So I finally got my copy of Dogs in the Vineyard - DitV. Wahoo! I love those little indie games, just gotta haveíem, and nothing gets me drooling and horny like the buzz on The Forge when some creator has sent his files off to the press and everyoneís waiting to see what it will be like. So after a few weeks of running to the mailbox way too many times a day, I finally got my brown envelope - with a book in it.
DitV is a small book, about half the size of one of those Other Games. Itís not too thick - 100 pages. It doesnít have any art, except the cover - which has a pretty good little picture on it; guns, quilted coats, holy book, male and female protagonist (with hardly any skin showing at all). The layout is, well, apparently itís based on old religious pamphlets, which is nice and all with respect to the setting, but it doesnít contribute a lot to the atmosphere. Itís not hard to read, though, which is the main thing.
Itís about Godís Watchdogs - the Dogs - protecting the Faith in a semi-historical setting, based on 19th-century Utah. Characters are the law; they go from town to town, pulling sin out by the roots, setting things right. Because if they donít, pride and injustice will fester, false doctrine and sorcery will take over, and one way or the other, demons will bring the town down.
Okay. So thereís a lot of historical background? Nope. Itís fairly much up to the group to come up with details as needed. Thereís a general description of how the author sees the setting, covering a few pages, but itís made clear that thatís just his take on it.
Is this a Christian game? Well, it could hardly be more moral than this, I guess. At the same time, itís written by the same guy who wrote the game ďKill puppies for satanĒ, so heís not exactly preaching.
Now, with a game like this, you might expect some fairly restrictive mechanics punishing characters for doing wrong in the eyes of the King of Life. But no. Itís all up to the players to pass judgement. On towns, NPCís - and the PCís. Many Dogs falter along the way. Some quit early. Some never quit. They all have their way of coping. Thereís emphasis on the players discussing their charactersí actions and thoughts, and the authorís view is that if the GM judges the players for their thoughts, eventually theyíll stop telling him what they think.
Iím not a huge fan of detailed system reviews. To tell the truth, Iím really not a system guy. But thereís one or two things I want to tell you about nonetheless.
First, conflict resolution. Based on the traits, relationships etc that youíll be using in a conflict, you roll a bunch of dice. Then, you use them like stakes in a poker game. Every time you want to do something, you Raise with some of what youíve got. If someone else does stuff you have to react to, you have to See their Raise. Depending on how many dice you have to use to See, bad stuff can happen. The neat thing is that if you donít really have more dice, you can Escalate the conflict; going from talking to punching, from punching to shooting. That way, you get to roll some more dice.
This system seems to have some cool effects. It makes for dramatic progress in a conflict. When you Raise, youíre taking things a step further; when you Escalate, youíre taking things a step up. So thereís a buildup of tension the whole way, and plenty of opportunity to describe what happens along the way. Thereís also plenty of opportunity for the GM to throw nasty things at the players; theyíll be able to handle it if they do things right. (An example given in the book has a sleeping character being attacked by an axe-wielding murderer, and getting away hurt but alive. Not many games let you do that to a character...)
Second, town design. The game doesnít use pre-plotted events; the flow of the action is determined by the playersí actions, and the GM reacts to what they do, based on the description of the town and its inhabitants. That means there has to be enough for the players to latch on to - interesting NPCís, strong conflicts, tension. Thereís an easy-to-follow procedure for creating towns and NPCís that should guarantee adventure.
So. Whatís my personal opinion of the game - would I play it? Well... the descriptions of the characters made me want to be them. Strong in faith, out on a mission, capable, travelling with others of their kind. On the other hand, Iím not American, and this is a fairly American game; playing it in a different language might be a bit weird. I definitely want to try out the system and style of play; itís clearly well thought-out and interesting in its own right. So yeah, I would definitely play it. Then again, I was sold on it before I even knew what it was all about.
Should you buy it? Well, yeah, you should. Itís cheap, itís really good, itís different without being all pretentious and condescending about it.
I expected a lot, and wasnít disappointed in the least.