Please help me validate my grasp of this awesome shit: Basic Game/1st Session

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Hey there,

Newish to Story-oriented games, classic RPGer starting a pilgrimage through Indie designs. I just read AW after Vincent sold it to me with an excellent, honest and enthusiastic pitch of the game.  

I'd just like a little guidance/validation/insight to see if I got the game's larger and core concepts before I start a game with my ex-D&D group. (And before I write the review on my blog)

So from what I understand of the game, the world starts with an unspecified yet specialized setting:

Here be the post-apocalypse and some serious, undefined shit is brewing in the ether.

The world takes shape as the players chose among the pile of playbooks and flesh out their characters... which, while the MC helps everyone get a grasp of the jargon and basic mechanics, also innocently peppers the discussion with questions about the PCs pasts, current location, make of vehicles and names of everything around them.

Mechanically speaking, the game is an exchange of narrative "moves" where a move describes an action/event/game element with a significant impact in the game's fiction.

While the player will use the terminology of their moves (basic and character specific) to clearly indicate to the MC what they are attempting, the MC will ask to the player to fictionalize said move to make it cooler, hence the "Cool, how do you do that?" found everywhere in the book.

On the other hand, the MC will NEVER name his moves and will also make shit up on the spot (NPC moods, appearances, actions) while narrating which will then later look like it's part of a logical story (misdirect) but really wasn't pre-planned as such.  

However, all the elements created through the MC's moves and misdirection must reflect an apocalyptic outlook that later remain internally consistent with both the rules and the apparent onscreen/offscreen logic...

So if I make up a tough looking junkie NPC named Fry that tries to befriend the angel PC to pilfer narcs from her Angel Kit, I need to remain consistent about Fry being a Junkie and make moves with Fry that go that way (and maybe even create a triangle so  Marie the brainer PC can also barter some of those stolen Narcs so she can help Joe the Savvyhead create that Brain-probe she needs...)

With this, the basic game, things become really interesting when PCs either miss a roll or give the MC a golden opportunity to fuck with them... thus the MC is invited to go to town and make the most heinous-yet-interesting-for-the-PCs move he can think about.  

A bit like Mouse Guard's failure mechanic... only not G-rated and guided by the MC's list of moves (and any custom ones that fit the game).

The MC also names everything so that all NPCs gain a semblance of substance... but never so much that they aren't killed, maimed, destroyed at the players (or hardest move's) whim (Crosshair).

Finally I understand that the game's fuel is the MC's questions to the characters (not players).  Those questions (and answers) build the world and shape where the action goes.  Many (if not most) of these questions should be embedded in the MC's moves or in response to players Moves/questions (i.e. turning player questions back to the group). Right?

First session: Players make PCs while I help set expectations. Then I follow a day in the lives of the PCs and alternate high level moves (announce future Badness, Seperate them, react to reading situations/people etc) to get things moving.

All names that come up, all NPCs and crap created, etc... all this goes on the 1st session worksheet to help me create fronts later (and keep my shit together for campaign play).

Am I on the right track for the basic game and 1st session?

I do have a few questions:

How many players can the game comfortably run for a newbie MC (with a few decades of RPGs behind him including recent freeform)?  I have 6 players waiting to start...

How does the MC gauge how much back and forth to do with a given player/sub group of PCs before moving the spotlight on another PC/group?  Gut feeling, Narrative imperative, getting all players involved?  

Ex: Are we talking Guy Ritchie directing Mad Max IV here or do we see a scene to the end before moving on?  

I'm asking because, I have a limited sense of how fast a scene goes...

After my first session, I'll start a thread about creating fronts, which appear to me to be the closest thing the game has to "prepping an adventure". However, I get the sense that it's not so much an adventure as "here's a set of plot hooks, external agendas, threats and NPCs that will come and interfere with whatever attempts your players will make to stabilize their little corner of apocalyptica"

Thanks for your input.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2010, 10:28:10 AM by The Chatty DM »

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lumpley

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Right on, right on, and right on.

I like to run the game with 3-4, but 6 isn't too nuts. As the number of players increases the only prob is juggling spotlights. The way we play, most scenes include at least 2 players' characters; very rarely is one PC acting all by herself.

My overriding concern is that everybody gets to play, not story-consciousness.

I'm less frenetic with my scenes than Guy Ritchie is. You know Jackie Brown? I make like that. Linger here and there, cut quick sometimes, switch back and forth between characters' points of view. But it's all by gut, I wouldn't try to formalize it and I think that being self-conscious about it would hamper you.

Thanks!

I get exactly what you mean by Jackie Brown, I'm a huge Tarantino fan. 

Thanks for the tips and thumbs up.  I'm going to get ready for next Friday's game.  I'll send the playbooks to the players by email and let them work it out.

This will be so interesting to play in French.  I'll let you know when I post the play report online.

