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.

Josh Fox

Rabalias grew up wanting to be a pirate. But a band of evil bureaucrats kidnapped him and forced him to work for The Man. Even so, Rabalias was patient and cunning. He escaped by gnawing his way through the walls of his prison and concealing the hole behind a picture of cthulhu. He fled to the coast, and stowed away on the Black Armada, where he worked his way up to the rank of Admiral.

4 thoughts to “House on the Border: Values”

  1. Cool, so I had a couple of questions.

    1. Is there any recommendation / guidance for whether I should align myself with the House or not? I ask because my instinct given the above would always be to go against the House – e.g. the House values Honour but actually I’m the black sheep of the family so I don’t care about that. Would the game work if everyone did that? (From the above it looks like that would result in the House actually *not* having that value after all, or rather having a negative value in it – is that a problem?) And similarly, does it matter in play whether we all align the same way or whether there’s division between us? Is one better than the other?

    2. I can see it for principles and beliefs, but what’s the opposing Value for a goal-based Value? How might that be phrased?

    1. So, if everyone takes a negative rating for a value then the House may still officially have Honour (or whatever) as a value, but everyone knows they are really as dishonorable as rats. You can do that, but it seems to me the best stories are likely to come out of a situation where the Black Sheep is in the minority and ideally at least one person is a Paragon. Part of the point of collaborative value creation is to allow the group to pick values that have an interesting group dynamic about them, so I’ll definitely want some play advice to help with that.

      I hope to implement a skins system that will probably include Black Sheep and Paragon as options.

      I’m currently rethinking the whole system of stats, but if it remains as is, it would be something like
      “The evil empire should be torn down and replaced with a Republic”
      “Tearing down the empire and replacing it with a Republic is not important”
      – so when you have an opportunity to further that goal, and don’t take it, you’re implicitly making the second statement.

      Thanks for the questions, by the way. As well as helping me think out aspects of the system that hadn’t occurred to me, it improves my motivation to discuss it with other people.

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