Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard
is a 2004 indie RPG about the Dogs, young gunslingers who wander a fantasy world based on pre-statehood Utah, preserving the Faithful in the face of sin and demonic influence. It's full of things and ideas that I absolutely love. There's also stuff in here that I really hate. Between the two, I couldn't not do a writeup of it.
The game is set in something like the Wild West in the middle of the 19th century, but the details are different. Religious pioneers flee the violence and persecution of the East. They build towns, small and vulnerable to attack both from external forces and internal corruption. Pride becomes sin, anger becomes violence, resentment becomes hate. Then, the demons move in.
The book doesn't feel like most tabletop RPG texts. It's formatted a lot like a novel, and the tone is unusually conversational. It's like having a chat with the game creator, trying to explain his magnum opus to you over drinks. I kind of like it. Not much art, though, so this'll be pretty wall-of-texty.
What's it Like to Play?
After a basic explanation for people who have never roleplayed, we get an overview of the flow of the game. It's intended to play episodically - each session is a new town, with new problems. You move in, solve what you can, then move on, leaving the town behind you.
The described tone of play is, again, pretty unusual. It encourages things like players contributing to the story actively with suggestions even when they're not involved in the scene (a good idea in any storygame, really), and the GM telling the players things their characters don't know ICly:
"You cut out across the field toward the smoldering wagon. There’s a gang of robbers hiding in the grass and behind a couple of nearby trees. You haven’t seen them yet. What do you do?"
That part makes some more sense once you get into the conflict mechanics, I think.
The GM is also heavily discouraged from planning a story. The GM's role is to create a town at the brink of crisis, then respond to the players. Play the NPCs, be willing to let them die, don't have an ending in mind.
Before You Play
One GM, two to four players. The players are expected to be at least passingly familiar with the Western genre. The GM is expected to have created a first town. You'll need dice - a whole lot of dice.
All of DitV's mechanics rely on big meaty piles of dice, with no modifiers added to them. A group of dice can have two main operations performed on it: Add a Die (4d6 becomes 5d6), or Change the Die Size (4d6 becomes 4d8). Under some conditions you'll end up with mismatched dice (1d6 4d10), but a single pool is usually all of the same die.
At the First Session
Four things happen:
- Give the group an impression of the setting.
- Create characters, as a group. Don't do chargen in advance.
- Play through an initiatory conflict with each character.
- Introduce the first town, and begin play.
The third step is an interesting one - each character gets a short scene from their training, one-on-one with the GM, to introduce the game mechanics and introduce the character. More on that later.
From Then On
The party wanders from town to town. Each adventure is one town. Something is wrong in the town, and God's Watchdogs are there to right it. This means uprooting the cause, passing judgment, and enacting the will of God - mercy, justice, or vengeance. The rules are there to do three things: Create congregations in turmoil, relentlessly escalate conflicts, and bring the consequences of those conflicts back down to the players.
Next: The setting.
A Land of Balm and Virtue
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: A Land of Balm and Virtue
The first two sentences of the second chapter are this:
I will prepare for you a garden on the mountain, I will prepare a land of balm and virtue.
I'm just making stuff up!
Which pretty much sums up the tone of this rulebook.
There's a massive mountain range, peaked with snow, separating the East from the West. In the West, in the long fertile range between the desert and the mountains, the Faith make their home. The capital of the Faith is Bridal Falls City, and even that is small compared to the huge cities Back East.
The desert isn't all sandy dunes - it's canyons, valleys, scrub oak, sagebrush, and hardy cedars. Centuries of wind carve stone into strange shapes, like ancient kingdoms.
The Faith is, properly, The Faith of All Things in the King of Life, Reborn. The Dogs are, properly, the Order Set Apart to the Preservation of Faith and the Faithful. Less formally, they're the King's Dogs or Life's Watchdogs. They are addressed as Brother or Sister.
All religions other than the Faith are demonic cults, decadent corruption, or idle nonsense. Only this one is true.
Food and Fashion
People mostly east dairy and wheat. After that it's meat (beef, chicken, pork, game), fruit (apples, plums, apricots, berries), vegetables (corn, squash, tomatoes, carrots, onions, peas, beans). Coffee, liquor, and black tea are eschewed in favor of herbal teas, lemonade, and mild barley beer. Tobacco is going out of fashion.
Clothing is cotton and wool. Silk is a decadent luxury, most people dress simply. Men wear dark colors, women wear brighter colors. A woman's ankle or wrist in company is risqué.
Old guns, pre-Civil War. Big bores, lower profiles, single action. Loud, slow, smoky, and prone to misfires. They're still very, very dangerous.
The Mountain People
The locals are nomads, and were away when the Faith moved in. Since they came back, they've been gradually pushed out to the edges of civilization, mainly because they don't have guns. The Mountain People live in isolated family groups, forming alliances as needed. The towns at the edge of the Faith have to negotiate with them. In some places, it goes well. In some, it doesn't.
Doctrine describes the Mountain People as remnants of an ancient Faithful situation, so the Faithful don't fight with them without cause, and welcome them if they repent. Folklore says that they're the beloved people of the King of Life, destined to inherit the world and possessing secret true doctrines. Others say that they're more inclined towards demonic influence and sorcery than proper folk, or outright irredeemably evil. What kind of stories you hear generally lines up with how well relations with the Mountain People are going in that town.
The Territorial Authority
Secular law enforcement. Larger towns will have a sheriff, usually elected to the role by the congregation. The Territorial Authority is generally more concerned about two things: Mail, and taxes. If the mail reaches its destinations, and the taxes get paid, they don't really care what else you do.
Some of the things that the Dogs are authorized to do by the Faith are not authorized by the Territorial Authority. So, be careful about that.
Decadence, sin, cruelty, occultism. Huge, stinking cities, unspeakable vice and violence. Poverty, disease, filth, crime, slavery. The world the Faith went left to escape from. Sometimes a Faithful couple will send their child Back East to go to college. Those are perilous years, indeed.
Sometimes people who look like and talk like Faithful aren't. There are atheists, who believe that no God is interfering with our lives. There are dogmatists, obeying the letter of the scripture rather than God's will. There are spiritualists, looking to pagan superstition or the ghosts of the dead for guidance. There aren't many of such folks among the Faithful, but there are some.
