[Apocalypse World] Combat, when you call for a bunch of read a sitch'(s)?

edited July 2018 in Play Advice
Not so long ago I looked up some advice on how to [better] handle combat in AW. I remember finding some old forum posts (not Story games) saying that as an MC you should be calling for read a sitch rolls almost every round. And everyone says what they will be doing before you commence the round (a round being once everyone involved has acted once).

Is this [still] true? I mean v2 didn't alter this right? Does this jive with everyone's experience?


  • This sounds very strange to me. Most combat in AW isn't run in "rounds" (although Vincent has done so in a few examples online, for convenience). There were some optional rules for using a "clock" for combat in the first edition (which is kind of like working in "rounds"), but those didn't survive the cut for second edition.

    More importantly, the MC should never be "calling for rolls" - that's not how moves work. Rolling for "read a sitch" should rarely happen more than once, as well, except under unusual circumstances.

    In short, everything you're describing here doesn't jive with my AW experiences at all (nor any of the AW play I've watched other people participate in).

    AW "combat" shouldn't be run any differently than the rest of the game: it's all conversation and questions and descriptions and then we roll moves when they come up... if they come up.
  • You don't have rounds. Try to view it like an action scene in a movie.
    You don't call for moves. PC-players invoke a read-a-sitch move when they things they sound like they're being careful, evaluating their options, or they ask questions of you. If they never do that, it's their problem.
  • edited July 2018
    So your responses I totally agree with from my experiences. I have never been overly concerned with rounds as they are in something like D&D. And basic move rolls are dictated by the fiction. I with you but...

    However what your saying doesn't match up with this:

    where Vincent refers to rounds (as defined as everyone has acted once) and refers to multiple read a sitch rolls.

    Edit* Paul you were probably referring to this exact example in terms of rounds. Let me just state that rounds or no round is a total derail, i don't really care if there are rounds or not, i consider that somewhat meaningless in a discussion, it doesn't change how i approach combat. (I was only using the word round because the example did, and defined as everyone has acted once. That's it, no other connotation implied.)
  • I got the distinct impression from this example that you are asking for a read a sitch roll liberally. Not every other turn but anytime things change fictionally in the charged situation.

    Which is kind of why i asked I guess. Everything else I've read doesn't necessarily seem like it matches.
  • edited July 2018
    That example is somewhat peculiar in terms of how fast and loose Vincent plays with the rules - inventing little things here and there and coming up with fun little ways to change up the action. He's the designer, so it's his prerogative to do so, but you'd never "get there" just by reading the book, and most people who play AW apply the rules far more strictly.

    From what I've seen people do and Vincent explain when talking about this example later:

    * Don't normally go in "rounds", unless it's needed for clarity (which is especially helpful when you're writing an example on a forum and need to be concise!) or it's PC vs PC and you want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to act.

    Going "round by round", in other words, is an optional way to organize the conversation, just like you might do with a group of friends: "Hey, let's make sure everyone has a say on this, OK? Why don't you start, Julie?"

    It's not a rule.

    I can't find a link, but I remember Vincent at some point talking about this (maybe it's in that forum thread, but later?) and explaining that he decided to go "round by round" just to make it easier to explain and type up.

    * There is no "asking for a read a sitch roll". When the PCs do it, you roll the move. That's it.

    In the example, there are hidden bad guys and the PCs are scoping out the situation. So, prior to the first "round", they both roll to read the situation - because that's what they are doing: looking around and trying to figure out what's what.

    In the first "round" itself, no one rolls to read a situation; they're fighting, instead.

    In the second "round", one of them is trying to get a look over a wall or something, to figure out where the bad guys are. That's very explicitly a "read a situation" move, so they roll for it. The other PC isn't doing anything like that, so they don't.

    In the third round, no one rolls to read anything - they're all busy doing stuff and shooting people.

    I wouldn't assume anything from that about when and how to use "read a situation" any differently than any other move.
  • edited July 2018
    Fair enough, I agree with your read on this example. I tried to find what led me to believe you were... lets call it pushing? instead of calling for a read a sitch roll, but looking over it again I think I was just looking at his "Read a sitch and person rolls are your best friend." Paraphrasing a little bit by the way. I still swear I read somewhere that you call for it often, but I can't find anything to back up that memory :/

    Edit* When I say "call for" I simply mean ask the player to roll, I totally get it that the players actions/established fiction trigger the move not the MC.

