Monday, January 30, 2012

Dogs in the Vineyard AP: Terrance River Branch

Hey there, folks. Had my Dogs in the Vineyard game last Friday, and, well, I was very happy. Now for some messed-up reason I decided not to write it up right away, so I'm hoping I get all these details right. Oh well. I really should record my sessions so I can go back and remind myself. But without further ado!

Featuring the Dogs:
- Brother Judah, played by Daniel. Brother Judah is heavy on the Body stat and kicks ass in a physical fight. Daniel is the fellow who has always played the "I attack him." guy in all of our other games, and struggled quite a bit last game to get out of that after doing it resulted in me fucking his character over. Also the most prone to ask where the strip club/brothel is at.
- Brother Eli, played by my little bro Curtis. Brother Eli is very into guns. Very much so. The Acuity also makes him decent at talking though. He came in late to the session, you'll see that in the events.
- Sister Lydia, played by Kris (it's a guy, I know that name goes either way but he's playing a genderbent character). Very talk-y. Kris is the most into the RP next to me.
- Me, Ego, the GM. I struck with the iron fist of God last game, in two ways, so I wanted to ease up on the throttle. I tore up their guys pretty good last time so I kinda adjusted my maths to not blow them away with more good rolls. I also sorta used the heavy hand of black-and-white-morality on them, so I wanted to make it more grey since that's something I love about Dogs.

