Somehow, despite a decade of posts on this blog, I’ve never gone in-depth into Dogs in the Vineyard or what I love so much about it. There’s more to Dogs than I could easily cover in a single post: cooperative story-telling and turn-taking, cinematic descriptive and narrative tools, a conflict mechanic that encourages brinksmanship and escalation, a well-articulated method for understanding what’s at stake… all those elements are a delight.
But there’s another piece that Dogs explicitly encourages groups to home in on. That’s the experience of wrestling with moral conundrums, something many modern CRPGs both want—and struggle—to deliver. That’s what I’m focused on today.
Dogs in the Vineyard is an indie RPG created by Vincent Baker; it has an unusual set of dice mechanics for its conflict resolution, and as part of that it encourages players to take turns shaping the game’s narrative. While it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I have had a lot of fun with it.
It’s also highly moddable, much like other Vincent Baker games (Apocalypse World being a prime example). While the DitV sourcebook describes a Wild West setting full of civil and religious strife, I’ve heard or seen others using the system to play in mafia-based story lines, Star Wars settings, feudal Japan, or even The Matrix. And Baker hacked his own system to tell horror stories, in Afraid in the Vineyard.
So of course someone decided to modify things a little further to turn it into a storytelling system that would allow you to play in a classic zombie movie. Sadly, while they’ve playtested their zombie hack, the ruleset that I was able to find online is nowhere near final.
I’m going to cobble something together from those notes as best as I can, and when I’ve done that I’ll share the result with you. If you’re already familiar with DitV and Afraid, maybe you’ll enjoy taking a look too?
I like vanilla ice cream. I have for a very long time. Before I knew my alphabet, much less how to read, I knew that hearing my older brother spell out “I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M” meant that I should start asking Mom for ice cream too. Better yet, as I got older and discovered the joys of living in Vermont (home of Ben & Jerry’s before it was bought out by Unilever), I learned that there were far more flavors of ice cream available, and that many of them were exceedingly tasty as well.
When I was little, I played make-believe all the time. A number of my friends simply couldn’t understand the appeal, and stopped playing with me, but at the tender age of seven my older brothers harnessed my ambitions and introduced me to 2nd Edition AD&D. My introduction might actually have been earlier, but that year was the first time I can remember staying up until midnight to play RPGs with them. Over the next few years, I was introduced to Vampire: The Masquerade (along with a bundle of other White Wolf games), D&D’s 3rd Edition, In Nomine, and GURPS. More other games followed. Just like with ice cream, I had discovered a whole new world of flavors to choose from. I was very nearly overwhelmed by my enthusiasm. These days, some people refer to me as an RPG snob. I much prefer the term ‘connoisseur’: through dedicated consumption, I have built an appreciation for the inherent flavors of different game systems.
But what the heck do I mean by “flavor”? And how do you figure out what a game’s flavor is?
Earlier, I discussed how certain roleplaying systems exemplified certain gaming orientations. To an extent, this is a very peculiar notion. More specifically, it’s a very basic shorthand. After all, mechanics can never force your actions. But the way mechanics are set up can really impact the way the players think about the game.