Hollow Earth Expedition

[Gaming 101] Games to Start With Part 4: Alternate History and Pulp

Right, I know I said I’d do Alternate History and Pulp today. Then I realized what kind of trouble I got myself into. There’s an awful lot of this stuff out there right now! Okay, so no preamble, let’s just do this:

Hollow Earth Expedition from Exile Games
Fast, pulpy fun matched with an easy to grasp system that can use any size of die makes Hollow Earth Expedition (or HEX) a definite crowd pleaser. Add some top-notch art, compelling plot hooks for a hollow earth campaign and all sorts of crazy threats from Dinosaurs to Nazis to tribes of cannibals, the game practically runs itself. Add the fact that the supplements and expansions for the game are all aimed at targeting all other forms of pulp (Secrets of the Surface World covers urban pulp, for example) and an upcoming expansion set in MARS, what’s not to love about this game?

All For One: Regime Diabolique from Triple Ace Games
Musketeers fighting the forces of Hell itself! Swashbuckling action against the threats of the supernatural! Add a well-researched history and a very strong series of supplements to fill out everything from War to Fashion, this game presents itself extremely well and has a freeform magic system that is quick and easy to learn without having to trawl through massive spell lists. Imaginative and unique, All For One: Regime Diabolique also uses the Ubiquity system from Hollow Earth Expedition, but for fans of Savage Worlds, they’ve just recently released a version for that rule set as well.

Leagues of Adventure from Triple Ace Games
Another Ubiquity system game, Leagues of Adventure takes the Triple Ace Games level of research to pulling off steampunk and mashing it up with the adventure-seeking high of the pulps. Fans of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will find themselves right at home in this game, with strange devices, mysterious ruins and the call of adventure. Go out and heed the call for adventure!

Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein from Iain Lowson
Perhaps one of the creepiest alternate history games I’ve ever had the good fortune to read, Dark Harvest: Legacy of Frankenstein is a dystopian steampunk setting where Dr. Victor Frankenstein uses his discoveries to establish his nation of Promethea. Commoners huddle away from the Dark Harvest, while the decadent nobility harvest body parts to live forever. Take up arms as part of the resistance, and fight the good fight in hopes for a brighter tomorrow.

Qin: the Warring States from Cubicle 7
I’m actually reading this book right now, and I have to say that it’s a blast to read. Low-powered wuxia action in a time before the Three Kingdoms Era, with plenty of room for adventure and kung fu action. If you’re interested in following along, just check out my Let’s Study articles.

Yggdrasill from Cubicle 7
Here’s another favorite of mine. Well researched and carefully presented, Yggdrasill gives an awesome look at the Scandian lands and the lives of the Norsemen Heroes that live there. Politics (?!) Magic, and Frost Giants abound, leaving players with more than a number of different avenues to get into trouble.

Spirit of the Century from Evil Hat Productions
These days I can’t mention Pulp without mentioning SotC lest the FATE fans cry foul. :p Seriously though, I’ve heard a lot of good things about this game, and I’m just waiting for someone to run it for me and show me the error of my heathen ways.

Deadlands Reloaded! from Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Welcome to the Weird West. If you’re even remotely interested in Westerns, grab this game (and the Marshall’s guide too.) Deadlands is one of the longer running game lines and is one of the most loved horror-western settings around. Strange card-slinging hucksters and eagle-eyed sharpshooters are just two of the kinds of characters you can play, not to mention miracle wielding preachers and Ghostrock-powered weird gadgetry!

This is by no means exhaustive, and I’m pretty sure I’ve missed more than a few titles here, but I think this is a good enough place to start if you’re looking for adventure and pulps. At this point I’m still thinking of what other areas to cover… anyone got suggestions? Just add them on the comments below!

If you’re interested in picking up any of these in hardcover, you can order them directly from Gaming Library.

To place an order, please go to Gaming Library’s special order express page : http://www.gaminglib.com/pages/special-order-express-page

Take note that placing an order there doesn’t mean you’re committed, rather the Gaming Library team will be giving a quote and you can now choose whether to push through with the purchase or not.

