Monica has kindly written her thoughts on the game and a chronicle of the game. This lets me talk about the things that happened without as much description of what actually happened.
I had been planning to just use one of the towns presented in the game book. But a couple of hours before the game began, I came up with an idea for False Doctrine that captured my imagination: "Anything done for Love is justified." It felt like fishing with dynamite, but I went ahead with that.
I was able to work back and forth on the town progression from that False Doctrine to come up with something pretty pleasing:
The town is a mining town, which I eventually named Widow's Luck.
The central situation is a love triangle with two men courting Sister Amelia. Brother Hiram is a solid citizen, a foreman of a crew in the mine. Brother Theophilus (originally Nathaniel, but I changed his name after Monica chose the name Nathaniel for her PC) has been educated Back East, and is more fashionable than Hiram; he's the engineer for the mine.
Pride: Sister Amelia's been thinking a bit much of herself and is happy to have the town's most eligible bachelors competing for her.
... leads to Injustice: (I kind of skimmed over this.) Both Brother Hiram and Brother Theophilus are beggaring themselves trying to win Sister Amelia's hand.
Sin: Again, I sort of skimmed on this one, but we've certainly got some worldliness and vanity going on.
... leads to Demonic Attacks: I underplayed this, but I had vague notions of there being accidents in the mine because of people being goony with love. (But I didn't have named characters associated with these, which is why I underplayed this part.)
False Doctrine: "Anything done for Love is justified." Believed by all three of the main NPCs.
... leads to Corrupt Worship--didn't really have clear ideas here.
False Priesthood: I said, "hey, three people with a common False Doctrine makes a cult. I guess Sister Amelia's the leader."
... leads to Sorcery: I had trouble figuring out how this would manifest itself. I gave Sister Amelia the dice for being possessed, but I forgot to play up the symptoms.
ending up with Hate and Murder: As the Dogs enter, Brother Hiram has just dynamited the safe at the mine to steal the payroll, and tried to frame Brother Theophilus for it. Left alone, this will incite Brother Theophilus to try to kill Brother Hiram, not just for revenge, but because he has to top Brother Hiram in the bidding war for Amelia's heart.
What do the characters want from the Dogs?
(I think I fell down a little on the "from the Dogs" part.)
Brother Hiram wants the Dogs to fall for his frame of Brother Theophilus, and he wants Sister Amelia to choose him.
Sister Amelia likes the status quo with both men fawning over her.
Brother Theophilus wants Sister Amelia to choose him. He certainly wants the Dogs to blame Brother Hiram for the safe-cracking.
What do the demons want?
The demons want the doctrine of "Anything done for Love is justified" to flourish and sow further chaos.
What do the demons want the Dogs to do?
The demons would be pretty happy with the Dogs subscribing to the false doctrine, or judging the wrong man. (Again, I didn't think much about this question.)
What would happen if the Dogs didn't come?
Brother Hiram's frame-up would be discovered eventually. Brother Theophilus would retaliate by trying to murder Brother Hiram.
I was the only one who had read the book, so I had to explain everything. In addition to explaining the social setting and the nature of the Dogs, I ran through a sample conflict before doing character generation, to try to show what the stats meant and how they worked. I usually do this with board games too, because I find it much easier to understand how to start a game with a complicated setup if you understand what a normal turn will be like. I'm not sure that was the right order, but I'm not sure it was wrong.
We all had trouble coming up with initial character concepts in detail. After a while, we came up with the broad outlines of Brother Nathaniel as the scholar, Brother Gideon as the fighter, and Sister Elizabeth as the heart-of-the-community Dog. But then we still had trouble coming up with Traits, Relationships, and items. (And we didn't use many relationships or items in play.) I'd be tempted to let Traits and items be defined in play later, the way relationships can be.
The GM advice in the game seemed pretty strong on dragging the Dogs into the situation as quickly as possible, so I had the dynamiting of the safe go off while the Dogs were meeting the Steward. This felt very railroady to me, but I consoled myself that it was better than waiting around waiting for something to happen.
I let Hiram's culpability show before any dice were rolled, with the old classic "reveal knowledge that he shouldn't have" device. This also felt odd to me, but the book was pretty clear that this isn't a game about solving a riddle; it's about judging and carrying out that judgment.
