DramaSystem series pitches do not typically describe particular Game Moderator characters. They are better invented during play than set out for you in advance. This allows you to tailor the GMCs to the player characters, ensuring that act as foils rather than drivers of the action.

However in Hillfolk one-shots, I do find myself returning to a particular GMC again and again. He occurs when the players do not include a chieftain character. When the group does include a chieftain a one-shot, as I’ve noted before, usually becomes a struggle to depose the chieftain. When that’s not the case I often find a use for an ineffectual, doddering old chieftain. His job, like any DramaSystem GMC, is to raise the dramatic stakes and incite PC action. Typically a naïve believer in outmoded values over hard realities, Graybeard mostly urges characters to foolish courses of behavior. Though his plans are bad, he does zero in on the burning desires of the characters he seeks out. He typifies that most dangerous figure: a persuasive idiot. In narrative terms, he embodies the need of a storyline for its characters to get into trouble. This brews useful conflict between the characters he’s urging on and the others who oppose their goals.

That’s all you need to establish about Graybeard before you know exactly what you’ll need him for. That way he’s free to be the doting father of a power mad daughter in one run of the game with one group, and the decrepit upholder of cruel patriarchal values with another. If Graybeard has shown a common agenda throughout his various incarnations, it’s in selecting the absolute least qualified player character as his anointed successor. To make the imminent import of this clear, Graybeard speaks with great difficulty, fighting a wracking cough.

In a one-shot, Graybeard also gives the GM a fun cliffhanger ending as an option to keep in pocket if needed. More than one of my runs has ended with the sudden death of Graybeard, leaving a power vacuum for the second episode with that address. Now, of course in a one-shot there’s not really going to be a second episode. But players can imagine it nonetheless. Open endings tend to go down better than the fast and brutal escalation that characterizes an episode meant to have a conclusive ending. My watchword for giving a new DramaSystem group a good time has become “leave them imagining more.”

Over many runs, Graybeard has been a great help in that regard. Surprisingly, despite all the coughing and the full weight of foreshadowing it ought to bring, groups usually react with surprise to his final keeling over. It’s funny how a trope you’d spot a million miles away in a movie or TV show still has the power to surprise at the gaming table.

Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.


In the latest episode of their submersible podcast, Ken and Robin talk sunken Dunwich, Gulina Karimova, professionalism, and saving Anne Boleyn.

I was wondering when someone would run a DramaSystem LARP using Emily Care Boss’ brilliant live action adaptation of the rules as seen in Blood on the Snow. The answer, it turns out, is last November. The Twin Cities’ LARP House, a group dedicated to Nordic-style play in America’s Scandinavia, ran two events using the “Family Business” Series Pitch by Aaron Rosenberg. They’ll be running it again in June; see announcement in above link. While you’re clicking, check out these notes on play from participant Adam McConaughey, who makes some key observation about the nature of power and the weakness of coercion in DramaSystem.

Yung Chang’s documentary China Heavyweight, now streaming at a video service near you, follows the impact of a high-school boxing program meant to recruit amateur fighters on two young men who buy their coaches’ promises of a way out of their poor tobacco-farming community. In addition to providing a window into cultural change in today’s China, its fly-on-the-wall style allows us to see real-life examples of the dramatic structure at the heart of Hillfolk.

In the game’s DramaSystem rules engine, conflicts between people who care about each other identify one participant in the dialogue scene as the petitioner and the other as the granter. The petitioner seeks an emotional reward or concession from the granter, who chooses either to grant it, or to withhold it. This structure underlies all dramatic storytelling, and is powerful because it boils down the ways we really interact with one another.

The style of documentary that simply shows us people behaving over time lets us see this in action.

In one scene, restless young would-be “boxing king” Yunfei Miao seeks his hardworking mother’s blessing to pursue his boxing dreams. Struggling to contain her anger, she sees nothing but disappointment from him, and withholds her approval. If this were a DramaSystem scene, Yunfei would be the petitioner and his mother the granter. She shuts him down, and he earns a drama token.

In another scene, Yunfei tells his coach he’s taken a construction job. After briefly protesting that the young man still has the potential to win, he resigns himself to Yunfei’s decision. Here Yunfei seeks his coach’s emotional acceptance and, after some resistance, gets it. In this case, the coach’s player would get a drama token, for granting Yunfei’s request.

In another instance, the two young boxers sit on a bench in a shopping district girlwatching. The shier of the two, He Zhongli, both fears and admires Yunfei’s apparent superior skill getting phone numbers. He seems to be petitioning Yunfei for tips, but under the surface really seeks permission to be shy. Yunfei, lost in his own cockiness, scarcely notices what is being asked of him. In a DramaSystem scene, He’s player would snag a drama token from Yunfei’s.

Next time you’re watching a character study doc shot in this style, watch for the petitioner/granter structure and the movement of invisible drama tokens across the screen.

Hillfolk_cardsSHUFFLE UP SOME HILLFOLK INSPIRATION!

