Thursday, October 17, 2013

[Actual Play Report] Hollowpoint: Agents of SNAKE

The Era: A retro-60s spy-world animated in the style of Evil Genius or Team Fortress 2, populated with countless acronym organizations vying for global domination.

The Mission: A) Discover the identity of the mole within SNAKE! Once an example has been made of this traitorous worm, B) defend the weather control satellite’s launch site from the inevitable assault from the misguided cretins who hold to the utterly unthinkable fallacy that SNAKE should somehow NOT rule the world! Hail SNAKE!

The PCs: The PCs were all lieutenants of SNAKE. They were the Oddjobs and Storm Shadows and Major Bludds. They were the guys who got action figures. We did the traits 5-question style:

  1. Your enemies know you’re a level above the run-of-the-mill SNAKEtroopers and Fangs because you _____.
  2. At some point in the past, you’ve had the Supreme Serpent at your mercy and didn’t pull the trigger. Why?
  3. You’ll never go back to the normal world because when you’re a SNAKE you can ____.
  4. Out of all of SNAKE you’re the best at ____. (This is your schtick)
  5. You’ll do anything for SNAKE but you won’t ____.

Professor Thoughtwarp 
Everything about the SNAKE psyops specialist is designed to cause TERROR, although his shirtless, pasty, hairy torso, his Bane mask, his purple cape, and too-tight pants tend to be scarier than his torture chambers.

Alabama Blacksnake 
She’s a Foxy Cleopatra type, the Supreme Serpent’s lover, and if she can’t TAKE it by stealth or force she’ll TAKE it via seduction. But she won’t take it in the ass.

You might look at the crossed katanas on her back, the sleek outfit, and the flowing Charlie’s Angel hair and think “ninja”, but ninjas aren’t as COOL as Sharpshark. She’s so COOL she doesn’t even have a snake-themed name.

Neither does Scrapheap, really. But what she can’t DIG up, she can make from castoff tank parts and a little elbow grease. She also keeps an offsite storehouse of horrific blackmail. Some of it is even true.

He’s the SNAKE gun-thug. He doesn’t go in for fancy costumes or trick gadgets, just well-oiled bolts and match-grade ammo. KILL.

Finally, the complications. I passed around index cards with the single question “Are you the mole?” on them and collected them up again. I did explain beforehand that if you decided to be a mole and took action against the mission, your character would Move On and become part of the opposition. I was a little surprised by what I got back, but why spoil the surprise?

Professor Thoughtwarp’s diary entry: “Today I was summoned to the Supreme Serpent’s chambers at the base of our magnificent airship! I calculated a high probability that I was to be rewarded for my exemplary service, possibly elevating me above even the Queen Cobra! Alas! Fickle fate throws its accursed monkeys into my wrenches once again, as it was simply a mundane task laid before myself and my well-meaning but inferior slack-jawed coworkers. ‘Find the mole,’ the Serpent commands, ‘else we cannot sssafely launch our weather control sssatellite and hold the world hossstage!’ Such makework is beneath one such as myself, but I shall do what is asked of me. After all, even I cannot refuse the Supreme Serpent’s genius. Also, we all saw what happened to Copperhead last week. I am certain our illustrious leader has the trapdoors in the glass-bottomed chamber moved periodically.”

The opening conflict was against a 7d6 opposition (the mole, hiding their tracks and trying to plant evidence saying the PCs were moles) with a 3d6 DIG Catch. It went… poorly. The henchmen wiped the floor with the opposition, sending in Alabama Blacksnake to TAKE the SNAKE launch codes from the Snake Archipelago launch site before the mole could get his or her hands on them. However, they failed to solve the Catch, so the mole’s true identity eluded them. They only had 2 people rolling against the Catch, and their dice weren’t with them. They maybe could have spared another player for the Catch, even if it meant they’d have to spread around some 1st-level effects from the opposition.

No problem. If you can’t find a mole, you make a mole.

