The Sharp moves in Apocalypse World

So the pattern for Read a sitch/person is 10+ ask three, 7-9 ask two, miss to ask one and you won't like it.

Two things there make me go "hmm" and I hoped some people might chime in with experience of how they've used/experienced those moves in play.

The pattern for basic moves in AW is: hit = good, miss = bad, partial = good, but also bad. Or sometimes "good, if you're willing to pay the price".

The partial success for the sharp moves is just "a little less good". Partial successes normally lead to complications. Where's the consequences? Where's the price? I'd have expected something like "ask two, but one of them will be bad news".

Partial success on a Sharp move seems to lack teeth compared to other moves. Does that sound silly? Am I looking at it wrong?

Finally, it's not explicit in the move description, but the example suggests that the MC makes a hard move on a miss. But for whatever reason I'm having a hard time getting a feel for how that looks in play (despite the example in the book). If anyone's got some memorable sharp-misses from their games I'd love to hear about them.

Comments

  • A typical Read-a-sitch miss would be sticking your head out from cover and getting shot in the face by a sniper. The cost of gathering information is that you invariably expose yourself by asking questions or are seen snooping about. What I typically do with Read-a-person is instead have the NPC ask 3 questions and get true answers from the PC.
  • edited March 13
    I believe the intent is twofold.

    First, the moves are "safer" than regular moves, which means players can use them without fearing the consequences (not to mention the +1 forward). This generates incentive to use them. Second, the moves are leading questions, prompting the GM to create threats, dangers, and wrinkles for the PCs. These are the consequences of the move.

    Example:

    "What is my best escape route?"
    "There's a door in the back guarded by Barker. He's got a crowbar in one hand a shotgun slung over his shoulder."
  • Not all moves in AW follow the structure of 7-9 meaning a mixed outcome. Some moves in 7-9 are kind of bad for the PC, like go aggro. For other ones, nothing wrong happens when missing. I wouldn't demand that all moves follow the same structure either, I prefer them this way.

    I guess the "bad" thing about a 7-9 when reading sb/sth is that, with only 2 questions to ask, is that it's easier for some important detail about the situation to remain undetected. I'd perhaps adjust it to 1 question for a 7-9 if I wanted it harder.
  • edited March 13
    Exactly right. I'll note that in 1st Edition, the "reading" moves were far less generous: on a 7-9, you got one question, and on a miss you didn't get any at all.

    I think that the Bakers eventually decided that the transfer of information that happens on a "reading" roll was just too much fun/value added not to use every time. As ValyrianSteelKatana notes, having the answer to a question isn't always a definite "good" for you - it's usually better than not knowing, but it can still lead to trouble.

    But the 1st Edition version works quite well - it's not a necessary change.

    I like to try to get players to describe how they're reading someone or a situation in some detail, so we get a sense of what the character is doing. Often, this might expose them to danger, use up resources, or use up time. For instance, sticking your head out from cover, pulling out binoculars, or spending a precious moment assessing your surroundings in the midst of a deadly situation.

    In any case, by choosing to 'read' something or someone, the PC is giving up initiative: they're taking their 'turn' trying to figure out what's going on, which means that whoever else is on the scene can act. That could mean your enemies gain the momentum, escape, shoot you, make a move of their own, or a countdown clocks advances.

    Sometimes that's not much of a cost or a danger: that's OK, too. "Reading" moves are fun, and they always add something to the game. You get more fictional detail, more colour, more tactical options, and you learn more about the characters in your game. They're probably my favourite part of AW!

    (Moves vary a great deal in terms of their positive/negative balance. If "reading" offends you, how do you feel about the new version of Seize by Force and the various "supporting" battle moves? Many of those don't have any downsides at all! That worries me a bit, frankly.)
  • DBBDBB
    edited March 14
    Sincere question: Does anyone actually like the question-list moves, in and of themselves, in Powered by the Apocalypse games?

    In my experience, they consistently confuse and frustrate players and MCs alike. Players have a specific question they want to ask but have to mush it into the box of one of the list options, and MCs have to navigate around the question asked to provide the info. And nobody knows what to do with the extra questions you get for rolling a 10+.

    Like, I get that the goal is to thematically focus player thinking, and in the best designs the question you want to ask is on the list 90% of the time, but by and large I've found these moves to be a drag. Sometimes you just want to find out if you know a thing!

