(DitV) Bitterwater

Started by carshow2, June 03, 2011, 05:47:34 PM

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Well, I've never posted an AP anywhere before, but my loosely organized group(s) are trying to get more awesome in our games. I play in a couple groups and there's a growing sense among some of the players that there's more out there than "roll d20 to hit." That, and with the growing time pressures of work and family, I find I have little patience for continually playing 8 hours of uber-sessions that don't bring sufficient ka-pow. As the general malcontent in my groups, I'm taking on the task of trying to generate some interest in indie games. My experiences in the games that are referenced on the Forge is extremely limited, and this is one of the things I'm hoping to change by spearheading this effort. So far, I've been pleasantly surprised how GGG my group has been. In order to generate some enthusiasm, I'm going with a gateway drug into indie games - Dogs in the Vineyard. I've run the game maybe 5 times before, played in it once, and it seems like the system is a good introduction into narration, escalating conflict, social conflict, etc. Because the game's pretty well established, I don't suspect I'll have any insight to provide into the game itself. What I'm hoping is that by doing a proper postmortem, I can get better at bringing this game that I'm really fond of and showing other people (who may not be as hooked into the idea of the experimenting with games but who are still up for playing around with some different mechanics) what these games can offer.

Okay, so, the town.

Pride - Sister Martha, the most senior wife of Steward Hezekiah and a former Dog, is taking a much more active role in her town's governance and in the sheparding of the faithful than is otherwise appropriate for her station. She still views herself as "set apart" and believes that she (and her sister-wives, daughters, and other women of the town) deserve more say. Their pride is in being unsatisfied with the roles their gender forces them into.

Sin - Matha begins to assert herself. Her husband, a well-meaning but elderly Steward respects her former authority as a Dog too much to effectively stand up to her. The only real sin uncovered in play was that she took it upon herself to secretly marry a couple in the town. The couple had found out they had gotten pregnant, came to her for advice, and she married 'em on the spot.

Demonic attacks - as Martha becomes bold, the demons begin to sicken and afflict them men of the town, including and especially the Steward. Because we only made it to Heresy by the time the Dogs arrive, I decided to limit it to a "strange affliction," leaving most of the men lethargic but not affecting them otherwise. The Steward, however, being frail, takes ill and eventually slips into a coma (prior to the Dogs arrival).

False doctrine - "Martha should be the Steward." The town needs a strong hand. This becomes doubly true in light of some of the menfolks' indulgence in intoxicating liquors. She shares these thoughts with others of the women of the town, spreading the false beliefs.

Corrupt Worship - again, the heretical wedding ceremony. This was as bad as things got before the Dogs ride in to town.

Note, this is a pretty limited town, I think, it terms of roiling, steamy sin. There were a couple reasons for this. First, I threw it together in about 20 minutes - the game itself was somewhat impromptu. Second, 2 of the 3 players had never played before so it seemed best not bite off more than anyone could chew. Third, we were on a schedule of about 5 hours, including character creation. Seemed advisable to shoot for a manageable (but still interesting) town.

Anyhow, the characters -

Brother Hector (Eric) - this was a character my friend created for a game I ran at Forge Midwest 2011. We ran this game as a prequel for the character, so there was no initiatory conflict. He was English by birth, a doctor by trade, and was converted to the faith. He moved and later became a dog. Hs traits included, unsurprisingly, "do no harm." (that won't last long.....)

Sister Deseretta (Katie) - Katie was new to the game but not to the LDS religion. She nicknamed her character "Molly Mormon" (which was, she informed me, a common epithet among Mormons for women who seem particularly squeaky clean. The male version of the pejorative is "Peter Priest"....people can be so cruel.......), raised by a well-to-do father who saw that she wanted for nothing. One of her traits was naive. Her initiatory conflict, after a little sharpening was "did my dedication to the faith overcome temptation?" We decided temptation appeared in the form of a territorial soldier who invited her out for a "ride." The conflict never got past talking, and she managed to succeed (and, incidentally, get a small copy of the Book of Life into the guy's hands)

Brother Lazarus (Todd) - Todd was also new to DitV, coming from a background of D&D. Todd put together a Dog from a complicated community, the strong silent type. He was also the book learning type, so he decided his initial conflict should be "do I learn to apply skepticism." Now this was a tough one in a game with such strong religious themes. Skepticism is fine but I didn't want him to turn into an atheist (at least, not this early in the game) so we sharpened it a little to apply specifically to books. We took the approach that his willingness to take everything from books at face value was like a bad habit he was trying to break, so I took the role of his religious studies teacher who was trying to convince him to take a more contextual view of the scripture. Didn't work; he won the conflict so he became the bible thumpin', "each and every word in the book is true" sort of Dog (he also had some great raises, asking his teacher if the prophets were lying, 'cause if not what they wrote must be true).

