In Under Hollow Hills, you play the performers, planners, and crew of a traveling circus. You’re fairies and mortal humans, of various kinds and descriptions, but one and all you’ve found your way to the circus and now you travel with it. You make your way through fairyland and the human world, performing wherever you go, in street fairs and crossroads markets, in vacant lots, fairy palaces, amphitheaters, and among the standing stones. You perform for great and small, and to you, a child’s birthday in a town park is as important as the command of the the great Crowned Heads of fairyland.
Wherever you perform, you change: you change the seasons, you change the fortunes of those you perform for, you change their hearts. You change yourselves. This is the game: we change.
The game’s free downloads will give you a pretty good sense of what the game is and how it works. Please feel free to download the playbooks and the reference sheets and look them over.
- The Boondoggle Hob: goblin kind, ringmaster, cook, and heel dragger, always there to comment upon others’ work.
- The Chieftain Mouse: mousey kind, valorous and loyal, planner and overseer of work, always there with an observation. (Note that while “chieftain” is a gendered word, the playbook isn’t gendered, and you can play it however suits you.)
- The Crooked Wand: witchy kind, fortune teller and conjurer, planner and problem solver, always there with a secret to tell.
- The Crowned Stag: fairy nobility, regal and generous, ringmaster and host, always there, gorgeous and flirty. (Note that while “stag” is a gendered word, the playbook isn’t gendered, and you can play it however suits you.)
- The Feather-Cloak: shifty kind and a bird, aerialist and tumbler, resourceful and humble, always there with advice and gossip.
- The Interloper: a human being who’s intruding into fairyland in disguise, to steal fairy treasure. You’ve taken up with the circus because you think it will lead you where treasure’s to be had.
- The Lantern Jack: pisky kind, enchanting, full of fun and malice, clown and juggler, purveyor of trinkets and refreshments, always there as a voice of reason.
- The Lostling: a human being lost or stolen into fairyland long ago. Performer, collaborator, problem solver, always there with encouragement and insight.
- The Nightmare Horse: unique and yourself, dweller in the night sky and in deep water, opener and closer of doors, star of the circus. You’re always there as a dangerous friend.
- The Seeker: a human being, come boldly into fairyland to win back something the fairies stole from you. You’ve taken up with the circus because you think it will lead you to what was taken.
- The Stick Figure: a made thing given life by magic, serious and naive, clown and worker, always there, trying to fit in.
- The Troll: powerful, undignified, and patient. Performer and spectacle, worker and problem solver, always there to lend a hand.
- The Winding Rose: flora kind, tough and beautiful with no patience for fools, performer and barker, always there with a smile and a cutting line.
In Under Hollow Hills, the moves are called “plays.” The vocabulary is: how do you want to play this? What’s your play here? I’m going to play it safe for now. Hey, back my play? Are you just talking, or are you making a play for it?
There are ten basic moves, the “obvious plays” that everybody can make. Six are for playing people:
- Confront someone, when you want them to change what they’re doing or back down.
- Draw someone out, when you want them to open up to you.
- Open up to someone, when you want to share your thoughts or feelings, make a plan with them, or introduce them to an idea.
- Put someone off, when you want them to wait, back off, or leave you alone.
- Size someone up, when you want to know which way they’re leaning and how far they’re prepared to go.
- Waylay someone, when you want to surprise them with something.
Four are for playing situations that you don’t understand or that are getting out of your control:
- Call for a line, to get your friends’ help when you need it.
- Sniff the wind, when you can’t put your finger on it and you’re trying to figure it out.
- Use your trappings, when you’ve got just the things.
- Weather the storm, to give up control and just try to land on your feet.
Each playbook also has four unique plays of its own, two for playing people, two for playing situations.
If you’re familiar with other PbtA games and you’re interested in a deep dive into Under Hollow Hills’ workings, I’ve written about its underlying model. You can read it here: Powered by the Apocalypse, Part 6.