Scene Calling Guidelines and Hints (In Case you're Stuck)   Posted by The Signal.Group: 0
The Signal
 GM, 140 posts
Fri 20 Sep 2019
at 03:00
Scene Calling Guidelines and Hints (In Case you're Stuck)
All thanks to HYPATIA for their excellent work in editing the Hillfolk reference materials, and for posting them. This threat is simply to ensure they don't disappear up the thread in the OOC chat.

The game revolves around scenes in which one character (the petitioner) seeks some sort of emotional concession from another character (the granter). If the petitioner gets what they want from the granter, the granter earns a drama token which can used in various ways in later scenes. Should the granter refuses to give the petitioner what they want, the petitioner earns a drama token subject to the same rules as above. Drama tokens can be used to:

  • call a scene in which your character is not present,
  • duck a scene the caller wants you in,
  • crash a scene the caller does not want you in,
  • block someone from crashing a scene you called,
  • force a concession (2 tokens),
  • cancel a force (3 tokens),
  • contribute toward a force or canceling a force if your character is present and helping.

The character(s) earning the drama token receives it from the other character(s) in the scene. No one begins with any drama tokens, so you take them initially from a general pool. Tokens eventually begin to circulate between players, however.

In reply to Rebecca Byrne (msg # 560):

When you call a scene:

  • say whether it’s dramatic or procedural (the latter will be fairly rare under most circumstances),
  • say when it takes place,
  • say where it takes place,
  • say who is in the scene,
  • describe the situation: why are the characters here, what are they doing?
  • describe the sights, sounds, smells, etc. (everyone in the scene can add details at any time)

Anyone may challenge the initial details of a called scene if they object to what the scene's caller describes. The caller can then modify their call to gain your assent for the scene to proceed. If you do not assent, a vote is taken among all players (GM included). In the event of a tie, the GM must abstain.

Anyone with a character in a scene may narrate:

  • the presence and/or behavior of walk-on characters,
  • the consequences of their character's actions.
  • additional details of the scene.

An excerpt from Blood On The Snow: The Hillfolk Companion

Life During Wartime

The blurb on the back of this book probably tells you that DramaSystem is a groundbreaking new step forward in roleplaying games, tearing away the wall of combat-centric thinking to create a new kind of collaborative exercise to bring about a cohesive, shared narrative experience, wherein everyone plays people who grow to examine their relationships together.


DramaSystem is a brutal, no-holds-barred, take-no-quarter, player-versus-player deathmatch. Your characters face betrayal, inhuman treatment, and a host of fates worse than death on their way to the top. Instead of representing another step in divesting roleplaying games of their wargaming roots, DramaSystem is an apotheosis of roleplaying's wargaming soul into a game which is nothing but war.

Don't believe me? Then you haven't played yet. But soon, you'll need to recognize the tools you're using to fight.

Your Face Is A Loaded Gun. Don't get trapped thinking that the character you play is your weaponry. The character doesn't exist; what the other players think of your character exists. How other players feel they are forced to choose in response to what they interpret as happening is the bullet. The words (and often, body language) you choose to lead them to that point is the gun. You are your only weapon, so know it well.

Swing For The Jugular. Don't get trapped thinking that the battlefield consists of a bunch of physical obstacles co-imagined. Instead, the solid foundations of the game world are what people care about, what they notice, and what they put effort into establishing. Watch how they improvise, learn to anticipate their moves creating new elements of the world, and where the lacunae in their creations are. Their unvoiced, unconscious assumptions are where you must take your fight. Nothing is certain, everything is liquid.

Fight Dirty. Through what are you enacting conflict? Recontextualize the other players' interpretations of elements of the game. These elements — characters, possessions, places, social labels, and the emotions attached to them — are created through three means. First, deliberate creation, wherein you describe an element of a world directly. Second is reflexive creation, wherein a description of another element implies the context for that thing. Finally, intersectional creation, wherein two or more previously described elements connect or conflict in an obvious way, results in a third element emerging.

The first method is the easiest to see and block. The second and third are where the opportunities are: it is easier to attack an element by recontextualizing it. It is easier to defend by recontextualizing the attack. Chaos is your friend. Since focus is the only way of staying afloat in the liquid battlefield, instigation of broader potential change — more places for unspoken, unestablished assumptions to reside—gives you more potential freedom of movement. A rising tsunami flips all boats.

Think With Authority; Question Yourself. Think of your player poles as Cynicism vs. True Believer. Identify where your beliefs or desires emerge from your own expectations about how things work, in real life or in stories. Then, look at where your expectations arise from beliefs or desires. See acting on one or another as a choice, the same as it is for a player describing their character.

