So I finally bought Dogs in the Vineyard. I’m slowly, slowly moving towards maybe playing it, though having been a late teens/early 20s religious judgemental person I kind of shy away from reenacting that. I mainly bought it for the ideas I could
steal be influenced by, and it was not a disappointment in this regard. Not at all.
I took notes as I read through the PDF, and here they are (slightly expanded). Some of them are me paraphrasing Vincent fairly directly, others are my thoughts triggered by things he says. Not all of them, probably, will actually get into the Pentasystem, but I suspect most will.
- If you think the element you plan on introducing could be controversial, ask the group.
- Attribute phrasings:
- A bit of personal history (“I once survived in the woods for 3 days without food or shelter”).
- A simple fact: “I’m a survivor.”
- A skill: “Survival”.
- An attitude or catchphrase: “I can survive anything.”
- Attributes are rated based on how interesting or important they are, not on how “good” they are.
- Character death (or even character injury) only happens when it is explicitly and voluntarily put in question [in fact this is not strictly speaking the case in Dogs; the dice outcomes can generate a conflict in which the stakes are "your character dies"]. The replacement character gets all the same resources of the old character, plus a bit.
- Set the scene, say what resources you’re using and what you’re attempting with them, roll dice, then start narration of actual actions.
- Possibilities in combat: Turning the opponent’s action back (reversing the blow), defending against it (block or dodge), feeling it but going on fighting (taking the blow). Last always has consequences. (Margin of victory in each sub-conflict, I think.)
- Does the responding player get a response and then an opening themselves? At the moment only if they change the ground do they get to take the initiative. Perhaps they get a response (see) with their bare die roll, but if they bring in other resources (e.g. rerolls) they take initiative (like a raise).
- Can you hold back successes for follow-up conflicts if you Give in a Pentasystem conflict? I think not.
- Follow-up conflicts are such if the stakes follow directly from the previous conflict’s resolution. They can’t have the same stakes unless they have different participants (i.e. not identical participants), AND a different place, AND a different opening ground of conflict.
- Consequences for the inconsequential: if nobody cares what happens to a supporting character, instead of assigning consequences to that character, give the characters that everyone does care about some equivalent advantage.
- Relationships (enmeshment): becomes usable in a conflict when the conflict involves the target of the enmeshment as either the opponent (possibly in the form of a representative of that thing, e.g. organization), the setting (if the target is a place or the place represents the target, e.g. a church for the Church) or as what is in question or at risk in the conflict. Cause of the conflict would work as well (I’m in this conflict because of this enmeshment.)
- In multi-way conflicts, at each turn the person who has initiative gets to say who is affected by their actions, and all those people have to stay in by rolling or bail out by giving up their outcome. Maybe they get to respond in reverse order of the size of the dice they rolled in each round (so anyone rolling a 1 goes before anyone whose smallest die is a 2; if two people roll 1s, look at their next smallest die and so on; in case of ties, go clockwise).
- I want to replicate the back-and-forth of sees and raises, but I’m not sure my die mechanic supports it. I’ve thought about “you cluster your successes that show the same number together, and that’s a turn,” but I’m not sure how it would work exactly.
- “A raise is something your opponent can’t ignore.”
- Assisting: Your character has to be clearly capable of helping, it has to clearly be an action that would help, and if anyone objects that it’s not reasonable, it doesn’t happen.
- When assisting, you lose the successes you assist with from your own conflict if you are also in a separate part of the conflict.
- Setting what’s in question: I think my as-yet-undocumented idea of “scale” enters in here, rather than Vincent’s guidelines “GM should push for small stakes”. (Basically, depending on how interested you are in something, more or less powerful characters will turn up to oppose you on that issue; if you beat a powerful character (who, of course, has more resources and so is harder to beat) you can make bigger changes in the world.)
- Good follow-up conflicts involve stakes which come out interesting either way (of course, but worth repeating).
- Conflicts which are too large will mean escalation is always the best choice.
- No hedged outcomes. They’re outcomes – things that happen. Nothing should be said, in the set outcomes (what Dogs calls “what’s at stake”), about how they happen. That’s what the conflict is for.
- Conflicts arise because people want things. What do the supporting characters want?
- Proto-NPCs or partially generated supporting characters – definitely needed. At least with pool points assigned and some ratings for a few attributes. Then match these with the necessary handles as required.
- Group-as-character, with an attribute for each person perhaps? This was an early idea I’ve been moving away from. Perhaps it’s time to look at it again.
- Demonic Influence acts kind of like the momentum of the situation – parallel to 5-act structure determining additional opposition or inertia for unopposed actions?
- Anything the characters want to do is automatically OK until it conflicts with something another character wants. Then, conflict. (Roll dice or say yes.)
- Don’t keep the secrets, reveal the secrets.
- Create situation, not plot; people who want things, not supervillains. Create situations where the characters will take sides. Then complicate whichever side they take. (Plot is how characters respond to situation. You can’t know that in advance.)
- Enmeshing with something says you want to be in conflict with (or about) it. Taking an attribute says you want to use that as your means of resolving conflicts.
And a couple of “structuring the book” points:
- Summarize after each major section – quick reference.
- Rules index! This is an excellent idea for a game with a lot of rules.