My first ever D&D session ended this past spring when the DM's campaign lost its focus and peoples' schedules began to conflict with our play time. My expat friends and I had used D&D as a way to pass the too-long winter here on Sado, and even though I had gotten bored of that particular campaign, I was still interested in giving PnP RPGs a little bit more time. But unlike our D&D DM, I didn't have the books and dice and extra stuff that seemed necessary to play D&D. What to do?
And how would this work out for an inexperienced tabletop player such as myself? I’d only just started playing D&D — I wasn’t really comfortable with its mechanics and pacing yet, and now I’m going to have to create a world, direct the action, and make decisions. My god, I'm totally going to screw this up!
As is so often the case, Gamers With Jobs came to the rescue. There was a podcast from the most recent Rabbitcon where a couple “smelly hippy” RPGs were discussed: Dread and Fiasco. Around the same time, I saw mention of a sci-fi based RPG called Diaspora. Upon checking out the Diaspora webpage, I was introduced to Hollowpoint. While Dread, Fiasco, and Diaspora sound awesome (especially Diaspora), Hollowpoint seemed a game that would be an easy first-step for an inexperienced P&P RPGer.
Based on the cover, I wanted this game. With further reading, I really wanted this game. It seemed that Hollowpoint was newb-friendly. I didn't need a ton of books (one single Hollowpoint manual). I didn't need maps or miniatures. I didn't need a bunch of n-sded or fudge dice, just a bunch of plain, old 6-siders.
Even better, a Hollowpoint campaign is only supposed to last about an hour or two. Characters are made at the beginning of the session and not expected to make it out alive. Going out in a blaze of glory is what this game is all about — that and slow-mo shots of bad guys walking away from explosions. I decided to give it a try.
I called together a couple of regulars from last Winter's D&D session to give it a go. We did pretty well. I’d given a basic overview of what the game was about and told them that it required a bit more roleplay than we’d done during our D&D sessions. They seemed to get it and had a good time coming up with their characters and fleshing them out (while getting chunks of flesh blown off) during the course of the session.
Character creation took about 45 minutes or so. The Hollowpoint manual gives a couple suggestions on making characters, but we chose the easiest. First you choose your skills, assigning a rank from 0 to 5 in six specific skills. The ones used for my session were the basic ones for Hollowpoint: Kill, Take, Cool, Dig, Con and Terror. Depending on the setting of the DM's story, you can use different skills, like Seduce or Necromancy (if you were playing a Hollowpoint fantasy setting). So for example, character Bilbo Buttkins (seriously, Charlie?) has the skills Kill-4, Take-2, Cool-3, Dig-1, Con-5, Terror-0. Those skill points affect the number of dice a character can roll in a particular encounter.
Conflict in Hollowpoint is resolved using a dice pool, with players rolling any number of d6s and trying to roll matching sets of the same number. The more sets you roll, the more you possibly get to do in an encounter.
After assigning skill points, you get to make 5 traits for your character. The manual offers a few ways to assign traits, but the easiest is a set of questions that the players must answer. Things like “You wear a black suit over a clean white shirt and a skinny black tie. Nothing to make you stand out, except 'this.'” Whatever “this” is is your trait. These are story-driven aspects of the character and a player can “burn” a trait during an encounter to get an extra two dice for his roll. In burning a trait, a player will narrate a story about their trait and how it pertains to the scene at hand. So for example, one of Bilbo's traits is a nasty scar on his nose. During a particular encounter, Bilbo decides to burn that trait, telling a story about the scar and explaining that one of the assailants looks similar to the person responsible for its cause. This throws Bilbo into a killing rage, giving him 2 more dice to roll on his Kill roll.
Once the characters are created, it's time for the DM to set them loose in the story they've created. Go, bad people! Go do bad things to other bad people!
The manual offers up a very easy-to-follow guide for creating a world for the characters to inhabit. On the most basic level, the characters are agents working for some organization. That organization might be the government or it might be the mafia or it might be the CSC (Convenience Store Consortium, an organization of the heads of the most powerful convenience stores in Japan — Lawson, Family Mart, Sun-Kuse, and 7-11 — charged with making sure no fly-by-night, mom-and-pop convenience stores cut into the profits of the big 4). The DM comes up with a conflict and some missions for the agents, and hopefully during the session, things will blow up, bad guys will kill bad guys, and someone will tell a good story while bleeding out from a bullet wound (or, preferably, several bullet wounds).
I'll spare you the AAR because, as someone wiser than myself advised, the stories are never as funny in the retelling, but it went down really well. My friends enjoyed playing characters of dubious repute and I enjoyed seeing how their decisions changed the story that I had set out to tell. That’s definitely one of the strongpoints of Hollowpoint for more experienced DMs, no matter how much you plan out as a DM, your friends’ characters can take the story in interesting, not-planned-out directions. Of course there were some missteps (unfamiliarity with the dice-pool mechanic, uncertainty with how some of the game’s rules work, etc.), but those will hopefully be worked out in subsequent playthroughs. Hollowpoint is a great game for folks new to the “smelly, hippy” RPG genre and for experienced DMs in need of a filler game for those nights when not everyone can make it to your regular gaming session.