Dogs Play Cards, Too

Originally posted on the RPGnet Wiki by @Paul_T.

Dogs Play Cards, Too

A set of rules for playing Dogs in the Vineyard with a deck of regular playing cards (no Jokers).

I believe that all the features of Dogs mechanics are represented faithfully, although there are also bits in there that are inspired by what I know of The Princes’ Kingdom as well as the rules for the Dogs variant Afraid.

Note: A drawn-out conflict between two people can use up 20-25 cards. If you have more than three players, you’ll probably need two decks.



The four Stats are Acuity, Body, Heart, and Will.

Acuity and Body

These two Stats are about your character’s general abilities.

Acuity (Awareness) describes how sharp, perceptive, alert, clever, quick, or knowledgeable you are–your mental faculties.

Body determines how big, strong, athletic, healthy, muscular, fit or coordinated you are–your physical faculties.

Heart and Will

These two Stats are about your character’s inner self.

Heart is your warm side. It tells us how compassionate, charming, empathetic, emotionally intelligent, loving, enduring, and courageous you are–how effective your character is when he or she is being gentle, sensitive, patient, or disciplined.

Will is your tough side: your conviction, whether that’s ice or fire. It tells us how strong-minded, stubborn, tenacious, or unshakable you are–how effective your character is when he or she is being aggressive, brutal, or staring death in the face.


All Traits are either regular, troublesome, or strong. A Trait may also be significant (as well as regular, troublesome, or strong). Here’s how to keep track of that:

  • Regular traits receive no special marking.
  • Troublesome traits receive a “-” mark.
  • Strong traits receive a “+” mark.
  • Significant traits receive a “*” (asterisk/star) after their name.

Converting from regular Dogs rules:

  • Troublesome Traits are like 1d4 or 2d4 Traits.
  • Regular Traits are like 1d6, 2d6, or 1d8 Traits.
  • Strong Traits are like 2d8, 1d10, or 2d10 Traits.
  • Significant Traits are like Traits that have 3 or 4 dice in them, and they can be of any “size”, whether regular, troublesome, or strong. For example, 4d6 is significant, 3d10 is strong and significant, and 4d4 is troublesome and significant.

For example: Let’s say you draw your gun. Draw cards for it normally, but also draw cards as though you brought a troublesome trait into play (for that extra d4).

Another example: For an initiation conflict, you’re supposed to roll 4d6 + 4d10. 4d6 is a significant trait, so draw cards for it (as you’ll see, that’s two cards). 4d10 is strong AND significant, so draw for that too (in this case, it’s four more and you keep the best two).

If you convert an existing character by the guidelines above, you may need to combine or remove a few one-die Traits: a Dogs character with several one-die Traits could potentially have twice as many Traits as they should under these rules. You’ll have to use your best judgement in those cases.

To make a new character, choose one of the following templates:


Distribute 9 points between the four Stats. Put at least one point in each.

You get:

  • One troublesome trait
  • One regular trait
  • One strong trait


  • One troublesome relationship
  • One regular relationship
  • One strong relationship

Strong History

Distribute 7 points between the four Stats. Put at least one point in each.

You get:

  • Two regular traits
  • One strong trait
  • One strong, significant trait


  • One troublesome relationship
  • One regular relationship
  • One strong relationship

Complicated History

Distribute 8 points between the four Stats. Put at least one point in each.

You get:

  • Two troublesome traits
  • One regular trait
  • One significant trait


  • One regular relationship
  • One strong relationship
  • One significant relationship

Strong Community

Distribute 7 points between the four Stats. Put at least one point in each.

You get:

  • One troublesome trait
  • One regular trait
  • One strong trait


  • Two regular relationships
  • Two strong relationships
  • One strong, significant relationship

Complicated Community

Distribute 8 points between the four Stats. Put at least one point in each.

