Original SA post
Verr: 4th ed SR really only requires the base book for actual
. All that is in the supplements is more stuff that uses the same rules. Fading Suns is the game that JamieTheD is reviewing right now, it's ostensibly got a "setting," but said setting is so expansive and includes enough elements that aren't necessarily all in play at once, that it basically works for any sci-fi thing at a variety of tech levels, with a variety of transhumanist/supernatural bullshit involved.
FS is also relatively simple, it's just D20 roll-under all the way, with the exception of damage which uses an odd dice-pool mechanic. It never struck me as particularly... realistic, no more than, say, D&D, anyway.
I forget who originally requested Hollow World, but here it is! I'm not going to do a super-detailed runthrough of it, but the Night[noun] series of adventures were requested, and I'm going to go over most of the fluff. Mechanics-wise I don't really think there's much I can add, but I will point out if something is a blatant earfuck, like bullshit unavoidable save-or-dies or anything like that.
Also I really dig that cover, it's kind of cool.
The basic boxed set consists of a DM's book, a Players' book and some pre-made adventures that I may take a poke at if they're particularly awesome or hilariously bad.
The DM's book is "Book One," so let's start with that one, since we're not going to give a fuck about the intro of "Book Two"(the Players' book) which explicitly tells us not to read anything since the DM might want to keep us in the dark about a bunch of stuff and doesn't trust us not to metagame. I also wonder if there's any such warning in the history of game books that has ever actually been heeded or whether every goddamn player has just plowed on and read shit anyway.
Book One: The Dungeon Master's Sourcebook
With The Hollow World boxed set. you're about to adventure in a game setting which is different from any you've ever seen in print.
That is the grandiose promise that the DM's book starts out with, so I'm going to request that anyone keep an eye out for anything in this book that's a blatant ripoff of some earlier piece of literature, if any exist. Because I do love it when hubris comes tumbling down.
The basic gist of the setting is that the Known World, detailed in the Gazeteers(including Karameikos) is on the outside of this chunk of planet. But the inside is entirely hollow and people are stuck to the inside of the crust thanks to Magical Gravity. In the center of the planet is a second sun, a small red one, and as a consequence of the structure of the place, there's permanent day. Oh and apparently some magic will "work unpredictably" which sounds to me like fancy speak for "we're going to give you some tables that you can fuck them in the face with."
Why The Hollow World?
Addressing the question of why they decided to make and detail a Hollow World when they had not yet detailed all of the surface world, the creators explain that the surface world is essentially all the same time period(medieval) and similar cultures(Asia, Europe). But with the Hollow World they could do something different! Completely varied time periods, new cultures! Aaaaaand no explanation whatsoever for why they couldn't just add a new continent on the surface world for that stuff.
We get a bit of INTRO FLUFF in a blue bar. Very short, but we've got this guy Radion defending a village called Traldar against evil gnolls. Like there's any other kind of gnoll.
He's pondering how UTTERLY FUCKED they are and how they're probably going to get cut to giblets the next time the gnolls attack, and then the gnolls attack! But, gasp! MYSTICAL DARKNESS falls and then... when it fades, his village has been transported to some MYSTERIOUS PLACE under a red sun, with no gnolls in sight! Obviously the dude and his village got warped to the Hollow World for no apparent reason.
The very first thing tackled by the book when it comes to history is to tell us that every last goddamn creation myth is wrong, and that the reason that the Known World has functional gravity despite technically lacking the mass for it is that inside the sphere, halfway between Known World and Hollow World is a layer of magical material that generates all the gravity that Mystara needs and prevents everyone from floating off into space. Which would be a pretty embarrassing way to go.
Life was also a 50-50 split piece of work between bored Immortals/Elementals and natural evolution. No specific notes of which creatures we should be blaming someone for and which was spawned by the whim of nature.
Even the Immortals didn't know about the Hollow World, though, until one day when a huge meteor smashed into the world, making some big cracks in it, and this one Immortal who happened to be a GIANT MAGIC T-REX decided to check them out. He found the magic Gravity Layer(also preventing scrying magic, hence why no one knew the Hollow World existed), and the Hollow World itself, which was at that point sun-less.
is that magical T-Rex wearing a turtleneck sweater?
