My not-so-favorable view on Hollow Earth Expedition character creation

I stumbled on an internet forum to a thread about Indiana Jones type roleplaying, and noticed that Hollow Earth Expedition is a very popular choice. For the life of me, I cannot understand why. OK, there are good things in it, but more on those later. The first thing I always do when I try to decide if a new RPG system is worth my while, is to begin reading on character creation. After about five minutes of reading it I notice the first warning sign. Attributes and Skills are first bought on one-to-one basis, but later they get a scaling cost. This is a classic White Wolf mistake. Perhaps it has been around before WW, but if it is, I have no idea where that idiocy sprang from.

I steel myself and venture further into the mechanics. Then I notice: six attributes that start from zero, and you add 15 points to them, but there must be at least 1 in all of them. Why not say: “every attribute starts at 1 and you add 9 points into them”, because that’s what it really means!? OK, a rookie design mistake (again)… Let’s see what it looks like when the system is played with optimization in mind.

Derived attributes have way more mentions on Dexterity, Body and Intelligence than on any other attributes. Strength and Willpower get mentioned once each. It is obvious that low character intelligence almost never gets any real hindrance in games, it is “just” roleplaying stuff, so I decide to “dump” it. I toyed with the system for a while, and the “ideal” character is: Body 5, Dexterity 5, Strength 1, Charisma 1, Intelligence 2 and Willpower 1. Of course Dexterity is related to shooting at things, like in almost every game. So now my guy has the maximum “hit points”, maximum shootyness, maximum defense, good initiative score and sometimes even notices stuff happening. Otherwise it is very lackluster, but who cares about those other types of thingies anyway?!

Obviously that is not the most ideal character, there never is, and definitely not very enjoyable to play. It is just so easily maximized to most of the things that happen in RPGs, outside of player-GM narrative (i.e. within the mechanics of the game). Note that I could, if I wanted to, start this guy with 5 points in Diplomacy and Investigation each, for example, and rock pretty well in those departments too.

To clarify, I am most definitely a role-player, not roll-player, but this kind of thoughtlessness in character creation mechanics just makes me mad, and makes me not want to play your game. At least not under your rules, that is.

I promised to write something positive about this so here goes. Setting is innovative and exciting, as is the dice-mechanic. This setting would be great with some other RPG system, and if polished, or rather reconstructed from basics up, the dice mechanic could be really cool.

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