I tried out Apocalypse World a few days ago, and I was absolutely sold. It’s a fantastic game, and it feels incredibly different that Dungeon World. The extreme difference in base moves between *World games does that to the experience.
Tim Franzke ran a wonderful one-shot, and while I always thought sex was kind of stupid in RPG’s, for the first time I experienced how it can be used as an effective drive for conflict. And if nothing else, Apocalypse World looooooves them conflicts.
One of the biggest differences between Apocalypse World and Dungeon World is that the former is very much about interaction between the players, while the latter is more about interaction between the party and the environment.
The base moves reflect this! For example, the seduce or manipulate move gives you a way to make the player want to do, what you want him to do, by letting you offer him XP to accept your deal. You can also have him act under fire not to do as you want, which is kind of like defying danger. He can of course interfere with your roll, but if you still succeed, you can highly incentivize (but not exactly force) specific actions for other players.
Another thing is that the playbooks for Apocalypse are pretty damn powerful. You can play a Hardholder that fucking owns an entire community, with around 150 inhabitants! They even have a gang they can use as enforcers! Or what about the Chopper, a leader of a biker gang? Or the Brainer that can invade peoples minds? Every single one of the playbooks is a mover-and-shaker in the game. That is something that can really push conflicts!
Tim sold me on it so damn well that I decided to re-read the PDF in three days and run it on the fourth! And that’s when it didn’t go too well.
I could write a very long list of regrets, but I decide not to. You won’t have the time to read through it (yes, I think I did a pretty bad job), but I’ll give you a snippet. I basically made all the mistakes I made when I ran Dungeon World for the first time:
- I didn’t ask enough questions
- I didn’t make enough moves
- nearly all my “hard” moves were actually soft moves
OK, it is not like we didn’t have fun, but it just felt very bland and uninspiring. We had a little talk afterwards, because frankly, I craved the feedback. The rest of the article is a summary of my newly gained insights, based on the feedback.
I didn’t ask enough questions
Yeah, this one pretty much led to most of my other mistakes. I asked so few questions about the characters that they felt hollow and two-dimensional. We didn’t know much about them, so that was just how it felt.
We also didn’t know much about the place they lived, because I didn’t ask enough questions. This meant a lot, because that also meant I had to improvise everything on the spot, all the time, without player input. Needless to say, this wasn’t easy.
What I could have done was to ask the most obvious questions to the individual player. Where do you live, and how many people live with you? What do you usually do for a living around here? What kind of food do you like? What is it like where you live?
After these very general questions, I could have asked a lot of leading questions. What did Bramlock do that makes you owe him one? Why do you hate Chrome? Why are you so protective of Amy? What did you do that made Dog Head so fucking angry at you?
Not to mention all the question I could ask about the answers to these questions. No, instead my mouth just jammed shut. I just couldn’t think of anything at the moment, yet now, I could improvise all these questions in just one or two minutes time!
To be honest, I was really nervous, when we started the session, and that might have played a hand in all of this. Still, I feel pretty crappy about it. Not asking enough questions is my biggest gripe about the session, because I feel that is why it sort of failed.
I didn’t make enough moves…
… which meant that I didn’t push enough conflict. Literally, if I open my mouth, I should either answer a question posed by a player (which is very likely a move), I should make a move, or I should close it before I waste air.
I didn’t do that, and that meant that I couldn’t properly snowball my moves. When the players missed a roll, I didn’t actually have a “perfect opportunity” to do anything, because I hadn’t established “future badness”. It meant that I had to improvise “sudden badness” all the time, and I just couldn’t. The players flunked a lot of rolls, which didn’t exactly help either. I think I spent five to ten minutes making a hard move at some point, and it was just really lousy.
Which brings me to the next point…
My hard moves were soft moves
A lot of my “hard” moves were inconsequential. They didn’t irrevocably change the situation, and there were no “price tag” on the move. I let the players of so cheap.
I have that problem, even in Dungeon World. I’m a “nice” GM. I don’t like “punishing” the players, but the game explicitly says that I can do whatever the hell I want on a miss, as long as I adhere to the Principles and push my Agenda. And in a game where a move can be “3 weeks passes, and the settlement suffers from an epidemic”, breaking an arm isn’t actually that bad. That’ll heal in around six weeks, and will be usable a lot earlier. Especially if someone plays an Angel, a “healer” type playbook.
My current plan
My main focus next time I GM will be this; to make a helluva lot of moves, ask questions all the time, and be almost cruel on a miss.
I think the games will be better off for it.
This is the second part of my actual play report with Misha and James.
