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Author Topic: [DitV] Dogs at ConQuest 2005 Report  (Read 16474 times)
John Kim
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« on: September 12, 2005, 08:47:39 PM »

Though I've run many games at conventions and played a number of indie games, this was my first time gamemastering a Forge-style indie game at a convention.  It went pretty well in general.  I had gamemastered Dogs before with my Harn group, though not extensively.  I had prepared only rough notes for this, along with some general game aids. 

I had been scheduled to be one of three games in a large room (both GMs I knew from previous years).  Luckily one of the games was called off for lack of players, but I still had to share a room with a Savage Worlds game.  So noise was a factor.  We started a little late, but that's to be expected for a game starting at 6PM on a Friday.  I had two players who were pretty gung-ho on indie gaming -- Carl and Jon.  Carl was actually more prepared than me in ways: he had bound copies of Jason Mornningstar's online game aids "Wisdom from the Book of Life" and "Names among the Faithful".  He also was up on the rules, and corrected me at one or two points.  Jon wasn't experienced but he was eager.  The other two had no idea what Dogs in the Vineyard was, but were game to try.  One of them (Jerry) had played in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer event I had run at a previous convention.  The other I hadn't met before. 

We were scheduled for six hours, so everyone went through full character generation.  Roughly, Jon, Jerry and the other guy made fairly combative types.  In response, Carl made a less combative type.  The results were:
  • Jerry made Brother Jeb, a man with burn scars over his face from having pulled a Steward from a fire.
  • Jon made Brother Phineas, a hot-tempered man awkward around women who tended to joke a lot.
  • The other guy made Brother Josiah, a tough guy whose history was a succession of those around him dying.
  • Carl made Brother Isaac, who was more of a healer.
An interesting note was Brother Josiah.  His player was at first stuck for how to make a character, then started writing out notes on his history -- wherein his parents and then two other sets of people who cared for him died.  He was the only one who had no relationships at the start -- though he established one during his accomplishment phase. 

The accomplishments were:
  • Brother Phineas: "My Instructor didn't teach me to curb my temper 1d6"
  • Brother Jeb had an attempt which was "I hope my character has learned to accept his disfigurement as a sign of his being 'chosen by God' and not a punishment from God" -- which later translated into the Trait "I'm special in God's eyes 1d6"
  • Brother Josiah: "I didn't learn to channel my rage 1d6"
  • Brother Isaac: "I saved someone's life 1d6"
I noted that the first three were all internal change, with the player rolling as the character the way they were.  What stood out to me was mostly that this phase amounts to player choice, since they could be guaranteed win against the fixed dice by escalating and/or drawing in traits. 

So we took a break for a bit after initiations.  I made a point of trying to draw in as many of the PC relationships as I could into the town.  What I originally had was a basic progression of Pride to Injustice and so forth.  However, once I had worked in the relationship characters it was perhaps not so narrowly focused on that.  So I soon had a list of 10 NPCs who were involved in the plot, which was a fair amount.  As it turned out, the event went over the six hours it was scheduled for.  We started at 6PM and went to 12:30 or so.  A large part of this was talking to all the NPCs, who all had something to say. 

At the start I had my core two NPCs in the town.  The story was basically that there was a prior Steward of the town, and when he died the young new Steward, Nathaniel, found it hard to fill his shoes.  Many people went to the old Steward's widow Hester for advice, and Nathaniel set out to undo this.  When some kids got sick, he took it on himself to take charge of treatment even though he knew nothing about medicine.  Demonic attacks follow that more kids get sick, and Nathaniel has to find a cause he can attack.  He theorizes demon worshippers poisoning the water and secretly begins organizing to catch them.   

To this, then, I wanted to fit in the relationships of the characters:
  • Temperance was a girl who had an eye on Brother Phineas.  I cast her as the first victim of the demonic attacks -- she was struck blind.
  • We had previously agreed that Hamilton, the Steward whom Brother Jeb had saved from a fire, was the father of Temperance.  So he was then the one who had first gone to Nathaniel for help.  He had a new young wife and son, his first wife having died in the fire.
  • I also put Jeb's ex-fiancé Sally Mae as the next potential victim of the demonic attacks, saying that she was having blackouts and other symptoms of sickness.
  • I put Phineas' enemy Azariah, and Isaac's lazy uncle Cuthbert as locals whom Nathaniel had recruited into his campaign to catch the poisoning demon worshippers.
So I had five of the eight relationships worked in, and figured that was good.  The relationships deepened interest, but they stretched out the time and they broadened the focus away from Nathaniel's Pride.  It's a tradeoff I was comfortable with, but could have gone either way. 

