing is developing"...

I think part of the strength of the game is that the Dogs' judgement is definitionally correct. Who they say is at fault is at fault. That sort of implies to me that it's not the GM's job to "judge back" on their judgement and actions. Rather, his job is to escalate, which I take it to mean, on the next town, present the same issue, but with a bit more shades of gray in it. And on the next town, even grayer, and so on and so forth. (Which, in my mind, is part of the reason the game works well with a clear villain, by the way.)

So, by revisiting the town, you may be unwittingly nudging them into problem-solving mode. They won't want to screw up a second time, after all...

Or maybe I'm over-reading into it. :)

Cheers,
J.
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João Mendes
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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: November 04, 2010, 07:42:12 AM »

Yeah, I'm not super excited about "what the Dogs say is right, IS right." Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong. Sometimes you'll think they're right and I'll think they're wrong, too; there is no REAL right or wrong for them to be.

The rule is, as GM, you can never have God tell the Dogs whether they're right or wrong. It's not at all the same thing as "the Dogs are always right."

-Vincent

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JMendes
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« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2010, 08:14:00 AM »

Hoy, :)

The rule is, as GM, you can never have God tell the Dogs whether they're right or wrong. It's not at all the same thing as "the Dogs are always right."

Ah! See, I was over-reading it. :) Never mind, then.

Cheers,
J.
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João Mendes
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2010, 09:04:38 AM »

I don't think you've instilled a confidence in the players that you will let them know when a demon rears it's ugly head. And that you will reveal the town to them without the need for any "Solve the mystery" behavior on their part. So, they feel the need to ask these kind of questions and to try to search out clues. But you still get to decide who is possessed.
Maybe? Even if your diagnosis is correct, I'm not sure what to do with it.

Quote from: lumpley
Dan! It's not your job to second-guess your players, who they'll blame, what they'll do about it.
The only thing I'm second-guessing is their tendency to get stuck in idle-theorizing mode, where they start to look at the town as a logic puzzle rather than engaging with the NPCs and their problems. All of us have less fun when they do this, so I want to avoid triggering habits that lead us to unfun play. I'm also not sure why I'm being criticized for wanting to avoid situations which have obviously correct simple solutions, but maybe I've misinterpreted what's supposed to be fun about the game (my play has indicated that things are more fun when they are in, and believe they are in, a tough spot with no easy answers but have to make choices anyway, but maybe I'm playing wrong).

Quote from: lumpley
It's your job to create a town that goes to hate and murder. If it has an obvious villain in it, that's fine! The game works fine when there's an obvious villain in the town.
I have seen in practice that the towns I make when I don't go to hate and murder are fun and engaging.
I know for a fact that I am capable of making a town that sucks when I go to hate and murder, because I have done it.
I acknowledge that it is possible to make towns that are fun and engaging by going to hate and murder, but I am not confident I know how to do it.

I don't understand why this is the focus of the conversation rather than the supernatural stuff I asked about. I accept that I may have fundamentally misdiagnosed the problems, but if so I don't understand why or how. There is supernatural stuff in the game as early as "2B: Demonic Attacks".

Quote from: JMendes
Anyway, I've always been leery of revisiting towns.
I'm not crazy about it myself since I'm not sure I understand how to do it well, but the rules say that it's a decision for the players to make, and this is what they wanted to do.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: November 04, 2010, 09:21:18 AM »

We're in the conversational equivalent of the idle theorizing you're trying to avoid in play. I'm trying to avoid it here. Let's go forward instead! The next step is: please make a town that goes to hate and murder and has overt supernatural stuff in it. Post it here and we'll take a look.

-Vincent
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2010, 12:42:17 PM »

The next step is: please make a town that goes to hate and murder and has overt supernatural stuff in it. Post it here and we'll take a look.
By post it here, do you mean just the town setup, or play through it and talk about the AP? (I'm feeling a little bit over-constrained because I already need to work some other "follow up" stuff regarding the Territorial Authority into the next town I prep because that's what they want to deal with in the fiction, but it seems like the overt sorcery would be easier to do in a faithful-only town. I've got to get a town ready for our session tonight, so hopefully I'll be able to come up with something that satisfies both criteria).
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« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2010, 03:33:58 PM »

Oh, I just mean the town setup. It doesn't even have to be one you intend to play.