    It was high noon when Brother Judah and Sister Lydia rode into Terrance River Branch. The town was a smaller one, but was in well enough shape. People flocked to the Dogs like usual, and the baby kissing commenced. They made their way to the Steward's house, and met Steward Brother James. He invited them in, served them etc. Daniel, in all his infinite tact, asked if he had a daughter, to which he got a "No, but I have a son." and went on to explain his problem. His son, Brother Timothy, was of marrying age and the Steward had worked with Brother Simon (a local) to arrange a marriage, but the girl, Brother Simon's daughter Sister Althea, was refusing to cooperate. The Dogs said they'd try to work it out and went off to talk to Brother Simon's.
    At this point I informed Daniel that Brother Judah happens to be very (very) distantly related to Brother Simon. Initially I was going to have them a bit closer related, but Dan was already pretty set on hitting on Sister Althea so I made it, um, less weird (we also weren't sure what pre-Wild West marrying age was, so we called it 16 to avoid weirdness). It came up that Judah and Simon had met briefly many years ago, but had had no contact since. But the pair arrived, and Sister Althea wasn't home, but Simon answered the door.  They briefly caught up on the doorstep and got to the issue. Simon didn't know why his daughter was refusing, but it became quite clear that he needed it to go through - he really needed the dowry from the Steward to keep the cattle ranch operating. He'd tried to convince his daughter, but it hadn't worked. He implored them to talk sense into her, and informed them that she should be at the church, since she spent most of her days helping the older priest out there (okay, I gotta admit that I know nothing about Mormonism in particular aside from what was in the Dogs book, so I don't know if they actually have priests. I just assumed they had a role like that and called it a priest. If they don't, just imagine that's one way in which The Faith differs from Mormonism. Same with the word church, idk). They went on their way.
    So they arrive at the church, and it's very clean. The door is open, and they find Sister Althea sweeping the floor. Brother Jacob, the priest, is nowhere in sight. They approach and introduce themselves, and find that Brother Jacob had gone home early that day, feeling quite ill. They got to the heart of the matter and asked why she wasn't cooperating, and her answer was that she didn't believe one should marry without love. This is a funny difference between character and player logic, since for the Dogs arranged marriages are common, normal, sacred, and to be gone through with. On the other hand, my players here in the modern age happen to believe in love, not arrangement. Kris with Sister Lydia quickly found his (her?) loophole to very concretely argue for love. His character already had negative relationships with her Cousin John and Uncle Ebidiah and Aunt Celia, who she grew up with, but last time's game ended with him upping his relationship with John to a positive. His explanation was that Ebidiah had arranged a marriage between John and Lydia, and she was strongly against it and ended up hating them all for it (since Celia just stood by and watched). She revealed that after last time she found that John wasn't at fault really and was a good person really (after his help last time), but this meant that she was going to be very against the arranged marriage. Anyway, back to the scene, she asked them to talk to Timothy. She didn't know where he'd be, but said that Brother Jacob the priest would probably know.
    I told the players that it was getting to the point that if they went back to the Steward's, they could find Timothy there since it was supper time (and Timothy would of course be back home, the Steward had told them that earlier). However, the players asked if if the time could be a bit earlier so they could still go and talk to Brother Jacob, they wanted to see him and figure out about him. So that's what happened. At this point little bro showed up, so Brother Eli came strolling into town and some friendly locals pointed him to the Dogs. We all filled both him and the character in (actually I did, but I'm thinking in the future I should totally have one of the other players do it, have their characters explaining to the latecomer so that heads stay in the game). They showed up to Brother Jacob's place. It was run down, with a large garden in the front that seems to have grown out of control and has started dieing from the fall season. They knock, and he yells at them to go away. They say they're Dogs and a couple minutes later he crack the door very slightly to talk to them. He looks kinda sick, and I described basic symptoms they could see. They kept probing, and he kept trying to get them to go away. When they asked off to the side where Timothy was, he told them that Timothy would be at home by this time. Now, I'll of course spoil it right here, but I was subtle enough then that no one guessed precisely what it was, but the symptoms I described were those of a person halfway between hangover and drunk. But the players didn't fully get that, and left to go to the Steward's, but they knew something was up here. They're also told he'll be at the church the next morning.
    To the Steward's. They get there, and meet Timothy for the first time and are left along with him for a few minutes. You know that one guy you know, maybe he went to your school, who just looked perfect all the time and totally knew it and was kinda smug about it and everyone hated him? With the perfect hair and the super-friendliness and always-happy-and-helpful attitude and you couldn't help but hate him for it all? Timothy is that guy. He is entirely and completely in love with Althea, for all the right reasons too. Essentially, this was one-sided love being pushed. Some of it is probably just because she's denying him, but he doesn't care. The scene goes through, and, I confess, I don't perfectly recall how it goes. So sorry, but it becomes a lot fo exposition. They learn that Timothy helps out as a farmhand at Brother Gregor's. They learn that Brother Jacob hasn't been the same since his wife died 6 months ago, and they reason that that's what was up with the garden. Apparently she loved that garden. That's also when he started getting sick it seems. Now at this point the table talk is telling me that the player's suspect slow poisoning. From this point on Dan accuses pretty much every character of having been poisoning him. Now, characters are gonna go to sleep about now, but Kris has a different idea. He wants to go out and talk again to Sister Althea about Brother Jacob's illness. Dan says sure thing and goes with him, but Curtis isn't really up to it and leaves his character at the Steward's, where they have rooms for the night.
    We go there, and they knock. Simon answers, and they talk for a minute. I do not recall precisely how, but they manage to make Simon upset with them (probably a stupid comment Dan made that I put through) but they gt in to talk with Althea. The information they get: The illness started when his wife died, and has gotten regularly more consistent, until now when he goes the majority of days. She's never seen him get sick, he always leaves when she's off cleaning or some such and leaves a note saying that he's off. There's nothing he does consistently before getting sick, but she remembers that he's been out by Brother Gregor's farm a number of times and has never explained it. In the end I'm pretty sure Dan said something stupid again and she slapped him before Simon drove them out. Burned THAT bridge! But she still needs their help. The two get back to the Steward's and sleep.
    Next morning, I ask who gets up early and who sleeps in. This time Dan thinks his Brother Judah would sleep in, while the other two get up. I'd anticipated someone getting up, so I had them encounter Timothy in the doorway. He said that he was going to keep helping Brother Gregor out on the farm, and pointed them so they knew where it was if they wanted to come by. Now the Dogs decided on their course of action - they would all go together to Gregor's farm in a bit, once Judah rejoined them, but in the meantime wanted to check out Brother Jacob some more. On a hunch, Kris sends Curtis off to Brother Judah's house while he brings Sister Lydia to talk to Jacob at the church. We decide to run Curtis and Brother Eli's bit first.
    Brother Eli arrives, and Brother Jacob isn't there. Kris wanted Eli to check the garden for a grave. He totally found the grave in the garden, extremely well maintained3, unlike the rest of the garden. Nothing was really up with the grave though - theme of the night was NOT undead. But it was a nice little flavor bit. Off he goes to meet Lydia at the church.
    But Sister Lydia has already started before he gets there. The door is shut at the church. As she steps in, Brother Jacob shields himself from the light. All the windows are covered. I keep a couple of themes going here. First, the light-sensitive thing, he makes his pounding headache very obvious. The other main theme is that he continually refused help. He wouldn't describe his symptoms specifically, and any probing got a derivitive of "don't worry about it," and the exact phrase "it'll pass." Now, I've of course been building him up as an alchoholic, but they haven't pieced that together. Curtis at one point speculated that the symptoms I'd describe were kinda like half-hangover half-before-a-hangover (aka drunk), and that's what I was going for, but they hadn't considered that it was actually that. They interrogate why he's been going around Gregor's farm, and don't get anything other than that he's got problems and really doesn't want the Dogs poking into it. They leave and retrieve Brother Judah and all decide to head to Brother Gregor's farm.
    So they head there, and are  met by Timothy, who dashes off to fetch Gregor. Eli decides to skulk off and hide in the wheat field, since they suspect there's something suspicious going on. When Gregor comes out, he gives a bunch of political-style answers, dodging anything incriminating. Timothy was looking awful nervous though and kept glancing backwards toward the back of the barn (a spy this guy was not. I was running out of time for the night and wanted to get the big reveal out if I needed to cliffhanger). Eli, already out of sight, snuck off to check it out and found a tarp covering something. He lifted it up a bit and peeked under, and got a faceful of that distillery smell. Took it off, and found that it certainly looked a lot like one too. We cut to a shot of Brother Eli appearing behind Timothy and Gregor, saying "Excuse me, but... what is this?" as he holds up a full bottle of booze? Gregor's hand lept to his side, where he presumably has a revolver, and Timothy freaked out and is running like a bat out of hell. Cliffhanger right there.

