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Callisto
by Noah D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/07/2014 12:26:51
Callisto presents a simple (almost too simple) straightforward approach to running an email campaign in any setting. Military, financial and popular support issues are handled very simply, and may not contain enough detail to satisfy those who want to know how many arrows each of his archers is carrying, but it works for me.

The one peculiarity of the system is that it leaves a lot of the world-running in the hands of the players. For example, they recommend that one player be in charge of determining who won any battles that take place in the campaign. They suggest that no player be put in charge of an aspect of the game that can affect their character, but unless some player is running Switzerland, I was unclear as to how that would work.

Generally, however, it is a decent system in the modern "diminished GM role" tradition. I recommend it, if only to get some additional ideas for your own email campaign.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Callisto
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Hollowpoint
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/13/2013 10:41:14
------ursprünglich erschienen auf spacebeyondreality.de------
Hollowpoint ist bei weitem kein neues Rollenspiel, warum daher also eine Rezension?
Ich bin erst kürzlich im Rahmen der Indie-Woche unserer Google+-Community Rollenspieler (deutschsprachig) darüber gestolpert.
Außerdem sind deutschsprachige Rezis nicht wie Sand am Meer zu finden und ich denke, eine zweite (dritte?) Meinung schadet nie. Ich konnte im Netz keine deutsche Rezi zu Hollowpoint finden.

Was ist also Hollowpoint?
Hollowpoint ist ein Rollenspiel, das eine spannende Geschichte mit der Struktur eines Romans oder eines Hollywood-Films erzählt. Man spielt dabei extrem kompetente, ungemütliche und gewalttätige Leute, die zwangsgedrungen in einem Team arbeiten müssen. Der Fokus liegt auf One-Shots, obwohl es auch Regeln für Kampagnen gibt.
Macher dieses Regelwerks sind VSCA Publishing, aus deren Feder z.B. Diaspora stammt.

Hollowpoint wurde 2012 in drei Kategorien für den ENnie Award nominiert: Beste Regeln, Bestes Spiel und Produkt des Jahres.

Erscheinungsbild
Ich habe das Spiel als 110-seitiges PDF vorliegen. Illustrationen gibt es nur wenige in schwarz-weiß, aber das passt gut zum Design. Der Text ist flüssig zu lesen und durch Fettgedrucktes sind wichtige Passagen abgesetzt. Das PDF hat digitale Lesezeichen. Volltextsuche, verschiedene Ebenen und Copy-Paste sind möglich, der verhandene Index ist leider nicht verlinkt.

Käuflich erwerben kann man es z.B. bei rpgnow für derzeit $11,95 (regulär $22,95) oder als Buch beim Sphärenmeister für 15,95€. Wenn man dem Herausgeber eine Email schreibt, bekommt man das PDF kostenlos dazu.

Die harten Fakten:
Format: PDF oder Tote-Baum-Version
Verlag: VSCA Publishing
Veröffentlichungsjahr: 2011
ISBN: ISBN 978-0-9811710-7-4
Preis: $11,95 für das PDF oder 15,95 € für das Buch+PDF
Bezugsquelle: PDF: rpgnow, Print+PDF: Sphärenmeister

Die Spielwelt
Hollowpoints Standardsetting ist lose definiert: Moderne Zeit in einer uns ähnlichen Welt in den letzten 60 Jahren.
Allerdings sind der Fantasie hier keine Grenzen gesetzt, man kann genauso gut in einer mittelalterlich angehauchten Fantasywelt oder wie wir im Jahre 43 AD im römisch besetzten Britannien spielen.
Das Regelwerk enthält Beispiele zu anderen Settingideen, z.B. Sci-Fi auf dem Mars oder Engel, die andere gefallene Engel jagen.
Man muss hier jedoch selbst Arbeit hinein stecken, die Beispiele sind nur grobe Beschreibungen.

Die Regeln
Die Spieler sind Teil einer Organisation und müssen Missionen für diese erfüllen. Der Spielleiter gibt bei Beginn des Spiels (nach der Charaktererschaffung) zwei Missionsziele bekannt.

Das Spiel wird in Konflikten abgehandelt, einzelne Fertigkeitstests kommen sehr selten vor, sind aber möglich.
Ein Konflikt bietet einen breiteren Rahmen, als man sonst gewohnt ist. Beispielsweise kann ein Konflikt einen kompletten Einbruch in das Haus des Gegners mit anschließender Konfrontation bedeuten. Konflikte laufen rundenbasiert ab.

