Dogs in the Vineyard: who do you know in Town?

Yep, re-reading the book these days after a long time and this jumped at me. Specially because I left the actual town examples until last. Then my reaction was “woah, the author is furiously entangling these Dogs to NPCs here through blood/family relations. But he didn’t actually said it in the text, right?” then I went back to the part on Relationships and indeed this is not instructed, at least not explicitly.

My 2 cents: the author (Vincent) left it open on purpose, to show the game can acommodate a myriad uses for Relationships according to group preferences. That said, in the actual examples he go ahead and use it in a way he personally prefer, that is, furiously entangling Dogs with NPCs in town (which happen to be our preference too, right?).

Interesting, I never noticed this in the rules. How does it work, this “Reflection replenishing relationship dice” thing?

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Yes, it’s interesting, right? It’s got me thinking about various ways to do this, and I was hoping that this thread would get some people to share their experiences and the way they have used Relationships in Dogs. I think it’s the least obvious or at least the least well explained part of the rules.

As for Reflection, at the end of that process, you get some new unassigned Relationship dice, in preparation for the next Town. The text similarly does not seem to specify or explain what to do with these dice, so I have to assume the intention is that you can assign them to NPCs in the next Town when you encounter them.

Excellent summary and analysis. Very succinct.

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Not exactly but there is this sanctioned setting agnostic version sanctioned by Vincent…

I am not sure why he doesn’t sell the PDF any more.

Hey, that’s pretty interesting. I remember seeing a link to this document, but I didn’t get a sense that it was well done (I believe somewhere in there the author even says that he has never actually played Dogs!).

I could definitely be wrong about that intuition, though. Has anyone read this, or played it, and what can you tell us about it?

Do you know where/how Vincent has given his approval or blessing? I’d be curious to see from what perspective. Thanks for sharing!

The author played this version at several conventions and says it went well. Not sure if he ever played the original version though. It does say Vincent explicitly game his blessing as Vincent was refusing to publish it any more due to the problems he had with some interpretations of the setting.

This generic version does not have that baggage. Not sure though if it carries any of the depth though either that would give you the feel of authority from the original though.

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From what I understand Vincent let him know he had the legal right, and perhaps encouraged him, to write the project. I don’t believe he ever said anything about the final product.


That sounds about right.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to start a new thread about “DOGS”, in case anyone is actually familiar with the product, while I still hope to solicit some advice or ideas about how to functionally handle Relationships in DitV in this thread. Surely a better way is possible.

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Here’s how I’m handling relationships in my current DitV campaign - though it is a kinda odd campaign, the players are British policymakers dealing with the Cold War crisis. …

The players are stuck governing the same Town (London) for all three sessions of the campaign.

This makes relationships more meaningful, as players must deal with their friends/family/whatever for three sessions…even if they successfully solve one problem, they still have to stay in the same Town to solve all the other problems (you can always make a Town more complex simply by running through the Town Creation process multiple times - or even just combine multiple Towns together to create a Mega-Town), and deal with the aftermath (especially if they happened to offend or hurt some of their Relationships in the process).

That’s a very interesting setup! It reminds me a bit of the short campaign I ran, and probably had many of the same positive features.

I have a few questions for you:

  1. How did the Relationships come into existence, and who had a say in it? Were they established before play, or during?

  2. How did the Relationships interface with Town Creation? Did you intentionally include “friends/family/whatever” in the Town writeup, or did it work in some other way? Could you give an example?

  3. When you talk about going through the Town Creation process multiple times, do you mean that you did it all “up front”, or that you would create new Pride-Injustice-Sin-etc chains in-between sessions? How many “Towns” in terms of problems did you end up with for a three session campaign? Did they all get resolved?

I’ve made some “double” Towns before, but never anything with more layers than that. (And in my case the two “chains” were always overlapping, not completely separate situations.)

  1. Players have a say in Relationship creation. I originally intended for Relationships to be created during the initiation conflicts, when players introduce characters and quickly establish relationships with them. But due to a snafu in explaining the rules, relationships were accidentally established at character creation (two players went ahead and defined relationships).

  2. Generally, I developed factions and then intentionally slotted in the Relationships as leaders of the factions whenever appropriate. Consider this the Reverse-Jenskot - the players create the characters and I choose where they go. (The only exceptions was the Soviet Union, where I prepped up a dictator for the players to deal with, and NATO, where I just improv-ed an American representative since I couldn’t see any good Relationship to slot in there.)

I’ll give an example from my current campaign: one faction I have is the Combined Peace Movement. I have prepped their history, their ideology, their plans…the only thing that I didn’t prep is the actual leader of the CPM. When Player A established a relationship with his estranged wife, I slotted her in as the leader of the CPM.