The Dogs arrive in town, met by Sister Martha (rather than the Steward, as had happened in the several towns they stopped through on the way) and they quickly notice that many of the men aren't well, but that all the women appear hearty and hale. They also notice that women greet them in many more numbers than in previous towns. They'd heard the rumors about the Steward's health en route to the town and immediately ask to see him. Sister Martha puts them off but they press the issue. Hector initiated a very brief conflict here but neither of the other players was willing to step up. He rolled dice, but after a really crappy role opted to withdraw, taking his highest die with him. (I wasn't sure it was a legit use of withdrawing, but I thought it was okay. One of the players disagreed, but we decided to proceed. This might have been one of those times to apply the "if it doesn't satisfy the scrutiny of the pickiest player" rule, but Todd was okay with it after we mentioned that there was a mechanical advantage). Instead of taking them to see the Steward, she distracts them with descriptions of the farmhands who have been drinking.

The characters gamely go off in search of this known sin and find several farmhands resting nearby. They examine them for signs of intoxication but find none. The men are merely sick, wan, and lethargic.

It was at this point that I wondered if I was "hiding the ball" too much about the cause of the illness. I got the impression that the players knew that this wasn't simply overindulgence on the part of the farmhands, and that they uncovered this fact after this interchange. Later, however, they seem surprised when I picked up 2d10 for demonic influence, saying they'd witnessed demonic influence itself. Could be they weren't as familiar with the game and expected demonic influence to be more "blood running in the streets." Don't know. I'll probably be a little more overt in my demonic influence in the future.

Sister Deseretta takes the opportunity to sneak off and talk to several women working in the field nearby. Besides agreeing to teach them to how to fire a gun, she learns where the men have been keeping a still. In the meantime, Brother Josiah (uncle and father to several of the farmhands) has come out to talk with the PCs, voicing his displeasure at the way Martha's been slowly taking over the show. These points are somewhat lost on the PCs since his barn is the one with the still. He claims it's for making solvent for the farm tools, but acknowledges that his boys sometimes use it to make alcohol. The PCs destroy it, letting him off with a warning.

I should note that up to this point there hasn't been a real conflict. I think that's partly a function of the little time I had to prepare. I had the big conflict in mind, but I didn't have time to bake in any smaller, "givable" conflicts. Ultimately the game still went well, but I think it would have benefited from some earlier, smaller stakes conflicts.

At this point, the PCs press the issue of seeing the Steward. Whizz-bang, conflict! Martha tries to keep them away, and since this was technically the follow up, it starts at physical. Martha's an impressive NPC, but there's no way she could stand against 3 in power.

The find the Steward in a coma, being tended by his other wife, Sister Adelaide, and his daughter, Sister Rebekah (also Martha's daughter.) The players, in a moment that tickled me endlessly (considering this was their first or second times playing) to try to heal him. We agree the best they can hope for is that the Steward will be able to talk. They win the conflict after a couple exchanges. The steward, anticlimactically, didn't have much to share (a shortcoming on my part. I'd hoped they would try to heal him, but never considered what the Steward might share. However, I got a little lucky, as will be revealed shortly)