Der Spielleiter und die Spieler würfeln gleichzeitig. Jeder bestimmt zunächst, welche Fertigkeit er in dieser Runde des Konflikts nutzt. Das Würfelsystem basiert auf einem Pool-System ähnlich wie bei der One-Roll-Engine. Es werden nur sechsseitige Würfel benötigt, davon aber nicht zu knapp. Die Anzahl der Würfel, die man zur Verfügung hat, bestimmt sich nach dem entsprechenden Fertigkeitswert, den der Charakter besitzt.

Seinen Pool kann man erhöhen, indem man Eigenschaften (Traits) des Charakters verbrennt oder um Hilfe bittet. Für das Verbrennen einer Eigenschaft bekommt man zwei weitere Würfel.
Das Hilfesystem ist meines Wissens einzigartig gestaltet: Das Spielerteam hat einen Teampool zur Verfügung. Wenn ein Spieler einen anderen um Hilfe bittet, kann dieser entweder zustimmen und seinen Würfelpool zur Verfügung stellen oder mit einem "Fuck that!" die Hilfe ablehnen. Der Hilfsuchende muss dann zwei seiner Würfel an den anderen abgeben, da er Schwäche gezeigt hat, darf sich dafür aber an dem Teampool bedienen.

Die Würfel werden zu Sets zusammengestellt, wobei diese nach Länge (Anzahl der Würfel in der entsprechenden Höhe) und Wert (Höhe des Würfelwurfs) sortiert werden. So bedeutet ein Ergebnis von 3x5 einen Würfelwurf von drei Würfeln mit der Höhe 5.
Nachdem alle Sets zusammengestellt wurden, werden die Ergebnisse narrativ verarbeitet. Die Erzählreihenfolge liegt bei dem längsten Set. Der aktive Spieler reduziert das kürzeste Set mit dem höhsten Wert des Gegners. So verringern sich die Würfel im Laufe der Runde, bis alle Sets verbraucht sind und eine neue Runde beginnt.
Wer kein Set mehr zur Verfügung hat, muss eine Kondition in Kauf nehmen. Die Konditionen bestimmen sich nach der Fertigkeit, mit der man angegriffen wird. Hat man zwei Konditionen der gleichen Art kassiert, ist der Charakter aus dem Konflikt raus.
Eine Runde endet, indem entweder alle Spielercharaktere oder alle Spielleitercharaktere aus dem Konflikt ausgeschieden sind.

Der Spieler"tod" liegt immer in der Hand des Spielers. Auch wenn ein Charakter aus dem Konflikt ausgeschieden ist, kann er stark angeschlagen weiterspielen. Es wird jedoch immer schwieriger, mit einem solchen Charakter einen Konflikt zu gewinnen. Die Erfahrung hat gezeigt, dass es meistens Sinn macht, seinen Charakter komplett aus dem Spiel zu nehmen und mit einem neuen wieder einzusteigen. Es muss nicht immer der Tod sein, ein Charakter kann auch zum NPC werden.

Die Würfelmechanik ist darauf ausgelegt, die Konflikte im Laufe des Spielabends zu eskalieren. Der Würfelpool des Spielleiters steigt mit jedem Sieg der Spieler. Somit wird es deutlich schwerer für die Spieler, die nächsten Konflikte zu gewinnen. Wichtige NSCs (sog. Principals) geben zwei zusätzliche Würfel für den SL. Der Pool wird geteilt und so müssen die Spieler gegen zwei Gegnerpools würfeln. Jedes Mal, wenn ein Principal an einem Konflikt teilgenommen hat eskaliert die Situation durch eine darauffolgende Vergeltungsszene.

Es gibt natürlich noch mehr Details, auf die ich nicht eingegangen bin.

Obwohl es Regeln für Erfahrungspunkte gibt, ist der Fokus doch ganz klar auf One-Shots ausgelegt. Ich empfinde dies nicht als Makel, sehe ich Hollowpoint doch als ideales Spiel für zwischendurch oder für Cons.

