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Sunday 17 March 2024

Dogs & The Devil’s Due

You are a Dog. You are a Dandy Dog. You are one of the Devil’s Dandy Dogs. You are a creature made of the Devil’s shadow and a shadow of what you once were. As a Dandy Dog you are tasked with collecting souls for the Devil. This will take you back to the world that was once your home and face numerous peoples, visit various places, confront creatures, engage in experiences that perhaps might recall your memories, and solve conundrums. You may even be Tempted. In the process, you will gain a Soul, through agreement or through guile, but never force, that you return to your Master. Neither good nor evil, the Devil is smart, wily, debonair, wicked, generally willing to play by the rules, a cunning conversationalist, a fierce and loyal protector of their dogs. Thus, he will be grateful for the Soul, but he will always have one more task and that is for you to tell him of how you gained the Soul. In other words, he wants to be entertained.

This is the set-up for The Devil’s Dandy Dogs, a storytelling game published by Monte Cook Games. Best played by four or five players, who together make up a pack, plus the Diviner—as the Game Master is known—it is designed to be played with a minimum of preparation, and more! That more is very easy set up by the Diviner and play straight out of the box for the players. In fact, a would-be Diviner could open the box, read through the rules in thirty (at the very most) minutes and be ready to run The Devil’s Dandy Dogs. All of which is facilitated by quick and easy character or Dandy Dog options and creation, and equally as easy, card-driven, scenario or soul fetch creation. It can be played in a single session or over multiple sessions, making it suitable for both one-shots and convention play, as well as extended play. Play itself is collaborative with the Diviner establishing the set-up and soul fetch and then working with her players building the world that their Dandy Dogs will operate in. This world can be historical, it can be fantasy, it can be horror, it can be Science Fiction, it can be today or it can be yesterday. This is decided upon by the Diviner and her players, as can the tone and mood of the game. No matter who the soul belongs to that the Dandy Dogs have been sent to collect and the problem they need to overcome or condition they need to fulfil in order to do so, when the session begins, the Dandy Dogs will already have succeeded in bringing a Soul to the Devil. And since they have already succeeded, the Dandy Dogs will be telling the story of what has happened and so The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is played in the past tense. This facilitates a certain play style, such as being able to remember what happened next and ask another player what happened next, meaning that the “I did this” of The Devil’s Dandy Dogs rather than the “I do this” of other roleplaying games brings a certain nuance to play.

The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is a boxed game. Below the handy ‘What’s in the Box?’ sheet, there are two books, a playmat, eleven character sheets, four dice, and over one hundred cards. The first book, ‘The Devil’s Dandy Dogs’ explains the rules and how to set up a game, whilst the second, ‘The Devil’s Playbook’ is the reference for the thirty-six cards of the ‘Diviner’s Deck’, explaining how the cards are used on the ‘Soul’s Arrow’, the cloth playmat where the spread of cards is placed after it is drawn. The eleven character sheets are mini-portfolios, one each for the roleplaying game’s eleven roles, with explanations of how the roles work in play and how the game’s mechanics work. Three of the dice have the symbol for success on one face and the symbol for failure on one face, with the other four blank. Successes and failures are named different things depending on the situation. The Temptation die has the success symbol on four faces and failure symbol on two. It can be rolled during an action to bring a Dog’s Drive into play, but has a chance of the Dog falling prey to his Temptation. The cards are large, Tarot-card sized, done on glossy stock and done in very full colour. Their primary use is to set up the ‘Deal with the Devil’, the details of the Soul Fetch that the Dandy Dogs have to undertake, including the Person, the Place, the Pact, the Complication, and more.

A Dandy Dog is defined by his Role, Name, Goal, Devil’s Mark and Traits. The Roles include The Beloved, The Hearthed, The Faithful, The Vermillion, and more. Each Role gives a Dandy Dog his personality, Drive, Temptation, Tricks or supernatural gifts, and storytelling style. The player picks his Dandy Dog’s Role, Goal, decides on the Devil’s Mark, and decides whether his Dandy Dog is Good in one Trait, Very Good in a second, and Best in a third. The three Traits are Devil, which represents supernatural and magical actions, such as Dreamwalking, Sensing Magic, Shadowwalking, and Soulbearing; Dandy, used in social situations and interacting with the world; and Dog, which is all about the things a dog can do. Each Dandy Dog must be unique, different from one player to the next.

