Apocalypse World: Ruins

Saturday night ((Actually, a couple of Saturdays ago, now. I’m behind on this post.)) was the second installment of my new Apocalypse World campaign. Because of scheduling issues, I had to move it up a week which, as it turned out, meant that I hadn’t got all the prep work that I had planned done in time ((Let me be clear: I could have got more done, but I chose to do some other things, pretty much right up to the last minute.)). Because I’m new to the game, this was a bigger deal than it might otherwise be – mainly, what it meant was that I didn’t feel as confident in running the game as I like.

Prep for Apocalypse World, like most of the rest of the game, is a little different from most other games I’ve run. Instead of creating story lines and adventures, what you do is create what the game calls fronts. These are collections of threats, arranged into similar groupings, with some notes about how things escalate. It sounds like splitting hairs, but the difference in perspective is important. I created one front to reflect the unsettled political situation and threats in Roosevelt, and one to reflect the external threats of raiders, cannibals, the ruins, and the twisted creatures of the wastelands.

As part of this second front, I created a custom move for exploring the ruins – the players had established in the first session that much of Roosevelt’s wealth and influence came from looting the ruins ((I think that I may have been a little overly generous with the move, but we’ll see how it plays out over a couple more sessions before I change it.)). For those who are interested, this is the move:

Loot the Ruins: Spend the day searching the Ruins for salvage and roll + Sharp. On a 10+, pick two items off the list below. On 7-9, you pick one and the MC picks one. On a miss, the MC picks 2.

  • Find oddments worth 1-Barter
  • Find a common firearm
  • Find a common melee weapon
  • Find a common outfit that grants 1-Armour
  • Find an attachment that lets you add a new tag to an existing item
  • Find equipment that lets you add an improvement to a workspace
  • Suffer a mishap and take 1-Harm AP
  • Break a weapon or piece of equipment in an accident
  • Encounter hostile forces (human)
  • Encounter hostile forces (animal)
  • Get lost in the twisting by-ways

I wanted to finish one more front before play, relating to the weirdness in the world – the psychic maelstrom, Yellohammer’s cult, stuff like that. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I didn’t get that far, so I’m working on it for next session.

When we got together for the game, I gave the players the option of picking up right where we left off, with them our at the ram stead with too few snowmobiles to get them all back and one member unconscious, or starting a day or two later, back in Roosevelt, with me dictating how the return went. Three-quarters of the players didn’t trust me ((They’ve played in my games before, you see.)), so they wanted to pick things up out in the wild. After some futzing around, they decided that Snow would take Nils back to Roosevelt on the one working, non-booby-trapped snowmobile, while JB and Magpie would wait out at the raided farmstead for them to return.

Back in town, I got to set up a PC-NPC-PC triangle, as suggested in the rulebook ((To be fair, Snow and Nils did it mostly themselves.)), having Calico and Snow almost come to blows while Nils did his best to keep things calm. It was fascinating to watch it play out, and I see the value of the construction very clearly now – it generated a lot of drama in the game, and made the world that much more interesting and real. Out at the farm, JB and Magpie had to deal with cold, boredom, and the threat of more raiders ((There weren’t going to be any more raiders right now; another fight out in the cold was all that interesting to me. But the imminent threat of more raiders was something the characters had to be worried about.)). Finally, with Nils recovering in Wei’s clinic ((And all the jokes about Nils’s scorched groin were making the rounds of Roosevelt, of course.)), Snow took Nils’s van out through the night to pick up JB and Magpie – also, the wrecked snowmobiles, the booby trapped snowmobile, and the raiders’ guns ((The one surviving raider that they had captured died slowly during the night. He’d suffered 2-Harm, and the game advises looking at NPCs through the crosshairs.)).

Once everyone was back in Roosevelt, I moved time forward a week or so, giving everyone time to recover a segment of Harm and get back on their feet, then asked them what the wanted to do. After checking on how things were going in town ((Someone was back working Inch’s beer stall, for example, though he or she was wearing the heavy, obscuring robes of Yellowhammer’s cult, so no one knew for sure if it was Inch or not. But at least the beer was flowing again.)), they decided to head out into the Ruins for some salvage – they were pretty much all low on funds, what with Calico being pissed at JB and Snow and not giving them any work.

This is where I began to question the custom move I made, seeing everyone grabbing some really good loot. I did manage to stick them with  few little problems – Nils’s van broke down, Snow’s box of AP ammo was infested by scissor worms ((Little things like silverfish, but with something like a crab claw at the head. And now Roosevelt has a scissor worm problem.)), and Magpie ran into some other looters who wanted to take the leather vest she found ((That turned kind of dark – Magpie isn’t much of a fighter but, as a hoarder, when her stuff is threatened, she gets ruthless.)). And then they got a little lost on the way out of the Ruins. Still, it was a successful expedition ((Perhaps a little too successful.)), and everyone was happy with it.

I felt is was a little slow and awkward, though. The way things hinged on the new move, the balance between letting the group get stuff vs. causing them problems, all of it was a little off and artificial. I think I need to rewrite the move to let the players pick only one thing off the list, and bring in the concept of hard choices, strings, hard moves, etc. I’ll think about that for the next session.

Anyway, they made it home, and I floundered a bit, trying to figure out what to do next. I mentioned in the last post that we got a lot more done in a single session than I had anticipated, and that trend carried over. I underestimated how much more we get done with Apocalypse World, and hadn’t finished the other piece of prep I had intended to do before the game: writing up some one-line hints of things to use to hint at future badness related to the fronts I had prepared ((I was going to do this after I had finished the three fronts I had planned so, when I didn’t finish the third front, obviously I didn’t get to this, either.)). Fortunately, the fronts are incredibly useful tools for figuring out what to do next, but you need to take a breath and look them over ((The AW rulebook tells you to take breaks whenever you feel the need, and that’s some good advice.)). Once I did that, I had an idea of what to do.

So I had Wilson, the trade representative from Dawning, the city to the north, come to talk Magpie into leading some 0f her people deep into the Ruins. Nils overheard this proposal, and stuck his oar in, so Wilson included him in the discussion. They dickered for a while before settling on a price, and the requirements of the trip, and the hiring of a couple of extra guns ((That’d be JB and Snow.)) for escort. When asked the reason for the trip, Wilson said that she was in negotiation with Boss T, much of which was based on the ability  of Roosevelters to recover interesting salvage from the Ruins, and Wilson needed to understand exactly how difficult this salvage was so as to value it appropriately.

Of course, Nils and Magpie are pretty sure that’s bullshit.

And then Calico called Nils in to talk to her, and said that it would be a good idea if Wilson’s people didn’t survive the trip.

That’s where we left things.

Before the next session, I’ve got to finish my third front, rework the Loot the Ruins move, and make some hints at future badness for spur of the moment use. It’s taking a little time, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of the game, and figure out how to make it work.

And everyone seems to be having fun so far. So, it’s a win.

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