Under Hollow Hills Q&A

A witch with a wishbone on their hat, holding a goldfinch in their cupped hands.
Timothy Bones Knows Your Secret
Meguey & Vincent Baker's
Under Hollow Hills
No Other Like It

Hello, friends!

I’m not Timothy Bones, just Vincent, but if you have any questions about Under Hollow Hills, it’s my pleasure to answer them.

Q:

Derek asks: How do we get the pdf once we preorder the book in print?

A:

Good question! Once you complete your order, Payhip will forward you to a page with download instructions.

If that doesn’t happen or if you have any trouble with it, write me! I can help.

Q:

-Z asks: Is there a limited window of opportunity for when we can preorder print copies?

I’m tremendously excited for this book but I need to wait until I get paid but I also want your shipping and timelines to be predictable as possible.

A:

We’re going to leave preorders open throughout the entire process of going to print, up until the day we order the complete print run. This means not only designing the book for print — which is close to finished, but not finished yet — but also getting quotes from printers, ordering and approving proofs, and so on. I don’t realistically know how long all of that is going to take, but I’m expecting it to go on through October & November at least.

Thanks for asking!

Q:

Elsewhere, Hollow Man asks: I have to ask: what is the story behind the “dice fudging” rule on page 21?

A:

Ooh! Yes. It’s important!

So the first thing to settle is, unlike in any number of other games, there’s nothing and no one in Under Hollow Hills who ever needs you to roll a miss. If you and I sit down to play together, and you roll ten or twenty or a hundred times in a session, and you roll a hit every single time, you won’t throw anything off. There are lots of details of the design that make it work this way, going all the way to its underlying model, but the bottom line is, the game’s design just doesn’t balance on misses.

The next thing is, this being fairy tales, there are some things on the table that matter. A child might be in danger, for instance, and it might even be a weird and particular kind of danger —

Um I better say, content warning, right here! Let’s see if I can figure out how to use a blackout.

And let’s further say that what I really need from this situation is to roll a hit so that I can get the child to safety. It ISN’T to stop play, and it ISN’T to declare publicly that I need the child to be safe, thereby drawing unwanted attention to exactly the point where I’m feeling vulnerable, and it ISN’T to x-card it — after all, I’ll be fine if I roll a hit — and it ISN’T to call for a do-over on a miss because of all of the above. What I really need is just to roll a hit and it’s no big deal.

The dice fudging rule on page 21 is to let me roll a hit and it’s no big deal, nobody else had to guess, nobody else had to notice, I didn’t have to let on that I was feeling on the edge about anything at all. Because sometimes, that’s what somebody needs!

Hollow Man’s followup:

My question then would be if that is what’s desired, why roll dice at all? Especially since (and I apologize since I haven’t finished reading yet, so maybe don’t have it right) this game doesn’t have the “to do it, do it” type triggers of Apoc World?

I appreciate your explanation; I’m just trying to understand why. Because it’s going to be fairly clear to everyone that the dice were fudged.

So just don’t make the roll, say this is the desired outcome, and move on.

And my followup answer:

Sure, you could do that. You could call for a line, it’s an obvious play and everything.

This rule is for situations where you’d prefer not to get the group involved in your private fear, you’d just prefer to fudge your roll if you need to.

It’s also, implicitly, to say to all the players: if somebody fudges a roll, and you happen to catch them at it? So what. Don’t make a thing of it.

Because dice fudging can be a hot topic, I’ll add this:

Under Hollow Hills is designed in such a way that dice fudging like this is fine. Other games, their designs can put very different pressures on players’ dice rolls, so that fudging your dice can rightly be considered cheating and a violation of trust.

If you want to bring these dice fudging rules from Under Hollow Hills into another game you’re playing, the very section before this one on page 21 says:

[It’s] appropriate to bring external support tools [consent & communication tools, safety tools] into the game with you, if you use them.

Present your chosen support tools to the group and get their buy-in before you play.

…And this certainly goes for dice fudging too.

Q:

Matt says: First, congratulations to you and Meg and your noble house on the release of yet another delightful game!

Second, should any of my questions not interest you, feel free to ignore them, as you will. They are just stray thoughts.

In your experience, which playbooks are most often chosen? Least often?

Are there any playbooks you think work especially well together, or not-so-well?

Any particular reason for the Lantern Jack’s name change, or just thought it sounded better?

What are your favorite or the most memorable places that you have placed occasions, in this world or elsewhere?

A:

Thank you!

In your experience, which playbooks are most often chosen? Least often?

