Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hollow Earth Expedition by Exile Game Studio (2006)

Cover blurb

First we discovered that the Earth is round.

Then we discovered that it's hollow.

Now we must keep its secrets from falling into the wrong hands.

Explore one of the world's greatest and most dangerous secrets: the Hollow Earth, a savage land filled with dinosaurs, lost civilizations, and ferocious savages! Players take on the role of two-fisted adventures, eager academics and intrepid journalists investigating the mysteries of the Hollow Earth. Meanwhile, on the surface, world powers and secret societies vie for control of what may be the most important discovery in all of human history.

Set in the tense and tumultuous 1930s, the action-filled
Hollow Earth Expedition is inspired by the literary works of genre giants Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The subterranean action is powered by Ubiquity, an innovative roleplaying system that emphasizes storytelling and cinematic action.
Hollow Earth Expedition: There's a whole new world of adventure inside!

* Cover image from publisher's web site.
My thoughts

I should start out by saying that this won't be a true review because I've never had the opportunity to test this game out by actually playing it. But ever since I purchased the PDF version of
Hollow Earth Expedition, I've had a lot of fun leafing -- or in this case, clicking -- through its gorgeously illustrated pages.
Hollow Earth Expedition is a pulp roleplaying game set in the 1930s. Think Indiana Jones with dinosaurs. The premise is based on the occult belief that the interior of the Earth is hollow and inhabited by prehistoric creatures and lost civilizations. The authors don't provide a lot of background about the world of the hollow earth; they just give the game master the tools to build his or her own setting around the idea. Players can expect to encounter everything from dinosaurs to Caribbean pirates -- it's pretty much up to the game master to decide how crazy to make the world.

What stands out about the book is its production values. It is illustrated with colorful maps and top-quality black-and-white drawings. It also is well-written, with a lot of information crammed in its 260-or-so pages. One downside is that most of the book is dedicated to game mechanics and doesn't delve much into exploring the historical and literary precursors of the lost world genre. (I would recommend
GURPS Atlantis for an example of how well it can be done in an RPG supplement, although that's an unfair comparison because GURPS comes with a separate core system rulebook.)

Another shortcoming is the sparse bestiary. There are not many animal stats provided to populate your hollow earth, and given that the game engine is unique to the book, it may be hard for gamers to create animals on their own until they have a good grasp of the system. The publisher has two supplements in the works that promise to fill in some of the gaps in
Hollow Earth Expedition.

Regardless of these complaints, the book is still worth the cover price -- $20 for the digital version and $40 for the hardcover version. There is more than enough information about how to build characters and how to play in a hollow earth setting to make any gamer happy, and the fine illustrations are the icing on the cake.
Trivia

  • The most obvious inspiration for Hollow Earth Expedition is the Pellucidar series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which are set in an interior world heated by a miniature sun. Burroughs also is the creator of Tarzan, a character who visited the Pellucidar in the crossover novel Tarzan at Earth's Core.
  • I prefer RPGs with relatively simple dice systems, and the Ubiquity system of Hollow Earth Expedition seems to fit the bill -- although, as I've stated, I haven't had the chance to try it. It is a dice-pool system in which players try to role as many positive numbers as possible to score successes. It can involve rolling a lot of dice, but the publisher also sells special 8-sided dice that help cut down on the number of dice you must roll.
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