In an arid badlands, squeezed between mighty empires, your 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.
Hillfolk, the new game of Iron Age conflict from acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws, introduces to the roleplaying world his DramaSystem rules engine.
You know those magical game sessions where the dice and rules fall away, and the entire group spontaneously enters a collective zone of pure story and character? DramaSystem’s basic structure reproduces that dynamic on demand.
DramaSystem’s key dynamic is based on the way character interplay occurs in fiction, movies, theater and television. It gives you the all the foundation you need to collectively weave rich, extended narratives. Then it gets out of your way.
You may recognize its driving insights from Robin’s Hamlet’s Hit Points. If that book is the theory, DramaSystem is the practice.
Hillfolk will be published in various editions, available through the pledge levels in the right-hand column, by Pelgrane Press. The physical product will live up to the reputation for excellence established by such games as Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars, and Night’s Black Agents.
The game is designed, written, playtested, and ready to go. All we need to get it over the finish line and into your hands are funds for art, layout and printing.
Jan Pospisil supplies stunning interior illustrations, samples of which are shown here. We’re thrilled by his mastery both of the ancient period and of the humanity of his character portrayals.
Christian Knutsson brings his incisive eye to the graphic presentation, with elegant, functional design that matches DramaSystem’s versatile simplicity. Christian served as art director/designer for Operation: Fallen Reich.
The book's physical specs are changing as we upgrade cover treatment and add new pages with each successful series pitch stretch goal (below.) Page count chart coming soon.
Getting the Advance PDF
Having pledged $10 or more, use the instructions as found in backers-only Update #4 to help us get the advance PDF copy to you.
You can easily play DramaSystem games in a wide variety of settings beyond Hillfolk. If your backing gets us over the base funding goal, we will demonstrate this with a series of stretch goals lining up an impressive roster of roleplaying luminaries* from a spectrum of design traditions to create additional settings (called Series Pitches) for the core book. If you're getting the book, in whatever format, you're getting these pitches.
REACHED: $4000: Jason Morningstar’s Hollywoodland, in which you play the founding figures of American film
REACHED: $5000: Michelle Nephew’s Mad Scientists Anonymous, in which former supervillains fight the urge to relapse
REACHED: $6000: Kenneth Hite’s Moscow Station, drama against a backdrop of realistic cold war espionage
REACHED: $7000: Matt Forbeck’s WW2.1: stranded in time, you struggle to return home, while being drawn into the conflagration of WWII
REACHED: $8500: TS Luikart’s Malice Tarn, which he describes as King Lear meets Watership Down.
REACHED: $12,500: open licensing. DramaSystem will belong to everyone, under a permissive open license. Details to be determined, with backers consulted as stakeholders.
(The reference document will be a stripped-down affair, without the Hillfolk setting, examples, or Series Pitches, so those of you purchasing the PDF of the finished book will still be getting excellent value for your ten smackeroos.)
REACHED: $14,000: Jason L. Blair (Little Fears) brings us monsters in love with Inhuman Desires.
REACHED: $15,500: Chris Pramas (Green Ronin) fixes his bayonets for his Spanish Civil War series, Brigades.
REACHED:: $17,000: Emily Care Boss (Shooting the Moon) takes us to Jupiter and Mars as humanity expands through the solar system in Colony Wars.
REACHED: $18,500: Rob Wieland (Shadowrun, Star Wars Saga Edition) seeing that no game of serialized drama is complete without an organized crime series, invites you to swim with the fishes in Mafia Century.
REACHED: $20,000: Steven S. Long (Hero Games) spins an epic of blood and maize in his Aztec series, 4 Motion.
REACHED: $22,000: Print Upgrade. If we reach this stretch goal, our magic spreadsheet will grant us permission to upgrade:
- the standard print edition from softcover to hardcover
- the limited edition from hardcover to faux leather hardcover
- the ultra-limited edition from hardcover with handcrafted embellishments to faux leather hardcover with handcrafted embellishments.