Mathcrunching ist hier nicht möglich und das System hat eine seltsame Wahrscheinlichkeit, da nach zusammenpassenden Würfeln gesucht werden muss. Mir gefällt die Zufälligkeit, aber sicherlich ist es nicht jedermanns Sache.
Leider führt diese Mechanik dazu, dass eine Skalierung der Konflikte nicht möglich ist und diese mal zu einfach und mal zu schwer sein können.
Die Zusammenstellung der Sets ist zunächst ein wenig mühselig, aber da man an sich nur einmal würfelt (Ausnahme ist die Verbrennung der Eigenschaften, das ist jederzeit im Konflikt möglich) ist das Spiel wiederum sehr schnell. Durch die Abfolge "Erst würfeln, dann erzählen" wird die Narration nicht durch weitere Würfelwürfe gestört.
Hollowpoint ist extrem tödlich. Nach meiner Erfahrung scheidet mindestens ein Charakter pro Spiel aus. Da die Charaktererschaffung aber schnell geht, kann der Spieler mit einem neuen Charakter wieder einsteigen. Diese Mechanik forciert den Eindruck der bertriebenden Hollywood-Action-Atmosphäre. Das System funktioniert und die Interpretation der Sets fördert und fordert eine erzählerische Umsetzung und eine Zusammenarbeit mit den Mitspielern.

Charaktererschaffung
Ein Charakter ist schnell gemacht. Das muss auch so sein, da ein Spieler während des Spiels auch schnell mal einen neuen erstellen muss.
Es wird der Name und Rang festgelegt. Jeder startet auf dem Level Agent. Jedes Level hat eine eigene Sonderfähigkeit.
Danach verteilt man auf die 5 Fertigkeiten Punkte von 0-5. Die Fertigkeiten sind:

KILL - töten
TAKE — stehlen
TERROR - einschüchtern, terrorisieren
CON — austricksen und die Leute dazu bringen, zu machen, was du willst
DIG — Informationen sammeln in jeglicher Form
COOL - einfach nur abgefahren sein, kann man z.B. würfeln wenn man eine Bombe aus purem Instink entschärft
Dazu gibt es noch weitere Fertigkeiten, die man nach Bedarf und Setting einsetzen oder austauschen kann.
Jeder Charakter bekommt noch fünf Eigenschaften. Der SL bestimmt im Vorfeld, wie diese ermittelt werden: entweder nach einem Fragebogen (Q & A), während des Spiels (On The Fly) oder angepasst an die Organisation, der man angehört (Company Traits).
Die Eigenschaften können während des Spiels verbrannt werden, um sich Extrawürfel zu erkaufen. Sie regenieren sich nicht während des Spiels. Außerdem dienen die Eigenschaften als Hinweis dafür, was der Spieler im Spiel sehen möchte.

Optional kann man eine Komplikation festlegen, nachdem man die Mission kennt. Diese ist persönlicher Natur und sollte idealerweise nur dem Spielleiter bekannt sein.

Die Charaktererschaffung ist einfach und dauert nur einige Minuten. Mir reicht die Differenzierung durch Fertigkeiten und Eigenschaften aus. Die Eigenschaften werden frei festgelegt und ermöglichen so eine Personalisierung des Charakters.
Die Komplikationen geben dem Ganzen noch eine schöne Wendung. Fast immer führte sie in unseren Spielrunden zu Verrat unter den Spielern. Da die anderen die Komplikation nicht kennen, gibt es einen Überraschungsmoment. Das bringt nochmal etwas Feuer in die Geschichte.

Die Charaktere sind extrem kompetent. Sie kämpfen aber auch meistens nicht gegen einzelne Gegner, sonder gleich gegen Horden. Eine Spielergruppe kann eine gesamte Organisation lahmlegen.

Spielbarkeit aus Spielleitersicht
Ich habe bislang kein Spiel erlebt, dessen Vorbereitung und Spielleitung für mich so einfach war.

Die Vorbereitung läuft folgendermaßen: man muss sich den Gegner überlegen (The Enemy), die Organisation, der die Spieler angehören (The Charge) und die Ära/das Setting (The Era).

Man muss hier bedenken, dass Spielleitercharaktere keine Werte besitzen. Daher reichen Notizen zum Namen, Hintergrund und Motivation aus.

Viele Settings kann man bereits mit den Standardregeln bespielen. Will man ein bekanntes Setting für Hollowpoint benutzen, gibt es einige Stellschrauben, die man zur Verfügung hat. Aber auch dies hält sich in einem solch kleinem Rahmen, dass selbst unerfahrene Spielleiter keine Probleme haben.