Next: Character creation.
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Creating Characters
You are one of God’s Watchdogs, a young man or woman called to service in the Faith. Your duty is to travel between the Faith’s isolated congregations — its branches — and hold the Faith together. You’ll face danger, sin, betrayal; you’ll represent God’s mercy to the sinner and God’s justice to the downtrodden; you’ll root evil out and balance the line between divine and secular law.
You have a badge of office: a long coat, colorful, beautiful, hand-pieced and quilted by your friends and family back home. To you, it recalls their love and your duty; to others, it’s a powerful symbol of your authority.
You're playing a Dog! Men and women around the 18-22 range, having just finished two months of training. Unmarried virgins, allowed to travel unsupervised thanks to the strength of their conviction protecting them against sin.
Try not to come to the table with a character already in mind, if you can. Bounce ideas off your friends as you go. It's supposed to be aa pretty informal process.
- Well-rounded: Best for Dogs born in the Faith. 17d6 Stat Dice, 1d4 4d6 2d8 Trait Dice, 4d6 2d8 Relationship Dice.
- Strong History: Specialized training or a good education. 13d6 Stat Dice, 3d6 4d8 3d10 Trait Dice, 1d4 3d6 2d8 Relationship Dice.
- Complicated History: Troubled upbringing, maybe a later convert to the Faith. 15d6 Stat Dice, 4d4 2d6 2d10 Trait Dice, 5d6 2d8 Relationship Dice.
- Strong Community: Socially adept, from a caring family. 13d6 Stat Dice, 1d4 3d6 2d8 Trait Dice, 4d6 4d8 3d10 Relationship Dice.
- Complicated Community: Socially vulnerable, from a destructive family. 15d6 Stat Dice, 6d 2d8 Trait Dice, 4d4 2d6 2d8 2d10 Relationship Dice.
You have a pile of Stat Dice from the previous step - these are now shoved into your four stats. You don't roll them until you use the stat, so you can have, say, "4d6 Will" on your character sheet.
- Acuity: Perceptive, clever, alert, well-read.
- Body: Healthy, strong, graceful, quick.
- Heart: Compassionate, charming, corageous, faithful.
- Will: Tenacious, confident, unflinching, strong-willed.
When you use these Stats, you'll usually use them in pairs. Talking is Acuity + Heart, physical labor is Body + Heart, hand-to-hand fighting is Body + Will, gun fighting is Acuity + Will.
These are sort of like Aspects in Fate, or maybe Skills. They can be phrased as words (Horsemanship), or as facts (I've worked with horses and know how they think), or as history (I used to break horses with my dad). You distribute your Trait Dice between any Traits you come up with - book suggests 4-5 Traits. You can put any number of dice on a Trait, but they have to all be the same size. So, "Horsemanship 2d6" is OK, "Horsemanship 1d4 1d6" is not.
The more important something is to the idea of your character, the more, bigger dice you have. That doesn't mean the thing you're the best at, note - you could pile d10 dice into a negative if it's the most interesting thing about your character. You could put d4s into your strengths - it just means that when you use those skills, your life tends to get more complicated rather than less. This will all make sense once we get to conflict resolution.
There's a special Trait "I'm a Dog", which most characters are encouraged to write down. If you don't, you'll need to create a Relationship with the Dogs later on.
Name a few people you have relationships with. Assign dice to them, same as with Traits. Leave most of them unassigned for now, though, so that you can make new Relationships during play. If you didn't take the "I'm a Dog" trait, take a Dogs Relationship now.
You don't need to spend dice to have Relationships with your blood relations. If you meet someone who's related to you, you get a Relationship with them rated at 1d6 for free. If you want it to be more, or bigger, you'll have to spend dice for that.
As with Traits, bigger dice doesn't mean they like you more, it just means your bond with them is more central to your character. Smaller dice mean that their relationship with you is more complicated.
Name some things you have, as long as it's reasonable for you to have those things. Every Dog gets a horse, a coat, a copy of the Book of Life, a small jar of consecrated earth, and a gun. You might have more possessions that you want to log as Belongings, there's no real limitations here other than what makes sense for you to have. They have to be things you care about.
Write them down as you would Traits. If it's normal, 1d6. If it's excellent, enough that others would notice and comment on it, 2d6. If it's big, 1d8. If it's excellent and big, 2d8. If it's crap, 1d4. If it's crap and big, still 1d4. The only excpetion is guns, which get an extra 1d4 on top of everything else - so, an excellent, big gun has a rating of 1d4 2d8.
Finally, your coat. Write down what colors are in it, what it looks like. It's probably worth 2d6.
This is where things get unusual. The GM calls on each player in turn to say something that you
your character accomplished during initiation:
- I hope that my character won distinction in the eyes of the teacher of scripture.
- I hope that my character overcame his fear of blood.
- I hope that my character exorcised a demon.
- I hope that my character learned to curb her temper.
- I hope that my character solved a serious problem without resorting to violence.
And so on. It must be something that you could finish initiation without accomplishing - "I hope that my character survived initiation" is no good.
Once you've made your statement, it's time for a scene. A pivotal scene happens, with the player playing their character and the GM playing whoever or whatever forces opposed them. The stage is set for the scene where they'll find out whether or not they accomplished what they hoped.
A conflict plays out, using the full conflict rules. I'll gloss over it for now, except to say that the GM rolls 4d6+4d10 for their pool.
Whether or not you win, you get a new d6 trait. If your accomplishment was "I hope that my character won distinction", and you succeed at your conflict, write down "I won distinction 1d6". If you lose, write down "I didn't win distinction 1d6". Either way, you became a more complex person afterwards, and now it's part of who you are.
Most future Dogs are scouted by a Steward by age 13. There's a spiritual intuition to this, so whether or not a child is suited to become a Dog may not line up with what kind of kid they are. A dedicated Faithful may be obviously unsuited, while a delinquent troublemaker may have the light of destiny about them. From there to 17-19, the Steward guides you, but isn't responsible for you. Then, your formal training begins.