You get:

  • Two regular traits
  • One significant trait


  • Two troublesome relationships
  • One regular relationship
  • One strong relationship
  • One significant relationship


All characters can also carry belongings. By default, you may start with:

  • One troublesome (crappy) possession.
  • One regular (average) possession.

And either:

  • One significant (big) possession, or
  • One strong (quality) possession.

Or just choose whatever you want, as in Dogs. I find having a default is helpful for first-time players, though.



When a conflict comes up, draw one card for each Stat point that applies, one for your relevant faculties (Acuity or Body) and one for your inner self (Heart or Will), as follows:

  • Talking: Acuity and Heart
  • Physical: Body and Heart
  • Violence: Body and Will
  • Murder: Acuity and Will

(I can imagine circumstances where the other two combinations might also make sense. For example, a purely “external” conflict, like an archery contest, could be Acuity + Body. Dealing with a purely internal issue, like struggling with your own sanity, could be Heart + Will. And some instances could have different interpretations: making a speech to get a mob of workers to go on strike might be Acuity + Will, even though it’s not murder. But all this is just thinking outloud.)


Also draw cards for any applicable traits, just as you would add dice in Dogs.

Here’s how Traits work (belongings and relationships work the same way):

  • For a regular Trait, draw one card.
  • For a troublesome Trait, draw two cards but only keep the worst one.
  • For a strong Trait, draw two cards but only keep the best one.
  • For a Trait that’s significant, draw twice as many cards, but follow the same rules as usual (e.g. if it’s a regular trait, just draw two cards, but if it’s a troublesome Trait, draw four cards and keep the worst two).

Playing the Cards

Aces are low, face cards are worth 12 points, and a King is worth 14 points.

To Raise, push forward one card.

To See, you must match or beat that card’s value (also with one card).

You Take the Blow if you decide to See with two or more cards. Draw that same number of cards from the deck (face down) and set them aside–that’s fallout. You’ll have a space on your character sheet to leave talking fallout, physical fallout, etc–separate piles for each.

You Reverse the Blow if you can See with a card double the value of your opponent’s Raise. You get to keep that card if you want to use it for your next Raise or See.

Random factors like improvised tools or equipment are treated as a troublesome trait: draw two more cards and keep the worst one. If you are doing something truly desperate, or bringing in a really significant object or tool, that counts as significant as well as troublesome: draw four cards and keep the two lowest.


At the bottom of your character sheet, have space for four fallout piles, labelled, and with card ranks listed, like this:

Talking Physical Fighting Guns
4 and up 7 and up 10 and up Q or K

After the conflict’s over:

From each pile, put any cards that are of the rank listed or higher aside, all in one pile on the left. That pile of cards is your Experience pile.

So, for example, if you have four Physical fallout cards, any of them that are a 7 or higher go into your Experience pile. (Reminder: Aces are low, so you never put those aside.)

Take all the remaining cards and combine them in a second pile, on the right. This is your Fallout pile.

Experience Pile

If you have two or more red cards in your Experience pile, you get Experience.

Fallout Pile

Take the highest ranked card in your Fallout pile and read its value:

Highest Card Character Is
Jack of Spades Dying
9, 10, J Mortally Wounded
6, 7, 8 Injured
3, 4, 5 Long-term fallout
A, 1, 2, or none Short-term fallout

Dying means you’re done.

Mortally Injured means that you must win a healing conflict (seee below) or die. You also choose 2 options from the Long-term fallout list, below.

Injured means you must choose 2 Long-term fallout, and you may be in need of medical help: draw one card for each point of Body you have. If you can’t match your highest fallout card, you’re in need of medical attention!

For a healing conflict, draw the healer’s Acuity + your Body vs. all the cards in your fallout pile + Demonic Influence.

Long-term fallout: choose one option from the Long-term fallout list.

Short-term fallout: choose on option from the Short-term fallout list.

Note: As an alternative for the Jack of Spades as the card that indicates you’re Dying, draw another card anytime a character has a Jack as their highest fallout card. If the suit of this card matches the suit of the Jack, the character is Dying.

