Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Dogs in the Vineyard, Session 1

Last night was the first outing for Dogs in the Vineyard in our group, and I was GMing. It was the first time any of us had played it, but I think that despite a couple of head-scratching moments with the mechanics (more on those later) it was a good evening.

We started out with character gen; it took a little while because of thinking about potential with relation to the setting (it's late August, 1851), but after a bit of thinking we arrived at:
  • Patrick, playing Sister Basemath Armstrong, a fearless and funny Dog with a Strong Community background. During her initiation she corresponded with a geologist and was able to satisfy both him and the public that dinosaur bones had been left behind in Noah's Flood.
  • David, playing Brother Caleb Romney (a distant relation perhaps), a Well-Rounded Dog who is able to employ a coldly logical perspective, track people and he's also pretty handy with a gun. During his initiation time he unfortunately failed to capture a criminal, but this has now spurred him on.
  • Steve, playing Brother Paul Usher, a Dog with a Complicated History - not raised in the Faith, but a part of it now. He's rugged, stubborn and has all the traits that you might expect from a western gunslinger. During his initiation he saved a child from a burning building.
After initiations and descriptions of their coats they were given their commission by Brother Emmanuel from the Dog's Temple: go out on a long journey to the southern-most valley where the Faithful live. It's a long time since Dogs have been through that part of the world; give the Stewards letters, help the communities as you see fit and do whatever you have to do to keep the Faith strong in the towns.

We join the Dogs as they come up to a farm outside of the town of King's Bridge.

They see that the fence of the farm has been burned, and farmhands - one of them a relative of one of the PCs - repairing the damage. They learn from the middle-aged farmer that the people in the town are stirring against him, because they think his prices are too high; a store owner has sent their 15 year old daughter to live with him in the hopes that he will want to marry her, and create an advantage for their family's business. Last night, the fence at the front of the farm was set on fire, and the culprits were shot at while they ran away.

Sister Basemath bristles at the young woman being sent as a possible bride, but keeps things in check until all of the facts are known. There are a few other things going on at the farm, a farmhand is drinking secretly (but the farmer, Brother Abram, is trying to keep this under control) and everyone is very quick to say that the problem lies with the townsfolk and not with them. Are they hiding something?

In town things get more complicated. A couple of young men turn and walk quickly away as soon as they see the Dogs arrive in town. Brother Caleb tracks them down and has to wrestle one of them to the floor. At the meeting hall, Brother Paul and Sister Basemath confront the Steward, Brother Hiram, about what is going on. He tries to cover things up for a little - he sees the town as his responsibility since he is the Steward of the Faithful - but eventually confesses that he has learned his son and nephew were responsible for the vandalism and other acts of harassment at the farm. The nephew, Virgil, was shot and wounded, but he's patched him up. Hiram was hoping to make amends with Abram and resolve things.

Virgil is the young man Brother Caleb has subdued; Newton, the Steward's son, has almost escaped when the other Dogs arrive with the Steward and call him back. Virgil has been hurt badly, and has to be taken back to the meeting hall for the Steward to try and bandage him. Everyone decides to get some rest and try to deal with things in the morning.

Of course, when they wake in the morning they discover that someone broke in and kidnapped Newton in the night. The tracks are clear though, it's only an hour after sunrise and they lead out of town. To the farm. Brother Abram doesn't know what is going on, but the Dogs quickly discover that the alcoholic farmhand and one of Abram's sons have decided to enact their own kind of justice. The farmhand tries to shoot Sister Basemath, but she is able to talk him down in the end.

Brothers Paul and Caleb confront Abram's eldest son Seth, who they find strangling a badly beaten Newton. A standoff ensues, but the Dogs win out (see below for thoughts on dice), only to discover that they were too late: Seth has killed Newton.

Fade to black...

All in all a good session I think; I had prepared the backdrop for the town and was then doing my best to just see what the players would do and respond accordingly. I added some details as play unfolded - the Steward's daughter being pregnant I added because I wanted to see how the Dogs would react - and as the town has not been visited by Dogs in a long time I wanted to push a little to see what the Dogs would do to show their authority. While people in the community know what Dogs are, they have still had to sort things out by themselves for a long time. Even with the Dogs there, why should they be happy for them to resolve things rather than do it themselves? Especially given that they have been wronged, and not the Dogs. Which I think is the root of a lot of things in this first town, a certain amount of pride on the part of most NPCs.

I'm still not sure if I made the right call with the end of the session; was I right to kill Newton the right call? Time will tell. It made sense in a sort of story point for something dramatic to happen right at the end; I'm not sure whether or not I have robbed the players of something though. And I also wonder whether it might have been better to present the Dogs with a hard choice (which they could have perhaps worked around): kill Seth before he kills Newton - if you can't stop him, Newton will almost surely die. But anyway, no use in spending too long second-guessing things.

Dice: we were all agreed (I think) that the dice mechanic is a very strong feature of Dogs. At the same time, it took us almost the whole session to get comfortable with it, and there are still one or two things that we're not quite getting. The final three way standoff with Seth, Brother Caleb and Brother Paul was a bit all over the place: I think it was resolved fairly, but I'm positive it was not resolved accurately (according to the rules). We can work on that for next time though.

Any questions? Comments? Please let me know!

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