Name: Dasha
Role: The Frolic
Devil: Good Dandy: Very Good Dog: Best
Drive: Play
Temptation: Hunger
Goal: To become a real dog
Tricks: Become Dog, These Violent Delights
Devil’s Mark: A Dog Chasing Its Tail

Mechanically, The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is simple. To undertake an action, a player rolls a number of dice equal to the rating of the Trait used. Three for Best, two for Very Good, and one for Good. A roll of six or ‘Devil’s Eyebrow’ means the Dandy Dog succeeds superbly; two, three, four, and five are blank and are the ‘Devil’s Duty’, meaning the Dandy Dog has succeeded without being either entertaining or exciting; and one or ‘Devil’s Delight’, means that the Dandy Dog has failed and done so spectacularly. In combat, a six becomes ‘Devil’s Tooth & Claw’ and a one becomes a ‘Devil’s Concern’. During a scene, the Diviner can use ‘Call & Response’ to bring a Dandy Dog into narrative and go back and forth to the Dandy Dog’s player who narrates what he does according to each result on a die. It is possible to save one die if a Dandy Dog has any left over at the end of this, and if he does run out, a Dandy Dog can ask a packmate to ‘Throw Me A Bone!’ if another Dandy Dog has kept one spare.

In addition, a Dandy Dog can bring his Drive into play if relevant. If a roll of three, four, five, and six, then the Dandy Dog succeeds and something amazing happens. However, on a role of one or two, the Dandy Dog’s Drive overtakes him, he gains a Temptation card, and he cannot act until his Pack helps him. (Notably, the symbols are not named on the Temptation die, unlike on the standard dice for ordinary and combat results.) There are also two further outcomes. ‘Fates Folly’ is triggered when three ‘ones’ are used in a scene by the Pack as a whole and the Diviner adds a ‘Fates Folly’ card to the ‘Soul’s Arrow’ playmat. A ‘Devil’s Door’ card is added to the ‘Soul’s Arrow’ playmat by the Diviner when the three ‘sixes’ are used in a scene by the Pack as a whole.

The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is structured into several beats. In ‘Hearth & Home’, the players collectively describe what their Dandy Dogs’ Devil is like—this is the character that the Diviner will be portraying, and then in ‘Deal with Devil’, the Diviner draws the three cards and plays them on the ‘Soul’s Arrow’. One for the Person who made the Pact with the Devil—that person already having made the pact to give up his or her Soul, second for the Place where the Person can be found, and the third for Pact between the Person and the Devil. Each card has a corresponding entry in the ‘The Devil’s Playbook’ which can be used to guide the Diviner. Each Pact involves a Deal, and this can help the Person retrieve something or someone important, achieve mastery or success, complete unfinished business for them, protect or heal someone for the Person, or Assist the Person in some way… These options give some great situations and set-ups that essentially complicate what the Dandy Dogs will have had to do in order to obtain the intended Soul, which will be played out the third best, ‘Fun & Games’. The last beat is ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, in which the Dandy Dogs face their toughest challenge in obtaining the Soul, but the Diviner also presents three Pact of the Pact cards from which the Dandy Dogs can choose from one. This will give them a collective ability such as the Dandy Dogs assume a ‘True Form’ all together, a single solid creature with all of its advantages and disadvantages, or ‘Through Time’ when the Dandy Dogs step out of time and place into a safe, warm comfortable place and then return with ‘real’ no time passed, but subjectively having had a chance to plan, discuss, and prepare to continue the resolution of the scene. Lastly, the Dandy Dogs return to ‘Hearth & Home’ and the Soul Fetch.

There is another best, ‘The Devil’s Interlude’. It is an optional best, which can be used to add a scene between the other beats, pause the story, or to add a moment of levity. Whilst in the short term, a Dandy Dog and his pack are trying to retrieve a promised Soul, in the long term a Dandy Dog can be working towards his Goal and the gaining of Memory Shards. The latter are primarily gained for collecting a Soul and go towards completion of a Goal, but they can also be expended to ‘Mend a Tear’ and heal the damage that would disconnect a Dandy Dog from the Devil’s shadow or together with other Dandy Dogs keep a Pact of the Pack card.

As much as The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is a lovely looking game, the main, but minor issues are due to that physicality. First, the cards could have been slightly thicker. The cards are also quite bendy. Not all of the card types are readily named so that does impede play slightly. Secondly, the symbols on the dice are consistent across the standard and Temptation dice, but are not consistently named in the game, which is confusing.

Physically, The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is very well presented. The artwork on the cards is great and the rulebook is very well written. This includes good examples of play and solid advice from start to finish.

The Devil’s Dandy Dogs is a very good game in a box and it is a very quick game in a box, combining portability, ease of set-up, and mechanical simplicity with scope to tell the great stories of the final moments of those who have sold their soul to the Devil. Honestly, once the Diviner has learned how to make a ‘Deal with the Devil’ and read through the rules, she can run The Devil’s Dandy Dogs at any time. Mechanically, it is that simple. The complexity comes in the Pact made between the Devil and those willing to give up his Soul and ensuring that it is fulfilled, that is, in the story not the rules. Beautifully presented, The Devil’s Dandy Dogs’ combination of easy-to-learn rules and challenging storytelling make it the perfect pick-up, no preparation, be a good dog, dance with the Devil roleplaying game.

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