Posts Tagged ‘Apocalypse World’

For a while I’ve been pondering how to run an effective Apocalypse World introduction one-shot – in particular, how to give it a bit of a kick-start to get the story burning nice and fast. In a full-length campaign, it works better (I think) to use the rules as written and let things burn up slowly to begin with – but I wanted to give a feel of what a campaign might be like a couple of sessions in, when relationships have really started pulling at the characters and driving the story forward. Something a little like the “Hatchet City” playset was supposed to achieve, though I gather Vincent Baker no longer recommends using that.

In the most recent one-shot I ran (today!), I tried to kick-start this by using the following set of custom moves, to be read and followed by the players during the character creation process. For now I’m just going to post them here without (further) comment – but I’ll come back and talk about how they worked in a later post, when I’ve thought about the results a little more.

 To my Angel,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+sharp and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone whose life you saved and now they owe you, big time. On a 7-9, name someone whose life you saved, but they resent feeling indebted to you. On a miss, name someone who has it in for you because of someone’s life you *didn’t* save. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Battlebabe,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+cool and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who relies on you when they need Shit Sorted Out. On a 7-9, name the last person you slept with (or, if no-one, the last person you turned down). On a miss, name someone who’s fished you out of trouble when you got in deeper than you could handle. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Brainer,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+weird and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who genuinely likes you, even though you’re fucking weird. On a 7-9, name someone you’ve fucked with in the past (maybe with one of your Brainer moves) and now they’re kinda scared of you. On a miss, name someone whose brain you’d like to fuck with, but you’ve never been able to. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Chopper,

When the characters are introducing themselves, ask whether any of them are in your gang.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hard and name an NPC. On a 10+, name your second-in-command. On a 7-9, name the least reliable member of your gang. On a miss, name someone who was in your gang but quit in less-than-amicable circumstances. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Driver,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+sharp and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who depends on you and your wheels, and why. On a 7-9, name someone else who’s good with cars (but not as good as you, of course). On a miss, name someone you wish you could get a read on, and why. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Gunlugger,

When you’re choosing moves, don’t choose NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH. Sorry, I’m an asshole, what can I say.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hard and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone you took something from by force, and what. On a 7-9, name someone you argued with recently and you haven’t really settled it yet. On a miss, name the person you care about most. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Hardholder,

Before you do anything else, read the next paragraph to yourself. If, during character creation, people ask questions about the holding and its surrounding environment, answer them using the information in that paragraph and the decisions you’ve made about it during your own character creation. At some point the holding will need a name: come up with one between you, or be boring and use the one I came up with: “Maxwell’s Fault”.

Your holding is situated on the edge of a once-massive multi-storey city which is now by and large just a crater full of rubble. There’s still treasure in the centre for those who go looking, but there’s danger, too – you never know what you’ll find there, and you don’t need a brainer to tell you that the psychic maelstrom gets more dark and violent the closer you get to the middle. Further out is ok, though, and most of the structures there are more or less intact, so there are multiple holdings like yours on the edges or just a little way inside the boundary. Outside there’s the Ash Waste, which is a mess of dust storms and scrubby vegetation. It’s cold, too, especially in winter when the snows are deep and the blizzards are bitter.

Now go ahead and create your character and your holding, according to the rules in your playbook.

When it’s your turn to introduce yourself to the group, tell them about the holding too, if you haven’t already.

When the characters are introducing themselves, ask whether any of them are in your gang.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hard and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone you need to protect. On a 7-9, name someone useful who’s playing ball for now, but you wish you had more leverage on them. On a miss, name the biggest troublemaker in the holding (maybe excepting the PCs). The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Hocus,

When the characters are introducing themselves, ask whether any of them are in your cult.

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+weird and name an NPC. On a 10+, name your most devoted follower. On a 7-9, name someone you’d like to convert to your cause. On a miss, name someone whose devotion is wavering. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Operator,

When you’re creating your character and you come to choose your gigs, discuss the choice with the group. Tell them the options, and ask if anyone wants to be part of your crew and what gigs they could help out with. (Ultimately, though, it’s your call which gigs you pick; you don’t have to pick one just because another character offers to help with it.)

