A month or two ago I got interested in playing Dogs in the Vineyard because of some of the discussion here about it. I played with the same people that I played my very successful game of The Pool with after taking a couple weeks break from playing when that game ended.
So, we made characters, and the players seemed pretty excited. I was getting excited too, but there was something bothering me…the conflict resolution system. Even playing through the three small conflicts that end character creation was a drag. And not because people weren’t trying or giving up in frustration, but because the whole process of describing every little detail of the many back and forths quickly drained us all creatively. Only one of the conflicts was fun to play throughout. And by the end of each one I was tempted to give just to get to stop narrating.
But we had our characters, and I prepped a pretty cool town that week. You’ve got a guy who has been traumatized by the horrific death of his son who is failing to take care of his wife…who is of course sleeping with another man who pays for her food and clothes. And his wife is now a sorcerer, through no real fault of her own besides desperation and hunger. So I was really excited to see what they would do with this situation, and my girlfriend had said to me that week how much she liked her character and was interested in the setting, so naturally I was looking forward to what she was going to do! (oof, sorry if these sentences are terrible but I am tired today!)
So we started playing, and some short conflicts got resolved. I realized very quickly that for the dogs to fail at a conflict would require a long war of attrition on my part–escalating, bringing in traits (which means writing them on the fly for the NPC unless they already have one from a previous conflict, so yay even more exhausting mandated creativity in order to just resolve one little bit of uncertainty), creating relationships…and for the early conflicts, I was unwilling to do this, so the dogs walked all over my characters.
The second session started with my girlfriend’s character, Sister Submit, battling it out verbally with a sorcerer. Cool right? Wrong. Once the trait dice started hitting the table, and the conflict escalated, we were looking at like…30 minutes of narrating back and forth. I tried to make it consequential, but not every narration can be “she tips over the lantern and the whole room goes up in flames.” It just isn’t possible given the constraints on what you can say at the time. I realized that I would have to give for the conflict to end it without exhausting us, but I really didn’t want to. This was my cool sorcerer! She had cool cat eyes and her kitchen knife hit like a gun!
Then the worst happened. Sister Submit escalated to shooting, and suddenly we were rolling in even more fucking dice. At that point, everyone in the group, including me, decided to end the game and play something else next time. The good thing was that everyone was in agreement. And I don’t feel any need to defend games that clearly aren’t working just because of other people venerating them online–I was the one who initiated the end of the session/the game. The worst part was that my girlfriend thought she had done something wrong by even beginning the conflict, but all of us reassured her that it was the system that was failing us and I think she felt ok after that. But I felt similarly whenever I called for a conflict–do I really want to go through all this fucking back and forth bullshit right now?
Dogs in the Vineyard failed as a game for all of us. To be honest, it didn’t feel like it worked as a game at all. Any game that makes me hesitant to grab the dice, that makes me not want conflict to happen (when normally I love dice, I love hard hitting failure etc.) is failing as a game. The rules of the text were not fun when we tried to use them. I think that the requirment to think outside of the box for round after round of raising and seeing (or else you are just saying “I block his swing”, “I swing at him”) is simply not sustainable in a 2 – 3 hour game for me.