HillFolk and the Distinction Between Drama and Procedural

The Guild’s annual meeting is just around the corner. Despite the experience being just a mix of intoxication and hangovers, we actually get a bunch of gaming done. Sure, it took us until about five in the morning to get five rounds of sealed MtG done last year, but still, we manage.

I plan to try HillFolk for the first time. HillFolk the book is pretty much about setting, but it does include Robin D. Laws’ DramaSystem within it. The approach of the DramaSystem has some interesting features. Mainly that it makes the distinction between dramatic and procedural scenes.

Actually, the dramatic and procedural systems are so distinct that it is suggested in the book that if the procedural part is not to your liking, you can just ditch it in favor of whatever system you want, be it D&D4 or GUMSHOE. (Ok, probably not just any system, because many systems cover similar ground to the DramaSystem.) There’s even a supplement called Blood on the Snow, which has an alternate procedural system.

The DramaSystem’s drama part is pretty basic economy game. You have resources that will change owner based on who “won” a scene, meaning they achieved what they wanted out of it. Its not complicated, although there are parts of the economy that people will probably forget from time to time. The procedural part has similar economic parts, but as I said, is totally distinct from the drama part. The only link is that when players (and each does in turn) set a scene, they get to decide whether its dramatic or procedural.

At first, when I read about this idea, I was pretty excited about the idea, but then after thinking about it for a while, I’m not so sure its a good idea.

I like it when games have social interactions as part of the system. This forces people to play their characters, as they can’t rely on their own personality as much. I mean, I’m a pretty intelligent person. That will always have an effect on the games I play. Also, I have a lot of expertise and knowledge on variety of topics. That also shows up in games. People don’t generally know to act when they know their character has an intellect of say 7 (whatever that is). These are also just minor problems compared to GM biases and people taking advantage (often even unknowingly) of those biases.

On the other side, some players with charismatic characters might not be able to get what they want out of that stat if they are themselves shy or soft-spoken, or they might not be able to play very intelligent characters, if they lack the prerequisite attributes themselves. I know I’ve played characters, who are more charismatic than I am. Are they still supposed to be relient on my ability to convince the GM of stuff. Or is the GM supposed to keep in mind my characters stats while talking to me? Or am I just supposed to find my inner George Clooney?

In all cases, a good system can mitigate these problems. Based on this, its better to roll for the outcome and then explain why you failed or why succeeded, and hope for interesting explanations, than have a player try to actually play out his attempt to seduce the buxom barmaid, or whatever important quest the character happens to be on.

The best way to do this is to incorporate the different parts of the game into the same system. Having a totally separate combat system tends to overly emphasize combat.

This is something the DramaSystems does shine in. Just as with the combat system, totally separate system for drama does put emphasis on those and leave the other stuff somewhat in its shadow. There are other benefits to a completely uniform system, such as lessened complexity.

However, since there are plenty of people out there who are highly invested in the idea that rules shouldn’t govern their character’s activities in any way, this might be the step they need. I’m not talking about the people who don’t want rules to interrupt their journey from one combat to another, but rather the people, who like to think freeform is the best approach, but are willing to use systems, because other people in the group insist on them.

I think the DramaSystem would also bring more equality into groups that need it, as each player gets to set the scene in turn. Of course, this also changes the role of the GM completely, so perhaps in games where GM has certain rules governing their resources, adding the DramaSystem just wouldn’t work.

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