REACHED: $23,500: Eddy Webb (Vampire & Werewolf 20th Anniversary Editions) goes to the mat with Deadweight: tension and chaos in the world of independent professional wrestling!
REACHED: $25,000: Jesse Bullington (The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart) goes on a moonshine run in The White Dog Runs at Night, in which a family of bootleggers struggles against rivals, prohees, the local preacherman and themselves when their patriarch gets himself arrested. This series, as you desire, comes with or without root magic.
REACHED: $26,500: Gene Ha (Top 10, Project Superman) commands Witless Minions, featuring a crew of henchmen forced to keep it together after the death of their supervillain boss.
REACHED: $28,000: James Wallis (The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen) returns to exquisite verbal gamesmanship with a saga of warring poets and pamphleteers, rival critics and coffee-houses in Augustan London that could only be called Battle of Wits.
REACHED: $29,000: Chris Lackey (The H.P. Podcraft Literary Podcast) goes to his eldritch wheelhouse for The Whateleys: tensions erupt in a family of Cthulhu cultists when the new generation pits its modernizing ways against the ancient traditions of the old.
REACHED: $30,000: John Scott Tynes (Delta Green) presents Horns in the Hill. A colony of ants wracked by war with a rival anthill face a horrific fungal zombification outbreak from within. It's a World War II zombie movie about ants. The Walking Dead meets Phase IV.
REACHED: $31,000: Ryan Macklin (Master Plan podcast, Dresden Files RPG) takes you to Tesseract Slums, Wyoming. Man has gone to the stars—and all you got was left behind...
REACHED: $32,500: Graeme Davis (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay) hoists the black flag for Pyrates, in which a disparate crew of pirates tries to make a living by fair means or foul.
REACHED: $34,000: Dave Gross (Pathfinder Tales) treads a darkling stage with Shakespeare VA, in which a drama festival bumps up against the strange tempests of a deceptively bucolic rural town. Slings and Arrows meets Twin Peaks.
REACHED:$35,500: Allen Varney (Paranoia XP, Epic Mickey) fires up Bots, in which comedic robotic protagonists struggle for survival in a resource-starved post-organic environment.
REACHED:$37,000: Meguey Baker (1001 Nights) conjures Under Hollow Hills: Political intrigue in the court of the Fairy Queen. Captive humans, magic rings, thousand year old fairy princes, curses and blessings and things that might bite you if you call them by name.
REACHED: $38,500: Sarah Newton (Mindjammer) explores First Contact, as you join the United Nations First Contact Team tasked with establishing communication with a possible extraterrestrial intelligence.
REACHED: $40,000: Kevin Kulp (Owlhoot Trail, EN World) loads his Clockwork Revolver. Western gunslingers face steam-powered abominations on the lonesome prairie. Wild Wild West meets Deadwood.
REACHED: $41,000: Mac Sample (Nightfall) bangs fist to hide breastplate with By This Axe: The only surviving heirs to the Last Orc Warlord vie for his throne and assassination, demagoguery, thuggery and violence will decide the day.
REACHED: $42,000: Jason Pitre (Spark) sneaks up on you with Shuriken in Shadows. Ninja families struggle to serve their honorable masters in old Japan’s Warring States period.
REACHED: $43,000: Wolfgang Baur (Midgard, Dark*Matter) prepares a genteel bit of mayhem in Colonial India during the Raj, as provincial potentates face tigers, sepoy rebellions, and dire breaches of etiquette. White linen meets Kipling-style bravado in Teatime for Elephants.
REACHED: $44,000: Keith Baker (Eberron) investigates Dreamspace. In the future, the only way to reach other worlds is through the underspace of the collective unconscious. You and your fellow oneironauts are the best of the best, but what will you find in the dreams of alien worlds?
REACHED: $45,000: Will Hindmarch (Gameplaywright Press) tests the limits of humanity with Intelligence, in which you play secretly sentient androids in a near future that’s not ready for them.
