Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience

  • 16 Replies
Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« on: February 11, 2013, 02:21:43 AM »
I've wanted to play and run Apocalypse World for some time now, and I have the opportunity to run a game or two at DC Game Day.

Awesome, right?

Except Apocalypse World is unlike any game I've ever played before.

It's really, really different. And I'm leery of trying to teach a game at a con that I've never played or run myself.

My experience playing and running RPGs is limited to D&D 4E, Burning Wheel, Freemarket, Mouse Guard, and 13th Age. I do not have a local gaming group right now, and unless the stars align perfectly, I will not have the chance to play or run AW before Game Day.

What I'm looking for with this post is:
  • an informed opinion about whether flying blind like this is a bad idea;
  • ways to learn more about how to run the game than I will get from simply rereading it;
  • opinions about the best con scenario (is it Hatchet City? If not, what's better?)

I've been searching for beginner's guides on the forum, too, and educating myself in that way.

Please share your wisdom and experience, O forum-posters, that I may spread the Apocalypse with others and avoid tainting the experience.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2013, 08:09:28 PM »
I have run several games, some at conventions. I had good games and not-so-good games. So I can give you more advice on what not to do. :)

I have mixed feelings about pre-set scenarios versus a First Session freeform session. Both has worked but both have their own problems.

I would not recommend Mr. Baker's Hatchet City scenario for a first-timer. There is a lot going on in that scenario and it will require everyone, including you, to have absorbed all those options and backstories, and I think it's a little too much.

The "easiest" is to run it like a First Session since there is no real prep. But you will be working double time in the first hour or two trying to ask questions and nail down some narrative to see what the session will be about. This is exactly what a First Session is supposed to be, but if you haven't done one, it will be daunting.

I would write down several generic but provocative questions based on the playbooks used in the game. I would limit it to certain playbooks (see below).

If you really wanted to run a preset scenario, I'm sure there are people on this board, myself included, that could send you something to work with.

But I would recommend running a First Session.

The Session Itself:
I generally open the session with a paraphrased version of the book's Page 16. Why Play and Page 96. Say This and Say Often so people will know what the tone and setting is like for Apocalypse World.

I then go directly to the basic mechanic of 2d6, 10+ you get what you want, 7-9 you have to compromise, and 6- I tell you what you get, and you won't like it.

I then show them some "basic" playbooks. If this is your first rodeo, I would keep it very simple, probably 1 more playbook than the number of players. I know my limit is 4 people, so that makes 5 playbooks.

I would go for the ones that are iconic, such as Hardholder, Gunlugger, Angel, Battlebabe, and Brainer. Describe the playbook and note the strengths and problems of the playbook. The Brief Intros at Page 97 are really good snippets. (It's best too if you are familiar with the playbooks and understand how they work.)

Get started with the questions right away. Always be asking questions.

Make NPCs and tie them to the player characters. Make a relationship map if that helps.

When everyone has chosen their playbook, I quickly go over the basic moves (make sure you have printed a sheet for each player and one for yourself too). Keep it brief. Don't go into detail on the options of each move, just state what each move does, and emphasize that the game will run on these moves.

Character creation is pretty simple, except when you get to the Hx section. This will most likely be the part that will trip everyone up. I would simply the process, maybe distill from each playbook the Hx as a set of three options. You'll lose some of the vital pre-set storytelling Hx will give you, but having to explain the your turn, on other's turn is very confusing until you grok how it's supposed to work. Again, I can give a few pointers that have helped me.

Edit: At this point, you will hopefully have some NPCs, a holding, and one or two problems that have popped up from not only the Hx, but from details of the playbooks.

The Actual Session Itself:
This is where you will probably have to study up on the Principles and MC Moves. If you have ever run a game off the top of your head with no prep, you have probably already used some of these "Moves" in some fashion or another.

if you follow these Principles and Moves and keep the game moving, then it should work out.

In Summary:
- Limit the playbooks. Understand how each playbook plays so you can help yourself and the players if they get stuck.
- Encourage players to make moves either by looking at the sheet or just describe what they want to do so you can figure out the move
- Ask questions. Always ask questions. Encourage the players to answer and make up whatever they want as long as they think it's cool.

- The Hardholder and Battlebabe isn't as obvious as it seems, at least to my players.
- Do not artificially have the players fight against each other. If they create a narrative organically to put their characters at each other's throats, then that's ok.
- Understand how the moves Go Aggro, Seize By Force, and the MC Move Trade Harm for Harm encompasses all of the different modes of violence in the game.
- Understand that Seduce/Manipulate can quickly resolve verbal conflict between player characters and reassure the players that it is not a insta-convince on one side or another. (But be sure you understand how it works.)

I have more advice of course. Anyone else on this board will probably have more awesomer things to say, but I'm glad to offer other ideas and tips.

What I think is interesting is that despite the seemingly rigid MC Moves, each MC I've played with has implemented them in a different yet valid way. Find things what work for you that still follows the principles of the game.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2013, 10:22:04 PM »
 Thanks for the tips.

Your point about a First Session is a good one, but I fear the situation of folks drawing a blank - particularly me.  Having something prepared to throw at them, even if I end up ignoring it entirely,  would be reassuring.

Traditional con game advice would be to start with an immersive situation to hook folks with action and to have pregenerated  characters ready.  That this seems to me to be contrary to Apocalypse World's  whole ethos  is  stumping  me.

