[AP] Prepping for Dogs in the Vineyard and blorb, Narrativism, and game state

I've been asked to run a Dogs in the Vineyard game for a group of fairly hardcore OSR gamers, which excites me: I like running Dogs (which I haven't done in many, many years!), I like playing with new people, I like introducing people to new styles of gaming, and I like seeing how different styles of players create new chemistry and new dynamics at the table.

The experience has not disappointed on that front!

We introduced ourselves to the game, wrote up characters, and went through initiations.

I did a slightly heretical thing and wrote out a list of the NPCs before we played: important people from the Town where the PCs are headed. The players could take Relationships with them, and I encouraged them to use an NPC from the list in each of their initiation scenes (which everyone did, albeit with some prompting from me).

That was fun, because we now have the Steward convinced that one of the Dogs may have direct experience with demonic possession, the Steward's wife suspicious of what secrets one of the other Dogs is hiding, and the former deputy Sheriff once witnessed the third Dog fight off and cow three armed men.

I am also very reminded of how similar Dogs is to old-school D&D in so many ways.

It's a funny, subversive design, in some ways tremendously adventurous and paradigm-breaking, and, in other ways, incredibly traditional. It's one of my favourite games to explore and think about, for this reason among others.

Along the lines of an "old-school" mentality (as opposed to a "story game" mentality), I encouraged the players not to worry too much about "character concept", but to leave room for the characters to develop in play, or even to play them more or less 'as themselves'.

The Dogs turned out to be pretty interesting nevertheless: one carries a blood-soaked wedding dress which may house a demon (his initiation conflict was that he hoped his superiors at Bridal Falls wouldn't discover that he was hiding it!), the other is trying to hide his homosexuality, and the third has a collection of Traits that allow him to pretend or "fake" demonic possession.

Pretty interesting stuff!

Comments

  • Now, on a more specific topic:

    Of course, given the discussions we're having lately, I can't avoid but look at all the steps I'm taking through the lens of our discussions on Narrativism, the 'game state', 'blorbiness', and so forth.

    Dogs ("DitV") has some really unusual features, in that it's a pretty heavily "story game"-style Narrativist game (hard to argue otherwise), but also old school in many respects. Some of the old school aspects include the GM's role in preparing a Town (which consists of a relationship map - though it's not framed in those terms - and a history of recent salient events). In addition, the GM commits to an agenda for each NPC (what they want), to revealing the Town in play (this makes playing the NPCs easy), and to "what would happen if the Dogs didn't show up". This is the totality of the prep: we don't draw a map, determine anything about non-salient NPCs, or write stats for anyone. And we (usually) do all this before the PCs are created (though I do suspect that most GMs will prep or pick a Town with a complexity relative to the number of Dog PCs in the group - that seems like a good practice to me).

    As anyone who has played the game can tell you, that works like a charm.

    I think that looking at specific examples of actual play is a really great way to examine and test theoretical ideas - after all, the proof is in the pudding, and who cares what shape the theory takes if it doesn't give us anything we can do to improve our games?

    I humbly offer this game exercise as a thing to dissect for anyone interested. We can suggest techniques and pick things apart, and I'll try to put into practice anything that seems interesting and potentially fruitful when I play with the group next week.

    So, the things I'm thinking about this as I do it are the following (and keep in mind that this is basically a one-shot):

    * The rules for statting up NPCs are interesting. The book tells me to make "proto-NPCs", which are half-filled-out stat blocks, which I can then assign in the moment to any NPC.

    Oh, Sister so-and-so is in a conflict? Ok, I grab this stat block and use that for her.

    The Traits are not defined; rather, I can fill them in as I play, on the spot. (In response to what's happening; so the Traits are guaranteed to be useful to an NPC when I use them.)

    The default assumption is that those stat blocks, once set, are not to be changed afterwards. If there's a second conflict with Sister so-and-so, her stats will be the same as in the first conflict, in other words.

    There are also "Town dice", which are unassigned and can be used by the GM at any time. They are completely "free", in other words! But you are limited to a set number of them, and once they're used up, they're used up.

    (This would be equivalent to having 10 points you can "spend" during a D&D session to boost HP, AC, or attack bonuses for your monsters, at whim, any time you want, even in the middle of a roll!)