The training you undergo at the Dogs' Temple in Bridal Falls City is an initiation, and it isn't easy. First, you are prove your worth, or are culled by fatigue, himiliation, hurt, temptation, fear, and provocation. Then, you learn to ride, shoot, fight, preach, perservere, notice, and survive. Then, you learn scriptire, doctrine, ceremony, and theology. Then, you're initiated, receiving your oaths and being sanctified. The final goal of your teachers is to inspire you - what lights up your soul will be different for each person, but if it hasn't happened by 20, you'll never be a Dog.
While you're doing all of that, your family and hometown are busy making your coat. The women do the work, then men help but do what they're told. Everyone in town puts a stitch in the coat, all the men bless it with consecrated earth. At the end of your two months of training, you get a package containing your coat and letters of blessing from your home.
A Dog usually serves for three or four years. The coat takes a beating, and it's your job to maintain, repair, and sometimes replace it. If you end up getting called to higher sacred offices, you can always replace your office's vestments with that coat.
Your Steward assigns you a route an companions, based on what is needed. Twice a year or so, you return to the Dogs' Temple. Some Dogs serve faithfully until released, and have recognition and influence after. The men can hold any local-level office they ask for, the women have more freedom than is normally alloted them, and serve as respected spiritual advisors to their husbands. Other Dogs never finish their service - it's a tough job, almost impossible. When that happens, there's no real shame in it. You're guaranteed a place working chores in the Dogs' Temple, if you want.
Some Dogs stay Dogs. Their Stewards don't relase them, and they don't ask to be released.
Most Converts come from Back East, where the Faith isn't as unviersal. The journey west is cruel, killing one person in ten. Some of the oldest Dogs are men and women who converted as adults.
Some Converts come from the Mountain People, too. Your life will be a lot like your fellow Dogs, but there are differences. You face prejudice, both openly hateful and more subtle. Some hold you to a lofty standard for your heritage and have no compassion should you fail to meet it. If you converted recently, things will be even harder, as you have to balance your new faith with the religion of your ancestors that raised you.
You can write down new Relationships whenever you want, as long as you have available Relationship dice. Relationships aren't always with people, either. You can have Relationships with institutions, like the Dogs or the Faith. You can have Relationships with places. You can have Relationships with sins. You can have Relationships with demons.
There are a few common ceremonies among the Faith that you'll need to know about to be a Dog:
- Anointing with Sacred Earth. Applied by a mark to the forehead.
- Calling by Name. When you call someone by their full name with authority, their soul can't ignore you.
- Invoking the Ancients. Declare your authority as a Dog and an officer of the Faith.
- Laying on Hands. Any contact between your palm and their skin will suffice.
- Making the Sign of the Tree. Right hand held at shoulder level, palm forward, fingers spread wide. The Tree of Life is the Faith's most sacred symbol.
- Reciting the Book of Life.
- Singing Praise. Hymns are important to the Faith's rituals.
- Three in Authority. Perform ceremony with at least three Dogs together.
These can be used as elements of various Faith rituals:
A Dog's Duties
- Naming a baby.
- Solemnizing a marriage.
- Healing the sick.
- Driving demons out of a home.
- Dedicating a person to office.
- Sanctifying a corpse.
Dogs are called upon to do various things. Aforementioned rituals are a big part of it. They also carry mail and news, deliver new interpretations of doctrine, preach, participate in social functions, and even help out with physical labor, if the need is immediate. Most importantly, though, they're there in case things go wrong.
When things go wrong, it looks like this:
- Somebody is proud.
- Pride enacted creates injustice.
- Injustice leads to sin. The unjust become bold, or the victims become resentful. Rules are broken.
- Sin lets the demons attack the branch. Demons aren't corporeal, instead attacking through raids by outlaws, disease, drought, storms... anything that threatens the branch.
- Sin and demonic attacks create false doctrine. The victim of the attacks blames the King of Life for his misfortune.
- False doctrine enacted creates corrupt worship.
- Corrupt worship with three or more followers becomes a false priesthood.
- A false priesthood commands the obedience of demons, becoming sorcery.
- Sorcer leads to hate, and eventually murder.
This is where my issues with DitV's setting start.
When you arrive, the branch will be somewhere along that process, probably. The further along it is, the harder it will be to stop it. But you're going to stop it. Keeping the Faith in order is your job.
A Dog's Authority
You're acting on behalf of the King of Life. Whatever steps you must take, you are permitted, and nobody can complain. If someone has an issue, they can take it up with Him.
Brother Zachary is destroying Steward Joseph's branch. Joseph goes to the King of Life for guidance, and is told to see to Zachary's needs, serve him, help him, show him compassion. However, Steward Joseph is only human.
Your character comes to town. It's overflowing with sin and resentment. Very soon, Steward Joseph will do something terrible. People will get caught up in it. Bloodshed, sorcery, damnation. You only care what's best for the branch. So, you have Brother Zachary shot dead.
Your Character's Conscience and Your Own
Steward Joseph comes in a rage. "All my work, all my time, all my investment in Brother Zachary’s salvation! And for what, you kill him!"
"Your job is to heal the wound," your character says. "My job is to save the body."
PCs are capable of sin, but nobody is in a position to judge you save for yourself. As play continues, your stats, traits, and reltaionships may shift, but it's based on your own decisions, not the rulings of the GM. Sin, redemption, and grace are in your actions, not your stats. Your character's conscience is in your hands.
At any moment, you can choose to abandon the Dogs, if it's become too much for your character. Or, sometimes they get killed. This will only happen if you've chosen to stake your character's life on something.
If this happens, work with the group to compose an epilogue or eulogy. Then, if you want, make a new character. They get as many stat dice as your old character had, distributed however you want, plus an extra 1d6 for your trouble. Same for Traits. Relationship dice are the same as before, but they're all unspent again. Then, equip as needed. Don't forget your coat.
Next: The awesome conflict rules.
Conflict & Resolution
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Conflict & Resolution
The shopkeeper from Back East? His wife isn’t really his wife. He’s the procurer and she’s the available woman. Their marriage is a front.
Your brother’s son, your nephew, is fourteen years old. He’s been stealing money from his father, your brother, and taking it to visit this woman.
