[Apocalypse World] Crow's Flats: Skyfall, a Mini-campaign starter

I started running a short-term (a handful of sessions) campaign of AW last week, and wasn't sure how creative, active, or involved my players would be, since they're hardened D&D heads and I haven't really played with them a whole lot.

To do a little prep and to make sure we had something to go on right off the bat, regardless of how passive or active the players might be, I put together this "campaign starter".

Feel free to read, comment, or use for your own games!

It could also work for a one-shot, if you make a strong effort to move through all the steps quickly, with little elaboration.

Crow's Flats: Skyfall (Dropbox link)

I'm fooling around with a variety of alternate rules, which you'll find some notes and shorthand for at the end of the document. Feel free to ignore those.

(I'll answer questions about them, if anyone's curious, of course.)


  • edited December 2017
    I stole a few ideas and details (as well as a couple of names) from Vincent's "Hatchet City and Blind-Blue" scenario, which I find fascinating and inspiring.

    So far I've played one session, with great success. A few highlights which came out of the setup:

    One of the players chose to be Blind-blue, as a Hocus: our Blind-blue turned out to be grotesque and misshapen but *also* magnetic and desirable, so his player quickly explained that Blind-blue was the head of a sort of fertility cult. He believes that the maelstrom has been affecting people's ability to bear children. Since he's unspoiled by the maelstrom himself, he can transmit fertility by physical contact (probably sex, in most cases).

    Blind-blue's fertility cult travels around and offers its women as "breeders", providing the desperate people of Apocalypse World with a chance to have healthy children.

    Dustwich is the oldest person around, an aged crone who remembers the Golden Age, and the head of the Bargers. However, the players decided that she was also the one who was unexpectedly pregnant! Naturally, there was no question who had done this: it was Blind-blue.

    I loved this development, since Dustwich's story now parallels the tale of Sarah from the Old Testament (who had a child at the age of 100 or something close to that).

    A couple of problems came up, but they were easily fixed at the table:

    * The player of the Angel chose to "inflitrate" someone's inner circles for the Love Letter, and decided that person would be Blind-blue - another PC.

    Since we had already established that they were allies and friends, the choices on the list didn't fit well at all.

    If you play this, tell the person choosing that love letter explicitly to "point" it at someone they'd like to take down.

    The choice to use their Special should only be allowed with the other PC's permission, of course. That's also important to note.

    * Start-of-session moves can feel a little redundant, given the strong starting situation for each character. I told them that, since the first session was short (spent most of the time going through setup and making characters), we'd roll those at the start of the second session and onwards.

    A tasty tidbit:

    One of the players asked, "Given how terrible people's circumstances are in the post-apocalypse, what do they do to distract themselves from their everyday circumstances, and how fucked up everything is?"

    Another answered, without hesitation, that they get high on drugs derived from mudfish. Its rectal glands produce a potent toxin, you see. Remove them from the fish while it's still alive (tricky business, that) and squirt that into your eyes, and you get a crazy high.

    So, that was a pretty spicy contribution! Turned the mood at the table up a notch.
  • Hey mate, this is fantastic stuff--I really like (both the form and the content) what you have here and this has helped me to visualize how to set up a cool sandbox. Thanks for sharing this!

    Also (I am new here, sorry), is there a place here that has more posts like this? I found this hugely inspirational.
  • edited December 2017
    Thanks, l33land! I appreciate the kind words.

    I wouldn't say that there is a particular place or repository for this kind of stuff - in fact, my approach to scenario setup in this fashion isn't exactly a widespread thing. However, you're welcome to start a new thread, if you can define what it is you're looking for!

    The "Crow's Flats" scenario is modeled after my own Lady Blackbird hack ("A Dinner in Nightport"), which does the same thing but in a much more focused and effective way. In comparison, "Crow's Flats" leaves a lot of bits and pieces to the players and group to settle, which shouldn't be difficult but does leave significant gaps. I really should post "A Dinner in Nightport" sometime, but I've hesitated because it needs a slight rewrite in a couple of sections. It's a fantastic scenario, and uses all the same techniques I have here.

    (In my ideal vision, I'd actually rewrite the Apocalypse World rules to be more like "A Dinner in Nightport"; then the conversion would be easier to handle.)

