Apocalypse WorldIn my last post I went through an introduction to Apocalypse World. I’d been running Deadlands Reloaded for my group, including one session of a Fate conversion of the setting. However, I’d realized that I’m not comfortable being responsible for that much setting information. I like the organic nature of how the setting is built in Apocalypse World.

Yesterday, I had a chance to do character creation with my group in preparation for our first session. And I’ve not forgotten how I left off my last post. I got some good comments about the Agenda and Principles in Apocalypse World.

This post is going to go through the characters, and the Principles of Apocalypse World. Buckle up.

The Principles

As I mentioned last time, Apocalypse World is a very particular kind of game. The creator, Vincent Baker, lays out a specific set of guidelines for how to run the game to make it Apocalypse World. You can deviate from them, you might have a great time doing so, but it won’t be Apocalypse World. This approach rubs some people the wrong way, but let’s set that aside for the moment. For now, I’m going to look at what the Principles of this game mean to me.

Principles

  • Barf forth apocalyptica
  • Address yourself to the characters, not the players
  • Make your move, but misdirect
  • Make your move, but never speak its name
  • Look through crosshairs
  • Name everyone, make everyone human
  • Ask provocative questions and build on the answers
  • Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards
  • Be a fan of the players’ characters
  • Think offscreen too
  • Sometimes, disclaim decision-making

There are way more of these than there are in the Agenda, so I’m going to be brief in my examination of each. Let’s do this.

  • Barf forth apocalyptica
    The game is called Apocalypse World. The entire world is different, changed, never to be reclaimed. Bring that to the game. Make sure that the changed nature of the world oozes from every pore of everything that you bring to the table.
  • Address yourself to the characters, not the players
    It’s not “Dave, how do you respond when Lugnut messes with your character.”
    It’s “Kelvin, Lugnut’s up in your face and he won’t back down. What do you?”
  • Make your move, but misdirect
    Like in other places in Apocalypse World, the GM has a list of Moves – things they do to turn the story, mess with the characters, and make things interesting. But in many cases they’re not the GM’s moves, but the actions the NPCs are taking. Let that be the case.
  • Make your move, but never speak its name
    You don’t say “I’m making a Hard Move against you.” You say “Lugnut gets pissed when you won’t tell him what he wants to hear. He pulls a gun, then pulls the trigger.” Don’t use the language of the system, use the language of the story.
  • Look through crosshairs
    Every one of the characters at the table is in the middle of a messed up world. What they have, others want. Look at them as the targets of the agendas of the people who take, kill, maim, and more.
  • Name everyone, make everyone human
    This world needs to feel real in the moments you’re at the table. It’s not just a junk merchant you’re buying scrap from, it’s Genessee. She’s got two kids and she sells scrap to pay off the Breakers so they don’t take revenge for the crap her partner pulled some months back.
  • Ask provocative questions and build on the answers
    This one’s my favorite. So much goodness can be gathered as a GM when you ask the players questions. If someone says that they’ve got a dark past, ask what they did, and make that past real for them with people who know, people who suspect, or people who were part of it. You don’t have to do all the lifting yourself. Ask, and let the answers give you more information than you could ever come up with on your own.
  • Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards
    This is a dark world. Every deal has strings attached. Everyone wants or needs something more than they have. Nothing is stable, nothing is safe, and if it seems those things are, then twist them or make them come at a price.
  • Be a fan of the players’ characters
    These are the protagonists of the story you’re creating with the people at the table. Enjoy the flaws, facets, successes, and victories. Grieve when failure happens, or when loss comes. Be interested in the characters as people and make them as real for yourself as any of the NPCs you handle.
  • Think offscreen too
    Not everything can be accomplished at the table. Make the world vibrant enough that it sticks with you. Ask questions about things you’d like to see. What would happen if Meathead and Lugnut got into it after leaving Kelvin’s place? How would Genessee respond since she’s been hanging out with Meathead most nights? Think about those things when you’re not at the table so you can use that juice during the session.
  • Sometimes, disclaim decision-making
    “I don’t know” is a powerful answer when used at the right time. One of the Agenda items is “Play to find out what happens.” If someone asks why Blitz has been pushing Lugnut to lean on Kelvin, saying “I don’t know. Let’s find out” makes for more interesting story. Plus, you’re talking to the character, so if they want to find out, they’re going to have to talk to Blitz themselves.