If you're working on tonight's town, you won't get my feedback in time, no. Do try just including some serious overt demonic activity in it. Decide in town creation what the demons are doing, make it good and violent (that's the point of demons) and don't be afraid to show it to your players in its full-color demonic horror.

Remember, by the way, that not all nonfaithful are atheists. Many are dogmatists and spiritualists, who'll acknowledge demonic activity and then have their own interpretations of it. Demons and nonbelievers aren't incompatible. 

-Vincent
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2010, 01:01:17 PM »

OK, I wish there was a more concise way to do this, but I need to lay out a few details from earlier in the game because threads carry forward into the new town (I'm leaving some details out, so don't assume I'm giving the full picture with each town):

The Dogs are Brother Phineas (played by Michael), a bookish Dog who knows a lot about demons and Brother Nathaniel (played by Simon), a more physical Dog who has a shorter fuse. At chargen, Phineas has relationships with his teacher Jebediah and Brother Cuthbert, a Dog and mentor.

Town 1 (Golden Sunset Branch): A bunch of stuff happens, but they eventually corner the steward's wife Sister Patience who goes sort of werewolf on them when they confront her (her false doctrine has a “survival of the fittest” theme, the demonic attacks are of the increased predation variety, so this is my idea of what her using sorcery to become willingly possessed looks like). She gets a pretty good hit in on Nathaniel, and he takes a relationship with Sister Patience's Demon when we get to rolling fallout.

Town 2 (Broken Axle Branch): Talked about earlier in the thread.

Town 3 (Silver Scales Branch): A guy from back east named Augie Thompson uses his connections with the Territorial Authority to get himself appointed Regional Assayer. He goes to a faithful town where there are persistent rumors of silver and sets up a hotel/bar/casino operation that starts to attract unfaithful prospectors. Brother Cuthbert (Phineas's mentor figure) shows up in town to visit his sister and is horrified by the den of sin. He goes to confront Augie, but Augie convinces him that he has powerful friends in the Territorial Authority and there will be repercussions if Cuthbert acts against him directly. Cuthbert figures he can beat Augie using the methods of the unfaithful, has himself elected sheriff, and begins a campaign of draconian law enforcement to make the town unattractive to the prospectors (with the side-effect of making it pretty bad for the faithful, too). The PC Dogs arrive and convince Cuthbert to stop enforcing the TA law for petty offenses. In a huff, Cuthbert heads off to deal with Augie directly. The PC Dogs stand by while Cuthbert blows Augie's head off, because the PC Dogs figure they're not responsible for protecting people from outside the faith. (My original intention was to make Cuthbert an unwitting sorcerer, but I sort of botched my introduction of him and the supernatural stuff got retroactively cut).

Town 4 (Long Pass Branch): No real threads going forward, but a town we all enjoyed.

Town 5, Revisit of town 2 (Broken Axle Branch): Discussed earlier in the thread. When I was prepping the town I wanted to add an extra element of tension, but the only way I could think to do that and maintain the fiction of the first visit was to add an outsider. Since the players seemed interested in revisiting the past, I figured I'd toss in some followup from town 3 in the form of a bounty hunter named Bloodhound Burbage hunting the PCs on charges of accessory to murder (I tied him into the other problems of the town, he wasn't just a floating threat). The players' reaction on hearing about him was essentially “Oh, we'll have to go to the source and get that resolved” (I'm getting a kind of “Superman always cooperates with the authorities” vibe from them, I guess, although I can't wrap my head around why they're so eager to get entangled with the TA – I kind of regret that what I had intended as merely a colorful flourish for the character got interpreted as deep tendrils that demanded a response). They get into a gunfight with Bloodhound Burbage and wound him but don't kill him.