    Having said all that, the rest of the inspiration (you'll notice some mechanical ideas, like "Love Letters", which originate in there, as well as a few fictional details like the "mudfish" and the name "Blind-blue") for "Crow's Flats" comes from Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World scenario, "Hatchet City". It's very much worth a read!

    Hatchet City and Blind-blue

    Someone else derived their own version of Hatchet City, called Sunken Sydney:

    Sunken Sydney (you'll find a working link at the end of the thread)

    Finally, I've made another "campaign starter" for Apocalypse World, in quite a different style:

    Apocalypse: Emergence

    I would love to hear about other products, designs, or approaches which share something of the same design ethos. I find it effective and exciting - a great mix of pre-written, catchy fictional content and creative collaboration at the table.

    Somewhat in the same ballpark is the material in this other recent thread:

    [Tales of Entropy] I took a stab at farcical roleplaying
  • Thanks for sharing all this, Paul. I'm gonna take some time and peruse these, but even after a quick look through I can tell they are very cool. I'm especially keen on your "Emergence" concept, as I've been thinking on doing something similar for awhile now.

    As a GM, I've struggled to find a good Form to use to create compelling modules: The AW Form has been helpful, but I'm still learning and processing it all. Something about your Crow's Flats Campaign helped things "click" a bit for me. I really like the idea of leaving open spaces to allow the players to collaborate; I tend to grip things with an overly-tight fist, and err on the side of over-planning and anxiety.

    Anyway thanks again for your willingness to share your ideas. You do excellent work!
  • Thanks again, l33land.

    I used to be a rather heavy-handed GM, and it took me years to find ways to use my own ideas while still leaving room open for the players to put in their on twist.

    These days, that's somewhat how I think of gaming: every contribution you make should have some "fruitful void" in it - a place which requires or invites a decision or input from another participant. If you think about it, that's the very basis of the activity of roleplaying.

    The scenarios above are as GM-heavy as I would ever go, now, so it's interesting to me that you see them as exemplars of a more freeform or democratic approach. (I've been mostly playing GMless games for the last few years, with a handful of exceptions.)

    Since you like this kind of thing, let me also link you to my "starter playset" for Monsterhearts, which I've now used many times and has been a big hit:

  • I like that term “fruitful void”—that’s just right.

    When I GM games, the problem that often tends to crop up (and it could be partly the players) is that people don’t DO stuff, or they don’t seem to be able to envision the array of possibilities before them. There is a bit of a paradox, I think, in that form and constraint can often open up freedom and creativity. If you give players too much freedom, they can be crippled by it (or some can). If you narrow down the field of possibilities, it can sometimes be liberating.

    Thanks for sharing that other link, though I’m not as familiar with Monsterhearts or Fiasco. Looks like something I could use with in one of my high school classes for a quick pick up game!
  • That's exactly right:

    Freedom and constraint are very tightly coordinated concepts when it comes to creativity. I find that, given some clear prompts, no one at all has issues being "creative" or exercising their freedom. Our job as designers and GMs is to help bring forth the right combination of constraints and prompts.

    One thing I like about my scenario here is that it's equally effective (well, hypothetically -
    it's my first time playing it) with rather passive players, who can just pick obvious choices and deal with the immediate situation which results from that, and active or creative players who want to do something unique and cool, like the player who created Blind-blue as her character and more or less took over the aesthetic zeitgeist of the game with her original contributions. As soon as she threw out a few of those ideas, it became instantly clear to everyone at the table that everything else would revolve around those contributions - we all just want to see what happens to Blind-blue! Indeed, the other two characters are basically her sidekicks, as a result.
  • One of my impromptu experiments on prompts turned into this game here. It's surprisingly effective and easy to play (I've played it with young children as well as adults):

  • Ah yeah, I really like this—I’m gonna try and modify this a bit and try it in my Rhetoric class and call it an Invention game. :D
  • If you do, post about it afterwards! It would be fun to hear how it goes.
  • I played a (very short) second session of this game, which we treated as a "first session, part two" - the "have a fight" part, perhaps.

    It felt like a lot of work for me as the MC (I really wish I knew more about the characters and what they're into, and the players aren't always good at giving me material to work with), but they seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

    It was short but we got a lot done, which I think was not something they're used to (but liked). They keep saying they like the system a lot and comparing it to stuff they don't enjoy in D&D, which is interesting! (The usual DM says he gets annoyed sitting there while players look up their spells in their books and try to figure out what to do.)

