Apocalypse World: The Way Out

We picked up the latest session of our Apocalypse World game pretty much right where we had left things last game, with the characters ((The hard-scrabble, desperate, morally ambiguous nature of the game world makes me hesitate calling them heroes.)) braving the night in the Ruins, along with Lark and Sparerib from Dawning. They holed up in a convenient warehouse, though Magpie and Snow went to see if they could find the hardware store that Magpie had seen a very desirable ((Well, desirable for her hoard, anyway.)) boom box. She didn’t find it, and got a little lost, and by the time they made it back to the van, it was dark and disturbing outside.

Magpie was kind of pouty about that, and convinced Nils to join her in searching the warehouse from top to bottom while everyone else was resting or on watch. She made a terrible roll, so I told the other folks that after quite some time, Nils and Magpie hadn’t returned yet. Snow tried to get Sparerib and Lark to accompany him and JB on a search for their missing compatriots, but Lark basically told him to go screw himself – they were paying for an escort, and if the escort couldn’t handle its own business, then maybe they had paid too much.

This didn’t sit all that well with Snow, but he let it go for now, and he and JB left Lark and Sparerib watching over the mysterious box they ((Lark and Sparerib, that is.)) had recovered. Their search led them down into the mechanical tunnels underneath the warehouse, and from there through a hole into the sewers. Some investigation revealed that the hole had been concealed, and there were signs of nets and dragging, leading JB and Snow to figure that their compatriots had been captured by someone who likes traps. So they proceeded carefully down the tunnel, keeping watch for traps.

And Snow blew his roll, and dropped down out of sight beneath the water ((Yeah, I was making liberal use of the Separate them move, though of course I didn’t call it that. I was frankly surprised at how easy it was to get away with that – no bluster or whining from the players, the way there often is in other games when you so obviously bone the characters using GM fiat. Obviously, they’ve come to understand the way the game works, too, and know that, if they blow a roll, I get to hurt them if I want.)). JB tried to pry up the lid of the pit that had swallowed Snow, but couldn’t find any purchase on it, and so kept going. With one character left, I decided it was time to show some of the enemy, and so JB saw some gleaming red eyes ahead, and more behind. JB ((Okay. JB’s player has chosen ambiguous gender for JB, and goes to some lengths during play to kept the question of gender open as a roleplaying thing. To respect that, I’m doing my best to avoid gendered pronouns when writing about JB, but it makes for some awkward sentences. Bear with me, okay?)) opened up and shredded the ones in front – the muzzle flashes showed wizened humans with weird metal helmets covering the front part of their heads – and stormed through them, but dropped into another pit trap.

They all woke up naked ((Take their stuff move. And if you’re wondering how JB kept the gender thing secret – don’t ask. The discussion took a sharp left into the inappropriate at that point.)) in a cold, cement room. The door had a flange wheel that turned, but they couldn’t push the door open. They sat around there for a while, talking, and seeing if they could plan something. Their captors didn’t respond to shouts or pounding, so they got frustrated. Eventually, JB decided to open up to the psychic maelstrom and try to find some answers there.

JB pictured the psychic maelstrom as a battlefield, and attracted the attention of a large, malevolent thing stalking the edges of the armies, luring it in. It tore through the enemies surrounding JB, and he managed to send it away before it got too close. The others heard and felt a rising, ultrasonic scream that almost incapacitated them, and then the door blew out of the doorframe. JB woke up then, and the gang decided that he had called in some strange, sonic-attack-using creature that scared off the things that had captured them ((This wasn’t what had happened in my head, but it’s a reasonable assessment of available information, so I’m not messing with it. If it does come up again, I’ll have to decide then whether or not their answer is the real one, or if I’m going to stick with my original idea.)), because there was no sign of their captors. They managed to recover most of their gear, and made it back to the van.

Snow had been stewing the whole time about Lark, so the first thing he did when he walked through the door back by the van was try to blow Lark away. Sparerib must have seen something in his face, though, because they were diving for cover while Snow was still bringing his gun up, and threw a nasty throwing knife into Snow’s shoulder ((Mechanically, Snow missed his Seize by Force roll, and I responded by applying harm.)). This led to a stand-off, with Nils’s van caught in the middle of things. Nils managed to get things calmed down, and negotiated a ceasefire while Lark and Sparerib cleared out ((With their mysterious metal box, of course.)), even getting the knife that Magpie wanted so badly. He gave the two directions, and they lit out.

Next day, the gang spent a little time looting the Ruins, and I was pleased at how smoothly and organically my revised Loot the Ruins move worked compared to the previous version. I think it’s a keeper. Among some other things, they discovered some sort of spider/mouse hybrid and an abandoned parking garage that was secure enough that Nils started outfitting it as a safe house in the Ruins. They stayed there one more night, and JB ((I think? Maybe it was Magpie. Or both. Can’t remember.)) went up high to keep watch. I used the opportunity to show some other little enclaves in the Ruins, including one that seemed to be made up of folks dressed like Yellowhammer’s cult back in Roosevelt.