Die Natur dieses Spiels erfordert ein aktives Mitgestalten der Spieler und daher ist die Last auf den Spielleiter nicht sehr groß. Durch dieses Player Empowerment ist es auch nicht möglich und nötig, eine Spielsitzung bis ins Detail durchzuplanen. Der SL bereitet zwei Missionsziele für ein Spiel vor und improvisiert sich dann mithilfe der Spieler durch die Sitzung.
Mir persönlich liegt dieser Spielstil sehr gut und daher ist Hollowpoint für mich sehr einfach zu leiten.

An dem Aufbau des Regelwerks übe ich allerdings Kritik: Die Regeln teilweise ein wenig verstreut über den kompletten Text verteilt, so dass es manchmal nötig ist, hin- und herzublättern.

Spielbarkeit aus Spielersicht
Als Spieler bin ich gefordert, aktiv am Spielgeschehen teilzunehmen. Die Regeln sind ungewohnt, aber nicht schwierig zu erlernen.
Die Hilfemechanik unterstüzt das Zusammenspiel mit den anderen Spielern. Als optionale Regel kann man auch Fan Mail verteilen: wenn einem eine Aktion eines Mitspielers gut gefallen hat, kann man ihm einen Würfel aus dem Teampool geben.
Passive und/oder scheue Spieler befinden sich hier nicht in ihrer Wohlfühlecke.

Da die Charaktere nicht viele Werte besitzen, leben sie davon, wie ich sie als Spieler spiele und welchen Hintergrund und welche Motivation ich ihnen gebe. Gerade die Eigeneschaften (Traits) helfen dabei, sie zu individualisieren, aber dies ist natürlich kein Vergleich zu sehr regellastigen Spielen mit vielen Feats und Boni.

Preis-/Leistungsverhältnis
Das Preis-Leistungs-Verhältnis stimmt für mich. Man bekommt ein sehr gut funktionierendes Rollenspiel mit einer ungewöhnlichen Mechanik, mit der man viele Settings bespielen kann.

Spielbericht
Einen eigenen Spielbericht brauche ich gar nicht schreiben, da Markus Wagner dies bereits für die von mir geleitete Runde Hollowpoint 43 AD gemacht hat. Der Bericht ist in Englisch.

Fazit
Für mich ist Hollowpoint ganz klar eine Perle aus der Indie-Szene. Es hält, was es verspricht: aktionreiches, narratives Rollenspiel mit einer so ungewöhnlichen Mechanik, dass es sich vom Mainstream abhebt.

Für mich ein klares Plus ist auch, dass das Spiel online gut spielbar ist.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hollowpoint
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Hollowpoint
by Victor J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/30/2013 05:58:57
Excellent tone, clear writing, and interesting mechanics combine to make this a great read and a really fun play.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Diaspora
by Victor J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/15/2013 01:53:07
This game is worth purchasing for the social combat system alone. I've never seen a system for resolving social situations that is this imaginative, clearly explained, and fun to play. This is to say nothing of the rest of the book, which would be well worth the price of purchase even without the innovative social combat system. Clear writing, an interesting setting that honors its roots in old-school science fiction gaming, wonderful mechanics for player participation in world creation, and good structure and layout make this an all-around excellent book, despite a few puzzling typos and art that some might view as out-of-place.

Buy this book. You'll like it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Diaspora
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Hollowpoint
by Tony S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/31/2012 09:24:51
This looks like a really fun game for an emergency session. I got it as part of a bundle with Diaspora so it was even better value.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hollowpoint
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Hollowpoint
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/29/2012 03:23:46
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.

For my full review, please visit http://mostunreadblogever.blogspot.com/2012/09/tommys-take-o-
n-hollowpoint.html

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Click here to issue a publisher reply
Hollowpoint
by Matt S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/27/2012 12:41:53
This game has the perfect combination of indie storytelling and traditional GM driven narrative. I played it, bought it, ran it and it's become my #1 pickup game of choice. My hat's off to Murray & Marshall. The writing is excellent, the setting well described. The mechanics take a little getting used to, but players who have used the One Roll Engine or a number of collaborative systems will pick it up quickly.

