Monday, 6 August 2012

Dogs in Other Places

For those who don't know it, Dogs in the Vineyard is an RPG in which the players take on the roles of "God's Watchdogs", who roam from town to town in a sort-of Mormon Deseret dispensing justice, rooting out demonic influence, solving crimes, resolving conflicts, and generally sorting stuff out in whatever manner they see fit. The rules are tightly focused with that sort of game in mind, and they include a method for generating towns with the assumption that the players will be travelling from place to place episodically each session or so.

Like all rulesets that people call "tightly focused", Dogs really isn't all that tightly focused. It can be used, really, for any sort of game in which:

a) The players roam from location to location resolving conflicts
b) They are invested with the power and authority to do so
c) The way the conflicts are resolved is entirely open-ended
d) The conflicts are based around sin, corruption, decadence, and so on

Which means that, really, it would be almost criminally easy to rejig the system to run:

  • Dogs in the Grimdark Future: The players are inquisitors travelling around a subsector of the Imperium in the year 40,000, rooting out daemonic influence
  • Dogs in Canaan: The players are biblical judges in the Deuteronomic era, travelling from village to village, fighting against idolatory, oppressive kings, and the collapse of social order
  • Shire Reeves in the Vineyard: The players are sheriffs or shire-reeves responsible for keeping the peace in a shire in Anglo-Saxon England
  • Dogs in the West: The players are US Marshals in the American West - Clint Eastwood eat your heart out
  • Inu in the Budouen: The players are samurai charged by the local Daimyo with law and order for a frontier province

And so on and so forth. 


  1. Replies
    1. Anything the Dogs decide is the 'right' decision by definition, yes? They are sort of Nietzschean Value-Creators?

      The Magnamund setting seems very Tolkien to me, which implies Christian, and that you can make the 'wrong' decision: "Hm, I think I should keep this shiny ring I cut from the Dark Lord..."

      CS Lewis in particular lays on the Christian guilt heavily on his protagonists in Chronicles of Narnia, which for some reason always comes to mind when I hear about 'Dogs'; maybe they are opposites, or two sides of the same coin.

    2. Magnamund is practically gnostic in its cosmology, with two great powers battling it out in the name of good versus evil. So taking sides is definitely necessary, but once that's done there seems to be very little relationship between personal and cosmic ethics.

      Certainly the Kai Lords seem to have fairly free reign. It's possible in the books, for example, to pick up and carry around one of the most evil artifacts known (the Dagger of Vashna) essentially indefinitely with no ill effects. And through the course of the books, you're given opportunities to act in a decidedly non-goody-two-shoes manner and suffer no consequences; I remember one read-through of, I believe, Book 2 in which I ended up slaughtering something like 30 villagers who thought I was a mass-murdering psychopath. Kind of proved them right, I guess. At no point later in the book did that catch up with me or cause me any further inconvenience.

      So you could, I think, very much make the argument that Kai Lords are at least as much value-creators as the original Dogs.

  2. I've never done it, but I have some friends who use DitV to play Jedi knights in the old republic.

    I have been a part of a game where we played members of the Geologic Survey investigating paranormal activity in the 1870's; think x-files in the not-so-wild west. We toned down the moral component and toned up the situation mystery aspect of the adventure, although things did get pushed a little in a soap opera direction without the strong moral dilemas.

    I bet it wouldn't be too difficult to play as Ursula K. Le Guin-style anthropologists trying to convince long-lost planets to join the intergalactic commonwealth (think Genry Lee from Left Hand of Darkness). You'd use the village-creation rules to instead build the ruling class with all its factions, alliances, and squabbles (including any priests, rebels, etc), and then spread them throughout the globe. You'd have to be very willing to let conflict be more abstract and potentially take longer amounts of in-game time, but the rules are all there to handle that. And the moral conflict comes from the left-anarcho live-and-let-live philosophy of the commonwealth as opposed to the somewhat horrible actions of the centralized rulers and leaders of these "backwards" planets.

    1. Could you turn it inside out so that rather than preserving order you are destroying it? Revolutionaries in the Vinyard?

    2. Jedi knights would be a lot of fun actually.

    3. What would the escalation route be?

      Words -> Lightsabers -> Force?

      I think I've mentioned before, when we were playing more with the To The Stars setting, that one idea I quite liked was the idea of Dogs in the Oort Cloud: you would need a certain kind of spiritual devotion to enforce terrestrial law at the edge of everything...

  3. Prime Directive in the Delta Quadrant.

    Commissars in Red America. (Who exactly are these ..."Wolverines"?)

    Wandering Imams of the Bactrian Empire.

    The Shtetl Files. (You can has golem.)

    1. When you think about it, Star Trek:TNG basically is Dogs in the Vineyard in space.

    2. Taliban (duh).

      What if the PCs have neither power nor authority, just the will to act? Could be The A-Team, Terrorist Cell, In Nomine or The Manson Family. Or a decidedly oddball Call of Cthulhu: Plateau of Leng.

    3. I don't know, but you could absolutely do a Cthulu-oriented version of it.

  4. Here's the old Forge alternate DiTV settings thread:

    Lots of ideas & thoughts on the subject, all linkified. I'm fond of the agents of the Terror in revolutionary France idea myself.

    I think the only thing I'd add to your list of alternate setting criteria is that any setting benefits from some tension between the player's moral values and the values that people in the setting will appeal to.

    1. Yeah, I like that about DiTV. Take a bunch of liberal-lefty nerds and force them to think like hard core Mormons: hijinks ensue.

  5. Awhile back I came across a Three Musketeers game played using DotV. Looked like fun.

  6. Your list makes it sound fantastically tightly focused to me.

    1. I seems like resolving conflicts could be replaced with making mischief (if desired), and invested with power and authority could be replaced with only invested with power (and that might not even be required, though it would probably be more fun). Then it's more open.

      I'm still curious about running a DotV FLAILSNAILS session, as I mentioned before, but right now my priorities are focused on some other things. Some day.

    2. Depends how you define "tightly focused", I guess. I think it's probably about as tightly focused as OD&D.

    3. As focused as OD&D was meant to be but way more focused than it turned out to be.

  7. There are actually some examples in the back of DitV for playing it in different settings. I kind of like the idea of a mobster game.

  8. I have no idea how I managed to miss "Dogs as 40k inquisitors".

    Taking that world's ridiculous morality system and treating it as the baseline for actual moral quandaries could be brilliant.

    If you go by the game about them, the inquisitors even have the same arc as dogs characters; monodominant to radical.

    The larger distances and time scales involved might twist things a little, but that's not unsolvable.