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A Noobs Impression

Started by abjourne, April 03, 2011, 11:39:58 PM

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I've recently played a few games of Dogs (as a player) & found the concept & setting to be fascinating but,

I noticed that the systems decidedly vague trait mechanics can be easily exploited or if unfamiliar with the game's mechanics easily producing highly flawed /weak Dogs. One player chose the trait I'm always right 2D10 & was difficult to refute, another created an outdoorsy mountain person convert & was useless.

The procedure on rituals was very vague. We tried to have an exorcism but really, horribly fuddled with/thru it.

Lastly, while your information on the setting was very useful & interesting, it was difficult for the GM to present the towns in an engaging & evolving was. He pretty much defaulted to, "After arriving to town & being invited to the mayor's house for dinner he explains to you the town's problems". I don't understand why you don't offer any advice on how to frame a towns "problems" as a presentation to the players. For example, having the dogs arrive in town to witness an act in violation of the script (or a few acts) that would lead the dogs into discovering/seeking the root of the towns corruption.

I'm not trying to offend anyone or dis the system but could anyone explain why either these areas within the rules seam undeveloped or what I'm missing.

Eero Tuovinen

You have interesting points, I'll join in speculating on them with you:

Concerning your first point, the way I usually explain this sort of thing is that it's the player's task and duty in the game to utilize the system towards the intended goals. It seems that there are many roleplayers who enjoy abusing rules systems for personal aggrandizement, but there's no reason to blame the system on that; the DiV trait mechanics are intended to depict and focus on character identity, and as long as the rules are used for this purpose with a pure heart, system-exploitation is not an issue. However, the moment a player enters the game with incompatible motivations the game breaks, as is the nature of the beast. This goes for DiV and many other games as well.

I'll elaborate on this, as I find the way you frame the concern interesting: your problem is that the system produces weak characters and strong characters, but surely the game itself does not care whether characters are weak or strong. The game only cares about depicting characters with fidelity. Character strength is a non-issue in a game where players are not trying to win or lose. A character is not "useless" just because they are mechanically weak, as the game's concern over depicting emotionally moving, dramatically interesting characters may be fulfilled just as easily by a strong or weak character. Likewise, there is no imprimatur on the players to "win" a scenario in DiV, as the game is merely interested in the choices the characters make and faithful depiction of the consequences. With this in mind it should be clear that the only way to play well and the only way to "win" (or rather, have creative satisfaction) in using the trait system is by respecting the fiction and being serious about using the system as intended: when you use a trait X, the character should do or be X in the fiction as well, and that's that.

I myself find this idea that the players are playing with good faith and according to the spirit of the game to be an absolutely crucial prerequisite of successful play for a vast majority of roleplaying games. Historically we get a lot of double-think and outright lying in this regard in the rpg culture, as people pay lip service to this or that ideal of play while basically continuing to play every game like it was that same old D&D or some such, a game where their real goal always is to beat down everything the GM introduces and hog the spotlight by having their own character engage in wacky antics™. Then the GM is held up as some sort of kindergarden teacher who's job it is to force the players to coordinate their creativity towards a mutually agreeable task. That's tired stuff, I don't myself go for that anymore; it's much better to tell the players directly that in this game their task and duty is to depict an interesting character for everybody's enjoyment, and not try to abuse the game's mechanical procedures. Once this is clear, the GM's coordination responsibilities become much less, as he merely needs to oversee the proceedings and perhaps make a few critical remarks instead of constantly fighting the players.

As for your other points, I agree with you that the ritual thing is not written as clearly as it could be in the DiV text. As I remember it, the basic point the text is communicating is that "ritual" is a technical name for the conceit that characters can cause fallout as if they were using weapons by using an appropriate ritual against an appropriate foe. Rituals are spiritual weapons, in other words, and there's not much else to it; just have the player describe what the character is doing and then assign the deed a fallout value according to the text.

