It’s a long time coming, but welcome back to Futile Position’s 2012 ENnie Awards spotlight (Check out the full list of coverage with lots more interviews and reviews), where I will be bringing you reviews and interviews regarding many of the products current nominated for the 2012 ENnie Awards. Today’s review is of Hollowpoint from Brad Murphy and C.W. Marshall of VSCA Publishing. It is nominated for Best Game, Best Rules, and Product of the Year. A review copy of this product was provided by the publisher to Futile Position. This review is based off of thoroughly reading a PDF copy of the book.
Hollowpoint bills itself as a game about bad people killing bad people for bad reasons. More than that, though, it is a roleplaying game where the players play a group of individuals who are good at what they do who may not always get along, but are stuggling against some common foe. Hollowpoint doesn’t concern itself with how much ammunition your characters have (answer: enough) or what they do in their spare time (answer: nothing that concerns this game) or where a bullet hit the enemy. Instead, Hollowpoint concentrates on trying to show how the characters are fairing against the enemy, in general terms. I like to think about it cinematically: It’s not how many guys have gotten shot or how many things have gotten destroyed, it’s about whether or not the team has don e enough to establish that they have overcome this obstacle, that they have resolved this scene. Hollowpoint is about a group that all work for the same ‘Agency’ that are given a ‘Mission’ at the start of the game. Other than identifying who the characters are and what they are trying to accomplish (you start a mission with two objectives), there’s not a whole lot of prep that goes into the game, which makes it a great alternative when you don’t have your usual gaming group or you just want a night off (although it could certainly work in a campaign, as well, it will just be a campaign more about the story of this Agency and what it struggles against than it is about finding new loot or getting more powerful characters, which are not what Hollowpoint is about).
To this end, Hollowpoint has a truly unique dice mechanic. Basically, you build a dice pool each turn (which, if you play RPGs, you are probably used to doing) based on one of six skills (Yep, only six skills and they are very general. You could add more, I guess, but it would change the focus of the game some, I would expect). The GM rolls a set number of dice based on how many PCs there are and how many times they have won a conflict (the GM may roll two dice pools if a Principal – an NPC that is important to this mission in some way – is involved, but even then he just splits the regular pool and adds two dice for the Prinicipal’s involvement). Still, it’s what you do with those dice pools that may take some head-wrapping to do: You roll the dice and group your like numbers together (so all of the ones, twos, and so on). Each of those sets will be an action that you get to perform, which occur in order of longest set (most dice in the set) and then highest number to lowest. So a long, high set will let you act first, but all sets do the same thing: remove one die from an opponent’s set or cause an Effect (if you take two Effects from the same skill, you are removed from the current Conflict, same with the GM’s side) if the opposition has no sets left. So, the dice tell you what order things happen in and what skills are being used, but Hollowpoint is a game that relies on you a lot to explain why those things are what they are. I love it for that. Still, if you want a game to hold your hand and compromise with you (I like a lot those, too) this isn’t it. The base mechanic is not hard to grasp, but it is different.
Is that all of Hollowpoint? No, it’s not, but that’s a lot of it. There’s a shared dice pool with an interesting mechanic where a player can request help from the team to get dice from another player (who loses his turn for the round) and have some of his dice taken as a result of the request (letting him take dice from the shared pool – a finite resource – which could be mechanically more advantageous and narratively more interesting since you have to explain your character denying a teammate’s request for help). There’s a neat mechanic that encourages letting a character fall out of the story to get more resources for the team (refreshing the dice pool). There are a ton of examples in the book that help make everything clear.
Hollowpoint is a worthy addition to any gamer’s shelf. For reals. It’s got a fascinating dice pool system that isn’t like anything that I’ve ever played before that gives you the outline of what is unfolding in front of you, but leaves you to fill in the details. It is easy to pick up and play once you get past the ‘but it’s different’ thing that so many people have a problem with, requires almost no preparation (it says an hour, but you could get a playable game together much faster than that, I imagine), and provides plenty of structure to show you where to hang the story. The book itself is quite minimalist, but reads nicely and provides a ton of examples for clarity. A PDF copy of Hollowpoint is only $11.95 from RPG Now and a print copy with a PDF is $19.95 from Indie Press Revolution. Either way, I would strongly encourage you to pick it up, especially if you are at all interested in games with interesting resolution mechanics or extremely well-thought-out narrative games that give you more structure than ‘ every one tell stories’ (Note: I have no problems with those kinds of games either, but the dice really matter in Hollowpoint. Really.).
What does everyone think? Do you like the idea of objective-based narrative roleplaying? Any good hooks for bad people doing bad things for bad reasons? Talk about it below!