How It All Comes Together

 What you get when you take the Agenda and Principles and put them together is a real, vibrant world that both the PCs and GM are discovering together.  

What you get when you take the Agenda and Principles and put them together is a real, vibrant world that both the PCs and GM are discovering together. The GM is creating things offscreen, yes, but they’re making the characters the stars of the show. The GM’s job is to make the characters’ lives messy, complicated, and interesting, all while wondering how things are going to turn out. There’s no set end goal, there’s no ultimate plan for the story. There’s the characters, existing in as fully a realized world as the GM can present, all through the greasy, smeared lens of apocalyptica.

If You’ve Got Feelings, I Want to Hear About Them
If what I wrote above made you react, jump down to the comments and let me know. I want to see how people feel about what seems like a pretty proscribed set of GM’s tools. Once you’ve done that, come back up here and take a look at the characters I’ve got going for my first session.

The Characters in my Apocalypse World

2016-07-10 16.11.27

For this section, I’m going to give you an overview. We haven’t played these characters yet, so I honestly don’t know any more about them than I’m presenting here. If you dig what you see, or have questions, hit the comments and I’ll fill in more detail there.

Jason Hossfield, the Savvyhead

 Stats
Cool: +1
Hard: +1
Hot: -1
Sharp: 0
Weird: +2
Look
A Man with Utility Wear Plus Tech, a Plain Face, Squinty Eyes, and a Slight Body.
 Moves
Things Speak, and Oftener Right
 History
Kobe: +2
Smithsonian: 0
Trench: +1

 

Trench, the Faceless

 Stats
Cool: 0
Hard: +2
Hot: +1
Sharp: -1
Weird: +1
 Look
A Woman with Fetish Bondage Gear, Hard Eyes, and a Wiry Body
Moves
Pit Bull, Juggernaut, Oh Yeah!
 History
Kobe: +2
Smithsonian: +3
Jason: +1

 

Smithsonian, the Hoarder

 Stats
Cool: 0
Hard: +1
Hot: 0
Sharp: 0
Weird: +2
 Look
A Man with Decaying Scrounge Wear, an Old Face, Wide Eyes, and a Huge Body
 Moves
Acquisitive Eye, Sticky Fingers
 History
Kobe: +2
Trench: 0
Jason: 0

 

Kobe Parson, the Hardholder

 Stats
Cool: +1
Hard: +2
Hot: +1
Sharp: 1
Weird: -2
 Look
A Transgressing Individual with Luxe Wear, a Strong Face, Sharp Eyes, and a Wiry Body
 Moves
Leadership, Wealth
 History
Jason: 0
Trench: +1
Smithsonian: +3

 

The Hardhold

Because we have a Hardholder, we also know about the settlement where the action will start. Here’s what we know.

Holding
Size: 50-60 souls
Population: Decadent and Perverse
Surplus: +1 Barter
Gigs: Market Commons
Want: Idle, Anxiety, Savagery, Reprisals
Gang
Size: 40
Tags: Sophisticated, Well Disciplined, Extensive
Harm: 4
Armor: +1

 

And That’s What We Know, Right Now

Everything else in the game will get described, discovered, and detailed as we play.

The first session of Apocalypse World is something I call A Day in the Life. It’s like found footage. We’ll follow the characters around during their day and I’ll ask questions, using my Agenda and Principles to guide how I handle things. As the GM, I don’t roll a single die. I use my Moves, respond to what the characters do, and ask interesting questions.

As well, we’ll also define what kind of Apocalypse the world was changed by, where the hardhold is, and some other pertinent details. For now, I’ll be thinking offscreen about these characters and getting interested in what their lives look like.

We’re hoping to play again in two weeks. If not it’ll be a month. Either way, I’ll have another post in about two weeks’ time, either detailing the Session That Was, or talking about the Moves and how they work in the system.

All this might be a big departure from how you GM. Maybe it’s par for the course. Like last time, if you’re having a reaction to any of this, the Principles, the setup, the stats, the characters, whatever, sound off in the comments. I’d love to talk about all of this with you.