While I ran two separate sessions of Hollow Earth Expedition, the Pulp adventure rpg published by Exile Games, I would normally have posted two separate reports on the convention. However, this year's games surprised me somewhat, in that the players undertook some truly heroic actions, but there were no really memorable moments (other than those noted below). For that reason, I'm only going to post up one report on both sessions of the game.
"The Pyramid of Doom" scenario was one that I had worked on for about four months to get ready and playtest. It is the direct sequel to last year's "The Secret of Lake Qechacua", but was set up so that players need not have played in that one. In retrospect, one of the things I may well do for next year is write a HEX scenario for beginners, as the adventure in the main rulebook has always struck me as being a bit bland (but that's another matter). While "Pyramid" worked for the players, both those who have played HEX before and those who were new to the game system, having something that was self-contained and truly "introductory" might be good to run as well. I ran the game from 2-6 pm on Saturday and in the same time slot on Sunday. Both sessions of the game were full, bursting to the seams, with players wanting to get into the sittings (twenty-six people signed up for twelve slots over the two runnings). I really feel badly when I have to turn players away. I would have run another session on the Saturday night, but I was already scheduled to run Desolation that night. Some of the Saturday players who failed to get into the game went and actually spent $2 each and pre-registered for the Sunday slot, and came back to tell me that they had were signed up for that one, and that it was now filled. Both games of HEX had people sticking around to watch the goings on, no doubt due more to the attractive HEX GM Screen that the folks at Exile Games put together than anything I actually did or said!
So, let's start here with the basic plot for the scenario, and the player characters created for this adventure. For those who don't want to know the plot, I've use Inviso text here...
After fleeing through the portal from the Qechacua temple on the Isle of the Dead, the characters find themselves dumped unceremoniously into the middle of an area of the Hollow Earth reminiscent of ancient Egypt. Saving an Egyptian boy and his aunt and rescuing their prisoner, a tomb robber, in the aftermath of a dinosaur attack, the characters learn of the possible location of the missing archaeologist. After finding the archaeologist and a reunion between father and daughter, a madcap chase ensues to the Pyramid of the title, in pursuit of the kidnapped father. Entering the Pyramid, the player characters find the portal that may or may not take them home, but pay a terrible price in order to do so.
Lovely, no? :)
The player characters specifically for this convention game were:
Linguist. Her father, Matthew Carmichael, disappeared in the Amazon jungle some 5 years ago, and she is intent on finding him. Courageous, resolved, and she wants to find her father, but feels guilty about the death of two of the characters at the climax of the previous adventure.
Russian. Excellent pilot, and a mercenary. A friend of a big game hunter who recruited him for the search for the missing archaeologist, his feelings for Eliza conflict with the guilt he feels for the death of the big game hunter, who was in love with her. He's also enjoying the challenges of the Hollow Earth.
Reporter. Born into a wealthy Boston family, has a lot of moxie and guts. Dark-haired, good eye for detail, and a crack shot with a pistol. Volunteered for the quest to the Amazon, and now has the story of a lifetime - if she makes it back to tell it. Think Lois Lane and Annie Oakley rolled into one.
Swedish explorer. Curious about the natural world, and dislikes cities and urban environments. He likes the freedom that exploration gives him, and feels as if he has come home in the Hollow Earth.
Dr. Henry Summerfield
English. The uncle of Eliza Carmichael. A naturalist and a strong believer in the rights of native peoples. Something of a pacifist, and fond of his niece. He accompanied Eliza on the trip to the Amazon on what he considered a fool's errand, but while now trapped in the Hollow Earth, is happy with the new botanical specimens for study, and is convinced that his brother is alive.
Samir ibn Kufneht
Former tomb robber with an aptitude for larceny. Got trapped in the Hollow Earth some three years ago by his reckoning while plundering a tomb in 1880's Egypt. Pinning his hopes on getting home with the characters, but finds himself in a sticky situation at the beginning of the adventure.
The strange thing about the two sessions was the mix of players. The Saturday afternoon game had three girls playing with three guys, but the Sunday afternoon session had six guys playing the characters. It was certainly interesting to see the guy playing Eliza on Sunday afternoon, and the teenager who played Henry on Saturday. I was even more entertained by the fact that the players playing the opposite gender characters actually did a terrific job with them.
From the point of view of the runnings of the two games, neither of these sessions of HEX provided more than one or two highlight reel moments. Some stuff that I *do* remember, however, are:
1. In the Saturday afternoon game, a young woman in her late teens was playing Eliza's uncle, the older man, Henry Summerfield. She did a remarkable job in making it clear to the fellow playing Sergei that he was to leave his niece alone. She played it so beautifully and so straightforward with him that it was a joy to watch. My favourite line: "I'm a botanist, remember? Continue your amorous pursuit of my niece, and you might find your next drink of water laced with something unpleasant, if not non-lethal." (Her exact words, I wrote them down!)
