Hollow Earth Expedition
|Hollow World Expedition|
|RPG published by
Exile Game Studios
Hollow Earth Expedition, also called HEX, is a pulp adventure RPG by Exile Game Studios using the Ubiquity System set in an alternate 1936. It's Indiana Jones mixed in with the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jules Verne.
The gist, as the name implies, is that Earth is actually hollow in the middle. While the Corebook says in a few places that campaigns can take place on the surface world, the meat of the setting lies beneath our feet. The surface has a little bit of organized crime and noir-style intrigue, as well as some good old fashioned Nazi fighting, but the Hollow Earth has dinosaurs, Amazons, pirates, the ruined remnants of the Atlantean civilization, and also Nazis (pretty much every adventure module involves the PCs having a boot party on some Nazi mooks at least once, not that this is a reason for complaint).
There are no classes, players instead coming up with Archetypes and Motivations, then building a character around them. Each character also starts with a Flaw that, if roleplayed well, can earn them Style Points that give them bonus dice in the future (while this can lead to some "iTs WhAt My ChArAcTeR wOuLd Do" bullshit, it can be an effective way of introducing both interesting and hilarious moments in a session). Players take the roles of explorers, scholars, treasure hunters, pilots, and much more.
The background for HEX is that the Atlantean Civilization once ruled the Sol System and likely some places beyond it, too (yes, Atlantean like the lost city of Atlantis). They discovered the Hollow Earth and built a great empire, produced insane technology out of mythical orichalcum, the usual. They also defeated and banished some Lovecraftian style Old Ones at some point. Eventually, the Atlanteans got bored up on their pedestal. Two of the three Atlantean Castes, the Warriors and the Priests, started bitching at each other about who was actually the best and deserved to lead. The third Caste, the Builders, realized this shit was going to go south real quick and came up with a compromise; the Priests could have Venus all to themselves, the Warriors could have Mars, and the Builders would get Earth. All sides liked this idea.
The Builders then pulled a sneaky on their erstwhile comrades. After the vast majority of the Warriors and the Priests had passed through the teleportation gates to their respective new worlds, the Builders closed the gates and broke them, trapping the Warriors and the Priests and saving the Earth from the inevitable conflict between the two. The Builders noped off into the Hollow Earth to chill for a while and enjoy so goddamn peace and quiet for once.
Eventually, the Builders disappeared from Earth for reasons unknown, though not before interbreeding with humans, resulting in some Atlantean-Blooded people still showing up in 1936. It's open to speculation whether humans are descendants of Atlanteans, creations of them, or an independent species altogether. Now there's a shitload of secret societies on Earth that want to use or hide the Hollow Earth for their own ends. The surface world is the same in this version of 1936 as the real world was, more or less. It's what lies below that's truly extreme.
The Hollow Earth
The Hollow Earth is a lot like the surface in a lot of ways. It's got mountains, forests, oceans, deserts, etc. The similarities kind of stop there, though. There's two main reasons for this: 1). An all suffusing aura of vitality probably caused by Atlantean tech that makes plants and animals grow bigger and stronger, also making healing happen faster, and 2). a time dilation effect that makes time pass much slower inside the Hollow Earth than without. An explorer in the Hollow Earth can encounter the aforementioned dinosaurs and pirates, but also primitive savage tribes, cargo cults, Roman legionaries, Conquistadors, Cossack raiders; if your GM can think of it, it can be in the Hollow Earth. These latter three would likely be descendants of the originals that ended up stranded in the Hollow Earth, using and replicating technology familiar to their ancestors because the environment creates a constant struggle for survival that leaves little room for scientific pondering and invention. There is a small sun hanging dead center inside the Hollow Earth, keeping the climate hot and humid pretty much year round.