Regarding your last point, extra GMing help is always a good idea, but it's a never-ending task to try to include it all into one static text. I personally think that the history of the roleplaying hobby has amply demonstrated that it's better to seek a happy balance than to try to write a one-size-fits-all instruction text. Players who have concerns or questions or need extra advice can easily look for it in additional sources. As it is, most GMs seem to find the DiV instructions sufficient for grogging for themselves how to go about pacing their towns for the players, and those who don't can easily look for personalized support in the Internet - here, for example. I wouldn't expect a first-time GM to pick it up just like that, for example, but then DiV is hardly a first-time game.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


The point I'm trying to get at is the result of a very effective character vs an initially ineffective one is the nature of the games reward system, which will amplify this problem to the point of eventually making the "ineffective" dog becoming a nightmare of dozens of D4 traits. While the other character will evolve into a cleaner, richer persona.

The players themselves were the basis of this observation. The one was proud & enthusiastic about his stalwart dog while the other became frustrated by constantly taking the blow in spite of the fact that over time he would win more conflicts at the cost of constantly gaining more D4 traits to perpetuate the interaction.

As for the other two points I think the game/rules would greatly benefit from having more in-game examples of introduced concepts considering the less conventional play techniques introduced. Without of course scouring thru forums or podcasts to learn how to play a game bought & paid for.

Don't get me wrong there are a lot of concepts & dynamics I like about dogs, I just wish the games frame-work of how to play got more "page time" then setting.

Eero Tuovinen

That's an interesting point on how the fallout rules influence character development. Do I misremember, or was there some fallout scheme in there where you get to transform and improve those d4 traits over time to turn difficulties into strengths over a longer time-frame? I seem to remember that characters haven't gotten mired into a bog of d4 traits when I've played, but that might have been because of how we've been picking the conflicts instead of the development rules themselves. After all, a "strong" or "weak" character is relative to the challenges they face, so happening to face less resistance might have something to do with it as well.

That being said, I don't think that a player should be frustrated over his dog being in difficulty. Not that I should dictate how others feel, but rather that the group should work to make difficulties and failures and weakness interesting and sympathetic. Often in fiction the character who's constantly getting kicked even when he's down is the actual main character simply because he has those blemishes that make him more real. This is what it means to appreciate both weak and strong characters for what they bring to the overall story.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


One of the choices for experience fallout is to "increase the die size of a trait" (which our group interpreted as moving it up by 1 step, so d4s become d6s, later become d8s, then later d10s), so yes, your buckets of d4s can be upgraded easily.  I love having d4 traits, though.  They give me an excuse to make tactically poor choices.  :)

My personal experience with Dogs was that, as early as my first read-through, I felt empowered to play.  That was a strange feeling - usually, when I go through a new rulebook, I have to spend some time getting all the fiddly bits straight in my head.  And of course I had to do that here too, but Dogs was ... approachable? ... in a way that other published RPGs haven't been for me.  I'm just offering that as a contrast - clearly, as Eero says, everyone's reaction to the game will be different.  And more in-game examples would be good, I agree.

I do think there is one thing in Dogs which makes characters' mechanical strength/weakness significant.  In group conflicts, or in intra-party conflicts, "stronger" dogs (a significant edge in more, larger dice) will be able to last longer.  If everyone's cooperating against the sorceror, it can be frustrating to be forced to give early while the other players are still slinging high rolls around.  And if you're trying to win a conflict against a fellow Dog ...

Granted, all starting characters should be balanced against each other; so unless overspecialization is a factor (nobody escalates from talking and player #2 is optimized for knife-fightin') I don't think that's what's going on here.  But in our current Dogs game, I recently stepped down from GM and brought a new Dog into a game that had been running for 3 sessions, and those struggles were apparent.  (It didn't stop me from having fun!  In fact, it has added to everyone's enjoyment - as it's clear he's an inexperienced Dog trying to prove himself, and that's reflected in our conflicts and our character-building.  When he finally did advance enough to save everyone's bacon in an important conflict, it was a real watershed moment.)

So I'm kind of agreeing with you both here.  :)


Hi abjourne,

QuoteI noticed that the systems decidedly vague trait mechanics can be easily exploited or if unfamiliar with the game's mechanics easily producing highly flawed /weak Dogs.