    So, the game was enjoyable in retrospect, but felt a little bit difficult in the moment for me. I think we didn't establish enough connections from the PCs to all the stuff we brainstormed, so we're doing it on the fly. Apocalypse World doesn't help a ton on that front; I'm really missing having Desires or Keys or Beliefs or some other kind of orienting mechanism to work with.

    If you use this setup, really emphasize the importance of creating the characters as apart of the NPCs and relationship web you've all invested in during the brainstorm/creation phase.

    Afterwards, they said: "Cool! That felt like a TV show or a movie!"

    So that was good.
  • Sounds cool, Paul! I'll definitely take your feedback from the game into consideration. I'm planning on getting my group together in the near future, and I'm going to combine your form/ideas with the game system that I've been working on for the past few years. I'm pretty excited, and don't have any of the usual pre-game anxiety that I normally do!
    I've got a "Bonds" mechanic in my game, so hopefully that will help us to establish a web of connections with the characters we've created. I'm also playtesting a new idea that I'm hopeful about: Archetypes. I'm having each character pick/roll for 4 archetypes from a list of 12 (The Rebel, The Ruler, The Sage, etc) and each one has a primary goal or desire that broadly shows what that character would likely want to pursue in any given circumstance (Revolution Against the Powers That Be, Maintaining and Strengthening Order, Obtaining and Utilizing Knowledge, respectively) which I hope will (as I mentioned in an earlier post) help with giving some "freeing limitations" that spark creativity. We'll see how it goes.
  • I've done that kind of thing in the past, and it works great: just get each Archetype to "point" their primary goal or desire at an established element of the setting or relationship map and the game practically plays itself.

    I like doing "prep" in this way, for the same reasons you mention: it's freeing and exciting to head into the session itself, because you have lots of stuff to play with, but, at the same time, a) you're not 100% responsible for all the creative material and b) you're also in suspense, to a large extent, so getting together to play is exciting to you - what will happen? How will these puzzle pieces come together? You don't know!
  • An update:

    I've uploaded a new version of the Starter today. It has some more tips/advice and directions, based on my play experience with it, and an additional Love Letter.

    I'm less sure about this particular Love Letter, and I'd love to hear some thoughts on it.

    The good news is that, with four Letters, I feel much more comfortable saying that you don't need all of them in play, nor do all the players need one. (And, as you'll see, I've added some instructions to that effect.)
  • Very cool, Paul! If you ever get the time, I'd love to hear more about your experiences running this module, and how things actually went down in-game.

    I'm especially intrigued by your addition of the "MC's Die" (along with the "Players' Dice"). Seems very cool--have you tried that out in-game yet? I'm thinking of taking that idea and working into my game, but in an opposite way: the die given by the MC would function as a penalty in especially difficult situations to add an obstacle, when appropriate. You just keep inspiring me!

    I've actually spent the past few days dissecting and studying the introduction you wrote for Crow's Flats and trying to create a form based off of it. You do an incredible job creating (in a short space) a nuanced, detailed description of an interesting Place, and I want to be able to imitate that. Any advice on that front?
  • Also: Do you ever run games online? I want to play in one of your games!
  • edited January 2018
    Thank you! You're very kind.

    The game appears to have stalled, unfortunately - one of the players involved is too busy to continue, and the others "come as a unit" somewhat. We will see if that is actually the case, but my guess is that it's over.

    It's too bad, because Blind-blue's fertility/breeder cult was one of the more interesting things I've seen in a while in an RPG, and I was really looking forward to exploring those themes.

    I may start up another game with this "starter", though, to see if it has legs, and to see if I can do an even better job of it on a second run.

    I'm not likely to ever run this online, but if I do I can certainly send you an invite!

    As for the die types rules:

    We used all the modifications in the document in this game. There were a few spots where I had to give it a thought, in terms of conversions (I had forgotten about the Angel's roll+stock, for instance!), but I think it's all in the documents now.

    They work well; the odds and spread of outcomes are nice, and it feels good in play.

    I find it more interesting and fruitful to focus on creating "bonuses" for the players, generally speaking (that drives more interesting roleplaying behaviour), but you'll notice that, under my scheme, not giving someone a die to roll is effectively a "difficulty penalty", as you suggest. Take a look at my rules for using die types with the standard harm move for another example!

