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Dogs in the Vineyard RPG Overview
Dogs in the Vineyard is an interesting indie roleplaying game published by Lumpley Games. The creators have a tagline that you are “roleplaying God’s Watchdogs in a West that never quite was”. The game seems to combine the Old West frontier with witch hunters and religious zealots. As one of God’s Watchdogs, you are tasked with tracking down and suppressing sin. Towns are supposed to follow the Faith. The world is full of demons that are waiting to pounce on any town that lags in its Faith. These demons can influence people to leave the Faith and commit sin. But the object of the game is not just about gun fights with heretics. It seems to be figuring out and resolving moral dilemmas.
Dogs in the Vineyard won the 2004 Indie RPG of the Year Award and Most Innovative Game Award. The game focuses on narrative roleplay as opposed to a lot of dice rolling. The game encourages you to get involved enough with your character so that they develop into a deep and complex persona. If you are into heavy description and creating a compelling story, then Dogs in the Vineyard may be a game for you.
Dogs in the Vineyard Setting
In Dogs in the Vineyard, players take on the role of young members of the “Order Set Apart to the Preservation of the Faith and the Faithful”. These characters, called Dogs, travel the towns of the old west to make sure the townsfolk remain committed to the Faith. They act as religious lawmen who have complete authority to punish sinners who have strayed from the Faith. This Faith is based on early Mormon beliefs and fits with the setting. The role of the dogs can be anything from messengers to executioners. But the Dogs have good reason to be watchful. In the game world, the demons are trying to lead followers of the Faith astray and to corrupt them enough to commit murder and other mayhem. The Dogs must protect the people of the Faith from these demons by acting as religious shepherds to the towns.
Dogs in the Vineyard Game System
The system for Dogs in the Vineyard is not the usual roll of the dice found in most rpg systems. Instead, the game uses a form of conflict resolution where die rolls are used similar to bids in a game of poker. First of all, every character has a set of statistics that are represented by “dice pools”. Anyone who has ever played White Wolf’s World of Darkness will be familiar with this term. Whenever the characters need to resolve a conflict in the game the players and the Game Master (or GM) will determine what is at stake. Next, everyone decides which dice pools are will be used and those dice are immediately rolled. This is where the bidding starts. The character that acts first can “raise” two dice, just like in a poker bid. While they make this raise, the player narrates what their character is doing during the game’s conflict. Unless the opponent wants to “give”, or lose, the conflict, they must put in a number of dice that exceeds the number of dice used when the first player raised. If only one die is needed to exceed the raise, this is a Reversal which means the attack has been turned back against the initial attacker. If it takes two dice to stop the attack, then it is merely Blocked. However, if three or more dice are needed to exceed the raise, then the opponent Takes The Blow which means they suffer a negative outcome that occurs at the end of that specific conflict. In the next round, if the opponent did not give or Take The Blow, they start out by raising two dice which the first character must now match. This type of gameplay will go back and forth until one player gives. Players may add more dice to their pool by "escalating" the conflict. They can do this by changing to a different type of combat such as going from a nonphysical conflict to a physical one. Whoever wins a conflict gets to decide the outcome.
GM involvement is not very rules heavy. The GM is responsible for running the game and thus the story but the rules ar enot set up for a lot of arbitration by the GM. That would slow down the game and with an emphasis on narrative desriptions, it is obvious the designers want the gameplay to flow smoothly without a lot of starts and stops to check rules. In the book, the GM's set of rules are very simple: "Say yes, or roll dice."
Dogs in the Vineyard Characters
Characters in Dogs in the Vineyards have four main stats which are made up of 2 or more 6-sided dice. Additional d6’s can be added to the stats as the game progresses. Characters also have such things as traits, relationships, and equipment which are all represented by dice pools. Unlike the four main stats, these attributes can use smaller or larger types of die such as 8-sided or 10-sided dice. Traits can be virtually anything as long as it relates to the game setting. Some examples are “I Love My Gun 2d8” or “Rides Like The Wind 2d10”.
Relationships play a big part with characters. These represent associations with other people and other places. Not all associations are going to be good, though. Some of these relationships may very unfriendly. Just like your traits, you can use your relationships in any conflicts where applicable.
Character creation can be a bit unbalanced, though. Take a character’s equipment, for example. Every item of equipment you possess is rated in quality from d4 to 2d8 (d4 being the lowest to 2d8 being the best). You can arte your own equipment. You can also have as much equipment as you want and there are no rules that say you can’t rate everything as 2d8. So this can turn out to be a bit unfair to players who want a more balanced character.
Characters also have to make up an Accomplishment for their character. This is something that your character wanted to complete during their training. To see if they did so, you roll the dice. If you succeed in your Accomplishment, you get a d6 trait that reflects your success. If you fail, then you get a d6 trait for your failure.
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