Losing Doesn't Mean Dying. Living doesn't mean winning. If everything sucks, that probably just means you or the GM are doing their job. Here's the biggest difference between DramaSystem and other games: your standards of measurement of success are also part of the fluid battlefield. Your character works toward their goals. You do not work toward your character's goals. In fact, you should keep even the meaning of your character's goals in abeyance, both to keep other players in suspense while depriving them of the ability to recontextualize them. Never be fooled, by yourself or someone else, into thinking you're winning.

This message was last edited by the GM at 03:08, Fri 20 Sept 2019.

The Signal
 GM, 141 posts
Fri 20 Sep 2019
at 03:03
Scene Calling Guidelines and Hints (In Case you're Stuck)
An excerpt from See Page XX, Pelgrane Press' monthly online newsletter

Cutthroat DramaSystem

I designed DramaSystem to allow groups to impose their own dynamic on play. It gives you a framework and lets you decide what to do with it. So when it turns out that one-shot games tend to take on a cutthroat edge, that’s not because I installed structures to make that happen. In fact, I pulled back from a structure that encouraged that, when I moved from suggesting that a single session game move toward a definite resolution to a preference for a game that feels like the first episode of a serialized drama. I used to recommend that PCs be able to kill each other in the final round of single session play, as you might expect at the end of a Fiasco or Skulduggery game. Allowing that forces the group into a PVP mold and distorts what DramaSystem feels like when you run it in the ongoing format it's tuned for.

When a more openly PVP feel emerges, it happens because that's what's natural and organic to that group that night, not because a clock ticks steadily to a kill-or-be-killed end-state. Not all groups gravitate toward this. Demo groups encountering the rules for the first time tend to be more cautious as they orient themselves to the system. Conveniently, this feels more like the first episode of an ongoing game than a quickly escalating one-shot, suiting demo purposes perfectly.

In an ongoing game you naturally pace out your character's emotional arc to give lots of room for growth over the course of many episodes, rather than quickly transforming over the course of a few scenes. You change your relationships with other cast members incrementally, not through successive emotional leapfrogs. Big betrayals don't happen right away, because you're reluctant to burn your bridges with characters you'll be interacting with for a long time.

If as a GM you want your one-shot to feel more like a pilot episode, look for a Series Pitch that dials back the external stakes. Seek out premises where the characters aren't arrayed in a power structure. If there's a king, or a chieftain, or a chief of station, a one-shot left to its devices defaults toward a struggle to displace him. Tighten the focus of the main cast to make them all peers. To play with themes of power without going cutthroat, establish a NPC as the authority figure, and give the players something to do other than scheme to get rid of him. Call the first scene to give the group an external threat to cooperate against.

On the other hand, cutthroat play may be exactly what the group wants. A group that only gets together intermittently but knows each other well enough to enjoy putting each other into tight spots will have a blast with a pitch that lets them gleefully go at it.

You may have an idea ahead of time whether a DramaSystem one-shot will go cutthroat. If so, you can take some measures to increase your chance of coming out on top during the final round. (Assuming that triumph is even your objective — it can be at least as much fun to spectacularly flame out as the tragic or comic center of attention.)

If you start out as the cast's heavy hitter, you've got nowhere to go but down. Well, there's down and then back up again, if you want to aim for a bankshot. But in general if the game is king of the hill, start off some distance from the slope. In a cutthroat game a little misdirection always helps. Express your desire in a way that doesn't obviously require you to sweep the table to get it. A desire like Power, classic though it is, establishes your character as a threat. Alternate expressions like Respect, Order, or Safety might also give you a reason to pursue a victory over the other cast members without clanging an alarm bell to that effect.

Just as in a LARP or game of Diplomacy, gathering allies in the early going serves you well in cutthroat DramaSystem. Offer resistance to other PCs at the top of a scene, make them work to petition you, but then relent. By making petitioners feel that they overcame real reluctance, they'll declare that they got what they wanted — giving you the drama token you seek.

Be ready to sacrifice a drama token or two early on by digging in your heels on a petition or two. A big lead in drama tokens marks you out as a potential threat. Seeming non-threatening goes only so far as you amass a big pile of them for all to see. In an episode of an ongoing game, players may hoard tokens for conversion to bennies, or simply for bragging rights. In a single session game, especially if it takes on a free-for-all cast, everyone expects a fat token pile to turn into a big spending spree at the end.