That evening, the Dogs joined the town for dinner and prayer. At dinner, Martha revealed the marriage she'd conducted, asking the Dogs to sanctify the union. Brother Lazarus observed that the bride was several months pregnant. Brother Hector gamely jumped in to conduct the ceremony before the entire town. It was delightful. Both of the new players squirmed while he did this (I can't wait to see how they deal with such situations now that they're a little more experienced with the game). They knew that Martha had screwed up by performing the ceremony, but weren't sure about stepping up to stop Hector. In the end, Lazarus did contribute a scriptural passage that demonstrated his displeasure with Martha (and thus painting a big target on his back). He also uncovered that Martha had been interfering with the succession of Stewardship (I decided in response to the players questions when they were talking to the Steward that the next Steward would be named by the fathers in Bridal Falls, but that the existing Steward could express a preference that would almost certainly be honored. He told the Dogs that he'd told Martha he wanted preparations for one of his sons, Brother Lyman to take over) Lazarus talked to Lyman and discovered that while he'd be willing to serve as Steward, Martha had neglected to tell him of his father's wishes.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly.... This was the first game for 2 of the 3 players) no one confronted Martha about any of the actions. AND they each accepted an offer to stay with a different townsperson - Hector with Brother Josiah, Deseretta with Almena (whom she taught a little about gun use after dinner), and Lazarus, the only one to overtly suggest disapproval of the wedding, was offered a place in the Steward's home. Before retiring to bed, I has the Steward's daughter, Rebekah (with whom he established a bit of a connection when they met the Steward) say goodnight to him, looking concerned (my plan WAS to rip a page from Vincent's playbook and have her be possessed in the night and attack him with an ax. What followed was even more fun, ESPECIALLY after I told the players what my original plan had been). Sensing her concern, he asked her what was wrong. She demured, and he (bless his heart) pushed for a conflict. I couldn't have been happier. Players, using for social conflict their first night out, just because they sense something's up. I was so proud of 'em.

He won and she spilled that he mother wanted him dead and she was going to be the one to have to do it. He even asked her, point blank, "are you a threat to me," to which she replied, without hesitation, "yes." Needless to say, he slept somewhere else that night. However, neither he nor the other Dogs did anything about Martha.

By the next morning, it was clear as the players talked that they were moving toward dealing with Martha, so I had her come out, dressed in her husband's coat, guns strapped to he hip, with 4 of her followers (I made her a full-blown sorcerer, mostly because I hadn't used that mechanic before and I wanted to see it in action.) They went straight to gunfighting and we set the stakes: the players, if they won, would take her back to Bridle Falls; if she won (and this was perhaps my one stupid, colossal mistake of the night - I'll get to why I think is in a minute), the players would leave town. It was a crap ton of dice on both sides. The hers probably could have brought in a couple more dice for raises (though they didn't, with good reason. Rebekah was among the followers, and several times when Martha saw one of the players' raises, she would sacrifice a follower. Todd in particular was afraid if he raised her again, she'd sacrifice Rebekah) but ultimately they gave in on Martha's last raise - all she had left was a 1, 1, and a 2 after that. Instead, they gave and each ran off.

We narrated a bit about what happened to the town after they left, but it was getting late, so we wrapped up.

Things that made awesome:
I loved how they dove right in. Each player came from traditional games, but they took to the narrative style with nary a stutter.
The tension. The problems of this town, rally, weren't that big in the scheme of things and were pretty straightforward. The players, though, treated their duty with the reverence it deserved.
The innovation. The players seeing that they could use the mechanic to heal someone through force of will was spectacular.

Things that made less awesome:
I think everyone was still a little tentative in bringing hellfire down on the town. Totally okay, not a problem as such, but there were times I think they wanted to but lacked the confidence to say "okay, I pull out my gun and shoot the 'uppity bitch.'" (their words, not mine)

Things that made suck:
There's one thing that comes to mind, and it's my fault. The stake I set in the final conflict was wrong, wrong, wrong. See, I have this bad habit of playing the NPCs (at leas the ones committing sins, anyway) as being suspicious of the Dogs and wanting nothing more than for the Dogs to go away. What I forgot is that these people don't necessarily see themselves as sinning, or if they are, then their sins are justified. What the Dogs are for these folks is NOT a problem, but a potential solution. If they convince the Dogs to side with them, their problems are solved. So, the stake should have been, "if I win, you all name Martha as the Steward." I think that would have greatly increased the chances for calling n the demons, or for a followup conflict.

