Dogs in the Vineyard

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a week now, but I’ve been busy becoming a Perl God. It’s true! In only a few days I’ve become master of All Things Perl. Need a script? I’m your man. I rule the school. And to help you someday become as skilled as I am, I offer you this Perl tip:

“prunt” is not a valid command.

But I’m not here to wow you with my programming skills, I’m here to talk about an RPG. I haven’t done that in a while because, frankly, I’ve kinda been down on RPGs lately. My group is still meeting semi-regularly and playing some things, but nothing has really excited me. I even canceled the final episode of my Star Wars d20 game because even I was bored and frustrated with it, and I was the GM. I’ve been thinking that it might be time to hang up my dice, at least for a while, but I’m fairly sure that if I do that, that might be it for me and RPGs forever, so I’m not sure I want to take that step yet.

Which is why it excites me to say that I played an RPG last Friday that did get me excited and in which I had a lot of fun. It’s an indy game called Dogs in the Vineyard which TJ was test-running. Here’s the description from the company’s website:

You stand between God’s law and the best intentions of the weak.

You stand between God’s people and their own demons.

Sometimes it’s better for one to die than for many to suffer. Sometimes, Dog, sometimes you have to cut off the arm to save the life.

Does the sinner deserve mercy?
Do the wicked deserve judgement?
They’re in your hands.

DOGS IN THE VINEYARD
roleplaying God’s Watchdogs
in a West that never quite was.

The setting is the old West (more or less) and the PCs are religious troubleshooters (Watchdogs, or just “Dogs”), going from town to town to root out sin and corruption. Towns are usually glad to see Dogs arrive, because they know they bring justice, but justice isn’t always pretty, especially higher justice.

Character creation is a snap. In a few minutes we each had a fleshed out Dog ready to serve the King of Life. My guy, Samuel Wells, was the son of a fiery preacher who had raised him to love the Book of Life and distrust women (“My daddy says a woman’s like a poison on the brain.”) Character has four defining objects: Attributes (four of them), Traits (as many as you can), Relationships (as many as you can), and Possessions (as many as you want). Dice are assigned to each of these objects.

Resolving conflicts uses a great mechanic that utilizes all of these categories. Let’s say I’m trying to convince some guy not to visit the town prostitute. We’re just talking, so that uses the attributes Acuity (3d6) and Heart (3d6) (Samuel’s worst stats.) Now, we’re discussion women, so I am also gonna use my “Women are a poison on the brain” trait (you make up your traits), which is worth 1d6. So I’m gonna roll 7d6 and he’s gonna roll whatever attributes and traits he thinks apply.

Whoever starts out (add your highest two dice, that person starts) puts up two of his dice. Let’s say the guy starts and puts up a five and a six, eleven. If I want to continue, I have to first “see” him — that is, put up enough to match his 11. Once that’s done, I can “raise” and continue the argument. He then has to see my raise, and can then raise himself. At every step you role-play what you’re doing. Now I start running out of dice, so I’m gonna call in more traits. I’ll mention that carnal love is against the Book of Love (trait: “Everything I need to know is in the Book of Love”, 2d6). He might call on a trait like, “Horny as hell.” Maybe I know his pa, (Relationship) and will bring that into the argument. Whatever applies, you add in.

If you run out of dice and still don’t like where things are headed, you can escalate. That is, we go from just talking to fisticuffs. And then maybe to guns. The higher things go the more chances you have to gain “fallout”: negative effects or traits that will harm you later on, and the more punishing that fallout will be.

The system isn’t perfect: it’s a home-brew game, and there were a number of rules questions we had, but the important thing is that we were up and running pretty quickly for a brand new game and system, and we all had a really good time.

I don’t know much about the GMing side of it other than what TJ told me and I skimmed from his book. Instead of adventures you create towns. Towns consist of relationships between people. There’s a progression of evil for towns that sounds like a speech from Yoda: pride leads to sin leads to false doctrine leads to etc. I don’t know the actual progression, but it’s a guide to how far along the path the town is and what might be setting it there. In addition, the book strongly counsels GMs not to have solutions to the town’s issues. That’s the PCs job, and let’s face it, how often do PCs come up with a solution you planned on anyway, other than an obvious one (kill the bad guy).

I really enjoyed Dogs in the Vineyard and am planning on getting my own copy soon. I liked the mechanics (and think they could easily be adapted for other games) and of course I liked that fact that at no point was I going to see an Elf. I liked the emphasis on role-playing. It’s a really nice game, and I can heartily recommend it to gamers looking for something fun and different.

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2 Responses to Dogs in the Vineyard

  1. jdonelson.nyc says:

    Perl is awesome!!!

  2. Lanf says:

    On the other side of things, if you ever DO meet someone who even resembles an elf, you can always just kill him. They are creatures of the devil, you know.