05 August 2011

GenCon Update: Hollowpoint

GM Jeremy offered to run a Hollowpoint session at GenCon.  Here's the review.

Short version: Rules-light, action heavy. The mechanics are nicely tuned to accomplish precisely what the game is aimed to do, which is get through problems with brutal efficiency. It is *not* all about killing everything in sight (I went Con and Dig heavy), although I will admit to a real enjoyment of being able to take down a helicopter with a set of brass testicles.

Long version: Had a great time with a group of strangers - we took about ten minutes to go over basic mechanics and character creation, threw together our notecards, and hit the ground. As has been previously mentioned, the speed of character gen had me worried I was not going to make a character I could connect with, but the Traits really add depth and nuance and personality very quickly. 

Three players, one GM. Only two of us have ever played together before, but we had a rhythm going by the end of the first scene. It just fell into place, which was very satisfying. 

We hit the ground running and didn't stop until we locked down the research base and mowed down a bunch of innocent bystanders just for tagging along. There were interrogation sessions with brandy and gunpoint. There were unfortunate episodes with C4. There was the bit where Steve got tired of negotiating and just shot the schmuck with the car we wanted in full view of the security guards at the gate, and realizing I had just enough pairs left in Con to keep them thinking we were Special Ops. There were a lot of oh s**t moments and fast thinking to get out of them. There was the bit where Matt ran out of Cool and slid the car sideways into the defense perimeter after it got closed to us. There was trying to figure out how to keep in the storyline and burn your traits (hence: brass testicles). There was a lot of killing innocent bystanders and not a lot of comparing hit points or armor class or mucking around with special abilities. This is a streamlined game that is as efficient as the professionals you are playing.

It's interesting how knowing you can just toss your character aside when they become useless to you makes you willing to do all sorts of silly high-risk things. There's some strategy to gaming the game mechanics - particularly when it comes to asking for help from others and whether you want to give it to them or whether you want to deny them for more dice. There's a definite advantage in teamwork, which is really nice to find. 

It's a game for grownups: for mature roleplayers who know what roleplaying is about and are comfortable with playing ruthlessly efficient people who do not worry about scruples or morals. It's a game for experienced people: this is probably not the game to start out someone new to gaming with (unless they have a lot of improv experience), since so much of the story is player-driven and requires audience participation, and because there are so many dice being thrown around that I can see a complete newcomer being overwhelmed. On the other hand, I have a pretty steep learning curve for rules systems, and by the end of the first scene I felt comfortable and competent at what was going on, so either GM Jeremy is a stellar teacher or the rules are slick and easy to learn - or maybe a little of both. 

Do not plan to be running a long-term epic campaign in Hollowpoint. That's not what it seems to be designed for. It is a fast-paced bloodbath where one faceless agent replaces another at need: you do not need to be too attached to your character because there isn't a lot to be attached to and you may have to toss them aside for the good of the team. I can see setting up a campaign, but it would have to be more about story than about characters, which is not how I normally think as a GM, and I wonder whether the heavy action focus and cycling of characters would get exhausting over the long term. 

On the other hand, there is something immensely satisfying about finding a system that seems custom-built for a one-night one-off playdate, or for those times when you are waiting in a 90-minute line at GenCon for your Will Call tickets and need something to do. There is mayhem and humor and action, and the players have a lot of control over the situation, which leads invariably to Complications. There isn't a lot of that out there, and especially not with the sort of setting-agnostic flexibility that Hollowpoint displays.

Final verdict: Gritty, gory, full of stories and for grownups only. Hollowpoint is the kind of game that will create "remember when you..." moments, and lots of them. Absolutely loved it and absolutely recommend it.

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