Can We Have the Room, Please?

Although DramaSystem, the rules engine underlying Hillfolk, builds game sessions that feel like episodes of serialized TV dramas, differences between the two mediums do sometimes lead to somewhat different results.

One device you see all the time in TV shows rarely appears in DramaSystem.

Very often on a TV show the writers emphasize the emotional stakes of a scene by having one character pull another out of a group situation into a private one-on-one.

This happens quite a bit on Sons of Anarchy and Arrow, but you’ll find it in all sorts of places.

Arrow often segues between a group conference scene in the hero lair into a one-on-one. Sons of Anarchy frequently has a third-tier player in the room at the head of a scene for the sole purpose of seeing him immediately shooed away by a more important character.

In DramaSystem if you want to call a private session with someone else’s character you just do that. Players more often want to increase the population of a scene, to have bystanders while a discussion goes down. It’s more collaborative, and it takes the pressure off of the caller to come up with interesting choices, especially when she’s not entirely sure what her character wants.

I offer this less as a problem than an observation. One-on-one scenes are easier to write, shoot and perform on TV. Multi-character scenes are easier to play at the roleplaying table.

However, if you do want to give a scene you call a jolt of importance, start out by describing a Game Master character as being prestent at its outset. Then, immediately ask him “would you mind stepping out please?”

As a tactic, this also shows the character you’re petitioning that they, at least for this moment, is more important than the other one. Or it could be an intimidation move, putting the granter on the defensive. Either way, it’s a power move. It puts the other character on notice: you have an agenda and you’re here to pursue it, without distraction or comments from the peanut gallery.

Such scenes usually revolve around the exchange of secret information. Secrets and their revelations fuel dramatic storytelling. Whenever you think things are getting slack, find a secret to share with some fellow cast members and keep from others.

Another player could attempt to jump into the scene, as per the usual rules. But even if the scene doesn’t remain private, you’ll have established its intensity.


Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in the Pelgrane Shop.

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