The only aspect that I found difficult is the Teamwork mechanic. There really isn't a compelling reason for an agent not to concede to helping another agent. The example in the rules is that the agent in need uses the other agent as a human shield. If the helping agent can't be harmed then there's no reason for them not to help, even if they're being used as a human shield. I found that my players were offering assistance, which is the opposite of what the setting and system intend.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Hollowpoint
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/27/2011 07:14:13
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/10/27/tabletop-review-hollowp-
oint/

“No one in this game is innocent.”

WHAT IS IT?

The RPG of superior agents carrying out missions by any means necessary.

INTRODUCTION

Hollowpoint is a complete and mechanically simple game intended for pick-up or short campaigns. Those campaign will have to be short because characters will die. Players run agents – skilled, expert, and trained – on a level far beyond ordinary sheep. They know how to get things done and they have no compunctions. The mission must be completed regardless of cost or means.

The subtitle for the game is “bad people killing bad people for bad reasons.”

THE BOOK ITSELF

Hollowpoint clocks in at 110 trade-paper sized pages. The presentation’s careful and exact throughout. While the authors offer some nice typographic and design flourishes, nothing gets in the way of the reading. The stark presentation fits the tone of the game. Black silhouette illustrations leave the images open to interpretation and reading. Just as the gameplay asks you to fill in the details of these two-dimensional characters, the art leaves plenty of space to come up with your own stories. Hollowpoint‘s probably closest to the recent indie RPG hit Fiasco in look. But where Fiasco possesses a gritty, run you through the mud tone, Hollowpoint maintains clinical detachment. The authors use their words precisely. Brief and gritty narrative passages open each chapter, contrasting that precision.

SET UP

Authors Brad Murray and C.W. Marshall begin Hollowpoint with a statement of design philosophy. They point to a scene in Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat. The gang has just completed a heist and find themselves confronted by the police while leaving. The gang manages their escape through expertise and willingness to inflict damage and terror on their adversaries. In a standard RPG, players might have to model each shot, track positions, and calculate exact damage to play out that situation. Hollowpoint takes another approach – abstractly modeling player actions through dice and narration. Players roll and cause general effects, which allow them to escape by applying violence and fear.

This is a game about that violence, combining a quick combat resolution system with description-driven results. It specifically cites 100 Bullets, Kill Bill and Wanted as models. The relentlessness of video games like Kane & Lynch, Army of Two, and the recent release Payday: The Heist fit with this game. Even a non-modern setting like Assassin’s Creed fits this. Lt. Aldo Raine’s unit in Inglourious Basterds provides another model, as do some of the darker Asian crime thrillers. Some of Garth Ennis’ work, especially The Boys, could easily be done with Hollowpoint. It actually deals with a narrow set of models. Most films of violence have an arc of development or a need to protect. Though the Expendables might come to mind as fitting into this genre, those characters are too moral for the game built here. These characters are explicitly described as hyper-cool and above any other considerations. Compare something like Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai to Takashi Miike’s recent 13 Assassins, and Hollowpoint‘s firmly in the latter camp.

With that established, the second chapter takes those ideas and spins them. Creating a Hollowpoint game begins by answering a set of basic questions. Depending on the kind of game – pick up or trying for a series – the players and GM will have different levels of control. Hollowpoint focuses on “the table” as a collective sharing power, but still has places where a leader must manage decisions. That first decision involves defining “the agency” – the group that all characters work for. Having an agency offers a central tension for the game. These characters are strong, independent, superior operatives. But in order to succeed, they have to work together. The agency provides the leash tying the PCs together.

Three details define agencies. First, the Charge, gives a simple statement defining the agency’s purpose. For example, “Hunt Down Rogue Nephilim Before They Can Access the Dreams of Inspired Humans and Use Those to Rewrite History.” The morality and means of the agency isn’t an issue; some games may have a benevolent agency (G.I. Joe) while others may not (COBRA). Second, the Enemy, defines the specific or general group of people threatening the Charge. Third, the Era describes both the time period and the flavor of the setting. A near-future game might be brightly lit and razor sharp or it might be dirty, liquid, and contaminated.

Setting up a campaign is easy. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of bantering to put something together or confirm an idea the GM brings to the table. I only have one minor sticking point with the chapter – that they call the generic agency offered up for play “The Agency.” I had a strange Yo Dawg moment when I heard that.

