Our gaming group has got a lot of experience in playing more mainstream/traditional RPGs; we've played D&D (3.0,3.5,4.0) World of Darkness, Rogue Trader, and even a little L5R. However, after the recent implosion of a WoD campaign, we've decided to try going for a more 'rules light' system, and we're going to try out "Dogs in the Vineyard" (the rules at least; the setting itself is bothering some).

I understand that the game itself has a very different approach to things; what are some of the core 'gotchas' that we should be watching out for? Things that are so different that it'd never occur to us to check how we 'should' be doing it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a side note, it boggles me that people who will happily play undead blood-drinkers who enslave humans or raging shape-shifters whose sex lives border on bestiality get all hung up on playing some gun-toting teenagers casting judgment on sinners. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Dray
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ For the people involved, the big difference is that the undead blood drinkers are far enough from reality that its clearly fantasy; the preachers strike a familiar chord, though, which some people find disturbing. \$\endgroup\$
    – GWLlosa
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a "supernatural dial" in Dogs. You guys might want to set it closer to ten and let things get a little freaky. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jmstar
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great responses, both of you! \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Dray
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's also the issue that Dogs is, at its core, examining Morality and Religion... two closely related topics that many people are distinctly uncomfortable with. Plus it examines authority... another area many are uncomfortable with. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented Oct 10, 2010 at 3:40

6 Answers 6


Dogs in the Vineyard is a great game. It really demands that you play it by the rules as written, which may be a cognitive leap if you are used to fudging things. I think the rules are luminously clear, but they are pretty specific and work great when you do what they say. If you don't the game suffers.

I would strongly suggest playing it straight the first time. Adding the burden of hacking things to play Jedi or whatever is only going to make it that much harder to work with. Once everybody "gets it", by all means experiment. A cool way to pitch it: "Dogs is about these kids who are told to go into their communities and solve serious problems and the tools they are given to solve the community's problems are a book and a gun."

As GM, make a town you find compelling and go all the way to hate and murder. Don't forget to ask the players if they are seeing demonic influence, and add those fat dice to your collection when they do. Don't be afraid to play hard, even really hard. The players have the resources to deal with it. Do not nerf your opposition, make them full of power and danger and strong motivations.

Leave a few relationships you can directly slot in as important to specific PCs. Be prepared to say "this guy is your older brother" and "This girl? She's the first girl you ever kissed, which I see you wrote down as a relationship" or whatever is going to resonate with the relationships they have chosen.

Don't keep secrets. Seriously, don't! As GM be an open book. It is not only acceptable but required to say stuff like "She shakes her head and denies any knowledge of the theft. And she's totally lying" or "Youpass by, and as soon as you are out of sight all three brothers spit in the tracks you left with contempt". No secrets!

Understand that even three Dogs acting in unison are generally unstoppable. Make sure your town has enough moral grey areas to divide them against each other when it comes time to make solutions, or have another town ready to go because they will breeze through the first one. This isn't a terrible thing, but the game is much better when you get some player-level disagreements going. When one guy is like "Hell no, you aren't making him Steward!" that is good stuff.

Really use the initiation conflicts to familiarize yourselves with the way escalation works. Remember that you can escalate from guns to talking, and that you take harm in relation to the action, not the level of escalation.

Encourage giving! This may be the biggest thing I see among people new to the game. In a lot of games, you have to fight to the bitter end. If you do that in Dogs, not only do you lose certain rewards from fallout, but the game can be boring. Give! Set stakes that allow easy giving and encourage it.

Like it says, Roll the dice or say yes. If it isn't worth a conflict, let it happen. Pick your battles as GM, and be OK with losing, because you definitely will.

Don't sweat the dice. If a guy takes "Gnarled fists 3d10" that is awesome, not problematic. He wants to punch people and be a badass, and he will be. It will not break the game in any way. Similarly, players will come to relish fallout and that is fantastic. Let them get banged up and learn from it and get better. Failure is OK.

Remember the faith is what the players say it is. If anyone is weirded out by the setting, make sure they know they can quite literally change it. They are God's representatives on earth. If he tells them polygamy is no longer cool, it is no longer cool. That's the stuff of great conflicts. If this is sufficiently clear, it will hopefully remove any discomfort about the setting.