An early force might sound like a sure way to paint yourself as a target, but it also reduces your token pile. If you seem like you've shot your bolt, you take the heat off, allowing you to advance your chosen victory conditions under the radar. Naturally, when another player builds a big token pile, a little carefully executed table talk can set her up as the threat, and yourself as a defender to rally behind.

Finally, you might discover that the rest of the group intends a more internal drama, and that your groundwork for backstabbing doesn't fit the overall direction. Embrace the challenge of setting aside your plans, which never last long in DramaSystem, and find a way to support the story as it heads into another space.

An excerpt from See Page XX, Pelgrane Press' monthly online newsletter

The No-Response Response

When you watch the typical serial cable drama that DramaSystem, the game engine underlying Hillfolk, in large part emulates, you'll note that the scenes tend to be short. Occasionally you get a change of pace episode structured more like a one act play. Mostly you see a large number of two-hander scenes in which the petition is presented, the granter plays various facets of the argument, the petitioner responds, and resolution occurs. DramaSystem players often like to get into the scene and pull every possible nugget of interaction out of it. However if you're willing to engage in the occasional quickie scene, that provides a variety of pace that benefits everyone.

In DramaSystem the granter dictates the length of the scene more than the petitioner. As granter you can shorten a scene by allowing your resistance to be overcome in the tighter time frame you'd seen in the compressed medium of television or fiction. (Really every medium is more compressed than roleplaying, which is only fair since we're making it up as we go along without aid of later editing.)

Another potential-rich way to keep a scene snappy is to leave the petition unresolved. In TV writing you'll see that this happens all the time. The petitioner makes the request but the grantor does not tip her hand as to which way she’s going to go. In DramaSystem terms, a non-response constitutes a refusal. But it also leaves this conflict open to be furthered in a later scene, either to the advantage or detriment of the petitioner. This creates suspense, leaving a question hanging over the proceedings. Which way are you, as granter, going to jump?

As granter, a non-response response does cost you a drama token. At the same time, though, it heightens your character's emotional power by leaving that narrative hook hanging out there. So although you may be tempted to end each interaction on a definitive yes or no to the petition, consider the occasional power of an unresolved scene conclusion. Just say, "I walk away without answering". You may find it the coldest rebuff of all.

An excerpt from Blood On The Snow: The Hillfolk Companion

The GM told you that you were next up after the current scene. Yet it's happened. It's your turn to call, and you've got nothing. The group is waiting for you to come up with something. You’re on the spot. What to do? First of all, relax. This sometimes happens in DramaSystem. The game's unpredictability comprises one of its great strengths, but comes at a price. In a fast-moving storyline, even if you're thinking ahead to what your character's next move might be, you'll often find it rendered moot by the just-completed scene. Sometimes you'll be stumped in advance and hoping for an inspiration in the scene currently unfolding… which doesn’t come.

Never fear: here are fourteen specific techniques you can use to jumpstart your creativity when stumped for a scene. Print out and clip the checklist below, and reach for it when you need it. (GMs may also keep it at hand, to lead stumped players through possible sources of scene inspiration.) Adapt these methods to your own creative process. It doesn't matter whether you follow any particular set of steps to reach your called scene. What's important is that you learn to quickly and intuitively think your way through creative roadblocks. Ideally, you'll eventually internalize your favorite methods for jump-starting scene inspiration, and do it by instinct without having to think about steps at all.

Even if you never literally find yourself at a loss for a scene, reading this section may help you sharpen your scene framing.

As a case study, let's establish the game play leading up to the scene that stumps you. You're playing Snake, an outcast adopted into the Tallspire clan to beef up their fighting strength. Dramatic Poles: Loner vs. Acceptance-Seeker. Desire: the full embrace of the Tallspires.

Other main cast characters are:
  • Longjaw, the chieftain (played by Rishi) Poles: Trust vs. Control.
  • Dodger, lusty, handsome warrior (played by Joachim) Poles: Pleasure vs. Duty.
  • Returner, young prophetess (played by Aisha) Poles: Certainty vs. Doubt.
  • Goldenhair, expert trader (played by Natalie) Poles: Cooperation vs. Dominance.
  • Rockleaf, heir to the throne (played by Abi) Poles: Family vs. Self.

Longjaw is father to Returner and Rockleaf, husband to Goldenhair, and mentor/rival to Dodger. Your fraught relationships are to Longjaw (you want him to see you as a surrogate son) and Rockleaf (you want her to marry you, to cement your place among the Tallspires).

The theme of tonight's episode is "Rocks And Hard Places," arising from the clan's increasing tensions with the region's other powerful clan, the Gully Walkers. They've been demanding tribute from your vassal clans, pressuring them to switch allegiance from you to them.

