Apocalypse World and PvP, sex, and gore

In my exposure to AW so far, there seems to be instant story and conflict.(I have only played campaigns of a few episodes)

But if you remove PvP, sex, and gratuitous violence, I'm not sure what would be left. NPCs seem to be little more than cannon fodder. There doesn't seem to be a "we" in "aw", just a "w."

Essentially it's zero to 60...into a brick wall. Exciting? Yes.

A typical traditional game doesn't do that, but is that a feature, not a bug?

Also, what does a long AW game look like?
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Comments

  • That's an interesting observation.

    One thing to consider is that AW is at the apex of a subculture of roleplaying that has glorified dramatic climax for the last 15 years. It's in the bones and marrow of the game, it's born out of frustration with the specific weaknesses of the traditional games preceding it.

    Specifically in AW's case, I see it in many ways as the diametrical opposite of Ars Magica, a game Vincent's intimately familiar with. Where AM is plodding and considered, AW is quick and spontaneous.

    Because I don't believe in a One True Way of roleplaying, I don't really think that a game being slow and intricate has to be either a feature or a bug. It depends on what you're trying to do. Something like Ars Magica revels in the essentially static moment of being (a medieval wizard with a cool pet and a zany home to live in, in this case). A game like Apocalypse World desires to draw out the pre-existing frustration and passion of the players, quickly and efficiently spreading it out on display. Those are very different goals, necessitating very different techniques.

    All that being said, Apocalypse World doesn't particularly prevent campaign play, any more than something like say Sorcerer or TSoY does. The fact that people don't often seem to desire wider campaign construction indicates to me that the game doesn't really encourage it, and the players don't really want it - it is enough to create and execute that one, passionate scenario, and then go on to do something else.

    I would presume that a thematically in-depth campaign of AW (long or not) would delve into post-apocalyptic themes, particularly of the post-modern sort that AW so clearly espouses. You would examine the preservation and decay of civilization in its various forms. Tribalism and individual existence in a world shed of all Hegelian pretension would be a big thing, I imagine.

    Also: don't knock PvP, sex and gore. Those go a long way when you compare it to the staid traditional conventions of your average "you meet in a tavern" game. Those tavern tables are so clean you don't even really need plates to eat off them. One has to question the creative passion in something like that.
  • I've always seen violence as more gratuitous when it's murder hobos against "monsters" than when it's between people hating each other for a reason.
    Not only strong passions are a healthier excuse for violence than coldly eliminating problems and threats, but conflicts with relatively valuable members of society one has a meaningful relationship with are going to be limited conflicts, ending in murder only when someone really means it.
  • How did the world's psychic maelstrom figure into your exposure to AW so far?
  • edited January 2018
    Also, what do you mean by "long"? A dozen sessions? A hundred?
  • edited January 2018
    Yeah, Rafu is on the right track: the psychic maelstrom is basically the key to the game, in the long-term sense. Figuring out what it is, is *at the very least* an analogy for "what is wrong with the world", and the goal of play is to see if the PCs want to fix it.

    I'm really, really curious to hear more about Jeff and Mongrel's AW game - a detailed AP would be fantastic here - because it started with "man, this game is fantastic!" and ended with "is it all just gore and sex?" How does that happen, exactly? Tell us more!

    It's funny to see this, because some people really want to treat AW as "Mad Max", and go all-out into the craziness. While the book and materials can be read this way, I think it's misleading, and missing the point of what the game is about. (I'm not thrilled about how the 2nd Edition emphasizes the Mad Max elements even more, since I feel that's likely to lead people astray even more, incidentally.)

    Vincent is well known for writing games that are a bit "tricky" - they present themselves a certain way, but ultimately you only "get it" when you've played it long enough to see what the real game is.

    I'm running an AW game right now, and my frustration with it is the opposite - it's too slow for what I'm trying to do. Many people (including Vincent) have repeatedly said, "it's not really worth playing AW unless you're going to play for 6+ sessions", and I'd (mostly) agree with that.

    The best and easiest clues for "what AW is about" come from looking at the "advanced moves" - those tell us a whole lot about the implied "endgame":

    Acting under fire tells us that "the MC will offer you a better outcome, true beauty, or a moment of grace." The "NPCs witnessing it [are] struck, awed, moved, taken aback, left breathless".

    An advanced go aggro means you've "overwhelmed them: they can't possibly bring themselves to force your hand".

    The reading moves allow you to learn anything you want, not limited to the questions listed.

    The last two are the most important, though:

    An advanced seduce/manipulate, used against an NPC, means you *change their nature*.

    "This is serious business, and don't risk the players' trust by fucking around with it."

    "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."
    And, finally, when you open your brain:
    "...you reach through the world's psychic maelstrom to what's beyond it."

    "I envy your finding out."
    My take is that people who take the surface gloss of the game (violence, guns, and sex) are missing the point. (At least for my tastes, anyway.)

    When I introduce the game to people, I tell them that what makes the game sing is juxtaposing the weird craziness of a fucked up world with the very real, human stuff that still remains, and deciding whether it's worth saving.

    In the post-apocalypse, what will you teach your children? What will your legacy be?

    It's hinted out throughout the rules. It starts with "name everyone, make them human" and continues through many of the playbook choices (the Skinner, the most "desirable" character, is famous for the *art* they create, after all, as well as their physical assets), and so many little steps along the way - "for what do you most crave forgiveness?", the "deep brain scan" asks.

    Here are a few worthwhile discussions which you may find interesting. In the first, I discuss the differences between my tonal approach to AW and the poster's (my post - the first reply in the thread - has the material I'm talking about - then we go into the design of the cards, which isn't relevant to this thread). In the second, I solicit advice on running a hardholder, and receive some great advice (check out the link to Vincent's post about the hardholder, as well).

    Palm cards for an AW game (from barf forth apocalyptica)

    (In case you miss it in that thread, here's a link to my take on a different way to play AW: Apocalypse: Emergence)

    Help me deal with an optimistic hardholder


  • I've always seen violence as more gratuitous when it's murder hobos against "monsters"...strong passions are a healthier excuse for violence...

    Agreed. I haven't played plundering without a cause since I was 12, however.

    I would presume that a thematically in-depth campaign of AW (long or not) would delve into post-apocalyptic themes, particularly of the post-modern sort that AW so clearly espouses.

    That would be a very different sort of feel compared to what I have played so far. All PCs were focused on intense short term goals.

    Also: don't knock PvP, sex and gore. Those go a long way when you compare it to the staid traditional conventions of your average "you meet in a tavern" game.

    My issue with intense themes is that it could easily fall into the equivalent of "cheap dimestore novels." I love the intense first chapter of a Herbert novel, and I also love the slow build of a Jane Austen masterpiece. I wonder if AW isn't a bit like the first chapter of a Herbert novel, followed by a 2nd chapter that ratchets up the action, then it all crashes and burns.

    I have been running a homebrew campaign for some of the same players, and it was impossible not to compare the two campaigns. Some of the players showed more interest in the AW campaign. I don't know how skillfully I was GMing, but it kind of felt like I was trying to put together a nice fashion show while someone was doing a strip tease in the same room.

    Is Apocalypse World using salacious to sell? 'Cause that's easy to sell, to humans at least. PvP is a big part of it. It certainly ratchets up the drama when my PC is going at someone else's. But sustainable? Not if any escalation occurs.
    Rafu said:

    How did the world's psychic maelstrom figure into your exposure to AW so far?