Miscellaneous Conflict Stuff

NPCs and fallout: Remember the option to keep a card for a followup conflict: when an NPC takes fallout we don’t really care about, the GM should give their highest fallout card to anyone initiating a followup conflict.

Cutting your losses: if you give, you get to keep your second best card (still on the table) for a followup conflict. (Note: Maybe it should be just your best card?)

Helping: To help another player’s Raise or See, hand them one of your cards, but turn it sideways. On your next Raise or See, you must turn the card you play sideways.

A card that is turned sideways is worth only half its value (round down).

Demonic Influence

Treat Demonic Influence as a single Trait (just as it is in regular Dogs, really).

  • 1d10 - regular
  • 2d10 - strong
  • 3d10 - significant
  • 4d10 - significant and strong
  • 5d10 - significant and strong + draw an additional card

Fallout Options


  • add 1 to a Stat
  • add a new regular trait or relationship
  • add a new troublesome trait or relationship
  • add a new belonging
  • make a trait significant
  • change a trait’s type (strong, regular, troublesome)


  • have your character leave the scene and spend time alone
  • take a new troublesome trait for your next conflict
  • treat a trait or relationship as troublesome for the next conflict
  • draw 1 fewer card in the next conflict


  • subtract 1 from a Stat
  • add a new troublesome trait or relationship
  • lose a belonging
  • make something you already have troublesome (trait, relationship, or belonging)
  • make a troublesome trait significant

Rules Changes

Increasing your Stats in this version of the rules is much more tempting than in regular Dogs play. For that reason, there is one extra rule:

  • Your four Stats, added together, may never exceed 9. If your Stats already add up to 9, you must decrease a Stat of your choice whenever you choose to increase another Stat.

Fast NPCs

Each line is one “escalation”, regardless of which type of arena it is.

Type A

  • 3 cards + one strong trait
  • 2 cards + one regular trait
  • 1 card + one regular trait
  • one regular trait + one troublesome trait

Type B

  • 2 cards + one strong trait
  • 2 cards + one significant trait
  • 1 card + one regular trait
  • one regular trait + one strong trait

Type C

  • 3 cards + one significant troublesome trait
  • 2 cards + one troublesome trait
  • 1 card + one strong trait
  • 1 card + one regular trait

Type D

  • 4 cards + one strong trait + one regular trait
  • 2 cards + one significant trait
  • 2 cards + one troublesome trait
  • one regular trait + one significant strong trait


Add one card per additional member, as well as an appropriate trait to represent each particular member (“The clumsy piano player - troublesome”).

Floating Traits

These are unassigned Traits, exta cards the GM can call into play at anytime, for any reason, but only once during the course of a single Town.

  • one troublesome trait
  • one regular trait
  • one strong trait
  • one significant trait
2 Appreciations

Thank you for digging this up, @Froggy! How lovely.

I worked on this a fair bit back when I did it, as sometimes it’s just hard to find enough dice to play Dogs, and it is - I feel - at this point a really underrated gem of a game.

I have been running it again recently and I have some house rules and a slightly different approach to character creation I should share as well, when I do sometime later.

I’ve actually never used these (card-based) rules, but I’ve heard from people online who did, and they seemed to enjoy it a fair bit.

1 Appreciation

I remember using these rules the first time I played Dogs in the Vineyard, because I didn’t have enough dice to play it. It was definitely helpful.

Later on I played it with dice. I think there’s a private conversation that we have somewhere, @Paul_T, where I describe to you how I felt it differed. I should dig that up.

Edit: I dug that up.

As I said, it’s been way too many years to closely remember the differences. I’ll make an effort. The way that I felt at the time is that we really needed to play with two decks most of the time; one deck was not enough to feel that the draw was sufficiently random.

