Jan 16

January Blog Carnival: DramaSystem & Setting Creation

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoSmallAs part of the preparations for the forthcoming Sigil PD campaign, my Players and I have been using part of the character creation process from DramaSystem to map out relationship networks. This topic also matches the latest theme for the RPGBA Blog Carnival


January Carnival

This month’s RPGBA Blog Carnival is hosted by Nils Jeppe at Enderra.com. The theme for this month is A New Year, A New World. Nils describes the theme as follows:


This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is about new worlds, about their discovery and about the women, men, and other sentient humanoids who explore and colonize them.

Share your new lands with us, if you can do so without spoiling them for your party. Show off your maps and designs. How do you approach setting up your worlds? Share your favourite world-building tips!


My previous contribution to the RPGBA Blog Carnival was a review of the Paizo Plot Twist cards for the December Carnival hosted Mike Bourke at the Campaign Mastery blog.


Last week’s long article about plot twists in World of Dew also matched December’s theme.


Collaborative Creation

My contribution to this month’s carnival will be a review of my favourite world-building method: Player collaboration. In my continual search for faster prep methods, the trick of using the Players to help create the setting has been a great discovery. Why should I spend hours and hours detailing my world, when I can devote a session or two to the process and have the Players help me?


This technique is an expansion of the idea of collaborating with Players to create location aspects.


Sigil PD Blues

I am currently in the process of starting my Sigil PD campaign arc. This is based in the City of Doors from the Planescape setting.


The superb Planescape box set has recently been released in digital format on DriveThru [affiliate link].


As with any city setting, Sigil is a complex place, with a network of relationships between competing factions. To help the Players understand these relationships, I wanted them involved in the creation of this network. Thus, I turned to the character creation process from DramaSystem.



This is the rules engine at the heart of Hillfolk, the drama-focused RPG by Robin D. Laws, published by Pelgrane Press [affiliate link].


The essence of a Hillfolk game, or any other setting using the DramaSystem engine, is to explore the relationships between the characters. Thus, the game begins with an extended character generation sequence, where each character maps out their relationships with every other character.


There are several steps to this process, whereby connections and unmet needs between all the characters are outlined. This is a collaborative process involving all the Players in the group. The outcome is a complex network of relationships reminiscent of any television soap opera. It is these connections which are then explored during the course of the subsequent game.


It was my first exposure to Hillfolk that crystallized my ideas about using Interludes during an ongoing campaign.


Mapping Connections

We have played DramaSystem several times as Interludes during our main campaign. Thus, I knew how well the character generation process could create a fascinating network of links between the characters. As this was also a collaborative process, it gave the Players a stake in the final map of relationships.


Therefore, this process is a brilliant method of having the Players help me create a network of relationships. There is plenty of scope for Player input, which gives them investment in the setting and creates connections that I would not have imagined. I retained some editorial control, to ensure the setting was playable for the type of game we wanted to run.


Furthermore, by allowing the Players to lead the creation of the setting, I ensured the presence of those elements they wanted to see in the game. The story is always going to be better when the Players are invested in it, and collaborating in the creation process is a great way to build this investment into the setting.


Rule of Three

There was, however, one change I made to the DramaSystem character creation process. In the original version, every character is required to link to every other character on the relationship map. Even with five Players, this can result in a lot of links, especially when the process has to be repeated to create the unmet needs within each relationship pairing.


I knew this would take us too long. I was anticipating a lot of entries onto the relationship map, and thus it would be too difficult to link them all together. I decided to apply the Rule of Three, a typically Planescape principle. So, each entry on the map only needed to link to three others.


As the brainstorming progressed, the Rule of Three kept the process manageable for us. Many of the earlier entries had more than three links, but this was okay. The three-link minimum gave us sufficiently complex relationship maps without slowing the process to a crawl in the later stages.


Sigil’s Webs

Over the weeks, we have created two of these relationship maps. The first one was a diagram of the relationships between the Lady of Pain and the trademark Factions of Sigil. This gave us 17 entries, which would have been impossibly complex without the Rule of Three. The result is very much a snapshot of the current political situation in Sigil, and will primarily serve as background for the setting.


The second relationship map, however, will be far more central to our game. This time we brainstormed the personnel of the Department of Artefacts, Souls and Potions. The Heroes will be Investigators with ASP, so the people on this map will be encountered in every game. These are the relationships which will play out during our campaign.


During this second brainstorming, we used many of the standard characters from police television series. This was great fun, and the Players helped to create a vibrant Department full of interesting characters. The true impact of this will not be seen until we are regularly gaming with these characters, but it has set the tone for the coming campaign.



These brainstorming sessions have created a complex background for our game in Sigil. The Players have experienced the process with me, and thus understand the setting so much better than if I had just given them a handout to read. The process itself was also entertaining, which made it a very worthwhile process.


Read all the current entries for the January Carnival at Enderra.com.


What techniques for setting creation have you used in your game? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



Something for the Weekend next week: Trollbabe and Re-rolls


Follow this link to learn more about the RPG Blog Alliance.



2 pings

  1. I’d love to see the relationship maps 🙂

      • Phil on January 19, 2015 at 3:05 pm
      • Reply

      Hi Michael,

      Hmmmm, maybe.

      My problem is that they are hand-drawn, and more than a little messy. I guess I could scan one in, but the readability may be low. For public consumption, they would really need to be drawn up on some drawing software.

      Regardless, I shall scan one in, and see how it turns out. So, maybe later in the week.

      Thanks for the comment

  1. […] My previous contribution to the RPGBA Blog Carnival was a post about DramaSystem and Setting Creatio… […]

  2. […] This part of the creation process reminds me of how we use DramaSystem, by Robin D Laws. […]

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