[AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"

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[AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« on: August 28, 2010, 11:27:46 AM »
I'm toying with the idea of running Apocalypse World at NerdNYC's upcoming mini-con Recess.  To get some familiarity, I decided to do an experimental session.  I grabbed some dudes from New York Red Box and we ran through the demo scenario, "Blind-Blue and Hatchet City."

TL;DR: I'm almost certainly running Mouse Guard instead.  Here follow some impressions.

Chris Wins Apocalypse World 15 minutes into the Game
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ME: Let's go around.  Brainer, what's the deal with you?

CHRIS, OUR TEENAGE FRIEND: So, I'm playing Iris the Brainer.  She's a woman, smooth face, caring eyes, and a slight body.  And I'm wearing a suit made from the skin of my dead boyfriend.  Like, I cut off all his skin and so it looks like it's my boyfriend walking around, all naked and saggy and wrinkled a little bit, but it's me inside.  Like, I've cut out a big hole in the head for my face to poke out.  

Oh, and there are no razors in Apocalypse World, right?  So my boyfriend had this big bushy beard so it's like I'm borrowing his.  No, wait!   Instead, I carve out this hole around his ear, and that's where I poke my head out, so it's like my face, and then off on the side, his face.

EVERYONE: ....

ME: How do you think your boyfriend would have felt about this?

CHRIS: Well, he always used to protect me.  He wanted me to do it so we could stay together.

TAVIS: (making a list of NPC's) What was your boyfriend's name?

SCOTT: Poncho.

Moral: Apocalypse World is about seeing your friends at their most deranged, uninhibited, and vulnerable.  Or you can simply play with a teenage boy.

If I can scan it in, I'll post a picture of Iris + Poncho.  It's pretty horrifying.

We Kill PC's, Right?
Tavis played Colonel, the Hardholder.  Greengoat played Key, the Angel.

During set up, I asked the Colonel what was his signature accomplishment in Hatchet City, the thing he was really proud of.  He answered, "We brought Key here.  I guess kind of against his will.  But I respect him and I'm really proud that we finally have a great medic."  And the Colonel's biggest regret?  "I had to throw Key's girlfriend off the wagon to delay the mutant hordes so Key and I could escape."

Key's player was like "Uhhhhhh"

And also during set up, the aforementioned Iris the Brainer said she had killed Key's brother Camo.

Key's player was like "Uhhhhhh"

So, I fucked up here as MC.  

1.  My question about the Colonel's greatest pride as a hardholder was intended to elicit, "What is it about Hatchet City that makes people like it here?  Why are the PC's at least somewhat loyal to the idea of Hatchet City?"  In retrospect I should have asked that directly, or clarified when the Colonel's player simply pointed to another PC.

2.  We forgot to do Hx, so that may have frustrated the formation of a pseudo-party.  

3.  Key's player comes from a history where PC-on-PC violence verges on uncool behavior.  (I know because I helped set the ground rules for our public D&D game.)  Key's player at a couple points was like, "Uh, I fucking hate these dudes.  What's my character's motivation for wanting to help them?"  With the premise that he ought to be helping them.  He felt frustrated that his character was kind of the responsible doormat.  I tried to correct his misperception - assassinating the Colonel would have been cool.  But what I should have said was, In Apocalypse World, if a player makes you his bitch, you can't just sit there and take it.

Tone and Volume
Apocalypse World evokes very contrary emotions.  With limited familiarity with the game - I've been interested in it for less than a week - I came into it thinking of an elegy or a dirge.  A haunting, sad sort of story like McCarthy's "The Road."  

Translated into a role-playing game involving real folks sitting around a table, it seems like it's going to lean toward cartoonish ultra-violence.  Cartoonish ultra-violence is fucking awesome!!  There is a long history of cartoonish ultra-violence in post-apocalyptic fiction!  Hurray for that stuff!  

But it also means that the occasional tragic stuff strikes a really jarring note.  When people are stapling human beings to the front of their Mack Truck as armor, it's not the time to talk about the brief, tragic life of Key's brother Camo - "Key's girlfriend was the only one who understood me, and when the Colonel threw her over to Ambergrease's men, what the fuck did anything matter?  It's not like Key had any time for me."  Or about how Brimful was concerned for Michi because he wanted to marry her and have a male heir after decades of disappointment.

So I was sorta off my GM'ing there.  As a game of cartoonish ultra-violence it delivers several tanker trucks' worth of madness.  Square pegs, round holes.

In which I suck some more, but nobody notices
I didn't really prepare custom moves for Blind-Blue or the ruins' contamination, because it was a busy week at work.  Those are hugely important threats.  On the other hand, I had crazy shit happen all the time so I don't think anyone really noticed - doing it right would have just made things more overwhelming and scattered.