    However, later in time, Vincent made a new, simpler version of the rules for NPC stats which are even more fluid and less defined.

    http://lumpley.com/index.php/anyway/thread/294

    These are even looser, in part because the sets of dice you see there are to be applied in whatever order the conflict happens. (It may be hard to figure these details out from the short writeup there, unless you're very familiar with Dogs.) So, in other words, if you give the 9d6 option to the Steward in a conflict that starts Physical, those dice aren't now "bound" to Physical; if there's a later conflict that starts with Talking, you still roll 9d6, all the same (even though, in theory, he "should have" had different stats for that arena).

    Vincent says that, "[f]or con play [...] I don't imagine I'll ever make NPCs by the book again."

    Since then, I've seen that pretty much everyone who plays the game uses the "simple NPC rules", discarding the original, more detailed rules in the book. (I've read a lot of advice threads by experienced Dogs players online, and had many discussions in person.)

    When I learned to run Dogs, I started with these rules and never used the "by-the-book" version. I didn't have time to prep and learn them the first time I played, was advised not to, and never looked back.

    Questions:

    Is there a mismatch between the "old-school" nature of Town prep, and then very "un-blorby" nature of the NPC dice rules (even by the book!)? How does it affect the game? Does it make it better or worse? Why was pretty much everyone, including Vincent, so quick to adopt the simpler and less "blorby" rules?
  • Next:

    * What is the role of GM prep in relation to a Narrativist agenda, in this instance? Even though the prep for the game is fairly old-school, does it serve the game to inject more thematic elements into my prep, now that I know who the characters are?

    For instance, one of the Dogs is described as being able to play the piano (and even took a Trait to that effect). Pianos are probably pretty rare in the "Wild West that never was"; they would be popular, sure, but who would build them? Or bring them across the wilds prairies all the way from out East?

    So, should I include a piano in the Town, now that I know that it could be interesting for the Dog? (It's even more specific, actually, since he's said one of the NPCs in the Town used to take piano lessons with him as a child - so it wouldn't be totally out of the blue.)

    However, what is my role as a GM and making this decision?

    What about other elements I've learned since I chose the Town writeup: what about these themes of demonic possession, homosexuality, and banditry? Should I be making an effort to adjust the Town writeup so as to include them? If I do, should I worry about how I'm doing it, and my mental process for doing so?

    * Hypothetically, I could increase the detail of the prep pretty dramatically, by developing a lot more detail around the Town, its denizens, and other details (e.g. the weather).

    Should I do so? How do I figure out what's salient and what's not? What details are useful, which are worth doing in some principled way (i.e. "worrying about it", randomizing, having a system, instead of just following whatever instincts throw ideas to the top of my head)?

    Which elements would help make the game better, which would be unnecessary, and which might be actively harmful?

    Lots of interesting questions to ponder. I invite discussion! And ask away about anything you want to know (I have a feeling many of the current readers might not have played Dogs a whole lot, so I don't expect you to know everything you need to know without asking.)
  • FWIW—and this is tangential to the thread—the way you did the NPC list from the town the PCs were going to is how @jenskot does it, too, and AFAIK he is still the world's most experienced DitV GM. So I don't think it's heretical to do it that way--how could it be?

    I'm going to let people not familiar with DitV (I've run it a fair amount myself, including one full campaign of it) comment more first.
  • edited June 13
    I think (?) you know that @jenskot was the first person I ever played Dogs with, so everything I learned, I learned from him. Well spotted on the NPC technique (although I've never actually seen it in practice!).

    The really heretical part, though, is using those NPCs in the initiation/accomplishment scenes. I still think it's a good idea, but it's only the first time I try it (and I can imagine some people might consider it a stretch, in terms of believability).

    We had a great thread about Dogs here on the forum a while back, by the way:

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/12353/suggestions-for-dogs-in-the-vineyard-rookie

    Now back to our regular conversation...
  • I ran another session in the same way (different players, except for one).

    The same questions come up:

    The game is in a funny middle ground between traditional and non-traditional. How much leeway should the GM exercise to use dramatic coordination to align the Town contents with the PCs?