People tend to reach the Hollow Earth by a few ways. The Bermuda Triangle and the Dragon Triangle are two of them, as well as the openings on the North and South Pole. There's also drill machines, wandering through deep caves, and Atlantean warp gates hidden in the deep places of the world. Here's where we get to the big question; how the hell has the Hollow Earth remained a secret for so long? There are a few reasons, actually. Thing is, people who end up inside the Earth rarely realize that's where they are at first. The transition from surface to within is gradual, and the clash of the outer and inner climate makes for huge, almost constant plumes of fog and mist to obscure one's view. Compasses and radios don't work inside the Earth on account of magnetic field fuckery. By the time people realize where they are (if they've survived the beasts and natives for that long), they're generally far away from their entry point and have no idea how to get back to it. Those that do manage to get back realize a shitload of time has passed, and those that speak openly about their discovery find themselves attacked by ork snipers sent by a group called the Terra Arcanum; a secret group from the dawn of human history whose entire goal is to keep the dangerous tech of the Hollow Earth away from the people of the surface world.
Inside the Hollow Earth, explorers have to watch out for carnivorous plants, creatures previously thought to be extinct or mythical like yetis and lizardmen, or even your typical tribal cannibals looking to have you for dinner (buh dum tss). There are also ruins full of deadly traps. However, if a group of adventurers can brave the dangers, they can get their hands on some crazy powerful Atlantean tech and priceless treasures that will quickly not be so priceless once brought to the surface and put up for grabs on the black market (the game doesn't specifically have rules for selling treasures but c'mon...these are PCs we're talking about here.)
Atlantis is actually a place the PCs can visit, thanks to one of the splatbooks. It's currently ruled over by some scrubs called the vril-ya that claim to be Atlantean but are actually their former servants pulling some rote memorization ritual bullshit to keep all the Atlantean tech around them functioning. The vril-ya may or may not be aliens or a manufactured race built to serve the Atlanteans.
So far, HEX has five books:
- Hollow Earth Expedition: Pulp Adventure Roleplaying: HEX's Corebook. Does the obvious thing of introducing the rules and character creation, has a bestiary, sample NPCs, and a solid variety of equipment. Gives insight in the broader strokes of the Hollow Earth as an adventure setting, as well as painting a picture of what the surface world looks like in 1936. It touches on a few secret organizations as potential adversaries.
- Secrets of the Surface World: Splatbook that expands heavily on, as the name implies, things relating to the surface world of Earth and how they can interact with the PCs. SotSW introduces new character options and delves much more deeply into secret organizations like the Terra Arcana and the Thule Society. It has a pretty impressive expansion on vehicles and equipment, too, including a neat section of weaponry that specifically divides guns up according to which surface world military they are standard issue for. This book also introduces psychic powers, sorcery, and mad science.
- Perils of the Surface World: A book containing five adventure modules that can all be linked together into an overarching story or used individually.
- Mysteries of the Hollow Earth: Focuses much more on the Hollow Earth itself, introducing mechanics for playing as Hollow Earth natives, namely cargo cultists and Amazons. More prominently, MotHE intros playing as various beastman races (apemen, lizardmen, hawkmen, and a few more. Not these guys). Beyond that, MotHE delves into some new locations inside the Hollow Earth, including El Dorado and even Atlantis itself. Includes rules for creating magic artifacts and expands the bestiary, as well.
- Revelations of Mars: Hollow Earth Expedition IN SPACE. Puts a planetary romance spin on HEX, a la Barsoom. Alongside describing potential ways to get to Mars, RoM shows us what Mars looks like and it ain't pretty, like putting John Carter on fucking Athas; the planet is dying, the last bastions of civilization are squabbling city-states driven by slave labor, and you're probably going to bleed out in the Martian desert or a gladitorial arena before accomplishing anything meaningful. We learn a great machine (creatively called the Great Machine), is a terraforming device that makes Mars habitable but it's failing and has been slowly doing so for centuries. The book introduces several alien races, most notably the dheva, who are pretty much human but have four arms, green skin, a penchant for hedonism, and a dislike for clothing (eat your heart out, Captain Kirk). Though there are some prebuilt alien races, Revelations has rules for building your own and specifically says there are others on Mars that aren't listed. RoM also introduces robot PCs, new psychic powers, and new weapons such as rayguns, blasters, and fuck-off big melee weapons specifically designed for species with more than two arms.