    I have to say, reading the above, I really wish some of these more explicit consequences were baked into moves like Read a Sitch. Everything @Paul_T describes makes me like the move, everything in the move as written makes me dislike it.
  • I love them - like I said, possibly my favourite part of AW and PbtA games.

    I really saw their power when a friend of mine ran a "drop-in" ongoing game of Fallen Empires (the fantasy reskin of AW, but same game). Each session had different players and characters (some recurring, some new), and a brand new "chapter" in the ongoing developing story.

    It was amazing to see how the various "reading" moves - read a person, sure, but also things like the "deep brain scan" and "things speak" - creating fiction and backstory on the spot, lending depth to characters and situations, and enriching so many scenes with setting lore, personal history, tactical details, and interesting motivations. I saw a few sessions that worked purely based on one good move of this sort, and a whole arc of a story, which lasted for almost 10 sessions, started all because my character used "things speak" on a particularly important subject.

    It seems to me that it works best when you just embrace the move as a sort of "what can I learn?" tool, as opposed to looking for a specific piece of information.

    What does it look like when it goes wrong? We could brainstorm ways to fix it.
  • I like the suggestion from Vincent in this thread on the official forums about turning their move back on them for misses.
    DBB said:

    In my experience, they consistently confuse and frustrate players and MCs alike. Players have a specific question they want to ask but have to mush it into the box of one of the list options, and MCs have to navigate around the question asked to provide the info. And nobody knows what to do with the extra questions you get for rolling a 10+.

    I've definitely experienced the situation where I hit a 10+ and didn't know what to do with my extra questions.

    I like the interpretation where the list is a guide for what level of info the MC should be giving, not a restriction on what the player's allowed to ask (it also means the player can ask their question before rolling).

    So the player asks "How can I take over this town before nightfall?" and the MC replies "Henrietta runs this place (Who's in control here). Nowadays she spends her time drinking the day away (Who's most vulnerable to me) but there's a skinny guy hangs around with her who keeps on top of things (Which enemy is the biggest threat).
  • edited March 14
    Is this really a problem? I mean, you don't have to ask all the questions. If one answers what you need to know, just say "cool" and tell us what you do next.
  • While I like the ideas of the question list, I agree that it can feel like a "wasted" roll if you only have one question to ask but you hit a 10+. It's the Gambler's Fallacy, but the player might wish he had that 10+ on a riskier move like Act Under Fire or Go Aggro. As a simple hack, you could spend hold throughout the duration of the scene to ask more questions as gameplay unfolds.

    If you start by asking, "Which enemy is the most vulnerable to me?" and the GM says, "Tum Tum," and you Go Aggro on him and miss, you might spend your remaining questions to ask, "What is my best escape route?" so you can make your way out of a bad situation.
  • Makes sense. That's already how "read a person" works after all.
  • See, all of these are really good suggestions! Why is none of this part of the move?

    As an MC, I actually have very little trouble with misses on the question list moves – it’s specifically parsing out successes and partial successes that trips me up. With misses, keep in mind that you have all of your hard moves available. You can use a miss to do something completely unrelated that complicates the characters’ lives or kicks the story forward:

    “6- on read a person? Well yeah, June is telling the truth about the water cache. But guess what, as you’re talking to her, your old pal Duke walks in, whacking a wrench into his palm. Seems like he’s finally here to call in that favor you owe him, and he’s not taking no for an answer.”

    Or go even more dramatic:

    “-6 on read a sitch? Vega is definitely in control here, but not for long... see, you didn’t notice the gas cans rigged up in the corners of the barter tent. And now they all explode.”