REACHED: $46,000: CA Suleiman (Mummy: the Curse; Vampire: the Requiem) ventures to the jagged edge of The Green Line. A Palestinian family living in the West Bank faces danger from all sides when their teenage daughter manifests telekinetic powers.
REACHED: $47,000: Rob Heinsoo (Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, 13th Age) pits a community of natives and escaped slaves against European slavers in the New World with Maroons.
All Series Pitches funded as stretch goals after Maroons will appear not in the core book, which is now full, but in Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem Companion (see below.) All backers at $10 and up get access to these in at least PDF format.
REACHED: $49,000: Hillfolk theme music by composer James A. Semple (The Eternal Lies Suite) will go to all backers at $10 and above in electronic form.
Listeners to the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast will recognize James' stirring work. Here's his Ashen Stars Theme:
REACHED: $50,000: GUMSHOE OPEN LICENSE: We will release GUMSHOE, Robin’s previous game engine for Pelgrane, under an open license with its own GUMSHOE-compatible trademark for products in the English language. Robin will create a stripped-down system reference version of GUMSHOE to support the license.
Blood on the Snow Stretch Pitches:
REACHED: $51,000: Josh Roby (Smallville Roleplaying) uncovers Shakespeare’s lost sources in Champion of Florence: rival houses at war, mistaken identity, a sorcerous duke and his scheming brother, and of course, star-cross'd lovers.
REACHED: $52,000: Andrew Peregine (Victoriana, Hellcats and Hockeysticks) invites you to attend the Regency social season with Vice and Virtue. Will you be seduced by the decadence of Bath, or manage to find your own Mr Darcy or Elizabeth Bennet?
REACHED: $53,000: James L. Sutter (Pathfinder Tales) mounts The Throne: drama and bloody intrigue in a Heaven abandoned by God.
REACHED: $55,000: Color Interior of the core Hillfolk book for all print editions. Graphic designer Christian Knutsson will enhance his graphic design with the subtle color palette he so desperately craves. Jan’s gorgeous art will remain as it was meant to be seen, in black and white.
REACHED: $56,000: Sean Preston (Tremulus) scrapes off some Rust: In an ancient castle at the edge of a crumbling steampunk empire, the Chosen compete for the Mad King’s crown.
REACHED: $57,500: Lester Smith (2300 AD, Invasion of the Saucer People) gives up the ghost in The Spirit Is Willing: Join the returned dead as you band together in pursuit of goals left unfinished in life.
REACHED: $59,000: David L. Pulver (BESM, Transhuman Space) reports tensions rising in the Pacific Rim as the Japanese Self-Defense Force develop their first super battle mecha in Article 9.
REACHED: $60,500: Kevin Allen Jr (Sweet Agatha, Pickets & Blinds) smuggles his grimoire across No Man's Land in To End All Wars, as a league of wizards serve as WWI spies and saboteurs.
REACHED; $62,000: Greg Stolze (Unknown Armies, Reign) puts you in the shoes of a volunteer firefighter in Winchester, Wisconsin - a community small enough that you recognize the victims of most car crashes, house fires and heart attacks. Cue the Sirens.
REACHED: $63,500: Gareth Hanrahan (The Laundry RPG; Lorefinder) declares you Heroes of the City: The evil archmage is dead, and his tyrannical rule is ended. You saved this city. Now you have to rule it.
REACHED: $65,000: Steve Dempsey (Shotguns v. Cthulhu, Twisted 50s) checks in with Paged: Characters from classic literature escape the British Library and set up together in the same flat, with only each other to rely on in their strange new world.
REACHED: $66,500: Mike Pohjola (Star Wreck Roleplaying Game, The Turku Manifesto) illuminates us with The Shadow of Napoleon - or: Turku by Lamplight in which 19th century students must balance between revolutionary ideas, family traditions and the Czar's oppression.
REACHED:$68,000:John Kovalic (Dork Tower, Munchkin): It's life, laughs and Lovecraft after-hours at the Dagon Bar and Grille, where the cultists go to unwind, and everyone knows your unspeakable name!