So the first conflict had the stakes of "Does Hiram give in about the safecracking?" This was when I learned that a reasonable NPC has no chance against a group of Dogs--even after he Escalated to fighting, he had to Give before two of the PCs had to escalate. I considered having him escalate to guns, but he'd used all his stat dice, so attempting to do so would have been pretty doomed.
So then Brother Gideon was guarding Hiram while Brother Nathaniel and Sister Elizabeth went to talk with Sister Amelia. "[Brother Hiram] would rob the mine and frame Theophilus for me! How sweet!" So, new conflict, with the stakes of "does Sister Amelia see the error of her ways?"
At one point, Brother Nathaniel thundered at Amelia, "If everyone believed as you do, there would be mayhem in the streets! Fights and mayhem! The inevitable result of this is murder and sin!" And I did something that felt very audacious: I set aside Amelia's dice and cut right then to the mine where Brother Gideon was guarding Brother Hiram, and Brother Theophilus had just thrown in a lit stick of dynamite. (The book had talked about how you could play out such ambushes, and I wanted to give it a try.)
We had some trouble figuring out what the stage would be for that conflict--was it in the mine building where the safe had been dynamited, or in the mine itself? Was there a gate? What side of the gate was Gideon on? In terms of mechanics, I rolled the 4d6 + Demonic Influence dice--and I felt comfortable saying that the revealed level of Demonic Influence was up to the Hate and Murder level.
I rolled really well on those dice, and we really had to pull out the stops to find ways for Gideon to bring in traits and develop a strong relationship to 'the helpless' during the combat. I think this reflects a flaw in the way we phrased the stakes, such that we all felt that Brother Gideon had to win. If I were doing that again, I would make it such that the stakes were just Brother Hiram's safety, and Brother Gideon was safe except unless he took Fallout.
Then, when that was resolved, I cut back to Amelia Taking the Blow from Brother Nathaniel's narration, and I described the mental camera pulling back on scene in the mine to show that scene reflected in Amelia's eyes. It felt very cinematic.
Once again, though, the NPC crumpled like wet tissue paper under the oratorical powers of the Dogs. I gave Amelia the possession dice for social situations and for physical situations (though I didn't describe those clearly), and I gave her my Free Dice, but she still had to Give before Nathaniel had to escalate past words. We included some nice pieces of Ceremony in the final stages of that conflict, though, which was pretty neat.
The final conflict had the stakes of "get Theophilus under control." Particularly with the Fallout dice from the previous conflict, Brother Gideon overmastered Brother Theophilus pretty easily.
- At least three of us (me, cellio, and mrpeck) tend to think at the game level first. (I'm less sure about Lori.) The game did an excellent job of taking our game-level first thoughts ("what dice will I use to See this Raise?" "How can I get more dice to get things to go my way?") and channeling them into story ("I'm blocking, so I'll describe it this way" "I can bring this Trait into play to get more dice") The vocabulary of Raise and Reverse the Blow/Block or Dodge/Take the Blow seems to do a good job of being general enough to cover a lot of situations, and being specific enough to provide guidance. With that said, I would have liked to have more examples of various types of Sees in conversation and unusual situations; I definitely felt it wasn't always obvious.
- That process of turning game-level thoughts into story was definitely a stretch for us. It's a lot more familiar for us to keep things at the game level. This game was a lot more descriptive and a lot more vivid than most RPGs I've played.
- Traits and possessions serve as bait for narration, at least for game-thinkers like us. They turn "I want more dice to achieve my goals" into "I'll involve this aspect of my character with the scene." This is a good function, because that bait pulls folks like me in a very descriptive direction. The flip side of this statement comes at character generation: character generation is your chance to choose the traits that lure you to try to use them in action. (The book does mention this--it points out that a Big Excellent Gun 2d8+1d4 is just a temptation to use gunfire all the time.) We would be more clear about that if we were generating characters again.
- The GM advice for multiple adventures says to take the issues that engaged the players and push, push, push. If we play again, I'd love to poke farther at just how far Nathaniel can go without escalating to violence.
- Dogs in the Vineyard links: http://www.septemberquestion.org/lumpley/