    Would the game be improved by a more “blorby” approach, or not? Do we need tools to control what the GM can “inject” into the “game state”? If so, why and how?
  • Here's an interesting case of a "blorb" related dilemma - I think @2097 might enjoy or appreciate this one, since it's related to some of her recent ponderings:


    We want the Dogs to have Relationships with people in the Town. We want these to be juicy.

    So, when do we introduce these?

    * By the book, it sounds like it's the player's job to say, "Hey! That guy we just met? It's my uncle." You do it at the table, in the heat of the game.

    But this means that the player is making the decision based on the way the character is presented. Is this good or bad?

    It's certainly less "emergent" or less likely to surprise you than the methods below.

    * In John's method, the NPCs are written up by the GM, and the players attach relationships to them before play.

    This is great, but the players have little say in the nature of the NPCs or how they will be presented in the Towns. You can say you're in love with an NPC, only to discover that, when you actually "meet" them, they're not someone you'd really ever fall in love with, at all.

    * In my method, the players write up the NPCs, and then I make Towns using those NPCs.

    This is great, but the GM is now writing Towns consciously, around the NPCs the players have come up with.

    What I did to make it more "blorby" was to inject a random element into Town Creation, and then separate the Town Creation step from the NPC Creation step.

    This worked beautifully for me! (However, it's pretty involved, and it also runs the risk of the same problem as John's method.)

    The Method

    1. The GM writes up the Towns, drawing relationship maps, and marking each NPC with a number. He doesn't know anything about the PCs (or at least the Relationships) yet!

    2. The players write up their NPC connections, and hand them to the GM.

    3. The GM randomly assigns the NPC connections to the numbered positions in the relationship maps.

    Example

    So, for instance, you say your uncle is a former murderer, now reformed, and you had a hand in reforming him. You tell me a bit about what he's like.

    My Town has a Steward, a murder victim, and someone locked up for the murder.

    I make some rolls, and it turns out that... the uncle us the Steward! Interesting! Or I could have rolled differently, and he might have been the fellow wrongly convicted, rotting in the Town's jail. Or the victim of murder.

    This creates an emergent thing neither you nor I would have thought of, throwing a wrench into both my plans and yours.

  • When I ran Dogs (don't worry Lumpley I used another setting and another legal/religious code) I just placed the relatives as I wished since I was placing Paper before seeing Rock.

    But I like this better:
    The Method

    1. The GM writes up the Towns, drawing relationship maps, and marking each NPC with a number. He doesn't know anything about the PCs (or at least the Relationships) yet!

    2. The players write up their NPC connections, and hand them to the GM.

    3. The GM randomly assigns the NPC connections to the numbered positions in the relationship maps.
    This is good. An isomorphic way to do that, possibly easier, is to leave blanx instead of numbers and then fill in the blanx randomly. Sort of what Thanuir proposed.
  • How did you place the relatives “before seeing rock”? Did you just dictate it to the players, or what?

    Also, what setting and moral code did you use? Dogs reskins are fascinating :)
  • How did you place the relatives “before seeing rock”? Did you just dictate it to the players, or what?
    It’s been a while so I’m not 100% sure but I think that’s what I did.
    Also, what setting and moral code did you use? Dogs reskins are fascinating :)
    I used the al-Qadim era of the Zakhara region of the planet al-Toril which is part of the Forgotten Realms setting. There is a very clear & usable two-page spread of religious-legal code in the Land of Fate box set.

    I like it because it’s
    • low on the sexism
    • has some things very familiar to the players
    • has some things alien and new to the players
    Taking a law such as a mandatory worship day and cranking that up (using the Dogs processs) into a gameable town was great.

    Obv if you want confronting sexism to be a theme in the game (I mean, sometimes you go to the dungeon to find out how to make peace with your days in the dungeon, after all) it’s a bad choice.

    I’m tryna look at my prep to find out what laws I started from.

    We have the prohibition on alcohol, mandatory pilgrimage, mandatory worship day, and one I can’t tell for sure. It was a local war between al-Badia and al-Hadar over a spring in the desert.

    I see that I had rolled up D&D stats for all characters as well, not that those stats were ever used. Since everything that happened in the dogs game was also canon in our larger D&D campaign. (I did something similar for Cthulhu Dark and Microscope, calling the project “1001 Nights Off”.)