So that was pretty intense. But I should reflect.
What Was Good: The moral grey, the progression, the investigation, and I'll pat myself on the back a bit with how I put the NPCs together. I feel it was extremely satisfying all the way through, and I'm very proud of my own RP here - I gradually let out the clues, I didn't give away the secret, but something was definitely bubbling up. Now knowing that the secret has been whiskey, Kris mentioned afterward that he could see how all the clues were there, and they just needed to put them together. The moral grey was very nice - they had to struggle with their appointed duties, their obligation to the Faith and its support of arrangement and their belief in love. As for the NPCs, a lot of it wasn't actually me but cribbed from a sample in the book. Here: Althea is prideful, she thinks she's above the rules of arrangement because she believes in love, which results in Timothy being injusticed and him overreacting and becoming smitten. The undercurrent of pride allowed sin to arrive, manifesting as Gregor making hard liquer and dealing it. This let the demons in - their influence knocked Jacob's wife down the cellar steps and killed her, so Jacob turned to the bottle, and fell into alcoholism (resulting in the sin becoming more habitual, the demon's goal). To put the two plots together, I decided that Timothy would buy a bottle to try to give as a gift to Althea to impress her and win her over. Jason Morningstar was right, just make real people and have them react in bad situations. It worked.
What Was Questionable: The investigation. From some commentary I got on Story Games while asking about moral greys, they said that I shouldn't be keeping things secret or hiding things - in other words, I should have come out about how it was booze (at least, that's how I'm interpreting the comments) and let the game feature how they DEAL with the booze, rather than how they FIND OUT about the booze. While I understand that, and maybe I'm using the Dogs rules differently than they're intended, the structure still provided a good place for that narrative. And it was fun.
What I Did Wrong: Well, one thing struck me. We didn't touch the dice all night. No conflicts were started, until that end one we set up. It reminded me a lot more of a cop TV show where it's "follow the evidence investigate investigate CONFRONT." We found last time that this is a good pattern for Dogs anyway because of how long the dice conflicts take, but I would have liked one in there somewhere. It was everyone's fault together: I screwed up NPC creation a touch, and they avoided the couple prompts I gave to push a conflict. They could have pushed against Althea or Timothy at any point, conflicted with Jacob or even Simon (the Steward wouldn't have worked really, but that's cool, since last time featured the Steward as the villain). Next time I picture 3 potential conflicts, any of which may or may not happen: The combat with Gregor (pretty sure this'll happen), a resolution either for or against Althea (hoping to split the party on this one, with Lydia on Althea's side and someone on Timothy's side), and an intervention to deal with Jacob (I'd like to see this, and I'd like to see him lose it to go try and atone). We'll work from there. As for what *I* did wrong, when yo build NPCs you're supposed to pick wants for them, as in "What they Want." That's what I did, except their wants pertained to each other mostly. What I need to do is make it "What they Want FROM THE DOGS." I think that's how it's really supposed to be, and I think that'll put them in a better place to push against the Dogs from.

Very exciting stuff. Can't wait for the next game, where we wrap up Terrance River Branch. We might start one more town then, and after that we'll either do one more town or jump to a new game. Apocalypse World is probably at the top of the roster. I'm hoping to invite our former group member Kenny back for that one, he'd really enjoy AW, and it'd get Curtis out of the group for a bit (I don't wanna exclude him, but I'm not playing a game that has "When your character has sex with another player's character, do this" written on everyone's sheet with my little brother. Too weird for me.)
End Recording,

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