Play began with them riding into town, going to the Steward's house and finding Hester -- who explained that her husband had died and that Nathaniel was the new Steward.  She had critical words of Nathaniel, and they decided to talk to the other people of the town first before talking to Nathaniel.  Basically there were a number of scenes of talking to NPCs without much conflict.  I won't go through all the scenes, but the conflicts were:
     
  • Temperance, now blind, asks to talk to Brother Phineas privately.  He has 1d6 "Can't talk to girls".  After brief discussion, we agree that Temperance initiates a conflict: "Does Phineas promise to come back for her?"  The player, Jon, was a little reticent himself and seemed well-suited to play the Dog preyed upon by the desperate blind girl.  Jon gave after I raised 11 using her Blind 2d10 trait.
  •  
  • Later, Phineas comes to talk to the sheriff who hated him, Azariah.  I say that Azariah doesn't invite him in, and we agree this is a conflict: "Does Azariah invite Brother Phineas into his home."  Azariah gives pretty quickly after a bad dice roll -- Carl was curious why I didn't escalate.  First, I didn't think I could win, plus it didn't seem that important to me either to the story as a whole or to Azariah as a character, and at that point I could see we were going to run overtime.
  •  
  • After they questioned Nathaniel, they were suspicious of him but didn't have a clear path of how to get proof.  Nathaniel had a plan to search at night for the cultists.  The Dogs went on the search instead.  They knew whoever was there would be warned, but they hoped to instead tempt the conspirators into ambushing them.  I obligingly then had Azariah try to ambush them to stop their investigation.  We started a conflict at gunfighting with the stakes of "Does Brother Josiah get shot full o' holes?".  This was a big group conflict, where Azariah eventually gave after the Dogs killed one farmhand and wounded Azariah's son.
  •  
  • There was then a conflict with Brother Josiah saving Brother Jeb, and Brother Isaac saving Brother Phineas.  (Isaac had to use his "I saved a man's life 1d6" trait, Phineas' own big excellent 2d8 knife, AND allocate 2d6 relationship dice to do so.)

Overall, I thought it came off pretty well.  If I had a critique, I think it went well scene-by-scene, but the story as a whole didn't have as much punch as it could have.  On the other hand, I think everyone liked the NPCs, especially Temperance preying on Brother Phineas.  On the down side, I at least was dissatisfied with group conflicts.  So when I had them ambushed, I had an arbitrary choice of how many guys Azariah had with him.  I eventually decided on four guys (i.e. +8d6).  Taking on four Dogs, the only way I could challenge them was by giving myself extra dice this way. 

There was also a rules issue or two.  During the climactic gunfight, Carl attempted to escalate to Non-Physical to get extra dice.  I was a little leary of this, but it wasn't defined strictly in the rules.  I also felt awkward sometimes when players tried to drag questionable traits into conflicts.  I think I only denied this once, but it felt a big arbitrary to me. 

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John Kim
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« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2005, 08:56:55 PM »

Oh, yeah. Here's the predecessor thread,

Prepping for DitV at ConQuest

and here is the event description and the PC sheets:

Dugway Canyon Page

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- John
GB Steve
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2005, 12:33:13 AM »

I eventually decided on four guys (i.e. +8d6).  Taking on four Dogs, the only way I could challenge them was by giving myself extra dice this way. 
Isn't it +8d6 per stat? So at least +16d6! Crowds mean trouble for Dogs.

There was also a rules issue or two.  During the climactic gunfight, Carl attempted to escalate to Non-Physical to get extra dice.  I was a little leary of this, but it wasn't defined strictly in the rules.  I also felt awkward sometimes when players tried to drag questionable traits into conflicts.  I think I only denied this once, but it felt a big arbitrary to me. 
I tried an experiment with this. At the end of my last game of Dogs, the final conflict was between the Dogs themselves over whether their dead companion was a hero or a rapist. Given that it had little to do with me, I left them to it, to police the raises themselves.

It became clear that each would try to use all the traits they had, sometimes in very tangential ways, but if challenged they'd back down right away. It's as if they expected not to be able to use that trait but trying it on anyway. Afterwards they agreed that someone to police the ways in which traits are used is a good thing. So I'm not worried about it anymore.
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John Kim
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« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2005, 09:38:16 AM »


Isn't it +8d6 per stat? So at least +16d6! Crowds mean trouble for Dogs.
Yeah, I think that's right.  But anyway, the point is that it was difficult for me to decide how many extra NPCs (and hence extra dice) to throw at the players.  I guess it's like most games, though, in that with more experience you learn to judge better how much to throw at the players to be challenging. 