Alabama Blacksnake’s Facebook: “Got these data tapes burning a hole in my catsuit when Pythonica of all people ambushes me and accuses me of bein’ the mole. I’m the mole? Honey, you just volunteered yo’ damn self.”

For the second conflict (12d6), the group decided to plant one of the data tapes from Snake Archipelago in the quarters of Pythonica, the SNAKE comms expert. Sharpshark seduced Pythonica, which created ample opportunity to plant the tapes and CON the Supreme Serpent into believing Pythonica was the mole. This was a fairly easy win, we saw some teamwork for the first time, and I think the newcomers in the group (3 of the 5 hadn’t played Hollowpoint before) got how the system worked. By using teamwork, they also grokked how refusing teamwork could help later on.

Excerpt from Sharpshark’s best-selling posthumous memoir, ‘Not a Ninja’: “The Pythonica frame-up was a three-way win. First off, there was sex. Secondly, we all got to watch Leadbelly drop her out the bottom of the Quetzalcoatl. Finally, the Supreme Serpent was totally convinced the mole issue was resolved. All I had to do was send a quick message to my SHARK allies and they would be waiting to wipe out SNAKE’s leadership while they were enroute to the launch site. Sure, I knew I’d be attacked too, but come on, you have to make it look good. You don’t get where I am without taking some risks.”

Alabama Blacksnake’s Facebook: “I gotta say, Pythonica’s face right when the trapdoor opened? Classic. Bitch should’ve known better. After that, it’s a quick jaunt to Snake Archipelago to get the launch site ready ahead of the Supreme Serpent. Or it would’ve been, if SHARK hadn’t jumped us (see what I did there?). Say what you like about the Professor, that pasty white boy can fly circles round those Sharknado jets in that Pit Fighter of his.”

A SHARK ambush awaited the team as they all launched their own individual vehicles from the SNAKE zeppelin, heading for Snake Archipelago and the weather control satellite’s launch site. I loved the vehicles the group came up with; they were all perfectly suited for the fictional Hasbro toy line accompanying our game. Professor Thoughtwarp actually took piloting as his schtick, and flew the SNAKE Pit Fighter (like a Warthog/COBRA Rattler). Alabama opted for a jet-powered hang glider (Thoughtwarp commented “that’s called a jet”). Leadbelly chose a fanboat, but I don’t remember what we ended up calling it because his player kept accidentally choosing names that were already COBRA toys. Scrapheap had an amphibious Bond car, the Sea Snake, that she blackmailed the Supreme Serpent into giving to her. Finally, Sharpshark rode the Eel jetski.

I picked on Alabama Blacksnake right out of the gate since she didn’t roll many sets, but the Professor had her back, absorbing my sets’ hits on his own dice. I whittled down Sharksharp’s attempts to katana the SHARK Hammerhead subs, but never landed any effects on the players. With five players, it’s really easy to spread any incoming hits around. I took (I think) a first-stage DIG and a first-stage COOL effect by the end of the first round. Sharpshark jumped her Eel jetski off a wave and crashed into a Hammerhead’s cockpit, laying waste with her twin swords (and secretly grabbing a mission update from her SHARKy masters) before leaping onto a SHARKfin jetski and driving off. Scrapheap used the confusion to slide her carboat right up next to the damaged Hammerhead, climb aboard, and interrogate the surviving SHARK crew. She discovered that Sharpshark was a mole, but chose to keep that information to herself for the time being. In the second round, my dice weren’t with me at all and my sets were easily trounced by the players. Professor Thoughtwarp burned his piloting schtick and blew eleven kinds of shit out of the remaining Sharknado fighters. Leadbelly left his fanboat’s cockpit, choosing instead to stand on the bow and empty an assortment of rocket launchers into the SHARK watercraft. The SHARK forces were routed and the SNAKEs arrived safely at the cobra-shaped head island of Snake Archipelago.

