50 Games in 50 Weeks: Houses of the Blooded

Posted by on August 9, 2012

I’m building an “RPG Tour,” a set of RPGs that, if played, will give one a broad appreciation for different approaches to tabletop gaming. The list includes DreadFiasco, Old School Hack, and Dungeon World.

I ran my second session of Houses of the Blooded last night, and I’m adding it to the list.

detail of Journey start by jiuge

detail of Journey start by jiuge

Houses is a game of high court intrigue. The players are all powerful nobles struggling to get their way in a complex society.

In many ways, it’s the opposite of D&D. There’s very little combat. The player-characters are so strong they could easily kill dozens of normal people, but are evenly matched against each other. There’s no point in attacking regular people or nobles.

Most of the rulebook isn’t rules; it’s explanations of Blooded society. The game is all about getting into your character’s head and risking yourself.

The game’s mechanics support this, and may blow the minds of traditional RPG players. If you want to risk something, you use different elements of your character to add dice (always six-sided) to a dice pool. Your name is worth one die, one applicable virtue adds as many dice as your score in that virtue, and you can tag one of your Aspects for three dice. (Aspects are taglines that describe your character, like “Aura of innocence” or “Death before dishonor.”)

Before rolling, you may set aside any number of dice from your pool as wagers. You then roll the dice you didn’t set aside and add the results; if you roll 10 or higher, you get to narrate the result. If 9 or lower, the Narrator (GM) narrates the result. If you rolled 10 or higher, then for every die you wagered, you get to add one fact to the result, such as “…and our Houses have a secret pact” or “…she’s actually my wife in disguise.”

This changes the GM’s role. As GM in a game of Houses, I spent 90% of my time playing NPCs. The players truly drove the story.

And by “drove the story,” I mean that we were essentially writing the story as we played. Characters attempted all sorts of investigations and asked all sorts of questions that prompted refusals, confessions, and further plot threads.

Once the group got used to the system–which took about one full session–collaborative storytelling felt easy.

John Rogers once said that the three elements of storytelling are “What do the characters need? Why can’t they get it? And why should I care?” Houses of the Blooded pushes the players to ask and answer those questions in play.

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