House on the Border: Values

This is part of a designer diary series for the game House on the Border. The previous article (also the first) can be found here.


At the start of the game, you collectively decide on what Values the house considers to be important. You could express these as a word or a phrase. Honesty could be a value, or My Word Is My Bond.

Values could include an important principle (Justice, Honour, Honesty, Valour), a goal (Bring about the reign of the true gods, Become the largest trading empire in the galaxy, Get out of this rotten neighbourhood), a belief (Arthur is the one true king, Western vales are superior/inferior, You can’t trust an elf/dwarf), and more besides. Think about what you want your House to be like, but also remember that whatever you choose, the MC will focus her energies on challenging those values. If you don’t want the game to focus on something, don’t pick it as a Value.

It is vitally important that you all understand broadly what is meant by the Values you have chosen. This is not to say that there couldn’t be disagreements in application, but you must be clear on what the core of the Value is. For example, the Value of Justice could be referring to placing a high importance on compliance with the law; could represent a commitment to fairness; or might be more about wanting to see everyone get their just desserts. You may well end up disagreeing over whether a given person deserves their fate, but you must at least agree on whether that question is covered by the Value of Justice.

Having decided the House’s Values, every player gives their character a rating from -2 to +2 in that Value, and the House as a whole gets a rating equal to the combined total of the characters’ ratings (capped at -2 or +2).

Every Value also has an opposing Value. You must also collectively decide on a name for this Value, and ensure you are clear on what it means. The rating for this value is the same as its opposite, but with the sign reversed, e.g. +2 Honesty could become -2 Deceitful.

In addition, any character may have personal Values that do not relate to the House at all. If so, they should say what they are now and hold a discussion with the group to agree on a name for them and establish what they mean, creating an opposite at the same time. The player may set their Value anywhere between +2 and -2 just like a House Value, and any other player may decide to give their character the same Value if they wish.

At any time the group may decide to add a new value to the House’s Values, which may include adding a Value that had previously been personal to one or more characters. If so, the House and anyone who didn’t previously had that Value gain it and its opposite at +0.

House on the Border


You play members of a house or household, large or small, struggling to survive and prosper close to the border of an unpredictable and sometimes hostile area. Perhaps you are a noble house on the border between civilisation and savage wilderness; maybe you are a merchant house plying your trade between galactic empires; or perhaps you are the family who live at the big house on the edge of a rough neighbourhood, trying to figure out how you can afford that holiday in Spain and still pay the phone bill.

The game is designed to tell stories about the House and the individuals in it, focusing on the interplay between the needs of the group and the desires of the people that make it up. You’ll play characters with strong personalities and driving goals, not all of which will be compatible with the survival and prosperity of the House.

The rules system for House on the Border will be based on the Apocalypse World engine.

The House and the Border

At the start of the game, you collectively decide what kind of House the game will focus on, and what the nature of the border is. The House could be a literal building, a family or clan, a business house or something else entirely. As for the border, it could be a simple spatial border between kingdoms or a frontier between a civilised area and an untamed space. But equally it could be something different: a border in time, perhaps, such as a political or cultural revolution; or an ephemeral border between competing political or religious interests. It needn’t be grand, but could be something like an anarchic neighbourhood on the wrong side of the tracks or a lawless wilderness. Agree on this before you start to create characters.

What matters to your House?

Your House will have a bunch of things that are important to it. These are divided into two types: values and resources. Values are things that matter to the House, such as Honour or Victory. Resources are things the House needs to survive and/or prosper, such as Money or Defences.

In future installments, I’ll develop how these work.