Your brother is in a bitter rage, humiliated by his son’s thievery and grieving his son’s lost innocence. He’s going to shoot her.
What do you do?
Conflicts are scenes where dice determines who gets their way at the end of a scene. They also figure out how things proceed throughout, and what changes about the characters afterwards.
At the start of a conflict, establish what's at stake. Then, everyone involved rolls dice - all the dice for two of your attributes, based on the type of conflict. From there, you'll Raise by pushing dice forwards to back up your actions. The people you act against push forward dice of their own to See your raise, or they fold, and you win the stakes. Once dice are used to Raise or See they're gone.
Eventually, you might run out of dice. If you want to stay in the conflict, you'll have to escalate the situation. A drawn gun says a lot in a debate.
The Simple Case
The quote at the top. The stakes are: Does your brother shoot the woman?
You and your brother meet on the road between his farm and town. Two participants - you, playing your character, and me, the GM, playing his brother.
For now, you agree to just talk it out, so the stats used are Acuity and Heart. You have 6d6 between the two, your brother has 7d6.
Relationships are factored in whenever the person your Relation is with is your opponent, or is involved in the stakes. Since this is your brother, that's a free 1d6 - but let's say you have a d8 Relationship with him written down. So, he's up to 8d6, you're up to 6d6 +1d8.
Traits or Things get brought in later in the process, so for now, that's the roll. You roll: 1 2 2 3 4 4 7. I roll for your brother: 1 1 1 3 4 5 6 6.
Raising and Seeing
To Raise, you say something you do, and you put two dice forward. It can be any two from your pool - the higher the values, the stronger the Raise. It's like an attack. Once you Raise, your opponent has to See, putting any number of dice forward that add up to the same or more as the dice you Raised with. Depending on how many dice that takes, the outcome is different.
If you See with two dice, you Block or Dodge. Say how you defend against the attack, turn's over. If you See with one die, you Reverse the Blow - instead of discarding the die, hold onto it until your turn, then use it as one of your two dice for your next Raise. You turned the attack back onto the attacker, so less of your resources are used up. If you See with three or more dice, you Take the Blow. The attack hits, and you gain Fallout Dice equal to the number of dice you used to See. The size of these dice depends on the nature of the blow - d4s for words, d6 for fists, d8 for weapons, d10 for bullets. You'll roll these at the end of the conflict, and it'll probably be bad.
At any point, if you don't want to See a Raise, you can Give instead, losing the stakes but gaining advantage in any follow-up conflict.
Back to the Simple Case
You: "Hey, Zeke, you don't just go shoot people. Let's talk about this."
You push forward a 3 and a 4 to Raise, with a total of 7. Zeke has to See with a 7 or better.
Zeke: "Get out of my way, boy."
I push forward a 3 and 4 to See with another 7. Your remaining dice: 1 2 2 4 7. Mine: 1 1 1 5 6 6. My turn.
Zeke: "In fact, if you had any conscience of your own, you'd be with me."
I Raise with a 5 and a 6, for a total of 11. This time, you have to See.
You: "Don't try to tell me about my conscience."
You See with a 4 and a 7. Remaining dice: 1 2 2 VS 1 1 1 6.
You: "You go home and see to your son."
You Raise with your best remaining dice, a pair of twos. I use my last 6 to See, reversing the blow.
Zeke: "Ha! I remember how he use to look up to you! Maybe if you'd been in his life he wouldn't have gone this way."
Because I Reversed the Blow, I get to hold onto that 6, using it for my Raise. I add a 1, for a total of 7. You only have one 1 left, so you can't see my Raise. I win the stakes, and Zeke pushes past you with murder still on his mind.
Hang on, that's not all. If you're at a dead end like the end of that conversation, you can stay in the game by escalating the conflict. Say, for example, you punch Zeke in the face. If you change the kind of conflict - here, from words to fists - you change which stats you're using. If you have any new ones, you roll those too, and add it to your pool. So, if you moved from talking (Acuity + Heart) to guns (Acuity + Will), you'd add all your Will dice, but wouldn't re-add your Acuity dice.
So, the scene continues. Fist fighting is Body + Will, so you roll all those dice (say, 7d6 of them) and add them to your pool: 1 3 4 5 5 5 6. You also have a trait "Fist fighting 1d8", so you roll that, and get a 4. With your remaining 1 from before, your new pool is 1 1 3 4 4 5 5 5 6. You push a 4 and a 3 forward to See my 7, then push forward two 5's to Raise.
I can't See a 10, so if Zeke doesn't want to give, he has to Escalate to match. He goes into fist fighting as well, rolling Body + Will = 6d6, getting 1 1 2 2 2 5, plus a leftover 1 1 from before. To See that 10 with this shitty pool I'll need four dice - 5 + 2 + 2 + 1 = 10. Zeke takes the blow, taking four Fallout Dice (4d6, because it's a fist fight) and setting them aside for now.
I look at the dice on the table. I have nothing left but a 2 and a pile of 1's. You have a 4, a 5 and a 6 all unused. I'm screwed if I stay in the conflict, so I Give. You win the stakes, and Zeke goes home bruised and grumbling.
Using Traits and Things
You can bring in Traits or Things whenever they're relevant, and get the dice for them, same as Escalating with different stats. Pull out your gun, and you add your gun dice to the conflict. Each Trait or Thing can only provide its dice once in a conflict, no matter how much you use it.
Rolling back the scene to where Zeke Gave. This time, he doesn't Give - instead, he raises his gun. That's a change to gun fighting, but he already rolled Acuity (from talking) and Will (from fist fighting), so no extra stat dice. What he does get is a 1d4+1d8 from his gun, and 2d6 from his "I'm a good shot" Trait. Roll the dice: 3 7 2 4. His pool is back up to 1 1 1 1 2 2 3 4 7.
Your highest two dice left are a 6 and a 4, so if I put forward my 4 and 7, I'll force you to take a blow. But, I don't actually want that - that's d10 fallout dice, and you're my brother. So instead, I push a 3 and 4, raising with a 7. I know you can block or dodge that.
