Huge group/inconsistent groups [Apocalypse World 2]

So, I have been playing apocalypse world with a group for over a month consistently every week. All together we have 8 playbooks in play.

So I have already looked this up and know that you guys are probably going to tell me I'm crazy and I do not disagree.

Essentially my meetup group has suddenly kicked off and everybody really enjoys playing with everybody else it's a really good group and I was trying to get the group to split after the first session but they really liked playing together. Add to that it was hard to work around everybody else is schedule to get another day of the week where everyone or enough people were available.

So we have had pretty uneven play. The first couple of sessions I think there was basically a scene per person and maybe one person had two scenes and that was it. but that didn't make anyone want to leave the table they continue to want to play.

We had one session where a lot of people couldn't make it and we just had four and that went great and the ton of stuff happened but now those folks have had way more play time then the folks who were unable to make it.

The introverts in the group have really suffered I have two players who told me they've only ever rolled the dice once each. when I try to have a session to focus on them then suddenly those folks can't make it LOL.

One of the players is our potential other MC but he really doesn't like the idea of co-MC'ing.

So I basically have a situation where I'm hoping certain folks can't make it to a certain day so that we have a smaller group.

Beyond that do any of you have advice for this?


  • Interesting situation! The group size is definitely a challenge, but if the players are enjoying it and into the game, then perhaps you should trust that they're having a good time. (Though I would watch for signs of discontent or frustration, because it could be just enthusiasm overriding the problems for now.)

    Some off-the-cuff thoughts and advice:

    * I've seen two successful examples of large-group "story play".

    One is Critical Role, which often has 5-7 players (plus GM), but makes it work because everyone is so conscientious about paying attention, ceding the spotlight, and caring about each other (both as people and characters).

    They also are aware that certain characters may step into the "spotlight" for a time and others might step back. Kind of like Primetime Adventures' "screen presence", there might be a story arc which focuses on a particular character for a few sessions (or as many as a dozen!), and then it's someone else's turn. They play the "long game", with any particular player knowing that patience is key and sooner or later they will be the focus of attention, while supporting whoever might be "in focus" at the moment.

    Another was a "Fallen Empires" (AW hack by Vincent) game, which met consistently every week but had a different roster every session. Some players would be consistent, coming almost every week, but many others simply would show up once or twice and never come back.

    This one worked by making play highly "episodic" (almost like a sitcom or something like that). Every session was a minor self-contained "plot" or story, and only the recurring characters would connect them to each other. (If you've ever played In a Wicked Age..., you can get a sense of what this might look like!)

    It also worked because the GM/MC took meticulous notes and knew who would be coming in advance, so he could come up with something which would bring together the particular characters who would show up. If it's the Hardholder and the Gunlugger, who does security for the Hardholder, then this session is probably going to be about a threat to the holding - that kind of thing.

    However, this game would still have "only" 3-5 players at any given session (I say "only" because I think 5 players for a game of AW is pretty hard to keep rolling!).

    * Hard and tight scene framing is really key. You can't waste any time, and "jumping ahead" to each subsequent scene allows you a lot of freedom to frame it - "Two weeks later, the water shortage has been resolved, and Jackabacka is being released from captivity. You and you, you find yourselves in the flatlands, when..."

    The Fallen Empires campaign did this on a session-by-session level, where there was no expectation that this week's session would follow immediately on last week's session - instead it might be "a month later..." or even something from the past. No need to stress about continuity too much.

    I find that having short, focused intense scenes and cutting back and forth often can make players feel like they're more involved - I can throw a scene at Player A, put them in a spot, then cut to Player B. They're still involved because they're trying to figure out what the hell they're going to do, and if you can get back to them within 10 minutes or so, they haven't checked out of the game.

    * Ron Edwards' "flashpoint" technique could be useful here. Basically, when it comes to a roll, you cut the scene and go to another player/scene. Leave them in suspense, ready to roll. Then, once everyone is at a cliffhanger of this sort, have them roll and resolve the scenes/situations.

