On June 23, 2019 I played a role-playing game called Dogs in the Vineyard, created by D. Vincent Baker. I recommend this review of the game. In short, players re-enact so-called Dogs, members of the quasi-Mormon quasi-Inquisition in setting inspired by the State of Deseret in the 1840s, with quite subtle fantasy elements.
The Game Master was Aleksandra Sontowska and there were three players, we created characters named sister Caroline, brother Josiah and brother Hiram (my character).
The adventure began when after many months of traveling characters returned to Bridal Falls, a small town where they were trained as the Dogs. It turned out that just before their arrival someone cut the throat of another Dog, brother Dalil. The characters saved him at the last minute, partly by singing the psalms. Interestingly, Brother Ebenezer, the highest-ranking local priest, and also Caroline’s father, did not join the singing.
The party spread: brother Josiah watched over the wounded with a rifle in his hands (we were afraid that the murderer might try to “finish the job”), meanwhile brother Hiram and sister Caroline began the investigation.
Sister Caroline began by talking to her mother, Lilah. After a long and tumultuous conversation, she learned that Ebenezer recently wanted to take another wife – sister Fidelia (a local teacher), but she rejected his advances. It was at the door of sister Fidelia’s room that Dalil had been found bleeding out. Sister Caroline decided to talk to her father.
Meanwhile, Brother Hiram went to talk to sister Fidelia. His former teacher was clearly afraid, aware that in the eyes of many people she was suspected of murder. Brother Hiram, however, assured her that he wanted to investigate the matter thoroughly and was not willing to accuse her hastily. Sister Fidelia said that all local schoolgirls used to treat her as their mentor, but recently three of them – sisters Azubah, Bedelia and Submit – avoided her. Brother Hiram returned to brother Josiah.
Sister Caroline held a dramatic conversation with her father. Brother Ebenezer insisted that sister Fidelia’s guilt was obvious. When Caroline stubbornly pressed on the subject, a thunder burst outside the window and it started to rain, though there was not even one cloud in the sky just before. Brother Ebenezer, showing supernatural strength, threw his daughter out of the room. Terrified, she realized that he was being supported by dark forces and she did not decide to escalate the conflict by herself.
Meanwhile, brother Hiram’s conversation with brother Josiah was interrupted by the arrival of sister Azubah, who wanted to change the dressings of wounded brother Dalil. The two men had strange sensations: they felt heavenly scents, and the beauty of sister Azubah began to take away their senses. Brother Josiah was overwhelmed, but brother Hiram resisted the charm and tried to press Azubah to confess what did she know about the recent events. Azubah pulled out a knife, but Hiram pulled out his revolver. Azubah then gave up, but brother Josiah was still influenced by her charm. He aimed his rifle at Hiram, who barely managed to convince Josiah not to shoot.
Then sister Caroline burst into the room. Together, they pressed sister Azubah, who confessed that brother Ebenezer, overusing his authority, persuaded her and also sisters Bedelia and Submit to live together as if they were his wives. Brother Dalil found out and possessed Azubah tried to kill him to protect her master and lover.
The characters told their discoveries to brother Cornelius, the second highest-ranking local priest. Together they cornered brother Ebenezer. They forced him to retire from his post – he was to spend the rest of his life under house arrest, guarded by his wife and eldest son, who officially took over the function of the householder. The sisters Azubah, Bedelia and Submit were sent to their home towns. It was decided not to make public what had happened in order not to ruin the girls’ reputation. Have the Dogs done the right thing? Maybe time will show…
I think that the session was very successful, although at some point, we were running out of time and the ending was overly accelerated. The action was dynamic and dramatic – there was no fight for life and death, but it was very close…
As I mentioned, there are fantasy elements in the game, including demons. However, demons are non-corporeal and do not attack directly, but they may strengthen the sinners in various ways (hence the superhuman strength of brother Ebenezer and the irresistible charm of sister Azubah). Their involvement is accompanied by extraordinary phenomena, like the mentioned downpour from a cloudless sky. I like this approach very much, Evil is much more subtle here than in many other games.
What may be a problem, more dice are needed for this game than for any other I know. Even 10d4 (ten tetrahedral dice), 10d6, 10d8 and 10d10 may not be enough. I wonder whether applications like RPG Simple Dice can be used instead of lacking dice…
I have long wanted to play Dogs in the Vineyard (as you can see in my RPG plan for 2019) and finally it was possible. The game is amazing, one of a kind – which is both its good and bad point, as no sooner than in the middle of the session I finally understood its rules. I would love to play it more, and perhaps also lead it. Surprisingly, being a Game Master seems simpler in this game than most others I know – although this impression can be very misleading.
I strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the Dogs in the Vineyard. I think, however, that you should play this game with someone who already has experience with it before you take on the role of Game Master. The rules are not very intuitive. In many other games, if you want to convince another character, you make a single “persuasion roll”. In this game it is much more complicated and dramatic. If you played Divinity: Original Sin, you probably remember that the disputes are resolved by the “rock–paper–scissors” mini-game. In the Dogs in the Vineyard, this is done with a kind of poker, with raises and blocks, except that dice are used instead of cards. It can be difficult to imagine or explain, it’s best to just see it in practice.
See you in the deserts of Utah! Someone has to defeat Evil after all…
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