He thought it seemed pretty fucking pointless, but then one day he got a brilliant idea. The Known World was always changing, stuff getting lost, species and cultures dying out, etc. So he gathered a crew: Ixion(Energy Immortal), Ordana(Time Immortal) and Korotiku(Thought Immortal). T-Rex himself was Ka, a Matter Immortal. You can see the group up there in the picture. Their plan was to make a sun to keep the Hollow World alive, and then use it as a sort of living repository for all the interesting stuff on the Known World side of things that was in danger of being destroyed forever.
They intentionally made the geography of the place as fuck-difficult as possible to get around, with huge mountain ranges and stuff, so one thing they were keeping safe(for instance, dinosaurs) wouldn't wander over and eat another thing they were keeping safe(cavemen or whatever). They made a couple of entrances in really inhospitable places(the arctic regions) and added flying continents to the interior. Yes. Flying continents. Apparently they decided that people inside would go fuck-crazy as they'd have no days with which to track time, so the flying continents would circle the interior sun in set patterns which people could track time with.
Alternately these brilliant immortals could just have given them clocks, but I guess that would be
Korotiku, specifically, did very little except to boss the others around. The book decides to point this out. While the others were making continents, geysers, vast libraries of hidden knowledge, reshaping geography, etc. he just sat around, nodded and went: "A few more miles to the right." What a jackass.
In general, though, it all worked pretty well. All the non-Entropic Immortals used the place as a garden shed for various things they felt were important to preserve, and then of course an Entropic Immortal found the keys and decided to set loose a pack of subterranean Cthulhus. They're called Burrowers, they're tentacled, and their job is to drive the races of the Hollow World mad and evil and make them experiment with ill-advised magic. It seems like a pretty obvious comparison.
Of course the good Immortals weren't standing idly by, so they cast a Spell of Fuck You which froze all the Burrowers in place and underground, while shutting their mental powers the hell down. Mostly. Unfortunately they still worked, albeit at greatly reduced range, so whenever a group of Hollow Worlders decided to settle on top of where one had been imprisoned, they'd slowly go crazy and evil and decide to fuck around with forbidden magics again.
Oh and the spell also made everyone inside the Hollow World conservative. See, they didn't want ONE group of people to go crazy and then share that crazy with other groups of people, so now all of them developed, thanks to the spell, an innate dislike and distrust for other cultures. It seems, though, that instead of turning everyone into fanatics who tried to kill others for being different, it made everyone
each others' differences because they soon learned that it was effectively impossible to change others to think as you did.
Finally, it made it harder to learn magic, meaning that anyone who wanted to be a wizardy elf, wizardy human or priesty person had to be a hell of a lot smarter/wiser to pull it off.
There's also a disclaimer at the end explaining that cultures can
, for instance, small things that are part of the culture can become important(Azcans started REALLY digging human sacrifice after being transported to the Hollow World, is the example, rather than it just being a subculture thing before), and vice versa, as long as entirely new things are not introduced to the culture.
At the every end of the history chapter is a huge-ass timeline basically detailing when and who the Immortals shuffled to the Hollow World as it happened. Effectively everyone's in there. Elves, dwarves, halflings, humans, lizardmen, orcs, magitech elves, totally-not-Aztecs(Azcans), neanderthals, dinosaurs, etc.
Also gnolls were apparently made through a magical crossbreeding of gnomes and trolls, this timeline taught me.
: Atlas of the Hollow World!
Original SA post
After the brief HISTORY OF THE HOLLOW WORLD we get to the Atlas, which is roughly eighty pages of fluff, presumably covering every Hollow World location that PC's are likely to stumble into. The intro fluff for this section is a bunch of Known World adventurers stumbling on an Azcan city, and their ELVEN SCHOLAR concluding that the Azcans, which are gone from the Known World, still exist here! The conclusion is supported by the couple dozen Azcan warriors charging towards them.
Then we get the basics, like how the Hollow World is fuckhuge and we, the GM, can cram in whatever the hell we like between the established things. There's also a nice diagram in case we've had trouble visualizing how the entire thing is built.
The Antalian Wastes
Each section starts by telling us the rough technological level of the inhabitants, what time period of the Known World they're from, how many there are and what the general style of society is like. In this case, the Antalians are Iron Age tech, there's about a hundred-thousand of them, their lifestyle is "village-dwelling hunters and reavers" and they're from "Norwold, 18th Century BC."
