Killing Sinners for Vincent

Over on Fair Game, Vincent Baker and Clinton R Nixon are interviewing each other and Vincent said something that made me blink:

“Nobody I know of has played Dogs and not killed sinners just for sinning.”

Now, John Harper at The Mighty Atom has already done this, but I thought I’d throw Jeremiah Wainwright, my first Dogs character into the fray as an example.

Jeremiah’s never killed anything, for sin for fun, or for any reason at all. In fact, Jeremiah’s got a trait to prove it: “I ain’t killed anything my whole life: 1d8.”

What’s more, Jeremiah’s whole premise is about the killing line: what it takes a person to get there and about how much of a man it takes not to cross it before the time comes and how much it takes to make that step when it does.

Through a series of escalating situations that line has been questioned, but the step over has never come. Brand will, eventually, get his ass into gear and run us some more of that campaign (she says, despite the fact that she currently demands 2 other games from him on a regular basis, so is really out of line with that “get his ass in gear comment”), and I am interested in seeing what’s the point that Jeremiah might actually have to kill something, or someone, whether or not he’ll be able to step up when we get there, and how it will change or destroy him.

There were two particularly memorable moments:

In the town, basically a man’s pride in refusing to give his wife children had escalated to a group of women forming a false priesthood, engaging men not their husbands in adulterous acts for the sake of insemination. One of the characters was a mentally challenged wall of a man in his 20’s one of those men beguiled by the women. He was angry, and confused, and Jeremiah, knowing August had sinned by fucking his brother’s wife, as well as another woman in town, was confronting him to try and get him to understand the error of his ways. Jeremiah talked, August got physical, Jeremiah talked, August got violent, and Jeremiah talked him down, just before things got really really bad for Jeremiah. As it was, he took a lot of fallout from the challenge.

Later, in the moment the murder was coming on, August’s mother, a prideful old convert was trying to kill her daughter in law after shooting the Steward who had started the false doctrine in the first place. Jeremiah tried to talk her down, and failing that, escalated to physical (in the face of her gunfire) and managed to eventually make her back down, getting in between her and the muzzle of his fellow Dog’s gun. Once again, much fallout, but he never once escalated to violence, never mind gunplay, nevermind killing.

That’s not to say he was easy on anyone. People were exiled, their houses were taken, they were put into public service, cut off at their knees in the public’s standing.

Brand said afterwards that one of his only dissappointments in the game was, that no matter what he did, he couldn’t force Jeremiah tto shoot anybody in the face.

4 thoughts on “Killing Sinners for Vincent”

  1. Yes, I’ve got a character like that in the game I started (only one session so far). Biggest trait is “I’m patient with people”, proven in initation by riding in to stop a lynching, then staring down the mob while being strung up himself. And like you I wonder if the GM is going to challenge the trait.

    What troubles me about Vincent’s comment, and I wonder if it does you, is that it seems to imply that challenges to a character will always be stressed past the breaking point. I see some of that in the GMing guidelines as well. The way I think I resolve that, in terms of keeping the game worthwhile for me, is that there’s probably some crisis point where the character either does break, or (if he doesn’t die) he reaches some kind of transcendence that signals it’s time to retire.

  2. Hey Elliot,

    I don’t wonder *if* the GM is going to the challenge the trait. It’s a nar game, and the character’s premise asks for it to be challenged, so I know not only that Brand will challenge it but that he will (in an escalating way, over some time) challenge it very hard indeed. That might mean he kills someone or something eventually. It might mean he dies. It might mean he accepts that his fellow Dogs will do the killing and learns to live with the inaction and hypocrisy of that stance.

    Maybe he’ll find out that the trait he earned in the initiatory challenge: “I got me the will to be a Dog” will turn out to be a big lie, and he’ll have to walk away, shaming himself, his family and the community who so depends on him to be a Dog (the first one ever from their town).

    Whatever the outcome will be, it’ll be rife with emotionality, intensity and story, and that’s what I’ve come to the game for… so I guess my answer is that I don’t find it troubling at all, in fact I kind of see it as the point. It’s the reason that I would come to Dogs rather than, say, playing a preacher in a low magic campaign of Deadlands.

    Question for you… have you played a game (rather than GM’d)? If so, how did you feel about it in relation to immersion? Brand was shocked that I actually found it very complementary to my version of immersion, but I liked it because it allowed for firm social mechanics that were as supportive as those for combat, but that the raising/seeing stuff was physical rather than verbal, so because I’m good at multitasking and thinking of things in layers, it let me never break character once I learned to effectively make my stakes known by Jeremiah’s own words or actions in the game.

    What’s your take?

  3. Hey, Mo–I’m a newb at DitV. Looking forward to my second session (as a player) this Wednesday.

    Yes, what you describe as possible outcomes is basically what I’m talking about. What would trouble me would be if there was no way out for the character, if the only question was how far the GM had to push before the character crossed the line. Having the option to end the cycle of challenge by walking away, dying, or whatever, keeps it from being as simple as that.

    About immersion: I’m not especially bothered by the conflict mechanics–the only real problem for me was when I had the dice to see/raise but floundered in my effort to find the right narration. The converse didn’t hold: if I didn’t have the dice (and didn’t want to escalate further), it wasn’t a problem to give or take the blow even though I might have some idea of how I might “naturally” respond.

    What really strains immersion for me (so that I have to make adjustments to “get” the game) is the knowledge that (a) my character’s judgment of what’s right, wrong, and the source of the town’s problems is always correct–unless I choose otherwise, or another Dog disagrees, and (b) knowing that the GM is going to push my character’s issues. Without adjusting my expectations, I’d see (a) as a pushover GM who’s robbing me of the chance to worry about what’s “really” right/wrong/etc., and (b) as an invasive GM who’s picking on my character. In other words, I’d be jolted out of immersion by being very conscious of the GM’s heavy hand.

    So just as I did with Polaris, I think I need to consciously prep by looking at the game as a kind of collaborative storytelling (like Once Upon a Time), not as a sort of low-tech VR.

  4. Elliot,

    my character’s judgment of what’s right, wrong, and the source of the town’s problems is always correct–unless I choose otherwise, or another Dog disagrees

    Yes and no. A town in DitV has an established something wrong to it. There’s a sin of pride that leads to injustice and so on. That’s established before your character walks into the game, so your Dog can effectively be wrong. You can attribute the pride to and punich the wrong sinner, so you can be wrong. Will anybody (but another Dog) tell you that you’re wrong? Probably not.

    So you can worry about what’s “really” wrong, right?

    I think your last statement does hit it though… ensuring your expectation of the game is set at what it’s likely to give you makes good common sense.

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