  • This game has been moving forward, and looking at it through the lens of our recent conversation has been really interesting.

    On one hand, messing around with the dice rules in rather un-blorby ways is very tempting in Dogs (and may be beneficial). The balance of how many Dogs are involved in a conflict changes how it feels and how fast it is to play out, so I could even see using a rule to that effect (e.g. picking a die profile based on how many Dogs are in the conflict).

    Applying proto NPCs or dice profiles to the NPCs is *supposed* to be done on the fly, in any case, and doing so intentionally seems to improve the game rather than to hurt it. (Since the purpose of the NPCs' die pools is largely to put pressure on the PCs to make difficult choices, rather than to establish reliable and consistent interactions in the "game world". I actually suspect that a static difficulty/die size/value for any NPC, based on the number of Dogs interacting with them - or some similarly invariable measure - might be perfect for this game, in the same way that unchanging "difficulty" ratings in AW make it easier and more interesting to GM/MC.)

    On the other hand, the way I've set up Relationships with existing NPCs without any reference to the Town's situation (which is written/prepped before any contact with the players or their PCs at all!) creates some very blorb-like emergent situations and results. The players know the names and identities of some of the NPCs, but not their roles in the Town nor the situation that's been prepped.

    As they name Relationships to the NPCs, and play out scenes with them in their initiation conflicts, interesting coincidences and twisted situations result in an emergent fashion. I wrote about one such situation (although somewhat obliquely, for now) over in the "what did you play this week" thread:

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/comment/486445/#Comment_486445
  • Here's another interesting example, which is (I'd say) at least indirectly relevant to the idea of blorb and gamestate:

    How do we create Relationships for the Dogs in the Towns they visit?

    Here are four things I've tried.


    1. We're playing through a Town. I'm the GM. I introduce an NPC and I say, "Hey, Alice, this is your uncle, ok?"

    2. Same situation, but I introduce the NPC and it's Alice who says, "Hey, you know what? That's my uncle!"

    3. Instead of doing it in play, I give the players a list of NPCs in the Town and I say, "you can say you're related/connected to any of these NPCs. They're all people you might meet in the Town." Alice says, "Cool! So-and-so is totally my uncle. I hate him because he's overbearing!"

    I may write up the Town *before* the players do this, or *after*, for a 3a) or 3b) - I've only personally tried 3a), though. 3b) seems a little too contrived to me, somehow.

    4. Before we play, I ask the players to write up two important Relationships to their Dog. When creating her Dog, Alice writes, "I have this uncle, so-and-so. He's awful and overbearing and I hate him for it."

    Then I write up the Town(s), placing the uncle in there somehow. (I wanted to be surprised by the outcome, too, so I randomized his identity in the Town, as well - maybe he's the Steward or maybe he's the recent victim of the murder, or whatever I've already prepared for the Town.)

    I might say, "Great, Alice, your uncle lives in Pilgrim's Rest. You might run into him when you go there."


    These definitely feel very different, even though in terms of who-gets-to-decide what they're just reordering the steps in different ways, and getting those decisions to happen in different moments in the prep-play cycle.

    My experience has been that the further down this list I go, the more "real", weighty and effective these Relationships are, in terms of how the players treat them.
  • edited July 2
    The other question is about NPCs and dice. Aside from the Town prep, the game has very few features which are set in stone or exist “offscreen”. The only mechanical component, it seems, is the NPCs’ dice. (For instance, the book certainly doesn’t forbid it, but it seems that any kind of geographical reference or map - where the Towns are, where the Dogs are traveling - isn’t at all expected to be part of gameplay. I’ve yet to see anyone doing so in a Dogs game!)

    The game, as written, takes a somewhat vague and roughly half-blorby approach to statting up NPCs. You’re supposed to generate some stats, but only apply them to NPCs on the fly, and that means you’re likely making up Traits as you go, as well.

    That looseness seems to serve the game’s purposes well - to put pressure on the Dogs to make hard decisions.

    Over time, it seems that the approach to dice and NPCs has grown looser, if anything. As far as I know, most people use Vincent’s “Quick NPCs” rules. (I usually do.) That looseness doesn’t seem to hurt the game any.

