[HEX] Actual Play Report #1 Big Trouble In Little Chinatown

Posted: July 17, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Actual Play, Articles, Hollow Earth Expedition, Roleplaying Games

Yesterday’s kickoff of the Hollow Earth Expedition campaign I’ve been working on for the past week has been nothing short of amusing, as three of my players showed up, finalized their character concepts and hit the ground running.  The Ubiquity System does exactly what it says in the tin, being a relatively rules-light, and primarily transparent rules system that doesn’t slow down due to boring minutiae.  I’ll have to come back some time to post a full article on my first impression of the Hollow Earth Expedition rules system once I’ve got a few more sessions under my belt as I’m still making sure that my impressions aren’t colored by my lack of experience with it.

That said, let’s go back and take a look at our characters:

  • Catherine Ashford (played by Silver Countess) – A Biology Professor in Columbia University with a mysterious past, and a pet baby dinosaur named Polly.  Often mistaken for a minor due to her looks.
  • Elliot “Elly” Tremayne (played by Rvelasco) – A brilliant, if condenscending Linguist and Historian out to prove his grandfather’s theory of a “Proto-Civilization” true to the stodgy bastards of the academe.
  • Darwin (played by Hikkikomori) – Fearsome and mysterious “Epicurean Adventurer” who travels the world to find exotic ingredients to subdue with his bare hands, consume posthaste and document maybe sometime when he gets around to it.

I have two other players for this game, but they weren’t able to make it to today’s session, so their introductions will have to wait.  And so, on to the Actual Play Report!


Our story begins in the Penthouse suites on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, home to the deceased multi-millionaire adventurer Roger Carlyle, and now property of the Carlyle Foundation, a society dedicated to the discovery, recovery and preservation of the world’s most esoteric and mysterious treasures.  Our heroes receive word that a friend of the deceased Roger Carlyle, a linguist by the name of Simon Tang is calling to meet with them in his apartment in the San Francisco Chinatown in hopes to discuss a startling discovery that would interest the Foundation, but is hesitant to discuss the matter over regular correspondence.

After making preparations, the team flies over to San Francisco to arrive there during the height of the Lunar New Year celebrations.  There is a massive parade and the place is thick with people and gawkers, while fireworks, drums and cheering  fill the air as Lion and Dragon Dances go up and down the streets.  The team spend some time getting to know the local culture, taking in the sights and sounds before trying to make their way to the apartment.

They had arrived within two blocks of the place when an explosion rocked the apartment building, sending the people in the streets running for their lives in all directions.

Catherine darted towards the building, hoping to get there first, while Elliot and Darwin found that trying to make their way against the crowd was slowing their progress.  Catherine was nearly at the apartment when she noted three suspicious people taking off what looked like Chinese Opera Masks before blending into the crowd.

However, faced with the decision of pursuing these men, or going into the apartment to check on Simon Tang, Catherine chose to investigate, running up the steps of the narrow apartment to find that the door had been kicked open.

Through the haze, Catherine saw that there was an unconscious young woman on the floor.  Catherine darted inside and pulled the girl to safety, even as Elliot and Darwin arrived.

The two other adventurers entered the burning office, looking around for clues before the fire consumed everything.  Elliot found Simon’s office and grabbed all the papers on the desk, hoping to salvage anything that might have a clue, while Darwin saw a matchbook left lying on the floor.

The two men exited the burning apartment and made their way down to meet up with Catherine accross the street.  Catherine had managed to rescucitate the unconscious woman.  With some introductions, they were able to ascertain that the woman in question was named Lily Tang, and was the daughter of their contact.  Lily  informed them that her uncle owned a restaurant nearby, and that they could speak there.


The restaurant in question was a small noodle house, where Darwin then proceeded to order nearly everything in the menu while Lily answered their questions about what had been going on.

Lily informed them that she was there visiting her father, who had been growing increasingly excited over his finally unlocking a particularly difficult variant of Taoist magical writing.

She was making tea for him when hoodlums in masks kicked the door down and seized her father.  She tried to scream for help but one of them had knocked her unconscious.