CREATING CHARACTERS

Hollowpoint offers incredibly simple character creation in tune with the rest of the system. Players can put together their characters quickly, allowing for an easy pick up game. All characters begin at Agent Rank. Later characters have access to two other ranks, Operative and Handler, but that’s usually because their character has “moved on.” In other words: they’ve gone from the game. It bears repeating: players shouldn’t get too attached – they’re going to lose characters. It isn’t an inevitability, but pretty close.

Any character has six skills. Players rank skills from best to worst, getting five dice for their best and one less for each step down. Everyone will need a big batch of d6s for play. Six skills may not seem like a lot, but most of the time, that’s all the skills present in the game. The template skills are:





KILL: Inflicting lethal damage. Just plain killing anything.

TAKE: Seizing other people’s stuff by various means.

TERROR: Creating fear and terror in your targets.

CON: Tricking people

DIG: Finding out things, often things people don’t want you to know.

COOL: Just being awesome.

As you can see, those focus on the end effect rather than the specifics of the process. Different settings and games may use a slightly different skill list, adding a couple or substituting some. For example, the authors offer BOSS as a sub for COOL- providing an A-Team “Hannibal”-like skill in tactics and planning. Games with more fantastic elements might have skills cover those powers, but focused on what they try to do. So you might have SUPERBRAWL for dealing with superheroes, rather than describing particular powers or techniques. In play, players have the opportunity to narrate the how of these actions, casting the story as they wish. Ratings in skills translate directly into dice usable for conflicts related to them.

Next, players choose five traits. Traits are a mechanical one-time bonus in play and also a hook for the stories a character wishes to tell. In play, traits can be “burnt” for two extra dice on a roll. The player then has to narrate how the trait interacts with the story. Traits can be physical or abstract. Burning a physical trait means the loss of that object or thing. Burning an abstraction means a flashback, narrative interlude, or the like. They’re gone because no one wants to hear the same story twice. Hollowpoint presents three different ways for players to generate traits for their character. For example, players might come up with traits before a game based on a set of questions (You don’t have a lot of scruples, but you would “never do this”; “That one time in Utah you took a souvenir; it was “this.”). That can generate many different answers, some of them presenting a real challenge for the player to work into a scene. They’re akin a concrete version of an aspect from the Fate system.

Finally, players create a complication tied to the mission. This makes that mission personal for the character. And it offers the opportunity for a significant story twist later in the session. Complications can be can be anything from your agent sleeping with the target being investigated, to having sworn revenge against an ally, to being the real traitor behind the scenes. The GM looks at the various complications so they can kick the game in that direction during the session. Alternately, players can keep their complications secret from the GM as well, pulling them out as a surprise. That option’s recommended for experienced or high trust groups.

Overall, putting together a character shouldn’t take long: assignment of numbers, a short list of personal details, and one complication tied to the plot. That speed’s excellent, especially since you’re going to lose those characters fast.

CONFLICTS

Hollowpoint‘s structured as a series of scenes, bleeding into a series of conflicts. The game suggests that while players could take individual scenes, the intent of play is to have have the group present and active in each one. Scenes are free-form – they can be bs’ing around, plotting out plans for a heist or getting people in place for the operation. Hollowpoint offers no rules for these elements- the players can play freely as long as they want. However, once something becomes contested in a scene, the mechanics shift over to conflict, at which point the dice come out. Little details don’t get rolled, only complications that spark the conflict.

In Hollowpoint any mission has two objectives. Dealing with each objective requires a series of scenes, some with conflict. Some conflicts involve a Principal, a significant named character. Any conflict with a Principal is immediately followed by another scene with a Retaliation Conflict. All conflicts resolve through a series of dice exchanges; after dicing and resolving, the scene results in success or failure. In any conflict, the GM and players frame what’s at stake – what will be resolved through that success or failure.

Once conflict starts, players pick up dice equal to the rating of the skill they’re using that round. Players pick skills based on what outcome they want to achieve. That dice pool can raise or lower through additional options. Notably, players may bid for dice from the teamwork pool – five dice in a bowl for each player. Once per conflict, players can request help from a teammate. If the target player agrees, they hand their dice to the requester and sit out the conflict, offering support. Alternately, they can say no – or something more colorful – and take two dice from the person who asked for help. A rejected player may then take as many dice as they wish from the teamwork pool. Taking too many will cost everyone in the long run, and perhaps even the glutton in the short run.