Where we left off
Last time, our heroes Dunwich the Bard and Cadeus the Fighter had just entered the sewers, trying to get the elven diplomat Vendethiel out of town. Lath, the guy who was trying to blackmail them, is still with them.
And on with the story…
They waded through the sewers for a while, still holding Lath tight so that he wouldn’t try to escape. After a while they stopped. “We can’t take him all the way to Ilathia. What should we do with him?” Cadeus asked. Dunwich pondered this for a moment; “We could tie him up and leave him here?” Lath’s eyes widened. “You can’t leave me down here! There’s all sorts of creatures down here! Huge rats and worse!”
Cadeus disliked the idea, as this would probably just be a death sentence. He grabbed his spear and pressed it against Lath’s throat. “We will let you go, but I promise you; if you tell anyone about this, I will find you, and I will kill you.” Lath looked almost relieved. “Alright, I won’t tell the guards! I just want to get out of here.” They let him go and watched him as he went back to the ladder they all came down from. “Lets carry on. The exit isn’t far from here.” Dunwich said enthusiastically.
They climb out of a sewer pipe and helped Vendethiel down. The slums outside the city walls were a quite different sight than the somewhat orderly streets within. People sat begging everywhere, and gang members were openly bullying whatever random victims they came across. “We should get out of here fast.” Cadeus said. Vendethiel couldn’t agree more.
After walking for a short period of time, they notice they are being tailed. The five thugs weren’t even trying to hide that fact. “Those are Hasrith’s men.” Dunwich said. “They wont be a problem, but I don’t think we should pick a fight with them. What should we do?”. “When we get to that corner over there, we make a run for it.” Cadeus responded. Dunwich just nodded, and all three of them started running down the alleyway. The thugs started to pursue them, but Cadeus blocked their path by knocking over some barrels.
As they escaped the slums, they started travelling towards Ilathia, and after a few hours they reached their destination. Ilathia was surrounded by a dense line of trees that served as a wall around the village, the trees being to tall to scale, and too close together to grant passage. Only a few entries to the village existed, and they were guarded fiercely by elven soldiers.
Now that Vendethiel were safe, she asked the Dunwich and Cadeus to tell what they had learned to Lith’arius, the lord and warrior priest of Ilathia. They went to him and told him everything they have learned of Lord Darius’ plot. Lith’arius were troubled by these news. “What do you propose we do about it?” he asked. “We will not openly engage them in combat. Even if they won’t, we must honor the treaty. We do not have the power nor resources to lay siege on Davenport.” Cadeus and Dunwich were troubled as well.
“What of the ogres that live in this part of Evereth? Could we not lure them into attacking the soldiers?” Dunwich suggested. “Would that not just legitimize their claims that Evereth has become too dangerous and a threat to their city?” Lith’arius agreed; “It would. Maybe we could lure the soldiers away? What if we made sure they were needed elsewhere?”
The discussion went to a halt, when messenger barged into the room. The elf was sweating and panting, he could in fact hardly breath. “We’ve been ambushed in the forest, my Lord! Most of our group were slaughtered in the attack!” he panted. “Find Den’athius! Tell him to bring ten of his most capable warriors!” Lith’arius commanded. The messenger bowed. “Yes my Lord!”
He ran off. Dunwich and Cadeus looked briefly at each other. “Regrettably, that is all the men we can spare at the moment.” Cadeus responded; “We will join your men.” Lith’arius nodded. “I’m pleased to hear that. We need all the help we can get.”
The messenger returns alongside Den’athies, the a commander of the village’s soldier, and the younger brother of a close friend of Cadeus, Din’atus. He greets the assembly. “I have heard the news and collected my men. We will go out and investigate this, my Lord.” Cadeus and Dunwich stepped forth. “We will join you.” Den’athius gave them a nod of approval. Lith’arius wished them good luck, and the soldiers left immediately.
The messenger led the way, and when they were close enough to the place, where the battle took place, they kept low and approached the scene cautiously. Cadeus made a scouting round, and saw that the soldiers were still present. They had dragged the bodies of the elven soldiers away and hid them. Captain Meria shouted orders at her men, and they assumed their hidden positions in the trees yet again. Cadeus saw a couple of weapons on the ground, left behind by the dead warriors. He picked up an elven bows and some arrows, and returned to the others.
Cadeus explained what he saw. “I saw where their commander hid herself. I can run in and try to take her out.” As he had said it, he cocked his arrow and ran towards Meria’s hiding place, even though he new that he’d be an easy target for the other soldiers. When he got behind her cover, he aimed his bow and fired. Her face carried a startled expression, but it contracted in pain as the arrow dug itself firmly into her thigh.
