Apocalypse World: Sway’s War

Finally getting my feet back under me at the day job after my vacation and subsequent overwhelming amount of work. This post is a little late – like, two weeks late – but I’m finally getting to it. The upshot of this is that my memory of stuff may be a little worse than usual ((And, as Elliott will attest, my memory is not great at the best of time.)). So, I’m gonna try and keep this brief .

Bear with me.

We picked up the game with the characters meeting up with Calico and the posse coming out from Roosevelt. Our heroes had captured sixteen of Sway’s Boys, and had them all chained to the captured trucks. The plan was to interrogate them, find out where the rest of Sway’s Boys were holed up, and go rescue the stolen food ((Also free the captured slaves from New Ogden, but those were a secondary objective in Calico’s eyes.)).

I was, frankly, a little surprised at how quick JB, Snow, and Nils ((As I recall, Magpie participated, but not as… enthusiastically.))  jumped right into hardcore torture. We had some cultural clash, here, mechanics-wise. See, in Apocalypse World, there’s an expectation that you make a move and that resolves the outcome of the situation of the moment. In other games ((Like, but not exclusive to, D&D.)), there’s an expectation that a check resolves one attempt to overcome a challenge and, if the challenge is static, you can try again if you fail. What happened here was that the players kept wanting to escalate the torture if the first roll didn’t produce the results they wanted, and I kept trying to explain that, no, the Going Aggro roll they just made covers the entire interrogation attempt.

There were also a number of attempts to create situational bonuses ((“I loom threateningly.” “I shoot his buddy.” Stuff like that.)), which just doesn’t work in the same way as in other games. If you’re trying to help someone do something, you use the Aid move, and describe it however you want. In this way, it’s kind of like a Cortex or Fate game – you need to do something active to create a bonus. Nothing gives you an automatic bonus, the way some things in, say, D&D do.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not talking about this to show off my players’ errors – there were no errors, just a lack of familiarity with the very different game paradigm of Apocalypse World.  And that’s what I want to highlight: the game paradigm, the basic assumptions of play, the mechanics, and the play experience are all different from more traditional ((Whatever that really means.)) games. There is a learning curve here, both for players and MC. Both have to come to terms with using the dice more as seasoning for the game fiction, rather than the base. At the same time, the dice provide the pivot points of the narrative ((A bit of an aside – I ran the first session of a new AW game last night with a new group, and it reminded me once again that the narrative, direction, and challenges are really shaped a driven by the misses on the players’ moves. I’ve said it before here, but it was thrown into stark relief with the first session, when I had no fronts, no prep, and had to fill a game session based on what happened at the table. It’s challenging, but kind of exhilarating.)), meaning you have to walk a bit of a fine line as MC, trying to get enough dice rolling to keep a story building itself with unexpected twists and setbacks, but not so much that it overshadows player agency or taxes MC invention ((Yeah, if people are rolling more, they will be missing more, and that means the MC has to improvise more. Too much is too short a span and you’ll run out of good ideas, then out of bad ideas, then out of any ideas.)).

Anyway, our heroes eventually got information on where Sway and the rest of his gang were holed up – some caves in the old quarries south of Roosevelt. Someone ((I think Magpie? But I’m not sure. Elliott? Do you remember?)) tapped into the maelstrom and got a vision of a secret back way into the caves, so Calico decided that the group should split, with our heroes and one of her men sneaking up to the top of the quarry walls and down through the secret entrance while Calico and the rest of the Roosevelt forces attacked from the front.

The night trek across the open fields to the quarry and the assault on the quarry were a lot of tense fun for us. The upshot was that our gang was victorious, wiped out Sway’s Boys, freed most of the slaves, recovered most of the food, and salvaged a bunch of weapons and vehicles from the now-defunct slaver gang.

Everyone was beat up to some degree, so they went back to Roosevelt, and that’s where we wrapped up the game. Have to think about where/when we’re going to start the next game, now. It’s coming up this Friday.

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One Response to Apocalypse World: Sway’s War

  1. Elliot says:

    Yes, it was Magpie who tapped into the Maelstrom. One detail you didn’t mention was the decision you presented JB with, to destroy the main slaver defenses outright or to do it piecemeal and thus spare the slaves loading the slavers’ guns. That was interesting and made me think about hir motivations. I knew JB was named by hir slavery-hating parents after John Brown but I had to think a bit about what that implied. He had never shied away from wanton violence in his crusade against slaveholders. Thus for JB it’s more about destroying slavery than saving each individual slave.

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