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+cool and name a member of your crew. On a 10+, name the most reliable. On a 7-9, name the most skilful. On a miss, name one who hasn’t yet realised you’re taking advantage of them somehow. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Savvyhead,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+sharp and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who owes you a favour because you fixed their stuff. On a 7-9, name someone who has something you want – a piece of tech, maybe, or a tool, or maybe they just get access to the best loot from scavenger hunts. On a miss, name someone you depend on – for work, for help, for friendship, whatever. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

–//–

To the Skinner,

At the end of your turn in the Hx round, roll+hot and name an NPC. On a 10+, name someone who’s madly in love (or lust) with you. On a 7-9, name someone who’s told you their deepest secret. On a miss, name someone you’re (secretly?) in love with. The MC might tell you some other interesting things about this NPC, too – or they might not, yet.

Love,
Your MC

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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.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned a game idea I had, provisionally titled “CIC”. It’s inspired by Battlestar Galactica and Mass Effect, among other things – military sci-fi in flavour, but primarily about very real and very flawed people in positions of power and under a lot of pressure.

Back then I said that I might use Apocalypse World as a model, primarily because (a) its mechanics enforce a “nothing’s ever straightforward” narrative pattern that fits perfectly with the source material, and (b) I really like it.

And indeed, as I’ve started actually thinking about the design, I’ve decided that at least for the prototype, it will essentially be an Apocalypse World hack. That’ll give me enough framework to get started, and once I have something to test, I can adjust and move a bit away from AW if I want to.

(As it happens, there’s already an AW hack for BSG, by Sean Nittner. Sean was kind enough to let me see an early draft he was working on, and it looked excellent – but a little too BSG-specific for what I’m wanting to do here. He’s updated it a lot since that draft, though, and I really need to go and catch up with the developments.)

Anyway, after a whole bunch of writing, editing, re-thinking and procrastinating, here are the high-level basics so far. It’s not yet a full prototype, but it’s a start.

Basic Moves & Stats

These essentially go hand-in-hand. Once you know what moves people are going to make, you can group them into associated blocks and have a stat powering each one. So I started by listing all the things I’d want characters to be able to do – not literally everything, you understand, but all the things that should be dramatically important, i.e. the things the system should focus on. I came up with a whole bunch of moves, far more than would be usable, but I combined some and removed some and have whittled it down to:

  • Command
    • Tell someone “or else…”
    • Drive a hard bargain
  • Charm
    • Promise someone something
    • Bluff, lie or misdirect
  • Fight
    • Make a daring attack (physical or social!)
  • Grit
    • Remain calm under pressure
  • Tactics
    • Control a situation
    • Read a situation
  • Mystic
    • See visions
    • Get a bad feeling about this
  • Hx (as per the AW stat)
    • Read a person

That’s still a few more than I’d like, but I’ll run some playtests and see how I might be able to cut the list down. There are also some obvious things missing – e.g. the first move I came up with, “Give someone an order they don’t like” – but they’ll come later as part of the character-specific moves.

I’ll go into more detail on these in future posts, or maybe just by releasing the damn game :-) There’ll also be a separate set of moves for battles – along the lines of the battle moves in AW, but very slightly more detailed, and in this game they won’t be optional. (Those rules are right for AW, but I think for a military game the battles need to have more support for driving the story. I may be wrong! We’ll see.)

Character Creation

To me, the unique playbooks of Apocalypse World didn’t fit with the source material. I decided to go with a more modular approach, building stuff in from a few different lists to construct a full character. So, characters will have:

  • Area of Operations: Senior Military, Junior Military, Tech, Political, Religious, Scientific, etc.
  • Position: this is the official position in the fictional social structure – President, Aide, Chief Scientist, Admiral, XO, CAG, Priest, etc. Available Positions obviously depend on the chosen Area of Operations.
  • Role: this is the persona of your character – something that’s only identifiable outside of the fiction, unlike Position which is an in-fiction concept. Things like Hotshot, Prophet, Troublemaker, Agitator, Paragon, etc. Needs a better name, I think.
  • Virtues & Flaws – just to add a little definition to your character. How does your President/Prophet behave? How does your Admiral/Paragon come across?

These choices will give the character their stat adjustments, character-specific moves and Hx setup details. The top three at least will be changeable via the character development mechanics – e.g. becoming a Prophet when previously you were a Troublemaker.

Cast

For this game to work well, I think it needs quite a big cast of characters. One of the key things to focus on is the inter-relationship between the different types of power – essentially the different Areas of Operations above – and there need to be enough characters than we can examine interactions both within and between those groups. As a result, I think the game will ask players to play more than one character (*gasp*).