She screamed. “To me, men!” she yelled, while she got to her one good leg. Three soldiers where upon Cadeus almost immediately, and the rest were on their way. “Charge!” Den’athius roared, and five of the elves descended upon the soldiers, while five remained behind cover, shooting the soldiers with their bows. Dunwich charged along with them, and stabbed down one of the soldiers surrounding Cadeus.
Dunwich grabbed his fiddle, and sang a song of inspiration, imbuing Cadeus’ spear with magical power. Unluckily, the power reverberated and empowered the weapons of Cadeus’ foes as well. Cadeus swinged his spear in a wide arc, cutting the throat of one of his assailants. The other stepped in close and parried the blow, ready to run Cadeus through. He leaped back, but the soldier still glanced him in the back with his sword.
Dunwich saw Meria was trying to escape, and broke of with the elven soldiers to chase her down. With her injury, she would be easy to catch up to, had it not been for the soldier intercepting him. They exchanged blows, but the soldier smashed the rapier out of Dunwich’s hands and kicked him in the chest, sending Dunwich sprawling. The soldier moved in for the kill, when Cadeus grabbed his spear and threw it at the soldier, lodging it into the soldier’s torso.
The soldier was knocked off Dunwich, went to his knees and dropped his sword in pain. Dunwich took the chance to grab the soldiers short sword, but as the soldier pulled the spear out, Cadeus saw that his friend would not have enough time, so he threw a rock at the soldier, hitting him square in the helmet. Dunwich grabbed the sword, and cut down the solder, then went to dislodge his rapier from the tree it had dug into.
Cadeus soon realized that he had spent too much time aiding Dunwich, as the soldier he fought bore down on him. Cadeus pulled forth his bow and was just about to cock the arrow, when the soldier kicked the bow out of his hands. Cadeus decided to try and stab the soldier with the arrow in his right hand, but when he moved in on the soldier, he was hit on his armguard, and he heard a crack as the bone just below the wrist snapped.
Dunwich caught up with Meria. “Surrender now, and we will let you live!”. Meria turned around, fastened her shield and drew her sword. “Over my dead body!” she yelled. Dunwich charged her and stabbed her as her sword connected with his body, drawing blood but did little more. She went down, pleading for mercy and surrendered. “Stand down men!” she yelled, as loud as she could.
The elves withdrew from combat as the soldiers stopped fighting back. A lot of them had died in the ambush, while only to elves had fallen. They surrendered their weapons, and the elves collected them. “So Meria, old friend, would you care to tell me who sent you here?” Dunwich asked. They knew each other, as they often frequented the same tavern before Meria got promoted to captain of the guard. “Might as well tell you…” she said. “Lord Darius sent us here, to ambush the elves on their patrols. Knowing this will do no good though, he’ll never admit to it, just say we acted on our own. What’ll it take for me to get you to release me, eh?” she looked at Dunwich. “Oh, we will release you and your men. But on one condition; you will tell Lord Darius to seize his attack on Evereth, and stop the deforestation!”
Meria looked at him, then shrugged. “I’ll send one of the boys to tell him, but I won’t go myself. He’ll kill me on sight. Or worse… I don’t think it will do much good though, he won’t stop.” Dunwich looked at her. “We thought as much, but you must tell him anyway.” She nodded and got to her feet, limbing a bit. “Come men, our job here is done!” Her men looked puzzled at each other, but the elves let them go.
As the soldiers left, Cadeus approached Den’athius, who had gotten himself a long cut down the chin. “We should return to Ilathia” Cadeus said. Den’athius nodded. “I agree.” And so they went back to the village, bringing their dead with them.
and improv. Lots and lots of improv. Three days ago, I read Play Unsafe for the first time, which I wrote a review for yesterday. You can read it here.
By dumb luck, I actually managed to find two players, who wanted to play some Dungeon World. The premise for that game was that it would be totally improvised, which the players found interesting.
Before the game, I spoke with the players, Misha and James, about the book and some of the advice found in it. They seemed to like the idea about “being obvious and boring”, and I told them they were welcome to screw around with me, whenever they wanted.
We also spoke about putting spotlight on other players’ characters, making an effort to set another player up for success. They seemed to like the idea of spreading out the responsibility for making the game great for everyone.
Mind you that the following report is extremely long. You’ll notice that it’s much more detailed, which is primarily due to the “obvious and boring” approach. It really worked wonders on the amount of details. I even left out some detail in the write up. To keep it from becoming too long…
James and Misha made their characters. James played the human Bard, Dunwich, while Misha played Cadeus, the elven Fighter. We spent about twenty minutes or so asking questions about the characters and the setting, and after that we had a world filled with problematic political struggles.
