(More) Seeking MC Advice

  • 14 Replies
  • 5892 Views
*

Jwok

  • 59
(More) Seeking MC Advice
« on: November 24, 2012, 10:05:15 PM »
Hi all,

 So I'm fairly well into my first real game of AW. It's been a ton of fun, but I feel like as MC I'm still failing to bring a lot of what the game has to offer.

Here's what I'm having trouble with:

Using All the MC Tools
All of the principles + all of the agendas + all of the MC moves + all of the front moves + all the other things (PC-NPC-PC Triangles, peripheral moves, etc) = me kind of overwhelmed, feeling like I'm constantly leaving things out. In particular, I feel like I'm failing at keeping the principles and agendas in mind once play starts up.

Creating Real NPCs
My NPCs are developing a tendency to be nothing more than a name and a (usually antagonistic) motive, with no consistent appearance or demeanor to speak of. I've printed out some "npc characteristic" lists in hopes of generating more real feeling characters, but I feel like consulting such a chart in the middle of a scene will blow the "make the world seem real" principle. And of course, most NPC's come into play in the middle of a scene.

Breaking Out of Traditional Play Styles
Like a lot of people, I come from a very trad-y, D&D-filled background. So about half my players. While I keep trying to break out of this mold, I feel like the majority of conflicts in our game keep ending in a "well, I guess we need to kill each other off then" sort of scenario. At least for me, it's boring to just have one senseless fight after another (that's why I'm not playing D&D anymore), but I feel like I'm contributing to the problem without meaning to - I don't really have a good sense of how to present a conflict of the world that doesn't shortly turn into (or just start as) a violent struggle.
   An example: I have a crazed quarantine who woke up to discover his stasis facility occupied by squatters (grotesques - pain addicts [kind of]). He has since attempted to recruit them into a violent military force, but naturally, they want much more to get high and creep out. I'm not really sure how to push this conflict of power forward, especially since the quarantine tends to kill anyone who falls out of line. So what's been happening is, gang acts up, attacking or ignoring orders, the quarantine beats them down (seize by force or pack alpha), and the squatters return to sullen obedience. Not interesting.

Thing's Happening Too Quickly
This issue is closely linked with the one above - since things tend to get resolved pretty quickly with "kill em all" violence, it's hard to develop investment or interest in what's going on (especially since often times everyone you might have investment in is dead). Also, sometimes I feel like serious, visceral shit will happen that get glossed over, when they're really the meat and potatoes of this game.
   For example, the PC's recently captured a slave driver and had him put on trial. The verdict was (unsurprisingly), guilty, and he was sentenced to being stoned to death.

   Holy shit.

   At least for me, the decision and action of pelting a man to death with stones in the street is some hard core shit, but the event was more or less glossed over as a "and thats how that got summed up" sort of thing. Obviously, I don't want to berate the players with a "look what you did" sort of attitude, but I want the fact that something like that happened to mean something, and I'm not sure how to get that done.


Self criticism aside, my players seem to be enjoying themselves, so I must be doing something right. I just feel like there is so much more I could be doing better to really squeeze out all of the awesomeness that this game has to offer.

Anyways, I'd love your thoughts and feedback.
Welcome to Jwokalypse World
http://jwokalypseworld.weebly.com/

*

noclue

  • 609
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2012, 01:16:48 AM »
Rather than worrying about whether you're keeping all the agendas and principles in mind, let me ask this. What agenda or principles have you violated?

If the players are having fun, then things at least 90% perfect.

Sounds like you need some good ol PC-NPC-PC triangles and some making people, people. Have the squatters come to one of the PCs for help. Like "I really want to do good for quarantine guy, but its the drugs man. I can't shake em." Have someone with something the pcs want bargain for the slaver's life. And generally give the players other options besides killing folks. Give them a starving girl rummaging in their stuff for food, a squatter who's trying too hard rather than too little, someone offering them a deal they can't resist. Give them someone who wants them to join his gang and another someone who wants them to accept that offer and bring him info.

