[Apocalypse World] Power levels

edited October 2012 in Story Games
I've been thinking about the power level of Apocalypse World, which starts you off as some of the baddest motherfuckers around and has you progress (if you live) to become THE baddest motherfuckers around. Right?

How does this manifest itself mechanically in the game? How much power do you start with, and how much power is locked away in the advancement system? How much of it is mechanical power (having good stats, having a powerful move, having a large gun) and how much of it is fictional power (holding a high position, knowing a dude, owning an establishment)? How do you approach it when writing hacks?

Also you know, whatever else you can think of discussing. :-)

Comments

  • It stays about the same. You start 'powerful' and stay that powerful, pretty much. I mean, yeah, expanded moves or whatever.

    IMHO, you start simple and get complicated.

  • The scope of the PCs' actions also tends to expand -- which is one of the ways (or maybe THE way) it gets more complicated.

    The kind of things the power is used to address shift, too. The PCs start out with powerful tools to deal with immediate concerns, like not starving, or winning fights, or whatever -- at first, those things are enough to create meaningful complications and interesting trouble. Eventually most PCs get to the point where all that stuff is covered -- at which point they tend to start addressing the underlying problems that made all those basic issues so dire in the first place.

    Mechanically, PCs eventually tend to get to the point (some sooner than others) where they roll far fewer misses than in that initial, scrabbling-for-survival stage. This is part of why the scope expansion is important -- now the meaningful complications and interesting trouble are going to come from the structural problems of their circumstances (i.e. Fronts), not from their inability to deal with immediate threats. You can win every fight in the world but that won't necessarily make your Holding any less vulnerable to wasteland raiders; you can seduce the zombie queen, but that doesn't stop the plague. The real problems of Apocalypse World are not problems that can be directly solved at the scope on which the basic moves operate. They can only be solved through the fictional positioning that those moves help govern.

  • Vincent has a good post on the AW forums about how the playbooks balance, in terms of different kinds of effectiveness (mechanical, fictional, mindshare/coolness) Lemme dig it up...

    http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/index.php?topic=472.msg4307#msg4307

    Start there. Some more comments to expand on it follow.
  • It stays about the same. You start 'powerful' and stay that powerful, pretty much. I mean, yeah, expanded moves or whatever.

    IMHO, you start simple and get complicated.
    That's true; I actually think you start out mechanically competent and then your actions in the fiction establish you as a mover and a shaker (or you get moved and shaked to death). The advancement rules just give you more to do... but what about things like direct stat improvements? Does that make you more competent mechanically, or does it expand your options, or some mix of the two?

    I'll be back; gonna go read the thread John linked (thanks!).
  • The implication of "you are THE gunlugger" sorta makes the PCs movers and shakers by default at the start of the game. I honestly think that xp and progression is really just there because it's expected- some hacks do away with it, even. Most playbooks have tons of available moves from the get-go, it's just that they only get two of them to start. Those other moves aren't more or less suited to big tasks versus plain survival, so I don't think it's necessarily the additional moves that force the character to take on bigger issues. That's just how games tend to play out in practice.
  • I dunno. Go play Dogs for a bit. Mechanical effectiveness is sorta a moot point in that game because the nature of the GM's role. It's not really about getting what you want as a PC but seeing what'll cost you.

    AW is similar in that regard. The dice just introduce some randomness to keep things interesting and surprising. Having +2 or +3 isn't really that important of a distinction.

    Fiction first, right?
  • On a +2, 41.7% of the time, your actions do not have negative repercussions. (8+ nets a 10+ result.) You miss 16.7% of the time (4 or under.)

    On a +3, 58.3% of the time, your actions do not have negative repercussions. (7+ nets a 10+ result.) You miss 8.3% of the time (3 or under.)

    That's significantly different in my book. (It's totally cool if it isn't in your's!) I've mainly played DW, and it seems that AW is likely a different beastie. It just seems like challenging players changes significantly at level 3 when they get the +3 -- I start taking harder moves because they roll them considerably less often, and half as often on their primary stat (which is more relevant in DW, when you might use one stat more often than others.)
  • Good point. However, in AW the negative repercussion might be a bunch of announce future badnesses. MC choices can muddy those differences pretty quickly.
  • So talking past me is cool and all, but like at least read Dogs in the Vineyard. Or AW if you haven't, seeing as it's the game we're sawing on. Not trying to be too much of asshole about it, but like, uh, seriously.

    Assuming the disconnect is my terseness, I'll elaborate.

    The idea isn't to try and hose the Dogs with lots of big dice or whatever, but rather make them want to give even if you've got shit for dice. I mean, if you have three PCs being all 'three in authority', you can't beat them mechanically, e.g. with dice-probability, ever. But that doesn't matter because the GM isn't trying to beat them with the dice. The GM is reveling the town and pushing the stakes and raising hard, so that the Dog's have to make serious statements about the price of their souls and the blood on their hands. You know, about what's right.

