Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Genius of Apocalypse World- Part I

Apocalypse World is one of the most influential games to come out in a long time. It’s been commented frequently that hacking AW is the new d20. Perhaps not quite, but there’s a lot of AW hacks out there.


Why is Apocalypse World so awesome? There’s a couple of reasons. They aren’t all revolutionary (I think one of them is), any one of them in a game is enough to make it interesting, but the pieces coming together make a very awesome game.


These reasons are:

*The resolution mechanic is awesome.

*Character creation is really fun.

*The game tells you how to run it.

*The game encourages you to hack it.

*The move structure is a genius insight into how roleplaying games work.


Okay, part one: resolution mechanic.


The resolution mechanic is pretty simple. Roll 2d6 and add your stat. Note that the GM never tacks on modifiers- you can get mods from other, preestablished moves, but there’s no moment to moment “that’s a hard roll,” which means players can always expect the same level of competence. But more importantly, is what happens when you’ve got your result. You either have a failure (6 or less), a moderate success (7-9), a strong success (10+), or with the right advances, a critical success (12+).

All of these are interesting and fun results.


Too often, there are games where the result of a die roll is boring. There’s games with binary success/fail, where success gets stuff, but failure stalls the game. Fail the roll to find a clue or secret door? Guess you’re stuck. Failure often maintains the status quo, which is boring. All dice rolls should change the state of play. A failure in Apocalypse World is a license for the MC to screw with you, and always makes things more interesting.


The 7-9 level often involves some scarcity, choosing an option, or a less perfect version of total success- the iconic indie hard choice. The player has certainly succeeded, so they are better off than they were before, but they don’t always get everything they want, and often (depending on the move) there’s some price to their success.


On a 10+, awesomeness all around. You rock the house. Everyone loves being awesome. With the right character build, you can get this result a very high chunk of the time.


Why does this resonate with people? It’s fun. Every possible outcome of the dice makes the game more interesting, with hard choices, the play advancing, and no status quos.* Rolling the dice becomes exciting, because you don’t know what’s going to happen, and you get to engage positively with the system. Picking choices puts some of the power of resolution in the player’s hands.


Also, these decisions- the GM’s hard move on a failure, the hard choices and spending resources- these all happen after the roll. A criticism of explicit stakes systems- those where the consequences of failure or success are laid out before the roll- is that there’s too much ‘play before you play’ and that the aftermath of the roll is an afterthought. There’s none of that here. I don’t know if this was intentional on Vincent’s part, but thinking about it, the gameplay seems to flow much more naturally.


Even if one does not take the 2d6 Apocalypse World mechanic wholesale, the notion of the GM getting to make a hard move on a failure is pretty easy to understand and export- after all, haven’t some of us been doing that all along? This codifies it, and gives the GM guidelines for what’s fair and what’s not.


*There are a few weaknesses here. Help seems a little weak; I’ve seen several 7-9 help rolls go off that did not factor into the success or failure of the main action, and the MC didn’t apply any cost. Also, a huge fight, gang vs. gang, or a single badass person invading a stronghold can drag out, with many, many die rolls involved.

Tagged ,

Rebuilding D&D Boardgames: Monsters, Bosses, and Heroes


The difficulty in building a monster deck is the tradeoff between variety and challenge. More of the same monster means more challenge, but less variety. More monsters in the deck also means the need for more minis.

Castle Ravenloft: 30 Monster Cards

3x Wolf (melee, 1 xp)

3x Zombie (melee, 1 xp)

3x Rat Swarm (melee aoe, 1 xp)

3x Kobold Skirmisher (ranged, 1 xp)

3x Blazing Skeleton (ranged aoe, 2 xp)

3x Spider (melee, debuff, 2xp)

3x Ghoul (melee, debuff, 2xp)

3x Skeleton (melee, 2 xp)

3x Gargoyle (melee aoe, 3 xp)

3x Wraith (melee, 3 xp)

Average xp value: 1.8. Total different monsters: 10


Wrath of Ashardalon: 30 monster cards

3x Snake (debuff, 1 xp)

3x Cultist (melee, defuff, 1 xp)

3x Kobold Dragonshield (melee, reinforce, 1 xp)

3x Orc Archer (ranged, 1 xp)

3x Cavebear (melee aoe, 2xp)-

3x Duergar Guard (melee, reinforce, 2 xp)

3x Grell (melee debuff, 2 xp)

3x Orc Smasher (melee, 2 xp)

3x Legion Devils (melee aoe, 3xp)

3x Gibbering Mouthers (ranged aoe debuff, 3 xp)

Average Xp Value: 1.8. Total different monsters: 10


Legend of Drizzt: 26 monster cards, plus 4 events

3x Goblin Archers (ranged, 1 xp)

3x Goblin Cutter (melee, 1 xp)

3x Hunting Drake (melee, 1 xp)

3x Hypnotic Spirit (melee aoe, 1 xp)

3x Drow Duelist (melee, 2 xp)

3x Spider Swarm (melee aoe, debuff, 2 xp)

3x Water Elemental (melee aoe, 2 xp)

1x Drow Wizard (ranged aoe, 3 xp)

1x Goblin Champion (melee, 3 xp)

2x Feral Troll (melee, 4 xp)

1x Dinin Do’Urden, Drider (melee, 4 xp)

Average xp Value: 1.85 Total Different Monsters: 11

2x Stalagmite

2x Hunting Party

I like the Legend of Drizzt mix best; it has a variety of multiple and unique monsters.

