Monolithic foreign powers

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Monolithic foreign powers
« on: October 08, 2010, 10:08:51 AM »
I'm reading Robert Fisk's book Pity the Nation, which is about Lebanon from the fifties through the eighties, and it is a real life apocalypse. Ruined infrastructure, criminal gangs, murderous lunatics, squalid refugee camps, ideological genocide, child soldiers, you name it. An extremely bad scene.

Central to the Lebanese tragedy is the intervention of massive external forces - Israel, Syria, Iran, the UN - all of which pull the strings of various paramilitaries and militias in a huge proxy war. The people in the middle - the Lebanese, and Palestinian refugees - do all the suffering.

So I'm imagining Apocalypse Worldifying this situation - there's still a functional world out there, but right here there is an apocalypse. And you can't get out, because there are large, sophisticated armies in every direction that won't let you. You can work with them, or for them, or through them, but you can't fight them or tell them what to do. They can hook you up, but they can also leave you out to dry when the political wind changes. You need to take sides and seek favor and protection from one of the monsters deciding the fate of your land.

Could this even work? It's essentially setting up arbitrary limits to agency, which is a weird thing given the wide open nature of Apocalypse World. You'd have to say "You absolutely cannot fuck with the guys on the border. They are an order of magnitude more powerful than you, full stop. But if you want some guns and cash, all they want is a public display of loyalty and for you to take over this village and slit a few throats. One of their officers may ride along to observe."

Thoughts?

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2010, 12:11:15 PM »
This reminds me of the two Grendel Tales comic series that Edvin Biukovic and Darko Macan did. Devils and Deaths, and Devil's Choices. It's pretty good fodder for AW, has a lot of Yugoslavia in it.

Also, Blackhawk Down and Body of Lies.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2010, 12:17:24 PM »
I don't think the agency thing is necessarily an issue, but my suggestion would be to present these foreign armies as something akin to a force of nature - you can't seduce or go aggro on a hurricane or a mountainside or radiation, you just have to hunker down and hope you survive. These armies should be the same thing.

Later on, maybe you can change that as you increase the scope of the game.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2010, 01:05:29 PM »
Maybe the psychic maelstrom is the international media.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2010, 08:32:46 PM »
And opening your brain is actually your attempt to understand the international media's language(s). They have satellite imaging and 24-hour news channels devoted to your little apocalyptic war. Maybe you can see your enemies on SHOK News... if your English is good enough.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2010, 11:07:44 AM »

Well, generally speaking you couldn't go aggro on an army in regular-old Apocalypse World either -- it's just that generally speaking nobody has an army, or if they do the power structure of that army is usually far more accessible/exposed than in a situation where coherent nation-states still exist.

I don't think you'd really need to change anything; the mechanics of the game are not capable of overriding the obvious limits you describe, which would exist within the fiction. It's these same limitations (in a much more general form) that make character 'power' and 'advancement' such a non-issue in the regular game; there's tons of problems in the world that the biggest on-the-ground bad ass around still can't do shit about. And overwhelming political-military opposition is one of them.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2010, 01:53:38 PM »
Another way to handle these massive armies is simply to establish through both mechanics (especially guns) and fiction (look, there are way more of these people than you) that going up against these outsiders is just a Really Bad Idea. Also, yeah, be sure to make it clear to your players at the beginning that messing with these foreign powers is the best way to encourage you as MC to make a Really Hard Move.

But!

Don't say no. There are no status quos in Apocalypse World, right?

These foreign armies are awe-inspiring <i>in the aggregate</i>. But that patrol of five soldiers that wandered too far from the line? They're just really tough, but I'll bet a savvy group of PCs could take them out. But what of the consequences? Do they *really* want airstrikes on their holding? Of course, do the foreign powers actually know where the PC's holding is? (Were foreign powers ever able to occupy the Bekaa Valley?)

In other words, if the PCs really want to take on the foreign aggressor, let them. It won't be easy, to be sure. But history is replete with examples of guerilla soldiers bleeding a foreign occupying power dry. Why should Apocalypse World be different?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf
Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2010, 05:40:30 PM »
YES. Jason this sounds great, and reminds me of a little article I once read. It starts like this:

Quote from: Shane Smith
The first time I experienced the war-as-party-time phenomenon, I had just turned 19 and had ended up in the former Yugoslavia by mistake (vodka and Cyrillic train schedules tend to fuck one up) right as the fighting broke out and the borders were closed. It was the best time of my life. Everyone thought they were going to die, so we got drunk, fell in love, fucked it, sucked it, took drugs, and fired off machine guns just to see the tracers fly into the hills like fireflies on jet fuel.

If that isn't the language of Apocalypse World, I don't know what is.