Here is a thread with even more advice! Good luck and have fun!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ha, cross-posted with you. Some of the same advice, too. But you have some great stuff in here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Dray
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ The similarity is probably a good sign. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jmstar
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good info in that link! \$\endgroup\$
    – GWLlosa
    Commented Oct 8, 2010 at 0:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hello, 'im samy, and i'm endorsing what's said here: Roll the dice or say yes \$\endgroup\$
    – samy
    Commented Oct 8, 2010 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not only the faith is what the players say it is. It's what the characters believe it is. If a Dog thinks a verse of the Book of Life means poligamy is OK and anotheer Dog thinks a different verse tells the opposite, let it be! The contents of the Book and the religious dogmas of the Faith are nondescript by choice. Think the Bible and the interpretations one could give to it! \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 19:01

Dogs is a great "gateway drug" to indie games. While it's chock full of crazy indie design madness, it also has a lot of things in it that will appeal to traditional gamers. Mind you, these terms "indie" and "traditional" are admittedly pretty slippery, but I won't get into that here. I know what you mean.

Here's some advice for playing Dogs.

  1. Read the rules and play it exactly as written. Don't assume you know how to do it. Go through the examples and play it just how it says. Vincent (the author) is usually very precise in his text.

  2. Internalize some of the examples, especially the tricks he uses for conflicts.

  3. As GM, play dirty. That means doing evil stuff you'd never dream of doing in a traditional game where the GM has tons of power over the characters. Dogs limits the GM's power pretty significantly. Stay within what is granted, but push hard. Play with conflicts like, "So Patience sneaks into your room and slits your throat while you're sleeping." It's totally legal, and it becomes an awesome conflict. Don't overuse it though.

  4. Pressure, pressure, pressure. As GM, keep applying pressure to the PCs. If they're willing to shoot Horace in the face for drawing a gun, see if they're willing to shoot his wife Patience in the face for drawing a knife. See if they're willing to shoot his five-year-old daughter in the face for drawing a gun. Explore the moral space.

  5. Dogs is not an investigation game. The rules are pretty clear about this, but it trips up traditional gamers. The GM should not make the game about finding out information. Let the information come out naturally in play. Even tell the players that you're gonna give them all the information that they need, in time. Don't play "gotcha" games with information. Put it all on the table and see what happens. The Town creation rules will give you a meaty situation. Trust in it.

  6. Go all the way to murder. The Town creation rules have this sin-escalation mechanic, right? Don't think you're making things easier by stopping at the 2nd or 3rd step (injustice or whatever). Don't stop till you have murderous sorcerers and demons and complete social breakdown in the Town. Going all the way will make the situation way more interesting for new players. At this point in the game, they don't need subtle.

  7. Don't skip Initiation. The initiation step of character generation is intended to introduce the character to the game and introduce a new player to the rules. It's the best way for new Dogs gamers to get their feet wet.

  8. The real force of a Raise is the fictional content, not the dice. Narrate everything. As new players start fiddling with pairs of dice in their pool, they're going to forget to say what their characters are doing. You can't just push forward 6+7 and not say anything because then whoever has to respond to it doesn't know what they're responding to. It's easy enough to Take the Blow when you're looking at a few d4 or d6 of Fallout. However, when the Raise was "You never were good enough to be a Dog," Taking the Blow means that your character is internalizing those feelings. Do you really want that permanent consequence? (Well, a follow-up conflict might fix it.)

  9. Fallout isn't always bad. Fallout is the advancement system. Encourage players to take d4 Fallout early in a conflict when people are Just Talking. You can't die, and you'll earn experience.

  10. Don't worry about min-maxers. If John wants to create a character who is a terrible combat machine with 10d6 of shooting dice and four traits like "Guns solve everything 2d10" and equipment like "huge awesome shotgun d8+d4"... let him. Your job as GM is to look at the character sheet and go, "oh, really?" but do it in play. So you're great with a gun. Will you solve all your problems with a gun? What if it's your brother who sinned? What if it's your mom?

