The Old Centipede Trick

The play advice in Hillfolk largely focuses on the GM as the source of external pressure that keeps the player characters at odds with one another, generating new and compelling drama. However, as a DramaSystem player, you may well enjoy the process of tightening the screws on, or delivering comeuppances to, other players’ characters. A crass application of this technique can tip the game into unwanted PvP territory. But a sneakier, more subtle use of your scene-narrating powers can crank up the fun for everyone.

For example, in a recent game of the Alma Mater Magica series I’m currently running, stuffy, pedantic wizard Dr. “Doc” Jacobsen (Paul Jackson) finally took it upon himself to destroy a parasite criminal French elves had installed in colleague Dr. Stephen Kim (Scott Wachter) in order to remotely monitor group activities. The parasite, a centipede named Maurice, had been a staple of the series over many sessions. No one had bothered to do much about him, in part because they probably reckoned that I as GM would somehow stop them, but mostly because Maurice had sparked too many fun scenes to get rid of. Yet now his presence had finally precipitated its long-foreshadowed catastrophe. The time for an exorcism had come. Paul described the scene in which the parasite was removed and Maurice apparently met his end.

Until Chris Hüth, playing reluctant returnee to the world of magic Earl Pudgely, decided that Maurice was still too fun to lose, even if he was no longer clinging to Stephen’s pancreas. So he narrated his next scene to describe a bent and broken but still very much alive Maurice crawling away. That’s the sort of thing a GM would do, but Chris, author of Blood on the Snow’s article on playing DramaSystem to win, saw an opportunity to confront another player with an entertaining turnaround and took it.

When stumped for a scene to call, you too might look to see if you can envision any scenes that will delightfully complicate the lives of other cast members.

As of this writing, Maurice still lives, having inveigled his way into the life of yet another PC, just barely convincing her of his value as a familiar. And because it was Chris who made it happen and not me, it doesn’t feel like the editorial hand of the GM pressing down to keep things moving in a certain direction, or granting script immunity to a treasured GMC.

So when you try this at home, think of it as the Old Centipede Trick.

Le mille-pattes est mort! Vive le mille-pattes!

Image credit: Matt Reinbold, via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0


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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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