    A source of weird magic, a source of universal truth (whether it was lying or not, who knows?).
    Rafu said:

    Also, what do you mean by "long"? A dozen sessions? A hundred?

    2 months or more would be "long".
    Paul_T said:

    I'm really, really curious to hear more about Jeff and Mongrel's AW game - a detailed AP would be fantastic here - because it started with "man, this game is fantastic!" and ended with "is it all just gore and sex?" How does that happen, exactly? Tell us more!

    Session 1

    Hardhold is a missile silo. Skinner has stolen critical hyrdroponics filters and sold them to a neighboring hardhold. There is political tension between key figures. The skinner is sexually manipulating the hardholder. A battlebabe arrives from far away, seeking judgement from the hocus. The battlebabe is carrying the bones of children: they tried to eat him, and he killed them.

    Session 2

    The skinner and the hardholder have a falling out. The maestro d runs a fight club. The hardholder makes a business arrangement to recruit soldiers. They want to use the battlebabe. But the hocus has ruled that he must give up a limb (to feed the children) as atonement for his sin. He lets the crazed rabble (high on a rocket fuel concoction) tear off his left arm. He turns to teaching the children.

    Session 3

    A pushy chopper swings into town. The emcee has to downplay the bloodbath the hardholder moves to initiate when the chopper and his men won't recognize her authority. Sex happens. The hocus is blackmailed, and agrees to use the battlebabe as a pawn to assassinate the hardholder. The battlebabe plunges himself and the hardholder from a height. A lieutenant that has been a thrall of the skinner unexpectedly helps. The fall doesn't quite kill either battlebabe or hardholder, so the skinner finishes off his ex-lover with a bullet to the head.

    *****

    Other stuff happened, and the cast was a bit sporadic, but that's the gist of it. My character was Gunther the battlebabe, so I remember more of the details that influenced him I'm sure.

    I think things were so focused on PvP, staying alive and/or immediate goals that introspection/looking at the state of the world/wondering about the maelstrom were never likely to be a thing (especially in a 2 or 3 part mini-campaign).

    Obviously setting up archetypes that are unlikely to get along is perhaps THE biggest fuel cell of AW. Or is unlit powderkeg a better descriptor?
  • Also, I'll have to say that Mad Max really has been the vibe of the games I've played in. My gut feel is that looking into the meaning of the maelstrom isn't what the game is about, or would yield an entirely different game.

    But maybe I can't really say or comment, the emcee didn't really play it that way. Maelstrom was a minor deus ex machina or really more just a sidelight. "Let's discover together" was the furthest thing from our minds.
  • edited January 2018
    It's notable that (particularly in the 1st Edition) the AW text makes a big point of "finding out what a typical day is like" for each character, and does NOT orient or even attempt to orient any of the characters against each other, as you have done.

    The MC isn't even supposed to create threats until after the 1st session, for instance.

    (In contrast, I'm playing a short-term right now, and I really really WISH my players were doing what you guys did! It seems like a great formula for a short-term game, and the write-up sounds exciting. We've been discussing "blood opera" games recently here, and that's a great example, by the sounds of it.)

    Indeed, the rules of 1st Edition were quite explicit that the characters are "not necessarily friends, but certainly allies" or something of the sort. (Quotes below.) Many/most of the moves weren't even designed so they could be used against each other, and in the example where one PC fires a shotgun into another's face, Vincent makes a point of writing, "I've never seen it go that far in an actual game, mind you!"

    Here's some "setting expectations" text from the 2nd Ed book:

    [Why do we play?]

    "Because the characters are together against a horrific world. They’re carving out their little space of hope and freedom in the filth and violence, and they’re trying to hold onto it. Do they have it in them? What are they going to have to do to hold it together? Are they prepared, tough enough, strong enough and willing?

    "Because they’re together, sure, but they’re desperate and they’re under a lot of pressure.
    [...]

    "Who fucked the world up, and how? Is there a way back? A way forward? If anybody’s going to ever �nd out, it’s you and your characters. That’s why."

    And then, later:

    "Once everybody’s finished creating their characters, it’s time to introduce them.

    "Before they start, make it clear: they all know each other. If they’re traveling, they’re traveling together. If they live in a holding, they associate with one another. They’re friends, or at least good colleagues. If one’s a maestro d’, the others can be her regulars, for instance. If one’s a hardholder, the others can be her lieutenants. The Hx rules will help make this happen too, but get it up-front and make sure everybody’s on board."

    The 2nd Edition's rules make more room for PvP action than 1st Ed's did (it seems to me that Vincent didn't even entirely consider it a part of play at the time), but still certainly don't assume it as a default - in fact, the opposite is implied throughout the rules.

    EDIT - Oh, here's the quote from the "harm" chapter (2nd Ed), where one PC shoots another in the face with a shotgun:

    "The examples in this section so far, they’ve featured two PCs so that I can show you both sides of it. In play, most fights will probably be between a PC and an NPC (or groups of the same)—I’ve never in real life seen a fight between PCs go as far as this example..."

    I think that the influence of the Mad Max movie, and people's interest in playing a long-term campaign game in a briefer kind of setting, has led people to construe a more bloody and PvP-style of play for AW.

    Notable contrasts:

    When I posted my "Mad Max" scenario (LINK, Meguey Baker (the co-author of AW) immediately said that "Immortan Joe is not a PC, period." Why? Because he's not a "good guy", or a dramatic protagonist. AW's characters are meant to save the world, in other words.

    Many of the character types (or their moves) simply won't work in a short-term, "blood opera" style game. What would you do with the Savvyhead, for instance?

    Similarly, the characters who have a lot of NPCs at their beck and call (Hardholder, Chopper, Hocus, etc) are positioned so that their followers are a *source of trouble*, not a tool they can use against other PCs. This is not ideal design for a PvP game - why would you ever want to be a Hocus, who starts play with no weapons or armour, and can effectively lose control of his followers before the game has even started (through the Fortunes roll at the beginning of the session), instead of a Gunlugger, who can do eveything the gang of followers could have done, but reliably, and by herself?
  • @Paul_T Hey yeah, I vaguely remember reading something about "a day in the life" months and months ago. That would have lead to a very different kind of game.

    In fact, that would have lead to a less titillating game than what I'm GMing right now.

    That said, AW seems to work well for a PvP leaning game.

    As always conventional wisdom on this point applies: it's important to make sure your players are all on board for PvP.

    ******

    I'll say of AW, it has certainly taught lessons about how to hone in on relationships in a non-team setting. A good question is how does one (or can one?) take that relationship focus and bring it to a team-based game?
  • Mongrel_GM,

    A good question is how does one (or can one?) take that relationship focus and bring it to a team-based game?

    You'll notice that many/most of the Hx questions play nicely into subtle tensions within a group of people fundamentally on the same side. "Which one of you do I think is most likely to fall to self-destruction?" "Which of you do I think is the prettiest one?" Etc.

    If it helps (and if you're familiar with the series), one of the main inspirations for Apocalypse World was the TV series "Firefly".
  • ...A good question is how does one (or can one?) take that relationship focus and bring it to a team-based game?