And, if it was me, I'd make sure I narrated that stoning scene as visceral as possible. My slaver would be begging for his life. Promising never to do it again. The blood from the first stone would be dripping down his face. Yeah, that shit would get real. I'm down for an execution scene, but not a casual one.

Curious, what did they do with his body after the stoning?
« Last Edit: November 25, 2012, 01:21:58 AM by noclue »
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2012, 04:42:39 PM »
Hey, one of the players here.

In reply to Ewokbloodhunt, I'd echo noclue about not getting hung up on using all the MC tools.  I think at least some of your NPCs (Roark, Biter, Preen, Whitey, Commander) have been pretty well developed.  Then again most of them are dead.  I think the issue is too many of them are brutally murdered before we can learn too much about them.

As far the pacing, part of the issue is the fact the group has been split between locations and the fact we always seem to be going off in different directions (also the Quarantine tends to steamroll over all issues and monopolize spot light a bit).

As to noclue, I don't think skipping over the stoning was that bad.  It might have been nice to see him beg and plead.  But as the first stone thrower (and ex-slave), its not going to change the outcome.

As for the PC-NPC-PC triangles we could use more, though it runs into the issue of NPC dying at a rapid rate.  Biter, the guy who walked through the Darkness(tm), was well attached to my character (Savvyhead obsessed with the Darkness) but got his throat slit just to deprive me of having a possible ally.  Snake Bait, who shaping to be Biter's replacement, might be murdered at any moment by Quarantine if he does anything that even vaguely challenges his leadership.

I agree with giving him (the Quarantine) problems he can't kill his way through like the disease working through his remaining 'subjects'.   

I think his extreme violence solution to issues means for me at least that even if I was on friendly terms with an NPC if it came to sticking my neck out for them vs. letting the Quarantine murder them, I'd probably sacrifice my friend.  He's a bit too scary.

Maybe the best course is to let him win for a bit.  He's building an army, collecting subjects, and fortifying.  Eventually his projects will cease to be quick and will start to take weeks and months.  Then he'll need to get food and more subjects. Meanwhile you can have lots of little conflicts like his subjects trying to get ahead, murder a rival, grow their religion, or the like.  I think as long as it is not a direct physical threat to him, something he can't just kill or something that doesn't defy him outright (like the pain addicts did), the NPCs will probably not be killed.

Either that or seriously he will be left with just himself.  Out of the 20-25 squatters and dozen other NPCs at the beginning of the game only 3 squatters and 3 or 4 others are alive.  We've added a couple dozen new characters at the original game location but I don't see them long for this world at this rate.  And its only been 2 weeks in game.

*

noclue

  • 609
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2012, 05:18:30 PM »
And don't necessarily make the squatters grudgingly obedient. The quarantine is the shit! We need to get on board and anyone who interferes needs to be dealt with. In fact...that savvyhead has been talking back a lot hasn't he? Maybe we should tell the quarantine that he's making him look weak. Or should we just go talk to the savvyhead and let him know he needs to fall into line?

Btw, what was the slaver's name and what else did you know about him besides that he was a slaver?
« Last Edit: November 25, 2012, 11:34:11 PM by noclue »
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

*

DWeird

  • 166
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2012, 07:05:51 PM »
Do you do the optional things? As in,

Quote
A FEW MORE THINGS TO DO
• Make maps like crazy.
• Turn questions back on the asker or over to the group at large.
• Digress occasionally.
• Elide the action sometimes, and zoom in on its details other times.
• Go around the table.
• Take breaks and take your time.

Don't forget that a MC's a player, too - you're playing, not performing. Meaning, you get to do things on your own, taking players into account instead of just reacting to what they do... If you think the stoning's a big deal, you can zoom in on it. If you want to inject some colour in the game that you like, do that too. If a character is consistently doing the same strategy over and over again and it succeeds just as consistently, you can handle it off-screen (three months pass...) and skip to a more interesting outcome. If you have problems thinking up what troubles the characters will be facing when they shoot everyone in sight, you can always ask the table for help.