    It works as an excuse/reminder to cut from character to character while keeping them involved/interested. And it's easy to remember if you left someone out - because they're not sitting there with dice in hand.

    * I'd try to look at ways I could separate the group, still. Perhaps literally split them into two groups (like an "A" group and a "B" group, alternating weeks). Or, if that's not practical, separate them thematically or by location. ("This week, we'll be dealing with the slavers invasion by the Lighthouse. If your character could be there, or is interested in the situation, you should come.")

    Maybe on alternating weeks you focus on the holding vs. the traveling caravan, or on dealing with issues of starvation vs. the problem with the maelstrom. (So that a character could be interested in or involved with both, potentially.) You could even separate these by Fronts, if you're using those - this week is all about such-and-such a Front, and whoever shows up will have to respond to that.

    * If you have the time and inclination, basically treat each session along the lines of the advice in the book for when "you haven't played in a while". Move things ahead, develop the situation, and write aggressive love letters for each character. That helps jumpstart things, separate them from the past, involve characters who were missing, and gives each player something to choose/do/react to before you even open the session.

    * Most importantly, simplify your "cast" so that the PCs are the focus.

    If I'm running a game of AW and I have 8 players... then they are just about the only important characters. All NPCs fall to the wayside. For all intents and purposes, the game should take a form where it almost feels like the PCs are the only people in the story.

    Focus on Hx relationships and power relationships. Set the characters up at odds with each other (and ask the players to do this themselves, of course). It should be much "player vs. player" than "players vs. an outside threat" - or, even if there is an outside threat, then it should take the form of a PC. Instead of a gang of cannibals coming to attack the holding, it's Barbecue the Chopper coming to attack the holding.

    Basically, every scene should be a charged situation between 2-4 PCs, and NPCs should be cut down to an absolute minimum.

    Again, something like IaWA or Dust Devils could work as a good model here: the PCs all have interests at odds with each other, and playing the game takes the form of them trying to resolve them against each other.

    This may require really paring down some of the playbooks which involve a lot of NPCs, or replacing those NPCs with PCs. For instance, the Angel has two "helpers"; make one or both a PC. And so forth. Cut the list of NPCs down to a minimum, force them into the background. Try to avoid any scenes where only a single PC is "on screen"; instead, cut ahead to their confrontation with (at least one) other PC (but better if it's a three-way or more!).
  • Paul has some really good advice here. The advice I would add for running a PBTA game with two many players (and for me 5 is already pushing the limit!) is split them up as much as possible, so the PCs can interact in smaller groups.

    Then keep trading off between groups, one cliffhanger at a time. The four guys with guns are on a raid when they get ambushed -- CUT.
    The other four guys with high Weird are examining some kind of ancient artifact when it turns on and starts emitting a piercing shriek --CUT.
    Missed rolls are a great time to throw in a cliffhanger and cut away.

    The other techniques I really like to use are what Ron Edwards calls Weaves and Crosses, which IIRC involve having events and themes cross over between PCs to create a sense of a living, changing world. So the shooty group hears the piercing shriek of the malfunctioning artifact, or the Weird group hears the firefight and -- better yet -- witnesses the aftermath of it when their favorite NPC comes home shot full of holes.

    Do this skillfully enough and the PCs will naturally reduce their numbers through attrition and fratricide, until you have a stable core group. :)

  • edited April 2019
    Great stuff, @Paul_T and @DannyK . I especially appreciate the references to the Flashpoint technique and Weaves and Crosses. Kudos.

  • edited April 2019
    Yes I also wanted to say these are great, I just didn't want to speak too soon so the advice kept coming :)
  • When I ran my 10p al-Qadim group we make cards of everyone's name, shuffled them up, laid them out in a line, and that was who was "caller".
    "Tarala, where are you, and who are you with?" or "Tarala, who do you go to see?"
  • For more fine-grained cutting I try to keep track of everyone's actions to make sure have gotten the same amount; did it for the last year by "tapping" (turning 90°⤵) cards with their names. Trying out a new system the last few weeks where I make tally marks on a list.

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