Robin D. Law’s is a well known games designer who brought us the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system. He tends to work closely with Pelgrane Press, who have a number of GUMSHOE products, and is actually the Creative Director at Stone Skin Press which is Pelgrane’s fiction imprint.
His latest project, foreshadowed by his book Hamlet’s Hit Points, is called DramaSystem. The premise is that RPGs have been good at dealing with external conflicts; heroes beating down doors, goblins and evil empires. However, there’s been less attention in the internal conflicts; when characters disagree.
The problem that the DramaSystem attempts to fix is that characters (or their players) have no reason to back down in an argument. It’s a game, after all. It’s too easy to reach an impasse in which on character wants to do something and another wants to do another. In my experience, those situations tend to be resolved by whoever has the most dominant real life personality and that may not always suit the game.
A quick summary of the DramaSystem is one which talks about DramaTokens. Essentially, when there’s a conflict the scene will have a Petitioner, someone who wants something, and a Granter, someone who could grant it. If the Granter allows the Petitioner to get their way then the Granter is given a DramaToken. If the Granter does not give the Petitioner what they want then the Petitioner gets the DramaTokens.
DramaTokens are then used to influence the story – or, if you have enough, overrule other characters.
The first RPG to feature the DramaSystem is Hillfolk. In Hillfolk players are members of Iron Age clans. You have horses, spears and ambition. Your neighbours have grain, cattle and gold.
Hillfolk is currently being playtested and will be published in various editions. As you might expect, Pelgrane Press, publishers of Ashen Stars, Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents, will handle the physical product.
Exactly what becomes available and when for Hillfolks depends, of course, on Kickstarter.
The campaign launched yesterday, is already funded and has beaten the first stretch goal.
There’s the sense that Hillfolk was always going to happen. Kickstarter is just greasing the wheels of the publishing mechanics.
The stretch goals do not add to Hillfolk; they add new settings for the DramaSystem. These new settings aren’t being written by Laws either, they’re being written by a range of recognisable RPG designers.
- $4000: Jason Morningstar’s Hollywoodland, in which you play the founding figures of American film
- $5000: Michelle Nephew’s Mad Scientists Anonymous, in which former supervillains fight the urge to relapse
- $6000: Kenneth Hite’s Moscow Station, drama against a backdrop of realistic cold war espionage
- $7000: Matt Forbeck’s WW2.1: stranded in time, you struggle to return home, while being drawn into the conflagration of WWII
If you’re wondering whether backing the Kickstarter is worthwhile then let me point out one last twist. In Hillkfolk there are two clans; wolf and lion. They raid one another. Different pledges support different clans, by backing this project you take part in a gamified Kickstarter and contribute points to either the Lion Clan’s raid tally or the Wolves.