As you might be able to guess from the Azcans and the whole structure of this place, we're going to be bumping into some copies of old Earth cultures. The Antalians, for instance, are pretty much vikings. They're even blonde-haired and blue-eyed. I mean, seriously, the entire description is VIKING VIKING VIKING VIKING VIKING, even right down to their having a goddess "Fredara" for them to offload the female warriors on because they make the male warriors uncomfortable. Fredara/Freya. This is just lazy.
Do I really have to? Fine.
HELLO GUYS. THESE ARE AZTECS. COMPLETE WITH THE HEART-CHOPPY ON TOP OF ZIGGURATS.
There is one awesome thing about it, though. You know that Aztec game where they fight to smash a ball through a hoop and the losers get executed? There are rules for playing that with the AD&D system here, and even a lot of details about the Tlachtli(the sport's name, at least in the game, can't be fucked to check what the real world name is) league and how the season progresses.
The suggested adventure hook is that PC's get captured by Azcans, but instead of being sacrificed, a noble picks them up as his Tlachtli team. It sounds like a hilariously bizarre concept and personally I'd absolutely try to use it.
Complaints about how ripped-off it all is aside, though, it's remarkably detailed both in laying out the societies, describing the cities, the landscapes, the histories and etc. Though the histories do kind of fall into that: "What
purpose does it have that you're telling us about some 500 years of fake-Aztec history?" The answer is that it has no purpose but it does pad out the book and make the reading a bit more interesting.
The Beastmen Wastes
The Beastmen are kind of fucked up. Apparently in the Known World, Beastmen are the reincarnations of total jackasses, but in the Hollow World they're just total jackasses. Also their biology must be severely weird, because... here's the example of what their procreation results in:
"A beastmans tanding 5', weighing 130 lbs. with green skin, firm yellow teeth, pointed ears and no hair might mate with a beastwoman very much like himself. ... The first offspring could grow to be a 7', grey-skinned ogre-like thing, while the second could be a 3' creature like a yellow goblin and the third could look like a human."
But anyway they're kind of half eskimo, half viking and they serve as a horde of varied jackass NPC's for PC's to cleave through or as some locals for the PC's to chill with if they're braggards. See, the Beastmen fucking LOVE stories of things getting fucked up with swords, so if you've got some stories about how you totally cut something in half then hell yeah they'll love that shit and a few of them might want to have a punch-up with you so you can prove you're awesome. Oh and then the book suggests that the locals should try to bone the PC's because it'd totally have "comic potential." Humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings are only attractive to the beastmen if they have low Charisma, though.
Blacklore Elf Valley
Technology Level: Heavily technological, including robotics, prosthetics, flight devices and materials fabrication.
Lifestyle: Indolent, served by automatons
So among the Ripoff Cultures we have the High Tech Elves. They're kind of awesome. They live in a little polar valley with no sunlight, instead it's artificially lit, full of greenhouses for food and robots do all the hard work. Also every elf is
armed with a fucking flamethrower
They ride miniature UFO's, they have holographic TV's and robot arms.
Unfortunately it's not real technology. Because obviously if these elves had this high-tech shit they would have conquered the rest of the Hollow World in a couple of years. Instead, the Immortals have it all powered by magic, while looking like tech, so it only functions inside their little valley. This is presumably also to prevent UFO-riding PC's with flamethrowers from doing all the conquering the elves aren't getting done.
It works because the elves are idiots who've forgotten both how magic and technology work, since robots do all the work of making new devices for them.
So they're neanderthals that live in a big valley full of dinosaurs. That's about as interesting as they get. There are no quest hooks here unless the PC's think that a T-Rex head would look great hanging on the wall back home or unless they want to bully the neanderthals for some sort of ill-conceived reason.
Elf-Lands of the Gentle Folk
That's got to be the worst damn area name. But the locals really are gentle, and they are elves, so I guess it fits. They're the favourite race of a pair of pacifist immortals because they give too little of a fuck about anything to ever initiate violence. They just sort of slouch around, doing the bare minimum necessary to survive and have very slow and depressing conversations about the meaning of life.