2. A magnificent moment occurred in the Saturday game during the hectic madcap chase scene. The character have just watched the raiders carrying off Eliza's father, heading for the pyramid on azouks (horse-like creatures with lots of saurian features and characteristics). The characters are desperate to get some azouks. At that moment, the merchant they befriended on the road shows up, with two spare azouks. (The moral here is that you should always make friends with ancient Egyptian merchants, 'cause you never know when they might help you!) The dialogue, which I wrote down, went like this:
Hamdar (merchant): Do you need, how do you say, "a lift"?
Eliza: (climbing onto the spare azouk) Get on the azouk, uncle.
Henry: You expect me to ride that...that...beast?
Eliza: Yes, uncle! We're going after dad!
Henry: (protesting) I will not!
Eliza: You want to go after dad, right? Get on the azouk, uncle! Now!
Henry: Never! I'm too old for that sort of thing! We'll find another way!
Eliza: Would you rather I get Sergei to go with me?
Henry: (climbing onto the azouk) You drive a hard bargain, niece!
Simply terrific moment in the scenario, accented by the fact that Sergei pulls up a moment later on an azouk, and looked positively disappointed to see Eliza and Henry on one together. He took every opportunity in the game to help Eliza, act as her bodyguard, that sort of thing. Marvellous stuff.
3. In the Sunday session, the fellow who played Sergei did a masterful job with the thick, sometimes unintellible, Russian accent. He even did it at times when he was out of character! Gave him quite a few Style points for that, as it was the character's main flaw.
4. In the Sunday session, during the madcap chase scene with the characters riding azouks and desperately trying to get to Carmichael, with the Egyptians slashing at them with khopesh from azouk-back, there was a marvellous sequence in which the guy playing Samir had him trying to leap onto an azouk as it goes by, grabbing the reins. The azouk panics, taking off with him, and he does a heroic Athletics move of whipping around with the momentum and swinging himself up onto the beast (I called it a Difficulty of 5, since he had Athletics and decent riding skills), and spending 4 Style points, he rolled 9 successes on 10 dice (!!) and did one of the stunts for which Pulp movies are known!! Bloody brilliant!! :)
5. In the Sunday session, the guy playing Eliza did a fabulous job in obsessing on finding her father, and getting to the bottom of things. At the very beginning, in the aftermath of the business with the dinosaur attack on the travelling ancient Egyptians, the guy playing Samir goes up to the characters immediately afterwards to thank them - and he's totally naked. The fellow playing Eliza played her as a Victorian morals kind of woman, shocked and dismayed by the fact. The fellow playing Andrea, the reporter, was rather more interested in the man, appraising him physically. Rather good roleplaying on both players' parts in the female character roles.
6. Both groups reacted with horrific looks and shocked gasps at the denouement of the scenario with the horrific price they had to pay for their freedom, and with startled "Oh my god, we're on *censored*1!!" when I described where they were after going through the portal. In both games, when I said, "To be continued in..." some of the players screamed in happy frustration. When the three female players did that on Saturday afternoon, they got some interesting looks from other gamers around them, I can tell you! I love it when a good plan comes together!! :)
7. In both sessions, the players playing Samir decided to keep the fact that the character spoke English hidden from the players until a critical moment as the players are racing for the Pyramid. The look on the faces of the other players when they suddenly heard him shout or talk to them in English was priceless, especially since they had all felt that he was hiding something from them.
8. In the Sunday session, they young man playing Andrea, the reporter, made effective use of the Empathy skill in checking whether people were telling her the truth and all, and used her skills to befriend the natives in the Egyptian town.
Both sessions turned out to be four hours each of fun gaming, marred only by the noise and my voice problems (see the previous post on this.) Three of the players in Saturday's game, including two of the girls, had never played the system before, and absolutely adored the simplicity of the game mechanics and the dice rolling, as well as how it fit the Pulp adventure genre so well. In the Sunday session, four of the six players had never played the game system before, but were intrigued by the Saturday stuff that they saw, and another of the players had played in Desolation on Saturday night, and liked the system enough that he wanted to play the HEX game as well. The last player there had played in "Qechacua" the year before and had liked it enough to pre-register for the game this year. Kind of nice when that happens.
I'll cover the Desolation stuff in a separate post.
1Location has been censored due to unwillingness to reveal too much lest you, dear reader, play in the scenario at some point.