There was also a rules issue or two.  During the climactic gunfight, Carl attempted to escalate to Non-Physical to get extra dice.  I was a little leary of this, but it wasn't defined strictly in the rules.  I also felt awkward sometimes when players tried to drag questionable traits into conflicts.  I think I only denied this once, but it felt a big arbitrary to me. 
I tried an experiment with this. At the end of my last game of Dogs, the final conflict was between the Dogs themselves over whether their dead companion was a hero or a rapist. Given that it had little to do with me, I left them to it, to police the raises themselves.

It became clear that each would try to use all the traits they had, sometimes in very tangential ways, but if challenged they'd back down right away. It's as if they expected not to be able to use that trait but trying it on anyway. Afterwards they agreed that someone to police the ways in which traits are used is a good thing. So I'm not worried about it anymore.
That sounds good.  Depending on the players, I think different approaches are called for.  Certainly at the con, the players differed a lot in how much they were willing to push as far as dragging in traits and escalations.  Carl was aggressive in calling for traits, and he didn't back down right away if challenged -- he would argue his case and then leave it to my call.  In contrast, the others were slow to drag in tangential traits at all, and I would at times encourage them to pull in traits. 

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- John
lumpley
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2005, 10:22:17 AM »

Was it Carl Rigney? Man, I'd be intimidated to GM for that guy. He knows the game really well.

(Hey Carl! I'm pretty sure you're reading this.)

Anyway, getting your Heart dice by talking to your enemy in the middle of a gunfight is altogether kosher.

-Vincent
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John Kim
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2005, 11:11:21 AM »

Was it Carl Rigney? Man, I'd be intimidated to GM for that guy. He knows the game really well.

(Hey Carl! I'm pretty sure you're reading this.)

Anyway, getting your Heart dice by talking to your enemy in the middle of a gunfight is altogether kosher.

Yeah, it was Carl Rigney.  After a quick look at the rules, I allowed his escalating to Talking -- but it certainly took me by surprise at the time.  The rules gave a feeling of there being a scale up from Talking to Physical to Fighting to Gunfighting -- so when it referred to "escalation", I had always assumed that escalation meant going up that scale.  That was how I played with my friends.  I was a bit shocked to find that it wasn't defined that way.  It significantly changes my view of the game, actually. 

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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2005, 11:28:48 AM »

The rules gave a feeling of there being a scale up from Talking to Physical to Fighting to Gunfighting -- so when it referred to "escalation", I had always assumed that escalation meant going up that scale.  That was how I played with my friends.  I was a bit shocked to find that it wasn't defined that way.  It significantly changes my view of the game, actually.

It shouldn't. The rules fully support the way you've been playing. It's only natural for conflicts to start with talking and end with violence, so there's no reason for the rules to enforce it. People mostly do it that way all by themselves.

The only difference is that the rules also support the conflict where saying "she never loved you, you know" ends the fistfight.

-Vincent
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2005, 01:04:40 PM »


It shouldn't. The rules fully support the way you've been playing. It's only natural for conflicts to start with talking and end with violence, so there's no reason for the rules to enforce it. People mostly do it that way all by themselves.

The only difference is that the rules also support the conflict where saying "she never loved you, you know" ends the fistfight.
Well, but that's a change from how we viewed it.  We hadn't been thinking of it as an option to beat someone shooting at you by doing so.  Adding that as an option for my players would very likely have changed how they approached things.  Like when the wife attacked them at the end of our first session, I bet they would have responded by talking her down instead of shooting it out with her.  It makes gunfights a little less scary, because you can get a load of more dice by escalating -- and then your opponent has to either counter-escalate (and thus remove the danger of deadly d10 fallout) or beat you with less dice. 

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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2005, 01:19:23 PM »

(and thus remove the danger of deadly d10 fallout)

Ah! No, not at all. All she has to do is answer them once, roll her Heart, and then go back to shooting.

It's the raise that inflicts fallout, not where you've escalated to.

It works well. The PCs are trying to win the gunfight just by talking, right? That means they have to come up with things to say to her that she can't ignore while she's shooting at them, and they only inflict d4 fallout while she's inflicting d10s. It's not that appealing an option.

-Vincent
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John Kim
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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2005, 02:29:42 PM »

Ah! No, not at all. All she has to do is answer them once, roll her Heart, and then go back to shooting.

It's the raise that inflicts fallout, not where you've escalated to.

It works well. The PCs are trying to win the gunfight just by talking, right? That means they have to come up with things to say to her that she can't ignore while she's shooting at them, and they only inflict d4 fallout while she's inflicting d10s. It's not that appealing an option.