[HEX] Actual Play Report #2 Knocking on the Gates of Guan Yu

Oookay, where to begin?  Well, first off yesterday’s session was simultaneously one of the strangest games I have ever run, while being one with a remarkable amount of coordination between the players.  The teamwork of the group was interesting and resulted in overcoming a whole bunch of challenges without so much as breaking a sweat.

Right, so as with before, let’s take a look at the (suddenly larger) roster of 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.
  • Nathan (Played by Tarathiel23) – Gentleman thief and confidence man who provides the group with the questionable skills necessary to do the more illegal actions necessary to the mission of the Foundation.
  • Carter (Played by Mappy) – Occult Investigator and perhaps disturbingly callous Necromancer, Carter gives the team their much needed occult insight and the occasional zombie.
  • Leaf-In-Midnight (Played by Pao) – A Native American former construction worker turned assassin, Leaf is deeply spiritual, remarkably skilled in climbing, and tends to have difficulty communicating with the group.

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[HEX] Post-Game Analysis, Session 1

Well, here we are with the Monday after, Sunday was for the Actual Play report, but here is when we sit down, think about what had happened in the session and try to figure out what went right, what went wrong, and what could be improved.

Overall the Hollow Earth Expedition campaign started off well, and the players seemed pretty happy with how things turned out.  In running the session, there were a few things that I tried pulling off that could have helped make the session better:

  • In Medias Res – I started off the session with the team in the thick of some dangerous situation before rolling back into a flashback that lasted the rest of the session.  It wasn’t a big thing, but it does get people thinking along the correct lines and focuses attention to the game.
  • Rapid Scene Changes – I didn’t dwell, or bother too much about introspection.  The moment the players were in a scene, something happens.  A bomb goes off, someone gets shot, the stakes are raised.  Contrary to some of the more horror-oriented campaigns I run, there’s not a lot of empty scenes.  Once the players are done figuring out what they need to know, then I shift the scene.
  • Pulling back on the Investigation – It’s impossible to get rid of investigation entirely in a game, but rather than focus on the slow burn of a mystery, I let players find the clues and make the rolls and carry on.  It’s easy enough to find direction in the game, and I think that was very helpful in keeping the game moving at a brisk pace.

Of course, everything’s not all roses and sunshine.  I screwed up a few things and had to make a few adjustments on the fly.

  • Learn the system better – Ubiquity is quick and easy, but since this was my first game I had a few rules blind spots and gameplay slowed for rules lookups.
  • Show don’t tell – I was dropping out of show mode and more and more into tell mode more often than I was happy about, but thankfully this is something that can be remedied with a little more focus.
  • Bring meds – I had a migraine during game night, and that wasn’t fun for anyone.  I really ought to have started earlier, but only if I had been ready with some headache medications.

Overall I find it interesting that trying to emulate the genre altered my usual GMing style.  Pulp has me switching up faster, changing the scene to the next more interesting scene, and not really bothering as much to ask players what their normal day is like.  The game is faster, punchier and perhaps less introspective than the ones I’m used to running, but I will admit that it’s a great break from my usual fare, and I think that I’ve finally found the game that will work best for me even if I’m stressed out in weekdays.

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

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!

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[HEX] Campaign Prep Has Never Been So Cathartic

After a vicious week at work, it’s finally the weekend.  I’ve only begun to unwind, but not before taking the chance to sit down and hammer out the first session of the Hollow Earth Expedition campaign I’ll be starting tomorrow.  Normally I tend to be a GM that doesn’t rely heavily on notes, using a lot of the usual cues I’ve picked up from player backstories and profiling my players to come up with something interesting.

But given how stressed I’ve been, I don’t trust my improv brain THAT much right now.

And so I’ve put down the basic set pieces of my game, noted the various locations, and scenes that are most likely to occur, and then I’ll work from there, letting players do what it is they do to ruin my plan, while I hold on to the tattered remains and try to make it look like I had is planned all along.  My villains are reasonably dastardly, the scope, larger than life and perhaps it is a great way to start off with good action.