Then when they can't even handle that, they get so high that they become mechanical and just go through the motions of being alive without any conscious thought. It's not entirely their fault that they're so fucking depressing, though. Their entire surface civilization got wiped out by a rotting disease and a giant bomb because some of them poked at an ancient high-tech device, and they had an Immortal constantly whispering into their brains how useless they were for fucking up that hard.
It kind of got to them after a while. So now they practice The Still Way, which consists of doing fuck all and enjoying nothing.
They were about to get better for a while, since they figured that if an Immortal ever forgave them, they could get back to being happy and enjoying life. But just after being forgiven by an Immortal who found them and decided they were just too fucking depressing as they were, they were about to get steamrolled by a bunch of gnolls, so they got hauled into the Hollow World... where the Spell of Preservation prevented them from ever changing their minds and being happy.
Way to fuck up, Immortals.
Admittedly it did result in something fucking hilarious, though.
So far it's kind of interesting how in many settings ELVES ARE AMAZING AND SUPERIOR, but in the Hollow World, the two elf examples we start off with are utter fuckups.
Coming up next! Another 16 fucking locations/nations/peoples
Still the fucking Atlas
Original SA post
Still the fucking Atlas
Elflands of Icevale
: Vaguely Finnish elves. Boring as dirt. Oh except for their "pranks," they love to "prank" travellers by, say, destroying all of their supplies or equipment. And then if the travellers get upset about these pranks they'll "teach them a lesson" by dropping avalanches on their heads. What a bunch of assholes.
: Somewhere between gnolls(modern gnolls, not creepy crossbreed gnolls) and furry fetish stuff, Huutakans hang out in a valley and ride lizards around. They also like taking in human children and then raising them as slave labour. Charming! Also apparently any humans who are "belligerent or independent" get smacked across the nose with rolled-up scrolls, whether they're visitors or slaves. I think these guys exist only as a group of people for adventuring PC's to feel very satisfied about murdering.
: Sort-of Mongols. They raid, capture people, and then kill them afterwards, apparently for fun since they don't even have a religious excuse for it like the Azcans do. But anyone can get out of being chopped up just by bringing them gifts when they meet them, in which case they get treated as best bros for a while. The reason they almost died out on the surface world was basically an extended argument over whether women should stay in the kitchen or not, kind of an embarrassing way to get wiped out.
: I was about to say that I wasn't entirely sure what culture these guys were supposed to be until the text straight-up said they wore
. Real subtle. They even wear those stupid little alpine hats with a feather in them. Also by this point I've noticed a tendency in the text,
goddamn culture in the Hollow World has a note that says: "Among these people, men rule, but women are totally important too." I can't tell if it's progressive that they're remembering to mention women and give them important positions, or covering up misogyny that they give them
as much power as men, but never quite.
Oh yes and these dwarves fucking
They also got dumped in the Hollow World for a less disastrous reason than the other cultures. While they were almost all on the verge of permanent destruction when it happened, the Kogolor dwarves just got deposited here because their patron immortal had built some new-and-improved dwarves(paranoid dickheads unlike the open, pleasant Kogolor dwarves) and decided to shove these old ones in the garden shed. Immortals are
The Krugel Horde
: Mongol raiders without the redeeming grace of hospitality in return for presents. Also these ones are orcs.
: Tree-dwelling human pygmies. Though they do have a hilarious defense mechanism, which is to dig up a bunch of
footprints all around the edges of their territory so explorers/adventurers will go: "Oh fuck,
." and take another route. They're also matriarchal and their history is, predictably, "fucking wizards." A wizard decided he wanted an ARMY OF TINY ASSASSINS, so he messed around with pixies and stuff until he got a bunch of tiny, aggressive and intelligent dudes. Oh and then they all ganged up on him, killed him, and legged it.
: Oh, right, the
place in the Hollow World where the Mind Control Spell is disabled and people are actually allowed to change their minds and cultural opinions! They're also the Hollow World Illuminati secretly affecting all sorts of things for
. This mysterious purpose is, of course, to maintain an extremely boring status quo where every culture in the Hollow World survives, whether it's administrated by a bunch of huge dicks or not.