REACHED: $70,000 Blood on the Snow print upgrade, to hardcover for standard edition, plus color interior.
REACHED: $71,500: Jeff Richard (Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes) follows a group of Greek mercenaries and intellectuals to The Last Kingdom. Having backed the wrong side in the war between Octavian and Antony, they flee to Greek India—as its final days approach.
REACHED: $73,000: Jennifer Brozek (Serenity, Dragonlance, Shadowrun) brings Transhumanism to the dinner table in Transcend: a family is thrown into crisis when one of their number unexpectedly announces plans to undergo radical gene surgery and leave human morphology behind.
REACHED: $74,500 Wade Rockett (Tales of the Old Margreve, Midgard Preview) reveals The Secret of Warlock Mountain, in which a community of alien castaways in central California must decide whether to hide peacefully among the humans, or use their mental powers to ensure their safety by force.
REACHED: $76,000 Lizard (Excellent Prismatic Spray, D20 Gamma World): A year after the bombs fell in 1962, the survivors in a small town emerge from The Bunker. Will they restore the old world, create a new world, or fall back into war?
REACHED: $77,500 Mark Rein•Hagen (World of Darkness, Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, etc) charts a course to a desert island with Endure! During the filming of America's number one, and possibly worst, reality show, a freak Hurricane suddenly appears and devastates the mainland. The contestants and a few crew members are left alone on the island to fend for themselves. Cut off from the world, when no rescue or aid arrives ... that's when things take a turn for the strange.
REACHED: $79,000 Angus Abranson (Chronicle City, Cubicle 7) provides the syllabus for Alma Mater Magica: after years of drifting, divorce and disappointment, former friends who saved the world as teenagers return as faculty members to the tradition-bound boarding school that trained them to be wizards.
REACHED: $80,500 Mark Diaz Truman (The Play's the Thing) joins The Perfect Family: Gattaca meets The Riches when a family of "perfects" has to sell a few spots on the family tree to "imperfects" to avoid insolvency. Now they are all in over their heads, trying to keep the lies from coming unraveled when the genetic police start snooping around...
REACHED: $82,000 Ken Burnside (Attack Vector: Tactical, Squadron Strike) takes you inside the Sephardic Jewish community of Toledo during the Reconquista in Andalusian Nights. In a culture where learning is prized, beset by threatened Christian conquest and Berber intolerance, is it time to use the forbidden knowledge of golem manufacture?
Which takes us to the last pitch before Blood on the Snow fills up, becoming, at 240 pages, as thick as the main Hillfolk book.
REACHED: $83,500: Jon Creffield (Slayers Guide to Dragons, Hell’s Door Opens) takes you down the Road to Appomattox: on the eve of the Civil War one Virginian family fights a battle of its own. Masters, servants, and slaves choose sides as a family, and a whole country, divides.
So what happens now? The Series Pitch of the Month Club!
Every month, starting four weeks after the game ships, all backers at $10 and up will receive a Series Pitch in the standard format (approximately 2,000 words plus illustration) in PDF format.
REACHED: $85,000: John Wick (Legend of the Five Rings, Seventh Sea, Houses of the Blooded) steps into a world of sorcerers, crowded cities, corrupt nobles, eldritch assassins and big payoffs in Honor Among Thieves. In a world where everything is illegal, everything is a crime, and it only pays to be a thief.
REACHED: $86,000: Sean Patrick Fannon (Shaintar, Star Wars: Edge of Darkness) unleashes the struggles of democracy and free market capitalism in a high fantasy world. Discover the answer amid the greed, passion, and power plays of No Crowns.
REACHED: $87,000: Jesse Scoble (Wizard101, Game of Thrones d20) sings a narcocorrido for you on The Devil's Highway: narco traficantes and border patrol circle each other in the canyons and deserts between North and South.
REACHED: $88,000: Matthew McFarland's Hold the Chain, in which you are the entertainment in the gladiatorial arena of a steam-powered flying city on the brink of revolution.
