the Fairgame Archive

2009-06-17: A quick, close read of Dogs
by Emily

Over on anyway:

Vincent wrote: Contrast Dogs in the Vineyard, where if you don't say in detail what your character does, the other player asks you and waits patiently for you to answer, because she needs to know. She can't decide what to do with her dice without knowing. Dogs in the Vineyard's IIEE has teeth, it's self-enforcing.

I responded: Why does the other player wait? Why can't they ignore what you say?

What about what you narrate dictates different things about what dice they will use?

What happens in the fiction if you mumble through your roll, what happens in the mechanics?

How are all the stages of iiee made integral in Dogs?

This could use a close read.*

Take a moment in Dogs. Brother Ephraim is having his Initiatory scene. He's trying to prove that "his grandpappy taught him to be a good shot".

I'm playing Ephram, Vincent is playing Brother Zeke, the Dog who is testing him. Zeke just tossed a nickel into the air for Ephraim to shoot.

Three parts to a close read:

What the people do

What the mechanics do

What happens in the fiction.

(yes, this should sound familiar, but it's not.)

Because what it really is is:

1) what the people think, do and feel

2) what the mechanics inspire, shape or block in the people's experience

3) and what happens in the fiction because of all that.

Here are the events:

1) Vincent says, "Brother Zeke throws the coin up in the air for Ephraim to shoot."

—he puts forward dice to roll.

I narrate Ephraim remembering his grandfather teaching him how to shoot, feeling the rhythm, watching the motion of the target in the air. I feel hopeful that Ephraim can do this.

—I grab dice including dice for my relationship with my Grandfather.

Vincent thinks about what this narration means for how the conflict will run. He says, "okay, the moment slows and we see the nickel spinning end over end in slow motion. Whatever happens here, happens between the toss and the shot."

Meg and I feel and say. "Way cool!"

—We roll. We narrate more. We continue to roll, raise and see. At the end, Ephraim shoots well.

2) Traits are consulted and involved in the play. The dice get rolled, then pushed forward and so on. The traits "relationship with grandfather", and "grandpappy's rifle" inspire a mini-flashback scene. The action "tosses a nickel" inspires a slo-mo moment of tense anticipation. A new trait is gained.

3) Zeke tosses the nickel, Ephraim remembers his grandpa and shoots it nicely out of the air.

I'm going to keep thinking about my questions for Vincent. And I'm curious to see what he says.

He is doing this too, or analogous things, over at anyway in later threads.

*Thanks to Ep who thought of this, inspired by how folks give fiction close reads!

2009-06-17 17:04:03 Brand Robins

I think this close reading shows something I've been fumbling about with pretty clearly.

I've a lot of friends who like Dogs who don't normally get on with rigorous mechanical systems well. One of the oft cited reasons they give is because in Dogs you got (some of) the dice already in front of you as you play. So before you start into an action, you've got a pretty good idea of the odds of the action as the dice and the fictional positioning work well together, and are more out on the table.

So when we hit this point:

"I narrate Ephraim remembering his grandfather teaching him how to shoot, feeling the rhythm, watching the motion of the target in the air. I feel hopeful that Ephraim can do this.

—I grab dice including dice for my relationship with my Grandfather."

It goes something like this for us:

—I roll my dice for my basic pools. I check out what kind of numbers I've got vs what kind of numbers the GM has.

—I narrate Ephraim remembering..., and I put some real heart into it, I feel hopeful that Ephraim can do this, and while I know its still in jeopardy, I also know that my dice are good, and that moves back into my hope and the character's hope.

—I add the dice for my grandfather's relationship.

Vs in a lot of more random games where you don't get to see the dice first, where this happens:

—I narrate Ephraim remembering... I feel hopeful that Ephraim can do this, but I really have no reason to as I've no idea whats going to come up on the dice.

—I then try to figure out what I'm rolling, based on what I just narrated, and to give me the best advantage because if I don't do well I'll feel like I failed my character and that sense of hope by dumb play.

—I roll the dice.

The way that Dogs series of having dice on the table and then adding dice after, makes a nice tension around what the players think and feel—it doesn't leave it all preset, but it also lets a lot of players have some emotional grounding in the back and forth between mechanics and narration that is lacking in lots of other games.

2009-06-17 19:19:34 Emily

Awesome, Brand.  They feel less like the rug of their fiction is pulled out of them by the mechanics in Dogs, since they get information about what will occur as they go along. It's still random, but the advance notice gives people a feel for their relative influence, so they can avoid having a disconnect between their power in the fiction vs. what they will actually have via the mechanics.

2009-06-19 13:49:14 Mo

Bingo. This describes me in Dogs, by the by - it also allows me to calibrate my participation both for optimum (personal) emotional impact and for the story. It's one of the few systems I like that has a little crunch because for once it feels like it's working with me, not trying to challenge me.

2009-06-19 13:59:44 Emily

Nice to see you here, Brand & Mo! :)

A friend of mine who mostly plays freeform told me about a time his group played Dogs. In playing out a conflict with another player's character, they used the traits, since you have to for dice, and the characters both ended up being different from what they would "usually" play.

It sounded to me like the other player ended up having more authority with what she narrated in the scene because she had the dice to back her up. I think it moved them from using their usual social dynamics and personal powers of fictional positioning to determine the outcome, to having the mechanics give what they said oomph and weight.

The funny thing is, I don't think they liked it much. Both of them definitely hated all the dice. I wish I'd been a fly on the wall for that exchange.

2009-06-19 17:25:11 Brand Robins


That makes sense. When you get used to something being a certain way it can be disconcerting to have it suddenly go a different way.

I once had a game of Trollbabe that was a lot of fun, and after we finished the other player said something like "That was really... interesting. I had fun, but I don't ever want to play it again."

I tried to get more out of him as to why, but he was a bit leery about the conversation and as we were online I couldn't read him as closely as I might normally. Part of it seemed to be about the increase in his narrative authority/responsibility and part of it was about the shift in expectations and techniques that were and were not effective. Like a soccer player trying out football, I guess.

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