Apr 17

Trollbabe and Relationships, Part 2: Keeping your Friends Close

trollbabeThis week I continue exploring relationships in Trollbabe. Part one described how relationships are formed. Part two explores the impact of these relationships within the game.


This essay is my eleventh 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.


Presence of Relationships

After Players have devoted so much time and effort in establishing a relationship, it is important to consider how these secondary characters fit into the story. When the “camera” moves away from the allied characters, what is happening to them?


As with a lot of Ron’s advice, these guidelines apply to all RPGs, not just Trollbabe. The basic principle for allies is that any relationship which existed in a previous adventure will still be true for the next one. Allied characters will be present at the start of the adventure, following the Hero from one story to the next.


Determining the presence of a specific ally in a particular scene is less straightforward. Typically of Trollbabe, this decision is left with the Player. However, the nature of the ally must also be considered. If their presence does not seem realistic, such as a tavern drinking partner at a royal ball, then the GM can veto the ally being with the Hero.


Enemies lying in Wait

Where Ron’s advice really shines is when he discusses the presence of enemies, from nominated oppositional relationships. These need never be specified in advance, but are always assumed to be lurking nearby. I love the story potential of this. The knowledge that an enemy is always just out of sight, adds tension to any scene.


This one piece of advice facilitates a recurring villain, a true nemesis who plagues the Hero every step of the way. Nor should the enemy always appear, the acknowledgement that the villain is shadowing the Hero is enough. By their very nature, a recurring villain weaves previous plots into the current story.


It is worth remembering how lovers are established as both allies and enemies. This categorization enables a lover to likewise be present in almost any scene. As well as offering heightened opportunities for personal drama, this also suggests every lover has the potential to be a stalker. This extra dimension to the role of lover offers up so many story possibilities.


Playing Relationships

Just as Trollbabe has some fascinating advice about the formation of a relationship, so too is there some great advice about playing out the relationship within the game. Ron introduces an interesting division between what the Player is responsible for, and the role of the GM:


You also decide what these characters are doing, and I as GM say what they think and feel about it.


Yet again, here is a simple piece of advice which opens the door to all sorts of dramatic possibilities. A common theme of Trollbabe is giving the Players agency in the game. This principle is also applied to the actions of a relationship character.


In many ways , this is the crux of the relationship: what a character is prepared to do for the Hero. Thus, the Player is free to decide what help is provided by their character’s relationships. Yet, the GM is also given free reign to interpret the emotional context of the action. This serves as an interesting limitation on the actions of the Player.


The situation is cleverly set up so that a Player can seek an immediate benefit, by choosing how a relationship character will act. However, any such action risks emotional fallout as the GM is free to decide the motivation behind this helpful act. Once again, this simple ruling can create emotional conflict and superb roleplaying opportunities.


Ending Relationships

The last part of relationships to address is how they end. Quite simply, a relationship ends whenever a Player declares it finished. I expect a GM could play up the detrimental qualities of a relationship in the hope the Player will want to end it. However, the final decision rests with the Player.


To cement this ending, the Player expresses this break-up in a scene, and it becomes part of the story. This is yet another way for the relationship rules to drive the roleplaying agenda of a Player.


Alternatively, a relationship can be dissolved between adventures. This type of ending would be a little more mysterious, but it does serve to empahsize the episodic nature of the story.


Tied to previous concepts

The relationship chapter also ties in with some of the previous topics from Trollbabe highlighted on Tales of a GM.


The primary mechanical use of relationships is inked to re-rolls.


The nature of a relationship, and its use, may be limited by the current scale.



As you can see from this essay, and the previous one, Ron’s presentation of relationships within Trollbabe greatly empowers the Players. The structure of forming and discarding relationships can drive the story forward and provide some great roleplaying opportunities.


How do you use relationships to drive forward your plots? How much control do you allow Players over the use of their allies? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



Something for the Weekend next week: RPG Blog Carnival


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