Mini-Review: Hillfolk

Hillfolk is difficult to play, but difficult does not necessarily mean bad. Whilst not crunchy, game sessions often devolve into lengthy interpretations of mechanical terms, especially what constitutes “an emotional concession”.  That’s a turn off for players who like to be perpetually in-character, but debating the thoughts, feelings and emotional needs of a player character IS roleplay. It’s just not the kind you see in most RPGs.

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Hillfolk claims that most roleplaying games handle emotional conflict badly – that arguments between PCs often end with both refusing to give ground. To encourage compromise and continued drama, every dramatic scene in Hillfolk ends with the scene’s “petitioner” answering whether they felt they were given an emotional concession by the scene’s “granter”. If a concession is granted, the petitioner pays the granter a drama token, but if the petitioner is denied then they are paid a drama token by the granter – exactly as though the granter was accepting or denying a compel in Fate Core. There are also basic rules for handling procedural scenes (e.g. combat) using a card-based system of drawing to match a target card, but drama is the meat of play.

Compels in Fate are so attractive because fate points are extremely tasty currency – you ALWAYS want more. Unfortunately, drama tokens in Hillfolk are much less powerful. Some of their effects, like forcing entry into or ducking out of scenes, are usually achieved for free by just asking the scene’s framer. Enough tokens can force granters to make emotional concessions (or block others doing the same), but forcing is expensive and players begin with zero drama tokens, often spending half a session earning enough to make a force. Drama tokens also have minimal impact on the outcome of procedural scenes, which are pretty infrequent in Hillfolk anyway. And without sufficient incentive to make emotional concessions, sometimes the drama can stall.

Hillfolk appears a mash-up of traditional and story game designs, but I find my experience with neither is particularly helpful. It’s more its own beast. The game is GM’ed, but scene framing passes round the table – in practice, most groups I’ve played with have preferred to delegate full framing rights to the GM, or go fully GMless. With dozens of potential settings with a plethora of dramatic hooks, there’s bound to be something in the game to appeal to any genre fan. Just don’t expect to do much dungeon crawling.

(I never review a game I haven’t played or run. Check out https://michaelduxbury.com/category/reviews/ for more RPG reviews.)

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