In my personal experience… The Nightmare Horse and the Troll most often, I think, beating out the Boondoggle Hob and the Crooked Wand as next most. Least often, the Chieftain Mouse, who I think I’ve only seen in play once.

Are there any playbooks you think work especially well together, or not-so-well?

Not really! It might be weird to have all three mortal human characters, the Lostling, the Interloper, and the Seeker, in the same game. Or, maybe it would be great, who knows? I should arrange it sometime, see how it goes.

Any particular reason for the Lantern Jack’s name change, or just thought it sounded better?

A small reason! As the Firefly Whisp, the character was always bug-themed, which wasn’t what we intended. Sometimes bug-themed, yes; always is too much.

What are your favorite or the most memorable places that you have placed occasions, in this world or elsewhere?

Ha! I’ve played the Breaking of the Ice so many times, almost every con game I’ve run, and it was our go-to throughout development. I set it in a fairyland version of the dam and potholes here in Shelburne Falls MA. It was a natural for the first main example in the text.

Thanks for asking!

Q:

Brett Maack asks: Congratulations on this absolutely wonderful game! It might sound silly but seeing, reading, and playing new projects from you and your co-creators is one of my greatest joys in life.

You’ve worked on a multitude of projects; has working on Under Hollow Hills led you to any major takeaways, lessons learned, epiphanies, or other moments of growth along the way?

A:

Meguey answers: Thank you for your kind words, it is our pleasure to make things. That we are able to is an astounding grace for which I’m daily grateful. Under Hollow Hills has been a confirmation of several guideposts I can share here:

Never underestimate the possibility of the unseen fair folk.

Whatever it is, it takes the time it takes; keep doing the next thing as it comes along, and you’ll get there.

Have compassion for yourself and others, and as things get harder, aim to be more soft-hearted, rather than less.

Make sure you have people 20+ years older and younger than you in your life; tend to the connections between generations.

Listen deeply, adjust accordingly.

Human life is short and uncertain; above all, be kind.

Q:

Dmitry Zabirov asks:

Thank you for this wonderful game. It is so nice to see how PbtA game design approach evolves and changes and the theme really touches my heart. My gaming group is already anticipated and waiting for me to finish the book and set things up.

Very stupid question but I am still a little bit confused – with all this pants of the Crowned Stag and boots for the Nightmare Horse – what will be your comments on the anthropomorphism of the characters? Are they shapeshifters by design? Should we somehow choose human/animal shape at the starting point? Or, as all the fairies they can freely play with their shape (which doesn’t quite sit well with the special shapeshifting plays specifies in other playbooks).

Thank you for clarifying and please let me return with you if any other questions will trouble my humble head.

A:

All of the characters can presumably go on two legs, have hands, wear clothing (when they want to), and can speak. How deerlike, horselike, or mouselike they are otherwise, is really between the character and the player at the time.

The Nightmare Horse has a shapechanging play that gives them a humanlike form, a beautiful horse form, and their true nightmare horse form. The Crowned Stag and the Chieftain Mouse aren’t mainly shapeshifters, except as they change from summer to winter and back.

Thanks for asking, and please do feel free to ask more!

Q:

Elsewhere, ZeroFlee asks:

I’m curious about the bit at the beginning of the session where you ask the players what show they’re going to perform after the current one. I really like the idea of asking them where they’ve just come from (it’s a good ice breaker, imagination warm up, it establishes a continuity of the circus and its tour, among other things). Is the question about where they’re going next meant to be more of the same or is it meant to give the MC guidance for the next session? I kind of took it that these shows that bookend the current session are both meant to be imaginary and happen off screen as it were.

A:

Good question!

At the end of the session, the MC asks again where you’re going next, and yes, that’s the occasion that they’re supposed to prepare for the next session. Or else they’re allowed to interrupt you with a Closed Bridge or anything else — but the shared understanding is that that’s where you’re going next, so that’s generally what the next session will be.

But there’s a reason why the MC asks you about it at the beginning of the session, doesn’t just wait until the end.
It’s so that during the current session, throughout the session, you have in the back of your mind that the circus has concrete plans after this. So that, if you change your future plans during the session, you’re changing them away from something you’ve committed to, however lightly. You’re actually changing your plans.

It’s so, at the end of the session, you can say, “yeah, we were planning to join the Midnight Witch-moot at the Ashfield Fall Festival, but this offer to entertain the guests at the Wolf King’s Son’s birthday party, I don’t think we dare turn it down,” and it’s all true.

