After a brief break to complete another commitment, I am once again at work assembling Hillfolk. Here’s an update for backers and future buyers.

All of the key art for Hillfolk and its companion volume, Blood on the Snow, is now in. We’ll need a few spot illos for the LARP and Master Class sections of the latter, but I have an ingenious plan for that and it shouldn’t impact the schedule. This project not only allows for, but requires, a range of illustration styles as great as the range of settings you can bring to life in DramaSystem. So you’ll see a much greater visual variety in these books than any one RPG project would normally accommodate, from line drawing to digital manipulation to painted work to photo collage. At right appears Aaron Acevedo’s evocative illustration for Lester Smith’s ghostly series pitch, “The Spirit Is Willing.”

As of this writing, I have 96% of the text for the core book in hand, and 93% of Blood on the Snow. Almost all of this has already been copy-edited. Two pitches from each book have yet to come in. These include pieces from key names I greedily wish to keep in the books, rather than shifting them to the Pitch of the Month Club. Two of the submitted pitches exceed the standard length; I can run them in extended form if outstanding submissions remain in the wind too long. A fun pitch from an aforementioned and unannounced gaming guru also grants me flexibility to shift the line-up if need be.

I’ve been discussing with graphic designer Christian Knutsson how to handle the presentation of the two books. He’ll be creating two layout styles for us: the Hillfolk theme previewed during the Kickstarter, and a more generic DramaSystem look for the series pitches in the main book. The latter will also appear throughout Blood on the Snow. Christian has valiantly agreed to go above and beyond his original commitment to complete both books for us and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

When we launched the Kickstarter, for a 128-page book from a team of five people, I estimated an April delivery date. I had hoped, against all logic, that we could stick to that after stretch goals expanded the project to two books of twice that size, and a team of approximately eighty contributors. (Eighty? Good grief!) Reality has now set in, and I’ll get a revised publication date out to you when we have one nailed completely down. I don’t want to issue a series of guess dates and then keep having to revise them, so please bear with us as we finalize our duck alignment.

People have been asking how they might support the project now that the Kickstarter has closed. We’ve suspended orders for the moment, in order to concentrate on making the books. When we draw nearer to the final release date, we’ll open a new round of pre-orders for those who missed the crowdfund. Watch this space for further announcements.

Hillfolk backers, hackers and gawkers take heed—it’s time for me to pop up from a pile of virtual manuscripts and illustration submissions with a progress report. A shockingly high percentage of series pitch writers have gotten their pieces in ahead of this Thursday’s deadline, making my job easier and giving me a big head start on the gargantuan task of assembling the core book and its companion, Blood on the Snow. As of this writing I have over half of the submissions for Hillfolk and over a third for the sourcebook.

Since my last update I’ve edited Emily Care Boss space colonists, Josh Roby Machiavellian Florentines, Dave Gross Shakespearean festival noir, Pedro Ziviani feuding Icelanders, Jesse Bullington backcountry bootleggers, Rob Wieland multi-generational mafioso, T. S. Luikart’s regal rabbits, Gareth Hanrahan high-fantasy heroes and Ian “Lizard” Harac’s 1960s nuke survivors.

Waiting patiently for my attention are contributions from Jason Pitre, Will Hindmarch, Eddy Webb, Wade Rockett, Steve Darlington, Ryan Macklin, Chris Lackey, Steve Long and Angus Abranson.

Emily has also submitted her DramaSystem LARP rules, which will constitute a prime reason to grab Blood on the Snow.

I’ve written my own series pitches for Blood, adapting Mutant City Blues and my short story “The Dog” to the DramaSystem platform.

My main contributions to that book’s DramaSystem Master Class are also done.  The biggest piece provides players with 14 different approaches to scene-calling. No matter how your creative brain works, there’s a step-by-step for unstumping yourself when the GM calls your name.

If you’ve been planning to submit to this section, by all means do so. We’ve got some great pieces so far but there’s still room to squeeze in a few more.

Our stable of artists has also been hard at work. At right is the subtly compelling illustration for Wade Rockett’s “The Secret of Warlock Mountain” pitch, by the stellar Jonathan Wyke.

Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under and True Blood, is about to launch a new cable show, Banshee, about an ex-con who, through the peregrinations of an opening plot twist, becomes sheriff of a small town in Amish country. This will give Ball another chance to air his issues with conservative Christianity and presumably his mother. Given the wildly contrasting tones of his previous shows I’m curious to see where he takes this one. Also, they had me at Ulrich Thomsen.

It’s on Cinemax in the US and, through the peregrinations of pay TV licensing, HBO Canada in my maple-strewn homeland.