  11. Characters are young virgins. It's easy to forget this. Dogs are, to the last, inexperienced virgin teenagers. I remind my players to remember what it was like being 14. Now imagine what it's like if your community tells you that God has chosen you and sends you off to Bridal Falls for training, and they give you a gun and a license to judge sinners however you think is right.

I hope this helps.


The other answers are great in their detail. I'll just add a more broad gotcha: Dogs in the Vineyard isn't just a set of mechanics for determining the success or failure of actions, which is how most roleplaying games you've listed are designed.

If you go into the game thinking that it's just a different "physics" system for doing the same thing as other games, you'll trip over a few stumbling blocks as you learn the game. Nothing show-stopping, but knowing you might hit some snags that are more in your head can help get past them.

Even if you already know that Dogs is doing something different, your well-honed gaming reflexes can easily lead you to play as if it were a more traditional game. It might take a few sessions before you can stop reminding yourself.

This is something to watch out for in the other players, too. I've known people who've played Dogs and then given it up because they were so focused on the "physics" of how the mechanics modelled, say, gunfights (and finding it wanting) that they never realised that wasn't the point of the game. If someone in your group starts discussing the strategic benefits of particular arrangements of Traits, or start pointing out that the system is "broken" in some way, that's a sign they're missing the forest for the trees. That's your opportunity to intervene and try to show them that what the game is doing and about is different enough that character optimisation actually doesn't matter.


My first experience of playing Dogs in Vineyard made me realize that there was now a system that I could use to build really interesting stories, and found that it works best with a group that knows each other and respects each other. Where D&D can bog down into repetitive mayhem, the escalation mechanic in DitV gives nuance and levels to conflict that can be handled mechanically without resulting in a failure condition that blocks the game.

When you are coming up with traits, choose what appeals to you. This game really allows solutions outside of kill them all and let God sort them out, although that can be a really cool solution sometimes (but was the what the demons wanted you to do?)

I agree with all the other advice as well. Once you play it can be a heady experience, the story sometimes allows feelings and attitudes to come out that you never realized were in you or the people you play with.


I played DitV with some good friends who are able to roleplay fine, but they were really taken aback by some of the aspects of the game. I was mastering and found myself trapepd into old reflexes. So...

  • Don't hesitate to force your players! The rulebook says that it's fair game. If they don't want to be convinced of something that's a conflict. Set the stakes and play it! In my first game, i had a lone player facing the mayor of the town, very agressive, who wanted the pc to obey his every orders. The player was very surprised when i answered his "i'd never do that" with a handful of dice and a "prove it"
  • Present the characters with potential conflicts very early. As soon as they arrive in the community, swamp them with demands. Don't play all demands as conflicts but the way your town is written should give you enough hints as to what conflicts could arise
  • Don't heistate to change the setting. If your players feel uncomfortable in the Olde West, play prohibition, or mafia, or wherever the players can find a strong community united against the outside.

i'll give only a link to the forge forum for lumpley games, where you'll find resources, pre-written towns and idea about settings...

Edit just to add, the "Don't keep secrets" rule is essential. You don't play DitV as another game where the mystery must be uncovered.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The example from the book: "She tells you she doesn't know. But she's totally lying" was revelatory for me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jmstar
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JmStar: Yeah, that's the one! One way to handle it is to present the conflict as having a huge impact on a PC. "She tries to convince you to shoot her sister... What? No way? Let's see your dice!" \$\endgroup\$
    – samy
    Commented Nov 18, 2010 at 15:05

The most strange (and fascinating!) thing I catch reading the examples in the book is the ability of players to take storytelling decisions beyond the actions of their characters. This is very counter-intuitive for traditional role-playing, but it is what novice players often do (and is also what children do when playing roles). We used to call this "self-DM-ing" with my group.

If playing something else, let say D&D, a player cannot say "I opened the chest and there is a magic sword". The GM would reply "OK, you can open the chest, but what is on it is up to myself".

Not in dogs! The player could do blunt self-GMing and the GM could (if a proper dice pool is available) "counter" (or seeing and reverse the blow in ditv jargon) with "but the magic sword is cursed", and then the player go with "but I am immune to that sort of curses", and so on. At some point the dice pool of a party would be depleted, so someone must consider to give up early.


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