    I think Follow does this to an extent; it adds complexities to relationships but not to the point that it compromise the group’s overall dynamic and unity. I think a number of games do a good job of walking this line.
  • @Jeff_Slater Follow sets up a set of beginning desires from PC to PC, but that is where the rules end, IIRC.

    That's probably enough for a 4 hr game, but perhaps not enough for a mini-campaign, and definitely not enough for a campaign.

    I guess a GM could present a new set of desires/connections when needed (perhaps once the GM could see that the first desire had been fulfilled?).
  • The way this is supposed to operate in AW is via "PC-NPC-PC" triangles. What this means is that NPCs should be nudged to having asymmetrical relationships with two different PCs.

    Over the long term, the PCs will (likely) work together to try to maintain the survival of the community they're a part of, but their conflicting relationships with the NPCs will force them to put pressure on each other, manipulate each other, threaten each other, and so forth. I think the "fight occasionally and then make up" dynamic is definitely part of the implied genre of storytelling. They may disagree on how the community should be run or what the best course of action in a crisis may be, for instance.

    That's kind of the "assumed" AW template for long-term play, I believe. Of course, individual games can go further in either direction - some take the form of a literal group of characters (like a Hocus and his followers, for instance) and others turn into outright PvP sooner or later, with some characters being retired from play and others introduced.
  • edited January 2018

    That's probably enough for a 4 hr game, but perhaps not enough for a mini-campaign, and definitely not enough for a campaign...

    I think you might be interested in checking out how Hillfolk does it or any of the Drama System games. I think they might work for what you’re thinking about.

    I kind of see AW how Paul does; I think it was more about our group taking it into a super dark and PvP direction than a necessity—I think you could just as easily have some intra-party drama that doesn’t go into a PvP space. There was just less and less nuance in our game as things went on and toward the end it was pretty much all superficial id gone gonzo.

  • @Jeff_Slater If I'm reading correctly Drama System uses tokens to ante up and bid for a social win? If so, that's not the kind of system/help/inspiration I'm considering/looking for.

    Maybe a deck of prompts, with options, or a big random table, and roll up 3 options and pick one, is a better way to spark connections, obligations, desires, needs--and another card set/table for after chargen.
  • Paul_T said:

    The way this is supposed to operate in AW is via "PC-NPC-PC" triangles. What this means is that NPCs should be nudged to having asymmetrical relationships with two different PCs.

    Over the long term, the PCs will (likely) work together to try to maintain the survival of the community they're a part of, but their conflicting relationships with the NPCs will force them to put pressure on each other, manipulate each other, threaten each other, and so forth. I think the "fight occasionally and then make up" dynamic is definitely part of the implied genre of storytelling. They may disagree on how the community should be run or what the best course of action in a crisis may be, for instance.

    That's kind of the "assumed" AW template for long-term play, I believe. Of course, individual games can go further in either direction - some take the form of a literal group of characters (like a Hocus and his followers, for instance) and others turn into outright PvP sooner or later, with some characters being retired from play and others introduced.

    That's quite different than mostly killing off NPCs. So humane.

    With a team type RPG, it would take some work to have unequal relationship triangles. But possible I suppose. But of course most team RPGs have goal driven action, not relationships driven drama. Before I start rambling, obviously it's possible to really mix things up--some drama from relationships, other drama from situation, goals, etc. etc.
  • Rafu said:

    Also, what do you mean by "long"? A dozen sessions? A hundred?

    2 months or more would be "long".
    Been there and done that multiple times, then. Well, twice. Great games, both. Notably, the general setup of both was actually a lot more "PVP" than what the designers apparently expect - yet, it sustained long-term play.

    My point about the psychic maelstrom: when you open your brain to it and ask questions, it asks back. Inspired by something in the book - not sure what - the maelstrom is always a bit of a shrink in my games: it asks questions back to uncover the PCs' deep-seated fears, daddy issues and what-you-have. With that kind of conversation occurring, PCs tend to grow pretty complex and multifaceted pretty fast - they feel human, and players feel for them.

    Which reminds me of something @Jeff_Slater said... I don't believe this is the sort game where it's any good for you to be detached from your character. Set aside your inner Brecht for some other day. Do feel for your character! I think it's good for you that you do.

    An aside: gore? What gore? If there's a thing the rules in AW deal with entirely abstractly, with no option or invitation to indulge on the details, that's harm. Any gore in your game must be coming from you, the human players!
  • Maybe a deck of prompts, with options, or a big random table, and roll up 3 options and pick one, is a better way to spark connections, obligations, desires, needs--and another card set/table for after chargen.

    I’m just talking about all the things that Hillfolk and other Drama System games do during the setup stage to define PC relationships, not any other part of the game.


  • With a team type RPG, it would take some work to have unequal relationship triangles. But possible I suppose. But of course most team RPGs have goal driven action, not relationships driven drama. Before I start rambling, obviously it's possible to really mix things up--some drama from relationships, other drama from situation, goals, etc. etc.

    Yes, that's exactly the idea here.

    There is a range of possible playstyles with AW (and it sounds like you discovered one extreme!), but that is the sort of "default" assumption of how it should go, "by the book".

    Rafu's comments are exactly right (in the most recent post, above). So many details about the game encourage you to "play psychotherapist" with the players and with each other, starting from all the opportunities to ask each other soul-probing questions ("When would you say you were at your lowest point?") and various moves which encourage you to engage in relationships with each other and ending with the Hx questions at the end of each session - these train you, over time, to seek out relationships with each other and to get to know the other characters better. If no one gets to know you better, you have to "punish" someone by lowering their Hx - an unpleasant reminder which gets under your skin after a while, and invites you to do better at the next session.

    Rafu,

    Given the highly PvP focus of your game, what would you say maintained the conflict of interests over time? Was it the scope of the action, or indirect conflict, or something else? How often were the various PCs "on-screen" together?

    In games I've played, PvP conflict flared up now and then, but ultimately the larger concerns about safety, community, and the future would drive them together again. More often, though, "conflict" turned into a brief spat and then a span of time where the PCs pursued independent interests until the collided again.


  • edited January 2018
    Agreed with Paul above. In my only "extended" AW campaign, while there were certainly tensions and moments of PVP conflict, these were like internecine squabbles over status or methodology within a social structure - like, perhaps, the employees of a company or members of a military unit - and though they sometimes rose to the level of physical violence, they were dwarfed by the pressures of the Fronts which encroached upon them from all sides and forced them to work together despite their differences.

    In fact, I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Fronts.

  • @Mongrel_GM it sounds like you've found a great approach for one-shot or super-short AW. Way more fun than the aimless end of the spectrum, where lone or loosely allied badasses wander the wastes looking for traction. I have very little interest in AW one-shots, but good PvP would make it way more appealing for me. (Sex and gore, ehn, whatever, I'm with you on that not being the best selling point ever.)

    I'm curious, has your PvP mostly been PCs operating separately at cross purposes, or face-to-face conflicts? I've yet to have a satisfying PbtA PC-PC contest, because success seems to rely so much on which player speaks first to trigger an advantageous move.
  • As I mentioned, the 2nd Edition is better designed for PvP in lots of subtle little ways. I'd say it works well!