    So that’s fine. But when you have a 10+ or a 7-9, then people get stuck. I like the idea of using the questions as guides for how much info you give, and of using them to flesh out the fiction, but neither of those is readily supported by the moves as written. And then you get into the extra questions situation, where players feel like they’ve gained a resource by rolling well but don’t know what the heck to do with it. In that case, not using all your questions usually feels like giving something up (the Gambler’s Fallacy mentioned above). In practice, I usually see something like this:

    “Okay, I want to start quickly looking around the bunker before those cars on the horizon get here. Are there any guns around?”
    [As the MC, I’d like to leave this one up to the dice, because that’s more dramatically interesting than just saying yes or no.] “Sounds like you’re trying to read a sitch. Roll +sharp for me.”
    “Okay, that’s a 11!”
    “Cool, you get three questions from the list.”
    “Uhhhh... [At this point, the entire game stops for up to several minutes while the player looks over the question list.] ...I don’t know. None of these seem to apply. I just want to know if there are guns or not.”
    “I think ‘what should I be on the lookout for?’ is probably closest?”
    “Okay, fine, what should I be on the lookout for?”
    [Now I have to answer this question instead of the question the player actually wants to ask.] “You should look for the old weapons lockers under the bunks. And remember, you got a 10+, so you have 2 more questions.”
    “Uhhh, hm. I only really wanted to know about the guns...” [Then the player spends further minutes fumbling around trying to think which other questions they can ask, or giving up in disappointment when they can’t decide which ones would be useful.]

    This isn’t the perfect example, but hopefully it conveys the gist. And I am open to the possibility that I’m playing the game entirely wrong here. But I’ve seen this kind of thing constantly with these question lists, as both a player and an MC, across a wide swath of PbtA games.
  • edited March 15
    That's really interesting.

    I've never seen a hiccup with these moves.

    Your example helps illustrate the kind of trouble you're seeing. Thanks!

    In the example you're offering, though, the problem is that it's not a "charged situation", which is pointed out quite specifically in the rules.

    There's no move being made there - you should respond with an MC move, instead: for example, "offer an opportunity with a cost" - "You could spend some time rifling through the boxes. By the time you do, though, they will probably be here and surrounding the building. Do you want to do that?"
  • edited March 15
    It sounds like you're using the +sharp moves as a Perception check, which is decidedly not an Apocalypse World-ism. Perception checks don't really exist in the PbtA framework for one reason or another (all of them good within the context of PbtA).
    “Okay, I want to start quickly looking around the bunker before those cars on the horizon get here. Are there any guns around?”
    [As the MC, I’d like to leave this one up to the dice, because that’s more dramatically interesting than just saying yes or no.] “Sounds like you’re trying to read a sitch. Roll +sharp for me.”
    If you want to roll here (I would advise against it and instead do what @Paul_T suggests), I would recommend instead rolling to Act Under Fire. The character is searching, trying to keep a clear head while the rival gang is riding up on him. On a 7-9, he finds the guns but the gang rides up, while on a 10+ he gets the guns before they're in place.
  • edited March 15
    Exactly. The "read a sitch" move is a very specific kind of dramatic beat: it's when the hero has that "oh, shit" moment, realizing that some action might be about to go down. It won't work just for "noticing things" in general. That's not what it's meant to do.

    (You've also mentioned other PbtA games, though. I don't know which ones you're talking about - there are so many now! - but I've seen a lot of PbtA designs get this wrong, and build in lacklustre "perception check"-type moves inspired by "read a sitch". I can well see those being a drag in play, even though I haven't actually played those particular games - usually, if I see that kind of design, I lose interest in the game pretty fast and it never makes it to my table.)

    On a sidenote, this is something I've often talked about in the past:

    People sometimes ask what "system mastery" means in the context of PbtA games. There's fairly little "system mastery" in terms of character builds and using the right abilities at the right time (although there is a tiny bit), and often doing so isn't rewarding at all, since it doesn't serve the creative needs of the game (e.g. people who get clever about taking stat substitution moves to rack up XP).

    It's my position that "system mastery" in AW (and its descendants) is all about learning to be really good at applying the right moves at the right times. Being able to pick the right situations in play, and being able to time their use *just right*, is what makes the games really sing at the table.
  • edited March 15
    Paul_T said:

    (You've also mentioned other PbtA games, though. I don't know which ones you're talking about - there are so many now! - but I've seen a lot of PbtA designs get this wrong, and build in lacklustre "perception check"-type moves inspired by "read a sitch". I can well see those being a drag in play, even though I haven't actually played those particular games - usually, if I see that kind of design, I lose interest in the game pretty fast and it never makes it to my table.)

