Saturday, May 17, 2014

HOLLOWPOINT: Those Angels and Rebels and Aliens Aren't Going to Kill Themselves

Many thanks to Sarah for this awesome drawing.

I volunteered to run a roleplaying game called Hollowpoint for our Monday Night Game Lab. I'd never run anything for the group, but this game sounded like a low-prep, fun one-shot and that was exactly what I was looking for.

"No one in this game is innocent.
You're an Agent. No one ever messes with you, because you are that far above the common herd of men that sleepwalk through their lives. You get things done, and that usually means blood. Or pain. Or, when you are feeling generous, death."

Character creation is fast and easy, which is good because you are expected to die or "move on" in some way at least once during the session.  The game is set up as a series of Conflicts that become progressively harder for the characters to beat.  The conflicts themselves are resolved by rolling big handfuls of dice and using the sets that appear--pairs or more--to narrate the action.  I'm told by a reliable source that the mechanics have similarities to The Pool and InSpectres. At any rate, you'll need a lot of d6 dice for this game. I used every d6 I had in the house, and only had enough because another player brought a bunch of her own.

I got a test-run in with someone who is only an occasional player of roleplaying games and it was very successful. In that game my partner played three characters and I ran a modified version of an example scenario provided in the rule book.

In the test-run, the Agents were highly trained and skilled humans that worked for Heaven, doing a lot of dirty work for the angels who were few and far between on Earth. There were rogue angels and demons roaming our planet and they needed to be kept in check. The Mission this time was to find and destroy a Construct, a kind of Frankenstein's monster that had been created by rogues or demons for some hideous purpose.

The Objectives in this case were clear-cut, as they should always be in a game of Hollowpoint: find out where the creature was being kept, and destroy it. Don't talk to it, don't think about it, just kill it.

The action was fast as the player described their interactions and investigations in Las Vegas, which led to a raid on a warehouse in the desert guarded by a rogue angel and his human minions.  One Agent moved on. The game is not made to be played by one player and a Narrator, but I have to say, we both enjoyed our test game a great deal.

Two days later I ran a scenario of my own design for three veteran RPG players.  Walking around the south wing of my palatial mansion, I noticed one of my favorite books: Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan. That was my inspiration. I quickly sketched out the nature of the player's Agency, the location of the story (Mars in this case), the Enemy, and the two Objectives. Each Objective has at least two conflicts. Then I decided on two Principals, important NPCs who would generate retaliations when messed with.

The players seemed to enjoy character generation, and we ended up with a hard-core group of Protectorate Agents who would be arriving at the end of a planetary rebellion to find and secure an alien artifact, a ship in this case.

I feel like I was less-clear than I should have been when I explained the first Objective to the players: were the Agents primarily concerned with finding the location of the rebel base that housed the alien artifact, or were they to focus on killing the Generalisimo who led the colonial rebellion and was still alive?  It's important to be clear about the difference between Objectives and Conflicts, and I muddily combined the two. 

Example character from the book

We also ran into a problem at one point that wasn't covered in the rules, or that I perhaps missed: is this a Story Game, where the players are creating their own reality and dictating the environment, or is it a More Regular Game, where the Narrator prepares the world and the players react to it? The particular situation came up in the last act, as the players approached a large white tent with an airlock, with researchers and rebel guards around it. I had envisioned this scene as leading to a deep shaft, which would in turn lead to the alien ship once the players were underground.  One of the players, however, declared that the ship was in the tent. So which one is true? We decided in this case to play it out the way I had planned it, but I'm still wondering if that was correct. On the plus side, the Epic Final Battle was epic.

Hollowpoint is written by Brad Murray and C.W. Marshall, published by VCSA Publishing: