Starting my first Apocalypse World game

edited October 2012 in Play Advice
I'm looking for some advice about NPC family members and "looking through the crosshairs."

I'm getting ready to start my first game of Apocalypse World. It'll be over Google Hangouts and starting either tomorrow or next Friday depending on whether the other game that my group is playing is going to be ready for this week or not.

Rather than electronically hand out the playbooks during the first session, I sent out the playbooks a week ahead so that people'd have a chance to read them and print out which ever they needed before the game starts.

One of my players came back with this: "Leanin' toward either a rook Quarantine (primarily for crazy plot-reveals about the past), or a grizzly ole' Chopper (which I trust means biker, right?) who's in love with an NPC Touchstone. Hell, maybe he even has a daughter to protect..." (I don't want to allow the Quarantine, and told him so.)

So, according to the principles, I should look at such NPCs (lover and daughter) through the crosshairs. They should be involved in triangles, and so on. And I'm not supposed to protect them.

I think this is where I'm looking for advice. First off, is that a correct interpretation of the principles? And assuming it is, I'm wanting to set expectations correctly, because it's certainly different from the expectations in games I've played with this group. I haven't really decided how best to set such expectations, however.

Any thoughts?

Comments

  • edited October 2012
    Yes and yes! Don't forget that there is no NPC 'playbooks', there may be other bike gangs with a leader, but there is only one Chopper. So hopefully another player chooses a Touchstone, but if they don't, encourage lots of provocative questions that tie two player characters together with an NPC. This sets up good unbalanced status quo scenes from the get go.

    "So you're in love with [PC touchstone]? (ask Touchstone player) So he acts all protective of his daughter, yeah? What's her name? And what hidden powers does she have that you lust after?"

    That sort of thing. If it comes time that the daughter's life is on the line, don't make it your fiat, offer it up as a stake and give the PCs a hard bargain or ugly choice on a miss, where one of the results is the daughter's life. That's looking through crosshairs.
  • I already explained to him that an NPC wouldn't be "the Touchstone" but that that's no reason why they couldn't be a visionary character out to change the world who's also good in a fight. I'm not expecting the other players to step up and volunteer to play the lover there, but if they surprise me that'd be cool.

    So, back to looking through the crosshairs, I'm thinking that for the random schmo NPC, death can be basically arbitrary. There was battle and there were casualties and, well, it was just his unlucky day. For NPCs the PCs really care about, the PCs should be involved (like you say with the hard bargain or ugly choice) if death is on the line. Probably also if major injury is on the line, too. But capture or minor injury or other similar moves which put pressure on the PCs are basically fine whenever they fit with the fiction and lead to an interesting story and such.

    Hopefully I'm getting this... :-)
  • It absolutely can be that visionary out to change the world - I happen to find it better to refer to NPCs without the playbook both to prevent confusion and to better immerse the world. You won't be calling them a Touchstone in game, but by whatever they are, so it's generally a pretty good habit to get into. Really a technicality though.

    And yes, I think you have it right. This is pretty much an intersection of two Principles. You look through crosshairs, meaning you don't try to protect your NPCs and you shouldn't treat them with kid gloves. However, you're also a fan of the player characters, and a facet of that is not arbitrarily taking away what makes them special, and it does specify that this goes beyond just their necessary pieces to function as their playbook (don't remove the gunlugger's guns, but also don't remove his antique photo collection that defines him). This lover sounds important enough that it is in integral part of this character's concept.

    I think an interesting place to look is the Advanced version of Seduce/Manipulate. It adds the result on a 12+ that they do what you want and change their nature to some form of ally. But it also specifies this: "This is serious business and don't risk the players' trust by fucking around with it. Take that NPC out of whatever front she's in, list her in a whole new place, home instead of the home front.
    Furthermore, stop looking at this NPC through crosshairs. She has been set apart, safe from casual death, to a higher purpose. By now the players are bone weary from knowing that every single NPC is, at her heart, only a potential threat to them. Now, this one person, they can breathe."
    Not to be taken lightly, but it sounds like a decent approach would be to, essentially, start with the lover in home. You can go after them, but it won't be just casual death.

    Does that help at all?
  • Yeah, thanks. That helps a lot. I also like the fact that if the lover is a visionary out to change the world, that's a fertile source of disruption and trouble for everybody, so hopefully I can make them be someone who's alive and interesting, not just someone who stands in the background filling a line item on their character background.

