01 January 2012

Fantastic Adventures in Hollowpoint

At the annual New Year's Eve Eve role-playing party, I ran Hollowpoint. This particular party has been going on for over a couple decades now, and the spouse and I have been attending for over a decade. December 30, we meet for RPGs of all colors and sizes and usually run it con-style these years: GMs prepare a short (~4 hour) adventure and characters if the system requires any sort of elaborate character gen. Then the players are divvied up among the GMs and then circulate, with some of the GMs swapping in and out as needed. When we were young, we might have managed 3-4 sessions a night (starting around 6-7 pm) but these days we usually manage two, maybe three if one of the GMs is feeling punchy and not quite unconscious.

This year, as I said, I ran Hollowpoint using a very basic skin. I set it in a Forgotten Realms type fantasy RPG setting. Rather than reskin the skills, I had each player pick a fantasy character archetype (Fighter, Paladin, Wizard, Rogue, etc.) and then their skills related to the abilities that archetype might typically have (Kill for a Fighter might be a greatsword, for the Rogue, poisons and daggers, for the Wizard, fireballs, etc.). The characters were all adventurers with the Agency, which contracted with clients to resolve problems they were having.

The mission for both session I ran was that the Town of Northhaven had contracted with the Agency to deal with a necromancer who had moved in, started robbing the local graveyard, and caused zombies to show up and attack the town.

The first session went off the rails the instant I had them name their characters. The first person to speak named his character Elmo and immediately adopted the appropriate voice. The others all jumped on this and soon I had Elmo the kleptomaniac rogue, Snufalupagus the dual-wielding warrior, Charlie the sneaking Rogue, and Big Bird the Bard. (Later, after Charlie bought it, the Count joined us as the undercover agent.)

When we got to town, I also realized this was the Agency you only called once. (This theme carried over to the second group as well.) The mayor led the party into the Inn where they were getting rooms and introduced him to Larry, the town drunk who first saw the zombies. What was supposed to be a simple conflict with the NPCs trying to Con the party into leaving immediately to deal with the issue, culminated with Snuffy slamming her swords into the bar and demanding an ale, Big Bird singing completely random campfire songs in order to confuse everyone, and Elmo bodily throwing poor Larry along the bar into cellar and announcing that “Everyone needs to get in the *$*% basement or lose a *%&*$ ear.”

Leaving the mayor and the others locked in the cellar of the Inn, the party leaves and encounters a cadre of zombies wandering into down at sunset. After briefly considering luring the zombies into the Inn (and setting it on fire), they decided they would likely not get paid if the mayor died in the conflagration. So, instead, they took the bells off the door into the Inn and Elmo strung them onto the zombies. Meanwhile, Charlie found most of his long-lost family among the zombies (his Complication), Snuffy started mowing some of them down, and Big Bird played Pied Piper and led them into Town Hall. Which was promptly locked and set on fire. Just before the building burned down and the last of the zombies bought it, they opened the door and let the few remaining ones out, which started immediately retreating toward the necromancer's home, bells ringing along the way. (See? The bells were not completely random...)

Arriving at the necromancer's tomb, they were met with a mess of skeletons setting up palisade and a Death Knight (Snuffy's newly raised father, her Complication) leading. Meanwhile, there are yet more relatives of Charlie among these undead and the undead that come streaming out of the tomb in retaliation. The party handles the Death Knight and his minions well enough, Big Bird continuing her ongoing attempts to confuse the enemies with random camp song lyrics. Charlie does succumb to the onslaught of the undead retaliation to be replaced with the Count, who has been serving as an undercover operative in the necromancer's army.

The party descends into the tomb and there encounters the flesh golem (Frankenstein's monster for the non-D&D'ers). However they also see the necromancer disappearing into a door at the far end, yelling about having to give chase or save the mayor's son. At this point, they see the mayor's son hanging by a quickly dissolving rope over a vat of acid (the conflict's Catch).

Combat ensues, with Big Bird's continued Con assaulting the monster while Elmo rigs his security blanket (a Trait) into a lasso and saves the boy, just before the rope snaps. The monster ends up with whatever was left of it's brain fried into dysfunction by the ever sung lyrics.

Beginning the final confrontation with the necromancer, the party marches into his laboratory. He is busy casting a really bad-ass spell (Cool) while his collection of ghosts turn their Terrorizing assault on the party. Elmo begins randomly Taking vials and bottles from the necromancer's lab and mixing them together, before throwing them at the ghosts. Snuffy is in her usual bladed fury and Big Bird continues her aural assault. The party eventually slays the necromancer and his ghosts and the muppets return home to their well-earned money.

The second session of the evening fared a little worse. Rather than homicidal muppets, this party consisted of a necromancer (a former colleague of the enemy one), his grave robber, his “corpse creation specialist” assassin, a pair of rogues and a warrior. (I think, this session started at something like 11 pm, so it's a bit more fuzzy for me.)

The plot progressed through a similar set of scenes, though this group manged to kill everyone in the inn without really getting information out of them. (Though the party's necromancer raised them all, so they still had what they needed, I guess...) They also simply slaughtered the zombies that came in, rather try to corral them. Of course, their necromancer then raised the newly re-corpsed into their own growing army.

This was the groups modus operandi for the night: kill everything and then make it into their own undead. The necromancer then used his own in-conflict successes to have his army soak hits for the others as needed (Agent special ability). There were two fatalities in this one, one being replaced with a cleric, the other with a similar rogue (as I recall). The cleric used Turn Undead (Terror) quite efficiently.

Overall, Hollowpoint worked well for this one-shot style of fantasy RPG, however the trappings of the genre hindered it a bit. A good number of my players were used to D&D, Pathfinder, etc. and the weight those games place on spending much time crafting a well balanced character and careful resource management during an adventure. Since characters (and thus their Traits) are supposed to be expendable, my veteran RPG players were slightly less willing to embrace spending often and freely, until the final combat. This left some of them feeling a little frustrated early on, as even in their best skills they could not match the length of runs I as GM would manage. This cleared up as they began to realize that making a new character was not the time sink it would have been in D&D/Pathfinder. Additionally, I had to overcome my own reluctance to assault the weakest player in each round. However, after the first round or two in each session, play began moving much more freely. Everyone certainly seemed to enjoy the free-form chaos that ensued.

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