There is a traveling circus under the Hollow Hills.
It travels by moonlight, small wagons creaking in the night silence. It travels lost roads, where fireflies and whisps hover to watch it pass, where goblins peer down from their treebranch perches, and owls. It travels the night world and the day world, fairyland and the living earth, and places otherwise, and no border can keep it. It has mysteries to pose, drama to perform, it has music, juggling, acts of death-defying peril, pratfall comedy. It has dangerous secrets to tell.
Step up, step up. Come great, come small, come revelers all!
You are its performers, its ringmaster, its clowns, its sideshow, its stars. You're its crew, rigging the tents, mending the costumes, planning the show, selling t-shirts and popcorn. You're fairy kind and human kind. You're the circus, and the circus is you.
The circus is a leveler of all. You're not subject to the usual games of status and wealth, hierarchy and social value, that society plays. To you a human child’s birthday party in a vacant lot is the same as a command performance for the great Crowned Heads of fairyland. (And more like stuffed heads, saith the Hob.)
You travel through fairyland and the mortal world, performing as you choose. 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.
Under Hollow Hills is a tabletop roleplaying game. It's Powered by the Apocalypse, which in this case means that it's got playbooks for the players, a system of moves based on rolling and summing two dice, a GM, and a "play to find out" approach to prep and plotting. It's good for small groups and large groups, people who've never played a roleplaying game before and people who've played a hundred.
Jay Dragon happened to run Under Hollow Hills for a group of 12 teenagers: "Today I'm running #UnderHollowHills for a group of a dozen teens. It's structured so whoever can make it each week plays, but wow are there a lot of them this week!
"This is gonna be the second session, so I already have a ton to report - it's incredible how intuitive parts of this game can be for people who have never done TTRPG before...
"Update: Navigated the session with a dozen folks, they killed it, the performance was incredible, there was some great drama, this game is so so good!"
It's designed to be literary, over cinematic. It loves metaphor and wordplay. It's episodic like a series of short stories, not like a TV show, or sometimes like a long welcoming rambling novel. It's designed for drama, action, romance, and comedy, both in the circus rings and outside of them.
Doctrix Ashley Nova has been playing a streaming Under Hollow Hills game for several months now: "This is my favourite bit of playing Under Hollow Hills with @FeelingsFirst. Getting to talk about staging, lighting and curtain calls is such a fun way to frame our little game. And the implication that it's some kind of weekly on going episodic narrative play is WEIRD."
Your characters are warm, funny, sad, and whimsical. They have their time on the stage, their time in the chorus, their solos, their encores. Their tragedies, their great accomplishments, their small victories. Sometimes they come, sometimes they go. They change with the seasons and with the beating of their own hearts. You might even fall in love with them.
Remiel Garreau reviewed a preview selection of the game's playbooks: "You’ve made something lovely - the Weeping Gale has made me sob, and sob, and sob - and I cannot wait to see more."
The GM is the game's first and most important audience. As GM, it's your job to be entertained. Throw roses, throw peanut shells, and call out for more.
There are 13 core playbooks in Under Hollow Hills:
- 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 Firefly Whisp: pisky kind, enchanting, full of fun and malice, clown and juggler, purveyor of trinkets and refreshments, always there as a voice of reason.
- 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 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.
Please download the free previews! They'll give you the best possible sense of the game: Under Hollow Hills: Downloads
Laughter blends with the sound of pipes; the smell of cider and popcorn mingles with the scent of something cold and old and deep; a soft swirl of silk brushes against rough burlap; over all, the frisson of fairy wonder. We want to evoke the fancy and variety, not to say anarchy, befitting a game about a traveling show, and about fairies. To capture that on paper for Under Hollow Hills, we're working with over a dozen artists and illustrators, in a variety of mediums. Over the course of the campaign, we look forward to showcasing the artists. Here's an introduction to some of them now:
We - that is, Meguey Baker and Vincent Baker - have been creating and publishing independent games for almost 20 years. Our best-known game is Apocalypse World, which launched the Powered by the Apocalypse movement in TTRPG design. Our other games include 1001 Nights, In Dreaming Avalon, The King Is Dead, Mobile Frame Zero: Firebrands, Murderous Ghosts, Nine Pins, Playing Nature's Year, Psi*Run, Valiant Girls, The Wizard's Grimoire, Wizard Pit Fight, and oh, others still.