Basically, all you need is just to relax a bit, take your time and make use of other players.

How's your list of fundamental scarcities, by the way?

Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2012, 02:56:28 PM »
I don't know if this is something you're struggling with or not, so I'll just put it out there:

Sometimes, coming from a background like D&D (adventure fiction), we can start thinking of gameplay entirely in terms of adventure concepts: enemies, combats, treasure, stuff like that.

A game like Apocalypse World, though, that can really shine if you think of it more like the real world and less like adventure fiction. There's fundamental scarcities and the world is all messed, but people are still human, you know? So what are they doing?

For instance, if the Quarantine repeatedly beats down the squatters by killing some of them, they might start acting out in other ways, right? Not through violence, but by trying to hide things from him.

What if the Quarantine (or, better yet, another PC) finds out that the squatter drug addicts are hiding a group of refugees, in secret? And the refugees are all women or children, or elderly folk, or some other group you think might resonate with the players.

Why are the squatters doing it? They might be looking for some female company, or maybe hoping to have kids of their own, or something else. But, in any case, they've got some women or children refugees they're hiding and they don't want the Quarantine to know.

However, to complicate matters, these refugees are now addicted to the drugs the squatters are using. If you kick them out, try to get rid of them, the withdrawal will kill them or drive them mad.

Now what's going to happen? No obvious solution to this one.

If the Quarantine lets them stay, then maybe the next time the squatters are acting up it's because one of these refugees is trying to take charge. Maybe she's pregnant, and the squatters venerate her like some kind of earth goddess. Or it's a little child who seems to know more than he should because he can see into the psychic maelstrom.

If that kind of stuff doesn't work, either, then you should check in with your players. Try asking provocative questions first, to find out what they care about, what they fear, what they hope for. If they still don't give you anything, then just talk about it out of game, see if you're all trying to play the same game or not.


*

Jwok

  • 59
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2012, 03:47:50 PM »
Wow, thanks for all the responses guys! I came across an example situation from the book that I think illustrates the block I'm running into:

Pg 256
"In the night, Marser chops Jackabacka's hand off because he wants Jackabacka's 3-year-old for his own. Jackabacka's in your tend now, bloody-stumped, he's sobbing like a little kid."

My knee jerk reaction here is "Well, I guess we gotta go kill Marser." Thinking like a real person? No. But that's exactly the in-game mind set I struggle with, as I think some of my players do also.

So what would be some alternatives here? If it were me, and I were a brainer, I'd probably try to go make Marser my thrall. If I was a Driver, I'd probably try to run Marser off the road. If I was a hardholder, I would throw Marser's ass in jail... no, I'd probably just kill him.

The underlying problem I'm facing is that all of my thought processes are very final, which naturally doesn't allow for drama to continue and unfold. Now, as an MC, I'm having trouble getting over this mind set and setting up sitiuations that don't naturally devolve into kill-your-problems sort of scenarios.

If people are down, I'd love some examples of non-killy situations that you've played out in your games.
Welcome to Jwokalypse World
http://jwokalypseworld.weebly.com/

Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2012, 04:54:49 PM »
Wow, thanks for all the responses guys! I came across an example situation from the book that I think illustrates the block I'm running into:

Pg 256
"In the night, Marser chops Jackabacka's hand off because he wants Jackabacka's 3-year-old for his own. Jackabacka's in your tend now, bloody-stumped, he's sobbing like a little kid."

My knee jerk reaction here is "Well, I guess we gotta go kill Marser." Thinking like a real person? No. But that's exactly the in-game mind set I struggle with, as I think some of my players do also.

I wonder: at what level are the players to treat the example as merely a problem to solve (it should be resolved) or as a symptom of a greater problem (the "want" the example is supposed to express).