My solution is a deck that is mostly 2 copies of a card. Double monster flips won’t come up as often, but they still will occur, and it allows for a decent mix of monsters. Now to figure out the most interesting monsters.

1 xp monsters:

All of the main sets have 3x each of four different monsters. I instead pick 2x of 6.


My picks: Hypnotic Spirit, Rat Swarm, Wolf, Kobold Dragonshield, Hunting Drake, and Orc Archer.. (It’s a tough call between that and Kobold Skirmisher for the ranged minion slot.)

Next, the level 2s. Again, I go with 2x of 6.

Cavebear, Water Elemental, Blazing Skeleton, Duergar Guard, Grell, Spide

The level 2 decisions are tougher. Spider Swarm is a fun aoe, but there’s already 3 others.

Tough Guys:

I tend to like all the threes.

I go with: Gargoyle x2, Wraith x2, Gibbering Mouther x2, Drow Wizard x1, Feral Troll x2, Dinin Do’Urden x1

I also add both Hunting Parties.  Mwah ha ha!

My monster deck is 36 cards. 34 of those are monsters with an average xp value of just over 2. Also, 2 of the monster flips will be double monsters. Good hunting!

Boss Monsters

There are 22 different Boss Monsters. Some have very large figs, and there’s not quite enough room for all of them. Some of them are also rather boring. Most of the bosses are also double sided, so if you include one, there’s (mostly) no reason not to include the one on the other side.


Count Strahd, level 6, Awesome

Gravestorm, Level 6, Awesome


Young Vampire, Interesting, Semi-Weak

Zombie Dragon, Interesting


Flesh Golem, Interesting

Klak, interesting but weak


Werewolf, weak

Howling Hag, interesting, dependent on crypt tiles.


Ashardalon, level 6, Awesome

Gauth, level 6, interesting


Rage Drake, interesting but fiddly


Otyugh, okay

Margrath, meh


Kraash, okay

Meerak, weak


Shimmergloom, Tough!

Yvonnel Banere, okay


Methil, Interesting

Artemis, mostly boring


Balor, meh (and really big)

Jarlaxle, interesting


Yochol, interesting.


So the best ones are:


Young Vampire/Zombie Dragon




The bosses are packed pretty tight at this space, so there’s no room for any more large enemies, which eliminates a couple of options. I want to keep some more space in for weaker bosses that can be encountered with hordes of enemies. I add Methil/Artemis, Kraash and Meerak, and just Klak (no room for a Flesh Golem),

Player Characters

To cut down on setup time, storage space, and such, I’m cutting down the number of characters. With the three sets, there’s a massive choice of characters- 18 of them. I’m limiting the characters to one per class. However, they get to use the powers of the unused characters of that class. Will this make things more interesting? Probably. Will it increase set up time? Maybe. Needs playtesting.


Vistra, Arjhan, Bruenor Battlehammer

Arjhan’s Dragon Breath and Defender are probably the most fun. Vistra’s are useful but not terribly assertive. Bruenor is a bit too funky. Arjhan wins.


Immeril, Heskan

Immeril’s Lore is more useful than Heskan’s Mage Hand, hands down. Heskan’s dragonbreath is cool, but Fey Step is also very useful. Immeril wins.


Kat, Regis, Tarak

Regis has a strong ability (too-strong?) but he suffers from his at-will limitations. The question is: which is cooler: Kat’s Sneak Attack, or Tarak’s Furious Assault. Sneak Attack, bitches. Kat’s trap disarming is icing on the cake.


Thorgrim, Quinn

Quinn’s Saving Grace is much more interesting than Thorgrim’s Aid, and giving Quinn Thorgrim’s at-wills will make him more of a force to be reckoned with. Quinn breaks our streak of all Ravenloft characters.


Allisa, Drizzt

Let’s face it, Drizzt is way overpowered. (His Expert Combatant is also poorly worded, which might possibly allow him to do 2 non-combat actions.) Allisa’s Scout kills him and takes his stuff, and while she’s at it, she get’s Cattie-Brie’s powers too.






Jarlaxe Baenrae



These are all characters that are a class unto themselves. As mentioned before, CattieBrie gets the axe.

I’m going to try giving the Barbarian powers (many of which deal with being tough and healing) to Keyleth, the Paladin. Her ability is somewhat weak, but she now has an even better selection of powers to choose from. Also the cards are both light blue.

Jarlaxle and Artemis both have interesting powers. Together it’s a decent mix. I like Jarlaxle’s focus on items better, so he get’s Artemis’s powers.

Finally, there’s Athrogate, Battlerager. He just gets the cut, leaving us with 7 heroes, a decent mix.