    I'm definitely getting excited about running this game. Nervous, too. This feels like it's going to be a step up for me to pull this off, but every time I read the book or read what other people have done with the game, I really want to play and see if I can't get somewhere in the same ballpark.
  • I already explained to him that an NPC wouldn't be "the Touchstone" but that that's no reason why they couldn't be a visionary character out to change the world who's also good in a fight.
    I think it's important to remember that all NPCs are threats of some kind, that they have simple motivations, and that they follow their parts around. I would be very wary of having an NPC who provides the primary 'vision' for a future world, without making it extremely clear that there are many, many problems with said vision, and that said vision will never come about without the active intercession of PCs, etc. Crazy culty leaders are part and parcel with the genre, but sensible, rational actors who have effective ways of bringing about social change are pretty strictly PC territory.

    Anyways it sounds like you have the right idea here, in terms of them being a source of disruption & trouble -- I would just make a point of trying to formalize that into a specific type of threat sooner than later. Also make sure that the player understands that the only way to get an NPC who is actually reliably on their side is to roll a 12+ with an 'open' manipulate move -- and good luck keeping their lover alive that long.
  • I think I may just turn some of this back on the player and ask. See if he's thinking this is just the person he's currently with or if she's his true love. And also clarify how much the visionary aspect was part of what he was going for when he was looking at Touchstone. (I know that I found the playbooks hard to get the feel for at first, so he might have read something else into it, too.) We'll see what he says.
  • Try not to plan too much or have too many conversations about it before you start play. These questions you have about these NPCs, they're perfect for the first session. Note them down if you want the reminder, but save them for play to ask.

    -Vincent
  • edited October 2012

    I think it's important to remember that all NPCs are threats of some kind, that they have simple motivations, and that they follow their parts around. I would be very wary of having an NPC who provides the primary 'vision' for a future world, without making it extremely clear that there are many, many problems with said vision, and that said vision will never come about without the active intercession of PCs, etc. Crazy culty leaders are part and parcel with the genre, but sensible, rational actors who have effective ways of bringing about social change are pretty strictly PC territory.
    I'm not quite sure what I'm trying to say, but:

    It's not necessarily that all NPCs are objective threats. There doesn't need to be flaws with an NPC's primary vision for the future, there just needs to be the perception of flaws. So have him spout all kinds of humanitarian goodness and shit, but have her spout it in a way that forces the PCs to react! Maybe this NPC is following her heart around, but her heart is a soft organ in a hard world. Her rational plan is going to get chewed the fuck up by irrational forces.

    I guess what I mean is: play to find out! What would happen if a powerful NPC had a rational vision for the future? Who knows, but I'm excited to find out!

    eta: Also, dude, you're going to have a blast. Don't stress, follow your interpretation what of the book says, and ask lots of questions! :-)
  • edited October 2012
    Apart from the all important "Ask Questions", I'd say, *take your time with your moves* is the most important piece of advice.

    It is well worth reviewing the moves list if you are even a little unsure about a an MC move you are about to make.
  • On the whole daughter thing, and looking through crosshair:

    I really like the Monsterhearts "Treat you NPCs like stolen cars". I think it is almost the same as looking through crosshairs, but I understand that wording better. I might be wrong here.

    I think that you should talk to the player, and either ask him if it is okay for you to mess around with his daughter, or tell him that you are going to do it, just to prepare him. One of my player recently had his main motivation (in the form of a lover) die on him, and he needs to rethink his approach to the campaign. This is not a bad thing, but I think it is a lot easier for everyone if it's clear from that start that it is a possible outcome.

    And remember, as in "fuck around with", not as in "fuck over"...
  • Also, don't forget: be a fan of the characters. Keep their lives interesting.

    So, don't protect the daughter.... but at the same point, if the cool thing about the character is that he's this grizzled biker leader who loves his daughter more than life itself, don't just off the broad because lol crosshairs. Treat her like the driver's car, or the savvyhead's workspace. If honesty to the fiction demands that she dies, yeah, definitely, probably the chopper's fault for letting it get that far, but don't aim for it.