    The Fallen Empires game I played in had lots of PvP and every session was basically a one-shot. It went pretty smoothly. (Aside from my issues with how armour works in AW... but those are significantly better in Fallen Empires than in base AW anyway.)
  • @Mongrel_GM it sounds like you've found a great approach for one-shot or super-short AW. Way more fun than the aimless end of the spectrum, where lone or loosely allied badasses wander the wastes looking for traction. I have very little interest in AW one-shots, but good PvP would make it way more appealing for me. (Sex and gore, ehn, whatever, I'm with you on that not being the best selling point ever.)

    I'm curious, has your PvP mostly been PCs operating separately at cross purposes, or face-to-face conflicts? I've yet to have a satisfying PbtA PC-PC contest, because success seems to rely so much on which player speaks first to trigger an advantageous move.

    I'd say it was a case of "get them before they get you." So, trigger first move scenario. Feint and counterattack, especially through proxies, would make for a more satisfying game. But what I observed was more of an imposition of will. And an undercurrent of ill will in a few moments because of it.
  • edited January 2018

    Mongrel, we should try a different PbtA game that has less potential to go in a dark direction and is strictly about the group working together. I can make a list of games that fit the bill.

    I really think part of our problem is that our group isn’t very experienced with PbtA games; I think only one member has read AW, and one has kind of scanned it, and we certainly haven’t played them enough to have the understanding and feel for them that others have on these forums. And despite our unfamiliarity, I think we are having great sessions that I really enjoy. From what I’ve seen I think they are great games and have lots of potential especially as we get more experience with them. They help people who aren’t great at improve, when playing collaborative Story Games, to get some of the same great character and story development that those type of games provide. They make it possible to just play without prep and at the same time create a structured story automatically that won’t get incoherent and that people will be satisfied with. They are an innovation on traditional RPGs and accomplish a lot that those games don’t, while still retaining the feel and the things we love about traditional games.

    I’m interested to here what your impressions of PbtA game are. Do they fit you playstyle and gaming tastes? Do you see them as different as traditional RPGs and do you think they add a lot to play? Are the game’s that you would like to play more of? What are your thoughts?

  • As one of the players (the hocus) in the game Mongrel_GM mentions, I think the violent tenor of our short campaign was due mainly to three things: (1) the MC pushing conflict hard, since we didn't have six sessions in which to get things boiling, (2) an unpredictable cast of PCs, and (3) violent plot points introduced by the players.

    With regard to 2, it was hard to build up history and complex relationships between PCs because they'd drop out after one or two sessions. I had plans, oh I had plans, for turning the tables on the angel, but he didn't show up for the third session. When the nonviolent conflicts keep dead-ending, violence becomes more appealing. With regard to 3, the game itself doesn't promote cannibalism, or child-napping, or cannibalism committed by children—we inflicted all that on ourselves. ;)
  • edited January 2018
    Yeah, aside from the violent themes present in the concept of a post-apocalyptic future (which is, I'll grant, a *major* aspect of all this), I'm not sure why you think the game itself is producing this kind of play.

    The "go aggro" move is one place where the game very intentionally pushes violence as a means to an end, sure, but that's just one piece of the pie. In comparison:

    The rules are full of things like profound, personal questions ("what do you crave forgiveness for?"), moves which are based on "time and intimacy spent together", Hx questions which portray camaraderie and a shared history (though quite a few DO hint at conflict, as well, none state it outright), and instructions to produce things like "a moment of rare beauty".

    Then, every session ends with "So, which other character got to know you better?"

    Certainly, you can read violent "cannibals" into all this as the goal of play, but I'd say the text itself suggests quite the opposite, at least roughly half the time. That's why my take-away has always been that it's the *juxtaposition* of the violent and desperate with the personal, hopeful, and intimate which makes the game. To me, that's the core of Apocalypse World.

    In addition, you'll often find in this game that violent means are either a) not that interesting (e.g. no point in putting the Skinner up against in the Gunlugger in a fight) or b) don't achieve your ends. For instance, killing another PC: sure, they'll go down for the moment... but if they want to get you back, they'll just come back harder (with +1hard). Giving them the carrot instead of the stick is much more effective. That affects how you play after a while, too.
  • edited January 2018
    (I'd argue that a game system where violent conflict is the ONLY reliable way to get what you want - for example, most versions of D&D - would be much more conducive to this kind of play, when it comes to inter-character relations. Point two characters at each other, and they'll pretty much HAVE to fight.)

    Again, though, everyone has a different perspective. Check out the first two posts, again, in this discussion I linked to earlier:
    Paul_T said:
    The initial poster sets out quite intentionally to create the kind of game it sounds like you got here. I describe in a little detail how different that is from "my vision" of AW (which, from what I've seen and heard from others' AW play, is not rare at all).

    I think the success of the "Mad Max" film, and Vincent and Meguey's decision to get on board with that success, has influenced people in recent times to take a more "loud and violent" perspective to Apocalypse World than the game originally intended.

    Having said that, a violent and full-out PvP game of Apocalypse World sounds pretty exciting, too (keeping in mind that the game doesn't really let you compete with each meaningfully - it's not a game designed for Gamist challenge between players, but rather as collaborators playing out a "blood opera"). I wouldn't blame the game text for producing that play, however.

    My last game of AW featured, as our favourite moment, a Hardholder pulling out a dusty Chess set to play Chess with a beautiful stranger (whom he had a crush on, even though he disagreed strongly with her principles when it came to human rights), for instance, and the current one I'm playing seems to be pretty focused on the value of childhood and child-bearing (since pregnancy/fertility is the most obvious scarcity in our setting).
  • edited January 2018
    Paul_T said:

    Certainly, you can read violent "cannibals" into all this as the goal of play, but I'd say the text itself suggests quite the opposite, at least roughly half the time. That's why my take-away has always been that it's the *juxtaposition* of the violent and desperate with the personal, hopeful, and intimate which makes the game. To me, that's the core of Apocalypse World.

    The MC prompted a certain kind of play, and that's what happened in our first game. In the second game I think we brought even more of the same. Staging, upstaging, over-the-top, whatever you want to call it.

    My question, in the context of a longer AW scenario (not 0 to 60 into wall scenario), is answered as: more introspection, looking for the humanity under the bloody crust of the world.

    Ok.
    onrigato said:

    As one of the players (the hocus) in the game Mongrel_GM mentions, I think the violent tenor of our short campaign was due mainly to three things: (1) the MC pushing conflict hard, since we didn't have six sessions in which to get things boiling, (2) an unpredictable cast of PCs, and (3) violent plot points introduced by the players.

    —we inflicted all that on ourselves. ;)

    Agreed, but my original question is what is left when you remove PvP, sex, and gore. And I guess I should now qualify it with: in the context of a very short game.

    Of our first game one might ask what is left when PvP and gore are removed, and the answer might be the same. But what is it?

    And maybe I'll drop gore. Plenty of RPGs have violence as a mainstay, AW isn't an outlier on that point.

    **Perhaps the distilled question should be: In a short AW campaign, what drives the story if it isn't PvP?**

    I think it's the archetypal characters. The Hx nudges, but really the archetypal characters establish.
  • edited January 2018
    It's hard to say what "drives" the game in the short term, because the game is designed for long term play. It's at its best when it develops organically, and the game's procedures are put together with that in mind.

    This means that to play a "short term" game, the group has to find their own solution.

    One common solution is to say, "hey, we're going to play for a short while. Don't expect things to conclude or tie up neatly. We'll just enjoy it for as long as we have. Cool?"

