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I got interested in Dogs in the Vineyard through this question and picked up the PDF. I'm wondering how you're meant to handle some things in the setting, for example on page 18 in the Territorial Authority section:

It’s worth pointing out that the Dogs are authorized by the Faith to do some things — like shoot sinners in the street — that are against the law. Exercise your authority cautiously.

If the Dogs are following their faith, not the law of the land, won't that lead to conflict? Won't the Territorial Authority figure out that there are a bunch of youths trained by the Temple going around with firearms performing (what is to them) murders, and wouldn't they investigate and try to stop that? Or am I misinterpreting things?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 18 down vote accepted

No, you aren't misinterpreting at all. As GM, use the Territorial Authority as a source of conflict and tension when you want it. The presence of secular authority can make a cut-and-dry situation suddenly very complex. Players who really enjoy the unlimited power granted their Dogs may be forced to think twice about exercising it when the consequences are jail time or hanging. Most of the time I utterly ignore the existence of outside law enforcement, because that's not what the game is about, but it can be great when incorporated judiciously. My advice to a new GM is to leave this unnecessary complication out until you feel its absence.

Some towns have mixed populations of Faithful and non-Faithful. The TA representative here may be of the Faith, or he may not, but either way he has a civil duty to discharge and people watching to make sure that he does. If your Dogs shoot some dude in the street under his jurisdiction he will surely be obliged to put them in jail awaiting trial.

Some towns will be 100% of the Faith but big enough to have a TA marshal or whatever. He will be of the Faith, too, and his civil and religious duties will be in deep conflict. or maybe not - maybe the civil part is just for show. Up to you. If your Dogs shoot the aforementioned dude in the street here, all bets are off - as a secular authority the TA guy is pretty powerless. Maybe he'll help.

Most towns will be small enough, or remote enough, not to have any TA presence at all. Street shootings are the responsibility of the Steward and he will surely answer to the Dogs one way or another. But even here, illegal mayhem can reach the ears of the Territorial Authority. Maybe a pair of soft-spoken marshals show up in a town down the road, looking for the youngsters who shot a guy in the street a few towns back...

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I will note that the dogs will only have a problem if someone complains or otherwise makes the TA aware of the shooting. If everyone involved in Faithful and they believe in the righteousness of the dogs (or are terrified of the dogs), they may never speak up. Of course, good luck leaving a town so that no one is angry. :-) –  Alan De Smet Nov 1 '10 at 20:24

There's two answers, really.

Firstly, the setting-based one. These are small towns, miles from anywhere, in the Old West. There's not much government going on. There's the Steward, who is nominally in charge, and there's you and your gun, to give spiritual leadership.

So, if you exercise spiritual authority and execute some demon-possessed sinner, who's going to argue? Certainly not the Territorial Authority. Even if they hear about it, they'll just hear that you exercised your judgement. If anyone's going to stand up to you, it'll be the Steward, and he does that right away.

Secondly, the game-based one. The whole game is based on the idea that you go from town to town, exercising judgement, with a book and a gun. So, in a sense, it doesn't matter whether that's realistic or not. You judge. You're the authority. That's the game.

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I think one of the main points of the game is to give you that conflict to deal with and then figure out how you solve it. The escalating mechanic asks you how far you're willing to go to get what you want or think is right, and the tiers of verbal, physical, knife and gun combat have some setting parallels as well, of which breaking the law is one.

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