OK.  In specific case, they'd still do this -- because they had her outnumbered three to one and could definitely win the stakes, but were worried that they'd kill her by her fallout dice.  Just to be clear, if they wanted to, they could do the same thing -- right?  That is, they could escalate to talking for the extra stat dice and talking-related traits, but then go right back to shooting in their next Raise (and inflicting d10 fallout dice). 

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lumpley
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« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2005, 04:28:45 PM »

Yep.

Hm. Should I take pains to remind you that people don't always do do what they can do? I've played the game a fair bit, and players tend to commit to a course of action and follow it through. When they do, and when they don't - that's interesting stuff.

-Vincent
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cdr
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« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2005, 11:02:46 PM »

Of course I'm reading this thread!

If memory serves, I believe Brother Isaac's talking raise in the gunfight was to call upon the bushwackers to surrender to us as Dogs or face damnation, to establish that they weren't just trying to kill four random snoops, but were Faithful opposing the will of the King of Life embodied in us.  In my eyes that was bigtime escalation because identifying ourselves and calling on them to surrender meant that if they kept shooting they couldn't later claim they'd mistaken us for the river-poisoning demon worshippers.  It makes a big difference to me as to whether we're doing things as just folks, or as Faithful, or as Dogs.

We were pretty lenient, considering, but I reckon there's no call to hang someone just because they try to kill you.  You don't blame the sheep for eating your garden, he's just doing what sheep do. You blame the shepherd or the guy who built the fence.  And the Dog they almost killed wound up as their new Steward, anyway.

It was a fun game!

--Carl
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John Kim
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2005, 10:02:51 AM »


Of course I'm reading this thread!

If memory serves, I believe Brother Isaac's talking raise in the gunfight was to call upon the bushwackers to surrender to us as Dogs or face damnation, to establish that they weren't just trying to kill four random snoops, but were Faithful opposing the will of the King of Life embodied in us.  In my eyes that was bigtime escalation because identifying ourselves and calling on them to surrender meant that if they kept shooting they couldn't later claim they'd mistaken us for the river-poisoning demon worshippers.  It makes a big difference to me as to whether we're doing things as just folks, or as Faithful, or as Dogs.

We were pretty lenient, considering, but I reckon there's no call to hang someone just because they try to kill you.  You don't blame the sheep for eating your garden, he's just doing what sheep do. You blame the shepherd or the guy who built the fence.  And the Dog they almost killed wound up as their new Steward, anyway.

Yeah, I forgot to comment on that.  So the upshot was that they agreed that Nathaniel should not be Steward but they didn't kill him or those he was pushing.  There was a debate over who should be the next Steward.  Eventually, they agreed to have a PC be the next steward -- I think Jerry's PC Brother Jeb, but embarrassingly I'm not sure.  Jeb had an ex-fiancee in the town whom he had been avoiding because of his horrible burns, and I think he settled down with her.  I wonder that maybe the large number of relations contributed to their feeling more sympathy with the town and less urge to lay some smackdown on the wrongdoers.  Also, Carl commented at the time that it was a subtle sin -- the guy at the top (Nathaniel) could justify to himself that he was doing the right thing, while the guys he's directing are justifying that they're just carrying out what he wants. 

Oh yeah, and the escalation to talking was certainly cool in retrospect -- it just surprised me at the time and had me checking my book.  I'm working on putting together a strategy guide for new players.  One thing I might do for my next con run is after the individual conflicts for Initiation, maybe come up with a reason to do a group conflict to show how that (and especially helping) works. 

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Emily Care
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2005, 12:08:27 PM »

Hey John,

Sounds like it was a good game.  One thing I noticed was your emphasis on tying in the player's relationships into the town.  A useful thing about how Dogs works is that since the townsfolk want something from the Dogs, they will be drawn to interacting with them even if they don't have a personal connection. 

When I have played, I've gotten a lot out of choosing where my connections interesected with the plot, too. It's cool that players are empowered to do so in Dogs & other such games.

best,
Emily
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John Harper
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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2005, 12:13:54 PM »

One thing I might do for my next con run is after the individual conflicts for Initiation, maybe come up with a reason to do a group conflict to show how that (and especially helping) works.

I did this for Wolves of the North, and it worked well. After accomplishments, I jumped right to the Wolves on their way up the mountain. They run across a group of Skraelings fighting a group of Faithful and the battle begins. So we got to try out a whole-group conflict, with gangs of NPCs on both sides. Since it happened right out of the gate, it wasn't very story-critical, and there wasn't a lot pressure on the PCs to stick it out to the bitter end -- which made it good as a teaching tool, I think.
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