When players roll, they create dice sets of matching numbers. Each set has a length (number of dice in the set) and value (the actual number showing on each die). So a character rolling five dice and getting 2, 2, 4, 4, 4 has a set of 2×2 and a set of 3×4. Opposing this, the GM gets two dice per person at the table, including themselves. As the mission presses on, the GM adds more dice for each succeeding conflict. If a Principal is involved, the GM adds even more dice and splits that pool before rolling. After dice are rolled, everyone arranges their sets by length and then value. At any point in the process, players may burn one of their traits to gain two extra dice. That trait’s gone forever and the player has to narrate what went down with that.

That arrangement determines order, with the longest and highest sets going first. Starting with the best set, the owner chooses a target and declares what’s happening to them. In the case of players, they’re usually going for an effect based on the skill chosen. The target of the action must remove a die from one of those sets. The implication is the wearing down of defenses, suppression of response, and progress towards goals. Single die sets get set aside in case players want to burn traits. If a target has no sets left, they take an effect based on the skill type. Again, players and GMs narrate what happens – the successful use of TAKE looks very different in effect than KILL. After a set is applied for an action, it is removed and the narration moves on to the next best set.

Since players can’t pass, this means that getting a really long set can hurt. They might go first but end up using up their actions. A successful hit means that the target takes an effect. Effects have two stages: first and second. For example the first stage TERROR effect is Hesitant, first stage COOL is Dazzled. Players can take all kinds of first stage hits, but once they take another hit from the same skill they go to second stage (Babbling, Outclassed, etc). At this point they’re out of the conflict. Players with second stage effects may choose to “move on.”

Interestingly, the power to choose that character death always remains with the player. They can keep on or, more likely, take the opportunity to spin a great story about how they went out. Players with characters who move on make up new ones – they appear in the next scene – probably chewing out the rest of the PCs about what an absolute cock-up the mission has become. Players can come back as Operatives or Handlers instead of base Agents. The only difference between these ranks is the minor special ability possessed.

Hollowpoint offers a few other complications to that conflict system, but basically that’s it. The actual dice mechanics of the game are rather simple, and luck will loom. The trick is how to actually narrate the events to both tell a good story and manage to work towards completing the mission. Hollowpoint offers some advice for handling that story telling and strategies for working those dice. The chapter on Conflict ends with two fully described example conflicts, one standard conflict and one with a “Catch”, essentially a dice clock the PCs have to fight against. Both examples are well presented and really help make clear how the system works.

REF’S SECTION

The last third or so of the rules focuses on material for the referee. It begins with mission-building. The important concept in a mission to to create two distinct but connected objectives. These should have NPCs connected with them, some as Principals, others not. Those may or may not be known to the players at the beginning. But the key idea is that players do know their objectives up front. The GM lets them spin and plan from those right out of the gate. Player complications may shift how the referee sees the story, but won’t affect the opening mission statement. That kind of simplicity and clarity makes Hollowpoint outstanding for a pick up game.

The Missions chapter provides a lot of solid advice – about how to maintain pace, construct hooks, and create memorable moments. The authors provide three very different mission examples to help referees get a handle on the process. Each presents a very different frame and approach, from The Wild Bunch to Outland. They do an excellent job selling the versatility of the system. Even further, the appendices offer two more fully-fleshed session overviews, both drawn from playtests. The first has a classic mob vs. mob feel and ends badly for the players. The second borrows more from In Nomine, The Prophecy, and Legion in a tale of divine enforcers trying to keep down fallen angels. As well, there are several pages of agency Field Guides on various topics (shotguns, pistols, first aid, etc.) that are a pleasure to read and that players would definitely benefit from. The book has an index which opens with “Adult Diapers 82.” It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but its always good to see an index of any RPG.

OVERALL

What you get out of this game will really depend on your interest in the genre of violence and cool. If you’re a fan of movies, comics and games like this, Murray and Marshall have put together a gaming engine that purrs. My gamer wife read through the rules and came away with admiration for the precision and design. She says it is the best written and produced game she never wants to play. I think that rightly sums things up. Gamers interested in the genre ought to pick it up.

Hollowpoint focuses on the aesthetics of violence, not the morality and philosophy of it. These are iconic characters – unchanging and unaffected except at the end. There’s no arc of development for them. This game shaves away all the other concerns, just as it shaves away all the details except for intended effect. Yet at the same time it combines that with an emphasis on story and narrative. It’s a brilliant and unexpected combination.