Sometimes we create games on our own, sometimes together. Under Hollow Hills is our most profound collaboration, the game so far that most expresses who we are when we work together. It's also, not surprisingly, the best game we've ever made.
We're delighted to bring this game to you, and have put together an assortment of options. From following along, to the book in print, to an astonishment of wonders, we hope everyone will find their way to the circus under the hills.
To get the game...
...You have three options: the PDFs at the $15 level, or the book + PDFs at the $30 level. At the $50 level you get the book + PDFs, plus a ready-to-play packet of all the playbooks and playsheets, printed slightly fancy.
For something more...
...Check these levels out. They all include the book + PDFs and the ready-to-play packet above, plus:
At the Circus Scrapbook level of $75, in addition to all of the above, we'll add an assortment of stickers, postcards, and other promotional material.
At the Backstage Guest level of $100 (limit 20), in addition to all of the above, we'll add a tea blend custom-made for Under Hollow Hills by The Five Wits Apothecary, and strange souvenirs of the fairy circus.
At the Boondoggle Hob’s Entire Bundle of Wonder level of $200 (limit 10), in addition to all of the above, we'll add a one of a kind handmade Roustabout like the one below, and we'll celebrate your name in the book as a Patron of the Circus.
A Roustabout! In the circus, the roustabouts are everywhere behind the scenes. Perhaps this one is scouting a new place for the circus to perform:
Luke: "I fell in love with Under Hollow Hills three times: when I saw the words ‘Boondoggle Hob’ and knew that Meg & Vincent got fairies; when I finished reading and wanted to be playing it five minutes ago; and when I ran it on my birthday and watched the game sing and come alive.
"The playbooks overflow with flavour and setting and capture fairy lore beautifully; the mechanics are poetry: in turn elegant, brutal, absurd, and delightful; and the game discards crisis-based narratives in a way I’ve never seen before.
"I love this game already. I’m lucky enough to run it every week and watch the magic unfold and I bet in ten years I’ll still be playing it, exploring how we live in community with one another, through good times and bad."
Finbar: "Under Hollow Hills is steeped in this delightful dark whimsy, where every character is capable of hilarious, majestic or downright unsettling actions, but also, they might just spontaneously die if their act doesn't get enough applause. Even then though, nothing so pedestrian as dying will stop them from making the cast bow at the end of the show, even if their sudden shift to deepest winter makes them barely recognisable for it.
"I think the moment I fell in love with the game was our first show in the human world, and I realised that by this point, it felt more strange being there than in the fairy ones. When you start not only feeling comfortable in snowy candle factories where delegates of a wolf king go shopping or a series of magical caves in the face of a rock giant, but almost homesick for those places... that's a very special feeling to me."
Gwen: "Under Hollow Hills has been a trip into the delightfully bizarre, one I plan to add to my shelf. The playbooks, mechanics and raucous spectacle of this game keep pulling me in, time and time again. The changing seasons is, for sure, one of my favourite aspects of the game. It keeps the characters, the circus and the tone moving in a new way, creating a stage that's nuanced and living. If you want a game of otherworldly wonder... well... step right up folks!"
Thank you for your kind attention and support. Come one, come all. We hope you enjoy the show!
Illustrations previewed above by: Eric Orchard, Justin Lanjil, Emily McAllan, Jody Edwards, and Hannah Culbert.
Risks and challenges
As we're writing this, the workers at Kickstarter are unionizing. We're strongly pro-union and they have our full support.
Between us, this is our seventh Kickstarter project, and we're Superbackers. Whatever our support's worth, the workers and organizers at Kickstarter have it. When they say stand, we're standing. When they say tools down, we're tools down. So far, the union hasn't called for a boycott. If they do, the moment they do, we'll end the campaign and find some other way forward. We won't cross a picket line.
Meanwhile, we're cheering them on.
Under Hollow Hills is an ambitious game for us. Its text is mostly written, and has been testing well, but there are still a couple of tricky concepts to explain and still a couple of procedures to nail fully down.
More significantly, this is the first time we've worked with so many artists, and we're aware of the potential for technical troubles, setbacks and delays.
Also, we might get absolutely killed by upcoming changes to international shipping.
We've given ourselves as forgiving a timeline and as generous a budget as we can. Thank you for your trust and confidence in us!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)