    Another is to set the player characters at odds with each other, as you did.

    The most "textbook" solution would be to have the MC develop Threats more quickly and play them more aggressively.

    In AW, the MC's Threats act and the world is full of danger. Dealing with them is, in a procedural sense, what the PCs are supposed to do.

    In the same way that D&D coild he said to be all about climbing into a dungeon and leaving with treasure, AW is about protecting the community (or trying to establish one) against Threats, which are everpresent.

    Threats range from violent warlords to the outbreak of a disease or a false belief or a person who is a threat because they love too fiercely.

    What complicates play and makes things interesting is that the MC is instructed to make the very community which you are trying to protect, transform, or establish a threat to itself as well as to you.

    A lot of the nuance comes from there.

    In default play, the MC only starts to develop Threats after the first session. For quicker play, you could do it faster. I can imagine a bunch of ways to do that.

    Threats get "countdown clocks", which progress towards some dark future or breakdown of society, unless the PCs intervene.

    Of course, no one is stopping you from using any other kind of scenario/adventure structure with the AW rules, too. I don't think playing something like a typical D&D adventure (for the sake of example) with the AW rules is an optimal way to play, but it would work.

    Yesterday I spoke with someone who ran an ongoing weekly game of AW (well, actually Fallen Empires, but it's basically the same thing) for half a year. It included 21 players, showing up in various combinations, so it was effectively like a series of about 20 one-shot episodes.

    Things that drove play were:

    1. The MC started using harder and harder scene framing to get straight into the action right away.

    2. The players would often create conflict between each other, as well.

    3. Over the longer term, the MC created Threats (usually from the actions of the previous session's PCs) and advanced them, causing problems for the character.

    4. Over the longer term, the MC started identifying the goals of recurring characters and challenging them.

    So that's another example.

    Is that the kind of thing you're asking about?
  • @Paul_T Well, not really. Threats and community in RPGs go all the way back to 70's. I'm looking at what makes AW tick differently.

    The archetypes are the big difference in my opinion.

    So if I look for takeaway lessons from AW, that seems to be the big one. It sets up so much of the flavor, tension.

    The second takeaway was watching our MC asking questions about the interrelationships of the PCs. Done right, that can add a lot to just about any game.
  • Oh, so you want to know what differentiates AW from other games in a similar style?

    I would say it's a bunch of small things. The playbook types, sure. But also the threat types! And the psychic maelstrom (it's the first game I've seen which takes an absolutely vital, central part of its premise and the. Intentionally doesn't ever ever tell you anything about it!). And the Hx questions.

    The moves are huge in this respect. The define the "genre" in action. "Reading" moves transfer and create information in a way other games don't, which is also huge, for instance. Being able to influence other characters mechanically without taking away player agency is pretty unique. Etc.

    Having "Special" (sex) moves changes the nature of the game, too.

    Finally, though, the Principles and the style of play where nothing is known and we create it by questioning each other is a pretty unique feature of the game.

    When Vincent published the game, he had to spend a LOT of time convincing people that it would work at all.

    "Wait, so we get together to play, and we don't know who the characters are? We don't know who the bad guys are? We don't even know what the setting is? And then... we just start playing? What the heck is that? How's that gonna work?"


  • The idea of the MC constantly making "moves" is also a key concept.

    Many people played this way before AW, but no one had codified it, so just as many DIDN'T when they should have* and, as a result, didn't have much fun.


    *: it's not right for every kind of game, after all. Just for one style of roleplaying.
  • @Paul_T The group world creation is definitely a game changer.

    I went with that approach in my current homebrew campaign. I gotta say that it can be hit and miss when there isn't a go-to who can define a particular part of the world (looking at the hardholder in particular here).
  • Let me take another crack at answering your question about what makes AW different. First, ditto to everything Paul_T said. What makes AW sing for me is how it flips the power dynamic between the players and GM compared to traditional RPGs. In many (most?) trad games, the GM is like unto God. The GM creates the setting, the threats, the NPCs, and sometimes even certain scenes and plotlines. The players and PCs get dropped into this world; they're playing in the GM's sandbox. And that can be fun! But the power dynamic overwhelmingly favors the GM.

    In AW, everything revolves around the players and PCs. The MC isn't allowed to define anything ahead of time—no setting, no threats, no NPCs, no plotline, no predetermined scenes. The role of the MC, and everything the MC should do and say, is in the service of the players and PCs.

    It's easy to overlook how reactive the MC's role actually is. Per the MC's book, the MC can make a move in only two situations: when everyone looks to you to say something, and when a player’s character hands you the perfect opportunity on a golden plate. That's it. Both of those situations depend on the players giving the MC permission to make a move.

    The effect of this radical player-focus is that a game of AW ends up being about what the players and PCs want. There's no expectation about what the PCs should do or need to do. No railroads, no hoops, no roadblocks. I don't know whether other games did this or do this, but it's what I love about Apocalypse World.
  • edited January 2018
    I very much agree with both of those last two posts.

    I sometimes get frustrated at the lack of "connection to the setting" in some of the playbooks, compared to the ones which define bits of the setting and have start-of-session moves, and so forth.

    Another thing:

    What Vincent has done with Apocalypse World which I find really interesting is the attention to detail to lots and lots of subtle little things which produces effects over time. A lot of moves and minor details in the game create interesting consequences over the long term.

    For instance, the Quarantine's "start of session" move leads the group to learn about/create the history of the apocalypse together. (Well, the Quarantine and the MC, anyway.) This is super cool! Very satisfying in play, too. You're discovering it even as you invent it - it feels exciting and gives you something to look forward to every session.

    It's just one move in one playbook, but bring it into play and it transforms your game completely.

    As another example, if you play long enough, you inevitably run up against something which leads you to change playbooks. Hard to avoid, really! It's gonna happen, and it's gonna be huge.

    This is a really powerful engine of character transformation.

    Incidentally, Mongrel_GM, this is a perfect example of something that has nothing to do with "personality mechanics" but is a tool to create meaningful stories over time and say something about the characters. That's the sort of thing a lot of people are looking for in "story game enabling" design!

    Check out how much each of these implies about the character:

    "I was first a Gunlugger. Then I attracted followers and became a Chopper. Finally, I became a Hardholder." (A pretty predictable progression, kind of D&D-like.)

    But it's usually more like this, with implications that follow:

    "I used to be a Savvyhead (trying to fix things). Then I became a Hardholder (trying to fix society). Finally, I am now an Angel (I've given up on society, and I just try to heal and fix individuals, who, unlike society itself, can return gratitude and appreciate what I've done)."

    "I was a Hocus. Now I'm a Gunlugger." (A tale of loss of faith, perhaps? Certainly suggests that - once I believed in big things, but now I have faith only in steel and powder. But not necessarily - the history of your game will colour this. Maybe it's completely different: did your faith/beliefs change to become more militant, so that you directed your followers to take up arms and now they are your gang? That's also an interesting story.)

    Another simple one (one of the ways you can be forced to change playbooks is when you die):

    "I was a Chopper, exploring the wide world. My gang betrayed me and left me for dead, a broken husk. Now I am a Brainer, looking only inwards."

    And so forth.
  • Paul_T said:

    Rafu,
    Given the highly PvP focus of your game, what would you say maintained the conflict of interests over time? Was it the scope of the action, or indirect conflict, or something else? How often were the various PCs "on-screen" together?

