Hollowpoint Playtest – Setting the Scene

NOTE: There’s been a bit of a change of plan on how this is going to work. This update is going to cover the basic rules and the setup of the session. That’s just so I can get something posted. The following update will involve a detailed report on the actual game, written as a report to the Board of Directors of the Firm (the organisation the player characters work for). My housemate suggested taking this different approach to it as a way to potentially work around my writer’s block. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a public holiday here tomorrow, so I’ll get up early, have some eggs benedict for breakfast and try to get cracking on it. Fingers crossed. .

Hey guys, thought it was time I get something posted. It’s been longer than I intended again, as recovery from my accident and sorting out insurance took far longer than I expected. At this stage I’m still going to be without my scooter for at least a couple of weeks, and it’s making life awkward as hell in the meantime. I do have a loaner, but it’s a tiny little 150cc, and has trouble cracking 80km/h, so I only really use it to get to and from work.

Anyway, I’m still working on the campaign journal and starting to realise it may be a long time coming, but it’ll get there eventually. In the mean time, I thought I’d share some details on a playtest we ran a couple of weeks ago for a game I picked up a month or so ago, Hollowpoint. It’s an indie RPG produced by VSCA, the same guys who made the hard science fiction FATE setting Diaspora. Rather than using the FATE or FATE Core system though, Hollowpoint uses its own system, based on building matching sets of d6s from a dice pool. It’s a fast paced, cinematic, brutal little system, and is specifically designed to emulate high violence movies, television series and comics. In fact, the book calls out some of my favourite films and graphic novels as inspiration, including Reservoir Dogs and 100 Bullets.

The System:

So, lets have a quick look at the game system before we get into the details of the session. Unlike games like Pathfinder and Shadowrun that have numerous supplementary books available for them to expand the options and rules, Hollowpoint is literally one book. And it’s a small one at that. Approximately A5 size, and no more than 110 pages total. This includes the rules, numerous examples of play, and even some ideas for alternative campaign settings. What I really loved about the system was just how quick it was to setup. I spent about an hour and a half tops coming up with a story and writing up an introduction to it, then maybe another half hour working out a few important characters. Two nights later the players walked in, sat down, and I ran them through character creation. Fifteen minutes, tops, and the only reason it took that long is that it was the first time any of us had gone through it. The character creation process is pretty simple, having five steps:

  1. Rank – What rank is the character? All player’s start as Agents, but later they may be able to create new characters at the Operative or Handler ranks.
  2. Skills – Assign ranks to your six skills. Standard skills are Kill, Take, Terror, Con, Dig and Cool. They can be changed out as needed for the session, at the discretion of the Referee (the name for the GM in this game)
  3. Name – Self-explanatory. Give your agent a code name
  4. Traits – Assign traits to your character. This can be done in a number of ways. The method I favour is giving the players a series of questions about their character. Their answers to each question become their traits.
  5. Complications – This step is actually performed after the mission is assigned (which happens directly after step 4). A player can come up with a complication for their player that makes the mission personal, and is not known to the other players. Only the Referee and the affected player know it. I’ll talk a bit more about this later, but we didn’t actually use this rule for the test run.

Basically the way it works is this. The Referee (in this case, me) comes up with a scenario. The premise for this game was a modern day setting where technology for military grade human augmentation has just started to enter research and development (those of you who have played the Deus Ex and Syndicate games will know what sort of stuff I’m talking about). The players are agents working for the Firm, a freelance organisation who provide industrial espionage services for various companies. Everything ranging from data extraction and corporate security through to kidnapping and assassination. Their most recent contract is with EuroCorp Technologies, and more specifically their subsidiary, DART Medical. DART Medical appears to have a leak in their augmentation R&D project, and they’ve received word that Aspari Pharmaceutical is not only working on an almost identical project, but could be up to two years ahead of them (again, anyone who’s played Syndicate will see the references in my naming of companies). In general you’ll set two objectives for a session. I opted to include a third optional one, more as flavour than anything else.

Once the scenario was set, I came up with a couple of principals for the session. These are NPC opponents who the players can come up against in the course of the game. They serve to make the encounters they appear in more memorable and difficult for the players to overcome. My  principals were Dalton, the head of Security for Aspari Pharmaceutical; and Dane Mercer, the head researcher for DART Medical, who was not only feeding information to Aspari, but also sabotaging his own project to give the opposition a head start.

Now that the scene and supporting characters were set, all I needed was to get the players in and run them through the way the game works briefly. Hollowpoint is a very rules light RPG. As I mentioned above, the rulebook is tiny compared to most of the games I play. It’s very focused on cinematic roleplaying rather than building complicated characters and so on. It also expects your characters to die incredibly quickly (as I mentioned before, it’s even vital to advancing the game in some cases), hence the quick build process and inbuilt mechanics for introducing replacement characters. The core mechanic for conflict involves choosing which skill you’re going to use for any given round. Let’s say I choose Kill, and have set my score for Kill at 5. This means I have 5 dice for my pool. I roll the five d6, and see if I can make any sets of matching numbers. Every set is an action I can take during the round. Longest, highest value sets go first. The downside is that the longer the set you have, the less sets you can have (since it takes up more of your pool). So you go sooner, but run out of steam and are more likely take effects. Every time your turn comes up, you use your highest ranking set to attack the opposition. The players are all hitting the Referee’s sets, while the Referee is normally picking on whichever of the players has the weakest sets (remember, in this game, character death isn’t considered a bad thing). You initially attack your opponent’s sets, removing one die from their lowest ranked one. So a set of 3×2 would become 2×2 after one hit. If it took another hit, it becomes a single 2, and is no longer a set. Once you have no sets left, you’re taking direct effects from the hits. It only takes two effects from any one skill to knocks you out of the conflict. So the first stage effect of being hit from Kill might be that you’re Stabbed or Shot. The second stage effect is Bleeding Out and results in you being unable to participate in the rest of this conflict. The Referee’s initial dice pool is 2 dice per player, and increases by 2 dice every time the players succeed at a conflict (this is called Escalation in the rules).