Another thing that I have done is introduce factions through the initiation conflicts as well, so players already get a good idea of the political situation before the game “starts”. During initiation, Player B started a propaganda campaign to get people to migrate away from London into the suburbs, thereby making it more likely for British civilians to survive a nuclear attack. So I had Player A’s estranged wife (and the rest of the CPM) launch a protest movement to oppose the propaganda (claiming that moving away from the cities to the countryside would be bad for the environment).

A second example would be the UK Nationalists, who during the course of play, winds up being led by Player C’s jealous cousin and supported by Player A’s fellow war veterans. During initiation, they opposed Player C’s plan to covertly seize the United Kingdom’s economic wealth.

  1. I did it all “up-front”. I created three “Towns”, and all those problems are overlapping, in a sense (which is a good thing - makes the resulting moral dilemma more complex). The campaign is still ongoing (we finished the first session) - and no, those problems haven’t been resolved yet (probably made more worse than I expected). I’ll keep you posted if our fearless leaders have actually succeeded in anything (though, they did lose control over London to the CPM).

@igorhorst, what a great summary!

That sounds like an incredibly interesting game, and I hope you will come back to report on how it went (send me a link, if you do so elsewhere!).

I didn’t go into in great deal in my opening post, but my own approach for the one Dogs campaign I ran was very similar. I did stick to the basic Dogs conceit of visiting multiple Towns, so not all the problems were “overlapping”, but I had the players create Relationships and then slotted them into existing Town writeups, just as you have done. It was tremendously effective, and made for a very memorable and exciting campaign. (I also assigned them semi-randomly, which kept the process exciting and full of surprises for me, as well.)

How has the game proceeded so far?

Do you find any difficulty with the escalation of violence in a more modern, lawful setting? I don’t know who your characters are, but it’s hard to imagine them at liberty to draw and fire on British civilians and envinronmental activists… how does the question of violence built into the system factor into your London setting?

In session 2, the politicans cut off the water supply to London (while claiming that it was being damaged in a terrorist attack). They then provided water to loyal aspects of the city to gain popularity, while covering all the looting and rioting the protesters did (while neglecting the fact that the journalists themselves were also looting and rioting). They then managed to get an interview with the Combined Peace Movement’s leader and the interviewer managed to get the leader to call the protests off, and in return the government provided self-governance to each Region of the United Kingdom. Water supply to London quickly got restored soon afterwards.

A crackdown on the KGB agents helping the protesters went wrong though, and a Region was soon subverted by the KGB and declared independence (though the KGB agents started shooting at each other, so not a huge loss).

WW3 itself was inconclusive - though the Soviets won the land battle and conquered Germany, the politicians managed to destablizie the USSR enough to get pro-peace generals to launch a coup, thereby averting a nuclear war between the West and the East. The game ended with the Soviet Union and NATO agreeing to form a CoDominium, and Germany itself being demilitarized and “neutral” territory. We still have some loose ends though to cover in a possible session 3, like how the politicians will demobilize the UK and if they will give up their wartime power and all the resources they stockpiled.

As for the escalation of violence, it did become an issue of sorts, but we treated “death” as a political death (scandals, unpopularity, retirement to radio talk show host, etc.) which renders your character incapable of playing any role moving forward. It may sometimes lead to actual death (like assassination), but if it doesn’t make sense in the fluff, we just stick to a nonviolent decline into obscurity.

During the second session, we also changed how “healing” worked. Instead of rolling to heal after you’re seriously injured (as in the original rules), I give you a demand. If you let the demand get fulfilled, you live and are fully healed. Otherwise, you die and prevent the demand. For example, a politican who was seriously injured was given a chance to heal up if he let the KGB agents shooting at each other to “set aside their differences” and establish a working puppet government. He didn’t, and so he sacrificed his political life to let the KGB Agents in the UK keep attacking each other.

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These are the different levels of escalation in my DitV game:

  • Talking with intent to persuade (e.g: debate), Acuity+Heart, d4 fallout
  • Implementing nonviolent government programs (e.g.: rationing), Body + Heart, d6 fallout
  • Fighting in close-combat situations (e.g.: pitched battles and skirmishes between two sides), Body + Will, d8 fallout
  • Fighting in ranged-combat situations (e.g: bombing raids and missile strikes), Acuity + Will|, d10 fallout
  • Fighting in propaganda-combat situations (e.g: terrorism, ‘heart and minds’ COIN), Heart + Will, d10 fallout

If you start engaging in combat situations against protesters (for example, sending police officers), uh, then protesters may very well die (though their deaths really serve to hurt the leader of the protesters, as that leader take Fallout damage).