You have a trait "Disarming Enemies 2d8", so you roll that now, adding a 3 and 8 to your pool. You see with a 6 and 1, then grab the barrel of the gun and jerk it out of my hands, Raising with a 4 and an 8. I have to See with my 7 and two 2s, so I take another blow - 3d6, because even though I have my gun out, you're still just using fists.
If you watch the dice, you'll see that I can't win this one. Zeke is finally sent home, humiliated and gunless.
If your opponent Raises and you'd have to take a blow, you can Give instead. You lose the Stakes, but you also cut your losses - hold onto your highest remaining die. If there's a follow-up conflict, you can add that die to your pool for it. Don't reroll it - use the number as it stands.
Conflict & Resolution (cont'd)
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Conflict & Resolution (cont'd)
When the conflict ends, roll all your Fallout Dice. Find the highest two and add them together to get your Fallout Sum.
If your Fallout Sum is 1-8, you suffer only short-term consequences. Pick one:
- Subtract a die from one of your Stats in the next conflict.
- Take a new Trait at 1d4 for the next conflict.
- Change the dice of one of your Relationships to d4s for the next conflict.
- Leave the scene and spend some time alone after the conflict.
If your Fallout Sum is 9+, you suffer lasting harm. Pick one:
- Subtract a die from one of your Stats.
- Take a new Trait at 1d4.
- Take a new Relationship at 1d4.
- Add a die to an existing d4 Trait or Relationship.
- Subtract a die from an existing d6+ Trait or Relationship.
- Change the die size of an existing d6+ Trait or Relationship to d4s.
- Erase a Belonging.
- Rewrite your coat's decription to include permanent damage.
If your Fallout Sum is 12+, you're also injured. Choose a second item from the lasting harm list. Also, roll Body - if you can See your Fallout Sum in three dice or less, that's the extent of the damage. Otherwise, increase your sum to 16 and continue.
If your Fallout Sum is 16 or higher (impossible unless you bust out weapons for d8/d10 fallout), you're badly injured. Getting medically treated is a conflict - you roll Body plus your healer's Acuity, the GM rolls fallout dice plus Demonic Influence (more on that later). The stakes are your life. Any Fallout from this conflict go to your healer. If you and your healer win, you'll live. Otherwise, increase your sum to 20 and continue.
If your Fallout Sum is 20 or higher, choose one:
- Set up the scene in which you will die.
Note that the only way you can unexpectedly die from a scene without a chance for medical care is if you take Gun fallout and roll double 10's.
If your Fallout Dice include any 1s, you get something good out of the conflict. Choose one:
- Add a die to one of your stats.
- Add a new Trait at 1d6.
- Add or subtract a die from a Trait.
- Change the dice size of a Trait.
- Create a new Relationship at 1d6.
- Add or subtract a die from a Relationship.
- Change the dice size of a Relationship.
- Write down a new Belonging.
Whatever it is, you need to explain how you got it out of the conflict.
As an example, going back to the previous sample conflict. Zeke took 7d6 of Fallout Dice during the conflict, so I roll them - 1 1 2 4 5 5 6. Summing the top two, the Fallout Sum is 11. Lasting harm, but no injury. I choose to change the die size of my relationship with your character - Zeke's brother - to d4s. After that falling out, it hardly needs explaining.
I rolled 1's, so Zeke also gets to grow. From the list I choose a new Relationship at 1d6 - the shopkeeper's supposed wife. Zeke isn't shooting her, but he hasn't let go of his grudge.
A follow-up conflict is a conflict that follows immedately and logically from another conflict. The stakes have to follow directly from the stakes of the previous conflict, and can only be the exact same stakes if the participants, stage, and method are
different. If I try to talk your character into admitting their sin, and fail, I can't just try again as-is - I already lost that battle. So, instead, I come back at another time, with two friends backing me up, and this time it can't just be a conversation. If you cut your losses before, you get your reserved die for this conflict.
If nobody cares about a given NPC's Fallout, the GM doesn't calculate it out as normal. Instead. You roll Fallout and just give the side that beat them the highest two dice for their pool in the follow-up conflict. Their loss becomes your advantage.
If you have more than two people in a conflict, things get a bit more complicated. Everyone goes in order by Best Roll (the sum of the highest two dice in your pool). When you Raise, you explicitly call out who your Raise affects. For your Raise to affect someone, it has to be an action they can't ignore. When you Raise, everyone who is affected by your Raise has to See it individually.
If you and a friend are both in a conflict, you can help them on their turn. Take an action that directly contributes to their action, and give them one of your dice for a Raise. However, the die you lend them is spent, and comes out of your next Raise - on your next turn, you only Raise with one die.
You can help someone on a See, not just on a Raise. If you do, your die doesn't count towards the blow's impact - if they See with two of their own dice and one of yours, it's still just a Block or Dodge.
Because helping someone takes one of your next Raise dice, and you can't Raise with zero dice, you can only help someone once per round.
Ceremony is weaponry against demons, the possessed, and corrupted souls. You can use ceremony to See and Raise when you're dealing with such things. What kind of ceremony you use affects the fallout of the blow, as per weapons:
- d4: Calling by Name, Invoking the Ancients, Reciting the Book of Life.
- d6: Laying on Hands, Sign of the Tree, Singing Praise.
- d8: Sacred Earth, Three in Authority.
Bringing in ceremony isn't escalation, and accordingly doesn't give you new dice - unless you have a Trait related to it. It's just a way to Raise against demons and sorcerers on their own terms.
Some rules call for Demonic Influence to be rolled. If a character is critically injured, the opposition in the conflict to heal them rolls all Fallout Dice plus Demonic Influence. When there's no clear opposition in a conflict, the opposition dice are 4d6 + Demonic Influence. When a Sorcerer calls upon demons for aid, roll Demonic Influence as escalation.
Demonic Influence is based on the worst manifestation of demonic power the PCs have seen in this town:
- Injustice: 1d10.
- Demonic Attacks: 2d10.
- Heresy: 3d10.
- Sorcery: 4d10.
- Hate and Murder: 5d10.
Sorcery at full strength is one of the most powerful forces in the game. Its power is real, immediately impactful, and greater than a loaded gun.
Please remember this for future chapters.
What is going on in this picture
As GM, you help establish the stakes of the conflict - and you should
push for small stakes.