The other major difference that I can remember was the reverse-the-blow mechanic, it really feels that low-valued raises are bound to get reversed much more often, while high-valued raises are either outright impossible or very difficult to … this is admittedly similar to how it works with dice, but it felt—haven’t actually checked the odds—that the likelihood of these extreme cases happens more with cards than with dice.

Lastly, the fallout/advances felt a bit too granular when compared with playing with dice and it felt that with the dice-trait system players had a more fine-tuned way of representing their traits. The idea of dice size representing size and dice amount representing quality is genius—you managed to represent it with cards somewhat, but I still lose the difference between a 2d6 and 1d8 trait, which I think is significant.

I can see how one could think it’s not on par with the dice pool system, but I think it’s legitimately good enough and I enjoyed the game while playing it like that (4 sessions). I would still play with dice if i got the choice, but now you’ve kind of tickled my curiosity and I might try to play with cards again, just to see how it feels with all of these years of roleplaying on my back.

1 Appreciation

Great, excellent feedback. I also enjoy some of the greater detail of the dice rules, although they can get rather burdensome in places.

I find that in regular Dogs games, Reversing the Blow is really, really rare. So when I put together the cards rules, I liked the idea that we’d get Reversals more often - for more unpredictable, dramatic conflicts once in a while.

This is why I made face cards and Kings worth 12 and 14 points, respectively. It could be dialed back to 10 or 11 or something for fewer such moments in play. (“All face cards are worth 11” would work fine, I’m sure, but you’d have less variety, in exchange.)

1 Appreciation

I think I do agree with that!

It also would be interesting to try out how the conflict resolution works if you play with hidden hands.

A common complaint that I see for Dogs in the Vineyard—which I agree with—is that the raises and blocks made after rolling dice are inconsequential to the outcome of the conflict, which is already determinable by looking at the results of the roll (apart from escalation). Usually, the way I play it is to get through them as quickly as possible as small statements of fact that add a piece to the narration.

Hidden hands could potentially change this dynamic by introducing uncertainty in those choices because of asymmetric information about each player’s card hand. But it really would be an experiment that I’d need to try out—it’s possible this doesn’t work at all.

That’s funny: we were talking about this recently (when I ran Dogs last week for my OSR friends). A lot of people - myself included - wonder about how Dogs would play with hidden hands/dice.

I do know some people who tried it, though, and they said it was terrible. When they explained why, it made sense to me (although I haven’t tried it myself).

  • The whole premise that’s built into the mechanics here is the underlying choice of the game: am I willing to escalate, or not?

Vincent used to advise players to look at the dice and do a quick estimation: can I win with these dice? Am I willing to escalate? If the answer to both is ‘no’, might as well Give early in the conflict. (And typically having a rule for Giving early being beneficial to you - as I have here in this adaptation - means it’s a smart move strategically, too.)

  • That dynamic relies on the player looking down at the dice and thinking “oh, man, I can’t win this - do I want to escalate?”

If the dice/cards are hidden, though, this doesn’t come up. People just proceed through the conflict, Raise after Raise, until suddenly someone is out of dice. There’s no reason not to just keep pushing dice forward when you can’t see the other person’s dice.

The pressure to escalate is gone, the conflicts can feel arbitrary.

So the report is that trying this was a bust, and the logic appears sound to me.

However, I haven’t actually tried it - if someone does (or has), please let us know! Perhaps there would be some interesting potential for bluffing in there or something.

All that said: I do think the game depends quite a bit on the possibility of bringing in more Traits (or whatever other source of dice) during the conflict, to keep that uncertainty going. So it’s a good practice not to roll in everything right away, but hold dice back and bring them Raise by Raise, catch your opponents off guard and try to Reverse the Blow.

And, personally, I do like to play out the details of the conflict - whether it’s emotionally potent dialogue or interesting action choreography - as those can sometimes be really exciting moments of play. (It’s also possible that making a particular argument or threatening a particular “move” could cause your opponent to fold even if they still have more dice than you, depending on the fictional particulars, and those are great moments.)

2 Appreciations