Scrapheap’s encrypted personal notes: “Sharpshark still working for SHARK. Obvious in hindsight, given her callsign. Plans unchanged. Secret duplicate command center is prepared; I just need the rotating encryption key from launch site’s CIC. Once weather control satellite is under my control, can unite with Queen Cobra. Supreme Serpent unfit for leadership, but SNAKE as a whole salvageable. Was trying on different names - ‘DRAGON’ sounds best so far. Will invent suitable backronym when time allows.”

Professor Thoughtwarp’s diary entry: “With pomp befitting a true conqueror, our Supreme Serpent exited the Quetzalcoatl, flanked by Queen Cobra and the Pharaoh. I gave my hissing salute its all, as did the frankly terrified SNAKEtroopers around me. The rocket was fueled and its gantry stood ready to rise skyward on its massive hydraulics. The island would unhinge its jaws and show the world its venomous fangs soon enough! We allowed ourselves this moment of glory, unwitting dupes that we were. Let it be known here that my loyalty never wavered, even as it all nearly came crashing down around us! SNAKE was and is the only home I have ever known! The only place where my true genius reigns unfettered by lesser mens’ fear! Morality? Ethics? Preposterous! Scientific progress has no room for the timid!”

Leadbelly’s war journal: “Simon Crown, SABRE’s top agent, sabotaged the gantry hydraulics. SHARK came in from the bay and Sharpshark joined them. PATRIOT attacked the island as well, but I never got a chance to get them the launch schedule. Conclusion: there is another PATRIOT mole within SNAKE. I’m going down there now - I’ll have to choose my shots carefully.”

This conflict involved a Principal, the smarmy yet dashing tuxedoed super-agent Simon Crown. I think I miscounted the conflicts thus far and counted an extra escalation for the initial “find the mole” conflict, because I had 18 dice here, plus 2 for the Principal. Of those 20d6, 3 went into a DIG Catch to figure out what Crown had done to the gantry hydraulics and fix it. If the Catch wasn’t satisfied, the rocket would launch before the gantry was in position and Snake Archipelago would be missing one of its islands.

Alabama lent her dice to Leadbelly, who went for Simon Crown’s throat with KILL. Professor Thoughtwarp and Scrapheap refused help to get access to the sweet, sweet teamwork pool - they were focusing on the DIG catch and didn’t want a repeat of their first conflict. Sharpshark went after the opposition, rolling COOL to lead her SHARK forces against the PATRIOT soldiers. This was skirting the edge of “traitor”, but as long as there was a third party to fight I let Sharpshark stay a PC.

In the meantime, Leadbelly’s bucket of dice overcame Simon Crown’s miserable sets. The two men struggled on the catwalks above the rocket. Coolant burst from overtaxed tanks, and Leadbelly pinned Crown to the floor and let the supercooled fluid wash over the Brit’s face. With a “This London bridge is falling down”, Leadbelly stomped the flash-frozen catwalk and dumped Simon Crown to his death beneath the rocket gantry.

Thoughtwarp and Scrapheap did manage to beat the Catch, and the weather control rocket began its slow elevation to firing position. Sharpshark’s efforts were stymied, however, since I knew her hits would be coming in on the general opposition and tried to knock out her sets before that happened.

The second round got weird. Sharpshark and Scrapheap both said they wanted to TAKE control of the rocket now - Sharpshark by leading her SHARK’s Teeth (the elite troopers) to the command center and Scrapheap by making off with the encryption key to send commands to the satellite. This part wasn’t too problematic, because I figured with PATRIOT still on the scene, there was a third party who could provide opposition to everyone. I gave Sharpshark and Scrapheap their own 3-dice TAKE Catch for the second round instead. If they could beat the Catch before the PATRIOT opposition was defeated, then they would have used the chaos to successfully get what they wanted.