Players well try to set them big, and you want to wrestle them back down. Two reasons for this: First, this gives you a source of follow-up conflicts, because it's easier to set up outcome scenes if the conflict isn't totally make-or-break. Second: If the stakes are huge, Escalating is always worth it. With more down-to-earth stakes, deciding to Escalate, Give, or Take the Blow is always a meaningful decision.
Next: Some examples of what conflicts can look like.
Resolution in Action
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Resolution in Action
This chapter is just a list of some sample conflicts - what the stage is, who rolls what, what Raises might look like, what the stakes are. The objective is to underline how conflicts don't have to just be shootouts and arguments, and different ways Raising and Seeing can be used narratively.
Do you Outshoot the Shooting Instructor?
The stage: A shooting range outside the Dogs' Temple. Someone flips a nickle. You have to shoot it. The whole conflict happens in the space of a heartbeat.
This is a character's initiatory conflict. You roll Acuity + Will. I roll 4d6+4d10.
Your Raises are stilling your breath, stilling your mind, leading your target, remembering your grandfather's hand on yours as he taught you to shoot. Mine are the sun's glare, the distance to the shot, your grandfather's insistence that you never take a shot you can't hit.
Who Draws First?
The stage: The street through the middle of town. The clock is about to strike noon. The whole conflict takes place during the final second.
It's a pure gunfight, so both people roll Acuity + Will. Raises include flexing hands, narrowying eyes, birds flying across the sun, fear of death, doubts about rightness.
Do You Learn to Ride?
The stage: Scrubland above the Dogs' Temple. You've never ridden a horse before. The conflict takes place over months, a montage of your initiation.
You roll Body + Heart for physical activity. I roll 4d6+4d10.
I Raise using the challenging situations that pepper your riding experience. Each time you Raise, you start it with "on the next day that I go out riding..."
Do I Lose You?
The stage: The mountains above Bowers Draw, looking for my hideout. You don't intend for me to get away after what I've done.
We both roll Acuity + Heart.
Raising and Seeing are back and forth as normal, but don't have to follow linear time. Your next Raise is a flashback to the scene of the killing, looking at some red mud on the corner of the doorframe - the same red mud as up here in the creek bed.
Do You Gun Me Down?
The stage: Following the previous conflict. I've been run to ground, but I have a couple thugs with me.
It's a gunfight, so Acuity + Will for both sides.
My thugs aren't participants in the fight - instead, I use them as a See. Your shot misses me, but kills Billy. He's dead, but you didn't hit me, so it's a Block or Dodge.
Do You Get Murdered In Your Bed?
The stage: Your room, at night, with a possessed sinner.
You're asleep, so you only get Acuity. I get Body + Will.
My first Raise will be an overwhelming hit with my axe dice added in, so you'll probably Take the Blow right away. However, you aren't dead - you heard it coming, and come awake already in motion. You won't die unless the whole conflict goes my way.
Are You Dead?
The stage: Following the previous conflict. You Took the Blow for the first axe swing, and rolled 16 Fallout. Your companion rushes to your side.
You roll Body, your friend rolls Acuity, the dice are pooled. I roll your Fallout Dice, plus Demonic Influence.
Your friend's Raises are medical attention, exhortation, and ceremony. Mine are spurting blood, failing pulse, and the voices of angels beckoning.
Do You Figure Out Who Murdered Her?
The stage: Bending over her cold body in the toolshed.
You roll Acuity + Heart, I roll Demonic Influence.
Your first Raise is to Call by Name, commanding her ghost to speak. My Raises are disembodied voices, chills, pain and hate.
Do You Control The Demon?
The stage: A prepared place outside of Bridal Falls City. Inside a consecrated marble box is a demon. Your teachers waitin among the trees.
You roll Acuity + Heart. I roll 4d6+4d10, as this is another initiation.
Your Raises and Sees are all ceremony. The demon's goal is to possess you, then pantomime being forced back into the box, hoping your teachers will let it escape. The demon's Raises are battering wind, whispering in your ears, anything to get inside.
Do You Stop Me From Murdering Her?
DitV's setting can be seen as anywhere between a subtle world of faith and paranoia and a magical landscape of screaming demon skulls and magical gunslingers. The stage: Another gunfight in the middle of town.
We roll Acuity + Will.
My Raise is fanning the hammer in a shower of bullets. Your Block is sweeping your coat around to deflect the bullets, then your Raise is Calling my Secret Name to command me to drop the gun. The power of righteousness protects you!
Next: Oh boy.
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Creating Towns
This is my least favorite chapter of DitV!
It starts out saying that something is wrong in the town, and explaining what "something wrong" is. I'm just gonna quote this one:
"Something wrong" falls into a tidy progression, which looks like this:
Pride (manifests as injustice).
Sin (manifests as demons attacking from outside, in the form of famine, plague, raiding outlaw bands, or whatever).
False Doctrine (manifests as corrupt religious practices and heresy).
False Priesthood (manifests as demons within the congregation: sorcery, possession and active evil).
Hate and murder.
Let's remember for a moment that this is a supernatural setting. Demons are
- there's some lip service towards the truth of the setting being ambiguous, but it isn't really backed up by the rules. They have real power that you can experience directly and that sorcerers can command at will. People possessed by demons can grow fangs and claws and glowing eyes.
If demons are real, then that means that whatever leads to their attacks is a real power. What lets demons attack a branch is the diminishing of the light of Faith, through the above process. Look at the definition above of "Sin".
So, for the rest of this section, I'm going to replace the phrase
"Pride can enter into X when:"
with the phrase
"X-related behaviors that can summon evil locusts:"
Let's get started.
The Faith is organized into a heirarchy of nested Stewardships. Everyone is spiritually responsible for something, but something else is responsible for them. You'll be judged for how you fulfilled your Stewardship. The King of Life expects you to keep your Stewardship in order and to defer to your Steward's judgment.
