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!

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