Tag Archives: apocalypse world

The Genius of Apocalypse World: Part III

So Apocalypse World tells you how to run it. Is this innovative? Don’t all games tell you how to run them?


Actually, no. For many, if not most games, the gm advice is woefully inadequate, and often contradictory. (Any edition of D&D, and any White Wolf game, I’m looking at you in particular.) Where the is GM advice, it often takes the form of long, winding suggestions about theme and tone, without giving the GM actual concrete tools. Some GM advice is also actively harmful towards cultivating a fun play environment.


The MC advice for Apocalypse World is short and sweet, and tells you exactly how to play. Follow these rules, and you’ll run the game correctly, and it will kick ass.


First, you’ve got the Agenda. This tells you why you’re playing:


*Make Apocalypse World Seem Real.

*Make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.

*Play to find out what happens.


Between these three sentences, you already know a lot about your roles. Verisimilitude is important. Interesting things should happen. And no, it’s not all about your story, or anyone’s story, really. Uncertainty in outcomes is not okay, its desirable, a goal unto itself.


Then you’ve got the Always Say rules, telling you what the players can reasonably expect from you”


Always Say:

*What the Principles Demand

*What the Rules Demand

*What your Prep Demands

*What Honesty Demands


This means that the Principles are rules, that you have to follow the outcomes of the dice, that your notes are fair game, and you cannot lie to the players. It goes further on to encourage you to be generous with the truth and information. (Secrets are there to be discovered.)


And then the meaty Principles (with some short notes on purpose)


*Barf Forth Apocalyptica (gritty, dirty verisimilitude)

*Address Yourself to the Characters, not the Players (immersion)

*Make your Move, but Misdirect (immersion)

*Make your Move, but Never Speak Its Name (immersion)

*Look through Crosshairs (be willing to destroy your own stuff)

*Name everyone, make everyone human (no cartoon villains or monsters, everyone’s sympathetic)

*Ask provocative questions and build on the answers (involve the players in worldbuilding)

*Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards. (fuckery in this case means to put your own stamp on things, to take what the players give you and twist it and build on it)

*Be a fan of the players’ characters. (This is such an important rule. I want to see them suffer, but succeed.)

*Think offscreen too. (World building, verisimilitude, future threats)

*Sometimes, disclaim decision making (play to find out what happens).


Then the MC has a list of moves, things that you get to do when the players fail a roll or its naturally your turn to do something. Unlike the players’ moves, these are all narrative concepts, like “Offer an opportunity, with or without cost,” or “Announce future badness.”


These are a little more interesting, and I found them a little funny to grasp at first, because up until now, a move has been a player driven roll the dice thing that interfaces with the rules. But the MC moves are all about the rules-narrative feedback loop (what Vincent calls clouds and boxes).


I’m going to digress here. All rpgs consist of three separate spaces (these are my own terms): the Game-rules space, which includes things like position on a battlemap, hit points remaining, relationship traits, if your game has them, and in game spendable resources (like wealth points or gold coins, in games where shopping matters), the Narrative-space, which includes things like Narrative positioning (“Keeler’s got the high ground, what do you do?”), fictional descriptions of things (“that wound is gushing out blood”), how characters actually feel about each other, and in-setting spendable resources (wealth if your game doesn’t have shopping rules). Then there’s the Meta-space, which includes things like the relationships and drama between the players, the actual physical setting that the game is played in, and the physical components used to play the games (minis, maps, dice, character sheets).


All roleplaying is a function of feedback loops between these three realms. Something that happens in one realm changes the others. The object of roleplaying games is to use the Rules and Narrative to provide enjoyment on the Meta level.


Roleplaying games focus on the feedback loop between Rules and Narrative. What the mechanics accomplish (in apocalypse world, your PC moves) have narrative consequences. The players push on the game largely with mechanics. The MC pushes back with the narrative.


What I think is revolutionary about this is how its encoded in the rules: this is what you do and how you do it. I’m sure this is a functional model of play that’s been done before (doubtlessly by Vincent), but I haven’t seen to many games that champion it. Here, in Apocalypse World, Vincent tells the MC- your job is to wrangle the narrative, and tell the players what’s going on. Play the world. Let them come in with their mechanics, their tools, and try to put their stamp on it. You react with honesty. Let’s play to find out what happens.


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.

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