Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More thoughts on HEX

I had a question about the Hollow Earth Expedition System after my previous post. I was typing a response in the comments and realized I was going a bit long, so instead I decided to expand it into a more complete post. If anyone has any additional questions, let me know and I'll try to answer, based on my experiences playing / game mastering.

Ubiquity Dice
Hollow Earth Expedition uses a dice pool system, known as Ubiquity Roleplaying System. With Ubiquity, you can roll any dice you own, as long as they have an even number of sides (so keep those Gamescience d3s, d5s, and d7s in your dice bag). Instead of looking for 4 or better, like your might in a table-top war game like Warhammer, you're just looking for the even numbers. Count them up and that gives you the number of "successes". Alternatively, Exile Games sells a set of "Ubiquity Dice" to use with the game. It's kind of an innovative system to cut down on the number of you roll each turn. I picked up a set at Origins last year after checking out a game demo. Essentially, the white die is the equivalent of rolling "one die", the red die is the equivalent of rolling "two dice", and the blue die is the equivalent of rolling "three dice". All the probabilities are worked out with the numbers on the faces. So, to represent a dice pool of 6, you can either roll 6 white dice, 3 red dice, 2 blue dice, or 1 white, 1 red, and 1 blue, or 2 red and 1 blue, and so forth. I was the only one using the Ubiquity Dice last night. As a bit of a dice nerd, it was fun to use something off the wall, but by no means necessary. Then again, our Big Game Hunter was dumping 14 dice on the table every time he fired his rifle. He could have done that with 3 blues, 2 reds and a white from my pool (the Ubiquity Dice set comes with 3 of each color).

The GM determines how challenging the task should be, allowing for adjustment for creative ideas or tactical advantages. The system also supports the use of the average successes for scenarios where time is not a factor and nothing critical is happening. For example, in last night's game one of the players has a high Linguistics skill. We decided that he understands the basics of most European languages to avoid having to roll every time one of the NPCs spoke Norwegian. When that same NPC spoke Atlantean, he had to make a roll, because it was unlike any language he had experienced. Even with a success, he was only able to understand the very basics of what was said. It allowed the game to move quickly, but we could leave it to chance when that had the opportunity to make the game more interesting.

Combat is handled with opposed rolls. The attacker rolls a number of dice based on his or her weapon skill and the quality of the weapon. In the case of our Big Game Hunter, that number turned out to be 14. Here's how it breaks down: Firearms are based on your dexterity (4 for BGH). During character creation, he spends build points on three levels and buys a Talent, boosting his Firearms rating another 2. Additionally he buys a specialization in rifles, adding another point, bring him to a total of 10 dice. The .405 Winchester Rifle has a rating a 4L (the L stands for lethal damage). There it is 14 dice. When using his .455 Webley revolver with a 3L, his attack drops to 12 dice, because he can't count the rifle specialization. The defender rolls his defense rating. I don't have my books in front of me, but I think the defense rating is a combination of your Intelligence and Dexterity scores (plus any armor you might be wearing). Subtract the defense success from the attack successes to determine the damage you take. There are some rules for cover and special attacks, but those are the basics. It sounds a bit complicated, guess, but in practice it went pretty fast. People seemed to enjoy having the "active" defense, because I think everyone likes rolling dice. Their dice rolling prowess (aka LUCK) had something to do with how well they shrugged off a potential hit.

Hollow Earth Expedition
I've never played any other dice pool system, and I don't think any of my players have much, if any, experience with them either. The rules were light enough that everyone picked up on it pretty quickly. Since I was the only one who owns/read the book, we skipped over some of the fiddly options for combat (like the continuous initiative option and some more advanced combat actions).

Having a more limited/generalized skill set, than say, BRP or Call of Cthulhu, allowed the players to be a bit more free-form/creative with their actions, and the skills and skill specializations made sense to everyone. I think the players were pretty innovative in combining their player smarts and character skills.  The Style points were also popular. As I said in the previous post, the players did a pretty good job getting into character and seemed legitimately excited to gain a Style Point. I need to refresh myself on the rules and suggestions for distributing the points throughout the game. I'm not sure if they were going out too easily or I was being stingy, but it felt right for a first try at the system.

I found it a bit funny that my players were kind of in Call of Cthulhu mode, rather than high adventure mode, but that might have been related to their selection of characters.

"Hey Guys! We're going on a big adventure, filled with all kinds of crazy traps and dinosaurs and evil Nazis!!"
"I wanna be a snooty college professor!"
"I call the Field Biologist!!!"

My one concern, so far, with HEX is handling future adventures. Part of the fun of the game was the players not knowing what was going to happen. I pretty much told them that we'd be playing a pulp adventure game. I made some references to some books and movies for framework, and they new the game was Called Hollow Earth Expedition, but they didn't know much else about the setting. How do you keep the concept of a foreign world interesting to the players if they've delved into the world in the past. You loose the freak-out my players experience when their characters watches and compasses malfunctioned and the sun never set. You can roleplay that feeling for a new set of characters, but not for the players behind those characters.

I think the Ubiquity system could easily be used for other gaming styles, but there doesn't seem to be much else out there right now. There's no reason that I noticed that you couldn't reskin the skills, talents, and flaws, for fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc. I see that an upcoming supplement for the game is called Revelations of Mars, which I have to assume will allow for some Sci-Fi gaming. There is also a fairly active section of the Exile Games Forum, where folks discuss alternate uses for the Ubiquity system. I could see this eventually competing alongside Savage Worlds as a nice, compact, generic system for running a variety of games. The folks at Exile would probably need to do some significant work to strip off the pulp adventure layer, though.

The world is big enough, and with the two supplementary products currently in print (Secrets of the Surface World and Mysteries of Hollow Earth) there is more than enough for players to do and see. I'm curious to see how this demo game develops and if my players request a longer campaign in the future. After finally getting to play a game, I do plan on grabbing those books, plus the GM screen at some point. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like any of my FLGS currently carry this game. I'm going to talk to Jeff down at Phantom of the Attic to see if they can get it from their distributors, though, as I'd rather pass the cash through them than Amazon or something.

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