(This is directly from the PbtA Q&A round 2, last question.)
Back when I used to run a lot of Apocalypse World con games, 2013-2015 or so, here’s how I’d do it.
Limit your selection of playbooks. I used to go with the battlebabe, the brainer, the chopper, the gunlugger, the savvyhead, the skinner, and one or two of the extended playbooks.
Start playing without making characters. Get one player to commit to their playbook choice and lead out. Everybody else can listen and look through their playbooks.
The volunteer’s in a bad spot. Cut off, pinned down or captured. Have a spot in mind that you can describe in detail. Use Dremmer for your immediate antagonist, with, um, Jackabacka, Mice, Dustwich, and maybe Plover or somebody as their gang.
Push reading a person or reading a situation onto your volunteer, depending on the spot you’ve put them in. Want to read Dremmer? I think you should. Wait! What’s your name? Choose one. You can choose your looks in a second. To read a person, you have to choose your stats. Choose now. Good choice! Reading a person means rolling+sharp, so roll two dice and add your sharp.
Now you’re playing.
When they’re done reading Dremmer, turn to the other players. Make sure they’ve chosen playbooks. They’re trying to find their friend, who they know is in a bad spot. I guess you want to read the situation, right? You both can. What are your names? Choose your stats and roll for it. Hey, first volunteer, while they’re doing this, why don’t you choose looks, and check this out, you get to choose a couple of these playbook moves, so look them over too…
So you have them create their characters in early play, as they need each section. Ignore Hx for now.
Play for about 60-80 minutes, then…
What I’d like to do is play out 2, maybe 3 “sessions” in this session, I’d say. So let’s call this the end of session 1. We have some quick end-of-session stuff to do, then we can take 5, then come back for session 2.
Oh actually wait! I forgot, let’s do Hx, we need to do that first.
Lead them through Hx. Have them highlight stats, and I’d always give them a few xp to make up for any they’d missed during the first session, plus a couple more — I wanted them to improve at least once during the game.
Then lead them through the end of session stuff and take a few minutes’ break.
During the break, start a threat map, so that as people come back, you’re at the table working on it. Hey check this out, I want to show you what it looks like from the GM’s side. This is my threat map, here’s you all at the center, here’s Dremmer. You don’t know this but here’s the death ray satellite that Dremmer’s got Jackabacka working on to figure out the controls… Or whatever apocalyptica you’ve dreamed up.
Once everybody’s back, do beginning of session moves and you’re back into the game.
Like I say, I’d shoot for 3 mini-sessions.
I’d play as hard as I could. It was often not as hard as I would’ve preferred, because of con schedules, jet lag, playing with strangers, my own natural shyness… But I always tried to give them my best.
There’s not much you can do to get a satisfying ending. Apocalypse World is designed for more than 3 quick sessions, after all. Most of the time, I’d try for a cliffhanger instead. Cliffhangers are almost as satisfying as endings, and much easier to get in a 3-5 hour con slot.
So that’s what I’d do! Make characters during early play, not before; play more than one session per session; give spoilers at the session breaks; and try for a cliffhanger instead of an ending.