    My point isn't that +2 is the same as +3 (no shit) but rather if you're running AW close to the bone, then the fictional positioning is going to be what hoses them (or not). Cause the PCs are pretty potent and the dice are mostly in their favour. That's good because AW is pretty fucking mean, so they're going to need it those 10+'s just to keep the knives outta their guts, or keep them firmly in some others.

    Fronts aren't going to be solved by a couple (or any number) of lucky rolls.

    I mean, shit, you're not going to unbreak the world cause you can murder and manipulate most anyone no problem.
  • That's kinda what I was getting at with my post. It's not the additional moves that really make characters more effective or push them towards bigger goals. It's that they start out as Important People by default and the game structure itself pushes them toward Big Things.
  • I've played Dogs a lot, and I've played a lot of AW. I'm mostly interested in the conversation rather than a definite endpoint. I'll go and read a few things to be on the same page as the people who respond, but I'm not particularly interested in terminal answers.

    I'll be back to respond to people later; I feel like shit at the moment. Thanks for everyone's responses so far! I have things to think about.
  • Re-reading the initial post, I see that you're after a general discussion of how power level is reflected in the mechanics. In the games that I've played, I wouldn't say that the PCs' power level changed much, to be honest. The game world changed an awful lot because of stuff they did, but I'd say the characters themselves only marginally gained power. My experience has been more "exploration of the world" than anything.
  • I think their perception of their power level changes a lot, at least, because a lot of what they're willing to do is informed by all the cool shit they have on their playbooks. I think part of the reason the game works so well ("just a day in the life of the apocalypse") is because the playbooks are so filled with neat shit to think about and expand on.

    At least, in my experience. My players definitely felt more powerful by the end, especially with +3 stats and expanded moves letting them actually transcend the apocalypse every once in a while.
  • (Other people have said this upthread, but...)

    The power that the characters have over other people certainly increases. When you start you can be pretty good at talking people into things, or killing them, or knowing what they're up to, but only one. When you end up with +3, +3, +2, +2, +2 for stats, you're really good at all of that.

    But you'll notice that the savvyhead workspace rules never change. And you might be better at manipulating the maelstrom by having +3 to open your brain and augury (and you can also make NPCs into allies and take control of holdings and gangs and followers, sure), but your ability to really affect the setting still depends primarily on your ability to have a conversation with the MC about it.
  • Yeah, I agree with Johnstone here. I feel like most of the PCs' power is based in the game fiction itself. They certainly gain moves and improve stats, but the real power feels to me like it comes from being Important People making Big Decisions right from the get-go. As players get used to having this power, they really exercise it (as opposed to other games where you "earn" the priviledge of authority).
  • Improvement in AW seems less labout the character becoming more powerful and more about the player gaining narrative control. The more you at rolls succeed, the less the MC can make hard moves. The more "powers" you have, the more stuff you can easily inject into the fiction. You can change or even destroy fronts just by picking new features for your hold/gang/cult, hitting a 12+ on a seduce/manipulate, etc. The story starts with the simple facts of the PC's lives, evolves into the MC beating them over the head with those facts, then evolves into the players get control of the facts.
  • I can't agree with the equation that fewer misses = fewer hard moves. That's an illusion. It looks like a logical conclusion, if you draw all your hard moves from the dice, and you play a game that doesn't stray far from the areas where the characters can increase their mechanical effectiveness.

    But you can draw your hard moves from the fiction as well. "Golden opportunity," right? All you need to make a hard move is a setup move. If you set up some kind of disaster in the fiction, and the players don't come up with a solution, in the fiction, you make a hard move. That's an area where mechanical effectiveness might give players more options to deal with a threat on paper (ie on the sheet), but if you introduce a problem that can't be immediately solved by a move, by seducing someone or killing someone, then every character is on the same playing field, and it's up to the players' creativity.

    You're right that there's a lot of room for affecting the world through mechanical means by making allies, or using improvements to change things, or turning certain NPCs into your gang or whatever, but there's still an art to translating that mechanical change into fiction.

    For example: In one game, the hardholder's people were getting pretty tired of his autocratic style and his constant warmongering, so when he abandoned them to become a Faceless, my Brainer stepped into a leadership position and promised more democracy and to allow the other leaders of the holding an equal say in running things. He even drafted a constitution for them, and we all signed it, I switched playbooks to Hoarder, with a hoard consisting of "plant, anima & human specimens" and "others' castoffs & discards" (since the hardholder had discarded his people), that was conscious and spoke in my mind. Bam, psychic hardholder.
  • On a +2, 41.7% of the time, your actions do not have negative repercussions. (8+ nets a 10+ result.) You miss 16.7% of the time (4 or under.)

    On a +3, 58.3% of the time, your actions do not have negative repercussions. (7+ nets a 10+ result.) You miss 8.3% of the time (3 or under.)
    What you mean is, your actions do not have negative repercussions that are not the direct consequence of your action's success. A miss adds negative externalities -- a hit creates as many problems as the fiction demands. Rolling an 11 to shoot the town's only medic in the head... or the one guy who knows how to fix the generator... or the lover of the cannibal bike gang leader who lives in the wasteland... that still has negative repercussions.
  • edited October 2012
    Okay, so the common thought is that you don't get much more powerful, if you get more powerful at all, via the advancement rules in AW.