REACHED: $89,000: Hal Mangold (Atomic Overmind, Green Ronin) loses your luggage in Terminal X: A fractious circle of modern sorcerers wage a subtle turf war within one of the world’s busiest airports, while fending off occult forces threatening to erode the very source of their power.
REACHED: $90,000: Rob Wieland (Shadowrun, Star Wars Saga Edition) shows you his jazz hands in Encore, following the dreamers, has-beens and never-will-be's who make up the cast of a touring jukebox musical.
REACHED: $91,000: ASH LAW (The Reliquary) cranks up Iron Tsar: engineers battle zombies in the Imperial court of a magical 1920s Russia.
REACHED: $92,000: Jerome Larre (Qin, Tenga) takes you inside the Sheep’s Clothing of a tranquil bedroom community for cops—as a massive Internal Affairs bust threatens dozens of its key citizens.
NOW UP FOR GRABS: $93,000: Robin D. Laws: In a post-scarcity economy, there remain only two routes to status: Art and Murder. As guardians of the Great Museum, you struggle to protect the world's cultural patrimony from outside marauders—and your own ambitions.
LOCKED: $94,000: Raven Daegmorgan (Orx) sails the black tides of the cosmos in Niflgap. As the universe dies, you, the fractious Norse gods, set forth in starships from lonesome Midgaard, hoping to find salvation in the void where armies of the hungry dead writhe endless beneath black suns.
LOCKED: $95,000: Caias Ward (Strike Force 7, Noumenon) In a far-future religion based on enlightenment through genetic engineering and organic technology, a squad of young cadets struggles with their commanders, their fellow cadets, the outside universe and crises of faith.
LOCKED: $96,000 John Kovalic (Dork Tower, Munchkin) returns to ink-spattered halcyon days with Campus Desk: students behind the Daily Forward, newspaper of Wisconsin State University, figure out life, love, and burying the lede.
Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem Companion
Having run out of room in the main book, and with tons of great material waiting in the wings from an array of gaming luminaries, we have added a new item to the reward level mix: a sourcebook called Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem Companion.
We announced this book midway through the campaign, when backers made it possible. Because the KS site doesn't allow projects to edit reward level text after it goes live, please note the following additions to levels:
Every reward level from $10 (SCOUT) on up includes the book in PDF, whether this is specified in the reward text or not.
The following reward levels receive the print edition, no additional charge, no additional action required, even though it is not listed in the reward text: CHIEFTAIN, GREENBIRD VAULTKEEPER, BEARER OF THE CLAY TABLET, NABOB OF THE NORTHLANDS, BEARER OF THE GOLD TABLET, BADLANDS OVERLORD, MONARCH and EMPEROR.
Blood on the Snow is also available at the following reward levels: BATTLER ($41), PORTENT FINDER ($70) or SILVER SCRIBE VAULTKEEPER ($90.) Or keep your existing reward level, adding $16 (and $10 shipping to non-US/UK addresses) to purchase it as an add-on.
This sourcebook expands the horizons of DramaSystem with troubleshooting, design notes, and a touch of LARP, plus additional Series Pitches from designer Robin D. Laws and an array of design stalwarts established and emerging.
Just as we've reached its maximum page count, we've hit the max character count for a KS page. So check out this link for the book's original contents.
Info and Testimonials
For more on Hillfolk and DramaSystem, check out the following articles and interviews:
2 GMs, 1 Mic podcast (includes example of play)
Lowell Francis' review at Age of Ravens: “I was dubious; then I was intrigued; then I wanted to run this system in this setting—right now.”
Rick Neal's excellent blog post encapsulating the DramaSystem rules.
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast.
We hadn’t specified it yet, but the semi-precious DramaSystem tokens come in a Hillfolk dice bag. Here’s a mock-up:
Better yet, orders for the card set have been strong enough that we are able to upgrade its contents, and thus its usefulness in play. The card deck will now include custom faces with art from the book and inspirational springboards for the relief of momentarily stumped scene callers. Here’s our mock-up of the card box.
