Elevator Pitch: Character drama miniseries: the roleplaying game.

Core Resolution Mechanic: Token economy system for dramatic scenes, card comparison mini game when procedural is necessary.

Dice Used: Deck of cards.


Hillfolk is based around the Drama System, a game system by Robin D. Laws which focuses more on the dramatic interactions, conflicts, and emotional needs between player characters than on the procedural elements of resolving conflicts. Thus, the central focus is less on whether you crush your enemy tribe and more on whether or not you can get the approval from your father the chief that you desperately crave.

As a generic system, Drama System is suited for any scenario where the characters and their emotional needs are more important than the details of their success or failures, and the Hillfolk books are thus filled with a variety of setting pitches, from mad scientist rehab to Cold War intelligence drama.

System Features

Characters in drama system are defined primarily by their dramatic poles and relationships/emotional needs to other characters. Dramatic poles are two core principles between which the character is torn, such as Freedom and Loyalty or Truth and Filial Piety. They exist mostly to give context to a characters decisions; by having a pair of opposite poles, it’s easier to understand why she might make choices that might otherwise seem “inconsistent.” A characters relationships and the emotional needs associated with them, on the other hand, create natural conflicts on which to base scenes, because every time you establish one character’s need from another, you also establish why that other character is disinclined to grant it.

In play, the game focuses on scene calling; starting with the GM, each character calls scenes in a predetermined order, choosing which characters are involved and what’s the setting or context. Characters interact with each other until the scene runs its course, at which point the table collectively decides who was the “petitioner”, who wanted something emotionally during the scene, and who was the “granter”, who had the power to grant or deny that desire, and whether or not it was granted. If the petition was granted, the Granter receives a Drama Token from the Petitioner (or the unclaimed pile, if the Petitioner has none); if it was denied, the Petitioner receives one from the Granter instead. Note that a character can grant the procedural aspect of a petition while still denying the emotional one!

Drama Tokens have two primary uses. First, you can spend a single token to join a scene you weren’t invited to, or call a scene without your character in it. Second, you can give another player two tokens to force the other person to grant one of your petitions. The result of this is a token economy that encourages characters to give in to other characters at least half the time, because if you always deny petitions you never have tokens, and other people can just force you to assent. This prevents stonewalling, allowing the game to focus on such internal conflicts without devolving into unresolvable arguments; instead, it creates the natural give-and-take of real human relationships.

When it becomes necessary, there is a simple procedural resolution system, based on a set of red, yellow, and green tokens and a set of cards. The tokens are chosen in secret and revealed at the appropriate time, allowing the player to draw an appropriate number of cards; after each conflict, the tokens used are discarded until you’ve discarded all three, at which point they reset. If the conflict is between the PCs and the GM (for instance, if the conflict to be resolved is about a raid on another tribe), a Green token gives the PC two draws, a Yellow gives one card, and a Red gives one, but also removes the best card in play. The GM draws one card, and his token determines what the players have to match to win (color for Red, suit for Yellow, and value for Green). By contrast, when PCs conflict with each other, you get 1, 2, or 3 cards for red, yellow, and green respectively, which are simply compared for value.

Getting the Game

You can order the book & PDF combo from the Pelgrane Press online store (it’s under “Other Publications”). If you only want the PDF, you can get that from DriveThruRPG.


Ann Arbor Game Day zcipher