I’ve been going through a really fun process of exploring and discovering (or rediscovering) “classic” indie/story games of the Forge era.
*A short aside: *
The current trends in game design seem to be largely focused on very freeform gaming (e.g. Follow, Fall of Magic) or PbtA games (or similar games which are traditional, but with more modern mechanics, like Tales from the Loop). I’m sure it’s just a temporary phase, but I’m finding it’s really nice to go back to these games and experience a large variety of design styles from game to game.
The latest game I’ve returned to is Dogs in the Vineyard. I loved this game and ran it quite a few times for different groups, but it’s been about 9 years since I’ve played it.
Rereading it and learning to play all over again is both challenging and tremendously rewarding. The rulebook is written in an incredibly approachable way and is just fun to read, as well as being a great teaching text.
However, I’m bumping into an interesting issue. Every Dog starts with some Relationship dice, which can be assigned to people who are important to you. As written, the game tells you not to assign most of your dice, because you don’t know who you’ll meet just yet. And it also tells the GM to prep a Town, completely separately from the players (i.e. the players do not participate in that process at all).
In most of the best Dogs play I’ve seen, the GM and/or group does something to conspire or contrive to have some close relationships between the townspeople and the Dogs. (Especially important if it’s a one-shot!) This really heightens play and makes things much more interesting. It’s also fairly believable, in a setting where tight-knit families settle a new land, and there could be relatives and old friends everywhere you go.
In my best Dogs campaign, I had the players tell me a bit about NPCs that were close to their heart - loved ones, family, enemies, etc - and I told them that for their first time out as brand new Dogs, they’d be visiting their own home Towns, to have their first experiences as Dogs and to have a chance to say hello to their families before they set out “on the road”. Our campaign took us through their hometowns, with great results. (We never intended to go to any other Towns, in other words; “visiting your home towns” was the campaign frame, and I populated each one with NPCs the players had invented.)
In my current game(s), I’m experimenting with including an NPC from the Town they’re visiting in their initiation conflicts, which has been reasonably useful, as well. (I’m still not 100% sure about this technique.)
However, the Dogs text is interesting. On one hand, the procedures of play, as written, don’t do much to create relevant relationships to the Dogs in the Towns they visit. On the other hand, in the examples of Town creation, the GM makes a real effort to make sure they do. In the first example, the GM specifically adds a family member for each Dog in the Town, and doesn’t stop until he has done so.
It seems like a bit of tension between the procedures and the examples. Did the players come up with those family members, or did the GM just dictate their relationships to them?
In most Dogs play, the GM generates the Town before the players make their characters, during prep time for the game. That makes it difficult to do this in any way that includes the players.
So, what’s the actual procedure here? How is this intended to go? How do you do it?
What’s the best way to create Towns in such a way that the Dogs run into important relations of theirs?
@lumpley, have you written about this anywhere? I know you’ve taken the game “off the shelves”, but if you’re willing to satisfy my curiosity, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.