[DitV] Hidden PC Traits

  • 6 Replies
[DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« on: July 03, 2016, 06:02:13 PM »
My rpg group just started our first Dogs in the Vineyard campaign yesterday and all goes well so far, except for a disagreement between myself (GM) and one of the players about how Traits work.  He started to write up his Dog, and when it came to traits, his first pick was "2d8, Sadistic".  I said "Hmm, that's your biggest Trait die, so this is a really important part of your character. Is this a source of inner conflict for your her?  She is committed to being pious but takes pleasure in hurting or humiliating people?"  He said it wasn't.   He figures his character isn't aware that she's sadistic, so she's not conflicted about it.  Then I asked him what might happen during the initiation to the Dogs, when one of the teachers catches wind of her sadism?  He said he's sure no one will ever find out.  in fact, because he's all the more effective at doling out violence, the Faith would probably see his effectiveness as an asset for a Dog without examining its nature.  The other players were pretty split about this.  We got side-tracked for maybe half an hour with a conversation about sadism in religion and socially-sanctioned violence.  Another time, it might have been interesting but it really threw off our character creation momentum.

So I guess my questions are:
1. Can a Dog have a starting Trait that is considered sinful in our setting?  To me: I'm good in a fight is a good starting trait, but I like to hurt people is not.  Similarly, another PC was raised by a wealthy family.  It just wouldn't seem right to me for his highest trait to be I am Greedy.  After character creation, I know I'm not in a position to judge the Dogs, but I do disagree that this PC would clear initiation as the player described him.
2. Are Traits somethings that NPCs can always see, or can there be a 'hidden' or covert trait like this one? I have been thinking that the NPCs respond to PCs based on both their decisions and their traits.  The small town sheriff might trust the upper-class Dog less, but the college-educated steward might be happy to find someone to relate to.  I'm also worried about this Sadistic trait being used in every single conflict, from verbal humiliation to gunfighting, especially if the player thinks there won't be any fallout from this hidden motivation.

Anyone have guidance in this question?

[Edit: Breaking up what is really two distinct questions.]
« Last Edit: July 03, 2016, 07:35:32 PM by moconnor8 »

Re: [DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2016, 01:13:30 AM »
This doesn't seem like a problem to me - not the way I play Dogs, anyway.

Can a Dog have a "bad" Trait? Sure! Sounds like fun. They might change or discard it in play - or it might grow! That's part of the character's development.

As for becoming a Dog if you're a bad person... well, how good are the Dogs at vetting such things? Do you have so much faith in a religious institution that you think they could sniff a Greedy Dog a mile away? (c.f. the Catholic church)

If it strains your suspension of disbelief, just ask the player: "If you're so [bad trait], how come you didn't get kicked out of the church (yet)?" They'll tell you.

Now, do NPCs know the Dogs' Traits? Same thing - by default, I would say "no", but it's really up to the player. Ask them: "Hey, I know you have the Greedy trait. Is something that's obvious to anyone meeting you, or only people who know you really well?" And then act accordingly.

Re: [DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2016, 01:30:14 PM »
Cool.  As a follow-up question:

When a trait is used in conflict, is it always visible or can it be the internal motivation behind an action?

If the Dog adds 2d8 from their Sadistic trait to win a fist fight, is that because they are being overtly sadistic?  Am I right in thinking that any surviving NPCs should walk away from this conflict thinking "Holy shit.  That Dog was really enjoying pummeling that poor guy."

Re: [DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2016, 06:59:37 PM »
I'd say this is one of those things that is up to the group, more so than up to the rules.

You know how Dogs has this principle that "the most discerning person at the table" sets the line on this kind of stuff?

So, the short answer is that you should discuss and choose, as a group, whatever seems most interesting to everyone.

For me? If someone brings in their "Sadistic" trait and what they say sounds interesting and adds to the game (perhaps some internal dialogue/monologue?*), then I think that's *fantastic*. If they bring it in and they don't explain why or how, that's no good - it's not making the game better in any way.

Overall, I'm worried from the tone of your posts: it sounds like you or your players are concerned about "hiding" their motivations or their personalities for some reason. A game like Dogs, which plays with morality and expectations, and which is all about above-board communication of those details, is FAR better when those things are always out in the open. I don't think your game will gain anything of value by hiding such information (it's precisely what we're playing for in the first place! To see how a Sadistic Dog navigates moral dilemmas!). Indeed, I suspect that if you try to do so, you'll run into trouble, either at the rules level ("Why are you bringing in that Trait?" "Um, I can't tell you just yet!") or at a subtler level (as the GM, you won't know who to interact with this character if you don't know what he's all about).

*: I'd love to play in a game where a Dog brings in certain Traits by describing their inner temptations or "impure" thoughts! That would add a very interesting and introspective angle to the game. Seeing not just the *player* struggle with the question of whether it's worth it to escalate, but also hearing them portray through the inner thoughts of the character ("Boy, I'd love to just chop this little girl's hand off, to finally teach her this lesson!")... that would add a LOT to the game.

Re: [DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2016, 07:01:09 PM »

Note that the rulebook is very clear: "GM, do NOT hide information from the players." "Put it all out there!" "It's not that kind of game."

Apparently, Vincent didn't see a need to give the same directive to the PLAYERS. But I believe it goes without saying - for all the very same reasons!

Re: [DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2016, 01:19:58 PM »
We have been playing with everything on the table, open information between GM and players.  This particular player has a hidden trait only in the sense that it is subconscious and internal.  Her sadism doesn't drive internal monologues because it is subconscious, it is a drive but not part of her thought process.  It is also not manifest in overt displays of cruelty, so NPCs don't react to it.  There's no hidden information from me, the GM, but my concern is that if it isn't a source of internal or interpersonal conflict, it doesn't add much to the game.

In practice, I might say "Why are you bringing that trait in?"  The player responds, "Because I'm hurting someone."

I think my action plan is to just have NPCs start to notice, some finding her sadism a passion for righteous justice, others finding it abhorrent.  We'll see how the PC responds, and if this registers any self-reflection for her.



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Re: [DitV] Hidden PC Traits
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2016, 02:26:15 AM »
Why is the player interested in not having the trait come out? It seems odd that she's gone to the trouble to take this trait, and then gone to the trouble to bury so deep. Does she or does she not want it to be part of the game?

To answer your previous question, When she brings that trait into a conflict, you're damn skippy I would be asking how she is being sadistic. You can't just go "I'm rolling my 2d8 sadistic into this conflict" and then not figure out what that looks like. What's particularly sadistic about what she's doing when she rolls that trait in? And, really, if you're just trying to get a dice bonus without having the trait actually affect play, I'd say she doesn't understand what the game is about.
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."