This custom playing card deck for Hillfolk and DramaSystem includes face cards styled for your next saga of Iron Age Drama.
Special scene prompts appear on each card, giving you suggestions to jump-start your creativity the next time you’re stumped for a scene.

In addition to illustrations for the face cards and the standard playing cards element, each card has two graphically distinct bands for text:
• Emotional goals (used to spark dramatic scenes)
• Practical complications (used to spark procedurals or ease your way into dramatic scenes)

Scene prompts are genre-free and can be used in any DramaSystem series.

You can play DramaSystem with ordinary playing cards, but these will make you the envy of the all the badlands clans.

If you are live in the US or Canada, you can purchase the Hillfolk card deck here, while stocks last.

If you are live in the UK, EU or rest of the world, you can purchase the Hillfolk card deck here, while stocks last.

 

Drama tokens Hillfolk_bagDRAMA TOKENS

In DramaSystem, all participants, including the GM, collect and spend tokens throughout the course of an episode.

Red, yellow and green tokens are called procedural tokens, and are used to call procedural scenes your character is not in and determine how many cards you draw to resolve procedural scenes.

Blue tokens are recommended to represent drama tokens, an in-game currency encouraging players to strike a balance between rebuffing and granting petitions from other players.

The Hillfolk token set contains 6 red, 6 yellow, 6 green and 18 blue semi-precious stone tokens in a custom dice bag.

If you are live in the US or Canada, you can purchase the Hillfolk tokens here, while stocks last.

If you are live in the UK, EU or rest of the world, you can purchase the Hillfolk tokens here, while stocks last.

 

 

Hillfolk_books_mockup

HILLFOLK AND BLOOD ON THE SNOW LIMITED EDITIONS

Limited Editions of Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow are now available. These are deluxe faux leather embossed versions of the core books. You can see an image of a Blood on the Snow limited edition here, and there’s an unboxing video here featuring the Hillfolk limited edition.

You can buy these individually or as a bundle along with the Hillfolk cards and Hillfolk tokens.

If you are live in the US or Canada, you can purchase the Hillfolk limited editions, cards and tokens here, while stocks last.

If you are live in the UK, EU or rest of the world, you can purchase the Hillfolk limited editions, cards and tokens here, while stocks last.

Hillfolk01Over on the Pelgrane Press forums, there’s been some discussion about how to run Hillfolk as a one-shot game at, for example, a convention. You can read the thread here. To help GMs run it as a one-shot, Joe_Sixpack has created some pre-generated characters for the Hillfolk core setting. As well as including space to write your relationships with the other player characters, the playbooks include ideas for dramatic poles, sample emotional petitions and Drama Token rules.

You can download Joe_Sixpack’s character playbooks here.

Hillfolk_books_mockupLimited Editions of Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow are now available. These are deluxe faux leather embossed versions of the core books. You can see an image of a Blood on the Snow limited edition here, and there’s an unboxing video here featuring the Hillfolk limited edition.

You can buy these individually or as a bundle along with the Hillfolk cards and Hillfolk tokens.

If you are live in the US or Canada, you can purchase the Hillfolk limited editions, cards and tokens here, while stocks last.

If you are live in the UK, EU or rest of the world, you can purchase the Hillfolk limited editions, cards and tokens here, while stocks last.

 

 

Hillfolk_bag Drama tokensIn DramaSystem, all participants, including the GM, collect and spend tokens throughout the course of an episode.

Red, yellow and green tokens are called procedural tokens, and are used to call procedural scenes your character is not in and determine how many cards you draw to resolve procedural scenes.

Blue tokens are recommended to represent drama tokens, an in-game currency encouraging players to strike a balance between rebuffing and granting petitions from other players.

The Hillfolk token set contains 6 red, 6 yellow, 6 green and 18 blue semi-precious stone tokens in a custom dice bag.

If you are live in the US or Canada, you can purchase the Hillfolk tokens here, while stocks last.

If you are live in the UK, EU or rest of the world, you can purchase the Hillfolk tokens here, while stocks last.

 

Hillfolk_cards_mockupSHUFFLE UP SOME HILLFOLK INSPIRATION!

This custom playing card deck for Hillfolk and DramaSystem includes face cards styled for your next saga of Iron Age Drama.
Special scene prompts appear on each card, giving you suggestions to jump-start your creativity the next time you’re stumped for a scene.

In addition to illustrations for the face cards and the standard playing cards element, each card has two graphically distinct bands for text:
• Emotional goals (used to spark dramatic scenes)
• Practical complications (used to spark procedurals or ease your way into dramatic scenes)

Scene prompts are genre-free and can be used in any DramaSystem series.

You can play DramaSystem with ordinary playing cards, but these will make you the envy of the all the badlands clans.

If you are live in the US or Canada, you can purchase the Hillfolk card deck here, while stocks last.

If you are live in the UK, EU or rest of the world, you can purchase the Hillfolk card deck here, while stocks last.

In the latest episode of their eponymous podcast, Ken and Robin talk character agency, palimpsest recovery, Hillfolk Kickstarter logistics, and saving Vinland. Featuring special Pelgrane guests Simon Rogers and Cat Tobin!

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