    Some questions I'd ask in the first session:

    How old's your daughter? She dating anyone? Want to date anyone that you didn't approve of? How did you solve that problem?
    So, another hungry mouth to feed, huh? What sacrifices have you made to make sure your daughter has food, clean water, medicine, all that stuff? And who are you getting all of the above from, anyway?
    So what's the best offer you've gotten for someone who wanted to buy your daughter from you? What did you do to the fucker who asked?
  • I really like the Monsterhearts "Treat you NPCs like stolen cars". I think it is almost the same as looking through crosshairs, but I understand that wording better. I might be wrong here.
    I don't own/haven't read Monsterhearts, so I'm not sure I totally get that.

    I think that you should talk to the player, and either ask him if it is okay for you to mess around with his daughter, or tell him that you are going to do it, just to prepare him.
    Yeah, that's why I asked about setting expectations. And I take your advice as, "Do it. And probably do it explicitly," which is helpful. I've already asked a few questions about how he sees the relationship with the lover and essentially asking him to describe her without calling her a Touchstone to see what he meant by that. The other GM came through with his game for last Friday, so my first session is this Friday. I'm currently not planning to push the questions much until the actual start of the game so that I can at least try not to overplan... :-)


    Thanks everyone for the advice. It's helping.
  • edited October 2012
    How old's your daughter? She dating anyone? Want to date anyone that you didn't approve of? How did you solve that problem?
    So, another hungry mouth to feed, huh? What sacrifices have you made to make sure your daughter has food, clean water, medicine, all that stuff? And who are you getting all of the above from, anyway?
    So what's the best offer you've gotten for someone who wanted to buy your daughter from you? What did you do to the fucker who asked?
    Wow. Those are good questions! I'd definitely planned on the first one. I hadn't taken it far enough to get to the later ones. I think part of that was because I have the impression that he's thinking the daughter is relatively young. But even there: Who takes care of her during the day? Does she go with the mother when she's out pursing her vision? and so on.

    Edit: The resource questions are still good no matter how young she is. Probably the question about an offer to buy her, too.

  • I don't own/haven't read Monsterhearts, so I'm not sure I totally get that.
    IF you didn't know, Monsterhearts has a lot of principles just like Apocalyspe World, many of which are parallel ones to the AW ones rewritten to a more suitable style for the genre. Treat your NPCs like Stolen Cars is the parallel to Look Through Crosshairs.

    Here, have a look!
    "Treat Your NPCs like stolen cars: Think of the characters you play as stolen cars. You're in control of them for a time, but you don't own them and you can't really keep them. You hold onto them for as long as they're fun and useful, and abandon them when they become dead weight.
    The other players, they own their characters and are loyal to them. That isn't the case for you. Joyride your characters. Play them recklessly, and play them knowing that they aren't going to last. If you do so, you'll have constant drama, constant sex, constant violence, and constant chaos. That's ideal."
    - hope you don't mind Joe Mcdaldno!

    I think that Stolen Cars is a good way to put NPCs because it definitely sounds a lot more like being casual with the death of your characters and not getting attached, whereas look through crosshairs almost sounds like you should be actively gunning down your NPCs, which I don't think is the point at all.
  • edited October 2012

    I think that Stolen Cars is a good way to put NPCs because it definitely sounds a lot more like being casual with the death of your characters and not getting attached, whereas look through crosshairs almost sounds like you should be actively gunning down your NPCs, which I don't think is the point at all.
    Hmmm, I slightly disagree. Look through crosshairs applies to everything, not just NPCs, it means that in the post-apoc AW setting everything is decay, everything is vulnerable... at least without the PCs actively doing something about it. So they are related, but different - which is cool because they are different settings.

    Edited: fixed quoting
  • I like that. I see how, as robb points out it's parallel rather than just a restatement, but it's a neat way to put it. A different, but useful emphasis, maybe.
  • That's true, but I mean mostly what you think when you hear. I definitely think they ARE different, but similar, and when taken in the context of NPCs specifically the name sounds more active than in the MH version. I absolutely agree with what you're saying when you really look at Look Through Crosshairs, but my initial impression (mostly triggered by the names of the principles) thinks of Look Through Crosshairs as more active than Treat NPCs as Stolen Cars. Perhaps I'm the only one who got that initial impression though.

    But yeah, that's definitely why I phrased it as parallel, not reskinning. They really do have different connotations when taken further than the very surface.
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