You can play around with it, when the MC asks at the beginning of the session, by intentionally planning a show that you’d just love to do, then a show you know will be profitable but that doesn’t move you, then a show that really tugs your heartstrings, then a show you’re dreading, you don’t want to do it at all… and see how and whether it affects your various decisions and interactions during this session.

In sum: yeah, you’re meant to go on to actually play those shows on screen, often. But their main purpose is to bring the continuity of the circus and your tour to bear on this session, and the decisions you make and how you relate to each other during it.

Q:

Sophia asks:

A little question:
In the ‘Confront Someone’ move, what exactly does ‘force your hand’ mean?

On a different note, I’m shocked and appalled that the Chieftain Mouse is the least used playbook when they’re objectively the best in the game. The Chieftain Mouse…

-Is a mouse
-Is a chieftain
-Wields a five-foot long boar spear
-Has a heraldic shield hung with the skins of their vanquished foes
-Forces people to be polite
-Has a comically small pony
-Gives good advice

Chieftain mouse is the whole package.

A:

On forcing your hand:

When you confront someone, you have opinions about how they should behave, but you haven’t done anything to make them comply with you, yet. Telling them what to do is your first step.

When they then defy you and force your hand, it’s back on you: are you going to do anything to make them comply? If you don’t, they aren’t going to.

So forcing your hand means putting you into that position where you must take action or else let it go.

On the Chieftain Mouse:

I know it! Right?

Still it’s also in character, isn’t it, for the Chieftain Mouse to be overlooked.

Q:

Matt asks: I have another inquiry, prompted by listening to the Big Gay Nerds episodes of Under Hollow Hills. (In those episodes, at the conclusion, they discuss how having only three players with two votes each makes it easy for them to get unanimous votes on their circus powers.)

Would you be interested in sharing some of your thought processes on the voting system? Specifically on the change from the pre-release version, and on having a set number of votes (and that particular number), which makes it easier for a small circus to have unanimity but forces larger circuses to be more restrained in their voting should everyone decide to use a power.

Also, unrelated: the Stick Figure’s example imagery is a copy/paste of the Nightmare Horse’s.

A:

Very good catch on the Stick Figure. Thank you!

On voting:

The power comes from the audience, of course, including the location and the occasion.

When it comes to applying it, directing it, whose power is it to use? Is it the whole show’s? The individual acts’? The performers’, acts aside? The performers’ collectively? The whole circus’, including the crew and workers? The ringmaster’s?

You could balance these in a number of different ways. The rules we chose strike one balance, but we might have chosen another balance instead.

In the pre-release, it was balanced more toward the whole show’s power, where the idea was that you would sort of synthesize the meaning of the entire show for the audience and use your power that way. Sometimes this meant that earlier acts, which had affected the audience, didn’t affect the audience! Sometimes it meant that an outcome that a player wanted and worked hard for, got forgotten.

So we shifted the balance a little to give power to the individual acts and let it flow throughout the whole show, instead of concentrating it at the end.

The next question is, given that we’re using voting to balance the circus’ collective power with the individual character’s, how to conduct the vote?

From one point of view, the ideal solution would be to scale the number of votes you get with the number of players. We could play around with formulas, I’d personally start with votes=(n-1)/2. 2-3 circus players: 1 vote each, 4-5: 2 votes each, 6+: 3 votes each.

From another point of view, the ideal solution would be to have the circus raise a set, constant amount of power, distributed among the players. Your votes would be your share of the power, something like votes=(c/n). We could play around with c, but call it 10 and the table would be the opposite. 2 circus players: 4 votes each, 3 circus players: 3 votes each, 4-5: 2 votes each, 6+: 1 vote each.

Ultimately we decided that whichever way we thought about it, the baseline number was 2. The outlier effect of unanimity being easy in small groups and harder in large groups isn’t a problem, it’s just a difference, a side effect you can make decisions about in your game. Why not just simplify the whole thing and go with 2.

Still, from another point of view, why limit the number of votes at all? Why not just let everybody vote freely, yes or no, to every proposal?

Call it an abundance of caution, but restricting your number of votes gives you permission, an excuse, to vote no when you want to vote no. If somebody proposes a power you don’t want to support, but they can apply out-of-character social pressure to push you to vote for it anyway, having the excuse of “I’m saving my vote” can disarm the situation.

So… Those are the things we thought about when we were developing the voting system. I think we hit a pretty good balance, it does most of the things we want it to, mostly how we want it to do them. But it’s definitely the kind of system that could have struck a different balance, any number of different balances, and still worked for the game.

Author:

He / him.

21 thoughts on “Under Hollow Hills Q&A”

  • Is there a limited window of opportunity for when we can preorder print copies?

