Friday, February 26, 2010

The Progression of Animist Sin

In the playtests I ran leading up to and at Dreamation, I found a consistent problem with setting up the situation. We started to get something really good after an hour or two, but I want to get to that from the start, not a few hours in. So, creating a strong situation from the start has become a big concern for me.

Dogs in the Vineyard does this very well with a set town creation system that the GM uses. The system takes Mormon theology as a given: problems always begin with pride, which manifests as injustice, which leads to sin, which manifests as demonic attacks, which leads to false doctrine, which manifests as corrupt religious practices and heresy, which leads to false priesthood, which manifests as sorcery, which leads to hate and murder. You pick the particulars of a pride, the injustice that follows, and so on, following the chain down until you have a pregnant situation for the Dogs to walk into.

While at Dreamation, my mind started spinning around this idea. In Dogs, the GM does this before the game to set up the town, but what if we did this at the table, as a collaborative exercise? We start with one player, and ask them who's pride in the town sets things off. Next player to the left then tells us the injustice that leads to, and so on, until we have a situation ready to burst.

When I mentioned this to Giuli, she said it's a bad idea, because the Dogs come into town and try to figure all this out. Dogs is about coming into town as a stranger and unraveling its secrets. It's probably best for that game that it stay a GM exercise before the game starts.

But The Fifth World isn't about strangers, and animists have their own progression like this. And fortunately for me, it's a progression that works backwards. When a problem besets an animist group, whether bad storms or sickness or bad hunting, they don't chalk it up to chance. A more-than-human world seems densely populated with active persons pursuing various agendas. Nothing "just happens." Everything happens because someone did it. If sickness falls on the people, it happens because someone sent the sickness to them. Misfortune comes from angry people, and people become angry because of insults, offenses, trespasses, injuries or failed obligations.

This could work as a means of generating starting situation. The first player has to come up with a problem the people face; she says, "They're getting sick." Great! Next player: who sent the sickness? "Deer." Great! Do we stop there? Maybe that's all we need—we play a game that revolves around our investigation and our entreaties to Deer, as we try to figure out who offended Deer and how. Maybe we keep going. Why did deer send the sickness? "Deer agreed to give up 10 for our sake; but one hunter took an 11th deer in secret, and hoarded the meat for himself." Awesome. Next player: what does Deer demand in recompense? "The first 10 were given; the 11th was murder. Deer demands the murderer's life in return." Maybe we stop there—and we play out what we do next. Do we give up the hunter? Do we find some other way?

I might use this; I might just as well not. But it seems like no matter what, it could be an interesting exercise in animist thinking for the animists in the audience to work out what the progression of animist sin looks like. I'd love to hear your suggestions!


simon said...

Wow. Hard one.

At first glance, i think Giuli is right. The way a town is set-up in Dogs just doesnt feel like it fits an animist perspective.

Im gonna think out loud here on what some avarage play "might" look like.


Dysfunctional Community-> Enter Dogs -> Explosive change -> Skewed but Functional Community


Community (including PC's) experiences Explosive Change -> PC's restore community -> Functional Community.

Hmm now im not sure if the animist perspective is really all that different.

You know in Dogs that things are really really f*cked when Sorcery and Demons rear their ugly heads right? Up until that point community was skewed, but functional (for purposes of being a town in a fictional dogs game) .

"Brother Jebediah knows his wife is cheating on him, and it bothers him, but life in town continues to outwardly function as it should"

An animist community could experience the same thing. Things appear normal and functioning, but only at that point of (Demons and Sorcery in Dogs) does it spill out into the open, creating a need and urgency to deal with the problem NOW. There is no more functionality left in the current state the community is in if (Demons and Sorcery in Dogs) rise to surface.

What would be the equivalent of that tipping point in an Animist Community ?

and where are these problems eventually rooted in?

simon said...

I tried making an animist town, using the dogs rules. They got me pretty far, and i think its functional with some very minor adjustments, to create animist "problems"

Pride and Injustice are awesome to start off a big Animist drama!

Injustice as described in Dogs rules: Someone is better off than everybody else! strong stuff for societies where egalitarian families are the norm.

But there is somethings that bug me in the current Dogs rules:

Demons as they are in Dogs, WANT to destabalize the dynamic equilibrium. They want the inequalit , murder and destability and whatnot to perpetuate. I cannot find a way to fit this in with my current animist thinking.

But otherwise you could get really far using Dogs Town Creation as is. Remember, Vincent Baker (creator of Dogs) says in the rules that you can start as soon as you think you have a " grabby " situation. So you dont always have to go through the whole list.

If you own the Dogs book just give it a go and see how you feel about it.

take care