Hillfolk Synopses

For a look at sort of broad-strokes narrative that might emerge over longterm DramaSystem play, I thought I’d provide you with the following synopses. These cover the first distinct chunk of episodes, analogous to a season of a serialized drama.

The system doesn’t impose a particular arc on the group; rather, it provides a framework allowing the group to improvise its own storyline.

In retrospect we can see a pretty clear arc, though: after we establish our clan of iron age raiders and its immediate neighbors, they come into contact with the richer, more sophisticated nation to the north. They start out fighting it, and wind up joining it.

These synopses leave out a lot of the individual character arcs in each episode. Considered together, though, you can see the season arcs for the various PCs.

At the beginning of each episode, one player calls the first scene, and specifies its theme. The episode titles originate in these themes.


When a harsh winter threatens the Horsehead clan with starvation, the clan chieftain, Skull, seeks a solution aided by other prominent Horsesheads (the shaman Roll-the-Bones, the mighty warrior Redaxe, the shepherd Thickneck and the hostler Twig).


The Horseheads learn the price of success when their raid against the neighboring Lavender clan wipes out their entire male fighting force, leaving them vulnerable and the Horseheads responsible for their protection. Skull faces a challenge from the intemperate warrior Treeclimber, who demands too great a share of the loot. Horsehead leaders solve two problems at once by arranging for Treeclimber’s daughter to marry Farhawk, adolescent son of the slain Lavender chieftain.

The Injustice of Randomness

Disease strikes the village, sending Skull to his sickbed. Members of a recently absorbed clan, the Greensnakes, seize on his weakness in an attempt to kill him and seize power. Skull demands the expulsion of the Greensnakes, but, in a move vehemently opposed by Roll-the-Bones, wishes to keep their three most attractive women as concubines. Skull wins the debate, alienating the wise woman, only to see the women struck dead by lightning.


A trip to Lavender reveals that the neighboring clan has fallen into violently opposed camps. After much contention, and the reluctant subordination of the Lavender firebrand Farhawk to Skull, the Horsehead leaders absorb the Lavenders into their ranks, to the apparent approval of the spirit world.

Fear of the Unknown

The arrival of the shattered remnants of the once-proud Swift Hare clan, led by the redoubtable One-Eye, presage the arrival of a terrible new force in the Southlands. A thundering army of the Northern king, Goldenthrone, is on the march, with conquest its aim. Skull discovers a split in the enemy ranks, between the gruff general Blunt Helmet and the eunuch politician Slipper. Going with the man they understand best, they decide to offer their aid to the former.

The Spear of Truth

Talks with the two Northern leaders bring the Horseheads to an about-face: they decide that Slipper is actually the smarter bet.

The flashy northern warrior Shieldheart appears and begins immediately to pitch woo to Redaxe’s lover, Twig. As a demonstration of the new alliance with the north, Shieldheart leads the Horseheads on a raid against an anti-northern clan—one that serves merely as a premonition of a bigger fight against the full enemy force closer to home.

But the real threat to his romantic happiness comes closer to home, when, traveling on a diplomatic mission to another tribe, feelings surface between Twig and Redaxe’s brother, Thickneck.

On his return, Thickneck goes to Redaxe to tell him what happened—and gets an answer in the form of his brother’s upraised axe.


Thickneck accepts a beating from Redaxe but won’t give Twig up.

An attempt to build ties with the north goes sour when the Horsehead ally One-Eye kills their hostage, the general Blunt Helmet, in front of the influential matron Straight Scepter, who has come to ransom him. One-Eye’s apparently rash action turns out to be revenge, in keeping with his clan’s tradition, for the rape and murder of his wife.

When they lean toward leniency for One-Eye, Farhawk explodes in rage, challenging Skull’s authority and leading to his ejection from the talking hall.


Called to repay a blood debt, Redaxe agrees to save One-Eye, engineering his faked death in a trial by combat. Before leaving for a wandering exile in which he will fight the north in the guise of the bandit called Ghost, One-Eye confronts Skull. His supposedly fake alliance with the north, he angrily predicts, will become a real one—making One-Eye his enemy.


The Horsehead leaders journey north to the king’s capital, Dais, where they behold its wealth and explore its politics. After vehement debate, the group decides. In keeping with One-Eye’s prediction, Skull bows down before Goldenthrone and declares the Horseheads his vassals.


On the journey back from Dais, Redaxe begins to forgive his brother. But on return to the clan, it turns out that the people, roused by a reinvigorated Roll-the-Bones, stoutly oppose vassalage to Goldenthrone. A contest of prophecy between Roll-the-Bones and Twig leads to the latter’s humiliation, when Twig correctly predicts Horsehead’s success in a raid against the fearsome foreigners to the west, the Tridents. Roll-the-Bones exiles herself from the clan.

Power Struggle

Twig reveals a new taste for power when she encourages Thickneck to step up and depose Skull as chieftain. She fails in her own bid for power, however, when Staffholder, Roll-the-Bones’ precocious attendant, beats her in a contest of prophecy. Meanwhile, in Dais, Skull and Thickneck fend off Shieldheart’s scheme to have Twig appointed as a permanent courtier/hostage there. When Skull petitions Goldenthrone over the matter, the king, frustrated by his evasions, declares Thickneck the new chieftain.

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