Apocalypse World: Homecoming

We sat down to play episode 10 of our 12-episode Apocalypse World campaign about a week ago. It had been some time since our last game ((Almost three months.)), but everyone was pretty quick to get back into the storyline, so we were able to jump right in after a short recap.

I did take a little time before the game started to talk a little bit about the whole 12-episode thing. I explained to my players that, while I was aiming for 12 episodes, I would end the campaign early if we got to a good, climactic ending point earlier ((Or, of course, if everyone died. But that was pretty much a given right from the start.)). I’ve run games past their proper end-point before ((Notably, my Unknown Armies campaign.)), and they tend to fizzle and collapse in a most unsatisfying manner, so I wanted to avoid that. And, given the reduced narrative control ((Okay, it’s not really reduced narrative control, but reduced narrative planning.)) that the MC has, I can’t count on the best ending point to end up when and where I wanted it to.

My players understood my concerns, and accepted the my terms, so we got to playing.

Our heroes were out in the plains north and west of Roosevelt, heading to the west, where the beacons they had uncovered over the past little while told them that Snow’s stasis facility was. There was some discussion about the information they’d got last session, relating to the potential quantum overlap of the Canadians’ base and the question of whether or not this was the “real” world ((I also started giving information to Snow in response to his start-of-session questions that implied that his world was not our real world. Just to sow some uncertainty.)). They also spent some time debating what, if anything they should ((Or could.)) do about the current situation, if turning off the quantum computer(s) would fix things.

They finally got on the trail towards the stasis facility, but had to duck and hide when they spotted lights coming up behind them. It turned out to be a fairly large group of New Dawning soldiers, apparently sweeping the area for them. The Roosevelt gang remained hunkered down until the New Dawning folks passed them by, and then for a little while longer to make sure that they could continue on their way unobserved.

They cut a kilometre or two off the main trail to avoid running into any trailing New Dawning soldiers, and came at the facility co-ordinates from another angle.

They camped for the night along the way, and were wakened in the night by something moving in the grass around them. JB was on watch, and roused the others, but no one could get a good luck at whatever was stalking them. Eventually, JB chased them off with some well-placed gunfire.

Somewhere in there, Magpie decided that she should open her mind to the maelstrom and see what she could find out about the things in the grass. The maelstrom this time seemed to be a self-aware computer program who viewed Magpie as a subroutine that had been created for data interpretation and analysis, and tried to reabsorb her into the body of the main program ((Magpie rolled a miss on her move to open her mind to the maelstrom.)). So, when he noticed that her body was seizing, Nils wired himself into her mind to retrieve her. He managed to ((Mostly.)) reassemble her consciousness.

In the morning, they got back on their way. Making their way up into the hills, going for the hidden valley where the entry was, they were ambushed and surrounded by New Dawning soldiers.

I was a little surprised that I got away with this so easily. I mean, they knew that the New Dawning folk were ahead of them, and there was a trail for them to follow ((From the Canadians’ vehicles.)), so it seemed obvious to me that they would have set up a camp at the entry, and sentries on the approaches. But our heroes made no attempt at stealth, or scouting, or anything like that. I was worried that I hadn’t described things clearly enough to make this move reasonable ((I mean, it was obvious that I hadn’t described things clearly enough for the players to anticipate this kind of problem – that’s all on me as MC.)), and that I would need to do some tap-dancing to sell the whole thing.

Turns out I didn’t need to. The players accepted the development quite readily, and I was able to run the kind of scene you get a lot in fiction, but not so often in RPGs: the heroes held captive, disarmed and helpless ((For certain values of “helpless” – they are the heroes, after all.)), threatened and interrogated by the enemy. I was thinking about this after the fact, and I think it speaks well to the high level of trust that AW ((And other *World games.)) engenders between players and MC. The contract between the players and MC in AW specifically gives license to the MC to take aggressive, even vindictive, action against the characters, but only when the characters open the door to it by making a bad roll. That conditions the players to accept negative developments with great aplomb, where in other games, the same players, might call foul. It’s an interesting dynamic that is very different from more traditional games.

Anyway.

Snow refused to give them the access code for the entry, because his family is still inside on ice. Seeing that there was no way she could convince Snow to help her get inside, the commander turned to Nils, threatening to shoot the others one by one until he agreed to use his Savvyhead skills to crack the lock on the facility entrance. The plan was, obviously, to start with shooting Snow so he couldn’t pull any tricks with what he knew about the facility defences, then JB, who looked like the next most dangerous threat, and finally Magpie, who never looks that threatening at all ((Right up until she kills someone. Or begins leading razor weasels on their little crusades.)).

We had a little drama as Nils agreed to help before anyone got shot, and Snow threatened to kill him, and in the middle of this, Magpie ((Who succeeds with her ridiculous plans just often enough to convince her that they are good ideas.)) jumped back into the maelstrom to see if she could use it to alert the folks inside the stasis facility about the threat outside.

She was expecting the computer program again, but this time, she saw the stasis facility as a castle, with a sleeping dragon coiled inside. When she tried to wake the dragon, it asked her a question, “Offensive or defensive arrays?” She chose defensive.

When Nils was escorted down to the door of the facility, he saw the screen displaying the ENTER CODE message. When he reached out to touch it, all the hair on his arms stood up. He used the effect to figure out that the door was very highly charged with electricity, and decided to use that to take out some of the soldiers surrounding him. He jumped up and threw himself backwards against the door, keeping his feet clear of the ground, and tried to channel the electricity out over the crowd.

We cut back at that point to the tent with the other characters being held at gunpoint. When the zapping and gunfire down near the facility started, they took advantage of the distraction to overpower their guards and escape. They wound up down near a badly injured Nils ((I gave the player the option of deciding how much damage Nils would take, telling him that the more he took, the more he could inflict. He took four points, and took out about twelve of the surrounding soldiers.)), with everyone shooting the hell out of them.

Snow tried the code to open the facility, but with the defensive arrays online, the computers were not accepting any input from outside the facility. And, of course, there was no one awake inside the facility to turn the defensive arrays off. So, because it worked so well last time, Magpie tried to use the maelstrom to wake someone up inside.

She managed to wake the CO of the facility ((Though she kept shouting into his brain, which I decided caused him to have a small stroke. Enough to be a problem, but not enough to incapacitate him.)) who, after a bit of a wait as he got out of the cryotube and verified with Snow that there were friendlies under fire, turned off the defensive arrays and opened the doors. Everyone but Magpie was pretty much on their last legs as they stumbled inside, and went straight to the infirmary and the medbeds there.

This left Magpie and the Colonel alone together in the facility. After finding Magpie prying open the personal lockers of some of the facility personnel, the Colonel gave her the option of turning over her crowbar ((“Nobody takes my stuff!” Magpie doesn’t even see the irony in that statement.)) or spend the next little while locked in the brig. Magpie chose the brig.

So, a few days later, when everyone was out of the infirmary, the whole gang gathered around the table in the mess, and the Colonel asked for Snow’s report.

And that’s where we left it.

We’ve got two more sessions left in the campaign. There’s been some discussion among the players about what to do about the situation in Roosevelt, about the Yellowhammers, and about the quantum computers, but I don’t know that anyone has figured out what the desired end-state of their characters – or the world – is.

I’m curious to see what happens.

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