Something to consider too is that it's easier to move the spotlight around, and easier to get 2+ PCs into one scene, when all the PCs are packed like sardines into some small space. Like everything, it's not worth forcing if the players are obviously picking playbooks and talking up things that indicate a wide-open game, but tight quarters is a great way to kick things off.

Remember too that you can not only frame scenes aggressively, but you can also frame scenes that are "loaded questions". So you can say something like, "You're all in the guest suites of [rival warlord] Kreider's hold. What are you there for? Are you together, or just shoved together by Kreider's hospitality?" and then go off their answers with, "[some relevant badness], what do you do?".

I had not thought, or grokked the "loaded scene" aspect of the game.  That's the ultimate lazy GM/MC tool ever. And can help bridge the classic to Indie mindset that I know my brain will act under fire to figure out.

While the player will use the terminology of their moves (basic and character specific) to clearly indicate to the MC what they are attempting, the MC will ask to the player to fictionalize said move to make it cooler, hence the "Cool, how do you do that?" found everywhere in the book.

Yeah, except: it can work either way, leading with the narrative or leading with the mechanics.

What I mean is that both of these are possible:

Brainer: Alright, Dustwich is pissing me off. I'm going to give him some direct brain whisper projection to change his mind.
MC: Cool, how do you do that?
Brainer: Well, I press together my thumb and forefinger, silently activating my violation glove. And I reach out and put my hand on his shoulder, saying, "Dustwich, I completely agree," but of course, I'm at the same time whispering brain-to-brain, "Change your mind, or I'll kill you."
MC: Alright, roll it.

or:

Brainer: I press together my thumb and forefinger, silently activating my violation glove. And I reach out and put my hand on his shoulder, saying, "Dustwich, I completely agree." But I want it to be clear to him, maybe with my psychic powers, that I want him to do the opposite.
MC: Okay, are you manipulating, or using one of your brainer moves?
Brainer: Let's see... ooh, that's Direct Brain Whisper Projection. So I use that.
MC: Alright, roll it.

So if I make up a tough looking junkie NPC named Fry that tries to befriend the angel PC to pilfer narcs from her Angel Kit, I need to remain consistent about Fry being a Junkie and make moves with Fry that go that way (and maybe even create a triangle so  Marie the brainer PC can also barter some of those stolen Narcs so she can help Joe the Savvyhead create that Brain-probe she needs...)

[...snip...]

The MC also names everything so that all NPCs gain a semblance of substance... but never so much that they aren't killed, maimed, destroyed at the players (or hardest move's) whim (Crosshair).

So, here's how I think about names. How easy is it to want to kill off some sketchy junkie? Easy.

How easy is it to want to kill of Fry? Well, he's taking care of that orphan kid, Elephant. And he's clearly been knocked around. Marie actually wants him around.

Well, that really depends. Maybe Taco won't mind knocking this low-life down, and sending Elephant to the wolves. But Marie and Crocodile will.

Naming people makes them real. And that makes decisions regarding them real. And you create little PC-NPC-PC triangles with that alone: Crocodile doesn't want to kill people, especially people who approach him in non-violence. Marie values life. Taco values security. By naming Fry, you assert his humanity, and that means that EVERYONE has a stake in decisions involving Fry, right away.

One thing that stood out about your summary was focusing on moves, which is really easy to do.  Remember that moves aren't the only significant things that players do. They do a lot of significant fictional stuff that's not moves; you just don't roll for it.  They describe what they do and you describe what NPCs do and stuff just happens.  And when they do something that's a move, they roll.

Naming people makes them real. And that makes decisions regarding them real.

Example from actual play:  second session of a game this weekend.  They're going to scout out the holding of a former lieutenant of the PC hardholder Unca, who left acrimoniously in a dispute over how much she was getting paid and went north, where the rough terrain and hilly ground makes it a lot easier for people to hide out.  There's no PC driver; Clover the operator said, "Hey, I know a guy who's driven for me before," and I named him Hill.  There were a couple vignettes involving Clover and Hill, and they got to know him - decent, reliable driver, family back in Unca's holding.  

There's an armed guard on the road right outside the holding that won't let them take the van in.  So they park it facing the other way, and leave Hill guarding it and ready to drive off in a hurry in case they need it.  They go into the holding, and mayhem ensues.  Smith the brainer, thinking ahead, does in-brain puppet strings to a passerby and tells him to go to the gate and kill all the guards.  A few minutes later I announce that everyone hears four bursts of automatic weapon fire.  (Announce future badness, yo!) The brainer said, "Four?"  I said, "Four."  

Mayhem escalates, and they're in a hurry to leave the holding.  They dash back to the car, and I say, "You almost trip over three bodies, and there's a spatter of blood all over the van."  Clover shouts, "Hill!  Where are you?  We gotta get out of here!"  Smith puts two and two together, and says, "I think he's over here."  Turns out Hill had been having a cigarette with the gate guards.  (Fuckery, with bloody fingerprints, yo!)

Without naming him Hill, none of that would have happened.  He would have been a faceless mook; instead, he got a funeral pyre, and Clover has sworn revenge.