Home for Thanksgiving break. My friend Dorf wants to run Dogs in the Vineyard. The only thing I’ve heard about this game is that it’s good; knowing nothing more than that, I agree to play. Apparently the PCs are God’s Watchdogs–sort of Mormon-cowboy religious police. While initially disappointed that I won’t be able to rob banks and shit, seeing as I’m acting on the side of God, after a bit of reading about it the setting seems to be pretty damn cool. So Wednesday rolls around, and we all gather at Dorf’s house to roll some dice.
Impressions of the game:
- Goddamn, I love this character sheet. The left side of the sheet is sparse, and contains all the details you need to play the game, and the right side explains most of the rules of the game in two columns of text.
- We got stats, all right, your basic RPG ability things. Traits? Fuck yeah. Like aspects from Spirit of the Century, but with various dice values attached to them. Relationships written on the character sheet, okay, that’s different, but I can deal with that. Character creation goes smoothly, and soon Black Marley, coldly religious Shakespeare-obsessed gunslinger, steps into the world of Dogs in the Vineyard, year 1849.
- Final act of character creation is a short prologue detailing some event that happened to your character before the beginning of the game. I wasn’t sure about this at first–it seems like it would just take a long time–but the doing of it was actually pretty fun. This was also my first encounter with the conflict resolution system, which is FUCKING AWESOME.
- THE CONFLICT RESOLUTION SYSTEM IS FUCKING AWESOME. I won a standoff without drawing a gun, by quoting Shakespeare during the shittalking beforehand. It combines strategy, roleplaying, poker bidding terminology and luck in one fantastic package.
- I’m not sure if I like the whole episodic “Roll into town, solve everyone’s problems, leave town” theme that’s going on here. I like being a little more free to decide what I want to do, instead of constrained by an official position (in this case, that of God’s Watchdog). If I had been playing a character who wasn’t a Dog, when we found that Mr. Jones had an illegal still in his cellar that he was using to sell whiskey to the Territorial Authorities, I would have said, good on you, Mr. Jones. If I had wanted to follow that plot thread further, I probably would have chipped in to help the man, and become an underground whiskey magnate. Instead, we were God’s Watchdogs, and we shut that still down and gave Jones a stern reprimand. Maybe what I’m saying is that there’s a reason I don’t ever play paladins. Or Lawful Good characters in general. Not the fault of the game, more my own preferred style, I guess.
- Despite being constrained by religion and authoritative office and the need to solve small problems, the fantastic conflict system makes even arguing with people fun.
- After the session, Dorf told us about what he’d written up for the town, and what would have happened if we hadn’t come along. It contained things like lynchings, cults forming, the steward possibly becoming a sorcerer, demons bringing pestilence and famine, stuff like that. I had two feelings regarding all this. On the one hand, I’m rather smug that we were clever enough to avert literally every bad thing that could have possibly developed. On the other hand, all that stuff sounds fucking awesome. Dealing with cults and sorcerers and stuff as an old-west gunslinger sounds like a helluva lot of fun.
If you can get past the fact that you have to play according to strict moral rules, and are restricted in your actions by both those morals and by the episodic nature of play, Dogs in the Vineyard is a damn good game. I especially enjoy the game system; the strategic conflict resolution adds a interesting extra dimension to play with.