The team was then left to try and figure out what was going on.  Elliot was poring over the documents they had managed to save from the fire, and discovered that they seem to be various texts relating to the Chinese religious and historical figure Guan Yu, from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Upon questioning, Lily pointed out a nearby altar in the restaurant where a small statuette of Guan Yu stood with his iconic Green Dragon Halberd was held in his right hand.  Lily spoke in halting english trying to explain that Guan Yu was a protector, a guardian.

She was in the midst of her explanation when they were interrupted by a young asian man who entered the restaurant and flashed a police badge, introducing himself as Detective Andrew Long, special investigator for Crimes in the Chinatown District.

The team spoke to him at length, explaining their rescue of Lily, and Darwin took this opportunity to show the matchbook they had found it the scene of the crime.  The Matchbook bore the logo of the Blue Lotus, a seedy jazz bar owned by the local Triad.  Detective Long confirmed this, and upon questioning, Lily denied her father having any sort of dealings with the Triad, or any predeliction to actually go visit such shady places.

Andrew admitted that he has been casing the Blue Lotus for months, but has had no luck getting permission to raid the place as the local police chief was unsympathetic to any request to send men or resources to help the Chinese Community.

As it was getting late, the Foundation team checked in at a local hotel, where Catherine Ashford stayed behind to hold the fort, while Elliot and Darwin decided to go and check out the Blue Lotus for themselves.


The two men arrived at the Blue Lotus, a wide, squat building with no second floor and with bright lights and Chinese signage.  Darwin intimidated the bouncer, confusing him with a strange combination of fast talk and stereotypical gweilo rudeness.  The bouncer gave way and the two men managed to enter the place.

The Blue Lotus was a jazz band with tables arranged in a semi-circle around a dance floor and a stage.  A lady in a cheongsam was singing a song in Cantonese while a live band played off to one side.  The two members of the Foundation took a seat and ordered food, while Darwin cased the place in search of who would be “in charge” of this place.

After spending an hour casing the place, Darwin determined that the man in a white suit by the front seems to be the manager.  Darwin waited for a little while longer before slamming his fist on the table and demanding to see the manager.  Decrying that the food was… mediocre.

The man in the white suit appeared, gesturing to several other men in the room to stand down, before walking over to see what the fuss was about.

Darwin went on in his food critique mode, demanding recompense for his wasted time and insulted tastebuds.  The man in white was not happy with this rudeness but was more than willing to just refund them the meal rather than keep these two men here.  Darwin insisted further, asking if the place had more interesting entertainments.

The man in white took time to evaluate them, before finally nodding, “Perhaps you’re the gambling type?”  The two men were led downstairs into the basement, and into a secret passage to a hidden gambling den with people playing mahjong.  Elliot took this chance to sit down for a bit of gambling, using his inborn intellect to understand the nuances of the game and begin reaping in quite the winnings. Darwin waited until Elliot started a winning streak was drew more disgust than admiration before slipping into a door marked “Employees Only”

Having a large Caucasian man with no understanding of the language bumbling about in the Employees Only portion of the basement was something that was bound to draw the wrong kind of attention and when Darwin saw a door marked by a scroll image of Guan Yu, he entered it to find the unconscious and badly injured body of Simon Tang!

Of course, this would have been much easier, if the five hoodlums that had been performing the torture weren’t still in the room.  Armed with an assortment of makeshift weapons the thugs turned to Darwin.

Darwin took this chance to crack his knuckled and stare them down, two of the thugs fled while another two cowered, leaving only the toughest one to engage Darwin in a fight.  Armed with a baseball bat, the thug and Darwin got into a close quarters scuffle.

Elliot on the other hand was consoling the other players on his table as he raked in his winnings, speaking perfect Cantonese to tell them that the winds of fortune were going his way.  At least of course until the two thugs that fled stormed into the room, shouting that the gweilo were police.