    That is what I meant. Usually, PbtA games that push too hard towards a traditional RPG model have muddled design principles that make the game stale and poorly-designed. There's a reason that the progenitor of all PbtA doesn't have a Perception check, and there's a reason that the well-regarded PbtA hacks and offshoots don't have Perception checks. For one thing, it's difficult to do them properly in the ternary resolution framework (typically, you either notice or don't notice something), plus there's an issue with lumping "noticing something important" into a framework of active abilities (moves), plus when you have some important or interesting information you want to drop on the PCs, it's better just to tell them than to hide it behind a Perception check.

    At least those are all my thoughts in addition to whatever I've commented in the Perception Thread.
  • Indeed. Here's a link to that thread (may be worthwhile reading for those interested in this topic):

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/21890/perception
  • So, I'm trying to think through the implications to having sharp moves in the Act Under Fire model. "Read The Sitch" might look something like:
    When you're under threat and trying to get a handle on the scene, say what you're looking for and roll +Sharp:
    10+ - The MC helps you out with three answers from the list, gain +1 when acting on an answer.
    7-9 - As 10+, but only two answers unless you open yourself up to the threat.
    6- - One answer, but you've exposed yourself to a threat or put yourself in a bad spot.
    [insert usual question list]
    The consequences of failure are more explicit - if you poke you're head out it might get shot off, and if you're snooping around you might get caught. Which also (to my mind at least) reinforces that this is an active move; something your character decides to do.

    What does this change, functionally?

    You can take a hit to get 3 answers even on a 7-9, and the miss consequence is the fire you're under rather than getting your answer turned back on you.

    I suppose it's less obvious how to use it in a "safe" situation, but then I'd expect the MC to just answer the questions plain if there's nothing else going on. And Read A Sitch already says "is the situation charged? It is now."

    I suspect I'd find this variant a little easier to use in play, but maybe it's also limiting possibilities in a way that I'm not considering?
  • I am uncertain that adding such a move truly benefits the game as a whole, especially when that move is an amalgamation of two other moves. I would suggest playtesting it and tweaking it.

    As an alternative, I might do something like:

    Investigate: When you’re on the lookout for something specific, tell the MC what you’re looking for. If it’s probable for it to be there, roll +sharp.

    On a 10+, you find what you’re after. On a 7-9, it’s compromised, inconvenient, or dangerous to pursue.

    But I still don’t much care for this, to be frank. The fictional trigger is weak (imo), and the spontaneous generation of such content in that manner rubs me the wrong way.

    I might suggest a custom advance, something like:

    Keen: When you’re keeping an eye out for something specific, you roll +sharp when you Act Under Fire.

    However, I am still uncertain if this is a problem in desperate need of solving. From my view, this is like trying to add an ability that allows someone to parry a melee attack: AW is not built to handle that kind of gameplay. Trying to hack that into the system weakens the existing moves and detracts more than it provides. (It’s why I dislike both Discern Realities and Defy Danger.)

    My inclination is that you should test and figure out what works for your group (then let us know).
  • I'm not trying to create a new move to enable investigation scenes. I'm not trying to add an extra move to the game at all.

    The move I posted was an attempt to reformat "Read The Sitch" into something a little riskier (as described in my initial post), and incorporating some of people's best practice advice into the move as written.

    I'm sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

    This thread is very frustrating to me. I feel like I'm asking "Help me understand why X is not more Y. How have you used X in your games?" And a lot of these responses are just telling me at length that I'm wrong to ask the questions.

    Maybe I've done a bad job of expressing myself, or I'm just asking stupid questions. But frankly, I'm feeling very unwelcome here and I'm going to bow out.
  • edited March 17
    Hello! Three things:

    1. Reading deliberately lacks teeth, as pointed out above, to encourage their use. A hit is a hit, 10+ just isn't that amazing for these.

    2. Reading should not be done unless the situation is charged in the first place. So on a miss there's some clear thing that can go wrong. Remember a miss does not mean the move has to be devastating, just as hard as you like. Extra questions will typically be welcome if the situation is really charged, but you're right sometimes the questions are boring or the answers are boring, oh well.

    3. Wanting information does not trigger the moves. Player wants a question answered, just answer it. If the player wants to make sure they are getting the truth, the moves specify what the MC (or other player if reading a person) is obligated to tell them. But every character can just look around and see what they see or the MC can say "you can't tell, want to read?" or "looks to you like it might be x?" when it's really y.