All in all, I had a great time. In too many traditional games in the past, I leave at the end of the night feeling exhausted and not at all satisfied. Dogs generally finds a way to limit the exhaustion and at least provide something in e night that makes me say, "that was pretty freakin' cool." For example, I fund myself heavily sympathizing with Martha. I didn't try to make her overly sympathetic to the players (heck, I gave 'em the daughter that she sent to kill one of them), but in the end, I felt she was totally justified and I even found myself a bit smitten by her (I like strong lady-types....what can I say?)

As for the players, they seemed to have a pretty good time. We ended pretty late, so everyone was pretty tired just from the lateness of the hour. And nobody walked away chattering about the game, etc. My hope is that this was just a radical departure from previous game and they'd need some processing time. My fear is that I ran a shitty, unsatisfying game (hopefully not the case, but that's always the fear, deep down, isn't it?). For what it's worth, they're all returning to play this weekend (except those who mentioned prior engagements before the game).

So, any suggestions on running would be totally welcome. One specific question I had for y'all is: what kinds of things do your NPCs want? Since I'm jettisoning "they want the Dogs to go away," I'd like to have a couple touchstones from which to work. So far, I have two: (1) they want the Dogs to take their side and/or advocate on their behalf in a dispute, or (2) they want absolution for some prior sin.

Thanks for reading this far!!!


Very interesting first game, first impressions are you were doing "If you win", "If I win" style stakes which is not really how the game is designed to be used. Indeed I inwardly cringe when I hear people using these kinds of stakes even in games that support them, but that's just me.

It ties the narration possibilities down and can have a tenancy to result in high stakes, which again can be very limiting in terms of emergent narrative and also means that no one is likely to give.

The game suggests you just decide what the conflict is about at its heart and get straight to the dice, so in your tricky example, when an NPC just comes out guns ablaze you can go for "does she gun you down" and pick a PC. Possibly quite high stakes but its not necessarily fatal.

So my best tip is aim for lower stakes, don't over think them, as one party can always give, and don't prejudge the outcomes but instead go with the flow of the narrative that emerges in the conflict itself.


Id like to respond, but I'd also like my ignorance accounted for. If these issues have been beaten to death in other threads, I'd really appreciate a link. So, hopefully, with a health does of all of your patience and understanding, here goes.....

I very much do run a "if you win....if I win" stake setting before the dice are tossed. I explicitly set these at the beginning, and ask if any players want to jump in on one side or the other. I'm going to disagree that this is not in the design of the game. See page 29 (of the .pdf) suggesting that the stake is set, then each party takes a "side," page 54 example 1, stating that stakes are established initially and what's at stake is a simple, two-sided conflict that can be easily answered in the affirmative or the negative, page 68 italicized paragraphs, describing another two-sided conflict. So, I'm curious what textual support there is for an alternative approach to setting an "if I win.....if you win." When you say, "don't prejudge the outcomes but instead go with the flow of the narrative that emerges in the conflict itself," I don't know of anything off the top of my head that is suggested in the book itself that supports not stating clearly before rolling dice what the result will be. Now, I am willing to entertain the idea that not setting outcomes might result in better play, but that's a separate matter. So, if you could point to something in the book supporting your position, it might help me understand the position better.

As for the concern that setting stakes (from now on, when I say that, I'll be referring to "if I win....if you win" stake setting) might "tie[] down the narration possibility," I would propose that's the point. Say, for example you have two players who are clearly disagreeing about the punishment that a particular sinner should receive (maybe that one says he should be chastised, but the other says he should receive no punishment), with a third player not taking a firm position for the moment. Because of this disagreement, they decide to throw dice without deciding what the particular outcome will be, only that the winner will get to decide the fate of this individual. The one who believes he should be punished wins, and because of the conflict he's become even MORE convinced of the need for harsh punishment. He decides to gun the individual down. The problem this creates is that the third player did not foresee this as a possibility and therefore didn't get in at the beginning. He cries foul, while the winner of the conflict may feel justifiably put out. The stake was "what happens" and the winner choses. Unless stakes are clearly set at the beginning, it can be murky what the argument is really about (anyone out there ever get into one of those kind of arguments with a significant other?). I think the strength of story games is that they trim away at the unnecessary arguments, at least as I see them (e.g. can I carry this much loot) and get to the interesting ones (do I convince this one person not to act).