Elliot knew that things had gone south quite quickly at this point, and decided to throw his winnings into the air, before diving past the two thugs in the midst of the confusion and running blindly down the halway to find Darwin.  Elliot arrived just as Darwin was busy kicking the thug in the nuts.  The Thug countered with a vicious backhanded strike, slamming the butt of the baseball bat he was holding up and into Darwin’s jaw, making him see stars.

Elliot looked around to note that the room itself seemed to be an altar of sorts, dedicated to the statuette of Guan Yu, a more sinister, angry version of the god, holding his Green Dragon Halberd in his left hand.  Elliot slipped past the melee, grabbing the joss sticks still stuck to the ash in the urn and used them to set fire to nearby drapes.

The thug at this point was able to knock Darwin out with a punch, turning around to see Elliot had begun a new career in arson.  Elliot wasted no time in grabbing the urn and throwing it to the thugs face, blinding him with choking ash.  The thug staggered backwards, clawing at his eyes and face and screaming in pain as Elliot grabbed both the unconscious Simon Tang and Darwin before dragging them away from the burning basement.


Catherine Ashford had just stepped out of her shower and got dressed, chronicling the incident so far in her notebook when the telephone in her hotel room rang.  It was Detective Andrew Long.

“There’s been a fire in the Blue Lotus.”  his voice was calm, “Where are Dr. Tremayne and Darwin?”

“They went there to check it out tonight.” Catherine replied, “Do you happen to have a car?”


Darwin came to as Elliot was pulling him to safety.  Already smoke was starting to fill the hallway.  Darwin picked himself up, and ran ahead, aiming to cause as big a ruckus as he could, storming the kitchen screaming “FIRE!” and sending the staff into panic, while he opened all the gas mains, and they carted the unconscious Simon Tang out of the back door.  They’d barely cleared the back alley when they saw Catherine and Detective Andrew there, waving them over as they carried the unconscious man into the car.

They piled into the vehicle, and Darwin looked back to see the Blue Lotus up in flames and the man in white there watching their car leave with impotent rage.


It was at this point that I decided to end the session for the day.  They had rescued Simon Tang, and made an enemy of the Triad of San Francisco.  But what was Simon’s discovery?  What did it have to do with Guan Yu?  Why was the Triad so interested in an academic matter?  All these questions and more will be answered in next week’s session.

Overall, I was glad that the session turned out to be as good as it was, considering that I was running it while experiencing the worst migraine I have ever experienced in years.  I still need to brush up a bit on the finer points of the Ubiquity system, but I’m very happy with how the game turned out.  Maybe next session I’ll have had enough review and study to get the nuances of the system to proceed without quite as many rules checks.

One thing that I have taken note of is that it the is actually quite deadly.  While the Talents do provide for some good knacks and powers, player characters can end up unconscious or worse with a lucky attack roll from a thug.  Baseball bat thug in particular rolled 5 successes on 5 dice twice in the fight, leaving Darwin on the ropes.

I’ve already got notes on the next session (given that the players have only made it about halfway through my current notes) and I’ll be prepping ahead for what comes after.  I have to admit that I’m enjoying this campaign so far, as I don’t have to stress out about it, and that I’m looking at another very busy week at work, this will definitely be something to look forward to every weekend.

  1. Runeslinger says:

    What grabbed me most the first time out was the sheer speed of it. I kept thinking I must have missed a step, or something, because combats went so smoothly and quickly. Even when players don’t really have a sense of when to use Style points, or all the possible interactions the points have with their Talents, encounters are slick and interesting.

    Now that we are running Desolation and combat tends to have more factors (armor, magic, non-human PCs) we decided to print up a spreadsheet to make sure we could visually track all the cool elements of combat (stun, knockback, knockdown) quickly, without missing a beat. Once I start in with All for One, I will definitely keep doing that.

    • Hey Runeslinger!

      Good idea, I’ll snoop around if there are any good combat cheat-sheets that are well laid out. Combats so far have been good, but I think I may have made a mistake or two during the fight, but nothing that slowed the pace.

  2. […] had planned sounded spectacular and a lot of fun if you were a player. So, I was happy to see him write up a summary at his site Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer. I wish we had teleporters and I could bounce wherever the best games were being run in the […]

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