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Information
Primary Name
DramaSystem
RPG Mechanic
Honors
Alternate Names
Drama System
Hillfolk
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Description Edit | History

From the Introduction to Hillfolk:

Why This Game Exists

Scenes in stories can be divided into two categories: procedural and dramatic.

In a procedural scene, the characters confront and overcome external obstacles. They fight opponents, conduct chases, investigate mysteries, explore unfamiliar environments, and so on. When they succeed by talking to others, it is by negotiating with characters who exert no particular emotional hold over them, over practical matters.

In a dramatic scene, the main characters confront internal obstacles, seeking emotional reward from people they care deeply about, for good or ill.

Historically, roleplaying games have concentrated on procedural action, giving short shrift to dramatic interplay. They're based on adventure genres, which focus on the external over the internal.

When scenes that ought to be dramatic arise in the typical roleplaying game session, they tend to start strongly, but rapidly stall out. Players whose characters find themselves in conflict with one another typically dig in, refusing to relent. They do this because they don't want their characters to lose, and because they believe that, by sticking to their guns, they're doing what their characters would do in real life. Story momentum grinds to a halt as the exchange reaches an impasse.

In real life, though, when we enter into emotional disputes with people we care about, we sometimes relent and sometimes dig in. That's because we need emotional reward from the people in our lives.

Fictional dramatic scenes have long observed and replicated this pattern. DramaSystem observes and replicates those basic techniques. This is a game of drama that works the way fictional dramas do.

Secondary Features

From DramaSystem's main goal flow the following additional features:

Long-term story play: DramaSystem shares a common purpose with the story games school of roleplaying game design, which privileges the exploration of narrative over other design goals, such as strategic decision-making, tactical butt-kicking, or the simulation of imaginary environments. Story games typically focus on delivering a fun and challenging one-time story that wraps up in a single sitting. DramaSystem shines in long-term play, in which a group unfolds an improvised narrative over an extended period. Over time they come to relate to the characters as they would to the protagonists of their favorite ongoing television drama.

Easier to GM: Unlike some rightly acclaimed story games, DramaSystem retains the role of Game Moderator, a participant apart from the rest, who guides action and pacing and provides necessary rules interpretations. In this it resembles more mainstream or traditional roleplaying games. However, its events are entirely created in the moment, sparing the GM the usual lengthy prep work required by those games.

Harder to GM: Where GMs in traditional games enjoy nearly unlimited power to shape the narrative by determining the obstacles PCs face, DramaSystem rations their interventions. That makes the effort of pushing the story in the direction you want more of a challenge, with game-like tactical elements. Working within the limitations becomes part of the fun. You can never predict the outcome of any episode, giving you a sense of surprise and suspense you don't get in games granting you virtual omnipotence.

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