Is bringing in the scarcity meant to just drive what conflicts come up, or is the table really supposed to sort out that "want" in a definitive way?

That said: yeah, Marser may have to die. Depending on the hardholder's rep/cred/image, there may be other options. One or more of these might work out:

1) Marser pays restitution to Jackabacka
2) Marser returns the child to Jackabacka
3) eye for an eye
4) kill Marser for violating the peace
5) kill Jackabacka for being weak/unable to contribute as much
6) MORTAL KOMBAT!!! Give them both weapons and have them settle things in the pit
7) some sort of trial I guess
"Above the tortured heavens
So full of silent waiting
Howl screams of birth and triumph
Unlock the faceless hating"

- Darkest Of The Hillside Thickets, "Ogdru Jahad"

*

noclue

  • 609
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #8 on: November 27, 2012, 09:38:58 PM »
Oh, I would totally kill Marser.

But remember Jackabacka's a threat too.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2012, 09:46:52 PM by noclue »
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2012, 10:38:16 PM »
Yeah, exactly. While the PC runs to kill Marser, Jackabacka steals the PC's food and takes it home to feed his kid.

If the PC figures it out and confronts him later, he explains that he didn't know what to do: he won't be able to feed his kid with only one hand, he doesn't know how they will survive.

Marser may also have a very good reason to have cut off Jackabacka's hand, too: maybe Jackabacka was stealing from him?

And then for your next step, look how it affects the whole community. Ideally lots of people in the community are useful to the players (the make stuff, they sell stuff, they have medical abilities, they know stuff, they keep the holding safe), so they can't just kill them off without suffering the consequences.

For instance, what if Marser is the head of the local militia, and without his guidance they'd just loot and pillage and rape and stop protecting the community? Will they still just flat out kill him now?

*

noclue

  • 609
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #10 on: November 27, 2012, 11:01:16 PM »
And Marser's treating that kid way better than JackaBacka ever did, anyway. What with all his drinking. He's a mean drunk that JackaBacka.
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

*

DannyK

  • 157
Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2012, 02:00:09 PM »
When the book says that everybody's a threat, I don't think it means everybody wants to kill the PC's, just that everybody can make the PC's lives more difficult.  That girl the Gunlugger rescued now wants him to help her get revenge on the nomads, for example. Or the guy who knows how to keep the water machine running is in love with someone else's wife.  There are lots of problem that can't be solved with 3-harm. 

That said, there's nothing wrong with playing Apocalypse World like a Cormac McCarthy novel where characters are getting shot like rabbits just as the reader gets to know them.  That's totally legit and in-genre.  Depending on the playbooks you choose, it's often the most mechanically effective way to approach the game. I think you can reflect that a bit in your MC'ing -- make a front of "everybody gets shot or runs away and the PC's are left alone in a ghost town" and make a doomsday clock out of it. 

You can also have the NPC's reflect the situation: "That new guy, he sure likes to put people in the ground.  I never saw somebody so bloodthirsty who wasn't a cannibal too." 

Regarding the stoning: sometimes MC's feel like they have to get graphic to sort of rub the players' noses in their actions, but I like to get sneaky -- ask them what they're doing, if they got a big rock or a little one or if they snuck away when the stoning was about to start,then cut away, then later bring it up in a different context.  ("When I saw you pick up that boulder, I says to myself, there's a man who means business.")

Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2012, 03:10:23 PM »
I understand your self criticism, before I started my first game as Mc (it was also the first time for me and my group -people deeply grounded in D&D- playing AW) I was scared to mess it all up, but as we begin the first session everything went fine.

I just go with the flow, looking for interesting things that happens, asking tons of questions, keeping an eye at fronts and how they react to the things that the Pc's do.

I had a bloody-devil gunlgugger, for him sadistic violence and demonstrations of brute force was his daily bread. He was killed by the other Pc' at the end.