*

DannyK

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Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2010, 10:03:33 PM »
Awesome, I totally thought Beirut too when I was reading AW!  Although I encourage you to read other stuff besides Fisk, he's a terrific resource but less than objective IMO.  Tom Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem is a great book, believe it or not there was a time when Tom Friedman didn't suck.  Also some of Robert Baer (the guy who inspired Syriana) would be useful, both as primary material and just for cool middle eastern skullduggery to swipe. Also the movies West Beirut and Waltz with Bashir.

The thing I'd do, I'd say the foreign powers aren't exactly monolithic, they're giant institutions being carried out by local people of varying abilities and inclinations.  If I were doing this, I'd take a leaf from Cold City and use some national stereotypes along with historical facts to fuel the fronts. 

Like this:
Americans:
Keywords: Idealistic, Clueless, Firepower
Control: Airport, Battleships offshore
Moves: Diplomacy, Shelling, Airstrikes (at the wrong targets)

Syrians
Keywords: Puppeteer, Neighbor, Tricky
Control: Bekaa Valley, East Lebanon
Moves: Assassinate, Supply Arms, Invade

I was going to make ones for Israel and Iran, but that gets contentious.

I suggest you give up any attempt at historical accuracy as the civil war was so long and complex and just try to keep it interesting. You could make countdown clocks for each of these too, if you wanted. 

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2010, 02:44:20 PM »
I would play this game.

As for the Maelstrom -- well, it depends how "real" you want it to be, doesn't it? The international media is certainly one way to go, but there may also be less Western modes of dealing with it. There is a rich mystical tradition in Lebanon, part Christian part Islamic, part other stuff, that could probably be mined for ideas. (Or you could kick back to older Persian stuff, and go with "The Lie" as the maelstrom.)

Or the Maelstrom could be the foreign powers.

Why the fuck does America keep bombing us? Why won't the French help anymore? What is Ahmadinejad really up to? Open your brain the maelstrom to find out.

Want to deal with the foreigners on their own terms? Need to get a message to someone in America? Need to use the stolen CIA transmitter? See if you can see through the maelstrom.

Which makes it really interesting when the Hocus (Hezbollah marja-i taqlid?) "Isloates a part of the maelstrom" and suddenly you've got a UN social worker tied up in your basement....

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2010, 07:09:28 PM »
This is great, thanks everybody. I need to think about it some more.

When you strike Israeli interests in southern Lebanon or Israel proper, roll +hard.

10+, choose one:

They don't know it was you and hit back at somebody innocent.
They know it was you but hit a rival faction who also knows it was you.

On 7-9, choose two:

Airstrikes (4 harm area messy demoralizing)
Rhetoric (Advance invasion countdown clock)
Direct action (GM chooses an NPC leader or family member and they are killed)
A visit from Syrian intelligence

On a miss, GM makes an absurdly hard move.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2010, 10:13:43 PM »
This is looking cool, Jason. I like that custom move.

As a counterpoint, some friends of mine and I looked at doing the same themes, but using Sorcerer.

So you're some person in the middle of some failed state, and through various means - family ties, money, international credibility, public legitimacy, CIA background, etc. - you're able to gather forces around you: Militias, rogue factions, international organisations, aid agencies, politicians, fundamentalist cells, whatever. The forces give you power undreamed of. Your enemies disappear, you become rich, well-liked, you can finally change the world you live in, make it better. There's no limit to how powerful an organisation you can court. The only question is, are you controlling them, or are they controlling you? Can you use your power to make things better for people, or does it always inevitably get worse? What would you do to get what you want?

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #12 on: October 11, 2010, 02:05:38 AM »
Like this:
Americans:
Keywords: Idealistic, Clueless, Firepower
Control: Airport, Battleships offshore
Moves: Diplomacy, Shelling, Airstrikes (at the wrong targets)

Heh, they have fucking boats to keep their fucking planes on!

-Jim C.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2010, 08:16:34 AM »
Simon, Ron's also working on a Story Now thing called Shahida, about Lebanon. I've seen an early draft and it looks pretty cool.

Re: Monolithic foreign powers
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2010, 01:14:41 PM »
When you strike Syrian interests in eastern Lebanon or Beirut, roll +hard.

10+, choose one; 7-9 choose three:

* Assad exercises some influence (change one of your gang's/holding's modifiers for the worse or reduce its size)
* Business (Not sure how to note this; Syria should have holds or mess with gigs)
* Rhetoric (Advance invasion countdown clock)
* Black van to Damascus (GM chooses an NPC leader or family member and they disappear. If you ever see them again you'll wish you hadn't)
* A visit from Israeli intelligence

On a miss, GM makes an absurdly hard move.