Winter of Hollows: Dragonmeet Demos Update

Posted on December 8, 2023 in Project Updates

Well hello everyone. It’s Maz the editor here. I’ve taken control of the Hollows dev diary while Grant is asleep and I’m going to drive it like I’ve stolen it for a few minutes while I tell you about the Hollows Quickstart.

What on earth have you all been up to then?

Fair question! Grant and Chris have finished revising, streamlining and shaving down the core rules and the new weapon system, and we’ve been working on testing them internally while the pair of them deal with small things like “buying and moving into a house” and “three conventions in five weeks” and “massive seasonal depression”. In between these minor distractions, they’ve also been writing up sample Entities – monsters with a wide range of different mechanical ideas behind them, that could be taken and re-skinned into your own ideas about the world. They proudly announced recently that they’ve created something with a juggle combo, which sounds like it’s going to be a right laugh to edit.

Speaking of editing: I’ve been working on a full technical edit of the new rules, which is the sort of fascinating, deep work that isn’t ever really visible in a final product, if you’ve done it correctly. This has resulted in workplace conversations such as:

  • What is the definition of “while”, and how is it different from “when”?
  • Do we really need three different Weapons to all have a form called Heavy which does a different thing each time?
  • If you name a grid area “Ranged” and also use the word “Ranged” to mean “every ranged area including the Ranged area”, and then start an ability with the words “While you are in Ranged…” does your editor start crying?

I have been working on a glossary that should act as the definitive rules reference for the final game; if you’d like to point out inaccuracies or if you’re just really into indexes for some reason (I’m absolutely not going to judge you), you can get a sneak peek here.

Meanwhile, we’ve been running some internal playtests of the revised rules and the new Quickstart Hollow. Last weekend we debuted this to the public at Dragonmeet: I ran seven demos of the first fight and lost my voice as a fairly direct result.

Grisham Priory

A skinless, massive dog, with chains around its neck

The first thing that happens to you is you’re greeted by a haggard-looking occultist clutching a staff in their hands. The second is that the occultist is ripped in half by a skinless dog the size of a bus. Image credit: The Guardian Hound by Daniel Vega / noirmatic.

The deal with Grisham Priory is: your Hunters get teleported into a massive, ghastly abbey that belongs to the Bishop, a man whose obsession with money led him to pull all the wealth from the land and the people who he was supposed to protect. The Hunters have to contend with the Bishop’s guard dog, as well as a range of people who supported his actions before he Hollowed, who exist in his nightmare realm in monstrous form. 

The Quickstart’s designed to showcase the basics of Hollows: the Weapons, combat, exploration, and a little bit of rest. There are a lot of mechanics and elements that aren’t in the quickstart – the Refuge, for example, as well as Corruption, and the broader Hollows setting. It’s designed to be a very self-contained thing, getting players up to speed on the basics of the way the game handles at the table – and to give a bit of a tease about the world, the setting, the wider complexities of the game, and the delicious possibilities of absolutely broken weapon combos.

Running demos has been a dream, especially with people who’ve not encountered the game before. We’ve got a group of pre-generated characters with weapon combos that fit well together, and that suggest ideas about how you can play the game very differently. The Experiment, with a knife and a pistol, can circle-strafe the Hound and then stab it in the back very effectively – as long as they don’t attract its attention too much, because they’re a glass cannon of a character. The Soldier, with their spear and their armour, is a perfect counterpart for a duo game: they can distract the Hound and force its attention forwards, leaving it open for attacks. And often getting bitten very hard and then mashed with chains in the process.

As a demo GM, the most fun I had was watching people pick up something they’ve never tried before and realise what they could do. I’m enormously happy with what we’ve managed to make – and with the fact that the Hound took at least one Hunter down in three of the seven demo combats, too. It’s deadly enough to be a good lesson, but not so deadly that it ruins you if you’re paying close attention. We’re aiming to make the rest of the Priory’s combats feel similarly challenging: they’re going to hurt but you should be having fun while they’re happening. Every death gives you something to learn from, after all.

What does a play kit look like, then?

Everything you need to squish a party of four with a giant dog, in two convenient bags!

As we’ve revised the rules, we’ve also been working on the tokens that we need for the combat sections of the game to work at the table. Sam Lamont, as well as being a wildly talented artist who’s defined the look and feel of the Isles already, also does 3D modelling and has been developing a set of ideas to help bring the vibes of the setting into the physical play kit. 

We’re still getting the finer details of manufacturing resolved, as we really want to be able to offer a token kit for Hollows that feels tactile, weighty and pleasing as you play. It’s got to be abstract enough to let you imagine the world around the fight as different every time – and concrete enough to help you slip into the game, to facilitate the rules and add something meaningful to the experience. But it should also be possible to print out the grid map and then find household items or stuff from your other games to play Hollows as an RPG; while a set of custom tokens might enhance your play experience, we feel strongly it shouldn’t be required

At Dragonmeet, I was using a paper map, chess pieces for player tokens, wooden blocks for Threat tokens, and a variety of novelty metal coins to track Focus, Shotgun and Armour statuses, and so forth. (I knew there would one day be a use for the novelty septim coin from the GOTY PC edition of Morrowind; there’s no other reason I would have carried it around for literally twenty years.)

This is all very nice, but can I have the Quickstart please?

A spread from the upcoming Grisham Priory quickstart, showing a Hunter with a gun and a fancy hat.

SOON. Patience, precious. Mina, our designer, is currently working on getting the Quickstart laid out, with monstrous illustrations from Daniel Vega, and the broader Isles and the world of Hollows illustrated by Sam Lamont. We’ll be sharing it with project followers (including you all) once it’s ready – and we’d love your feedback, as ever.

In the meantime: please sign up to follow the project if you’ve not already, and we’ll share more very, very soon.


Maz (and Grant, and Chris, and Mina, and everyone else at RR&D and down the Hollows mines)


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