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Author Topic: [DitV] Relationship dice: a form of content authority?  (Read 2701 times)
Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« on: July 10, 2011, 01:56:54 PM »

Hi!

I often encounter Internet posts that propagate a specific misconception about the use of Relationship Dice in DitV.  The last case, that prompted me to write this post, was in the story-games forum, but I prefer to talk about it here, and in any case I could find other example here, too, spending some time searching of it. (it's really widespread)

The example is from this post: http://story-games.com/forums/?CommentID=327015, but the topic of that thread has no importance in this one. What I am posting about is this:
Quote
My favorite part of Dogs in the Vineyard is when you assign unassigned Relationship dice in play. 2d6... that's my cousin who stole from my family!

As I said, it's not the first time I saw that written in a forum post. It's a very widespread assumption: that, by spending dice on a relationship, you can create a backstory and say what happened in the past to form that relationship. It's easy even to understand this come from: a lot of indie rpgs do, indeed, give you that authority when you spend some kind of currency (dice, coins, cards, etc.)

But in DitV, the game text don't say this.  In DitV, after the character creation process end, the ENTIRE authority in content (back story, town creation, npcs, the sin ladder, etc.) goes to the GM. In DitV, you don't get to say "I spend this relationship dice to say that the Steward's wife is my mother, who fled from our family years ago".

This separation of authority is, in my opinion, very important for the game. If the players can act on the town problems directly, without using their character's action, they can bypass the entire premise of the game. There is some confusion about this, because in the game text is written that if the character search, for example, a blacksmith, the GM should "say yes or roll the dice", but this a specific use of the GM's authority, used in this case to "push the game toward conflict" (and avoid useless waste of time). But it's still the GM's authority, not the player's.

My reading of the game text tell me that the relationship dice are instead a sort of plot authority: by putting these dice on a new relationship, you say that that relationship is formed, right here, right now ("now, this is personal!", "this is too much. I will not rest until that guy will pay for his crimes!", or even "One look into her eyes, and I know I have met the woman of my dreams"), or that some relationship now matter enough in the fiction to be worth dices  (for example, when you meet a member of the family, and you have to decide to get the free D6, or spend relationship dice). You don't get to create or modify the NPC's past with these dice.

Why I am posting this, if I am so sure about that reading of the game text? Because I never played DitV with Vincent, while I think some of these people, at least some, did.  I would like to know if somewhere along the road the way to play the game changed, of if I did misread the rules instead, or if, as I think, that quote is completely wrong.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2011, 07:26:15 PM »

What's happening there, by the rules, is that the player is saying "I'm assigning this person 2d6, and she's my cousin, okay?" and the GM is answering, "sure, she's your cousin, that's fine with me."

It's the GM's call, yes, you're right, not the player's, but the player's well within her rights to ask and the GM will almost always agree to it. The only time the GM wouldn't agree is when it'd mess up the town as created, and that's not going to be common. Then, the player will say "I'm assigning this person 2d6, and she's my cousin," and the GM will answer "oh - yeah, no, you can assign her 2d6, but she can't be your cousin," and the player will have to decide whether to assign the 2d6 anyway.

Not a big deal.

If you ask me, reducing the creative relationship between the players and GM to "who has content authority?" does violence to the game design. The answer is a matter of bringing players' interests into alignment, not a matter of assigning authority.

-Vincent
« Last Edit: July 11, 2011, 07:32:25 PM by lumpley » Logged
Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2011, 08:18:29 PM »

If you ask me, reducing the creative relationship between the players and GM to "who has content authority?" does violence to the game design. The answer is a matter of bringing players' interests into alignment, not a matter of assigning authority.

I consider the "narrative authorities" a useful way to look at games after they are published, at the moment of play ("who has the last word here?"), not as a design tool (in a lot of games most of the authorities are shared anyway, or the distribution change during the game).

They are very useful, for example, to explain players why, for example, their characters in DitV can enter in a saloon and say "I grab a bottle" without having to ask the GM if there is one (Narrational authority) but they can't say "I find a bottle filled with poison inside Sister Prudence's cupboard, proving that she's the killer" (Content authority). A lot of people goes right from an example of one to thinking they can do the other, because they are not used to think in those terms ("a bottle is a bottle, why not this one?"). And they are useful to explain what you can narrate during a conflict in different games, of course.

It's true that there is a lot confusion between things useful in the design phase and things useful to look at finished games, but your choice of words ("does violence to game design" is rather strong...) make me think that you have a lot more to say about this.  Do you see many games created choosing beforehand the narrative authority distribution? What effects do did you see this had on the design of these games?

(maybe it's better in another thread?)
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2011, 08:33:28 PM »

"Who has the last word here?" is a blunt, blunt instrument. Very rarely in a well-designed game should we care who has the last word. We should care who's talking, and what they're saying, and how we're to respond to what they're saying - not who has the last word. "Who has the last word" is good for resolving disagreements. In a well-designed game, disagreements will be very rare.

When a player says "I find a bottle filled with poison inside Sister Prudence's cupboard, proving that she's the killer," you explain to her that it's your responsibility as GM to decide who's the killer, and that in fact you've already done so, before the session ever started, and it's her responsibility to discover who's the killer and decide what to do about it. This isn't resolving a disagreement between you and the player; the player didn't understand what your respective jobs were, and now she does, so now she can do her job and let you do yours. There's no need to fall back upon who has authority at all.

If it becomes a matter of authority, that means that the player's insisting that Sister Prudence is, in fact, the killer, even though you've explained that it's your job as GM to prep the town and you already know who the killer is. This means that the game has broken down. At that point, authority is moot. You're playing in poor faith.

-Vincent
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