The Malpheggi Swamps
: Lizardmen! And they're not a rip-off of any culture or organization from the real world, what a shocker! They hang out in their swamps and just want to be left alone, and usually get it that way. If anyone tries to travel through their swamps, they harass them by dropping dead bodies into their camps, encouraging monsters to charge towards them, etc. and then when the explorers are just about to give up, the lizardmen will show up and be: "yo 'sup seems like you're having a hard time, how about paying us a shitload of cash to show you a
The Merry Pirate Seas
: No, really, that's what the fucking book calls them. They look like stereotypical pirates, they dress like stereotypical pirates and they
like stereotypical pirates. For some reason they're also all lawyers? Damned if I know what the hell is up with that, but the text tells us they're all "self-educated lawyer" who love complicated contracts. Some immortal with a fetish for pirate fiction basically caused a half dozen or so nautical cultures with privateer outlooks to settle in the same location.
God this setting is
Next: The last few cultures. At least we're done with the fucking
Finishing off the Atlas
Original SA post
Sounds like there's some support for it, so Exalted it is! But first I have to finish up Hollow World, and I told Jamie that once he got to chargen in Fading Suns(so there's some context and etc.) I'd start posting bits of the Player's Companion.
InfiniteJesters: Really, as much as I enjoy the Exalted game I'm currently in, I realize that 90% of it is because my GM knows very well when to invoke the rules and when not to.
Maxwell: Oh man, another issue with Exalted is that half of the charms have very light, fluffy effects that are kind of cool as A Thing To Do while the other half have dull-but-powerful effects that are almost always summarized as "HAVE ANOTHER BUCKET OF DICE." So power is generic, while fluff is weak.
Finishing off the Atlas
: Romans, they even have an Emperor and a Senate and look they weren't even fucking trying here. Also another one where we're explicitly told exactly how women are second-class citizens.
: Egyptians! Don't believe me? Let me just quote this bit: "Ramose IV, the Pharaoh." Done, settled. MOVING ON.
The Oltec Hills
: Incas. Done.
: Here's something that's actually a bit more interesting. These guys are albino elves, and function a bit like Drow in overdrive. Where sunlight just makes Drow feel ill, it literally melts these guys, every hour of exposure to sunlight hits them with a hit point of damage. And keep in mind that the Hollow World has no proper night. So... yeah, whatever Immortal deposited them here is kind of a cock!
They're also pretty pissed at the rest of the world because they
to live on the surface, and so they envy everyone who can do so without dying from sunlight. Aside from that, they live below ground and have some odd rites, like every Schattenalf who grows to be over 800 must leave their lands and wander forever, never crossing his own path(though occasionally an Immortal will take pity on them and tell them that this is bullshit and they should just find a decent place to settle down).
On the bright side, they're learning to resist the rays of the Hollow World's red sun and how to ride dragons! On the downside they're still huge cocks and are going to use this to stab everyone they meet in the face.
The Tanagoro Plains
: Africa! Whose people are dark-skinned! And they're... "simple" and they're physically superior... while there's no obvious racism, it does seem a bit on the edge.
The Traldar Kingdoms
: Remember the Karameikos bit from the Gazeteer review? These are the same Traldar. I
they're supposed to be pseudo-Greek, considering the description of their dress and architecture, and their worship of the Hero concept and the specific mythical creatures they decorate their stuff with.
The Tribes of Neathar
: A general assemblage of Stone Age stereotypes, the only noteworthy thing is that one group rides giant eagles, which is kind of awesome.
I have no fucking clue what's going on here
The next important thing about the Hollow World besides all the stuff to find there is the Immortals, who are somewhat active in managing the place and making sure it doesn't implode either from cultures wrecking each other, those horrible Crawly Cthulhus waking up or wandering adventurers breaking shit they don't understand.
Usually, the few Entropy Immortals still messing around(like Atzanteotl who "guides" the Azcans and Schattenalfen) are actively trying to fuck the place up.
At any rate, it's rare that an Immortal actually shows up and messes with stuff. Usually they just whisper into a mortal's pudgy, impressionable mind and the godlike voice bouncing off the inside of their skull seems, well, godlike, and most hurry to obey it.
Of course, that's how it works for NPC's, the book warns us that in case PC's don't want to cooperate with an immortal and get feisty, the Immortal should either...
