Friday, September 10, 2010

Apocalyptic Ramble

I was going to write about podcasts, but my brain kept turning this over and wouldn't let go. So, apologies that it gets a little rambly. I'm still pinning something down myself.

Apocalypse World continues to gnaw at my brain, which probably speaks well for it. I expect I'm just going to have to run it to get it out of my system, sooner rather than later.

I had an interesting exchange with Vincent Baker on the 6 session topic. There's a bit of the text that suggests that after 6 sessions is when the game gets good, which stuck me as a weird (and problematic) sentiment. Turns out it might more aptly say that something particularly cool happens around then, though I sort of took Vincent at his word for that. What caught my interest was another comment he made (and I'm paraphrasing) that the only thing he objected to was people thinking the game was an treadmill of bleak hopelessness before 6 sessions.

That got me thinking a bit. I admit, the sense of bleakness I got from reading the rules was a bit off-putting. Not that it was bad so much as it proposed a game I was not necessarily interested in playing. Still, the prospect of things turning a corner is a compelling one, enough so that I gave it some serious thought. Part of the rub is that sometime around session 6 (or more precisely, after 6 advances) you can buy your own happy ending. That is to say, you can retire the character and he is guaranteed some protection from the awfulness of the world. So by retiring your character under your own terms you makes the world a better place.

This is, I admit, kind of cool, but it put me back to thinking because, for me, that wasn't quite right. I don't want to save me - I want to save someone else. It's just one of my play sensibilities.[1] Now, it's an easy thing to change: Add the ability to "retire" someone as an option and you're good to go. Yes, technically, it's not a new move, but I feel like it's probably a reasonably in-bounds change with the knowledge that it makes for a drastic change in tone. But that's not important.

What interested me as I thought about that tweak, it struck me that AW's rigidity really makes for some interesting hackery. Like 4e, the fact that the mechanical moving parts are right on the surface and closely interact means that it's a lot easier to make small changes to great effect. And the fact that AW has fewer moving parts than 4e makes it possibly even better suited to such things.

As an example, I ended up mapping the characters to Firefly (which works suspiciously well) and I realized that one thing I found lacking in the characters was interaction. I really love the Savvyhead's "Oftener Right" move (which gives a benefit when people come to you for advice and take it) and I love First Quest's Banners[2] so it seemed the obvious thing to do was say each character adds a move for other characters. Bang. Done.

Now, the counterargument here is that as easy as it is to say "bang, done" the reality is far more fiddly, which seems apt. There is a bit of deceptiveness to the simplicity of AW as a lot of the moves, especially on the GM's part, are a lot more complicated than they appear. They are easy to do, but also easy to do poorly. I think they dovetail wonderfully with a certain level of GM skill or experience, but I have occasionally heard people talk about how the simplicity makes it a great training game for a GM and I admit that prospect makes me wary. Barf Forth Apocalyptica is a great principle, but it's easier said, said.

Of course, the game's not necessarily supposed to be a set of training wheels. It's probably more aptly an intermediate or master class, and that's a good thing. It's an under-served slice of things.

Anyway, the bottom line is that AW is good enough to make me think about it, and about other games through its lens. It has, for example, inspired some very solid thoughts on Aspects of radically different persuasions. But that is, I think, a topic for another day.

1- Fred wants his heart to bleed so bad it comes out his eyes. I want to eat bitter to make a difference. Everyone's got a lever like that.

2 - It's a TSOY expansion from Judd's First Quest. In TSOY you can get XP by doing certain things in keeping with a Key (so if you have the Key of Anger you may get XP for losing your temper). Banners expand this so other people can get XP for playing to your key (so they may get an XP forpissing you off). It's pretty awesome.


  1. The option to retire someone else is already in there (sort of) - it's under the advanced manipulation move, where you can take someone off of the threats list entirely and turn them into allies - but it also instructs the GM to no longer view them through crosshairs. They become part of the island of safety the characters are building.

  2. I remembered that as a skinner-specific move, so it didn't quite fit my needs, but I may have totally misremembered. Now I must check.

  3. Oh yeah, there's lots and lots of hope in the after-5 improvements. Retiring your character to safety is only the most immediate and selfish of them.

    Now, to be clear, the game will never feed you hope. You'll have to choose it and then choose to fight for it. But it's there for the fighting for.

  4. @lumpley Yeah, that's a tradeoff I really can't argue with.


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