DramaSystem Askew: Planning a Game of Queer Strife Amid the Collapse

When a friend asked me to run an RPG for their group of friends—all of whom were queer, and most of whom had never played an RPG before—I gave her some options to choose from. Horror? D&D-style fantasy adventure? When I mentioned DramaSystem, her eyes lit up. The rules are very light, there are no weird-shaped dice, and everyone’s familiar with emotional conflict and interpersonal drama.

I told her that DramaSystem can be played in any genre where there’s a small, tight-knit group of people in conflict. What setting would be best for this group? Again, she didn’t hesitate to answer: one of their favorite pastimes as friends is to talk about who they’d most want with them in the event of a massive global calamity, and how they’d all survive together. I should run a post-apocalyptic game.

With that simple prompt, I was off and running. I couldn’t find a generic post-apocalyptic scenario in either the Hillfolk core book or the Blood on the Snow supplement. However, the core book does contain John Scott Tynes’ “Horns in the Hill”, a zombie apocalypse set in an anthill. The idea of your enemies becoming both victims and carriers of a terrifying contagion appealed to me immensely, and I decided that the major external threat to our heroes’ Seattle-based community of survivors would come from former Amazon  employees who were part of a hive mind controlled by a massively evolved Alexa AI.

A map of post-apocalyptic Seattle proved incredibly easy to find. Local artist Tony Dowler had already created a Seattle Doomsday Map and accompanying survival guide I could cherry-pick ideas from. Hurrah!

While I was working on the pregens, I had another stroke of luck when my Kickstarter backer copy of Avery Alder’s magnificent RPG Dream Askew arrived. Here I was, about to run a game about queer strife amid the collapse, when a game where that’s the literal tagline showed up in my mailbox. I still wanted to use DramaSystem for the session, but Dream Askew was invaluable in giving me templates for characters and opportunities for my players to build the world in whose ruins they lived.

In fact, the way Dream Askew‘s character playbooks were so great that I decided to use them for my game. I replaced the PbtA system elements (such as Moves) with DramaSystem mechanics, but kept all the wonderfully creative player options for appearance, roles, gender, and more. You can download the “DramaSystem Askew” pregens at the DramaSystem Resources Page.

That’s how I assembled my post-apocalyptic Hillfolk one-shot. The session itself was a wild and exhilarating improvised story of violent gang warfare, fierce battles over water justice,  and internal power struggles. In the end it culminated in the revelation of extraterrestrial influence over human affairs and a near-repeat of the disaster that almost destroyed humanity. Just another day in the apocalypse…

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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