The characters above are listed in the calling order for the episode, with you calling after them and the GM calling last in the precedence order. So far:
  • Longjaw ordered Dodger to lead a sally against the Gully Walkers. Dodger agreed,
    but did not grant Longjaw the sense of control he wanted.
  • Dodger went to Rockleaf to make it clear that any glory gained on the mission belongs to him, and not her father. Rockleaf, who pines for Dodger, but knows he's hoping to impress a beauteous Gully Walker named Straightsun, took her father's side.
  • Returner warned her stepmother Goldenhair of ill visions she's been having about the clash between the two clans. Goldenhair, suspicious as usual of her supernatural claims, declined to convey her concerns to Longjaw.
  • Goldenhair then went to you, telling you to be her eyes and ears at the raid. Without quite saying so, you know that this means she wants you to protect Dodger, and to let Rockleaf get into trouble. Grabbing at a stronger alliance with at least one key Tallspire, you made her think you'd serve her agenda.
  • Rockleaf went to Returner, asking her if she knew anything about curse magic — clearly wanting to use it against Straightsun. Horrified, Returner rebuffed her.

Now you're up, but not sure what scene to call next. You could move straight to the procedural, with the battle between the two clans. But you haven't had much to do so far this episode and figure you should spotlight yourself rather than cop out to an ensemble procedural scene. But what to call?

The Signal
 GM, 142 posts
Fri 20 Sep 2019
at 03:04
Scene Calling Guidelines and Hints (In Case you're Stuck)
Act From Desire

Before considering anything else, always remind yourself of what your character's Desire is. Ask yourself how she might go about achieving that, given the current circumstances.

Follow this question chain:
  1. What is my Desire? (The answer to this question is on your character sheet.)
  2. What practical goal would bring me closer to realizing my Desire?
  3. Who, main cast or recurring character, can best help me get there?
  4. What emotional need on my part does that imply? (Likely answers: cooperation, obedience, alliance, support.)
  5. How am I going to try to get this from them?

You don't have to follow the entire question chain. As soon as the answer to an early question sparks a scene, jump to the call. The rest of the answers will arise as you play the scene, sometimes to your surprise.

Your Desire is to gain the full embrace of the Tallspires. Working from there, you ask yourself what practical thing you might do to ingratiate yourself to them. Goldenhair, who just came to you to ask you a favor, seems like your best bet on this front for the moment.

So what can you do to make it more likely that you'll succeed in pleasing her? She wants you to protect Dodger during the raid. But he doesn't particularly approve of you, making that difficult. If you go to him, and reassure him about you, you'll be better positioned to protect him in the field, and thus please Goldenhair, and thus work your way further into the clan's good graces. This also plays into your general need for acceptance. You decide that you'll try to do this by showing confidence in Dodger, hoping that he'll reciprocate.

You call the scene: "I approach Dodger by the sparring grounds." (in character) "Hail, my friend. I was heartened to hear that it will be you who leads us against the cowardly Gully Walkers!"

If you never seem to be able to build scenes from your Desire, you've chosen the wrong one. See "Escalate Your Character", below.

Act From Feeling

DramaSystem is a game of feelings, in which the characters trade the emotional currency of acceptance and rejection. Always be aware of your character's emotional state. If you're not clear on what that state might be, think back to the last scene your character took part in and recall how it made her feel. If you didn't have an emotional response in mind for her then, imagine now how it made her feel. Call the scene stemming from that feeling, using the following question chain:

What is my character feeling?
    If my emotional state is negative:
    1. Who might I seek out to remedy that?
    2. What do I want from them, exactly?
    3. How am I going to try to get it?
    If my emotional state is positive:
    1. How do I build on that? What might the confidence and assurance flowing from that prompt me to attempt?
    2. Who can get me there?
    3. How am I going to prompt them to get me there?
    4. What does this mean I want from them, emotionally?

At the end of your last scene, you agreed to serve Goldenhair's agenda by looking out for Dodger, but not her stepdaughter Rockleaf, during the upcoming skirmish against the Gully Walkers. You remember that this left you feeling conflicted. On one hand, this makes you into something of a sneak, and leaves you hoping for Rockleaf's downfall — even though you want to marry her one day. On the other, it does bring you at least one alliance, which is one more than you can currently boast.