I mention this here because it inspired a thought experiment. The synopsis given on the HBO Canada site (and presumably repeated on its Cinemax counterpart) goes like this:

From Alan Ball, creator/EP of True Blood, this exciting new Cinemax action drama charts the twists and turns that follow Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-convict who improbably becomes sheriff of a rural, Amish-area town while searching for a woman he last saw 15 years ago, when he gave himself up to police to let her escape after a jewel heist. Living in Banshee under an assumed name, Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic) is now married to the local DA, has two children (one of whom may be Lucas’), and is trying desperately to keep a low profile – until Lucas arrives to shake up her world and rekindle old passions. Complicating matters is the fact that Banshee is riddled by corruption, with an Amish overlord, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), brutally building a local empire of drugs, gambling and graft. With the help of a boxer-turned-barkeeper named Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison), Lucas is able to stay on even footing with Kai and his thugs, and even manages to bring a measure of tough justice to Banshee. But eventually, Lucas’ appetite for pulling heists pulls him and Carrie into a dangerous cauldron of duplicity, exacerbated when Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross), the NY mobster they once ripped off, closes in with vengeance on his mind.

That’s complete enough to serve as the basis of play for a DramaSystem series. As a series pitch, it’s way truncated, but you don’t need a series pitch for everything, especially stories set in our familiar world.

The experiment would go like this: take the synopsis of this or any other upcoming serialized cable drama. Use it as the basis of a DramaSystem series…without watching the show. Or otherwise keeping up with where it’s going. When you finish you own series, rent the original on DVD, and compare and contrast.

With the holidays in the rearview mirror, it’s time for another Hillfolk progress report. I continue to receive great contributions from stretch goal writers ahead of the Jan 31st deadline. This grants me a useful head start, one I’m sure I’ll need when February 1st rolls around and the task of assembling the full books begins in earnest.

Jason L. Blair’s “Inhuman Desires” delivers the promised paranormal romance in sterling fashion. It doesn’t let death get in the way of a tortured love story.

Meguey Baker’s “Under Hollow Hills” pours on the faerie atmosphere, bringing an evocative prose voice to her series of intrigue among the fae, and the humans caught on the thorny boundary between their realm and ours.

Jennifer Brozek’s “Transcend” brings the post-human condition to the dinner table, letting you explore the consequences of radical transformation either on a future Earth or in the social hothouse of an orbiting space station.

Graeme Davis has swashed his buckles with “Pyrates”, bringing the time-honored crime gang drama to the blue waters of the piratical Caribbean.

If you prefer your epic drama under the waves, Richard Iorio has turned in “Dolphins.” Just like he said, it bridges the moods of Finding Nemo and Lord of the Rings.

Compelling human storytelling occupies a smoldering center stage in Greg Stolze’s “Fire in the Heartland.” What is it like to serve as first responder in a community so small you know everyone you’re ever called on to rescue?

Also, I received an early Christmas present in the form of a completely unexpected, ready-to-print series pitch from an RPG heavy hitter I’m not quite ready to announce. This luminary’s surprise participation gives me leeway in the unhoped-for-event of a drop out from an announced series pitch contributor. For the moment I’m keeping both the name and the concept under my hat.

Contributions from Ash Law, Emily Care Boss and Pedro Ziviani have arrived and will be reviewed over the next few days.

Meanwhile, I’ve completed work on the reference document for the DramaSystem open license. This will allow us to release it concurrently with the book.

Art contributions are beginning to roll in.  I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far and am confident that you will be, too.  As a teaser, at right is Rachel Kahn’s illustration for TS Luikart’s “Malice Tarn.”

A tip of the Pelgrane hat goes out to Michael Rees’ new blog, The Game Is Afoot, dedicated to all things GUMSHOE and DramaSystem. Entries so far include a Bookhounds of London adventure, Burmese Trail of Cthulhu doings, and Bone Wars, a DramaSystem series pitch in which you play rootin’-tootin’ paleontologists.

Although the stellar roster of writers and designers drafted to create Series Pitches for Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow have until the end of January to get their drafts in, an early bird brigade has already begun to submit their pieces. I’m happy to report that they all live up to the promise of their loglines—the only frustration being that, perhaps like me, you’ll want to play them all.

Jason Morningstar does the brilliant job you would expect from him with “Hollywoodland”, infusing his saga of Tinseltown’s silent-cinema infancy with glitz, corruption, and a battle between money old and new.

Cédric Ferrand splendidly evokes 1866 New York in “Grave New World,” finding a fresh angle on vampire intrigue by making it a metaphor for the immigrant experience.

Andrew Peregrine’s “Vice and Virtue” gives Jane Austen fans all they need to launch a whirlwind of lunches, balls, and passion within the tightest of social constraints.

With expertise honed in the creation of actual TV series, John Rogers zeroes in on the many clashing societies and factions of “Shanghai 1930.” This is one of history’s richest settings, and John shows you how to cut to the meat of it.

James L. Sutter’s “The Throne” draws on Milton, Blake, and Vertigo comics with his war in heaven, triggered by the sudden disappearance of the big boss. Come for the angelpunk, stay for the chance to remake the cosmos.

Allen Varney’s “Bots” delightfully realizes its hardscrabble, post-organic premise in a piece that could only be described as Fox Animation’s Robots as rewritten by Upton Sinclair. It’s been a long time since anyone lured Allen back to straight-up RPG writing, and I can report that he hasn’t lost a bit of his satirical edge.

Both of our revisionist superhero pieces are in, as well.