    Hey, to be clear, I wouldn't call that "highly PvP focus" - that is, PCs where each other's enemies at times, but they weren't their only enemies, nor was this enmity ever the point of the game. More importantly, this was never competitive between the players (AW is very ill-equipped to handle that)!

    I believe "Be a fan of the PCs" is the key. It applies to all players around the table - we play because we are the fans of the PCs, to see them look good and see them get into trouble. That's what sustains play, at any length. If you are only in love with your own individual PC, for example, the game's dead to you before it even starts - being excited about them all is key.

    But to better relate my experience...

    1.

    My first full game of AW was started in the fall of 2010, I think, not long after I got my hands on a copy of the final (first) edition (I'd read a playtest draft, which got me really interested in the game, but had not managed to actually play it yet). There were 4 regular players, including me as the MC, plus a 5th who could only join us for a session or two. When we started, it was supposed to be a weekend-long game (the 4 of us had to travel to be together), but we were still hungry for more, so we scheduled one more weekend, and then another. I'm terrible at keeping track of time, but I think this amounted to about half a dozen, day-long sessions, in pairs and threes, with weeks or months passing in-between.

    This being our first game of AW, mistakes were made, but - all things considered - lots of fun was had. It was largely dominated by the relationship triangle between the core PCs: Vega - a no-nonsense hardholder, both heroic and scary - the brainer who crossed her early in the first session - Lively, a confused psychich-teen type - and the driver, Impala, who was both in (unrequited, possibly abused) love with Vega and motherly towards Lively. This was a very good dynamic, with Vega trying to get rid of Lively and Impala trying to save his life without getting kicked out of the gang for good - but, when Lively basically fled the place, Impala learned Vega could only "love" her as a subject, at the expense of her freedom and self-esteem, and ended up going looking for Lively instead. She ended up saving angsty, desperate Lively from the hivemind-like entity born of the Maelstrom which was trying to absorb him, while Vega single-handedly held her hold against all comers (mostly other tribes displaced by the followers of the hivemind-thing) and her own treacherous gang. The game ended naturally, with the main narrative arcs obviously resolved - also, everybody had gotten into selecting late-game advancement options and retirement was on the table.

    That game is occasionally referred to as the Dragon game (after the manifestation of the hive-mind in the Maelstrom) or the Monastery game (after Vega's hold). It did feature some of the most shocking acts of PC-vs-PC violence I've seen in a game not solely focused on that: Impala shooting Vega in her face with zero warning because she'd just been too much of a asshole to her (also, to protect Lively) and Vega having her gang seize an unconscious, wounded Lively and fucking bury him alive (scary! He woke up half-covered in dirt and narrowly escaped). These were great scenes because they were emotionally loaded (what with the relationship between the three being basically a love triangle, what with the Vega-Lively conflict being not quite personal but rather grounded in ultimately irreconcilable world-views). They worked because, while everybody was strongly inhabiting the characters (a prerequisite for having such scenes happen at all, rather than just going through the motions), nobody was super-uncompromisingly attached to their outcomes (thanks, in part, to a rules-set which is actually quite permissive in terms of characters coming back from near-death experiences, and in part to ingrained player discipline). There where also PC-vs-PC scenes that sucked (possibly because I mishandled them), such as a fight between Vega and a new PC Impala's player had added as an advancement option: it was a disappointment, but it taught us stuff about how the game worked, how to make it work. And there were times when we wavered and stuttered - we all were new to the game, what else can I say?

    2.

    The last game I played (with 1e rules, roughly at the same time as 2e was being Kickstarted - I haven't had a chance to play 2e yet) involved 5 regular players, again including me as the MC, and 8 PCs (up to 7 being played in the same session). It lasted months and was played in weekly installments on Sunday afternoons - I think about a dozen sessions. It was brought to an ending, with a marathon session, when a player announced she was soon to move (she got back, eventually, and we played more games together). Me and another player had played in the Dragon game together, one was new to AW but had a lot of DW experience, and I think the remaining two players had played some AW once - but I'm not sure.

    We call this the Tower game (after the skyscraper hosting a community which was central to the game) or the White Crocodile game (after a specific manifestation of the Psychic Maelstrom). Two non-standard playbooks were used: the Solace and the Grotesque - and these two characters where key in establishing the tone of it all, I think (the other starting PCs where the Angel and Savvyhead; we later added in the Gunlugger, Battlebabe, Chopper and Skinner through advancement options).

    All things considered, they were a bunch of well-meaning people, each with significant limits to their vision - they were all trying to "fix" things and make things better (for somebody, at least) but it was a rarity for more than two of them at a time to agree about what was "better" and what needed fixing. I don't think there was ever an open, direct act of PC-vs-PC violence in this game (though the Battlebabe and Gunlugger got really close to gunning each other down once), but really that couldn't happen because of Wish, the Solace (Solace is a playbook with a Hot-based move for deescalating violence and an aura which prevents others from rolling +Hard or +Weird, basically). Rather, they constantly maneuvered to undermine each other and tried to stay the hell away from Wish so they could use their own Weird-based moves to perform some advanced Psychic Maelstrom fuckery (the Grotesque playbook comes with an option for Augury using their own body as the antenna, and you don't need me to explain you what a Savvyhead is).

    3.

    In between the above two games, I played in a couple convention one-shots (which were set up with no special provisions, so were basically aborted first sessions) and at least two attempted campaigns which were aborted by their third-ish session due to various scheduling/attendance problems.
    For what it's worth, in these interrupted games, too, I could discern patterns conforming to my findings in the longer ones.

    Thus...
  • onrigato said:



    In AW, everything revolves around the players and PCs. The MC isn't allowed to define anything ahead of time—no setting, no threats, no NPCs, no plotline, no predetermined scenes. The role of the MC, and everything the MC should do and say, is in the service of the players and PCs.

    It is possible to have some ideas regarding the setting and even some threats that could or not be implemented, though. Anyone could do this when prospecting for a game of AW, GM or player(s). But it's certainly not the default approach. I think that the text mentions something about this at some point, but I don't remember. Anyway, it's perfectly doable.
    onrigato said:


    The effect of this radical player-focus is that a game of AW ends up being about what the players and PCs want. There's no expectation about what the PCs should do or need to do. No railroads, no hoops, no roadblocks. I don't know whether other games did this or do this, but it's what I love about Apocalypse World.



    Many other games did and do that. In fact, that was one of the main expectations behind Narrativism/Story Now gaming as conceived back in the Forge days. Sorcerer, the granddaddy of these games, did that, although with a different procedural approach. In Sorcerer, the players get exactly what they want the game to be about for their characters.
  • edited January 2018
    @Mongrel_GM,

    One thing to consider is that our group isn’t very experienced with PbtA games; I think only one member has read AW, and one has kind of scanned it, and we certainly haven’t played them enough to have the understanding and feel for them that others have on these forums. Their responses have been super informative to me. And despite our unfamiliarity with PbtA games, I think we are having great sessions that I really enjoy. From what I’ve seen I think they are great games and have lots of potential, especially as we get more experience with them. They help people who aren’t great at improve, when playing collaborative GMless Story Games, to get some of the same great character and story development that those type of games provide. They make it possible to just play without prep and at the same time create a structured story automatically that won’t get incoherent and that people will be satisfied with. They are an innovation on traditional RPGs and accomplish a lot that those games don’t, while still retaining the feel and the things we love about traditional games.