    It's a delicate balance, though. AW's simple roll+stat has a beauty to it, and a BIG part of that is not having to have a conversation each time you roll.

    Adding dice modifiers means that there's an extra step every time you roll, instead. And that sounds something you really feel - it drags down play just a little. You have try it and see if it's worth it for you.

    On the other hand, you're omitting one "math" operation, which allays that a little.

    In the game we played here, I only gave something other than a d4 once - Blind-blue was cornered by Tip's soldiers, staring into the headlights, almost unable to see at all. She decided to read a sitch, and she got no dice from the MC. It felt right. (And she rolled a 10+ anyway!)
  • As for the one page Intro, I'm glad you think it's effective! To be honest, I had to throw this together very quickly and so I didn't get to give it much thought. I just wanted something very evocative and colourful that fit on one page. (You may notice that, because I was writing so quickly, I stole a lot of ideas and elements rather shamelessly - Ambergrease, Blind-blue, and mudfish all come from Vincent's scenario "Blind-blue and Hatchet City".)

    If you find some kind of underling technique or form, please post about it here!
  • Here are some notes on how I've written up the "die types" rules before, in case that helps as illustration (it's a little different from what it says in the document, but it's the same mechanic, just presented in a slightly different way):
    Each time you roll the dice, ask three questions. For each answer, take that die.

    You get one die from the MC, one from your character, and one from the group.

    1. MC, how tough is my opposition? (MC answers.)

    * Beyond you. d4
    * Challenging. d6 (default: pick this one almost always)
    * Pathetic or faltering. d8

    2. Am I [hard/cool/etc] enough for this challenge? (You answer.)

    * Stat is negative. No dice.
    * Stat=0. d4
    * Stat+1. d6
    * Stat+2. d8
    * Stat+3. d10

    3. Is your character in a position to meet this challenge? (Answer as a group.)

    * No. You're totally unprepared, unequipped, or at some painful disadvantage. No dice.
    * Yes. You have the basics necessary to meet the challenge. d4
    * Yes, and. Yes, and you also have some advantage beyond the usual (you have JUST the perfect tool for the job, or you've taken the time to prepare or position yourself unusually well). d6
    * Yes, completely. Yes, and you have made sure everything is perfectly in place specifically for this action. d8

    Roll all the dice together and count the total of the highest two.

    Example 1:

    Keeler goes aggro on Dremmer, after bashing in Dremmer's buddy's head with a hammer.

    Keeler's player gets a d6 from the MC. (Maybe if she had previously seized by force and chosen to "dismay or frighten" Dremmer, she'd get a d8.)

    Keeler's hard+1, so she gets a d6 for that.

    Keeler's got what she needs in this situation (a weapon to threaten Dremmer), and a little more: she's holding a hammer covered in Dremmer's buddy's blood and grey matter, and poor Dremmer's just put two and two together. She gets a d6 here too.

    So, Keeler rolls d6+d6+d6. (Odds somewhere between rolling at +1 and +2.)

    Example 2:

    Later, she tries to seduce some weird mindfuck called Blindblue.

    We've established that Blindblue isn't interested in physical love, taking pleasure directly from the psychic maelstrom somehow. Keeler gets a d4 from the MC.

    Keeler's not terribly hot (hot=0), so she gets a second d4.

    Keeler's got what she needs to seduce someone (she's wearing some decent clothes, and has a chance to spend some time with Blindblue one-on-one), but nothing special beyond that. She gets a third d4.

    Her odds this time are pretty lousy: d4+d4+d4. (Odds are almost exactly like rolling at -1, except with no chance of a 10+ at all.) That's about as bad as it can get with these dice rules. But she could improve her odds by finding the right circumstances or preparing for this encounter in some way (how? maybe some weird psychic business - I don't know).

    Maybe if she could get all the circumstances set up just perfect to seduce this weirdo, she'd roll d4+d4+d8 instead, which is similar to rolling at +1 or so in regular AW.

    Example 3:

    Keeler has been captured and tied to a chair, but she's managed to stand up and to slip one of her arms out of the ropes tying her down. She goes aggro on the dude guarding her, trying to stun him so he'll drop his gun.

    She gets a d6 from the MC. (The dude is just a regular dude, of course.)

    She gets a d6 for her hard+1.

    She gets no dice for circumstances, because her circumstances are pretty bad: she's not really in a position to even make this move, hardly even that.