As for the high stakes, I agree there can be a natural player tendency to shoot for bigger stakes, but setting stakes initially does not abdicate GM responsibility to suggest modifications and push for smaller stakes - see pages 76-77.

I agree that lower stakes are, at least initially, better. However, based on the preceding, I disagree that they should not be over thought - or at least, my position is that they should be clearly laid out initially. I think this is supported by the text, and I've found it's a fun way for me to play. I would warmly welcome any response, especially one including concrete examples of your suggestions in play.



Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. My life isn't supportive of fast internet time.

I can only answer this with a controversial statement that the book does not make this clear, because the book isn't really written as a standard text. It takes the difficult route of teaching through example, and is successful and unsuccessful in equal measure.

The main example in the book is so 'yes or no' that it led me to believe in the whole 'if I win, if you win' situation as well, and it caused no end of confusion and discussion in our initial games. Then the penny dropped when reading a thread on stakes here which I really don't have any recollection of at all apart from Vincent answering that it wasn't his intention to present stakes in this way.

My best suggestion if you want to get to the bottom of that issue is raise the question directly over on the Lumpley Forum here at the Forge. But suffice to say I have had a lot more fun from this game since I stopped doing the whole 'you win, I win thing'. And I suggest it mainly as a 'give it a try' thing.

Also bear in mind when DITV was written the whole stakes issue was less developed than it is now. If I get some time over the weekend I will try and find the thread but it was quite old so may be tricky.

When I say that it can prejudge the contest I am referring to the very nebulous nature of Dogs contests. They can swing wildly with very different content than originally conceived in the framing. It is always a good idea to make sure the stakes are still appropriate at any stage in the contest, as this can be a good indicator of when to give.

Let's use an example of trying to get past a hostile doorman: "what is at stake is whether I get in", this can allow any manner of conflict options, whereas you might say "if I win I walk through the door, if he wins he bars my entrance" and by doing so you are making the conflict very specific and potentially more constrained.


Sorry just remembered the whole winterising thing ask here instead, where there is a forum for Vincents other games: http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/

Jay G.

I'm curious about why you played Sister Martha certain ways. 

1. Did you envision the session ending or climaxing with the Dogs' decision to oppose Sister Martha?  From your actual play account, it seems like you pulling for that outcome, but I don't know if what happened was the players pushed towards that outcome and you just let things happen, or if you were trying to influence things in that direction.

2. How did Sister Martha do when Brother Hector married the same couple that she did, effectively undermining her claims of authority?


Not sure if this forum's still the appropriate place to respond, but I didn't want to seem like I was letting the thread die without responding

Stake setting - Since posting this, I have left it a little more open. Less "you win....I win" and more ""that's what you want? Cool, let's see if you get it." I don't think it's had a substantial impact on the play. I think I see where you're going with the example - not scripting out the climax of the conflict. I think in your example, it's not the "you win....I win" stake setting that's the problem. Presumably, if the conflict is ACTUALLY about whether the character gets in, then the implied alternative in your example is that if the character loses, they don't get in. If you had in mind that, if the character loses, there would be a twist (for example, we set the stake - do you get in? - and during the raises and sees, I reverse the blow and say yes, you get in, but the person you're looking for is already gone), then I don't think the stake was ever about getting in, it was about getting to the person that I took away from you. Interesting? Sure, but it misidentifies the character's real goal - getting in vs. getting to this person. I'd still be open to suggestions about how avoiding the "you win....I win" improves play, but I still hold that establishing the crux of the confrontation is what Dogs does well. Whether we say that aloud at the beginning or leave it unspoken and rely on the other players to be on the same page as we are, I think there is an implied "I win" in the example that you provided (and any I can think of).


Climax - No, that's not what was pulling for them to confront her, though I admit I could be acting on impulses that I'm not conscious of. When I set Sister Martha in front of the Dogs, I knew she was "The Fucker" of the story in that she was the one breaching status quo. I did give the players another potential "The Fucker" in Josiah, who disapproved of Martha's behavior. But the characters quickly took a disliking to Martha's refusal to let them see her husband. As the story proceeded, I responded to this by having her push them towards greater acceptance of her doctrine (including asking for the Dogs to sanctify the marriage she'd conducted) but I didn't have any vision for a shoot out at the end of the game. I think if they had sided with Martha earlier, it would have been Josiah who became the problem, gathering the menfolk to confront the Dogs and demand that they do something about Martha. I'm fairly confident that's what I would have done, but who knows what would have happened in the moment. I think this is a legit way to run things (feel out what the players are reacting against and pushing against them), but I'd be open to criticism.