Town 6 (Round Hills Branch): They want to follow up on the bounty Bloodhound Burbage was after. I'm also attempting to push the town to Hate and Murder, as Vincent requested.

Round Hills Branch town prep

Situation: I decide to set the action in Phineas's (the bookish Dog) home town. I decided to make Jebediah (Phineas's teacher) the steward, with the old steward having died while Phineas was away becoming a Dog. To give a link to Bloodhound Burbage, I decide that Circuit Judge Burton McClellan and US Attorney Richard Abernathy are in town, as part of a periodic trip through the Territory to resolve legal issues.

1A Pride: Steward Jebediah cares more about his friend Cuthbert and his favorite pupil Phineas than the people he has stewardship over. He is spending his time keeping the attorney and judge tied up in procedure so they can't advance their case against the Dogs. He is using the faithful of the town as pawns in his maneuvers.
1B Injustice: Cleophus, Adam, and Jackson are being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify, as part of Jebediah's legal maneuvering (I decide to make Jackson Phineas's older brother). Because of Jebediah's interference, Abernathy and McClellan can't do their jobs.
2A Sin: (Deceit/Disunity) Adam, sick of being locked up, provides false testimony that can be used against Cuthbert. He says he was a witness to the crime, and that Cuthbert has always been a bully and criminal. In exchange, he has been set free.
2B/C Demonic Attacks: Steward Jebediah has been stricken with cataracts and laryngitis, making his legal stuff take more time and effort, taking even more time away from his normal stewarding duties. Furthermore, the demons are inflaming old grudges, encouraging people to file lawsuits and use false testimony against each other while the judge is in town. Judah is suing his neighbors Ethan and David in a land dispute (I decide to make Ethan another one of Phineas's brothers).

3A False Doctrine: Adam has been talking to Abernathy's spiritual medium/lover Renee, who believes in guardian spirits. He now believes that the spirits have a better understanding of right and wrong than the living, and anything they don't put a stop to is more or less allowed. Since he's not feeling any spiritual repercussions from his lies he's essentially in the clear.
3B Corrupt Worship: Adam and Judah begin attending seances with Renee and Abernathy.
3C Spread the Corrupt Worship: They're learning secrets in the seances that they'll be able to use in their lawsuits, etc. They'll want to get their friends in on this action.

4A False Priesthood: Renee is the cult leader. Abernathy, Adam, Judah, and their friend Melchior are the cult.
4B Sorcery: The cult is having spirits perform poltergeist stuff on their enemies Ethan, David, and Nicodemus (Judah and Nicodemus have a petty dispute over a horse that got sick and died shortly after being purchased).
4C The demons want the poltergeist victims to get pissed off enough to get revenge, or have them win in court so that Adam, Judah, and Melchior will need to escalate.

5A Hate and Murder: Ethan and David had the case thrown out of court yesterday. Last night the cult called up spirits to kill both of them.

6A
Jebediah wants the Dogs to get out of town, as they're complicating his efforts to defend them from the TA.
US Attorney Abernathy wants Dogs convicted, Jebediah to get out of his hair.
Judge McClellan wants ?
Cleophus and Jackson want the Dogs to get them out of the holding room.
Adam wants the Dogs to pay for his imprisonment for their benefit (turns out I didn't really think this through)
Ethan and David are dead. If they could talk, they'd want revenge.
Judah (a friend of Jackson) wants the Dogs to force Nicodemus to pay for the horse that got sick and died.
Nicodemus wants to be freed of poltergeist activity.
Renee wants the Dogs to accept the moral authority of the spirits.
Melchior wants the Dogs to sanction the seances (he's a little nervous about being involved).

6B: The demons want conflict in the town, want people to turn to Renee for spiritual leadership while Jebediah is distracted. Want Dogs to push cult around, get them to escalate even more. (I planned to use this to hook Nathaniel into the town by having disembodied voices tell him to go after the cult, since I always thought it was interesting that he took a relationship with a demon, and also send a “hey, we're going supernatural here!” signal).

