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?


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...

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – 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.


The Territorial Authority can't do anything

The Dogs travel in groups of three and have community support. While what they do may not be legal, the territorial authority is, outside of industrial incursions from the East, basically powerless. The Territorial Authority, if there even is any, is probably no more than a Federal Marshall with a junior partner. Dogs is based off of old-west Utah, so this list of 1800s forts in Utah might help explain things to you. Of the 58 fortified settlements erected in Utah during the 1800s, 29 of them were erected by the Mormons. Another one was erected by a fur trading company but bought out by the Mormon church for close to $2,000. Another one was a splinter group that managed to set up a massive fortification in the mountains. The Mormon church raised a private army (the Mormon Militia), stormed the fort, and executed the originator of the attempted religious change along with many of his followers.

In fact, the military might and financial resources of the mormon church in Utah were so great that the federal gov't eventually realized that were the Mormons to rebel there wouldn't be much they could do about it, so in 1858 they (in violation of the 3rd amendment to the US constitution) occupied an existing Mormon fort and much of the surrounding town, eventually leading to the modern city of Fairfield. This was the largest military encampment of federal troops in the entire United States at the time.

In response, the Mormons booby-trapped the canyons the federal troops would use if they were to try to invade the nearby new Mormon settlements, evacuated all the old settlements, burned the army's supply trains, and hid in the mountains. Brigham Young negotiated a peace with the commander of the US forces, whereby the Feds kept to their fort in Fairfield and Salt Lake City remained the capital and the US appointed replacement governer was installed but Young remained pretty much actually in charge.

Much conflict over polygamy ensued.

The point here is that, by analogy, the Faith has far more power than the Territorial authority. If the East decides it's gonna do something about the Faith and invades, yeah, that'd be a force the Faith couldn't handle head-on, and that's what eventually happened in real life, eventually. Short of that, though, the Faith has the military might to enforce its laws as it sees fit. An individual agent can certainly get in the way of the Dogs' work, seeking to enact their Federal Mandate with etic integrity, but that looks a lot more like Hang 'Em High than any sort of one-sided lawman beatdown. The Dogs need to balance the law and the faith because their faith includes tenets regarding obedience to civil law, where moral, and sometimes for other reasons, but not because the TA actually has the power to militarily shut the Faith down.


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.


You said it, the Territorial Authority is a source of conflict, in a game that only cares about (meaningful) conflicts. The dynamics of the branch politics before the Dogs arrive may shape a different starting situation and the guy who is just tryig to do his duty is a staple of the grey morality that's needed to have the Dogs to defend different people or ideals.

The Dogs are too strong and the game can grow boring if the Dogs are all on the same side of every conflict: characters who can either be seen as right or wrong make the game better.


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