    When I originally found this example i was having trouble with Monster of the week, making combat situations fun, or less monotonous at least, (yes i understand pbta doesn't have combat as a separate thing, that being said it is different in terms of expectations, scene description, tone, ect, ect.) I think I latched onto the read a sitch advice precisely because my players were not "scoping out the situation," they were just acting and there wasn't a lot of information in the scene. So I started calling for lots of reading the situation because, frankly it needed to happen.

    So I guess I've got my answer, its specified when the fiction calls for it, aka when the player sounds like they are "reading a charged situation." Still I get the impression that things work best when you liberally interpret the player in favor of giving them tactical info, and I'm not sure I can agree that "If they never do that, it's their problem."
  • edited July 2018
    What about the other part, Is it good advice to ask what everyone in the combat scenario is doing before anyone rolls any dice?
  • I'd have them roll for it as soon as they try to get an overview of the battlefield. The potential risk is getting spotted and shot at or possibly wasting time and getting snuck up on.

    If they never read the sitch the fog of war will be heavy.
  • Here's how I look at it:

    Rolling to read the situation is always the player's prerogative. It's never the MC's call or the MC's decision. Why? Because it's risky.

    When Vincent says to "push" making a move, I think he's talking about either a)
    reminding the players that it's a possibility, or b) creating charged situations and opportunities to use the move.

    I definitely recommend doing this a lot, because people forget sometimes:

    Player: "I'm crouching behind the bunker, and I'm trying to figure out how to get to the jeep. Can I see where that guy with the flamethrower is right now?"
    MC: "You lost sight of that guy after the explosion, but he shouldn't be hard to spot if you wait for a moment and keep your eyes peeled. Oh, hey, are you trying to read the sitch?"

    And the player can always say, "Nah, I know what I need to know and there's no time to lose. I [do this other thing]!" (Maybe it's, "Screw that! I'm running over to the jeep! If I take a bullet, so be it.")

    As Krippler says, you can play with the "fog of war" to make reading the situation more or less appealing/important (as I did in my example, above). I think Vincent's advice is good here, though: always say what honesty demands and be generous with information. Reading the sitch is generally so useful and effective that players will want to make it anyway. And, if they don't, that's entirely cool - it means they have immediate goals and know what they want, and that's almost always a good sign about the success of your game.
    What about the other part, Is it good advice to ask what everyone in the combat scenario is doing before anyone rolls any dice?
    Like I said earlier, think of this as a conversational technique rather than a rule or a procedure. Would the game flow more smoothly right now if we had everyone hold their dice and announce actions? (Ron Edwards called this the "free and clear phase" - a moment where everyone can say what they're doing, and everyone is free to change their mind, until everyone has settled on something, and then we move ahead with resolving those things.)

    If there's a confusing or complex situation, and people's decisions depend on what everyone else is doing, it might be a good idea to have a "free and clear" phase.

    e.g. "So, what are you doing, Dremmer? [...] Ok, as you get ready to do that, you can see that Lug and Chrysler are frantically trying to open up the storm drain hatch, as the acid spray continues from above. [I'm telling the player what the NPCs' "declared actions" are, as well, so they have an idea of what's likely to happen in the next few moments.] What are you two doing in the meantime? [Turning to the other players, then back to Dremmer:] Now that you have the full picture, do you still want to run over to the jeep, as you said earlier? [...] Ok, great, sounds like you're acting under fire. Roll+cool!"

    Don't do this by reflex or by default. Use it when it's necessary and would help clarify things.

    In my games, it's rare unless there's a large and messy situation with multiple PCs involved. Then it's occasionally handy.

    A good cue for when to do is if a player says something like, "OK, I'm going to do ________.... oh, wait, hang on: what did you say Bish was doing, Lucie? That might change things." "Oh, yeah, I'm climbing over the fence!" "OK!"

    That's probably a good time to get both players to declare their actions and then only resolve them afterwards.
  • Ok thanks for the help everyone, I'd say your advice matches my experience, I just want to make sure there wasn't a best practice I was missing or miss understood.
  • While you shouldn't ask for rolling as an MC, IIRC Vincent suggested read a sitch/person to players a couple of times in play examples, especially while teaching the game!
  • Yeah, don't ask the player to read a sitch the way you might have a PC make a Notice roll in another game, but if it's a confusing situation or the player seems stuck, read a sitch is a great thing to suggest.

    By the way, I have a rule of thumb I like to follow when running combat in PBTA games; if there have been two consecutive turns where the PCs are doing the same thing, it's time for the MC to mix it up. PBTA's combat engine is basic enough that if you just have everybody hunkered down behind a car, shooting at some other dudes who are in a truck, it's going to get bland and abstract very quickly. That's not good advice for every RPG, I think, but it is for PBTA games.

