Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Shadow Over Hollow Earth

Got halfway through True Detective tonight.  In some sick world that's probably a kind of victory.  Kids won't sleep.  I think they might be allergic to it.  Oh well, at least it gives me the chance to update my old school gaming blog.

Anyways, earlier today was our first time with Hollow Earth Expedition [HEX].  Virgin blood.  Had some trouble getting the original hardcover edition of the book.  It's been out of print for a little while, but with amazon's help I now have both the travel sized softcover and a mint condition hardcover with the colored end papers and character archetype plates - better than mint, actually.  My used copy is signed by Jeff Combos.  Whoever you are, "Jen," thank you.

Onto the game!  Rather than do the easy thing, which, in this case, would be running the introductory adventure at the back of the book, I decided to "do my own thing".  The outsider's curse.  It took me until the night before to come up with something decent.  HEX's game world environment is simultaneously specific and vague.  I love that, but sometimes I struggle to find a purchase on the slippery setting.  From the moment I read about dinosaurs, Nazi occultism, mad scientists, 1930's, and the lost city of Atlantis, I knew Lovecraft would have to be involved.

I decided to do a HEX makeover/hack of "The Pits of Bendal-Dolum" - a Call of Cthulhu adventure from the Cthulhu Classics scenario book by Chaosium.  Old school.  The middle was almost identical, but the beginning and ending took on drastic changes...

The Beginning

The memoirs of Jasper Hedrick were published a decade ago.  Hedrick was a small-time explorer back in his day.  His primary claim to fame was an expedition to Baaldum-Jale, a temple devoted to the forgotten gods.  However, his editor, Lawrence Talbot, made sure it was barely mentioned in an effort to preserve Hedrick's credibility.  "An account bordering on the fantastical."  he said.

A fortnight ago, Mr. Talbot died.  Among his papers were the original notes of Hedrick's central American expedition to Baaldum-Jale, where he observed carvings depicting inhuman creatures, strange phenomena, the practice of black magic, and something he never dared describe at the bottom of a stone stairway containing 777 steps.

A room full of people listened to this new account thanks to the blabbering mouth of Tuffy MacStinson.  Normally, that wouldn't be a big deal, but Tuffy spilled the proverbial beans in the drawing room of the Intrepid Explorer's League club.  Several expeditions were launched by week's end.

The Middle

Native tribesmen encountered, the survivors of a competing expedition saved, some kind of dread seal or talisman found, a giant Tulu statue marked the temple's perimeter, and nightmares disturbed everyone's slumber.  Except for an increase in reptilian aesthetics around the temple, it was a lot like the Call of Cthulhu adventure.

But this is where we got to try the Ubiquity System.  Basically, you roll big pools of dice and try to get evens.  As GM, I got very few.  Everyone else seemed to do fairly well, about average, sometimes better than.

If you think Call of Cthulhu is deadly, holy shit!  Playing a Big Game Hunter or Fortune Hunter if you want to see the bodies pile up.  The adventurers killed a saber-toothed panther jaguar in 1.5 shots.  Later, they took out a traitor/cultist/Hell-plant in a single round.  But what do you expect when rolling 14 dice to the defender's 6 or 7.

I believe only 1 Style Point was spent during the game.  Unfortunately, I can't even remember what it was for.  But a few of the players really hammed it up roleplaying-wise in order to get them.  The Christian Missionary was the best.  At every turn, he had a sermon ready or a passage from the bible - the guy even brought an old beat-up bible to the game!

The End

After the demonic vegetation burst out of the cultist's back, the Thule Society wandered in suggesting a combined expedition.  They had a man in their group who had actually been to the hollow earth before and was pretty sure this would be a way back.  Plus, they had a special girl with them; she was physically blind but also a spiritual medium.

Boldly stealing from Star Trek, the super-expedition climbed down the Cyclopean steps only to find a de-materialization area for beaming people down to where the action is.  They went.  Jungle again but more exotic... and dangerous.  PCs saw their first T-Rex, the missionary befriended an Ape-Man, convincing him to let everyone into the Atlantean ruins.  That's where the session ended.

Experience points were given.  I can't remember if it's in the rules, but I allowed players to use their unused Style Points as XP if they wanted.

"How was it?"  That's a question I frequently ask since I've started running new games on a regular basis (new to me and my players, that is).  Because sitting behind the screen - figuratively, because the HEX GM screen is harder to find than a solid night of sleep at my house - doesn't tell me everything.  Even though I try my best to gauge player actions, reactions, expectations, verbal and non verbal cues, etc... sometimes you just don't know until you ask.  Not that you always get an honest answer, but it's better than guessing.  The verdict?  Everything had fun, liked the system, and wanted to keep playing.

After session #2, I'll end at a good stopping point, ask people if they want to continue playing HEX or move on to something new... like The Mutant Epoch.  Thanks for reading.  Feel free to comment.  I enjoy the feedback.


p.s.  After session #2, I have some fresh insight into HEX: given enough time and enthusiasm (especially when fueled by an awesome idea), the PCs will pretty much be able to do anything they want within the setting's context and never die.

It would have been nice if the introductory text had said that up-front, but I got there in the end.  That's how this style of game should go and that's what the system facilitates.  Once the GM is aware of this, the game noticeably improves for all.

If your players are tired of scrounging and scavenging for a +1 sword, constantly trying to survive battles with giants, dragons, and wizards, then they'd probably enjoy a little vacation.  Give them some well-deserved R&R.  Run HEX.  Somewhere between 1 and 3 sessions should do the trick.

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