Talking through this as you wend your way to a scene call, you identify your state as "conflicted." That's a negative place to be, so you wonder who might remedy that. You're feeling guilty for agreeing to let Rockleaf get into trouble, making her the obvious person to seek absolution from. You decide that you'll do this with a pep talk. If you help her to feel battle-ready, maybe she won't get into trouble. Then you can have your leg of lamb and eat it too: Goldenhair will see that you're on her side, but Rockleaf will prevail as well.

You call the scene: "I approach Rockleaf by the sparring grounds. (in character) How fare you, my comrade? Are you champing at the bit to humble the cowardly Gully Walkers, as I am?"

Play The Theme

At the end of the session you'll be asked to explain how you played your Dramatic Poles in relation to the theme. Give yourself a leg up by engineering a scene call to fit the task.

Ask yourself:
    Uh, what was the theme again?
    How does my situation relate to the theme?
    What can I do to highlight this?
    Who can help me with that?
    How am I going to get their help?
    What does that mean I want from them, emotionally?

Tonight's theme is "Rocks and Hard Places." You find a clear relationship between this and your current situation — your promise to Goldenhair puts you in a bind between her and Rockleaf, both of whom you want to please. Since you just spoke with Goldenhair, one way to highlight it would be to call a scene involving the other half of that opposing duo. That scene would play out as per the case study immediately above.

But neither of these characters can help you resolve this, exactly. Any interaction with them will just enmesh you further. So instead you decide to highlight your bind by seeking outside counsel. You approach Returner, who you regard as a suitable spiritual adviser. You plan to seek absolution from her by referring to your problem in vague generalities.

"I find Returner by that pile of rocks she uses as a shrine," you say. In character, you continue: "I was sorely troubled by a dream last night, in which I was caught between a rock-slide and a raging river …"

The Signal
 GM, 143 posts
Fri 20 Sep 2019
at 03:07
Scene Calling Guidelines and Hints (In Case you're Stuck)
Set Up A Pivot

Dramatic Poles allow you to play a nuanced character who retains flexibility, and thus unpredictability, in emotional situations. Ask yourself these questions to leverage an underused pole into a new scene.

    Which pole did I move toward during my last scene?
    How might I move toward the opposite pole?
    Which character might I use to move me there?
    What emotional need would that movement fulfill?
    What tactic will I use to meet that need?

Your poles are Loner vs. Acceptance-Seeker. Your previous scene, with Goldenhair, in which you accepted her implicit offer of alliance by agreeing to her not-so-honorable concerns for Dodger and Rockleaf, moved you toward Acceptance-Seeker — if you please her, you'll gain her acceptance.

So what might you do to activate the opposite pole, that of the Loner? A scene that demonstrates your independence from the clan will do that. You decide that you're feeling guilty about this somewhat skeevy arrangement and are impelled by an unconscious desire to sabotage your position with the Tallspires. What better way to do that than to pick a fight with the chieftain, Longjaw? If you want to anger Longjaw, the best way to do it is to attack his all-tooobvious need for control. So you'll go to him and undermine his sense of leadership. How best to do this? Some Iron Age reverse psychology ought to do the trick. You'll go to praise him for letting Dodger potentially outshine him—thus planting the idea in his mind that this might happen, and that he's made a decision that will come back to haunt him.

"I bump into Longjaw near the council house," you say. In character, you continue, opening with the words no politician wants to hear: "That was a brave decision, Longjaw …"

Pivot Someone Else

When you want something from another main cast character, and have trouble getting it, remember her Dramatic Poles. (You can always ask, if you've forgotten.) If the character resists you from one perspective, flip your argument so that it appeals to the opposite pole. In a similar vein, you can use another character's Dramatic Poles as inspiration for a new scene.

Ask yourself the following questions:

    Which main cast character has been overplaying one pole at the expense of another?
    What is the neglected pole?
    What petition might you make to that character to move them toward that pole?
    What emotional need would that satisfy for you?
    What tactic will you use to have that need met?

Looking around the room at the other players, and considering their characters' Dramatic Poles, it occurs to you that Aisha has been over-relying on Returner's doubtful side of late. (Her poles, you recall, are Certainty vs. Doubt.) Over the past few episodes, most of her scenes have either depicted her as uncertain, or resulted in her being denied petitions when she seeks to assert herself. If you do something to boost her confidence, you'll give her an opportunity to move toward her Certainty pole.

But why would you do this? Making the young girl feel good, you realize, will help you as well. You feel weak and a little guilty after striking the deal with Goldenhair. By setting yourself up as Returner's hero, you claw back a touch of your shaky self-respect. You consider a tactic to make her feel better. If you ask her for an omen, you'll show that you believe in her supernatural abilities, the chief source of her internal conflicts.

