2009-07-03 : A fun interview about Dogs in the Vineyard

A couple of weeks ago, Atomic Array interviewed me and John Stavropoulos (Jenskot around here) about Dogs in the Vineyard. It was a fun interview and they promised they'd edit me to sound smart, so go have a listen:

Dogs in the Vineyard (Atomic Array 026)

1. On 2009-07-03, ScottM said:

I liked it, and you did come off well. Unfortunately, we heard a lot from you in one big chunk rather than scattered through—but that happens all the time in conversations.

What is Judd's cool background technique? It sounds like you haven't had a chance to try it out yourself, but you can't hide essential information like that after teasing us with it in the interview.


2. On 2009-07-07, Porter said:

*sigh* Makes me miss my Utah gaming group. So far no luck finding people to play with here in Maryland.


3. On 2009-07-07, Adam Dray said:

Porter, AIM me at adamdray or email me at I'm in Owings Mills (outside of Baltimore) and can hook you up with other Maryland gamers.


4. On 2009-07-07, Vincent said:

Many people create oddball Dogs - secret atheists, old men, converts with problems. The character creation rules allow this, and it's fine when it's fine, but often it's not fine, it's a dodge. The player is bringing resistance to the game into the game, embodied in her non-Dog character.

So here's Judd's suggestion: make it simple. Everybody's a teenage boy or girl who grew up in the Faith. Everybody gets the same number of dice to divvy amongst their stats. Everybody gets one relationship to a family member, one trait about shooting, one trait about riding, one trait about the Book of Life, and "I'm a Dog."

Leave character differentiation to play, starting with initiation.


5. On 2009-07-07, Porter said:

Cool, Adam. I'll drop you an email. I live in Olney, which is by Rockville. That's a bit of a ways from Baltimore, but not too bad, especially if it means getting into a Dogs game. :)


6. On 2009-07-07, Dave Cleaver said:

Porter, I just got a new job which is in Rockville. I'm working there now, and my family will be moving down once we sell our current house.


7. On 2009-07-08, Vincent said:

(I'm really happy the direction this thread is going. Carry on!)


8. On 2009-07-08, Simon Rogers said:

Many people create oddball Dogs - secret atheists, old men, converts with problems. The character creation rules allow this, and it's fine when it's fine, but often it's not fine, it's a dodge. The player is bringing resistance to the game into the game, embodied in her non-Dog character.

This ties in with Graham's Play Unsafe suggestion of doing the obvious thing rather than the clever thing.


9. On 2009-07-08, Dave Cleaver said:

Vincent, do you think it turns out fine when the player doesn't do it as a dodge? When they aren't resistant to the game, but place resistance into their character anyway?

(I also forgot my e-mail for Porter which is dscleaver at the same place as Adam's e-mail)


10. On 2009-07-08, orklord said:

I like Judd's hack!

Several players I've played with come into Dogs with resistance.  They have religious hang-ups or they don't like Westerns.  I had to bend quite a bit to get one guy to try it.  He played a Mountain Man who joined the Faith and he had a hard time wanting to play.  Well, that was until he actually played, and loved it.

I think a simpler character generation and removal of the ability to worm your way out of the game/setting is brilliant.  I hope to try it someday soon.  Maybe I will write it up as the character generation handout and just let the players use the book as a reference for the faith or game rules.

Porter, if you have no local players, you should hit people up for Skype games.  It is better than no game at all, and with Graham Walmsley's online die roller, you can run a pretty good Dogs game (I tried it with the Mountain Man PC above and a second player).


11. On 2009-07-08, Robert Bohl said:

I'd probably still make a secret atheist or lesbian or something.

And I don't think it's out of rejecting the concept; I feel like I do that to engage it head-on.


12. On 2009-07-08, Vincent said:

We should play.


13. On 2009-07-08, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Vincent, do you think it turns out fine when the player doesn't do it as a dodge? When they aren't resistant to the game, but place resistance into their character anyway?

If it's not a dodge, it's total direct engagement. I've played Dogs like that ??? a murdered murderer who the King of Life told to get back to Earth and make right; and a Mountain Man who'd been raised in the Faith, but no one would marry; a kid who'd lied to become a Watchdog so that he'd get to carry a gun and shoot bad people like the ones in the (actually played) town he was from.