Here are some explicitly defined Stewardship chains:
Stewardship-related behaviors that can summon evil locusts:
- Local Families -> Local Officials -> Regional Officials -> Prophets & Ancients of the Faith
- Children, Elder Parents, Related Unmarried Adults in the House -> Married Adults -> Husband
- Various Duty-specific Officials -> Counselors -> Steward
- Congregation -> Dogs assigned to it -> Stewards at the Dogs' Temple -> Prophets & Ancients of the Faith
- Day-today Behavior, Obedience, Destiny, Relationships -> You
- Thinking you'd do a better job with someone than their Steward does
- Thinking your convenience is more important than your Stewardship
- Thinking fulfilling your Stewardship obligations means you deserve compensation
- Thinking your Steward is doing a bad job, or that you shouldn't obey them
- Using your Stewardship over someone as a display of power
- Favoring some of the people in your Stewardship over others
Let's be perfectly clear on the fact that a woman thinking she shouldn't defer to her husband in all things can lead to the village being destroyed by malevolent spirits.
Women's VS Men's Roles
Expected of girls:
- Be demure, polite, and deferential
- Do boring, repetitive work without complaints
- Be afraid of spiders, mice, guns, etc
- Cook, clean, feed animals
Expected of unmarried women:
- Be receptive to courtship
- Overcome girlish fears
- Otherwise see above
Expected of married women:
- Bear children
- Raise children
- Serve husbands
Expected of boys:
- Be energetic, smart, conifdent
- Do hard work without complaining
- Not be afraid of anything
- Take on important responsibilities
Expected of unmarried men:
- Court lots of women
- Only marry one of them, unless they're good and the Faith says they can have another
Expected of married men:
Gender-related behaviors that can summon evil locusts:
- Provide for families
- Educate their Stewardship
- Defend the home
Love, Sex & Marriage
- Not being satisfied with the roles of your gender, or wanting the roles of the other one
- Wanting someone to act outside their gender roles
- Denying someone full access to their roles
So, sex between man and woman, within a marrage, sex and love ar virtuous. If they're married to other people, romantic love is not virtuous and sex is a sin. If one or both are unmarried, romantic love is maybe virtuous and sex is probably a sin. If both are women or both are men, romantic love is not virtuous and sex is a sin.
Sex-related behaviors that can summon evil locusts:
- Demanding the love of someone who doesn't love you
- Pretending to love someone you don't
- Wanting sex without considering love, virtue or sin
- Considering your love to transcend sin and virtue
- Pursuing marriage for advancement instead of love
- Buying affection with money or prestige
- Demanding your suitor buy your affection
Remember, in this setting, gay sex and gay romance both conjure literal community-destroying evil spirits.
Polygamy is a reward to men for service and dedication. To get allowance to court a second wife, you must be called upon by the King of Life to do so, must fulfill your office in the Faith in an exemplary fashion, have a woman in mind, and be able to support the expanded family.
Polygamy-related behaviors that can summon evil locusts:
- Considering polygamy to be a right rather than a reward
- Thinking you deserve polygamy when you really just want it
- Seeking a second wife to display prestige
- Not wanting your husband to get a second wife
- Resenting your husband's previous wives
- Putting your relationship with your fellow wives before your husband
- Wanting a second husband
Money-related behaviors that can summon evil locusts:
- Thinking you deserve more than others
- Not wanting to give up what other people need
- Exploiting the poor
So eventually one of the above locust behaviors happens, and injustice flows as a result. Someone is left hungry while others are eating. Someone is prevented from fulfilling their role in the community. Someone has to choose between sin and suffering. A woman wants a job or something.
We get a nice handy list of eight sins here.
- Violence: Hurting others without just cause.
- Sex: Be married, or at least have a good reason for not being married yet but get it taken care of ASAP.
- Deceit: Lying, cheating, breaking promises, stealing.
- Blasphemy: Taking the King's name in vain.
- Apostasy: Not letting the King of Life be your anti-demon.
- Worldliness: Swearing, gambling, drinking, flashing ankles at people.
- Faithlessness: Neglect of duties of your office in the Faith.
Once all the above is nice and taken care of, it's time for the demons to roll in. The goals of demons are to isolate the community, endanger its survival, exacerbate injustice, prosper sinners, and oppress the faithful. To them, the PCs' arrival could be a threat or a golden opportunity.
Maybe a demon's attacks are tied to the specifics of the sin. Maybe they don't. Maybe it depends on the circumstances. Once your players start to get a sense for what the rules are, adhere to them.
A way to numb a sinner's conscience and justify sin. Coming to believe a tenet of Faith that isn't true, like that the Book of Life is merely human wisdom, or that a woman can have more than one husband. Something concrete.
Outward expression of false doctrine. The specifics of the worship may not line up exactly with the false doctrine, it may just be general heresy brought on by the doubt sowed from that doctrine.
One corrupt worshipper becomes a group of sinners. The heresy now has the force of a community behind it.
Organized worship has power. For the Faith, that's the power of righteousness. For a false priesthood, that's the service of demons. Members of a cult can command demons, but are also susceptible to demonic possession, allowing demons to act directly through them.
Hate and Murder
Hate here refers to an organized and deadly assault on the Faithful by the demonic. The victims are innocent, the deaths are ritualistic. This is as wrong as things can go, and as bad as a situation can be for the PCs to have to dissolve.
To make a town leap out easily for plotting, it needs three kinds of NPCs: People with a claim to the party's time, people who can't ignore the party's arrival, and people who have done harm for understandable reasons. Also useful is a secular authority - the Dogs butting heads with the Territorial Authority is always a fun source of tension.
A town might have multiple situations, related or unrelated, at different steps of the process. Pick some of the problems from the above lists that leap out at you, build off of them.
Once you've got the cast and the problems, determine what each person wants from the Dogs, and what they might do. Determine what would happen next if the Dogs never came. Then, you're done.
I dunno, I mean, I get that it's based on frontier Mormonism and 19th-century lifestyles. The part that really bugs me is how it takes those ultra-conservative values and makes them explicitly, magically correct, with all violations punishable by demons eating the community. All this fascinating moral dilemma is poured into "How will the Dogs address this growing problem in the community while wrestling with the secular authorities, people's morals, and their own consciences" and meanwhile over here we have a huge pile of shit that's actually, legitimately evil behavior, according to the undeniable will of God himself. And it's not even shit like "Decapitating your brother and burning his house down", it's shit like "A woman maybe wants her life to not be terrible a little". It seems like a weird setting choice for a game with a heavy moral choice theme, to have certain moral choices automatically lead to demon possession and sandstorms.