    Those rules also ask you to choose a “profile” for each NPC, and those can be stronger or weaker.

    So it’s got me thinking: on what basis can we choose those dice pools?

    1. Consistently, time after time, based on the NPC’s nature, stature, and level of determination. (E.g. this Steward, Brother Abelard, always gets the fourth profile, because he’s important and experienced. It’s part of his nature.)

    2. Case-by-case, to reflect the NPC’s current state. (Later, after he’s been removed from his position, the Steward gets the weakest profile.)

    3. Based on fictional positioning. (The steward’s on his home turf and backed up by his wife, so let’s use the strong profile here.)

    4. Based on the stakes of the conflict. (The steward doesn’t care too much about this issue, he’s kind of doubting it himself, so I’ll use a weaker profile.)

    5. Based on dramatic necessity. (This is an important moment; let’s reach for a profile with bigger dice now.)

    6. Based on the pacing demands of the session. (I don’t want to waste too much time on this conflict, so let’s take the “lightest” profile.)

    7. Based on the number of Dogs in the conflict. (We choose a profile that’s “balanced” for the number of opponents the Steward is facing.)

    I’m wondering which are well suited to the game, and which are not. Which help improve gameplay and which weaken it, and why.

    What does your experience say?
  • edited July 5
    Well, not many replies (I'm going to guess that there aren't many remaining Dogs fans here on the forum!), so I'll share my thoughts:

    I'm running another Town tonight, and I've drafted up a form of Quick NPC dice which depends on the number of Dogs involved in the conflict.

    This is an interesting thing to try; it will stretch out multi-person conflicts, but also be balanced, so that Dogs can decide whether to get involved or not, as they like, without worrying too much about "balance".

    It's a weird thing because it feels kind of "wrong" (especially in the context of all the blorb/klockwerk discussions we've been having), but may be just the thing the game needs.

    Interestingly enough, the outnumbering will matter more in fights (which sounds right and appropriate), because it will be less common for the NPCs to make Raises that target all their opponents.

    It would also be nice to adjust the system so that it makes sense to make more "targeted" Raises in conversations, too - you know, needling one particular Dog to try to get them to "drop out" of the conflict - but that's generally not a good move, since you'll be running out of dice faster that way.
  • A thought I had about upping NPCs' stats to make an encounter more challenging. This was actually in a 5E context but I think it applies to what you're doing here, Paul.

    Here's the thought: increasing the NPCs' stats in this way can actually increase the degree of outcome uncertainty, especially in situations where if you don't do it, the PCs will simply curbstomp the opposition.

    Now, writ large, in a 100% blorby context, that may be fine. This particular encounter doesn't need to present a real challenge, because there is still an interesting overall game going on. Plus, an easy encounter will resolve quickly. But if you have other dramatic concerns, it can be a hygienic thing to do.
  • Thanks, Matt. I follow all that up until the last paragraph. I’m not sure I get what you’re talking about there! Help?
  • Well, what I mean is, if you're going for full blorb in your campaign, you probably have to accept that there are just going to be some fights that are curbstomps for the PCs, and others where they will get curbstomped if they don't run away immediately.

    I wanted this particular battle to have some actual uncertainty to it, so that I as GM *wouldn't* know a priori what would happen. Paradoxically, the only way to achieve that was to violate blorb a little bit and, based on my knowledge of my PCs' stats (or at least their level), change the stats of the bad guys.

    Note: this battle was taken from a published module, one we agreed to play, but without any promise on my part not to modify it. In fact, I hinted heavily via an NPC that the battle with the pirates would be a tough challenge for the 5th-level PCs, so if I hadn't made those changes... would that have hurt the integrity of the game more or less than sticking strictly to the module?

    How this relates to Dogs. Imagine there's an NPC the PCs hear about, but haven't yet met. Mean Sheriff Thompson. By reputation, he's fearsome. So when you choose stats for him, you want those stats to back up what you've already established about that NPC, because to do otherwise would create dissonance.
  • Hmmm. I think what you're going for is not really in line with "hygienic" principles, somewhat by definition. However, you are entirely correct that, without such "fixes", you can create dissonance.