Then, as they say on Thomas the Tank Engine, there was trouble. Everyone else went after the opposition, coordinating their skills so any hit would be a second-stage effect. The problem was, Alabama Blacksnake chose her actions thinking that she could use her sets to knock out Sharpshark or Scrapheap’s sets. She wanted to defend the Catch, but it wasn’t made clear until after the dice hit and the Catch was beaten soundly. We got past it, but just let my experience be a warning: Tread very carefully when one player’s plans start to interfere with another player. We were asking for it, with all the talk of moles and such, and I thought that the time to Move On would be a lot clearer than it was, but in play it was very muddy. What muddied it further was that both turncoats beat the Catch with the exact same set. There was no timing difference for me to use as a gauge to who actually got control of the rocket! I thought about it some, and decided that technically, both moles could get what they wanted. Sharpshark took control of the command center, but Scrapheap made off with the encryption key (thus rendering the command center useless).

Alabama Blacksnake’s Facebook: “Everyone here is a fuckin’ traitor. Me too, but I ain’t dumb enough to blow my cover. Oooh! Just saw that fine PATRIOT sailor-boy with his laser parrot walk past, shootin’ up the place. He’ll look nice tied up in my room. Gotta go!”

We paused here so Scrapheap and Sharksharp could Move On. They were definitely traitors now. Their players made up two Operatives: Slytherin, who was definitely NOT a SNAKE wizard, and Hellsnaki, a Finnish sniper. They’d be coming in immediately, since we would be going straight into a 20d6 conflict that would decide the fate of the world!

Leadbelly’s war journal: “I swore after Prague that I wouldn’t lose control like that ever again. Today, I broke that promise. I remember running out of ammo. I remember having a SHARK speargun in one hand and a PATRIOT M4 in the other, but everything went red after that. When I figured out where I was, the speargun was still in my hands but I hadn’t even fired it. Blood to my elbows. I know nobody got out alive - people don’t show their backs to Hellsnaki and live.”

After I explained how the Operative’s special ability worked, Hellsnaki immediately asked Slytherin for help and was refused. This got Slytherin 4 bonus dice (2 from Hellsnaki and 2 from his special ability), then Hellsnaki took the remaining 8 teamwork dice. I thought I was hot shit, rolling 20 dice, but a 6x1 and a 5x4 ate up so many dice that the bad guys were utterly crushed. Hellsnaki shot Scrapheap as she ran for the escape tunnels and the would-be DRAGON lady slumped to the deck, the encryption key still clutched in her hands. Alabama Blacksnake and Slytherin TOOK the command center while Leadbelly went berserk on the SHARK’s Teeth. More specifically, Alabama TOOK a grenade pin from Sharpshark’s bandolier without her noticing. Not to be outdone by Leadbelly’s rampage, Professor Thoughtwarp injected himself with quantum steroids, hulked out, and went Bane on the surviving PATRIOT forces. They dealt a second-level KILL result to the opposition, so truly nobody made it out alive.

SNAKE’s weather control satellite held the world hostage and ushered in a golden age of corruption and tyranny! That is, except for the two moles who were still lurking within SNAKE, biding their time…

We all had a great time. As it turns out, everyone but Professor Thoughtwarp chose to be a mole! If it had been unanimous, I would’ve changed the enemy to SNAKE itself and had the PCs all be part of one large undercover operation. If nobody had been a mole, I would’ve had the Supreme Serpent himself be a traitor. Except for the snafu with Alabama Blacksnake trying to defend the Catch against Sharpshark and Scrapheap, I thought the mole thing added a nice flavor. Nobody really obsessed over it and they all still worked as a team for the most part, but there was that background paranoia going on which I think helps if you’re playing as knockoff COBRA henchmen. The whole thing took about 4 hours from setup to completion. Afterwards, everyone was talking about how you could “totally do X in Hollowpoint”. I think if/when we run it again, they’re gonna want Transformers. The way Hollowpoint works, it bypasses so many mechanical hangups with playing giant transforming robots.

Hollowpoint is a ridiculously awesome game for playing one-session action movies. It's fast, there's a lot of player input, and you only need to deal with as much detail as you want. There's a little bit of system mastery to it, as the tricks to the mechanics aren't immediately transparent, but the manual actually goes over these points, and it's quick to pick up. Plus, the character sheets are toe tags. 

There's a Hollowpoint G+ community - check it out if you want to learn more about the game, find a group, or play in a Hangout.

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