Anyway, Next: Between Towns.
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Between Towns
After leaving town, think back to it. Did you do good? Did you leave the town better than when you found it?
What did you learn about yourself? What changed about you? Who do you like more than you did before? Who do you like less? What is your character struggling with now? Also, how did the game go? When was the action sharp, and when did it bog down? How is the experience of the game?
After you talk about this, pick one of the gains from the same list as in the Fallout rules - you're a little bit of a better Dog than you were before. In addition, choose one:
- Add any two dice to your unassigned Relationship Dice pool.
- Add 2d4 plus any one die to your unassigned Relationship Dice pool.
- Rewrite your coat's description to reflect things that have happened to it.
- Choose again from the Fallout upgrade list.
Where to go from here? You could go to the next town in your assigned route, or you could go back to an old town. You could return to the Dogs' Temple. You could go home, or somewhere else, abandoning your service.
GMing Between Towns
This is where you start to write the next town. Think back to the thematics of what happened in the previous town - what were the characters about? What judgments did they make? Where were lines drawn? Which sins got judged the most harshly?
Your new job is to take the judgment of the characters and push it a little further. If a character judged that "every sinner deserves another chance", your next town should ask "even this one?" Whatever positions they settled on, challenge them. And don't have an answer in mind when you do.
Next: Making NPCs.
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: Creating NPCs
Like PCs, NPCs have Acuity, Body, Heart and Will in d6's, then Traits and Relationships and Belongings rated with various dice. However, you don't make them the same way!
Rather than making NPCs one by one with intention, you make batches of six NPC skeletons, then flesh them out as needed. To start a batch, roll 6d10, then consult:
Your six rolls will give you statlines for six NPCs. Now, give each one four traits, by rolling 4d8:
Record the values, but don't put what the traits are for. Next, there are similar tables for relatinoships (2d10), and 'Free Dice' (3d6). Free Dice give them some extra various dice you can assign wherever you want during play. In the end, it looks something like this:
When a character comes into conflict, that's the only time you'll need stats for them. So, once one of your NPCs gets into a conflict, scan the list of proto-NPC blocks and pick one to assign to them. Name his Relationships now if it makes sense to do so, and name Traits now or when you need them. If you need to, you can shove Free Dice into things as you go. So, once it's done, it'll look like this:
DitV's handling of mass NPCs is clever. The group is one NPC, but with +2d6 to its stats for each extra person in the group. Then, the individual people in the group - or the notable ones, if it's a large group - is a Trait. List people by their role within the group, so it's easier to know when to use them to Raise or See. So:
To be possessed, you must be a willing, knowing heretic or a sinner within a false priesthood. Give the NPC a number of dice in a Relationship with a demon, then give them a number of Manifestations equal to the number of dice - subtle visible changes in the body, like long teeth or red eyes (remember, kids, the existence of demons is supposed to be ambiguous). Finally, choose a number of Powers equal to the number of dice:
- Cunning: Apply the demonic relationship dice to every social conflict.
- Ferocity: Apply the demonic relationship dice to every physical conflict.
- Preservation: Take one fewer Fallout Dice when taking a blow.
- Viciousness: Inflict fallout damage one die size higher than usual, still maxing out at d10s.
The drawback is that a Dog in conflict with the possessed can See or Raise using ceremony.
A sorcerer gets, on top of all their normal relationship dice, a four-die relationship with a demon. You pick the dice size. A sorcerer can:
- Call on demons to add the current Demonic Influence to any side of any conflict as though it were a trait.
- Become possessed at will.
- Perform rituals to possess his followers.
A Dog can use ceremony against a sorcerer, just like against a possessed person.
Demons don't get statblocks. They only influence conflicts via Demonic Influence dice, as described before.
How To GM
Original SA post
Dogs in the Vineyard: How To GM
Play the town
So, you have a town, NPCs, and a situation. The rest is mostly reaction! Have the NPCs come to them and ask them to do this, fix that, make this better, tell them they're right. Then, back off and let the PCs lead from there. Provoke them to act, then react to their actions.
Don't write a story. You don't highlight them as heroes and villains. That's a Dog's job. Let go of what's going to happen. Don't play the story, play the town.
Drive play towards conflict
Roll the dice or say yes. If nothing's at stake, say yes. Go along with them, give them info if they ask for it. Let them do what they want. Eventually, they'll do something that the other characters don't like. Now, there's stakes, and now, there's conflict. Begin the conflict, roll the dice.
Actively reveal the town in play
Every town has secrets, but you don't. When the PCs start digging up dirt, let 'em find it. If someone lies, maybe make it clear that they're lying - you can usually tell when someone's lying in movies. Whatever's hidden in the town, the PCs will gravitate towards it, and then the fun starts.
Follow the players' lead about what's important
Kinda GMing 101. If your players take things in an unexpected direction, follow them there, and let whatever they're looking into be the heart of things.
Escalate, Escalate, Escalate
Once players take sides, that's your time to kick things up and start complicating their lives. As conversations start, you'll find that they're about certain moral judgments. Same as you do from town to town, challenge those judgments. Make their choices painful, don't give them easy answers. The players set the stakes, then you set them harder.
DO NOT have a solution in mind
You're playing by the same rules as everyone else, and they don't give you the power to nudge anything in the direction you want. Don't gun for the ending you envision, just listen and react. The job of the players is to carry out judgment, so they get the final say in how things end.
God isn't an NPC. You don't have a way to pass effective judgment on a PC's actions. The rules don't impose any sort of morality on them, leaving them to make those choices themselves.
Or so the book says, but I mean, the things that God likes are outlined in the book, and the punishment for them is actual demonic possession and destruction, so I'm not sure how that's supposed to line up with the game not imposing a moral system. Why does sin in anyone else open them to possession and locusts, but the PCs can't be judged?
The rest of the book is sample play and designer commentary, so that's about it for DitV. It's a very interesting game, but ultimately one that I'd love to extract from its setting and put into a different one.