    Dogs in the Vineyard, however, is a very specific game with very specific needs. I'm not sure blorb principles apply, beyond Town creation, since the GM's job is, in many ways, to push the Dogs harder and harder, in order to force them to take a stance on certain issues.

    My current approach is a formula for dice totals which is based on the number of Dogs in a conflict and the level of escalation, plus a few "dX" dice, which the GM can use to adjust the difficulty very lightly. This creates an objective process, with a tiny wiggle room for adjustments; my hope is that this will serve the game well (like the Town dice already do).

    But I don't find that I'm 100% sure on where, how, and how much 'blorb' DitV actually needs. It's a bit of a tricky question; simple answers seem to elude me.

    It doesn't help that naming conflict stakes (and deciding the timing of conflicts) is another HUGE parameter, so, in many ways, playing in a really 'blorby' fashion may not be possible, anyway.

    It's interesting to consider; it's too bad no one else has chimed in on this point! Perhaps there's no one with DitV experience left around these parts...
  • I've run 5-8 one-shots of Dogs, but I don't count myself an expert.
  • Well, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

    What did you do for NPC/opposition dice? By the book? "Quick NPC" rules, by Vincent, or something else?
  • By the book, IIRC.
  • How many players did you have in those games?

    One of the reasons I started down this path is because I ran Dogs for two players several times, with great success. Then I played again with four players, and the balance was so different that we really struggled at first.

    I found that I had to adjust the rules as well as the fictional circumstances (what's happening in the Town, whether there is sorcery, mobs, etc) to make it work. It was fun in the end, but required some real adjustment.

    I watched Vincent run a Dogs game (there is one on YouTube), and noticed that he always had a single Dog play dice in any given conflict, instead of bringing everyone in, and that's one way to "balance" conflicts.

    Right now I've worked out a formula for dice pools which depend on how many Dogs are involved, which is nice, since, in theory, you can go either way: let one Dog take the lead, or have them all enter the conflict - it doesn't matter.

    I haven't playtested that yet, though.

    It seems like a good idea in many ways, but it's also the least "blorb" thing ever! So I was curious what people would think.

    Dogs in the Vineyard occupies a really interesting middle ground between traditional and blorby techniques and modern/scene-based techniques, which makes it hard to figure out some of these details. I think it's an interesting discussion!
  • I've never played it, and thus have little to say that would be of value to you, except that I applaud and appreciate your hybrid-technique experiments.

  • I usually had 4 players.
  • I think this is an interesting thread but have nothing to add: DitV has been sitting on my shelf for ages and I have never run it, so for the time being, all I do is bookmark interesting threads related to it.

    (How to actually access these threads once SG closes down is another story, covered elsewhere.)
  • There are some KILLER story games threads about Dogs. And it’s a really remarkable game, well worth experiencing.

    Look up a thread called “love letter to dogs”; that’s my favourite.
  • Hey @Paul_T

    So here’s my reasoning for why more blorb is better (or not) for dogs, with the caveat I don’t actually know Dogs well enough to be sure about this and so this could all be nonsense. (or so obvious that its facile)

    The aim of play is to see how a Dog, let’s call him Jeb, changes. Specifically his relationship to the faith, the community and his own issues. At some point reaching a climax where he enters his final state.

    So the most obvious reason for choosing relationships early is because that’s what we’re interested in seeing change. I mean it’s the whole point of the game.

    A secondary reason is Orcs singing. If the orcs are singing why didn’t we hear them? If you have an uncle that used to beat you, then why weren’t you apprehensive when you entered the town (presuming you knew he lived here)?

    Ambiguous bits:

    So assuming Jeb has an uncle who used to beat him. Then how do we decide when he shows up? Doing that by fiat during Town Creation would seem unblorby. On the other hand, the way towns are created in dogs makes it hard to randomize him in. Even if you could randomly assign him, would there be any benefit? My gut tells me no, so that’s a strike against blorb.

    The system and assigning dice:

    My cursory reading so far suggests that actually the system would be better if it was more blorby. In so much as it’s failing the chasm width test and opening up questions like ‘Should I choose stats based on getting a more uncertain outcome’. Is there actually any point to the variable stats assigned to npcs in dogs? If you need variable stats then randomizing a whole stat line would be better. Looks like the game design is just kind of lacking in this area.

