Shelves: role-playing-games [Something of a caveat. This is a review specifically for the core Hillfolk book. I have tried to do so moreso this year than any [Something of a caveat. I have tried to do so moreso this year than any previous, and Hillfolk is the first I feel like reviewing in that light the other two entries on the shelf are a a book about role-playing games of a specific ilk and b a book about live-action role-play that is as much a book-of-tips as a set of rules. First factor, the layout and design.
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Shelves: role-playing-games [Something of a caveat. This is a review specifically for the core Hillfolk book. I have tried to do so moreso this year than any [Something of a caveat. I have tried to do so moreso this year than any previous, and Hillfolk is the first I feel like reviewing in that light the other two entries on the shelf are a a book about role-playing games of a specific ilk and b a book about live-action role-play that is as much a book-of-tips as a set of rules.
First factor, the layout and design. Having been role-player since the early 80s, I have seen a lot of various takes on design, and I have seen really good design and really bad design. As well, I have seen bad design that works for the product the really playable Beyond the Supernatural suffers from the same design glitches as the rest of the Palladium line and good design that detracts Wraith: The Oblivion comes to mind.
Second factor: readability. These are ostensibly technical documents explaining the rules, ideas, flavor, and so forth for a game world and game mechanic. The ability to read and understand the rules and world is essential to having a harmonious play session when people are in doubt, they can get fussy. Third Factor: playability. This is a product meant to exist as a working-document driving play sessions. While it is sort of odd to judge such a book on its real-world qualities, it fits into roughly the same category as a book of recipes or a book about budgeting, if the content is not-useful, then the book is no good.
This is optional because I play a lot of universal games, or games-lite style games, where the flavor is entirely in a giving setting, or in a given play-through, and not really inherent in the game itself see: GURPS, FUDGE, even Fiasco, which does manage to have built in flavor but one that can change drastically based on a few starting assumptions getting tweaked. With that pre-amble out of the way and "Hi! Disclosure, I was a Kickstarter backer. The Hillfolk Kickstarter was both a fun experience and well run and the game is worth owning.
When I first got into the game, the unique setting intrigued me: iron-age tribesmen in a magic-free, politically-driven world. It was unique, had a lot of chances for both conflict and for growth, and could foster any sort of story. Over time, and reading the world-building in this book, it sort of lost some charm. Nothing that Robin D.
Laws did, I think just the idea of a primitive society getting into romantic scrapes, and fights with nearby tribes, and going on hunting parties and raids just lost some charm. It can be expanded to do just about any setting you want, assuming that setting is largely driven through interpersonal interaction, which is really the core mechanic of the game.
Game-play works, basically, like this. You take turns as "scene callers", setting up scenes, generally between several characters. There is a sort of focus to the scene, a setting to the scene, and a sense that the scene as "positive and negative" outcomes. Hillfolk awards a drama token to the character who "lost" the scene [losing can range from not getting what you want to giving up something].
These tokens can be accumulated and then "spent" to change the interaction of some scenes. There are also storyline elements that change based on the flow of scenes, of course. Much like in a lot of the "New RPG" games, the stuff that happens in the scenes—settings and characters introduced, events introduced, conflicts—is canon for the world, making world-building an organic experience. There is a game-master type who feeds in input and helps to manage scenes, but generally the GM strives to stay a bit hands-off except a where absolutely necessary or b when the GM has built up tokens to spend.
There is another type of scene, the "procedural scene", which is played differently. Players have a task to do, the GM sets the difficulty, and then a card or two is drawn. It tends to be the weakest part of the game. The random chance is simply too flat and lifeless to compare to the dramatic scenes, and separating drama tokens from procedural tokens seems to be a mistake.
It is laid-out well, and is quite readable. I have some players that never quite like reading too deeply into text, and most of them were able to read and comprehend, even if it looks and feels daunting at first. It has some of its own particular idioms, but it is quite readable as a book, as well. Overall, the game is fun. It is also kind of not-a-"game" in that you could easily imagine throwing away the notion of tokens and any random elements and just going for a more collaborative drama experience with or without a GM.
Perhaps allowing players to start with 2 drama tokens would be a nice house-rule. Another would be making the skills more important to scenes again, the companion does this latter one better. As said, the core setting did not call to me when it became time to play, but there are a lot of suggested settings called Series Pitches. The main book has dozens.
It helps to add a lot of value, which is important I think since so much of the system is rules-light concept and the world, though there is a bit of world-building, is not gone into with much depth. Even with the base setting, the series pitches give ideas of how else to run it and what sort of drama might be possible.
If any of this sounds like a strong complaint, it is not. I am quite delighted with this as a product though I find the companion necessary to complete it. Drama tokens have done little except decide who gets bennies [which are a powerful, third type of token that you build up over games]. Procedural scenes got tweaked. But the core mechanic of petition-and-grant is something to which they have taken.
You Pick It Review – Hillfolk
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.
DramaSystem/Hillfolk: A Brief Review
Pretty much anything that I could think would be useful for running a hillfolk game. They fight opponents, conduct chases, investigate mysteries, explore unfamiliar environments, and so on. There is some back and forth between the two sides, taking turns describing rpb results of each action, and a stronger position can allow one side to knock high cards out. I experienced the system in two modes: It gives a great perspective on the design process. This item is incompatible with Tabletop Simulator. Ordering this add-on does not deprive backers at Chieftain or above of their standard edition of Blood on the Snow.
Hillfolk In the shadow of empires, an epic saga of ambition and desire! In an arid badlands, the hill people hunger. Your neighbors have grain, cattle, gold. You have horses and spears, courage and ambition. Together with those you love and hate, you will remake history—or die.
June 1, Hillfolk , page xx , see p. Starting with the Hillfolk roleplaying game , and continuing with Blood on the Snow and Series Pitch of the Month , DramaSystem offers a wealth of setting options for players to inhabit, and create compelling stories of interpersonal conflict and emotional drama. However, DramaSystem is primarily designed for campaign play. What if you want to run a game at a convention? The challenges are significant. Here are some tips that I, and other GMs and players, have learned during convention play. Emphasize again and again that this is a game about interpersonal drama, conflict, and powerful emotions.