PORTABILITY

Hollowpoint seamlessly blends genre and system. It offers a unique way to model these kinds of characters and conflicts. I think it would be hard to capture the speed and stakes of these situations with another system. Most lack the abstraction necessary and focus on impacts over actions, results over specific means. Even something like Fate or Wushu wouldn’t handle this nearly as well as this fine-tuned machine. On the flip side, I think the Hollowpoint engine might be tweaked for other purposes, but not ones that are far removed from the original. You could inject a degree of humanity, perhaps of tragedy, perhaps of morality, rather than focusing on the absolute cool superiority of these iconic characters. You might end up with something close to The Expendables as I mentioned earlier, or in another genre, The Thirteenth Warrior.

A GM might go the other direction and skip the humanity. One could run a loose take on some of the classic White Wolf World of Darkness games using this system. I’ve seen GMs who’ve run those settings more for the violence and power than moral questionings or angst. Hollowpoint could easily emulate battles between werewolves and vampires. Hunter the Reckoning or Hunter the Vigil could be done in a frenetic session of Hollowpoint with a couple of new skills providing the trappings.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Hollowpoint
by Jared H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/21/2011 21:20:35
While it may not be for everyone, Hollowpoint truly excels in its niche. That niche is experienced gamers who prioritize a strong narrative over finicky task-resolution details. While the spirit of the game as written encourages the creation of heartless killers, the rule set is more than flexible enough to encompass other play styles.

Highlights:
- Quick! The first Hollowpoint session I ran took 2.5 hours. That included introducing the players to the rules (3 out of 4 had never looked at the game before), creating characters, and playing out a full mission (4 combats and 2 narrated skill checks). This is an absolutely ideal rule set for pickup games and one-offs.
- Flexible. With minor tweaks this system could be used to represent nearly any genre. For the rules to function smoothly, you just need a setting that allows teamwork, hyper-competency and frequent character death (and replacement).

Limitations:
- Commitment to narration. Players who aren't interested in coming up with cool narration for their character's actions may find the game a little disengaging. Since it lacks mechanics for specific task resolution, everyone involved needs to have some degree of improvisational storytelling skill to really enjoy.
- Short term. Since some of the core mechanics revolve around frequent character death, Hollowpoint as written isn't suitable for long campaigns that depend on persistent characters. You could probably make it work if you really wanted to, but there are a lot of other systems that would work better.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Diaspora
by Jared H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/16/2011 22:21:02
Picked this up at the recommendation of a friend of a friend and have been extremely happy with the purchase. The FATE system is beautifully flexible and the mini-games added in Diaspora really round out the storytelling possibilities.

My original hope was just to find something different from 4e but Diaspora has proven to be much more than that. Hell, the cluster and character creation portions alone are worth the price of admission!

Highly recommended for anyone looking for a relatively free-form system that focuses on storytelling over rules minutiae.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Diaspora
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Diaspora
by Berin K. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/17/2010 21:55:23
Diaspora was written by a bunch of people who love Traveller, but also love indie games where players share narrative control with the gamemaster. So they took Fate, the game system that Spirit of the Century and the Dresden Files RPG are built on, and they wrote a hard science fiction game that's very Traveller-like, but with all of the player possibilities they love about other games intact.

The book is dense — 270 pages. That seems like a lot, for a setting without a setting; unlike Traveller, where nearly every square centimeter of the galaxy has been mapped, planned out, and described in some sourcebook or another, you build your universe from scratch. It's easy enough to do, with Fate's aspect system. Everything from planets to alien races to spaceships to weapons can be described with aspects. The high page count is because the authors went to the trouble of giving you ladders and suggestions on each and every possible element, so that everything fits together smoothly and keeps the hard science feel. If you're well-verse in Fate you might find it unnecessary, but it's helpful. If you're not familiar with Fate, the high page count and amount of information provided may seem incredibly daunting.

Disapora gets me excited. You can recreate the Traveller universe with this, sure, but you could build almost any science fiction universe from it. It's simply a matter of how far you want to bend the definition of "hard science". You could do Battlestar Galactica with it, Serenity, even Star Trek or Star Wars if you really want to allow some hand-waving pseudo-science and fantasy into the game. It deserves to be this generation's Traveller. If only hard science fiction were a more popular genre.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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