I don't have my books with me right now, but there is a rule in the book that raises and traits are limited by the group's critical eye - in other words, saying, "I'm always right!" only works if the whole group is says, "Yeah, that applies here in this situation".   If anyone says, "No, actually, that's BS, that's stretching it, that doesn't actually make sense", then no, you don't get to use that in a Raise.

QuoteI don't understand why you don't offer any advice on how to frame a towns "problems" as a presentation to the players.

Have you read the section on Towns?  It actually gives quite a few ways and descriptions on how to frame it- and very often while the Steward has ideas about "what's wrong", every other person in town also has their own ideas, and the GM is told to have everyone either say what they think will get them what they want, or, if they're hiding something, say to the players, "You can see he's hiding something."

It sounds like your group could do with a close re-reading of the book, because this, especially, is one of DitV's strong points as a game.  The "Structure of the Game" outline is also worth having on hand, because you can remind each other, "Hey, this game works differently than (previous game we're used to), THIS is how it's supposed to go."


Adam Dray

I'm running a Dogs campaign right now, so I can relate.

Ritual is explained in one place and it has two prongs. First, as others have explained, ritual changes the Fallout that demons and sorcerers receive when they Take the Blow. You can be "just talking" (normally d4 Fallout) but if you Anoint with Sacred Earth while you do it, that makes it d8 Fallout. Second, sorcerers and demons cannot ignore ritual. This is perhaps more important than the Fallout rule. Basically, it's a squishy rule about the fiction, but it's a strong one. You pull out the ritual, whatever you're doing cannot be ignored. That is, the GM has to turn it into a conflict and the demon or sorcerer has to deal with your Raise. Remember that in a conflict, only those people who have to "answer" a Raise have to See it. Ritual puts the crosshairs on the sorcerer. That's my take on the rule, anyway.

I'm curious what happened during your exorcism. Because there's nothing in the rules about exorcisms, right? Obviously, it's some kind of conflict, but the nature of exorcism is left to the playgroup. Want to tell us more about how that played out? Remember any of the specific details? What supernatural elements, if any, were introduced by the players and GM?

While the Town structure is extremely powerful and well described in the rules, I do agree that the text could better explain where to start. I often fumble to figure out which NPC I want to be my lead. When I write up a new Town, I often decide who will impart information when. That said, if you follow the Town rules exactly, you should end up with a list of NPCs and what each wants from the Dogs. There's nothing wrong with picking a random NPC and having them approach a Dog and plead his or her case. The players can piece the whole story together over time.

That said, there's nothing wrong with having the Steward just lay it all down for the Dogs. The game isn't a mystery novel. It's not about figuring out what is wrong. It's about deciding what is the right way to fix it. The Town creation rules plus a little creativity generate dynamic, complex situations that don't have a single, right solution. Okay, so the Steward told you what's wrong; what are you gonna do about it? Who is going to oppose you? And certainly the other NPCs all want something, too. They get to speak up.

The text does address the strength and weakness of Dogs. The character creation rules require that everyone at the table thinks the character is suitable for play, and suitable for being a Dog. If a trait sucks, anyone can speak up, and the player has to change it.

"I'm always right" is an awesome trait. It doesn't mean the character is always right; it means the character thinks he's always right. Also, while it might be trivial to justify using "I'm always right" during a Talking conflict, it's harder to bring it into a violent one. Make the player explain how "I'm always right" means he can shoot better, or punch a guy in the face more easily. If people at the table think it's bogus, then it doesn't happen.

In my game, one of the players made a PC that is totally geared for knife fighting. She gave her character totally crappy talking stats, no talking traits, great fighting stats, and tons of huge knife-fighting traits. And a big, excellent knife, of course. Is this character optimized for violence? Yeah. So what? I threw a ton of talking conflicts at her. People who are mouthy and a little out of control in their lives, but not necessarily murderers. I wanted to see how she'd deal with it. For a long time, her character just helplessly and silently stood by while shit happened. When she got frustrated enough, she threated someone with her knife. It was totally psychotic, but that's the situation she put herself in. As time passes, it'll be cool to see if the player invests Fallout and Experience in talking traits. In short, though, the isn't broken here--the game laughs at hyper-optimized characters, and it lovingly caresses weak, quirky characters. It's all good, really.

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