Michelle Nephew’s “Mad Scientists Anonymous” lets you choose between Dr. Horrible-style humor or a darker spin on pulp mythology as its titular characters struggle together to stay sane and institutionalized—but what about the strange machinery humming away down in the basement?

Gene Ha and Art Lyon (concept by Lowell Francis) tackle matters from the opposite end of the genre food chain in “Henchmen,” in which no-powered criminals crewing for a costumed madwoman try to survive in her absence, in a city swarming with masks who hopelessly outmatch them. They wound up taking a straighter, crime-drama inspired approach than originally envisioned. This loses the wonderful original title, “Witless Minions”, but will result in a much richer game experience.

Gene has also turned in his illustration for the piece, the awesomeness of which speaks for itself:

Meg Baker has finished “Under Hollow Hills”; likewise Jason L. Blair with “Inhuman Desires.” I look forward to reading them.

Art assignments for all of the Series Pitches have been made already, and we’re starting to get sketches and preliminaries in. So all is on schedule on that front as well.

The on-time delivery of these pieces represents the main scheduling question mark, so I’m taking these early arrivals as a positive omen. I’ll continue to update Kickstarter backers and punterdom at large as the books continue to take shape.

Now that Hillfolk Kickstarter backers have had time to digest and play the game, it’s time to solicit submissions for the Master Class section of the Blood on the Snow Companion book. This is an opportunity for the emerging game writers among you to gain some experience and see your name in print.


The Brief

We’re looking for contributions of approximately 300-1000 words in length that will help readers understand, play, and expand DramaSystem.

The theme: challenges you encountered during play, and how you overcame them.

If you wish to submit a piece taking another angle on DramaSystem play or design, feel free to do so, with the understanding that pieces adhering to the theme are more likely to be accepted.

Whatever your subject matter, all pieces must show that you have actually played the game. Armchair ruminations will have to seek other homes.


The Context

These submissions will appear in a 20,000 word section of Blood on the Snow, interwoven with commentary by Robin.


The Process

This is an open call for pieces written on a spec basis. We will accept as many quality submissions as fit within the section’s word count. In the case of similar submissions, we’ll pick the one of greatest utility in DramaSystem play.

Deadline for submissions is Jan 14. Send submissions in .doc, .docx or .odt format to Robin at robinlaws at-symbol

You will not be asked to perform rewrites. Instead, Robin may adjust your prose for clarity, brevity, and maximum impact, allowing you the opportunity to comment on these changes.


The Deal

Authors whose pieces are accepted for publication will receive 3 cents a word US, due on acceptance, in exchange for all rights to your text. You will receive credit both as a byline and on the table of contents. Due to the brevity of these pieces our budget does not permit us to offer complimentary author’s copies. (Remember that all Hillfolk backers already receive the book in electronic form, whether you purchased the print copy or not.)


Note to Established Designers

This open call addresses new and emerging game writers. If you are an already established designer and wish to submit, contact me with a concept brief and we’ll discuss alternate terms.

In the fourteenth episode of their above-named podcast, Ken and Robin talk Chicago film fest, DramaSystem vs. Skulduggery, gangland mapping and the burnings of the libraries of Alexandria.

The Hillfolk Kickstarter has been an unprecedented success, we never thought it would reach $25,000, let alone the $85,000 it’s currently on (13 hours to go), with over 2000 backers, so thank you all for your support. The kickstarter has some fantastic deals, from just $10 for the PDF version, $25 for the print and PDF bundle, and $55 for the book, the pdf, the companion book, playing cards, and semi-precious stones. A lot of these deals won’t be available after the Kickstarter ends so get in on it while you can.



Over on the Twitter, Jack Of Spades asked why DramaSystem uses cards instead of dice.

The answer is that as soon as you have dice in your resolution system, you have numbers on your character sheet. Since DramaSystem presents a new play style revolving around the way emotional interactions occur in fiction, I wanted to help gamers jump into it by pulling them out of familiar territory.

In the game (for those of you who have yet to sign onto the Hillfolk Kickstarter and get their playable draft copy), cards come into play only in the type of scene the game de-emphasizes. That’s the procedural, in which characters exert skills to complete external, practical tasks. In other words, the kind of scene we’re used to going to in roleplaying games. As they acclimate themselves to DramaSystem, most groups find themselves going to procedural less and less, invoking it only when it really matters.

As seen on its character sheet, DramaSystem is about the aesthetic of the word and not of the number.  In fact, arithmetic plays essentially no role in game play itself. You may compare numbers but you’re never doing even simple math.

(An exception occurs in the post-play bookkeeping phase, when the GM takes a vote and tallies the results, to see which two players get bennies they can use in subsequent sessions.)

While we seasoned gamers feel comfortable seeing numbers on our character sheets—maybe even adrift without them—it’s my hope that the simplicity of the system will allow you to draw in people who are interested in story but never put the words math and fun in the same sentence. (For example, the current stretch pitch for the game, Andrew Peregrine’s Jane Austen tribute Vice and Virtue, might be the perfect vehicle to suck in your book club.)

That’s also why I simplified the already not-crunchy procedural system further after playtest groups found the initial version out of keeping with the game’s overall feel.

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