    I’m interested to hear what your impressions of PbtA games are. From what I’ve read, it sounds like you might be a bit ambivalent about them, or still making up your mind, but I’m not sure I’m reading you right. I feel like PbtA games land somewhere in between your and my different gaming tastes, and I personally feel like it’s a happy marriage of the different styles. Do the games fit your playstyle and gaming tastes? Do you see them as different from traditional RPGs and do you think they add much? I’m interested to see how you feel about them because I think your tastes are similar to gamers who are mostly into traditional games. Thanks :)

  • ...thus...

    My experience of what "drives" play, in AW, is that PCs do. Threats played by the MC provide context for that, but ultimately the game is about character-player choices (the MC being what Ron Edwards termed a "bass player" GM).

    From the first session, one of the PCs stands out as a troublemaker - sometimes because of their outlook, most often due to duress, because they're built in such a way that they just can't fit in. You know, there's no status quo in Apocalypse World - first, because there are going to be PCs who upset the status quo merely by existing.

    Paradoxically, however, one or more PCs have been established - usually through early 1st session questions, or just because of a playbook like Hardholder - to be keepers of the status quo, however shaky. They run the place, or perhaps advise a NPC who does. They probably have a vision, and a list of priorities toward making that vision come true. They want to deal with external threats and preserve what they have, and to that end they'd like to enlist all other PCs as allies.

    The kicker is, they can't.

    It says in the book, the 1st session is a typical day in the life of these characters, and it's warranted to be a bad day. In my experience, it's a bad day because a PC emerges as a troublemaker - they fuck something up or, more likely, are put in a spot and act on impulse, having no reason not to - and the keeper/s of status quo have to do something about it. It's a bad day because the actions of some show the people in charge how little control they have, how shaky their hold.

    Any other PCs will of course have to take sides: they have vision, they have ambitions, they probably want allies. Some might side with the troublemaker out of genuine human concern, or shared history, while trying to stay on the keepers' good side and fix things (this won't work in the long run, they'll have to make choices). Some might opportunistically side with the troublemaker to take down the status quo, because their vision calls for a new one, or they just want to be in charge (they escalate the conflict out of proportion). Some might swallow the bitter pill, side with status quo - out of personal history or "for the greater good" - and burn bridges: how many bridges can they burn this way, though? (their position will eventually become untenable)

    Thus, conflicts follow, but not so often of the direct overt violence kind. This might be because trying to kill a PC is obviously the inferior option, as they have quite a lot of ways of coming back - shooting someone in the face is still good for making a point stick, though. Also, because we're all fans, and fans don't want their heroes dead - we want them alive and struggling, occasionally triumphant, because they're sexier that way. There's a lot of competition regarding the immediate short-term objectives, including but not limited to swaying certain NPCs one way or another. There's also quite a lot of conflict-avoidance maneuvering: PCs circling each other and studying, PCs waltzing around other PCs waiting for the exact moment they look away, so they can finally act toward their immediate objectives without encountering resistance.

    Much of the above takes the shape of just talking, really (although the moves are always on the table, including violent moves - implied threats are ever present, like punctuation, and a shooting gun is just an exclamation mark). I like to let them just talk it out, with the occasional "Are you reading him?" or "Are you seducing her?" thrown in (just to remind them their moves are always on the table, as I said). Long, convoluted conversations about the meaning of life? Sure, why not. Principled disagreements about what should be done? Yes, please. I'd never let them have such a long, convoluted conversation with an NPC, though - NPCs are simple people, with simple wants, who make their one point early on and get bored fast. Unless they'd like to have those conversation with the Maelstrom, of course (I deem the Maelstrom an exceptional NPC, one who's all about listening).

    Hope that helps. I know there are questions I haven't answered yet (perhaps reinstate them, please, if you still care), but I've written a lot and it's taken quite a lot of time. That should be context enough to reference whenever I get into a conversation about AW from now on.
  • Great answer, Rafu! Thanks for typing that up.
  • edited January 2018


    It is possible to have some ideas regarding the setting and even some threats that could or not be implemented, though. Anyone could do this when prospecting for a game of AW, GM or player(s). But it's certainly not the default approach. I think that the text mentions something about this at some point, but I don't remember. Anyway, it's perfectly doable.

    That's only somewhat true, in my experience. If you play AW as it is intended (the First Session procedure), you *can* bring some ideas with you to the table - e.g. "Hey, how about an apocalypse where the world is flooded, like Water World?" - but going into specifics becomes difficult pretty quickly.

    This has a lot to do with playbook choices. You think it would be cool if the characters were travelers who come to discover a bizarre and twisted holding, full of danger... then one of the players says he's the Hardholder and another picks the Waterbearer. That's no longer the game you expected, at all. They run this place, and it's like THIS (you wanted death cults, but now it turns out the players have chosen all the options in their playbooks which have to do with hunger and thirst, so that becomes the focus of play).

    Or maybe you come with a prepared Threat which is a massive militarized gang, and the layout of their trenches, machine gun nests, and the armaments of their vehicles... cool, you're ready for a massive road war with gangs fighting each other! But then your two players choose to be the Angel and the Brainer, and a third joins as the Skinner. The Hx questions tell us that the Brainer helped the Angel save the Skinner's life, and they've been embroiled in a love triangle ever since. You ask them what their typical day is like, and they tell you that the three of them live on a small island, separated from the mainland by a toxic waste. Ok, things aren't going to be as you expected at all...

    And so on.

    This makes the game quite different from some others, where the character's role in the adventure or story is much more set (D&D's "adventurers" being an obvious example, but also Monsterhearts' "students at the same high school" or various others) or much more fluid (again, in D&D the PCs are known to be working together, and, on a meta/social level, we know that the players are here to find out what adventure is prepared for them, and will pursue a typical "adventure hook" when it's offered to them).

    You're not entirely wrong, but I think that these differences in design do highlight a major difference between AW and many/most other games.
  • Hard to answer what's "different" about AW without knowing what's "normal" for the person asking. At this point, I think some of that has come out, and it seems to me that a lot of the stuff that's been noteworthy to @Mongrel_GM is indie game / modern game / story game stuff, and not anything I associate with AW specifically.

    Except for the playbooks.

    Honestly, when I think about what I love about AW it's my favorite playbook moves, and when I think about what I hate about AW it's my least favorite playbook moves.

    The archetypes are the big difference in my opinion.

    ...and when I think about the world of Apocalypse World, for me it's defined largely as "The place where there are brainers and savvyheads and hocuses."
  • edited January 2018
    Paul_T said:

    How often were the various PCs "on-screen" together?

    Forgot to answer this one.

    In my experience, PCs where usually in a scene together in 2s and 3s - sometimes just talking to each other.
    If I had a hand in "framing" a scene, I'd generally attempt to bring two of them on stage, plus a NPC they had different relationships with - or who I expected to regard the two of them differently - as per "PC-NPC-PC triangle" instructions. Of course, a lot of the time the "framing" of scenes just depended on what they announced they'd do and I could provide little more than window-dressing.

