Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hollowpoint - an RPG review

I bought this RPG from LuLu the Print-On-Demand service. The book is 6 x 9 with an interesting two-tone cover in red and black. It features a silhouette of a man grinning insanely and pointing a gun past the viewer. The tag line on the cover really gives the tone of the game itself:

"bad people killing bad people for bad reasons"

That really does present the feel of the game, you might be playing mafioso hit men, hit men for hire, or even an FBI hit squad, going after some the other bad guys. The game is all about short sharp violence and your player characters are as likely as your targets to get taken down, and out of the game. In fact the referee is encouraged to go for the weakest P.C. To take them out!

There are really no good guys presented within these pages (rather like the 40K universe where everyone is atrocious) so pretty much everyone deserves what they get, even your character.

I've described it as an RPG, but the reality is that it's really more of a story telling game. The mechanics support a narrative approach with minimal die rolling. In fact the die rolls are pretty much reserved for conflict, and when you get there it's a dice pool mechanic, but not an ordinary one!

Your character has a number of stats, such as KILL, CON, or TAKE and each has a number of dice associated with it. When you come to roll the dice during a violent scene, you're not rolling and trying to get 5's and 6's to be counted as success' , rather your trying to get sets. A set is any number of duplicate numbers. You can use a single set to take an action. With an action you get to narrate what your character is doing and take a die out of an opponents set, possibly destroying the set.

So if you have a pair of 6's and an opponent uses their action to take one of those 6's, you no longer have a set and therefore can't take an action. If you have no sets for them to take a die from you take a consequence. What I like here, is that the consequence relates to the skill being used to attack you. If they attacked with KILL, you're going to get hurt, if they attack you with TAKE, they've stolen something from you. It's a huge narrative boon.

One feature I really love about this system is its very cinematic. Can you remember a film where the computer-guy is feeding info to the other guy sneaking through the bad guy's lair? This game's mechanism fits that like a dream. If the player is using their DIG (that's digging for info) skill they can use their rolled sets to help the other PC's. Perhaps they lock a security door, guide them onto the diamonds, or warn them where the explosives are.

As the game progresses, players try to inflict consequences on the bad guys and the ref works his hardest to do the same back to the PCs. In this game the referee IS the enemy, she IS playing to take you out. It's right there in the rules. Don't worry about that, the referee is as constrained by the story telling rules as the players, she needs good dice rolls too.

So what happens if the referee does take you out? You narrate an appropriate ending and jump right back in with a new PC. Simple and sweet. This game is not about character progression, it's about story telling in the best possible way.

So back to the physical book. It's novelette sized running to 110 pages, including intro, index, and a "flavour" section at the back. The cover is shiny and it has that new book smell.

I'm really impressed with the game, it oozes with its interesting theme and presents a system eminently matched to this original genre. Buy it now!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Deathwatch RPG – review

After a long slog I finally finished wading through the PDF version the "Deathwatch" RPG. This was produced by Fantasy Flight who have a a bit of a reputation for grandiose productions. They haven't broken the mold here.  The PDF is 402 pages long (far too long in my opinion for any RPG) and lavishly festooned with artwork.  And my-oh-my what artwork. If you're a fan of Games Workshop and their Warhammer 40,000 science fiction setting then you'll love the artwork. Mighty armoured warriors in dramatic poses wielding unseasonably large weapons to fend off the hordes of foes. Great stuff, really.

In this game you play members of the elite "Deathwatch", a secretive group of Space Marines drawn from the thousands of Space Marine chapters and forged into a "Kill team".  You are therefore playing the very tip of the Imperium's surgical strikes. If a jobs too tough or too important even for standard Space Marines it falls to the Deathwatch.. As you read through this book, you get a LOT of information about who and what Space Marines are, how they are barely human anymore and are instead super humans. This game is all about be bad-ass.

Nine percentage based stats form the core of a character. Then you start "tarting" up. Pick which chapter you marine hails from, this will give you a few tiny mods to stats. Then select a specialty, a role within the Deathwatch kill team for your character. Then a few calcs for your movement and wounds.  You also get a few Fate points which don't operate like FATE points, but instead allow you a few get-out-of-jail moments.

A nice touch next, with a die roll you determine some past events for your character, giving the chap a bit of a history.  You also get to add a "demeanor" to your character which can make him an outrageous ass, but also garners some mechanical advantage in some situations if you can worm it into the story.

There is also a long list of "skills" a.k.a. "advances" that can be bought and these generally end up giving your character a +10 here or there. I found it all rather boring to read, overly complex even. Lots of blather and inter-related requirements like a tech-tree all just to garner a +5% bonus when attacked from behind by something that's bigger than you.

...and don't get me started on the skill lists. Sheesh, more boring lists of descriptions for minor adjustments.

Your character also gets a number of "Talents". Which is another was of saying "skills". Again why these are broken out I don't know, maybe they needed more pages?

Once you claw your way free of these endless lists the book actually starts to shine. You start learning about the gear of the marines...lots of cool looking gear. Fascinating.

A big section on spells...I mean warp powered psychic capabilities. Some are interesting but many are well, just a spell list. Some flavour is added by making each marine chapter have different lists.

The rules of play start around page 205 and there are a lot of things to consider. They seem to have gone for the put-it-down-in-writing rather than hand-wavery approach. Combat covers thirty pages of double column. This is a min-maxers dream. With anything this complex there must be a thousand holes to fall through.

The games master section is pretty good, with some neat ideas for creating missions and creating the right "tone" of a 40K game.
Then comes the really good part of this PDF. The background material of the 40k universe. Up to this point all of the background material has been related to character generation and weapons. Now you start to learn about ...everything.  This I.P. Has a huge history and pretty much the whole thing is presented here is gruelling yet wonderful detail.

The endless war, foes on all sides, the apostasy, the constant struggle against the all powerful evils of the universe.  Utterly horrid, yet utterly absorbing and fascinating. A read through this section really brings home the nightmare future of 40K.

So to summarise my thoughts. Crappy system. Brilliant I.P. If you want to play Space Marines from the 40K universe, buy this book, you won't regret it. Just please, for all that's good and sweet in the world, don't punish your players with these rules.  Try another system , perhaps "Three Sixteen, Carnage Amongst the Stars."