We’ve been working on Hollows for a long time, alongside our other projects, and we’re happy to announce that we’re getting close to opening it up for playtest that you could take part in! But what is Hollows? Read on to find out!
THIS WORLD IS SICK
Sin, death and fear collect in the dark places of the world until reality curdles and rots and becomes a Hollow – a place outside of time and space, a wound in the world, and traps people inside it. The land twists and shifts into unforgiving, inhospitable terrain; the inhabitants grow distrustful and furious and strange; and the beasts change into nightmare creatures of legend.
Every Hollow wants to spread and soak into the world around it. Every Hollow has a Lord – the creature that spawned the rift, or the worst infected with the rot, or just the biggest and strongest thing inside it. Kill the Lord, and you kill the Hollow – but normal people can’t enter a Hollow. (Nor would they want to.)
You’re not normal. Something terrible happened to you, and the seed of a Hollow was planted in your heart. One day, you will falter and be overtaken by the dark power that festers within the earth and become something unspeakable and dangerous.
Unless: you hunt down the hollowed creatures and kill them. You put the land to rest and clear the metaphysical rot in the bones of the world. You bathe in the sticky-black blood of these creatures and push back your doom by another dawn. Some people are happy to see you because you kill the pallid beasts that prowl between the shadows at night; others, wiser, know what you could become given one bad day and a handful of wrong decisions, and shun you.
You’re good at killing. It’s all you’ve got.
Hollows isn’t set in Spire or Heart or anywhere in the wider background of Destera. It’s pretty close to the real-world, aside from the stuff about rotting black magic and giant monster hunting. Don’t expect the sort of detailed setting you’ve seen in Spire – this is a world of stitched-together super-local nightmares, each the ultimate ruler of their own domain, and you’re going to destroy them.
YOUR WEAPONS HATE YOU
Each Hunter carries two Weapons; capital-W weapons that tap into the platonic ideals of what a weapon is rather than being a mere lump of sharpened metal or a lead slug and some gunpowder. The same magic that pumps through the Hollows and corrupts the land can be turned to your ends – and what ends are more human than weapons? What better ways of imposing your will on the world? What better way of elevating yourself above the luckless wretches stuck in the Hollow than brutal, unremitting violence?
Each one of the ten Weapons bestows different abilities on the wielder and acts as half of their class. The Knife is frantic and vicious; the Spear is relentlessly xenophobic and promises to protect you and yours; the Sword says you can lead armies; the Rifle is convinced that it alone can civilise the broken world; the Bludgeon says that you’re the top dog, the alpha predator, and that your fallible physical form is a barrier to victory.
In short: the Weapons are all different flavours of toxic masculinity, and all of their promises are lies, and we’re working through some stuff, as ever.
A GAME ABOUT KILLING MONSTERS
Hollows is very combat-heavy. We have neat rules for out-of-combat stuff, and there’s roleplaying opportunities and all that good stuff, but the meat of the game is the bit about killing big monsters. We wanted to focus on tactical positioning, teamwork, risky gambits and cut-throat battles without getting bogged down in calculations or sacrificing excitement and evocative action for interesting, if sterile, gameplay.
Players of Unbound will find something familiar in the rules-set – that game, too, is focused on combat and wants it to be a celebration of your characters’ abilities rather than a punishment for not rolling high enough on stealth checks. You’ve chosen to fight these monsters, so we might as well make it fun to do.
Chief amongst our mechanics is the tactical grid that puts the Entity at the centre of the fight and only ever defines your position as relative to the creature. Terrain only exists as a tag that you attach to your character; being in cover is less a matter of where you are precisely in space, but more a stance you can attempt to enter to gain an advantage against the creature.
Threat is the second innovation that we’re particularly proud of; Entities can place Threat tokens on the grid in response to player actions (and, to a lesser extent, wherever they want) which represent the creature’s attention, reach, speed and danger. Threat tokens are spent to move towards player characters, make quick interrupt attacks, or augment damage to set up killer blows. (A bit like in Dark Souls where the enemies telegraph their attacks, you know?) Often the presence of Threat is enough to keep a Hunter at bay, but there are no end of abilities which interact with it and allow you to shift it around the grid.
So: think Dark Souls, as we mentioned above, and Bloodborne, and Hunt: Showdown, and Monster Hunter as our design touchstones. Heart and Spire are quite loose in their approach to combat and have abilities like “you can now fall three storeys without taking damage” or “you can teleport as long as you’re dancing and on magical MDMA” and Hollows is much more focused on the nitty-gritty of footwork, weak points, keeping your guard up and getting smashed about by a dog the size of a transit van.
MORE TO COME
We’re not going to go into any more detail now because we’re still firming things up, and also we want to keep you excited by being vague. But you can sign up for the playtest by following the link below, and – in a first for Rowan, Rook & Decard – we’re going to have a go at a design podcast, released regularly, recorded during production rather than as a post-mortem.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more details.