6C If the situation continues: The cult would start taking out more nuisances, starting with Jebediah. In the chaos, more people would turn to Renee and Abernathy as their leaders. Abernathy would eventually organize a posse to go hunt the wanted Dogs.

I found the earlier steps of town creation much more difficult to do when I knew what answers I needed in the later steps. Figuring out how to get the faithful mixed up with false doctrine coming from an outsider was particularly hard (I wanted to get them combined so I didn't have two completely independent threads happening in the town, and I figured it would be easier for me to make an outsider with a different belief structure into an obviously supernatural sorcerer). The “What do the NPCs want from the Dogs” section indicates to me that there aren't enough tensions pulling things in different directions in the town, which would normally have led me to revise a bit, but I was running out of time before the session and had to go with what I had (this also led me to being a bit frazzled in the session – usually I like to prep at least a day ahead of time so that the details of the town can sit in my brain for a while, but time really slipped away from me this week so I didn't do the prep until the last minute).

We started the town but haven't completely resolved it yet, so I may as well give some AP, too (although I feel guilty about info-dumping).

Round Hills Branch AP

As the Dogs ride toward town with Bloodhound Burbage in tow, Nathaniel hears a voice from a mysterious source that says “Tell Phineas that his brother needs justice.” They get to town and see a commotion around Ethan's house (Phineas's brother). When they investigate, they see that the place has been trashed, with broken dishes, smashed furniture, etc. There is drippy writing in blood on the walls that says stuff like “It's not yours” and “Give it to the rightful owner”, and Ethan is lying dead on the floor without a mark on him. (I wish I had put a little more thought into what this scene looked like beforehand so I could have done a richer description and had a more compelling way for Ethan to have died, but I think they got the “overt supernatural” message I was trying to send.) As they're observing the scene, Nathaniel hears another disembodied voice: “Adam did it.”

They head over to Steward Jebediah's house, and see that his eyes are clouded over, and when they look closer they can almost make out a swirling miasma over them, with hints of eyes and faces. Jebediah tries to talk to them, but his voice comes out soft and whispery, as if there's some soft of anti-noise voice speaking along with him and canceling his words out. (Again: mission accomplished on the “this is supernatural” front). They learn about the legal maneuvers, about the people locked up, and about Judah's property dispute with Ethan. The players discuss what they want to do, and contemplate trying to use ceremony to deal with Jebediah's ailments but decide not to pursue that right now.

As they continue their discussion I decide that I need to escalate tension and push conflict a bit, so they hear crashing and smashing from the next house over, Nicodemus the horse breeder's house. The burst through the door and see a similar smashed crockery/furniture situation, with blood oozing from the walls spelling out things like “You knew the horse was sick” and “Swindler”, and Nicodemus huddled in a corner to protect himself from stuff flying around the room. The PCs decide they need to cast the demons out. Conflict! I made two mistakes here: First, I had been mentally preparing to do a conflict with them to cure Jebediah, which would have been a 4d6+Demonic Influence conflict with just the demons. Since Nicodemus's poltergeist is actually a sorcerous attack I probably should have used a sorcerer NPC as the opposition. Second, when figuring out the Demonic Influence I started reading the chart from the bottom and stopped at 2d10 because they hadn't witnessed any heresy yet, even though they had witnessed the results of hate and murder, so I could have been using 5d10. As a result the conflict was a lot shorter and less intense than it could have been – it was a foregone conclusion that they would win after their first raises so I gave almost immediately. Not the end of the world, but a missed opportunity to do some supernatural stuff. They talk to the thankful but shocked Nicodemus who explains his dispute with Judah, and he says he had heard rumors that Ethan and David had been having similar problems, although he hadn't fully appreciated what was going on.

