Dogs in the Vineyard is a roleplaying game by D. Vincent Baker, published in PDF and hardback by Lumpley Games. The games premiere at GenCon 2004 turned quite a few heads, a shining example of the groundswell of individual and small-house produced roleplaying games that is, with the lowering barrier of entry provided by web-publishing PDF sites such as Drive Thru RPG and RPGnow, revolutionizing the industry.

Setting

When you sit down to play Dogs in the Vineyard, you take on the role of one of God's Watchdogs, or Dogs as they are more commonly called: a travelling cowboy-preacher with overtones of Kung Fu's David Carradine. Your job is to travel from town to town delivering the mail, providing hope to hard-living settlers, and making sure that everyone is following The Faith of All Things in the King of Life, Reborn or, for brevity's sake, The Faith.

The setting is roughly analogous to antebellum Utah. The Faith is roughly analogous to early Mormonism. As a Dog it is your job to keep the people healthy, happy, and close to The Faith, protecting them from the influence of Demons and the overbearing hand of The Territorial Authority who do not, as a whole, see God in the same way that The Faithful do. And, though The King of Life does not usually condone violence, life is hard for The Faithful and, as a Dog, you often have to get your hands dirty to keep others from falling into sin.

The setting is designed to force characters into tough moral positions in order to provide players with an opportunity to wrestle with issues of faith in practice, continually asking them to justify their own beliefs in the face of a cruel and unforgiving world. The basic unit of gameplay is not a dungeon crawl but, rather, fixing the problems of a town fallen into sin. This makes the game a poor option for groups that simply want to walk around killing things, but for more ambitious roleplaying troups, it provides the opportunity to tell some truly memorable stories.

System

Unlike most roleplaying game systems, which concentrate on individual actions and provide rules to test whether a character could or could not perform a specific action, Dogs in the Vineyard's game system focuses on conflicts as a whole. Where a more traditional roleplaying game would test whether a character can shoot a man taking cover behind a table twenty feet away, DitV simulates the entire shootout as a whole using a poker-like betting system where each action is a raise that opponants must match in order to stay in the conflict.

This system focuses on whole rather than minmaxing actions and forces players to describe their actions well in order to be more successful, resulting in interesting encounters and encouraging good storytelling by all the participants.

The disadvantage is that, breaking as much from the norm as this system does, the learning curve is unusually high and unless a game group has someone who is familiar with this kind of play it can take a while for things to get rolling.


Sources
Baker, D. Vincent, Dogs in the Vineyard Roleplaying Game, Lumpley Games, 2004
Dogs in the Vineyard Website, http://www.septembergames.org/lumpley/

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