This article originally appeared in Pyramid #10
Written by Todd Shaughnessy, Daniel Thron and Chris Elliott
Interior Art by Daniel Thron and Chris Elliott
Front Cover by Simon Kono
Produced by Dirt Merchant Games
"Hol kept me awake driving back from GenCon through Kansas at three in the morning," raved Chaosium booth-staffer Dustin Wright, an instant convert. "I actually paid good money for it," said another frothing fledgling Hol fanatic. Ray Winninger, vocal industry good guy and author of Mayfair's Underground RPG, posted to the Internet that it was the best game product he'd seen in over ten years.
It is, quite literally, like nothing I've ever seen before. Some people say that with mocking laughter, but I murmur it with the same quiet reverence I'd been saving for my first UFO sighting.
Even though it'll be some time before you see it in stores, as most major distributors refuse to carry it due to the various obscenities liberally scattered throughout, you should write Dirt Merchant Games (address below) and demand a copy. I don't know how big the book is -- page numbers are for losers -- but it's about the same length and girth of your average GURPS book.
Oh, and Hol is (except for one page) entirely handwritten.
These facts by themselves would set it apart from any other game product, but above and beyond all its other unique qualities it is madly, ragingly funny. There has never been a game quite this irreverently, hysterically funny -- from the many asides to Holmeisters (not GMs or referees, as "such menial titles are below them") to a constant barrage of attacks at both the players and the gaming industry as a whole ("People [at gaming conventions] are strange and scary. Don't let them touch your food.")
Hol, in case you were wondering, stands for Human Occupied Landfill -- or Hemmoraging Oral Libido, or Hey, Ow! Leggo!, or any number of things depending on who you ask, but in the strictest sense of the word, Hol is a landfill. The planet called Hol is just one in the many Confederation of Worlds, a utopian future of peace and bliss. Unfortunately, even in utopia there is still quite a lot of trash, both living and otherwise, so Hol was picked to be not only the Confederation's landfill but its prison as well. Sort of a cross between Australia and New Jersey, if you can imagine that. (One of the authors assures us he has lived in New Jersey, and is perfectly qualified to make such statements.) People on Hol never leave, but every day more galactic dump trucks drop new and exciting things to kill from orbit.
An average game of Hol consists of trying to kill things before they kill you -- much like any other RPG. That's about all it has in common with its mundane cousins.
There are no character creation rules. Sure, they explain what few stats and skills there are for Hol PCs, but no guidelines are given beyond the sample characters. The authors ask us to admit that given normal, rational character creation rules, players would either warp them until they could make the über character of their dreams, or just plain cheat. Hol gives players the freedom to cut to the chase and do whatever they hell they want to (that is, cheat).
Every game, however unpretentious, has one invented statistic that it thinks other games have in some way overlooked, or that has been invented specifically for their background. In Hol, that stat is Anguish. Weapons are not only rated according to how much damage they can inflict, but also by how much Anguish they cause the target to feel. You know, like when you step on glass with your heel, you don't just take the damage from the glass, but something inside you goes, "Oooo, glass in my heel!" That is Anguish, and it's a wonderful idea. If Anguish was Hol's sole contribution to roleplaying, it would still be worth $15.
Of course, there's far more to Hol than merely inflicting Anguish. There's late-night runs past the pits of rabid accountants, repairing toasters and such, tossing Wastems over your shoulder as you play crotch-soccer with the feeb in front of you. Pry the wrench from your dead friend's hand and use it to make the joker to your left smoke the pain pipe.
Dirt Merchant Games
5 Mossland St.
Somerville, MA 02144
Write them. Send them money. Enter Hol, you won't be sorry.
-- Derek Pearcy
Article publication date: December 1, 1994
Copyright © 1994 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.