My beef with the world of Dogs is not the religious stuff and certainly not the Western stuff (that I love) but the theocratically supported violence (including the paradigm of demon-possessed, othered Mountain People that supports genocide). So my Dogs tend to highlight those issues.


14. On 2009-07-08, Vincent said:

Yeah, no, that's still the kind of thing I mean. I don't think it signifies much, but the fact remains that you've never played a plain Dog.

If the rules didn't allow oddball Dogs, probably half the people who've played it would never have, and that's fine. The game wins oddball characters over anyway, so no harm done. Nevertheless Judd's rules hold my personal vision for the game closer than the standard rules do.


15. On 2009-07-09, Judd said:

What interests me about starting off entirely as fresh-faced blond kids is that the game isn't so much about what you start off as but about what you become.  After a few towns, it'll be pretty damned easy to ease your character into being an atheist lesbian secret-Jew or whatever.

I'd rather see that transition, though, see the events that shape those changes, rather than start off in total disbelief/loss of faith/but-seks, we get to see the disbelief/etc. happen and the game entirely supports that.


16. On 2009-07-10, Josh W said:

Sounds cool, but it could import into dogs a problem from other games, which is when they keep one eye on the future to the detrement of the present:

Say in D&D or something where there are characteristics you want that have certain prerequisites, frequently players will plan for their characters to get them even though their character specifically doesn't want them to happen, or despite them being irrelevent to everything else being contributed, leading to all kinds of bizarre behaviour. The prepping for playing the character they really want to play skews their current playing in a way that is less engaged and open.

In contrast, in dogs, because people don't have to scheme to get the narrative tool they want, they don't need to split their attention. So all that stuff Judd talked about could happen, but it isn't aimed for in the same way.


17. On 2009-07-10, Vincent said:

Josh: I know the thing you mean, and I think the game's going to be pretty resistant to it.

Like, I've never played a game of Dogs where the character's history, the character the player wanted to play, turns out to have mattered. Confronted with the (pardon me) refining fire of towns in crisis, the players themselves abandon the characters they envisioned upfront. That's what I mean when I say that the game wins over even oddball characters - beginning at the moment of initiation, every character is effectively a blank slate, untested, receptive, no matter what the player envisions. There's no reason not to play with rules that acknowledge that.

Like, J, your murderer-brought-back-to-life character - did you get to fulfill your vision for that character? Your not-supposed-to-be-a-Dog kid, did anyone once question his calling? Challenge him on it? Make him defend his right to the coat and the book and the gun? (I was there, the answer is no.) Dogs' pre-play histories never really figure, so there's no reason - other than to reassure players who'd otherwise balk - to create them.


18. On 2009-07-11, Josh W said:

Just to be contrarian, (not really but imagine I am) do they really abandon them?

Or do they give them up for adoption to the trait system?

It feels to me like Dogs aikido-blends the player's creative impulse; they get to imagine in their head all the stuff about being a murderer brought back to life. You don't stand in their way. But once they dump that idea into the game, and play it out just a little bit (personal scene) it turns into a background, baseline thing.

The big thing I suppose I'm trying to say is that, the game allows you to say "you know what, fine, you have a million secret monkeys on a moon base, just don't talk to us about it!". Because people don't need to mention it, don't need to justify it in play, it doesn't get artificially inserted. This means that the focus of the SIS gets protected not by stringent requirements, but by their absence!

Players don't get defensive, don't fight for their concept, because they get to change it pretty safely (in theory at least), and then when they have invested enough in the town and it's interactions, ha ha! Their trapped, and implement far more sweeping changes to the concept than they would otherwise, just because it fits with the situation.

Does the same effect work in other settings? I'm not sure, I think being a dog is a pretty infectious social role!

I think whenever you suggest a change to your game, you will shock someone who loves it for that very reason, the way this game is designed to "convert" people to it's style of play is a big part of it's strength, and why it is often recommended as an intro. Call of Cthullu is similarly good at creating itself, and I wonder whether it would do well with the same kind of free-form trait setting.

On the other hand, I suppose many people who read this will already have learned to love dogs, so playing it your way as if it was a stricter "dogma at the door" game would be a challenge people would be interested in. Maybe subtitle it as "for experienced Dogs" to attract the right people!


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