Monday, June 22, 2009


We finished our first Dogs town last week, and I'm pretty relieved to say that it was a really good experience for me. For a while, I was very worried that I wasn't going to be able to like my character, and that's reliably a game-killer for me.

I don't have to believe that the character is a good person (whatever that is), or think they'd make a good friend. I just have to find something sympathetic about them, some aspect of their situation that I can relate to, and that gives me a hook to play them in the game (all this goes only for Story Now type games, I don't care about this in other types of play). I think this is something most people know, but I actually have little experience as a player, and so it's taken until recently to figure this out.

It's a very alchemical process for me, whether I'm going to like a character or not. I throw some mechanical elements together, try to get a picture of the person in my head, and then try to bring that picture out in the game. Sometimes what results is a character that I really like, and which I'm happy to play, and sometimes it emerges that the character isn't someone I can relate to, and the game feels like very hard work. A recent game I played of "Its Complicated" fell down this way for me. Among other problems I had with the game, I didn't really relate to my character, and it made playing her a drag. Covenant was an edge case. I could barely relate to my character, but I struggled through the whole game. That actually worked for that game, which was all about painful moments and unforgivable actions.

In Dogs my character, Michael, is a sixteen-year-old boy who's been the golden boy of his village his whole life. He's very much a stereotypical male member of the faith, with one exception. He's got a propensity for falling in love, and a very active libido. He was shipped off to Bridal Falls to avoid an entanglement with a girl he impregnated.

Malcolm, running the first town, picked up on this issue and another player's character who is an ex-prostitute, and created a town with all kinds of issues about lust, marital fidelity, sexual manipulation, and so on. Michael, my character, was going to find this town pretty challenging. Which was perfect of course. I don't think you can play Dogs and not expect your characters' issues to be challenged. In play though, I found the town very challenging. One of Michael's first conflicts was with the Steward's middle-aged wife, Sister Abigail. She was tryting to make him lust after her. Some poor dice rolling meant that I had no chance of winning the conflict, and Michael failed. This felt like a huge blow to my image of the character. I struggled to reconcile that with how I'd imagined Michael's issue playing out. This was compunded at the end of the session when Sister Abigail succeeded in seducing Michael. This character who I'd imagined as a mostly innocent boy with an overactive sense of romance was sleeping with the Steward's wife under his own roof! I felt a little as though my control of the character had been taken from me, and very much as though Michael was being abused within the fiction. The session ended there, and if that had been the sum of my experience with Dogs, I think I would be very dubious about the game.

Michael's first scene in the next session opened with him running from the Steward's house in tears. Fleeing through the streets, his only real aim was to escape from the shame of what he'd done. We decided it would be interesting if he ended up at the house of Brother Edmund, a character who'd been seen in another character's scene last session. As players, we all liked Edmund, and wanted to see him in the game more. We ended up in a conflict with Michael trying to convince himself that he was unfit to be a Dog, and an irredeemable sinner, while Edmund tried to convince him that he could be forgiven. This was a nice coda to Edmund's previous scene, and for Michael's issue, it was perfect. Everything fell into place for me, and the events of the last session suddenly made sense to me in terms of Michael's story. I'd found the issue that was at the heart of his character - about whether he could live up to his own expectations, or if he would keep letting himself down. That was an issue I could really relate to, and it's something that I think will continue to be compelling in future games. Michael's 2d10 relationship to the sin of lust is going to make it very interesting next time.

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