Overall I played too aggressively and got in the players' way too often.  Because scenes were so short, I wanted to push their issues as much as I could - but that was probably the wrong response.  I suspect the game would work better at a slower and more deliberate pace.  (Slower stuff may also allow the mood to shift a little bit.)

"Hatchet City" as a Demo Scenario
I really like the idea of "Blind-Blue and Hatchet City."  And certainly my MC'ing was pretty way off (though maybe not too far off for first-time MC's).  But in practice the scenario didn't really work for us.

* Character creation, including the letters, the sheets, the choices, asking questions - took 90 minutes, and we didn't even do Hx.  There was some awesome stuff that came out during char-gen, but for a 4 hour convention slot, bleeergh.

* Thirty NPC's, eight threats to advance, and five PC's are too many to juggle all at once.  The scenario is rich with conflict, but wildly inefficient narratively.  There's a shit-ton of machinery involved to advance threats which primarily focus on one or two PC's at a time.  Fuck, no.

* If the Skinner blows her set-up rolls and has no connections, she's not directly plugged into the civil war drama stuff, at all.  This means you've gotta really hit her with Tip + Blind-Blue.

* There are a couple other things, but mainly, trying to fit 5 people's actions and juggle spotlight time in 2 hours when there's a million crises all at once, simply didn't work very well.  Simpler, cleaner, faster.

In the End
So, we had fun, but it's because we're friends who enjoy each others' company.  I believe many of the problems were in my debut MC'ing, but the scenario was really not coming together in a fun way for us.  I definitely don't want to run this for four strangers who paid money for the experience.

Since I've heard the first-session stuff is a little bit slow, I think the best approach would be to run something else, and come back to Apocalypse World when I've got more time to do it right.  It's definitely a game I want to play some more.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2010, 11:29:57 AM by James_Nostack »

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lumpley

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Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2010, 11:40:30 AM »
Do not try to learn the game from Hatchet City! It won't teach you how to play. It's not designed for that, at all. It's designed for MCs who already know how to run the game.

So no surprise about any of this at my end.

-Vincent

Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2010, 11:52:47 AM »
Oh, I'm not saying it was false advertising or anything!  Just: experimental confirmation that it did not do what it wasn't designed for.


Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2010, 10:32:49 AM »
Just: experimental confirmation that it did not do what it wasn't designed for.
I want that quote on a t-shirt.  :D

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Tavis

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Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2010, 05:57:03 PM »
It's designed for MCs who already know how to run the game.

I felt like I understood less about MCing after playing the scenario than I did when I'd just read AW without playing! In particular, I got the sense from James that the openness of "ask questions" caused problems with the specificity of the things that were established by the scenario. In an ongoing AW campaign, I can see that questions qould have wrong answers because obviously "why did you betray Key" isn't orbital mind control lasers, that's totally not part of the established fiction, but here I felt unsure about where my latitude to make up answers conflicted with established stuff like the start-of-session writeups.

What is this scenario designed to do?

Is there a scenario designed to do what James was looking for - introduce new players in a one-shot environment like a convention?
« Last Edit: August 29, 2010, 05:58:46 PM by Tavis »

Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2010, 09:48:22 PM »
I feel bad for making Tavis more confused than he was.  It's possible I fucked it up royally.  I felt in a hurry to bring all the threats into the game as best I could, since we were playing with a full house and each of the PC's were kind of keyed up to hit different threats.  This was a big mistake on my part.

Quote
why did you betray Key

Just to be clear, the questions were, "What are you proud of having accomplished in Hatchet City?" and "What's your biggest regret during your time running Hatchet City?" which I was hoping would give (a) a reason for the group to have some civic pride in this place and (b) a reason for some folks like Dustwich to feel unhappy with the leadership.  

But I should have just asked those questions directly.  My fault for asking them askew.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2010, 10:10:22 PM by James_Nostack »

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lumpley

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Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2010, 09:56:15 PM »
> What is this scenario designed to do?

I don't think it's well-designed to do anything, except maybe to showcase situation moves. You'll notice that I'm not promoting it anywhere!

-Vincent

Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2010, 12:09:50 AM »
As with any game you need to sit down pre-game and discuss what your ideas for tone and play style are going to be.  You imagined the road and your friend imagined the human centipede.

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Tavis

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Re: [AP - Hatchet City] "Call her on the Crazy-Phone"
« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2010, 01:40:21 PM »
I felt like I understood less about MCing after playing the scenario than I did when I'd just read AW without playing!

I don't think it's well-designed to do anything, except maybe to showcase situation moves.

Paradox resolved; the disconnect b/w my experience of the scenario and rulebook is because I do think the Apocalypse World rulebook is exceptionally well-designed to help the reader understand what the game is meant to be! Thanks.