"I find Returner by that pile of rocks she uses as a shrine," you say. In character, you continue: "Returner, we ready ourselves for a raid on the Gully Walkers. Have you any omens to share?"

Compare and contrast with the case study for "Play The Theme." Both are scenes with Returner. But since you came at them from a different set of questions, the content of your request and the emotional motivation behind it diverge.

Start With A Pairing

This scene-sparker starts with a dead simple, objectively answerable question.

Ask yourself:

    Which key character haven't I interacted with for a while?

Note that this could be a major recurring character, if your options with main cast characters seem unpromising. It doesn't much matter whether you're correctly identifying the character with whom you had the oldest previous interaction. It's more important to quickly settle on someone to build your scene around than to get it exactly right.

    What is my biggest current problem?
    How might this character help me solve it?
    What emotional need does this indicate on my part?
    What tactic do I use to have it met?

It's early in the session, so you have to think back to the previous episode to recall which main cast character you've had little to do with lately. This turns out to be Longjaw.

Your biggest current problem is your guilt over your agreement with Goldenhair. How might Longjaw help assuage this? You consider confessing to him, but Goldenhair is his wife, so that's likely to blow back on you. Instead you seek a gesture of general admiration from him, which will make you feel better, at least. You decide to earn this by presenting a plan to fight the Gully Walkers.

"I seek out Longjaw on the promontory where he often goes to contemplate," you say. In character, you continue: "Longjaw, might I have a word? When I was an outcast, forced to shift for myself in the badlands, I often spied on the convoys of the Gully Walkers, and I think I have a plan …"

Check Your Grants

It's easy to fall into the habit of calling only scenes in which your character is the petitioner. Remember that the rules impose no such requirement. It is just as permissible to call a scene in which your character is petitioned by a character of your choosing. This might be the ideal fallback for the easily stumped, as it puts the onus on your scene partner, and comes with the shortest decision chain.

Ask yourself:

    Who most wants something from me?
    What is it?
    Where do they approach me about it?

One of your challenges in playing Snake lies in his outsider nature: he's banging on the tent door asking to get in, while the other characters are already tightly woven together by family bonds. You want more from them than they do from you. But if you had to pick, given where things are right at the moment, you'd settle on Longjaw. He's losing his vaunted control over his top warriors, Dodger and Rockleaf. Maybe he'll come to you to groom you as, if not a replacement for them, as a stalking horse to keep them on their toes.

"Longjaw comes to me to sound me out, wondering if he should set me up as a rival to the impertinent Dodger," you say, out of character. "He finds me at my lonely hunting grounds near the watering hole."

"Oh, okay," Rishi muses. "Yeah, I see why he'd do that." In character, he continues, in a booming voice: "Snake! I would have words with you!"

Invent A New Character To Petition You

This option introduces a new element to the story, and puts the onus on the GM to drive the scene.

Ask yourself:

    What's my biggest problem?
    How might a stranger be able to help me with it, even though I haven't met him yet?
    What might his name, and role in the world, be?
    Why does he approach me in the first place?
    What stops me from casually granting his request?

The ensuing scene might or might not get to your problem and the way the new stranger character can help you with it. If it doesn't, you've not only called this scene, but have laid the groundwork for a subsequent scene in which you petition the new character to further your agenda. In one swoop, you've sparked two scenes.

Your biggest problem is the guilt you feel for the deal you've struck with Goldenhair. But if something should happen to avert the raid against the Gully Walkers, you'll get some credit with her for agreeing to the arrangement, without the risk of Rockleaf getting hurt. Who might help you with this? A Gully Walker who also wants to avoid a fight. You imagine a clever member of that clan anxious to undermine his own chieftain with a back-channel diplomatic approach. An apt name for her, you decide, would be Whisperwind. You have some reason to fear an approach from her, since your own people don't entirely trust you. If this goes wrong, it will hurt the standing you so avidly seek.

"I'm at my solitary place near the spring," you announce, "when a stealthy scout type, wearing the clay insignia of the Gully Walkers, creeps up on me. She holds out her hands in a gesture of peace." You switch from the formal tone of narration to address the GM with notes to guide the scene. "Her name is Whisperwind, and she wants to make peace with us. She's come without permission of the Gully Walker chief."