    So she rolls d6+d6 (like rolling 2d6+0 in AW).

    Example 4:

    Keeler's in her bunker, and this dude Balls has come with his cronies to "negotiate" with her -- except she's pretty sure the only kind of negotiating he's interested in is at the end of a knife. However, Keeler's got three security cameras set up which she can monitor, and she's removed all the trees near the entrance so she can observe anyone approaching for a good, long time.

    She rolls to read a charged situation. The MC gives her a d6.

    She's wicked sharp (sharp+2), so she takes a d8.

    Everything is set up perfectly for this: she's got Balls exactly where she wants him, and she can see everything while he has no idea where she's even watching from. She gets another d8 here.

    So, she'll be rolling d6+d8+d8 (very similar to rolling 2d6+3 in AW).


    Finally, any move that gives a +1forward should be handled in one of two ways. If it establishes you as having some kind of advantage (which most of them do), that'll affect the group's choice of the third die. If it's a purely mechanical/meta thing, the +1forward allows you to roll an extra d4 instead.

    This is fun because it makes misses unlikely, but still reserves a good chance of a partial hit instead of making skilled characters almost always roll 10+.



    I don't know if this is an improvement over the standard rules: is the extra complication worth it?

    But the odds are nice for the possible dice combinations. Bad combinations are still a little more favorable than rolling at -2; and yet even with a +3 stat (called a d10 stat in this version) your odds aren't quite as good as in standard AW, keeping more interesting results. Lots of partial hits at any level rolled.

    These rules will encourage your players to prepare much more for moves, position themselves, gather the right tools, etc.

    That could be an advantage or disadvantage.

    (If you consider it a disadvantage, of course, you could change the third criteria to be something else.)

    I also like that it makes it easy to create other traits, and use them when necessary. (Like Dogs traits.) This is a reference to another game I designed using that concept - story-games.com/forums/discussion/17652/apocalypse-world-for-kids-the-bureau-an-aw-hack-with-different-die-types

  • That's a bummer that your game has stalled. Honestly, that's the biggest problem with my group--on the off chance that I AM able to get everyone together for one night, recreating that on any kind of regular basis is just unbelievably complicated.

    I know what you mean about how adding in roll modifications can slow things down--it's something I'm working hard to keep to a minimum. My concern is that I'm giving too many bonuses, and so need some simple way to balance that out in certain situations. It's all very speculative right now, and I seriously need to get some play-testing done to explore it more, but as of right now it seems plausible. We'll see if it makes the cut.

    As for your intro, this is the sort of form that I'm pulling from it. The goal is to create a structured way to create a little sandbox to spark players' imaginations:

    Place: When Inventing your Place, include the following elements:
    -a description of 3 concrete locations within your Place that serve some specific, noteworthy function
    -detailed information about how most people make a living or get by in the Place
    -include one or two sentences telling of the Place's history or past
    -give a few iconic pictures that incarnate the overall ethos of the Place
    -include one sentence describing the surrounding terrain of the Place
    -include a specific reference to a staple food eaten in the Place

    This is still rough, but you get the idea. Maybe sometime I could send you a private message and give more info on the broader picture, and so pick your brain for advice?
  • Sure!

    Your breakdown sounds like a good formula. It would probably depend a lot on what you're going for and the needs of the game, however. For instance, I didn't need to talk about specific people at all, because the next stage of ky process was to create NPCs.

    I find it interesting, though, that you left out the last thing on the sheet:

    An inciting incident, something which gives the people there something to talk about and threatens to change the status quo forever.

    To me, that's a really key part.
  • Yes, exactly right.

    I only included the bit about Place, but after that comes 1) a problem that has recently arisen and 2) NPCs and PC creation. Like I said, I'm very much ripping off your form. I love the idea of the GM bringing a basic idea to the table (a Premise and a Place) and then including the players in the rest of the prep.

    I think a big part of what I liked about your form is that it brings the characters into the subtle, interesting knowledge about the relevant NPCs. Many games, in an attempt to avoid metagaming, don't trust the players to have inside information about the world/NPC's/etc. It won't be great for EVERY group of players, but for some groups I think it would be great to include them in the Invention process.

    I haven't had a chance to look at the other stuff you've posted, but I'm looking forward to it. I skimmed The Bureau and it looks super cool!

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