DramaSystem: Drama Cards

Art from the book itself.

I know DramaSystem is a little out there for my audience. I read many different games, both as a designer and as a friend of theater majors. I can’t really apologize for it. Neither can I apologize for writing about hacking a game you may not have heard of.

DramaSystem games lead a segmented existence. They are purposely split between dramatic play (the talky-talky stuff) and procedural play (doing things like running, fighting, climbing, etc). The focus of the rules and the game are on dramatic play. One way they separate these two modes of play is by giving each different resources. For dramatic scenes, players use anywhere from zero to three drama tokens per scene. For procedural scenes, they use one of three procedural tokens: a green, yellow, and red.

Now the design is meant to clearly show the difference between the two parts of the game. They use different rules and different resources to signify this. It holds the hands of players that are coming from more traditional play where nearly everything is procedural.

This hack assumes you have more experience with games that rely on dramatic play and don’t need the game to babysit you. Ready? Let’s go.

Firstly, get rid of your procedure tokens. The “stoplight tokens” are out. We don’t need them. Have your deck of cards ready? Good you’ll need them.

The first addition to the game is this: replace drama tokens with drama cards. Whenever they are asked to take tokens, players instead draw from the top of a shuffled deck. They function exactly the same for dramatic play. You use them and spend them and give them to other players just as you normally would.

Here’s a big change: in procedural scenes, the GM will flip over the top card of the deck. The player taking lead for the procedural scene asks “Do we succeed” and may then discard a card.

If the player discarded,

  • A card of the same value, they have a “Yes, and” result.
  • A card of the same suit, they have a “Yes, but” result.
  • A card of the same color, they have a “No, but” result.
  • If they do not have a matching card or do not discard a card, they have a “No, and” result.

What does this system do?

It unifies dramatic and procedural play. If you don’t need the bumpers for bowling anymore and can handle playing a drama game without being over-reliant on procedural scenes, give this a try.

But just in case you might continue to use procedural scenes as a crutch, they now come with a cost. In order to get any result above a “No, and” result, you have to lose a card.

Characters can feel the “ebb and flow” of drama better. This is one of the cooler aspects of the game, now highlighted in both spheres of play: a loss now may be a win later. You might have just been forced to give in to another player, but you’ll be ready for that next procedural scene you call, that’s for sure.

This also makes all characters the same when it comes to “doing stuff.” This can be good or bad. In many ways they are the same in the dramatic scenes, this makes them mechanically the same in procedural scenes.

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