Each player will have a handful of characters, and indeed the GM’s (or MC’s, in Apocalypse World terms) characters will be limited only to supporting cast – pretty much anyone who’s going to be significant in the story should be played by a non-MC player. (There may be exceptions for characters on other “sides”, but they won’t be the focus of play anyway.) The MC’s job will be to put pressure on if needed, but largely the story will come out of the interactions among these many protagonists. Note this also means everyone will have Hx (which is a PC-only stat) with all other significant characters, which is why Hx for Read Person (way above) is hopefully not as unusable as it initially appears.

Action Stations!

So those are the first steps. More in subsequent posts, but probably not until I’ve put up some stuff about the other games I’m working on… :-) As ever, if anything catches your interest and you want to hear more, let me know!

Ok I know I’m being really slack on the blog at the moment. I’ll be back soon I promise! I’ve been doing a whole bunch of gaming and I have lots of Thoughts to dump.

In the meantime, here’s a quote I just came across which I thought was a brilliant metaphor for the sort of play I like. (Thanks to Carl Rigney who sent it to me along with a whole lot of great advice for running Apocalypse World as a one-off rather than as a campaign.)

“It’s like pinball! Like a pinball table. The inclined plane
is the game’s fiction, the marble is the moment of play, and
all the paddles and wheels and bumpers and light-ups and flags
and whatever are the moves. Their job is to give energy to the
marble, make it go faster, with spin, in different directions,
unpredictably and excitingly. As player, you have more or less
control over your own set of paddles, your own moves, but none
of them let you really drive the ball.”

— Vincent Baker re Apocalypse World

Now that’s what I want from a roleplaying game.

Alright, enough theory. During my blogging hiatus a few tiny ideas have bubbled up in the cauldron of my brain, and some of them might turn into actual games. I thought I’d post them here in case anyone’s curious or has any thoughts to add.

These are all in very early stages of development – most are just nagging little thoughts that might never make the leap to being a real project. I’ve certainly no idea yet what insights they might show. But here they are.

CIC

This is the one I’ve thought about the most; a game that portrays the kind of military sci-fi seen in stuff like Battlestar Galactica, the Mass Effect series, some bits of Star Wars, maybe even a touch of Firefly. The stuff where there’s this big military operation going on, with all its tactics and plans and gunfire and “take cover!”, but what actually matters is the relationships and interactions between the people involved. (Alright that doesn’t matter that much in Mass Effect, but they’re trying.)

I think Apocalypse World will be a good model for this – it’s nice and simple, and its partial success rules fit perfectly with the “nothing ever goes smoothly” feel that is so prominent in the source material. With that in mind, I’ve adopted a “moves”-based pattern like AW, and I’ve started listing the moves I’m going to want for this game. In keeping with the military theme, I’ll probably need a slightly more detailed combat system than AW – but hopefully not too much so.

Horde

In my notes this game is literally no more than that single word: “Horde”. I guess it must have been just after I watched 28 Days Later for the first time (I know) over Christmas.

I think what I’m interested in here is mechanics that really make a story out of a zombie apocalypse. Can I make an endless sea of repetitive enemies into an engaging and ongoing plot? I guess I’ll have to look to films like that for my inspiration – if they can make a story out of it, then I’ll bet it’s possible to make a game that makes those stories.

Shadow

I came across Carl Jung’s concept of “the shadow” recently. Very (very!) roughly, the theory is that shortcomings and instincts that we consciously repress from our personalities linger in a “shadow” in our unconscious mind. This got me thinking.

I’ve barely read anything about it (yet), and the game is by no means meant to be an accurate representation of the theory, but I did think it would be interesting to have two different players playing different aspects of the same character – kind of like Sorcerer but where the demon is played by another player, not the GM. Obviously this could easily get frustrating; it might not make a workable game at all.

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

Some roleplaying games leave you tingling, walking home after sessions still immersed in the fiction you’ve been creating. The games that have done this for me most consistently have been those in contemporary horror settings where the GM has succeeded in producing a real sense of menace lurking round every corner.

… And I’d like to try my hand. The biggest challenge will be writing a system that actively contributes to the evil-is-everywhere mood. No clunky dice pools or sanity checks to get in the way here, please – just simple mechanics that allow the horror to emerge through play rather than being rated on a sheet. I’m quite intrigued by the Unknown Armies setting; while bits of it were absurd, a lot of it was interesting and its flavour text was often really sinister. So I’ll look at that for inspiration.

From little acorns…

So there’s a handful. There are a few other mini-ideas rattling around but until they’re a little clearer this lot will do. I’ve done a bit of work on CIC already, so more on that in future posts. Meanwhile, do drop me a comment if anything piques your interest.