There are two other main rules. The first is the concept of the Clock, which represents a specific challenge the Referee wants overcome by the players, and involves three dice being rolled and set aside from the Referee’s pool. The players need to attack the clock using sets with a value equal to or greater than the value on the clock dice, before dealing a second stage effect to the Referee (if they deal a second stage effect before the clock is beaten, the conflict is considered a failure). Traits are the final major rule. Every player has five traits, and can “burn” one of them at any given time to get two extra dice to roll in order to try and make more sets. As I mentioned before, traits in my game were assigned based on the answers players gave to a number of questions I asked at the start of the session. There are other rules, but this should give you a basic enough understanding of the game for me to run through how the session worked.

The Setup:

Having a week without Pathfinder running on the Saturday night due to too many absences from the group, I volunteered to whip up a Hollowpoint game. We ended up with three players, four if you count myself as the Referee. We had Jimbles, Ben (another usual from Pathfinder) and Elena (if you recall the mention of Luna, the Bard, from The Unusual Suspects update featuring Varian Blackthorne, she was played by Elena). After a bit of dinner and some random internet trawling (most of our game sessions start this way), we cracked open some booze and got down to the business of character creation. I’d asked everyone to have a vague character concept ready, but to not bother with big backstories and fine detail, since there was a good chance of character death anyway. While I was sorting out some music (the Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack seemed appropriate), I got them to start jotting down a couple of thoughts about their characters and assign their skills. Then it was time to work out traits. I asked the following questions, and the answers became each character’s traits:

  1. You dress in a plain, well fitted suit with a white business shirt and tie. Only one thing makes you stand out. What is it?
  2. You’ve barely any scruples, but what’s the one thing you’ll never do?
  3. You brought back a memento from your last mission. What was it?
  4. What do you love the most about doing what you do?
  5. What is it that marks you out as a professional?

About ten minutes later, we had our team for the night.

Ben’s initial character was Mr Pink. An incredibly efficient conman and thief, but no good in a fight and incapable of terrorising anyone if his life depended on it. He was also fairly squeamish. His traits (in the order that the questions were asked) were Flair; Killing Bystanders; a Silver Toothpick; Stealing Things; and Never Leaving A Trace.

Elena created Mia (sorry El, I can’t read the surname), the daughter of a mob boss who’d turned hired assassin after a traumatic childhood experience twisted her. Seemingly harmless and a bit nerdy, in a cute sort of way. Good at tricking people into trusting her, and deadly in a fight. Her traits were Full Red Lips; Harming a Child; a Wedding Ring; Being Paid to Kill; and Getting The Job Done Quickly.

Finally, we had Jim, playing Daniel Moorcombe. The driver and the planner of the group, with a distaste for violence (unusual in this game). Unbelievably cool (though apparently somewhat stupid based on early events in the session) and a skilled hacker. His traits were Awesome Sunglasses; Hurt an Animal; a Harvard Class Ring; Fucking Bitches; and Always Coming Out On Top.

Now that the agents were ready, it was time to set the scene. I narrated the arrival of each of the agents at the offices of Harris Consultancy, a financial consultancy firm for small businesses. Elena apparently thought I was having a dig at her at this point since she’s working for a similar company now, but I claim total innocence in that regard. The business is, in reality, only a front for the Firm, an underworld organisation providing contracted industrial espionage services for corporations. They’ll handle anything from simple infiltration and extraction of data, to headhunting staff (in a somewhat more direct manner than is the norm), right through to assassination of key personnel and sabotage of facilities. On arrival, they were directed to the conference room, where they found a letter from J. Smith, the Director of Operations. Rather than just giving the group a verbal rundown of the situation, I actually wrote up the letter (using a font that resembled the text from old typewriters) containing their objectives and printed it out . Their first objective was to investigate the possibility of a leak within DART Medical’s R&D team and, if one was found, “deal” with it. Following this, the second objective was to break into Aspari Pharmaceutical’s facility and steal their research data, then trash their network. Their optional objective was to completely destroy the facility after securing the data.

After discussing the mission briefly, the agents began to plan…

That’s it for now. As I mentioned at the start of the update, hopefully I’ll have the session report ready to go tomorrow.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

I still have infernal poetry of Coleridge echoing in my head. I’ve been trying to drown him out with a variety of different albums. Most successful has been the collection of singles from Travis, particularly their songs ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’, ‘Love Will Come Through’ and ‘U16 Girls’. Apart from that, I’ve been listening to Chevelle’s albums Vena Sera and This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In); and the soundtrack for ‘Le Portrait de Petit Cossette’.

2 thoughts on “Hollowpoint Playtest – Setting the Scene

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