The GM pauses to take this on board, then speaks in character as Whisperwind: "I do not know your name, but I have observed you. I call you the Lonely One." You stiffen your spine, now playing your resistance to the character whose identity and goals you just created. "My name is Snake," you say, in an offended tone. The GM, as Whisperwind, shrugs. "I like my name for you better…"

Side note: these two options are the metagame reason why you have an entire cryo-bay full of undeveloped NPCs waiting for you to thaw them out. Pick and choose, and make 'em good. I'll play whatever characters you hand me.
The Signal
 GM, 144 posts
Fri 20 Sep 2019
at 03:13
Scene Calling Guidelines and Hints (In Case you're Stuck)
Get Yourself In Trouble

In dramatic narratives, external events advance the plot by intensifying conflict between the central characters. Trouble framing scenes can stem from an absence of pressure. Remedy this by adding a new complication that increases the pressure on you.

Players sometimes hesitate to push the story ahead because they don't want their characters to seem unsympathetic. Or they're afraid that the players will find their move too aggressive. Complications that justify extreme behavior retain sympathy and respect the group dynamic, while contributing to compelling storytelling.

Ask yourself:

    What is my biggest problem?
    What external event would make it even worse?
    Who would this drive me to?
    What do I need from them?
    How do I get it?

Alternately, the new complication might drive someone to petition you:

    What is my biggest problem?
    What external event would make it even worse?
    Who will want something from me in the aftermath?
    What do they want?

Your biggest problem is the awkward position your deal with Goldenhair—if it's discovered, it will pull you away from the clan rather than bringing you closer to it. The external event that would make it even worse would be someone discovering it. The worst person to find out would be the chieftain, Longjaw.

You narrate: "We flash back to the end of my meeting with Goldenhair. Again, we see Snake leave the council house. But now we see who was watching, unknown to me, as I left: Longjaw. He reads the guilt written on my every skulking gesture. His eyes narrow." Since you don't know about this yet, this complication has to kick off with Longjaw petitioning you.

"Cut to: the present moment. Longjaw comes upon me suddenly as I pace toward my solitary place. He shoves me, demanding to know what business I had conniving with his wife in private."

Rishi, speaking in Longjaw's booming voice, picks up the cue: "You! What business had you conniving with my wife in private?"

Get Someone Else In Trouble

Although a primary role of the GM is to keep the pressure on main cast characters, sharpening the stakes in their dramatic interactions, the rules absolutely permit you to do the same. You can frame scene openings to introduce crises mostly affecting another player's character. It costs you nothing to do this if your character is present, or one drama token if she's elsewhere.

Ask yourself:

    Which main character has it easiest right now?
    What is her biggest problem?
    What external event would bring that to a head?
    As it unfolds, will she seek emotional reward from me? If so, what sort of reward?
    If not, why does it give me an opening to seek emotional reward from her?
    What do I seek?
    How do I seek it?

Looking around the room, you settle on Returner, who isn't much involved in the jockeying around the upcoming Gully Walker raid, as the character undergoing the least pressure right now. Her biggest problem is the resistance conservative clan members have toward her claims of supernatural insight. An external event that would bring this to a head might be an accusation of some kind. You decide that the old ways faction, led by recurring character Crookstaff, will take this moment to stir up trouble. You'll then approach her with an offer of aid, giving her the opportunity to extend you the acceptance you crave by agreeing to take it. You'll seek it by expressing outrage on her behalf and positioning yourself as her protector.

You narrate the scene opening: "I'm strolling past the creek bed when I come upon the women of the clan cleaning pots. They don't see me, and I slip behind a tall rock when I hear them talking about Returner. The old crone, Crookstaff, urges one of the younger women, Willowbend, to go to Longjaw with an accusation of witchcraft. Returner has been giving them the evil eye, and as a result no pot will dry properly. I double back and go find Returner." In character, you move from setup to the meat of the scene: "Returner! Returner! I have terrible news. You're to be accused of witchcraft!"

Get Everyone In Trouble

Difficulty calling scenes indicates that there aren't enough compelling plot threads to keep the dramatic action flowing naturally. Introduce a general crisis that gives you something new to do, or shakes up a static set of power dynamics within the main cast.

Ask yourself:

    What external event would shake up the status quo?
    How am I involved in it?
    Who would I go to about it?
    What emotional payoff would it prompt me to seek from them?
    How would I seek it?

The jockeying prior to the Gully Walker raid seems to be wrapping up, but you don't want to blow your scene on the obvious procedural. You contemplate possible left-field events to shake up the status quo. What if another, unexpected enemy rears its head? Snake's position in the upcoming raid is dicey, given his shameful deal with Goldenhair. Another crisis might give you the chance to shine. You decide that the sudden appearance of another enemy will serve this purpose, while also playing as an entertaining reversal.

