In Apocalypse World, one of my favourite game systems at the moment, mechanics are engaged through a series of “moves”, which basically kick in whenever a PC does certain specific things in the fiction, and explicitly state the possible consequences of that action (usually depending on a die roll). One of the moves kicks in when you go aggro on someone in order to get them to do stuff. Sounds like intimidation, right? But Go Aggro is not the same as a standard Intimidate check in a more traditional game system… and here’s why.
I have seen exchanges in Apocalypse World that looked a bit like this:
Player: “I want to make them hand over their hostage. I pull out my gun and point it at them, screaming at them to do it.”
MC: “Roll go aggro.”
Player: “I hit.”
MC: “They refuse and force your hand.” (One of the potential consequences of the Go Aggro move, as stated in the mechanic’s description.)
Player: “Oh then I just back off, I don’t really want to hurt them.”
MC: “No, that’s not permissible. You pull the trigger and it hits them smack in the gut.”
Player: “Wait, what? Grrr, argh, confusion, anger.”
To understand what’s going on here, we have to look at the listed consequences of the Go Aggro move. If you roll well, either they “force your hand and suck it up” (taking harm from whatever weapon you’re using), or they “cave and do what you want”. On a weak hit (a success but not as decisively so), they have other options, such as “give you something they think you want” and “get the hell out of your way”. On a miss, the MC will make a move, and that’s probably bad news for you.
No consequence of a Go Aggro is that the aggressor changes their mind and backs off. In a traditional Intimidate check – i.e. you’re threatening them with potential violence – that would be an option, but here it isn’t.
The fact that there’s no “aggressor backs off” option tells you something about the state of the fiction at the time the move is triggered – and therefore by implication tells you something about what that move really meant in the first place. Specifically, it shows that the aggressor has already launched themselves at the defender, full force, when the move is triggered. By that point, it is too late for the aggressor to back out – indeed, the only way they’ll stop themselves is if they see the defender jumping to do as they’re told.
So Go Aggro is a move for when you are all-out attacking someone but are prepared to slam on the brakes if they do what you want. It’s not for when you threaten someone with possible violence in the future – even the very near future. That, as Vincent says elsewhere in the book, is the Manipulate move, using the violence as your leverage.
My real point here is not actually “Go Aggro is not for intimidation” (despite the title of the post! fooled you…) – that’s just an example. My real point is this: it can be hard to decide what move a character is making based on the description of their actions – but looking at the available consequences of the moves, not their titles and descriptions, should help to clarify which one is correct. If the consequences don’t suit what you want to happen, then the move probably isn’t one you want to invoke.