Just wave his hands and FORCE them to obey OR leave, and then orchestrate some horrible revenge to fuck them over OR the Immortal hangs around to punch the PCs' faces in. Apparently this happens despite Immortals apparently having a rule saying that "direct action against mortals is forbidden." It also seems a bit at odds with the "wave hands, overpower PC's"-functionality of the first suggestion(as it suggests that an Immortal hanging around to fight may actually be either damaged or destroyed by mortals).
There's also an Immortal Police that has a 5% chance-per-round to notice someone's having some Direct Interference and put them in Immortal Jail for it.
Stat-wise, we're provided with some example sheets that can be summarized as "fucking huge numbers everywhere and oh they're also immune to pretty much everything." And even if the PC's overwhelm this all it does is temporarily knock the Immortal out of the game unless the PC's can
chase them back home and kill them there. Oh and any Immortal in actual danger of death will apparently just use his Immortal powers to warp away anyway.
So I'm not sure why they even bothered to stat this part up or have any rules for it since even by their own admission, PC's will never destroy an even halfway-clever Immortal.
The listing of Immortals in existence, and their various goals, is somewhat uninspiring, but does have a bit of amusing art like Elfy Boots and Gothy Half-Face. Mostly it's useful as a catalogue of who likes who and who hates who. Like Atzanteotl(Elfy Boots), the Aztec-type jackass, is opposed by Barziluth(a Bugbear) who's pissed that Atzanteotl won't take him seriously as a NEMESIS. So if the PC's end up fucking with Elfy Boots(likely as the Azcans and Schattenalfen are two of the bigger villain groups in the Hollow World), Barziluth might help them out just so he can be all: "YEAH YOU SEE THAT BOOTSY? I CAN BE DANGEROUS TOO."
Aside from Atzanteotl, a few others are as blatant copies as the cultures they're related to. Like Pflarr, a jackal-headed humanoid Immortal worshipped by the Nithians... who are Egyptians. Not too subtle.
So here's the important bit: How the hell do you actually wrap all this stuff into a fun campaign?
The first thing it emphasizes is what it calls the Sense of Wonder, basically hammering home that the Hollow World Is Different. Eternal daylight, no horizon, different colours because of the red sun(not sure how that'd affect things in the real world, but according to the book, colours would be "more vivid"), no seasons, floating continents(it's mentioned they've got residents, but none of them were mentioned in the Atlas, hm) and of course the weird wildlife(mini-dragons, dinosaurs, etc.). And if any of the PC's have ever hit the history books back home, they'll be like: "Wait what the fuck? This culture disappeared a thousand years ago!" once they actually find some of the natives.
In the middle of the adventure hooks it also suggests that it's a "Hollow World"-fiction trope that the BRAVE ADVENTURERS FROM THE SURFACE find some primitive lady who's all over them. Though classily enough it plays up the hard choices it'd involve, like do you try to bring them away from the only culture they've ever known? Or do you abandon the surface world and stay with them forever?
Generally what it says is to let the PC's run wild, do whatever the hell seems fun to them there. Despite how it's earlier written up the Immortals as hating interference in their little museum, it never goes: "BUT THE PC'S CANNOT CONQUER A NATION AND MAKE AN EMPIRE BECAUSE THE IMMORTALS WOULD HATE THAT." It just goes: "You know what? If the PC's figure out how to do it and have fun with it? Let them kick ass! Don't make it easy, but don't make it impossible either." I like that.
For Hollow World natives it comes up with some suggestions related to the Spell of Preservation... basically, PC's are penalized if they do stuff their culture would not. Like a Milenian not wearing Roman Stereotype Armor or using Roman Stereotype Weapons. So if anyone decides to have a creative and adventurous native? Half XP for several levels. Thanks a lot! This just seems pointlessly punitive.
The one fairness is that those who DO stick to their cultural limitations RE: equipment tend to get some minor bonuses out of it(though they range from "you climb a bit better" to "you get more HP than anyone else.").
Finally it comes up with the last bit of "do whatever you like, but here's what we think"-advice, pointing out that you could also jam the Hollow World
inside other game worlds
. Personally all I can think of is a Hollow World inside Athas and the race to conquer it if someone suddenly found out there's a shitload of jungles and seas all packed away inside.
And that's the Hollow World. I had somehow expected something a bit more than a bunch of blatant ripoffs. Still, at some point I might come back and do the Night[noun] adventure series just to see what they had envisioned the world being used for.
Next Up: We get Heroic with Exalted