    So I see two maybe three strikes for blorb and one against.
  • Alexander,

    I also prefer creating the Relationships as "early" as possible. There seems to be more real "investment" there, and more drama in play. It's led to my best/favourite Dogs games. (And, as you say, it allows for more "singing Orcs" world- or situation-building. When I played my game with the pre-written Relationships, I could mine them for themes and situations to use to create my Towns.)
    Hey @Paul_T
    So assuming Jeb has an uncle who used to beat him. Then how do we decide when he shows up? Doing that by fiat during Town Creation would seem unblorby. On the other hand, the way towns are created in dogs makes it hard to randomize him in. Even if you could randomly assign him, would there be any benefit? My gut tells me no, so that’s a strike against blorb.
    If I understand you correctly, I agree in full. If the player creates an abusive uncle... we both want to see that uncle in play. We don't want to *find out* whether we will meet the uncle or not - he should appear in play, full stop.

    I've used to randomization procedures in my own Town prep, and they've worked really well. However, it seems to me that those were fun tools for me to play with, but not necessary for "blorb" (I don't think it would have made any difference to the players which way I did it, in other words). Although the technique looks blorby (I would randomly inject the NPCs into my Town writeups, displacing other NPCs), its goals were not to enforce any kind of blorb at all. They just look similar!

    The system and assigning dice:

    My cursory reading so far suggests that actually the system would be better if it was more blorby. In so much as it’s failing the chasm width test and opening up questions like ‘Should I choose stats based on getting a more uncertain outcome’. Is there actually any point to the variable stats assigned to npcs in dogs? If you need variable stats then randomizing a whole stat line would be better. Looks like the game design is just kind of lacking in this area.
    Again, if I understand you correctly, I think we agree in full.

    As written, the game has you randomize stat blocks but not bring them in until the conflict starts. This could be read as more or less blorby, depending on how you choose the stat block in question and on whether you consider some kind of "simulation" to be necessary or valuable (e.g. a "weaker" NPC gets fewer dice).

    In theory, this is very "blorby", because NPCs get consistent dice totals and they are not in any way contingent on the Dogs' and the players' behaviour.

    However, later Vincent came up with the "Quick" method, which isn't specific to an NPC at all, and that was widely embraced.

    You see, the problem (which D&D shares) is that the players' dice totals DO depend on how many players are present. In a game like D&D, we care how the challenge and reward of the game balances against the players: sometimes, because we want to assure balance (as in CR-based encounter design), and, at other times, we want to allow the players to be able to adjust that balance in their favour through clever play (as in most OSR gaming).

    However, in Dogs, what we want to do is to pose moral challenges to the characters, and (I would argue) to remove tactical considerations from play. I don't want the Dogs planning to send three Dogs to talk to the old woman because they know she has lots of dice. At least, I don't think I do. (Still pondering this question!)

    It creates some funny consequences, like the insistence of experienced Dogs GMs to work hard to separate the Dogs, so that the Town can remain interesting.

    In theory - I haven't playtested this yet - having dice formulae based on matching what the Dogs bring forward should fix all of these concerns.

    Somewhat as Deliverator wrote up, having a "balanced" formula for conflicts means that gameplay, overall, is more unpredictable, and that could feel just right for Dogs.
  • Adding or removing a constraint here seems like a matter of taste. I'd prefer to know before play what sort of TV series the characters are going to live in because it will make events more meaningful and encounters more structured. Tactics highlighting ethics.
  • @Paul_T You understood me, we’re on the same page for all the above stuff.


    However, in Dogs, what we want to do is to pose moral challenges to the characters, and (I would argue) to remove tactical considerations from play. I don't want the Dogs planning to send three Dogs to talk to the old woman because they know she has lots of dice. At least, I don't think I do. (Still pondering this question!)

    Not directly related to Dogs but I’ve found that when I GM some games I have had to deliberately reduce the fidelity of the fiction to prevent tactical decisions.

    One common occurrence is the players can keep asking questions until the fiction is so concrete they can avoid resolution mechanics. This is seen as a good thing in osr style play with Finchian resolution, in my style of play it tends to suck. So that’s one more area where (a really important one), where full blorb doesn’t serve the agenda of the game.
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