    It was quite unusual for all PCs to be on-screen simultaneously (this supersedes the above - i.e. if there are only 3 PCs, I don't expect them to be in most scenes together): that usually meant a really major conflict was escalating to the next step or being resolved - either a conflict between all of them (I'm thinking of the Monastery game here) or a conflict with a huge external threat. Example of the latter: in the final session of the White Croc game, people from the Lab - a distant hold dedicated to breeding new shapes of human to exploit as slaves - finally got to the former Tower's ragged refugee camp in forces, looking for the escaped grotesque and investigating a former, disappeared scouting force; PCs had to set apart whatever other matters were being settled and do something about the newcomers ASAP (they sort of tenuously allied versus the invading force, but didn't have to).
    Exception to the above: a game where all PCs were part of the Maestro D's crew. As a consequence, they had both an immobile home base and an obvious implied hierarchy of command, and spent all of the first session - and perhaps most of the second - together, dealing with the obvious immediate tasks at hand. The game didn't really take off until the Battlebabe (the troublemaker, at last!) set out on his own to stir up some trouble away from home camp.

    Another anomaly is having a single PC on-screen, interacting with NPCs only. That works as a matter of course for very short, perfunctory scenes, which just function as glue between PC-PC interactions. It strains the workability of the game, though, when you get into a prolonged string of that.
    In the Monastery game, there was Lively the brainer literally running from the monastery (well, from Vega) for his life: he followed suggestions he'd got from the Maelstrom and embarked alone on boat travel down a dangerously polluted river. That was the hardest time I had MCing AW, as I was being looked at to provide new content all the damn time - how exhausting!
    In the Tower game, Dobermann the gunlugger stripped down to his underwear and proceeded to explore the sunken city alone... In that case, it was still a bit exhausting, but not as hard to manage, because I already had a stronger picture of what he'd find there (it was an environment PCs had been interacting with before, indirectly at least) as well as who he'd meet - an already defined threat, in numbers, fighting on their home turf. There were resource-management constraints in place to how deep he could delve, then: after winning a couple battles versus the sea-mutants, a heavily wounded Dobermann had to head back.
  • Paul_T said:


    It is possible to have some ideas regarding the setting and even some threats that could or not be implemented, though. Anyone could do this when prospecting for a game of AW, GM or player(s). But it's certainly not the default approach. I think that the text mentions something about this at some point, but I don't remember. Anyway, it's perfectly doable.

    That's only somewhat true, in my experience. If you play AW as it is intended (the First Session procedure), you *can* bring some ideas with you to the table - e.g. "Hey, how about an apocalypse where the world is flooded, like Water World?" - but going into specifics becomes difficult pretty quickly.

    You're not entirely wrong, but I think that these differences in design do highlight a major difference between AW and many/most other games.
    We're in perfect agreement, I think. I did not mean that you come to the table with a fully fledged 200 pages setting. I mean that you, as a potential player/GM, can very well propose an overall setting idea for AW instead of doing everything at the table during character generation/1st session. Same with some very general threat ideas. But you have to keep things vague and open to allow for changes or even discard them during the 1st session. So, basically some notes jotted down with plenty of room for further refinement or even abandonment.
  • Quite right.

    For the sake of the uninformed reader, though, I do want to point out how different that is.

    In a game of D&D (which I'm using as a shorthand for any kind of traditional adventure game), the GM might say, "you're a band of adventurers who have been hired by the Red Duke to deliver a package to the hamlet of Belhratg." Ok! The game is on. It's the GM's prerogative to do something like that, abd the players are excited to confront the adventure.

    In AW, between the unwritten expectations of play and some of the rules (particularly the playbooks), that's not going to happen.

    One player might say, "Wait! I was hoping to play in an Apocalypse where trees have taken over the world. How does that sound to everyone?" Another might say, "Oh, I think I'm in charge of Belhratg. Maybe I'm the Hardholder!"

    And so forth. It's a very different set of expectations.
  • edited January 2018
    Just gunna chime in really quick. I was the MC for the mini-campaign(s) we're discussing.

    Couple things: Yeah I was not exactly running the game RAW in either campaign. Both were intended to be one-shot sessions, with maybe a second one if the first went on too long. It ended up going a few sessions longer, just because we kinda all agreed to play some more. So not a slow burn at all, by design on my part. More like, "How much conflict can we pack into 4-8 hours of play?" Pacing wise, it was hurried on purpose.

    Here's an example of a one-shot ran by Vincent that was similar to our experience IMHO:

    Technically, I did kinda follow them around and find spots to push on during the first session. I tried to introduce problems quickly, or take things that people were saying and turn it into a problem to solve. But there wasn't too much in the way of Threats being introduced until the second and third sessions. In the end, there was only one main NPC threat and they mostly shot guns on occasion. All other problems in play were created by players who volunteered the ideas or chose to begin acting against each other.

    In both "campaigns" we've played, I very much put the NPCs in the cross-hairs and didn't hesitate to let them get blown away before they could even speak their first line of dialogue (lol Dremmer). In general, NPCs took a back seat; We had on average 7 players per session, so rather than leave everyone to listen to the MC and a Player go back and forth in conversation between PC and NPC, I tried to create more situations where the PCs were interacting with each other, which inevitably lead to disagreements and plotting among the characters (which I loved). So, I was aiming for PC-PC-PC triangles.

    Also, in both campaigns, one player chose to play an outsider who immediately caused waves when they arrived. Which was fine by me because I wanted to shake up the status quo right away and if the whole scenario crashed and burned within the first session, that was cool by me!

    The HX questions lead to a few people starting out in physical relationships, so I had them roll Special Moves right away. Between those characters and their players, there were a few more occasions where sex was had, usually in order to get the benefits of the Special Move. I didn't attempt to lead them into those situations, but when the question of intimacy came up, I reminded them about the Special Moves (and the mechanical benefits of using them) and encouraged their use because I thought it would make the game more interesting and create more opportunities for messing with each other.

    So, I honestly can't say I pushed towards gore and sex. It kinda just ended up going that way, mostly because that's the direction the players took it. The first campaign had little to no sex, if I recall. Both had some gory scenes. Funny enough, the goriest scene between both games was totally generated by the player, described in macabre detail by the player, and that player was the OP :smiley:

    If we were planning a more lengthy campaign that would likely host the same cast of characters each session, I would have ran it differently. Our two sets of AW games at SGSLC were not typical, but not that far from home.

    For what it's worth, 10/10, would do it again :)
  • Sounds like fun to me!

    In my experience, getting AW to really groove along like a game of Fiasco is HARD (lots of elements of the character setup and the game work against that), so if you got some wild action and lots of "gore and sex", that's an excellent outcome.

    It's definitely not typical of how most people play or how the game is "intended to go", however.

    This thread has actually got me thinking about ways to make the game (any game, really) more or less hardcore, balls-to-the-wall. So many little elements play into that! Fascinating stuff.

    People interested in that kind of thing should also check out Spwack's "palm cards" (which I linked to earlier in the thread, from barf forth - they do this, and telegraph it, really well).
  • I dunno Paul, when the character sheets have mechanics for sex and half of the NPC's in the campaign have a want of "Savagery", I guess I have a hard time agreeing that sex and violence aren't intentions of the game.
  • Oh, true. I'm not so much referring to the sex and violence but as I am to the frantic pace you managed to set.
  • Oh yes, then totally agree :)
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