    What... the fuck does advancement do, then? I know this has been touched upon already (increasing narrative control), but I think further discussion is where we'll find the beef, as it was once said.

    I'm not gonna start; I'm the one with the question. I honestly don't know anymore! What do you lot think?
  • I dunno man. When I played AW, my hardholder definitely got more powerful. He got +3 Hard, got to roll Hard instead of Cool when Acting Under Fire, became the equivalent of a small gang in combat, got a bigger hardhold and a bigger gang. My end-of-game character could eat my beginning-of-game character for breakfast.

    (obviously, those powers were in reference to, y'know, a story that centered on my guy growing his hardhold. is this controversial? compare: in D&D, my high-level attack bonus is more powerful only in reference to a story centered on fighting things.)
  • I'm not sure either. People are saying smart things but I still don't have a clear view. If you have hard+3, you are definitely harder than most people, but does that make you more powerful? What's the definition of "power"? Consequence-free action? I don't think so. Maybe, though.

    I'm just not sure.

    "That guy, Balls, is hard+3 as fuck. Or he was, before Jeep shot him in the dick and he bled to death in the back of a fucking van."
  • edited October 2012
    Lemme try it this way:

    -- Improvements make you more powerful within a certain limited scope: killing people is easier, doing dangerous things is easier, people listen to you more often, you get more info from the MC. Whether or not this power solves your problems is dependent on other factors, though.

    -- Improvements give you more obvious options. Moves are obvious options, and you get more of them. Getting people you command to do things is an obvious option, so the more people you command, the more you can do with them. Whether or not you can do any of the same things without special moves, though, is dependent on the conversation between you and the MC. Like, you can escape without Eye on the Door or Fuck this Shit, right? But you can't just point to a move and say "I'm 'a roll this one, yeah?" Again, whether or not these options solve your problems, or just give you more problems, is dependent on the fiction of the particular campaign.

    -- Improvements allow you to make concrete statements about the fiction. Like, "I'm gonna get a gang and pack alpha. Since I just impressed the wasteland cannibals, I think they're going to become my gang now. Cool?" Or you say "this character here is my ally. You have to take your crosshairs off them, MC, and you can't just waste this one unless I fuck up and endanger them." This can have a major impact on the fiction, as much as burning down a holding with your grenade launcher, as much as speaking truth to a mob so they do what you want. How much impact you have, and whether you have the exact impact you want to have, is dependent on the fiction and the conversation you are having with the MC.

    So basically, when you get more and more powerful, if your MC just puts mechanically-based problems in front of you (like this is a small gang, 3-harm, 1-armour, fight!) you get better at solving your problems. If the MC puts problems in front of you that are entirely fictional in nature (the water is poisoned, Keeler has the plague), then your improvements don't necessarily make you more powerful, since whatever choice you make will have its own consequences.

    You definitely feel more powerful when the lowest stat you ever use is a +2, though.
  • edited October 2012
    Oh, hm. I just finished reading the thread that John linked; it was very helpful.

    I think I know what everyone is saying now. You do get more powerful, but in wicked different ways, on different axes. That's so obvious now that it hurts. Thanks especially to Jonnstone; that last post is killer.

    eta: I need to play this fucking game again, who wants to try something over Skype or Google Hangout or whatever? :D
  • edited October 2012
    Yeah, I think bottom line is that obviously advancements increase your mechanical effectiveness, but it isn't a game where that's the sole measurement of "power".
  • But also that advancements come in different flavors. Augury is of a different breed than increase the stat of your choice by +1, for example. Would you agree with that?
  • Another aspect of this power-through-advancement discussion is that you can also feel hemmed in. When you get so much more able in one aspect than the others, because you've advanced that way, you're more likely to be looking for problems that can be solved with that tool or for ways to solve other problems that way even when it's not a good fit. Like the adage about everything looking like a nail when all you have is a hammer.
  • Another aspect of this power-through-advancement discussion is that you can also feel hemmed in. When you get so much more able in one aspect than the others, because you've advanced that way, you're more likely to be looking for problems that can be solved with that tool or for ways to solve other problems that way even when it's not a good fit. Like the adage about everything looking like a nail when all you have is a hammer.
    This is 100% true, and I view that as a feature of the system. Once the Gunlugger or Skinner is convinced they can shoot or talk their way out of anything, they invariably will get into a situation where they're in over their head. That's a goldmine, right there.
    But also that advancements come in different flavors. Augury is of a different breed than increase the stat of your choice by +1, for example. Would you agree with that?
    Definitely agree. I'm thinking that AW games are much less focused on mechanical accomplishment and more on actual accomplishments within the fiction. The advancements may have quite a bit of influence over the tone of the campaign; which problems get solved and how.
  • It's all about the 12+ results. Those are both mechanically and fictionally insanely powerful.
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