One upside to this approach, I noticed is that I can establish specific beats and be able to review the various different types of challenges I get to present my players.  Of course there will always be more than one way to solve a problem, but it also helps to have some form of idea of what kind of conflicts you can be ready to throw at your players and know that you’re not repeating yourself.

Being able to vary the types and intensity of the challenges is important as it gives more realism and rewards different players based on which skills and techniques they focus on in the game.  This way I can make sure that I spread things out evenly, without ending up favoring one type of player over another.

Overall this has been a learning experience.  I haven’t had a chance to do this in a while so I think I’ve learned something that I forgot long ago.  I used to do this a lot, and my old Star Frontiers boxed set still has some old sheets of ruled paper full of my notes scrawled in my 10 year old handwriting.

[HEX] The Siren Song of Adventure!

Pulp has always been an inherently optimistic genre.  Given the black and white morality, the larger-than-life heroes and the downright dastardly villains, it’s a setting with nice and well defined lines.  The gray area more common to modern work is absent here, and for once I’m happy for it.  This is one of those few genres where I can reasonably expect the heroes to stick together.  I really don’t have the heart to deal with things like pvp right now.

But just because I’m taking out the shades of gray doesn’t mean that a game can’t be fun.  I’ve run HERO before and while that game had its gray areas, the general tone was still lighthearted enough to enjoy without needing severe emotional crisis.  I’m hoping for that same less… heavy atmosphere for this particular campaign.

And so what should my players be expecting then?

  • Action – Explosions, gunfire, daring duels on top of zeppelins.  Pulp games ought to have at least one or two fantastic set piece battles that stick out in the players minds.  Interactive environments are key here, as well as the occasional hazard or three that changes the nature of the fight.
  • Travel – I’m starting the players off with a zeppelin and a ton of money.  I don’t want them bogged down by the details, I want them to transition into a map with a little zeppelin icon that draws a line from where they started to their destination.  While the occasional language barrier may be an issue, it will generally be a game where everyone gets to take in different cultures.
  • Weirdness – Cryptids, weird science, dinosaurs and occultism will all exist in one shape or form, but I’ll never build a session that is built to frustrate the plyers.  I’m the kind of GM who is open to any sort of solution, as long as it makes sense.
  • Melodrama – A certain amount of melodrama ought to be expected in any sort of Pulp campaign, and I don’t think that my campaign should be an exception to this rule.  Pulp games benefit greatly from being painted in vivid color.

And so that’s what I’ve got so far.  A love for adventure movies, a healthy fascination for world cultures, a romance with retro kitsch and a strange philosophy that older is always better is a potent combination that I have, so I feel that HEX will be an interesting game indeed.  Right now I’m working on cramming all my ideas into one session first, surely a good sign for a long term campaign.

[HEX] Character Concepts Coming In

After last weekend’s announcement that I’ll be putting the Awakening High campaign on hold due to my inability to come up with something sufficiently interesting for it due to stress, I’ve asked my players to go and start working on their characters for the Hollow Earth Expedition Campaign I pitched.  So far the response has been good, with interesting character concepts coming in, each of which could work in the context of the globe-trotting pulp campaign I had in mind.  No final names yet on these but the concepts are:

  • An adopted (and orphaned) young woman of a mysterious background who has a pet Dinosaur
  • A fearsome adventurer and gourmand who goes to the corners of the earth to hunt down and eat some of the most exotic creatures he can find
  • A driven and somewhat condescending linguist with an obsession for finding evidence of a proto-civilization that predated human history
  • A daring and expert thief who doesn’t really understand why is it he was requested to join this particular crew to begin with, but hey, the pay is good.

Overall, not bad for a group of people sent to the ends of the earth to investigate the strange and the unknown.  A few NPCs could help fill in the remaining gaps of the crew and I’ll be more than ready to run stuff for this team.

To prepare, I’ve been checking out possible sources of inspiration and trying to put together a great opening session that will kick off this campaign on a high note rather than the slow plodding sessions I often end up having when I start a campaign.  Hopefully I’ll have the kind of motivation I need to push this campaign on to something awesome and wrap it up in a fashion that my players will enjoy.

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