Why is character creation in Apocalypse World so enjoyable? When I started up a recent AW campaign, one of the players said they could just make characters and have a great time with it. Now I’m the type of person who likes making characters, but I agree, there’s something that makes character creation jump out at people. And that’s the Playbooks.
A Playbook in Apocalypse World is like a Class, but really so much more. What’s the difference?
In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, which is explicitly class based, or White Wolf (where your different splats are effectively classes), your class tells you what you can do, and what play options you get. Often your Class intersects with another gameplay option, to allow for character differentiation (in D&D it’s mostly Race-Class combos, in something like WoD its usually your skill choices.)
In Apocalypse World, your playbook is more than that. In addition to including a mechanical role, if often implies a narrative role. (The Hardholder is in charge, the Battlebabe causes trouble, the Angel provides support). So the mental footprint of the playbook is larger than a class. This is accomplished with the flavor of the name and look lists, and the inspiration provided by the quotation. Picking a playbook gets you into a mindset to act as that playbook.
More importantly, all the character creation rules are in your playbook printout. It’s everyone’s own little character creation menu, oozing with fun options, that they don’t need to flip through or pass around the table. This is key. Think of how many games where you have to pass the book around and flip through to find different things- in a recent game, we had stats, occupations, class abilities, and equipment. Crunchier games might have feats/special powers, skills, magic spells, and all sorts of thtings to look up. With only one or two books, this can get quite cumbersome.
Finally, one of the precepts for the GM of Apocalypse World is Ask Questions like crazy. Character creation has built-in setting and situation creation baked into it. Assigning Hx values will introduce both relationships between the characters, and a backdrop for those relationships.
For example, in my recent game, the Driver assigned a high Hx to the Brainer, because he had to trust the Brainer at one point with driving his car when things went to hell. I asked where that was and what happened, and the town of White Church was born.
Asking questions like ‘where did you get that,’ ‘why did that happen,’ ‘who do you work for,’ and others put world creation on the shoulders of the players. Part of this takes the initiative of the MC to work, but many of the playbooks have wonderfully strange and evocative bits in them that scream at the players to figure out how they came to pass.