    If somebody misses their roll, then that's a good opportunity to throw in something new (OK, the car you've been hiding behind is now on fire), or have the antagonists do something different, like trying to outflank the PCs or demanding a cease-fire. I got a lot of inspiration from watching action movies, especially superhero action movies -- every few beats, something happens that changes up the action, like new enemies showing up or the heroes getting separated and fighting individual duels with specific bad guys.

    Also, you can always telescope the action and summarize: "you've got the drop on these guys, it's going to take a while and you might lose a couple of your gang but you're clearly going to wipe them all out. Is that what you do?" Wrapping up the fight quickly lets you take some of the fighty momentum forward into the post-combat scene.
  • edited August 2018
    Just for some further clarification, as I understand it the moves are triggered by the fiction right? Your players shouldn't be asking to roll for basic moves right? The player doesn't ask to Act under fire for example.

    The player says they are looking for hidden enemies and then you the MC say, "so your reading a charged situation? Cool roll" Or the player says "I want to head to the top of that wall and keep those f**kers from having the high ground," "Sounds like a seize by force to me! Grab them dice!"

    As an MC I don't ask players to "make a notice check," but I am on the lookout for when actions trigger moves.

    So I mean who determines when a move is triggered, or am i completely doing it wrong.
  • I think the technique initially described here -- taking turns with actions, making lots of "read" rolls -- is an interesting solution to standard AW combat not being to a group's liking.

    If the actions just go to whomever speaks first, and that isn't working, or if too many players are "paused" not announcing their actions while other things happen with other characters, or if no one can make meaningful decisions because the fictional particulars are too murky... then yeah, maybe rounds and reads is a better approach.

    I like the idea of formal turn-taking in situations where all players want their characters to contribute, regardless of whether such turns correspond to any version of "combat time". Without formal turn-taking, IME, one inspired player can wind up doing everything while everyone else just gets rushed through without enough time to think of contributions. The MC can of course break this up by throwing "What do you do?" prompts at specific other players, but that's a skill not all MCs have.

    Maybe that's the simplest solution, though: have the MC keep moving the spotlight, even in the middle of combat. Conversationally, the spotlight-shift might need to be done as part of the response to a failed or successful roll, before a player can jump in with their next action.
  • @David_Berg

    It definitely helped with that group. And after a while it faded into the background once everyone got into a flow.

    The only downside I found was that it was sometimes challenging to come up with enough info for read a sitch questions, which honestly meant I there wasn't enough description/information in the fictional scene, so it also helped me realize where more fictional elements needed to be added.
  • Makes sense to me!

    Interesting about "heads up, I guess we need more fictional detail" -- that makes me want to encourage Read a Sitch more. :)
  • Just for some further clarification, as I understand it the moves are triggered by the fiction right? Your players shouldn't be asking to roll for basic moves right? The player doesn't ask to Act under fire for example.
    No, the players can absolutely name the move they want to go for. It's legit for someone to say "I'm going to go Aggro on this dude" or "I want to Manipulate him into giving me what I want," but they should also say how they're doing it and if they forget the MC should remind them with "How are you doing that?"
  • As Himalayan Salt said it. Also, you should ask for clarification as an MC too: 'Are you trying to go aggro? No? So you just manipulating him to think that you will pull the trigger, right?'
  • Using "reading" moves to add detail to scenes and situations... that's one of the prime (and best/most important) functions, in my opinion.

    They're one of the best parts/innovations of Apocalypse World, in my opinion.

    A friend of mine ran a once-a-week episodic campaign of Fallen Empires once (it's Apocalypse World reskinned for fantasy). Each session featured new characters and started at least partially "from scratch".

    The various prompts from reading moves (not just the Basic Moves, but also things like the "deep brain scan", "things speak", questions you get to ask as part of some sex moves, and so forth) brought the setting ahd the characters to life for us, week after week.

    It's entirely legitimate to simply say, "hey, that's a gap in our fiction" and make something up on the spot.

    For example, my character once used "things speak" on the bridle of another PC's camel. As a result, we learned that his sister had been ensorceled and turned into a camel...

    That led to several sessions of play, eventually turning her back into her human self, and launching two other highly important plot lines. One PC sacrificed his life to bring her back, another had to make a bargain with dead gods...

    All from a single "reading" question we hadn't considered the answer to just yet (and, initially, a nervous player trying to give a silly answer). Great stuff.
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