    If you don't know the answer and don't want to make one up, use the "disclaim decision making" tools.
    NPC - Would Rolfball leave some guns lying around here?
    Player - Ask them "what do you think?"
    Countdown/Stakes - Say maybe, it's gonna take time/cost you something to find out, do you do it? (If they do it, give them the goods/info. Be a fan.)

    I want to stress that the dice do not get to determine the truth of anything. Don't use them to find out what's what. There are no random tables in AW. It's the MC's job to do that, usually prompted by the players. "It would be more dramatically interesting for the dice to decide" is not an option. Make the most dramatically interesting decision, guided by agenda and principles. The move lists serve their own purpose.
  • Thomas T said:


    This thread is very frustrating to me. I feel like I'm asking "Help me understand why X is not more Y. How have you used X in your games?" And a lot of these responses are just telling me at length that I'm wrong to ask the questions.

    Maybe I've done a bad job of expressing myself, or I'm just asking stupid questions. But frankly, I'm feeling very unwelcome here and I'm going to bow out.

    This is kind of funny and kind of sad. This happens A LOT, for whatever reason, with Apocalypse World. Someone comes with a problem they're having, and everyone else tells them, "No, you're just reading it wrong. The problem you're describing doesn't exist."

    I've seen dozens of such threads, and I've usually been the one asking the annoying questions and getting talked down. So I hear you.

    Suddenly I'm on the other side of the debate, though! Now here I am, trying to see how I can explain why the rules, as written, already do what you're asking, and I'm not sure how to say it better. It's a weird position to be in, because I'm well aware that I sound like those people who often frustrate me, but I don't know what else to say.

    To me, all the small "pointers", above, flow naturally from the moves and the Principles.

    I can kind of see what you're going for with your rewrite, but I'm also not totally sold on it.

    I like, for example, that, like in the play example in the book, the player can simply *announce* that they're reading the sitch - "it's charged now" means that the PC is the one bringing the "charge", as it were, and that's a cool use of the move.

    The problem with your example is that "are there weapons here?" is not a proper way to initiate a "read a charged situation" move. It's not necessarily the easiest thing to explain why, but the short version is that you've found that out for yourself - so, now that you know this, don't do it anymore. Not super satisfying, right? And yet, it works. (Kind of like how you eventually learn not to make people roll "to hit" against a helpless target in a game of D&D unless there's some kind of time pressure or other reason why them "missing" is plausible and has repercussions. It's more art than science.)

    Are there other cases where it's causing trouble?
  • edited March 17
    And now I'm going to be the contrarian! (Well, only a little. I'm actually almost entirely agreeing!)
    AaronF said:


    1. Reading deliberately lacks teeth, as pointed out above, to encourage their use. A hit is a hit, 10+ just isn't that amazing for these.

    [...]

    [2]I want to stress that the dice do not get to determine the truth of anything. Don't use them to find out what's what. There are no random tables in AW. It's the MC's job to do that, usually prompted by the players. "It would be more dramatically interesting for the dice to decide" is not an option. Make the most dramatically interesting decision, guided by agenda and principles. The move lists serve their own purpose.

    1. I find this quite the opposite of my experience! At least sometimes, anyway.

    Reading a situation or a person is often easy to do and cost/risk-free, and those three questions can really give you a huge advantage! It's not just the +1 for up to three possible moves (which is a big deal on its own!), it's also that you've just forced the MC to define or make up three points of really advantageous fictional positioning for your character. Suddenly, an escape route exists (where previously none existed), an enemy has a vulnerability that can be exploited (whereas one might not have before), and you know where an enemy is hiding.

    Even aside from the +1 and the possibility of creating fictional positioning which benefits your character, you may also be able to take advantage of those facts without making a move (for instance, you find out that the enemy is hiding in the dugout, and your buddy the Gunlugger is there with his grenade launcher).

    Get the Battlebabe's "Impossible Reflexes" and "reading a sitch" gets even more impact.

    It's powerful stuff!

    2. This is generally true, but no one's stopping you from bringing in a random table or rolling dice, should you really feel the need. It won't break the game!

    You can always add a custom MC move, which is, "When the player asks a question, ask them to a roll a single die. On an even result, the answer is 'yes'."

    If that improves your game, then why not?