I had a maestro'd who had some problem with the infected followers of the brainer/hocus, in one of our first session he killed a couple of them. Monk, one of the followers, asked the brainer (the leader of the cult) to do something about it, it was something like "I know you know that guy, but I want justice. I'm not asking you to kill him, I just need one of his hand for compensation, you know".
The brainer had a talk with Monk, succeding to persuade him not to harm the maestro'd, at least not now. And all that revenge thing just faded away.
Later in the game the Brainer was killed, and Monk became the leader of the cult.
They were all infected by a plague spreading all over the city, the maestro'd was infected too. They both -monk and the maestro'd- worked to find a cure separately. Monk succeeded finding a cure for the plague (threat clock= find the cure).
Session 12#, the maestro'd is dying because of the plague, his right hand is a mass of deformed meat. Then he meets Monk, who offers him the cure, but with a small price to pay: his left hand.
(I summerized it all just to make a quick examples, how it all happened was much more xciting)
What I want to say is show genuine interest at what happens in thw world you are collaboratively creating, and everything will find its course. Stay involved in what happens. And if your players are having fun, it means you are doing well your part.
Have fun!


Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2012, 07:46:22 PM »
I feel like I say this in every thread like this, but part of what makes NPCs a threat is that they have useful, even essential skills that other people rely on. Things they can't do if they're dead, or on drugs, or in prison, or whatever. Things that give them leverage when they're following their parts around.

This isn't big city living, you can't just kill anyone you like and assume someone will step forward to take their place -- if someone does, usually they'll be worse at whatever it is, and probably trying to take advantage of the situation to boot.

The Quarantine wants a gang, but he can't have a gang if they're all dead. Every person he shoots is one less person in his army.

The PCs decide to stone a slaver, sure of course. But people depended on that slaver, for better or worse -- there's a hole where he used to be. The slaves he provided were used for something, people relied on that, so now what will they rely on instead? How will they cope, and what about the ones who can't cope?

Marser chops off Jackabacka's hand, that's a twofer. Jackabacka needed that hand for all sorts of shit that she does for the community. And Marser does something too, so just killing Marser means that that shit won't get done anymore, either.

I mean, like DannyK says, there's nothing wrong with PCs going on murder sprees. It's up to them. They decide: who survives. What survives? What services, what skills, are essential enough to put up with the people who have them, and what those people want? Maybe the PCs will decide against compromise, maybe they'll decide that their future doesn't need slavers, or engineers, or farmers, or drug-addicted gang members or authority based on anything but fear and violence.

That's fine. That's what you're playing to find out. And it's your job as MC to make that real. To figure out what it's really like, living in a world where the guy with the scary army murders you if you talk back, or where people get stoned to death in public, or cutting off somebody's hand means losing your head. Because people react to that shit -- it shapes them, and their decisions, and what they want and what they think they can get out of life. And I don't mean your job is to make everything 'realistic' or gritty or terrible -- you make it real within the parameters of the genre, and the kind of apocalypse you want to be playing in. But even if it's a cavalier world of Mad Max adventure, people still react. What the PCs decide matters, nobody just yawns it off and goes back to life as usual. Because there is no life as usual.

So I mean, I'd say just think about that. Think about what these people are worth, to the community, and also think about how they react to things, as individuals. Those two are always going to be in tension, but it's never really your job to resolve that tension -- that's the PCs' job.


« Last Edit: December 20, 2012, 07:50:51 PM by Daniel Wood »

Re: (More) Seeking MC Advice
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2012, 11:11:07 PM »
Great post!

The easiest way to make someone important is to make them a healer. Immediate consequences if they're killed

And it can be even more interesting when someone's necessary, but not for reasons that are immediately sensible. For instance, someone's useless, or horrible, or a total jerk... but the people around them feel that they bring the hardhold good luck, or some kind of divine favour, or they are a mascot for an important tradition.