[Apocalypse World] It brought out the best in all of us.

Started by Josh Porter, May 07, 2012, 05:09:27 AM

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Josh Porter

I have been jonesing to play Apocalypse World for over a year, and yesterday I finally played it.  It was incredible.  The game and its systems truly brought out the "good roleplayer" in everyone who played.  We were engaged in the world and our characters, we cared about things, we created our own conflicts and drama, and we fucking loved it.

Here's the lowdown:

The Place
Our apocalypse was a green one.  In other words, global warming turned the equator into a nigh-unlivable death zone.  The 45th parallel is the new tropics.  Our characters live atop Devil's Tower in Wyoming, in a hardhold called Smoghaven.  You may remember Devil's Tower from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  There is a massive tropical canopy that comes up almost to the top of the mesa, and all you can see for miles is jungle.  There is a gondola-style tram that goes down to an old military runway at the base.  The jungle is almost constantly covered in a corrosive fog that will either give you a bad sunburn or peel off your skin if you stay down in it too long.  Oh, and there's an old, empty missile silo inside the mesa.

The old runway holds a small village and marketplace (called the Bogs) for those without the cash to live up top.  But they can always shell out some salt to ride up the tram for trade, repairs, or safety.  Down in the jungle live the swamp rats, savage humans with flesh corroded from the fog.

The Cast
Jackdaw  Nathan played the Maestro'D.  He runs The Nest, a pro-wrestling-style gladiator pit with booze and whores on the side.  It lives above and inside the missile silo.  "Did you like the gladiator in that last match?  You can fuck him for a little cash."
Mercury  I played the the ambiguously-gendered Battle Babe.  I was the retired legend of the glad pits, and the one who popularized the Nest.  Jackdaw and Mercury are pals from way back.
Strontium  Mikey played the Saavyhead.  He grows the food, mints the currency (marbles), maintains the hardhold, and provides electricity in the form of windmills.  Strontium is playing for every team.  No one wants to get on his bad side.

The Important NPCs
Roark  This fuckface is the hardholder.  He resents everyone who prospers within his little kingdom.  He especially resents Jackdaw, because Jackdaw rakes in cash and pays only rent: no protection.  Roark's got his own gang (the Devils) who do little more than make Roark look tough.  But he sometimes uses them to lean on those he doesn't dig.
The Glads  Jackdaw's gladiators are not only his stars and whores, but also his gang.  They keep the nest safe and make good money doing it. 
Gams  She handles the brothel half of the business for Jackdaw.
Camo  Jackdaw's worst customer.  He's fucking Rum, one of the Glads, and apparently beating the shit out of her.

The First Session  Here are the bullet points

  • Mercury finds camo and tries to beat the shit out of him so he'll stop doing the same to Rum.  He kind of likes the pain, so Merc tries a different tack; s/he tells Camo that if he needs someone to beat, he should try him/her.  Camo likes the idea of getting to fuck the most famous gladiator and agrees.  Merc tells Rum "You guys are broken up."
  • Strontium opens his mind to the psychic maelstrom and sees a massive snadstorm crashing against Smoghaven.  "What the fuck is sand?"
  • Jackdaw discovers a little guy named Brace trying to sell his own home-brewed moonshine right next to the Nest.  He finds that Brace is being financed by Roark, and convinces him to keep his profits, but supply the Nest with some of his 'shine.
  • During a storm (when the fog rolls in extra-thick) some swamp rats bust into a glad match out of some sealed-off tunnel in the silo.  Merc and the other glads take down the leader and break the will of the rest of the gang.  How the hell did these bastards get inside the fucking silo?

Things that worked like gangbusters
Character creation was stellar.  It's fun to make characters period, but since there was a Maestro'D we got a whole bunch of NPCs and setting info out of it as well.  The questions in the Maestro'D's playbook were perfect.  We established Roark's and Camo's asshole-ness, the stable of Glads, and the missle silo aspect of Devil's tower all from those questions.  And since Strontium's workspace contained a growspace, we found that the jungle outside provided almost no nutrients.  The Saavyhead grew squash and mushrooms, and those were the staples of our community.

The whole "First Session" procedure that Vincent lays out in the book went off like clockwork.  Moves snowballed, things got complicated, and play felt organic.  Morgan, the MC, went along filling out his First Session playbook as we went and asked questions like crazy.  I can't wait to find out what happens in session two.

The moves snowballed like crazy.  It's almost always more fun to get a weak hit than a strong one, I found.  My battle babe had hard-2, and when I tried to seize by force, I got fucked.  And it was great.  Highlighted stats encouraged all of us to play our characters in ways we might not have thought of before.  I found it just as fun to seduce or manipulate as go aggro.  Fuck yeah; who doesn't want to bang the androgynous gladiator.

The things we struggled with
Figuring history at the beginning of the game was a little confusing to a couple of the players.  I have read the book about four times cover-to-cover, and listened to The Walking Eye's actual plays at least three times through, so I had a good idea of how it worked.  But the other two non-MCs were a bit confused by the "others' turns/your turn" way Hx worked.  It reminded me of the aspect phases in DFRPG character creation, the part where you write yourselves into each other's stories.  It took about 10ish minutes, but we got Hx pinned down in the end.

Enacting the "if you do it, you do it" nature of the dice took a little practice as well.  When Jackdaw was bargaining with Brace outside the Nest, we couldn't really figure if it counted as the "seduce or manipulate" move or not.  His leverage was Mercury, the bouncer with the auto-shotgun pointed at Brace's gut.  But we roleplayed the whole thing out before realizing, "Wait, should we have rolled dice?"

We also got into a gang-on-gang fight during the first session.  Vincent says not to do that right there in the book, but we were already getting into it by the time the MC realized that.  We had some difficulty figuring out how to use the moves to fight, especially with the gangs as weapons.

My Final Impressions
This game fucking ruled.  It was perfect, despite any hiccups about rules.  It made us play as our characters, and I've been thinking of my character ever since.  It created a totally emergent story, without any kind of gimmicks or plots.  It just felt real, and it felt exciting.  Thanks, Vincent.  I love this game.
I am playtesting Flawed and Caterpillar.
I am playing Dresden Files.