Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dogs in the Vineyard


Tonight some friends and I (hi Davey!) are going to play Dogs in the Vineyard, a roleplaying game where the players are supernatural gunfighter/priests in an old-west religious utopia. That idea, by itself, is lots of fun. But there's more to why we're playing this particular game tonight. Dogs is a different kind of roleplaying game.

I grew up playing D&D (still do, actually), which is the granddaddy of RPGs. The basic idea behind D&D is that you're some kind of fantasy hero (a warrior, priest, thief, wizard, etc) and you fight monsters, kill them, and take their stuff. Which can be amazing fun. When you want to do something, say, climb up a cliff to get at the goblin who's trying to stick arrows in you, you (a player) tell your Game Master (the guy who controls everyone but the heroes) "Hey, I want to climb up that cliff and fight that goblin!". So, you roll a polyhedral die to see if you make it up the cliff, another when you want to see whether you or the goblin gets to hit first, another when you want to see if you actually hit, and another to see how damaging your blow was to the goblin archer. If you didn't kill him, you'll do most of that again on your turn after the goblin fights back. I don't mean to make it sound tedious (though at times it can be) but there's a lot of dice-rolling, and your hero is defined by a whole lot of different stats and skill levels, usually written down on a piece of paper so you can track it all.

Davey & Mark are from the 'World of Darkness' school of roleplaying, which is responsible for Anne Rice-like vampire games and werewolf games and so forth. I've had only passing contact with that rules set, so hopefully I won't misrepresent it too terribly. It's more or less like D&D - every task you have in mind, you roll some dice and determine your degree of success. The way Davey and Mark usually use the system, there's lots of intrigue and the players are usually trying to uncover the twisted plot of the GM. Since Mark and Davey are quite cunning, they usually make devious plots that would require especially shrewd players to uncover them. Trust me, you don't want Mark and Davey planning your possible demise.

So anyway, recently, Davey was talking (well, blogging) about starting a new game and the conundrum of whether to dig deep and make a setting where his players will never do more than scratch the surface, or whether to simplify things and risk them guessing all his evil plans and frustrating them. Then he and Mark came over and we got to talking about different styles of roleplaying, and that I come from a school where it isn't strictly "GM's creativity vs. Player's ingenuity". But it's hard to explain just how a different system works; better to play it.

Dogs in the Vineyard works like this: the players' job is to go to a town in trouble, and figure out how to fix it. They are God's Watchdogs (thus: Dogs) in his Vineyard - the kingdom of God on earth - which looks a lot like Antebellum Utah. Their mandate is to judge what is & isn't sin, and put it right. The GM's job is to create a town where there's some problem somewhere along the pride-injustice-sin-corrupt worship-false priesthood-hatred scale. In fact, the process for creating the towns and their problems is straight out of Mormon theology: somebody has pride about something, it leads to them sinning, they justify the sin which leads to corrupt worship, and so on. What's different about a GM's role in DitV is that you're not supposed to have any particular solution in mind. Whereas, in D&D or World of Darkness, the GM might make an intricate plot and lead the players from scene to scene, culminating in a grand finale he's known about for months, instead my job as GM tonight is to make the situation which is pregnant with conflict, play the parts of the townsfolk who all want the Dogs to do different things, and then escalate the conflicts they find themselves in. It's entirely up to the players who is right and who is wrong; they're judges and that's their job.

Also, the way the game uses dice is really nifty. But it's best explained in play. So while my go-to game is still D&D, I'll run Dogs in the Vineyard for any of you, any time.

7 comments:

Jeff Wills said...

I don't suppsoe there's any chance at all of youse guys video taping this event, is there? I swear I had no idea you guys were doing this when I sent out that email today...

dävid said...

i'd like to watch how this happens. i haven't played an RPG since middle school. it was very fun however.

Davey said...

Had a really good time.

Dave described the system very well, it plays great. In fact, Mark and I both played very close to our chests and can't wait to play again and play more open.

dave said...

Davey, what do you mean when you say "we played very close to our chests"?

Maren said...

Think poker, Dave.

Davey said...

Exactly, like poker...

We played conservative. We kept our traits close and our relationship dice closer.

Geary said...

Why do you bother with dice? Why don't you use a computer-driven probability set to determine the outcome? It would be just as random and a lot faster. Or is this what you do already?