"I'm patrolling the ridge line when I see the dust thrown up by a convoy of horsemen from the north. I run down to Longjaw, Dodger, and Rockleaf, as they're equipping our horses for the raid against the Gully Walkers. The Northmen are back!"

You're setting this up as an open ensemble scene, hoping that someone among those three will give you props for spotting this new wrinkle in time to react, granting Snake acceptance as a valuable contributor to the clan's defense.

Go Big

Hesitation in scene calling may indicate overcaution. Traditional, procedural roleplaying games train us toward risk-aversion. They teach us to fear punishment, which comes when we "do something stupid". Dramatic stories feature people seeking emotional need, often acting more from compulsion than calculation. Accordingly, DramaSystem doesn't punish you for making risky, bold choices. Your character won't be killed, unless you want that to happen. By escalating the circumstances, you make the experience more fun for yourself and everyone else. Break yourself from hesitancy, and the storyline from a rut, by asking yourself:

    What do I want right now?
    What's the biggest, boldest, riskiest, most surprising bid I could make to get it?
    Who do I seek it from?
    How do I seek it?

What Snake wants right now is a greater tie to the Tallspires. No matter how conflicted he may feel about it, his best route to that lies in his deal with Goldenhair. You decide to go big with that, committing fully to this plot thread. You'll seek it from Goldenhair, by doing as she asks — seeing to it that Dodger is protected. You call the procedural scene featuring the raid against the Gully Walkers. Once in the raid, you'll spend your best procedural token, the green, and describe your actions so that you spectacularly aid Dodger, in a way that leaves Rockleaf in a tough spot.

Take A Suggestion

Use a random prompt to inspire a complication or emotional goal. The prompts on the special Hillfolk card deck are specifically tailored for this purpose. See the section on using the cards in the core Hillfolk book.

Other random prompt tools include the Oblique Strategies phone app, or one of the various random word or image pickers available on the web. From these prompts you might freeassociate your way from a complication to an intention, or straight to an intention and from there to a scene.

Firing up your phone's web browser, you go to a bookmarked random word generator site, which gives you the word "archive." This gives you pause for a moment: how does an archive fit into a pre-literate culture? You envision a set of pictographic tablets, an image that leads you to a complication. You'll describe yourself finding the mysterious tablets, and then go to Returner, the main cast's resident mystic, presenting them to her in a bid for your default emotional goal, acceptance.

Take A Suggestion

Use a random prompt to inspire a complication or emotional goal. The prompts on the special Hillfolk card deck are specifically tailored for this purpose. See the section on using the cards in the core Hillfolk book.

Other random prompt tools include the Oblique Strategies phone app, or one of the various random word or image pickers available on the web. From these prompts you might freeassociate your way from a complication to an intention, or straight to an intention and from there to a scene.

Firing up your phone's web browser, you go to a bookmarked random word generator site, which gives you the word "archive." This gives you pause for a moment: how does an archive fit into a pre-literate culture? You envision a set of pictographic tablets, an image that leads you to a complication. You'll describe yourself finding the mysterious tablets, and then go to Returner, the main cast's resident mystic, presenting them to her in a bid for your default emotional goal, acceptance.

Go To The Crib Sheet

Nothing assists spontaneity like a little advance preparation. On your way to the game, take a few moments to think about a scene or two you might want to call. Jot them down, on paper or in an electronic device.

Think of these as backstops in case you get stuck. If the flow of the story takes you elsewhere and leaves these ideas unused, so much the better. Don't send the story backwards just so you can shoehorn them in to a narrative that's rapidly developing in a way no one could have anticipated ahead of time. But if you are stumped for a new direction, these ideas will keep the ball rolling.

In the story so far, you've established that Snake is an outcast, without fully exploring the backstory. As these revelations could happen at any time, they're a good scene concept to keep in your back pocket for later. While driving to the GM's house, you imagine a figure from your past returning to make trouble for you. By associating this new recurring character with the Gully Walkers, you'll create a tie between this new plot thread and actions already in motion. This gives you more opportunities to work it naturally into the proceedings. You envision a character named Stormcloud, a gnarled old man who remembers whatever you did to get thrown out. (The exact reasons for your outlawry you decide to leave open as a detail to improvise in the moment.) You envision a scene in which Stormcloud demands that you leave the Tallspires of your own accord — with the implication that he'll reveal your dark secret if you don't. How this happens you again leave open, to better fit into the story as it progresses. Maybe he'll just show up in the Tallspire camp. Or perhaps you capture him during the Gully Walker raid the group was considering near the end of the last session.