They go to talk to Adam who is surly with them (as soon as they said they wanted to talk to him I realized that I didn't know what he really wanted from the Dogs). I have him sort of info-dump his “the spirits will make sure you get yours!” and “Miss Renee really knows what she's talking about” and “my testimony will put you away once you get taken into custody” worldview. It came out a little muddled because I was trying to find conflicts to push for but couldn't think of any, and that distracted me, but I think they got the gist of what I was trying to say.

They go talk to Judah, who is mostly obsessed with his petty grudges and wants to know if the Dogs are going to force Nicodemus to pay Judah over the sick horse issue. When they say they have other priorities, Judah takes that as confirmation that he is right to focus on the spirits as the only likely source of justice.

They decide that they want to go deal with the legal issue (especially since Renee the spiritualist is involved with the attorney), but stop by Steward Jebediah's place on the way to fill him in. From their conversation with each other, I realize that the players are holding back from trying to cure Jebediah based on some of our earlier stumbles with how to deal with the supernatural. I tell them that I'm trying to figure out how to get the supernatural stuff to run more smoothly, and to go with their normal inclinations instead of trying to adapt to how we did things in the past. We start a conflict with the demons, but with the full 5d10 this time, so it's still short but punchier, as I have disembodied voices tell them that they should be doing something else instead of wasting their time. Nathaniel takes the blow as shaken confidence since he was hoping that the voices he had been hearing were messages from the King of Life and now he's confronted by the idea that they might be demonic. They do manage to cure Jebediah. Jebediah still thinks they shouldn't get mixed up in TA law, but they are determined to meet with the judge.

We go to the town hall which has been set up as a temporary courthouse while the judge is in town. They talk to the judge and essentially surrender themselves into his custody, so he has them locked up (in the storage room they're using as a cell) with Jackson and Cleophus. The other prisoners are kind of annoyed that the Dogs got themselves locked up, especially since Jackson and Cleophus's confinement is part of an effort to keep the Dogs free. I know the players have been interested in interacting with Renee, so I have her show up a few hours later with her follower Adam to berate the Dogs for doubting the power of the spirits. (We had a bit of discussion here about what they are hoping to achieve, since I was having hard time finding ways to push conflict at them while they're locked up, and their “cooperate with the authorities” plan seems likely to end with them getting executed, because they are essentially guilty of the crime they're accused of).

They agree that their current course of action isn't going to take them anywhere they really want to be, so we decide to do a conflict with Renee to see if the Dogs can escape and take Renee hostage (we could have done the escape as one conflict and the capturing as a followup, but it was getting late so packaging them together made sense). The conflict starts physically as the Dogs push their way out into the makeshift courtroom. Nathaniel does a pretty big raise, so to get enough dice to see I had Renee get possessed. The in-game manifestation is the ghostly form of Augie Thompson (the guy whose murder they're accessories to) appearing inside/around Renee, who then escalates to talking, telling the Dogs that they're guilty and should stay and face their judgement (demonically enhanced, so it's d6 fallout). They do some more damage, including Nathaniel beaning Renee on the head with a thrown gavel, and I decide to give so I can keep a 10 for a followup conflict. We roll fallout and Nathaniel's character ends up at the “needs medical attention” stage from that hit he took from the demonic talking. We were already past our normal end time, so we decided we would pick the next session up with that conflict. (Speaking of which, a rules question: In the medical attention conflict, is it wounded player vs. GM, healer vs. GM, or is this a “whichever seems most appropriate” thing?) We were running late so we didn't have a lot of post-game discussion, but I asked them what they thought of the increased supernatural stuff. They both said they liked it, but wouldn't want every session to be so heavily supernatural.

Is there more to talk about?

Vincent, I'm not really sure where you wanted to go with the conversation, so feel free to use as much or as little of that as you want. In my prep, I specifically made sure that the demonic attacks were acting like tension-enhancers rather than linchpins (i.e. the tension doesn't disappear if the attacks stop, unlike the sawmill problems that were pushing the idle workforce to get financially entangled with the outsiders in my third town). It seems like this will make me less nervous about accepting supernatural stakes in play, but I don't know if this counts as a solution to that problem or routing around it.
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