Finally the next morning, they headed back to Roosevelt from the Ruins side. And they just happened to spot Lark and Sparerib down an alley, now with two of the large metal boxes ((Just to be clear, this is the type of box I’m talking about.)). There followed some debate about whether the group should go back to kill them – Nils had been told by Calico to make sure they didn’t return, and Magpie knew that, while Snow was still pissed and wanted them dead. Eventually, they decided that they should do it ((Basically, they let Nils make the final call, and Chris, Nils’s player, has commented on that fact. “Rick,” he said, “If Nils is the moral compass of this group, we are so boned.”)), especially as it would then mean they could find out what was in those cases. So, they swung the van around, opened the rear doors, and unloaded on the two Dawning men, killing them quickly and easily.

They made it back to Roosevelt, and Calico let them through the gate. She seemed pretty pleased that the group was two members light. And Nils went to explain the loss to Wilson, the trade rep from Dawning. She took the news well, but coldly.

So there was nothing left to do but open the metal boxes. Turns out there was a security system ((Deja vu, huh, Nils?)) that fried the contents of the box, leaving just some ruined circuit boards. He decided to take some time before opening the other one.

That’s where we called it a night.

We’re four episodes into this game, which is set to run a total of twelve sessions. I’m starting to see why Vincent Baker says that he doesn’t consider an Apocalypse World game to really be working until about six sessions in – the world has really filled in in the last couple of sessions, giving more connections and motivations to the characters as well as adding depth to the environment. I’m starting to relax a little more into the MC role, and am really enjoying the kinds of things you can do ((That is, the kinds of things the players will let me get away with, because that’s the way the game works.)) in this system. And the players seem to be enjoying the freedom and responsiveness of the system, and are getting into the world.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m really hitting the Acting Under Fire move pretty hard. This is not unexpected; it is, after all, the default move for doing something risky. But I’m finding myself calling for it so very often. I think I need to fall back on some advice from the folks at Evil Hat, as spelled out in The Spirit of the Century: Imagine success, and imagine failure. If failure is not as interesting as success, then don’t have it as an option.

In AW, though, it’s the failures that generate the interesting expansion of the world, creating the hooks and turning points that get the characters involved, so I can’t just abandon the idea of rolling the dice. But sometimes I’m really stuck for a good move to make when they miss, which slows the game down as I think of something.

What I’m going to try for next session is, when the characters are doing something that might require an Acting Under Fire roll, I’ll think about what a good move might be for this circumstance before I ask for a roll. If I can’t come up with something fairly quickly that seems like an interesting idea, the character will just succeed without needing to make a roll. That will, I hope, improve the pacing and keep things from devolving into endless Acting Under Fire rolls.

I’ll try that next session, which is in about a week and a half. I’m excited to play and find out what happens next.

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5 Responses to Apocalypse World: The Way Out

  1. Elliot says:

    1. Actually what I recall is that JB had a bullet bounce off the back of hir helmet that knocked hir unconscious. Maybe s/he then fell into a trap, but that was not described. 2. Well, what they saw of JB was an androgynous, mostly hairless, body with ambiguous genitalia. JB was born that way, and they don’t usually do sex-selection surgery in the post-apocalypse, at least not where s/he’s from. 3. It was a Civil War battlefield, for reasons related to JB’s personal backstory. 4.I thought Snow got a shuriken to the breastplate. 5.Also Magpie went back and got the stereo. 6. Actually, Nils van stalled and Snow flubbed his roll, thus shooting the van instead of Lark. There, I fixed your post! πŸ˜€

  2. Elliot says:

    Oh, and yes, it was JB keeping watch. There were also those mysterious flashes of light s/he and Nils were watching.

  3. Chris says:

    Nils brokering the cease fire was the result of game mechanics. Sure, the player motivation was mostly “Holy crap, my van is going to get shot to s**t!” with a small touch of “I don’t want to die.” thrown in for good measure. However, from the player perspective, it was all about XP. One highlighted stat was “Hot” and the other was “Sharp”. Neither of those are really going to fire in the midst of a combat, so they only way I could get XP was to try a move using Hot. Luckily, it worked. πŸ™‚

    I think that does say a lot about the system though; if you “game” it, you sometimes get a neat pay off, and thus it motivates you to do it.

    I like your thought process on success/fail, especially if you feel it’ll keep things moving while still garnering interesting results.

  4. Rick Neal says:

    @Elliot: Thanks for keeping me honest! I’m sure there will be no punitive repercussions for your character for the corrections. πŸ˜‰

    @Chris: This is what I was trying to explain about highlighting the stats. It gives you a mechanical incentive to step outside your normal comfort zone, and that can lead to some really cool moments of play.

  5. Elliot says:

    You’re welcome! πŸ˜›

    As a matter of fact, my motivation in having JB go into the psychic maelstrom/psychic battlefield for the first time this past game was similar – you guys had highlighted Weird on my sheet at the beginning of the game. That, and I had begun to be curious about the Weird stat and what it could do. I was gratified that trying something new worked out so well, and earned me an XP to boot, which allowed me to level up.

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