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Do the wicked deserve judgement? Does the sinner deserve mercy? They're in your hands.—Back cover copy
"So... it's kill satan for puppies?"—Unknown
Dogs in the Vineyard is a Tabletop RPG by Vincent Baker, who is also responsible for the games kill puppies for satan and Poison'd. According to The Other Wiki, it won Indie RPG of the Year and Most Innovative Game in the Indie RPG Awards of 2004, and in 2005 it was nominated for a Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming.
It can be described as a Western, set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Mormon-settled Desert Territory of early Utah. The Player Characters are holy gunslingers known as "God's Watchdogs" or just Dogs, riding a circuit among various towns and villages of the Faithful. The Faithful believe in a controversial religion known as The Faith, properly The Faith in All Things in the King of Life, and heavily based on the historical beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Adhering to The Faith offers real, though somewhat intangible, protections from Demons. Therefore, if one of the Faithful sins, it's a major problem for the community at large; the town begins to slide towards sin, hatred and murder. The Dogs are sent in as preventive medicine, damage control and, of course, Exorcists.
The thing about this game is that much of the doctrine of The Faith is deliberately left undefined. This means that the players invent most of the doctrine, and have authority as wandering Prophets to reinvent and revise it. The Game Master is explicitly forbidden by the rules to second-guess the player's judgment: Only the players can do that, by gaining Fallout in the course of their struggles.
Notable for having a system where your character's opinion could change as the result of an extended conflict, typically when you gain Fallout.
Provides examples of:
- Badass Longcoat: Each Dog has a colorful longcoat, hand-quilted by their family as a symbol of their station.
- It's a Genius Bonus if you know your Old Testament. Joseph had such a coat.
- Badass Preacher: Your average PC.
- Church Militant: Your average PC when things get tough.
- Clean Up the Town: A standard episode plotline.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: The King of Life
- Film Noir: Although set in The Wild West, the book mentions that typical games will be more like noirish mysteries than typical westerns.
- Good Republic, Evil Empire: Inverted. The Faithful live in US territories, subject to US territorial law, but most real authority and leadership comes from a benevolent theocracy. Conversely, "Back East" is pretty much a hotbed of apostasy, decadence, and persecution that the faithful moved west to escape.
- Holding Out for a Hero -- No town seems capable of solving their own problems...
- Justifiable, the PCs could be assumed to visit other towns that just aren't interesting enough to warrant a game session about them. In fact, most of what the Dogs do is deliver mail & news, preach, and heal the sick. It's just that the stories are about when things get tricky.
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner
- Magic Is Evil: And often used unintentionally.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Whether the Faith is true or just a vital social construct is left ambiguous; the game can be played with or without overt supernatural influence.
- Noble Savage / The Savage Indian: Both tropes in play. The Mountain People are believed to be the remains of a former Faithful civilization. They are alternately feared & scorned or seen as a sign of hope. Dogs who are converted Mountain Folk are often put on a precarious pedestal.
- Obliviously Evil: Many of the people causing trouble in a community are doing something that seems pretty innocent but is against the tenets of the Faith and society, like meddling around in another family's affairs or acting outside of your gender role.
- Our Demons Are Different: Demons in this game aren't physical monsters so much as a supernatural force of bad luck and misfortune. However, they can possess people and give them minor weird effects.
- Path of Inspiration: All beliefs other than the Faith. When a town gets too corrupted, they'll often sprout Corrupt Worship for the Dogs to contend with.
- Saintly Church
- Start of Darkness: All towns in trouble follow the same pattern (until at some point the Dogs show up and hopefully put a stop to it all): someone's Pride leads to an act of Injustice, which provokes or descends further into Sin, which opens a town to a Demonic Attack (which is anything from natural disasters to human tragedy), whereas a town of faithful is protected from such harm. Over time, this leads to the spread of False Doctrine and Corrupt Worship led by a False Priesthood who can use Sorcery to command the demons, eventually ending in Hate and Murder. (whew!)
- Talking the Monster to Death: Naturally, Dogs tend to solve the vast majority of their problems this way.
- To explain in more detail, the choice of how far to escalate any given encounter (from talking all the way to lethal force) is always in the hands of the players. You can often throw more weight behind a more dangerous encounter, but the consequences are much worse if you fail. It's often better to solve things with words.
- The Teetotaler: Everyone. As pseudo-Mormons, they also don't drink coffee or black tea, and nearly no one smokes but the elderly.
- The Wild West: Mostly averted. The setting is more true to the historical Mormon territories than the saloons, gunfights, and general lawlessness of the typical Westerns. In terms of pop culture's view of history, it plays more like colonial America than a Western "shoot-out at high noon" game.
- Town with a Dark Secret: It's not uncommon to come across these, depending on how well the town's sin is hidden and how many people are in on it.