Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tommy's Take on Hollowpoint

Hollowpoint sounds like a game about people shooting each other. It appears to be aptly named.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Hollowpoint is the game of “bad people killing bad people for bad reasons” and draws inspiration from (and heavily references) my all-time favorite comic book series, 100 Bullets.

That’s a great start, right there.

In addition to 100 Bullets, Hollowpoint heavily references GI Joe and James Bond for examples…but it really does seem tailor made for a 100 Bullets type of game. It is available in print for $22.95 or PDF for $11.95. Hollowpoint sidesteps the question of how the group gets together by making everyone part of the same Agency, and setting them out on a mission.

Character creation is based off of assigning a value (0-5, using each number once) to skills (Kill, Take, Terror, Con, Dig, Cool, though you can optionally expand the list to include Seduce, Watch, Hurt and Boss). After the skills are assigned, you assign Traits, which can be burnt off in play to provide bonus dice. One method of doing this is by Q&A, like “You’re a pro and you know you’re a pro, because you always do *this*”. Optionally, you can create traits on the fly instead, or use Company Traits, which are things like equipment, sidekicks and the like. Lastly, you pick a Complication, which links you to the mission in personal ways (and is kept from the other players).

The core mechanic is a dice pool of d6s, with rolls calculated similar to Arc Dream’s One Roll Engine, with the matching dice grouped together and calculated by “length” (number of dice in the set) and “height” (value of the dice in the set). The referee has his own dice pool that is based off of the number of players in the game and grows with each successful conflict. Additionally, PCs can work together (or not), as working together is up to the person being asked for assistance, and if they say no, they actually take dice from the PC needing help. If the request for assistance fails, the PC can draw from the Teamwork pool instead.

Length of the sets determines who acts first, and as hits are inflicted, dice are knocked off the smallest sets. As characters take hits without sets, they take on damage effects based on the skill being used (this can be “social” attacks as well as physical damage).

Scenes can have objectives set, which must be completed before the opposition is taken down, to further complicate matters.

There are a couple of detailed conflict examples and a mission building chapter that offers advice, though mission building is pretty simple: Pick a target, an objective or two, add a Principle or two that are acting against the PCs, then see if the PCs come up with an Objective that deliciously complicates things.

Sample missions are included, like a celebrity deathmatch kind of arena, a riff on The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai and a sci-fi mission/setting.

In addition to the conflict examples, a pair of playtest reports are also included, as well as a nice, if unnecessary set of memos designed as helpful information for new members of the Agency.

WHAT WORKS: Anything drawing this much inspiration from 100 Bullets is a good thing. Lots and lots of examples help, especially if you’re not a big fan of some of the terminology used in the game. The potential for tense interplay between characters is great, especially for a pick-up game. Several great examples to diversify the game, showing off that it’s more than just “hitmen in suits”.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Some of the rules bits are confusing until you get into the examples. I could do without game mechanics dropping the F-Bomb, personally. Not a big fan of the core mechanic, though it seems more intuitive than the similar mechanic the One Roll Engine uses.

CONCLUSION: Hollowpoint was nominated for three Ennies and has some enthusiastic support. The mechanics have some interesting depth to them, such as adding objectives to a scene that must be completed before the opposition is taken out, and how rolling too many dice can backfire and cause you to blow your opportunities early. When you factor in how adaptable it is to other settings (VCSA Publishing’s site includes a link to Hollowpoint being used for a Skyrim game), this is an impressive package to draw on, perhaps as an interlude between your group’s campaigns.