Apr 03

Trollbabe and Relationships, Part 1: Making Friends

trollbabeToday’s article looks at the formation of relationships in Trollbabe. Ron passes a lot of the control over relationships to the Player, and shares some excellent advice about relationships within the game.


This essay is my tenth look at the ideas of Ron Edwards expressed in his game Trollbabe.




For those of you who have not read any of the multitude of earlier articles in this mini-series, here is a quick overview of Trollbabe.


My 110 page pdf is the second edition of Trollbabe, released in 2009. Ron Edwards is perhaps best known for his game theory writings at The Forge, but he also designs RPGs.


Trollbabe focuses upon the actions of female half-troll warriors. The setting is a hybrid of pop culture and the Norse sagas. The mechanics are very simple, but Ron devotes a lot of time explaining the theory behind his narrative-driven mechanics. There are also plenty of examples of how to play the game, which help to explain the concepts.



Relationship Philosophy

An entire chapter of Trollbabe is devoted to relationships. The underlying philosophy puts the bulk of relationship control into the hands of the Players.


As with so much in Trollbabe, this concept is refreshingly simple. Empowering Players is a vital part of running a collaborative game. Giving Players a strong role in choosing and maintaining their Heroes’ relationships opens up another avenue to explore within the game.


There are several ideas within the Relationship Chapter I want to highlight.


Forming Relationships

The first area where Trollbabe passes control over relationships to the Player is with the formation of a relationship. The Player decides whether to form a relationship, and the GM can only refuse if the GMC in question already has a name. Ron argues how a named GMC will, by default, have a stronger role in the game, and it is not always appropriate for the Hero to form a close bond with such an important character.


This is not to forbid a relationship with a named GMC. It is for the GM to consider such relationships carefully. Allowing a Hero a relationship with a named GMC can open the door to short-cutting an important plot. This is not the intention of a relationship, so the GM should always veto any relationship with this potential.


Other than this GM veto, there are two more conditions on forming a new relationship. The first of these is for the Hero to engage in a conflict involving the GMC. This need not be a conflict with the GMC. It is enough for the GMC to be part of the conflict in some way. I especially like how this provides added motivation for the Players to engage in conflicts, and to give them a reason to manipulate the participants of a conflict.


Nature of Relationships

Just as it is for the Player to determine the existence of a relationship, so too can the Player determine the nature of that relationship. Remember, GM approval is needed for a Hero to form a relationship with a named GMC. This ensures any new relationship is unlikely to jeopardise the current plot. With this condition out of the way, the Player is given total control over the new relationship.


The third and final condition on forming a new relationship is for the Hero to interact with the GMC at the conclusion of the conflict. It is the content of this interaction which determines the nature of the Hero’s relationship with the GMC.


Once again, the mechanics are requiring the Players to act in a certain way, and the result is only going to improve the game. Not only do these rules reward Players for having conflicts, but they also motivate the character interactions at the end of the conflict.


Type of Relationship

Later in the chapter, Ron outlines two types of relationship: allied and oppositional. This distinction is fairly self-explanatory, separating out the followers and sidekicks from the enemies. There are no mechanical differences between these two types of relationship, but the impact on the story is going to vary.


However, there is one clever twist to this categorisation: lovers are listed in both categories. This is a brilliant piece of insight, and sets up a wide range of stories using lovers. In the narrative, a lover could help a Hero achieve their goal, but also block their attempts at a task considered “too dangerous”, or likely to take the Hero away from the lover.


This reminds me of my own Trouble mechanic, only with more subtlety.



Just the simple act of making friends in Trollbabe increases Player empowerment, provides a motivation for conflict and a spur to roleplaying. This is a superb example of formulating rules to further a design philosophy. I cannot praise this approach too much. It is simply brilliant.


Part two of this essay will look at how a relationship is used during a game of Trollbabe.


How do the Heroes in your game form relationships? Do you even allow mechanically-relevant relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Happy Gaming


Something for the Weekend next week: Boardgames my boys play


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