Which may be why the politicians didn’t resort to violence, trying more subtle ways to persuade them to drop their cause - and the protesters also didn’t really want to resort to violence either, knowing it may hurt their cause.

Violence did get used later on during the war between the Politicians and the KGB agents, though the Politicians were conducting “propaganda-combat situations”, such as using the police to try to locate and arrest the KGB agents (and wasn’t attacking protesters directly).

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Absolutely fascinating, @igorhorst. That’s a far deeper hack than I expected. Would you consider starting a new thread about your game? I have lots of questions, but they no longer have anything to do with the original topic.

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Here’s the new thread:


Wonderful, thanks!

In the meantime, I hope others will come comment on how they handled Relationships in this thread. Perhaps the newer PbtA-focused crowd has missed out on this game, though? It is hard to say.

I read a nice review of Dogs earlier today, and this quote jumped out at me:

Relationship dice. You get dice for significant relationships – and the thing here is that what matters isn’t how much you like the person, or how strong your bond is. It’s how much you want that relationship to be a factor in the story. So you say ‘I’m interested in this relationship’, and then you get rewarded for getting that relationship mixed up in things.

It’s clear how the Relationship dice reward the player when they come into play (with increased effectiveness), but it’s much less clear how the Relationship rules help us, as a group, to “factor them into the story”. Unless the GM is instructed to include them in the Town writeups and to somehow get them to recur, it’s really not obvious how this is supposed to work.

A minor flaw in one of the finest RPGs of all time.

Hence this thread!

That quote seemed rather a propos, so I’ll leave it here.

(The whole blog entry/review is quite nice, for anyone curious:


Paul, I don’t have your experience running DitV (just once that I remember), but I’ve played in several games GMed by DitV veterans, so I’ll offer a few thoughts.

First, I think it’s important to differentiate between relationships and Relationships. While the player gets to choose their Relationships, one of the GMs I’ve played under loves peppering towns with people with whom your character has relationships. Your sister who you haven’t seen since she married and moved away, your uncle the millworker, someone you had a crush on when younger and haven’t seen in years–these sorts of things. When they’re a blood relative, per the rules, you automatically get a 1d6 Relationship with them. But more importantly, these relationships serve as invitations to assign Relationship dice and make them a bigger part of the game.

As discussed previously in this thread, there’s certainly the option for the player to see a character and declare, “Oh, that’s my cousin!” to bring in a Relationship. But the GM can also build a town and plan on some of these types of relationships, leaving it in players’ hands whether to pursue them as Relationships.

Second, when I played a Dogs campaign, that GM saw Relationships as a way for players to indicate who they’d like to serve as recurring characters. Obviously, with the way the game is driven by Towns, its episodic structure changes what this means versus more serialized campaigns. But there are plenty of episodic TV shows that nonetheless have secondary characters who appear every now and then.

Ways to handle this in DitV: A Relationship character can get married and move to another Town; their profession can be desperately needed elsewhere and so the King of Life has called them to another Town; a family member passed away, causing a temporary or permanent move to that member’s Town to help look after other family of the loved one; the Dogs can revisit a prior Town. Generally for us, the Dogs get into Town and are surprised to see a familiar face, and then learn why that person is present.

None of this works well if it’s overused, but these sorts of callbacks can feel more natural when used sparingly.

Two other thoughts: I agree that overall, Relationships don’t sing in quite the same way so many other aspects of DitV do. The dice take longer to be assigned (or go unassigned) and are rolled less often than other categories. I don’t know a way to make them feel as essential and intuitive as so many of the other great parts of this game. And second, sometimes Relationships are less useful as dice and more useful as an aspect of character creation. They can be helpful in developing your concept for your character, even if you never end up rolling them or encountering the Relationship character at all. That’s still a useful feature to have in a game.


Good stuff, Joe.

I think a lot of what you’re describing is implied by the rules and by the text, but rarely addressed explicitly.

The GM tying relationships into the Town write ups and then letting the players decide which are Relationships can be one way to do this, and might be what’s happening in the examples in the book. However, I haven’t heard anyone explicitly say “don’t assign the Relationship dice at character creation; the GM will put relatives of yours into Towns and you’ll decide whether to assign dice to them when you meet them.”

Unlike Traits and Belongings, Relationships aren’t something that you can take with you (at least, not usually!), and so it falls on the GM and Town Creation to determine whether and how much they will figure in the game. That goes equally for the fictional content and the mechanical impact (does someone’s Strong Community background mean anything after the first Town has been visited and those dice have been assigned?).

I think that’s why it’s really key to have a principled approach to this. Thanks for the thoughts and observations!