    I’m tremendously excited for this book but I need to wait until I get paid but I also want your shipping and timelines to be predictable as possible.

    • We’re going to leave preorders open throughout the entire process of going to print, up until the day we order the complete print run. This means not only designing the book for print — which is close to finished, but not finished yet — but also getting quotes from printers, ordering and approving proofs, and so on. I don’t realistically know how long all of that is going to take, but I’m expecting it to go on through October & November at least.

      Thanks for asking!

  • First, congratulations to you and Meg and your noble house on the release of yet another delightful game!

    Second, should any of my questions not interest you, feel free to ignore them, as you will. They are just stray thoughts.

    In your experience, which playbooks are most often chosen? Least often?

    Are there any playbooks you think work especially well together, or not-so-well?

    Any particular reason for the Lantern Jack’s name change, or just thought it sounded better?

    What are your favorite or the most memorable places that you have placed occasions, in this world or elsewhere?

    • Thank you!

      > In your experience, which playbooks are most often chosen? Least often?

      In my personal experience… The Nightmare Horse and the Troll most often, I think, beating out the Boondoggle Hob and the Crooked Wand as next most. Least often, the Chieftain Mouse, who I think I’ve only seen in play once.

      > Are there any playbooks you think work especially well together, or not-so-well?

      Not really! It might be weird to have all three mortal human characters, the Lostling, the Interloper, and the Seeker, in the same game. Or, maybe it would be great, who knows? I should arrange it sometime, see how it goes.

      > Any particular reason for the Lantern Jack’s name change, or just thought it sounded better?

      A small reason! As the Firefly Whisp, the character was always bug-themed, which wasn’t what we intended. Sometimes bug-themed, yes; always is too much.

      > What are your favorite or the most memorable places that you have placed occasions, in this world or elsewhere?

      Ha! I’ve played the Breaking of the Ice so many times, almost every con game I’ve run, and it was our go-to throughout development. I set it in a fairyland version of the dam and potholes here in Shelburne Falls MA. It was a natural for the first main example in the text.

      Thanks for asking!

      • My spouse and I spent the weekend after our wedding in Shelbourne Falls, and I have really fond memories of it. Definitely going to run the Breaking of the Ice there next time I run UHH! THanks so much for the idea!

  • Congratulations on this absolutely wonderful game! It might sound silly but seeing, reading, and playing new projects from you and your co-creators is one of my greatest joys in life.

    You’ve worked on a multitude of projects; has working on Under Hollow Hills led you to any major takeaways, lessons learned, epiphanies, or other moments of growth along the way?

    • Thank you for your kind words, it is our pleasure to make things. That we are able to is an astounding grace for which I’m daily grateful. Under Hollow Hills has been a confirmation of several guideposts I can share here:
      Never underestimate the possibility of the unseen fair folk.
      Whatever it is, it takes the time it takes; keep doing the next thing as it comes along, and you’ll get there.
      Have compassion for yourself and others, and as things get harder, aim to be more soft-hearted, rather than less.
      Make sure you have people 20+ years older and younger than you in your life; tend to the connections between generations.
      Listen deeply, adjust accordingly.
      Human life is short and uncertain; above all, be kind.

  • Hi it’s me again. Thank you for your absolutely gorgeous reply Meguey, made my heart soar.

    Not a question this time, but just wanted to share a lovely piece of music that fits UHH really well.

    “Turning Wheel” by Spellling
    https://youtu.be/TnuG9jvRcHk

    Perhaps an unofficial theme song? 🙂

  • Thank you for this wonderful game. It is so nice to see how PbtA game design approach evolves and changes and the theme really touches my heart. My gaming group is already anticipated and waiting for me to finish the book and set things up.
    Very stupid question but I am still a little bit confused – with all this pants of the Crowned Stag and boots for the Nightmare Horse – what will be your comments on the anthropomorphism of the characters? Are they shapeshifters by design? Should we somehow choose human/animal shape at the starting point? Or, as all the fairies they can freely play with their shape (which doesn’t quite sit well with the special shapeshifting plays specifies in other playbooks).
    Thank you for clarifying and please let me return with you if any other questions will trouble my humble head.

    • All of the characters can presumably go on two legs, have hands, wear clothing (when they want to), and can speak. How deerlike, horselike, or mouselike they are otherwise, is really between the character and the player at the time.

      The Nightmare Horse has a shapechanging play that gives them a humanlike form, a beautiful horse form, and their true nightmare horse form. The Crowned Stag and the Chieftain Mouse aren’t mainly shapeshifters, except as they change from summer to winter and back.