We had the capital city Davenport of a so far undisclosed country, a place ripe with corruption. The city guard is easily bribed, they care nothing for the citizens, and generally they are more concerned about safeguarding the noble district, which is under a lockdown because the rest of the city is currently suffering an epidemic.
Dunwich lives here, and was born here. The situation neither pleases him, nor the common populace. The city is on the verge of riots, and should the conditions not change, riots will come. To make matters worse, the slums around the city is expanding at a near catastrophic rate, which renders the city guard completely powerless in the area, as slumlords and bandits have assumed control of large parts of this ghetto.
Davenport is currently expanding so rapidly that the Council of Lords have deemed it necessary to break an old treaty with the the Elves to the north, by starting a deforestation of the vast woods of Evereth. Naturally, the elven lords will have none of this, but they are intent on resuming negotiations with the lords of Davenport, rather than attacking the city outright.
The forest of Evereth is divided into territories, or forest states (yes, it’s that big), each occupied by a village under the leadership of an elven lord. The decree to divide the forest between the lords was enacted, because the forest have grown increasingly dangerous and overrun with monsters during the last few hundred years. Dividing the forest between the lords was a desperate act, meant to delegate the responsibility of keeping the forest safe unto the individual lords, by in a way granting them the land. The elven village closest to Davenport is Ilathia, where Cadeus was born.
A lot of this background material was generated during the game, not just up front, but it’s hard to distinguish between what came when. Everything was improvised, even as the game began everything was improvised. Most of it by the players, I might add, I merely asked questions about the stuff I found interesting.
And so we began…
Cadeus and Dunwich enters the tavern, looking for their contact. They see a cloaked figure in the corner, and know it to be her, the disguised elven diplomat Vendethiel. Dunwich goes up to the barkeep and orders to tankards of ale. They go down to talk to her.
“Do you have the information?” she asks. “What have you learned?” Dunwich tells her that it’s worse than they thought. “Fill her in, Cadeus”. And so he does. Lord Darius has commanded a small contingent of between 15 to 30 elite soldiers to go into Evereth, without the consent of the Council.
Vendethiel could hardly believe what she heard. “But what of the king? What role does he play in this?” she asks. Apparently, the other council members were bribed to ignore it, Lord Darius has very deep pockets. As for the king, what role he played in this is unknown, but Darius certainly has some sort of sway over him.
They hardly get to say anything else, before the tavern door is kicked in, five guards entering the establishment, weapons drawn. “Where is she?” they commanded. Knowing they’re in trouble, Dunwich stands up and shouts “Drinks on me!” A few drunkards stands up, cheering, while the rest of the clientele just looks at him. “You ain’t got that kind of money, Dunwich. How stupid do you think we are?”
The guards attention are attracted by this display. Disgruntled that they are being ignored, they proceed down to the table where Vendethiel, Cadeus and Dunwich are seated. “There she is” a guard shouts. Cadeus stands up, spear at the ready. “We are hear to seize the diplomat! Out of our way!” They look wary, they didn’t expect people to put up a fight. They exchange some nervous glances.
“I’m afraid you are mistaken. That woman is my sister. We know of no ‘diplomat’ here.” They looked at them, puzzled. Were their information wrong? They were suspicious, but she was wearing the clothes of a commoner. They decided to leave before the scene got embarrassing. “OK, lets move boys! She can’t be far!”
A scrawly man named Lath decides to join them. “I know she ain’t your sister Cadeus. What’ll you pay me not to go out there and fetch the guards again?” Cadeus was displeased with this. “How about letting you keep your life?” Lath just laughed; “You wouldn’t kill me here, that’d attract too much attention… But as you wish, I’ll fetch the guard…” He began to walk slowly towards the tavern door.
Dunwich snuck up behind him, and stuck his foot in between his legs, causing Lath to fall over hard. “Ouw! You son of a bitch!” he yelled. Dunwich and Cadeus picked him up, holding him so he couldn’t run. His nose was obviously broken as blood flowed from his nose. “Looks like someone had a little too much to drink!” Dunwich shouted. “Lets get you home!” And so they left.
Vendethiel was quivering. They decided to try and leave town and get Vendethiel to safety in Ilathia. Dunwich knew just the guy to help them, Aiden, a guard posted at a sewer grate to prevent people from sneaking down there and into the Nobles District.
“Hey Dunwich. What’re you doing here. And who are they?” Dunwich looked at him and slipped him a few coins. “Do you even care?” The guard shrugged. “Not really… So, you want to go down into the sewers again?” Dunwich nodded, and Aiden opened the grate. “See ya around…”
This was far from everything that transpired, but I’ll save the rest for my next update. Until then, happy gaming!