    But, then, why isn't that in the game already?

    The catch is that, if you're properly using the Agenda and Principles, you should find that you very rarely (if ever) need it. Some combination of "say who honesty demands", "say what your prep demands", "name everyone, make them human", "make the PCs' lives interesting", and "make Apocalypse World real" should generally (perhaps even always) give you a far better answer than a die roll. Throwing in something dramatically interesting and fictionally plausible is basically what you get to do in AW - that's your way to play and have fun when you're the MC.

    And when it doesn't, disclaim responsibility - to an NPC, to a stakes question, to your threat writeups, or to a player (whether the same one or a different one - "Hey, what kind of weapons do you think Dremmer keeps in his hut?") works really nicely.

    If you additionally present it as an MC move, then it further makes it actionable and interesting to play out. Throws an interesting question right back at the players, something they can engage with.

    e.g.

    "Separate them" - "You move deeper inside the home and the floorboards collapse under you. Looks like the bastard was storing stolen goods - including ammunition - under the floorboards, but they've rotten through! You're lying in the dirt under the house, now, with no obvious way out. What do you do?"

    "Offer an opportunity, with or without cost" - "There's a door at the back, but it's locked. Still, the wood is weak and the metal of the lock rusty. You could probably break it open pretty easily, but it'll take precious time and make a lot of noise. Do you want to do that?"

    And so on. All more interesting than just a "yes" or "no".

    The basic rule which anyone coming from other games to AW should know is:

    "When you're playing AW, and you feel like you're supposed to ask them to roll... but no move obviously applies (you know that feeling? you're itching to reach for the dice, but you're not sure what for, because in other games you've played you'd roll the dice right now?), it's time for you to make an MC move."
  • @Thomas T the fallout of a failed roll in AW is usually determined by the fictional positioning. If you "go aggro" by sniping at someone a mile away the immediate fallout of a bad roll might be that your position is discovered, you run out of ammo or that you hit someone you shouldn't (if these "seem real" within the ficiton). The same would go for Reading a stitch or a person, usually the fallout would be a softer move unless it is established that bullets are flying in your general direction, there are patrols looking for suspicious characters. The purpose of MC moves from my perspective is to move the fiction forwards, the risk to the PC isn't as important as the unbalancing of the the status quo (locally or globally). They might not have shot you on this blown roll, but next time they will, not the situation is changed, the fiction is going somewhere.

    The opposite here is the game where someone rolls Perception to find the secret door under no time pressure. Fails, knowingly or not, and simply tries again till it works.
  • My experience with the "Read" moves is that the risk comes from it mechanically calling for you to zoom in on the current scene. When I read "charged situation", I imagine that the immediate details suddenly become important, the questions listed being things that are relevant to the current scene (you can't carry them over to the next, unrelated scene). I believe somewhere it is said that it doesn't need to be a charged situation before, but by engaging in the move it becomes a charged situation.
    Since the difficulty in AW comes from both the risk of the fictional positioning and the amount of times you roll (risking more moves made against you between the now and your goal), the situation becoming charged calls for more detailed information, which calls for more rolls, which calls for more risks. Every time someone rolls to read a sitch or person, the game gets more difficult. The +1 forward off-sets this, but only if you are positioning yourself correctly based on the answers given.
  • @Thomas T, I’d like to apologize – I think I inadvertently derailed your thread. People seem to be conflating your problem with mine. I thought I was bringing up a related but separate issue. (We both want to know why the “read” moves don’t generate certain kinds of outcomes.) I was hoping one would illuminate the other, as the ultimate problem they create at the table is narrative dead-ends (or at least weaker story advancement than other AW moves with harder consequences).

    Now clearly, based on the conversation, my problem is that I’m just using the move wrong. I’m calling for it at the wrong time, asking for a player move when I should be making an MC move, etc. Which is fine – everyone’s clarifications on this have been very helpful and sharpened my thinking on this. I’m definitely going to be better at running these kinds of games for having read the advice here.

    But! This thread is not about me or my problems, it’s an examination of the design of this move. And you aren’t making the mistakes I am with it, and you’re asking a different question. (Personally, I really like your reformulation of the move – it gives it teeth without being unnecessarily punitive.) So, my apologies, and to everyone else thank you for the advice!
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