      Thanks for asking, and please do feel free to ask more!

  • A little question:
    In the ‘Confront Someone’ move, what exactly does ‘force your hand’ mean?

    On a different note, I’m shocked and appalled that the Chieftain Mouse is the least used playbook when they’re objectively the best in the game. The Chieftain Mouse…

    -Is a mouse
    -Is a chieftain
    -Wields a five-foot long boar spear
    -Has a heraldic shield hung with the skins of their vanquished foes
    -Forces people to be polite
    -Has a comically small pony
    -Gives good advice

    Chieftain mouse is the whole package.

    • On forcing your hand:

      When you confront someone, you have opinions about how they should behave, but you haven’t done anything to make them comply with you, yet. Telling them what to do is your first step.

      When they then defy you and force your hand, it’s back on you: are you going to do anything to make them comply? If you don’t, they aren’t going to.

      So forcing your hand means putting you into that position where you must take action or else let it go.

      On the Chieftain Mouse:

      I know it! Right?

      Still it’s also in character, isn’t it, for the Chieftain Mouse to be overlooked.

  • I have another inquiry, prompted by listening to the Big Gay Nerds episodes of Under Hollow Hills. (In those episodes, at the conclusion, they discuss how having only three players with two votes each makes it easy for them to get unanimous votes on their circus powers.)

    Would you be interested in sharing some of your thought processes on the voting system? Specifically on the change from the pre-release version, and on having a set number of votes (and that particular number), which makes it easier for a small circus to have unanimity but forces larger circuses to be more restrained in their voting should everyone decide to use a power.

    Also, unrelated: the Stick Figure’s example imagery is a copy/paste of the Nightmare Horse’s.

    • Very good catch on the Stick Figure. Thank you!

      On voting:
      The power comes from the audience, of course, including the location and the occasion.

      When it comes to applying it, directing it, whose power is it to use? Is it the whole show’s? The individual acts’? The performers’, acts aside? The performers’ collectively? The whole circus’, including the crew and workers? The ringmaster’s?

      You could balance these in a number of different ways. The rules we chose strike one balance, but we might have chosen another balance instead.

      In the pre-release, it was balanced more toward the whole show’s power, where the idea was that you would sort of synthesize the meaning of the entire show for the audience and use your power that way. Sometimes this meant that earlier acts, which had affected the audience, didn’t affect the audience! Sometimes it meant that an outcome that a player wanted and worked hard for, got forgotten.

      So we shifted the balance a little to give power to the individual acts and let it flow throughout the whole show, instead of concentrating it at the end.

      The next question is, given that we’re using voting to balance the circus’ collective power with the individual character’s, how to conduct the vote?

      From one point of view, the ideal solution would be to scale the number of votes you get with the number of players. We could play around with formulas, I’d personally start with votes=(n-1)/2. 2-3 circus players: 1 vote each, 4-5: 2 votes each, 6+: 3 votes each.

      From another point of view, the ideal solution would be to have the circus raise a set, constant amount of power, distributed among the players. Your votes would be your share of the power, something like votes=(c/n). We could play around with c, but call it 10 and the table would be the opposite. 2 circus players: 4 votes each, 3 circus players: 3 votes each, 4-5: 2 votes each, 6+: 1 vote each.

      Ultimately we decided that whichever way we thought about it, the baseline number was 2. The outlier effect of unanimity being easy in small groups and harder in large groups isn’t a problem, it’s just a difference, a side effect you can make decisions about in your game. Why not just simplify the whole thing and go with 2.

      Still, from another point of view, why limit the number of votes at all? Why not just let everybody vote freely, yes or no, to every proposal?

      Call it an abundance of caution, but restricting your number of votes gives you permission, an excuse, to vote no when you want to vote no. If somebody proposes a power you don’t want to support, but they can apply out-of-character social pressure to push you to vote for it anyway, having the excuse of “I’m saving my vote” can disarm the situation.

      So… Those are the things we thought about when we were developing the voting system. I think we hit a pretty good balance, it does most of the things we want it to, mostly how we want it to do them. But it’s definitely the kind of system that could have struck a different balance, any number of different balances, and still worked for the game.

      • Wow! Thank you very much for your thorough and thoughtful response, and the insightful look inside these design decisions.

  • Hi again!
    What’s your take on the PvP usage of the plays, i.e. confront or waylay? As far I understood, there is no real difference between player – npc and player-player interaction but I am very curious about your perspective, thank you.

    PS I thought mostly of means of setting insults, beholdens and the so between PCs because it’s too interesting not to go there.

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