Robin Laws Fun Pack
Now included in the Reward mix is the Robin Laws Fun Pack, consisting of electronic copies of:
- Robin's new short story collection, New Tales of the Yellow Sign
- Volumes 1 and 2 of his comic strip, The Birds
- The Dying Earth Revivification Folio, a new streamlined way to play the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game
- Page XX, a collection of his first 24 columns for the webzine of the same name
- His Trail of Cthulhu scenario The Repairer of Reputations
- His Ashen Stars scenario Tartarus
Want to mix and match reward level elements? Add the specified amount to your pledge. We'll ask you which add-ons you've ordered at campaign's end.
$8 – electronic copy of Robin's book Hamlet's Hit Points (PDF and e-reader formats.) See the roots of the dramatic/procedural distinction at the heart of the game, and steep yourself in narrative technique. This much-loved book joins the Hillfolk Kickstarter campaign courtesy of our pals at Gameplaywright.
$16 – Hillfolk semi-precious stone tokens with custom dice bag (add $4 for shipping outside US and UK)
$16 print edition of Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem Companion as an add-on. (add $8 for shipping outside US and UK)
$17 – Hillfolk deck of playing cards, now customized front and back, with scene triggers for enhanced play value (add $4 for shipping outside US and UK)
$22 – set of 3 collectible prints of Jan Pospisil’s artwork (add $5 for shipping outside US and UK)
$35 - Faux leather binding edition of Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem Companion, to match the binding of the core book Limited Edition. If we sell 125 or fewer copies, all copies will come with a signed and numbered bookplate. If we sell more than that, only backers receiving the Limited Edition of the core Hillfolk book will get the signed and numbered bookplates. Ordering this add-on does not deprive backers at Chieftain or above of their standard edition of Blood on the Snow. We are unable to offer a discount to backers at those levels offering to forgo their standard editions. (Add $10 shipping for destinations outside the US and UK.)
$37 – Robin Laws Fun Pack ebook and PDF bundle (see above for contents)
The following reward is available to anyone whose reward level already includes a standard, limited or ultra-limited print edition:
$20 – Extra copy – get an additional copy of the standard edition at a reduced price (add $10 for shipping outside US and UK)
Battle of the Clans
This isn’t only a crowdfunding campaign—it’s an epic struggle between two hardscrabble clans of the desolate badlands. When you pledge, leave a comment declaring your allegiance to either the Lion clan or the Wolf clan. Every dollar worth of goodies and benefits you purchase also earns your chosen clan a battle point. Who will dominate the hill country and earn a place in history? The answer is in your hands. Keep checking back to see who’s winning—the felines or the canines!
Clan Council Access
Want to virtually hang out with Robin and pick his brain on Hillfolk, DramaSystem, or the topic of your choice? Bundle an add-on with your pledge, and tell us which one you've selected.
$25: QUESTER add-on: Take part in a one-hour Q&A with Robin on Google+ Hangouts (to be held on a weekday during the day or evening, Eastern time), alongside a maximum of 5 other questers.
$150: PROPHET add-on: Take part in a one-hour one-on-one chat with Robin via Google+ or Skype (to be held on a weekday during the day or evening, Eastern time.) Appear in credits as a Prophet.
*Scheduling vagaries being what they are, we reserve the right to substitute game gurus of equal luminosity if anyone currently committed has to bow out.
Risks and challenges
The game text is already a complete, post-playtest draft, pending only the inclusion of any additional material created as pledge benefits or stretch goals. Adding additional collaborators to any project introduces the sorts of scheduling uncertainties that Pelgrane Press is accustomed to and takes in stride. The worst-case scenario: modest slippage in release date and order fulfillment.
There is always a risk when printing a book, but Pelgrane Press has a long-standing relationship with our selected print-partner, and in the very unlikely event of a reprint being required, that would be within the budget.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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