Undermining claims of authority - Jeez, never thought of it that way. She asked them to do this, in fact. This plays into my thoughts so far about NPCs in the game - that they want the Dogs to side with them or to absolve them. I could see how her response to them could reasonably have been one of bristling at the Dogs authorities. Dunno which would have been the more interesting result.

Callan S.

I've wondered since the start of this post - no comments on what it's like to play in a world set up to have women objectively (not just subjectively) and empirically be inferior to men? Like demons actually come out if they try to do 'man stuff'.

Christoph Boeckle

Hello there, and welcome to the Forge, carshow2 (any human name we can call you by?)

Not to be a late-coming annoying rules lawyer, but stakes in Dogs are not about you win / I win negotiation at the player level before conflict. They're about what one side in the imagined events wants and what the other doesn't want to freely give. It's what is being fought over, not the consequences. Note the distinction between player-level negotiation and character-level stakes. Of course, characters are played by humans, but this is about perspective and scope (a character might know what she's fighting for, but has no way of knowing how things will turn out, whereas of course players can negotiate both). See this thread for example.

For some general discussions why this way of handling things is preferred by some, see:
[PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?
Big Gencon stakes discussion (on Story Games)



Thanks, Christoph (I'm Mike, BTW)

I'll check out those posts you recommended.


Wow, I have been away from this place for ages, but firstly the first thread that Christoph links to is certainly a good example of what I was getting at.

Secondly I don't think my "do you get in " stake stands up to that much analysis because its not really got any context. But certainly the idea that the stake is really something else can emerge from a contest, and in my opinion as soon as that becomes apparent then giving is the best option. (The point when the stakes are no longer become worth striving for).

The "do you get in" idea was more about the confrontation with the doorman, and the idea is you may not want to constrain the details of the action. The tricky part is that the rules work either way, and the implied stakes can be inherent or even confused in other players' minds.

I would say the absolute best practice is to draw the stakes from the action and focus on exploring the conflict, so a better description of someone barring the door with context would be:

Player: Well I want to confront the Steward, I'll go to his place right away!
GM: You march to his house but there's a burly guard in the way.
Player: Well I barge right past, I'm a Dog!

At this point the GM can decide if its even worth having a conflict, because clearly the meaty stuff is what goes on inside, and from a standard interpretation of Conflict Resolution the real conflict here is "Do you get to confront the Steward?"

But a word of caution. This isn't a standard conflict resolution game, It isn't advisable to start looking at the wider context of the conflict for DitV. Its an action game and you are best staying in the moment. So GM can either say "your authority allows you to barge on past" or "Nope this guy is pretty keen you don't get in let's have a conflict".

And, at this stage, once we know a conflict is on the table then we look at simple immediate stakes that imply consequences but don't prejudge them. Stakes like "Do you get in", can work but as you imply "This guy is clearly delaying you, so: Do you get in to see what's being hidden from you?" can also work.

If you prefer the delay not to be in the stakes, that works too, as long as the delay is explored in the contest and can be addressed by the back and forth of raises etc.

The important thing is that even if the original intent of the conflict wasn't to cause a delay, it might become a tactic in the actual contest, it may arise from the exploration of the contest itself. As could the Dog deciding to go round the back, or shoot the guard, or give and decide the best thing to do is make a scene in the street to draw the Steward out.

These things emerge naturally from the mechanics if you don't place too much emphasis of the consequences of the conflict but instead look at this thing happening now.

To get more detailed, 'Calling the Steward out by making a scene' might be the result of the Dog realising it wasn't worth going to gunfire to get past this guy, so instead he gives and uses the resulting dice to do something else. And this is not going to happen in quite the same way if you are totally focused on "If I win I get past him, If I loose I don't" and plain can't happen if you draw out the implied stakes "If I win I get to talk to the Steward" because changing tack would go against the stakes.