I suppose I could offer only as many playbooks as there will be players  to ensure I will have a holding's problems to deal with or an operator's gig gone wrong.

I would love help with a con scenario that is simpler.  Hatchet City struck me as something I might not yet be able to handle,  but I do want to have action to drop the players into in case I freeze up at the moment of truth. PM me for my email address if there are bits to send  asking that aren't purely text or links.

I tend towards an improvisational style,  anyway, but the MC  moves are so specific that I worry I will be  over-analyzing  or interrupting my normal creative flow.  But immersing myself in apocalyptica  should help with that,  too.

 Thanks for the insights!

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2013, 09:53:37 PM »
Pinged you.

Even if you're not afraid of drawing a blank, having leading questions for each playbook is not a bad thing to have.

Some people have adopted Hatchet City's Love Letters as a kind of combination of front-loaded scenario & leading questions.

"Hey, Gunlugger!

After finishing your character, roll+hard. On a 10+, choose only 1. On a 7-9, choose 2. On a 6+, choose 2 and whenever you try to resolve one of them, you get -1ongoing.
- Name an NPC you killed lately. Sorry, but the NPC had a large, well armed extended family.
- Someone has been selling bad ammo. Who is it? And why haven't you killed that person yet?
- You refused to do a job for somebody and pissed them off. Why did you do the job?"

Or something like that.

And then I write up a little background about each of those choices to fall back on, but if someone contradicts it, I make their background canon.

Oh, and I wouldn't suggest the Operator. I know the playbook doesn't get a lot of love, and I personally like it, but it requires a lot of paying attention on your part, as an MC.

The playbook is basically a story generator, and it will most likely derail you to the point where you will end up making things up anyway.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2013, 01:11:59 PM »

Good luck! It's awesome that you're going to run. I've played with lin_fusan and he gives good advice.

My first AW game I ran was at a con, and I played in another MC's first experience running earlier at the same con, so I have some experience in the matter. Some of it is good practices in general for Apocalypse World, some is convention specific.

In my case, i put together a scenario for the con, providing "love letters" to each PC as a way to get the action rolling and provide both an immediate threat, and a goal for the session. You don't need a scenario in mind, and in either case I think it's best to know what the situation is, but not how the PC's might solve it. My scenario basically outlined a number of dangers (threats) to the PC's, but offered no solutions, the PC's had to figure that out.

Put the PC's in positions of authority, you don't want them asking an NPC what to do.

Don't forget the apocalyptica, describe the world and make it dangerous and threatening.

Work with PC's and a handful of cool NPC's who connect to them, a rival, a lover, a gang, a thief, a liar. You don't want to be too subtle here, NPC's have simple motivations and go all out for them at times. (But keep them real)

Players in apocalypse world typically WANT things to be super harsh, you provide incredible hardship and hope that the characters can overcome it. You're on the PC's side here, but you need to seriously challenge and yes, fuck with them. But also applaud their success and let their triumphs mean something lasting.

Focus inward. The PC's should deal mostly with people close to them. There's likely some external threat, but really you want the relationships to be intense and personal.

Explain that the game, and the playbooks include sex moves before play starts, some of them might be uncomfortable with them. I usually mention this at the end of character creation. Make it clear that the game shouldn't get explicit, but sex can happen (Though in my experience it doesn't happen that much at conventions, maybe it's the time limit or a comfort level thing)

Creating characters will take up to 45 minute to an hour, keep that in mind.

My scenario I've run several times is "Iron Road" about using a steam train to try and leave a doomed town (holding, as they call them in apocalypse world) and about who controls the train, who gets on, who gets left behind. The players play the engineer (Savvyhead) and those around her. But the details are quite flexible.

If you're interested in seeing the materials I use, i can send you some. Just let me know.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2013, 03:05:09 PM »
 Thanks for the materials and suggestions.

Is there anything else you think I should know,  folks?

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2013, 08:48:32 PM »
A couple of things:

1. Give a thought to PC-PC conflict, and how you will handle it. That's a stumbling block for some people not used to Apocalypse World. Basically, it works like anything else: someone makes a move, you roll for it and describe the outcome. Then the other person gets a chance to try something.

But people sometimes feel like they need to make an initiative roll or something in there, or worry that it doesn't seem fair.

2. If you want to keep some "traditional" comfort, come up with a very basic scenario. Pick two or three really grabby elements from your sense of what's cool apocalyptica. Maybe a downed satellite is cool, and an ancient nuclear reactor that's about to melt down, or just a weird mutant chick who owns a bunch of slaves.

Pick a couple of playbooks you'd like to see in the action, and write down about three strongly leading questions for each one. For instance, let's say you have this downed satellite. You have a Brainer ready for this scenario. You ask the Brainer, "This thing that fell from the sky, it's really really bad news, you can feel it when you open your brain. Why is that? Why do you fear it, and why are you convinced everyone else should, too?"

You'll probably get an answer which will give you enough material for a whole session right there, but just in case you don't, write about three questions like that for each character.


Put some grabby material in front of the players. This means a small selection of playbooks (not all of them!), and a few really cool apocalyptic things you're excited about, and maybe a few NPCs. Ask them to choose a subset of that stuff, and then ask them what the implications are.

Players: "We're excited about the nuclear plant, and the weird warlord dude! And I want to be a Chopper."

You: "Great. The nuclear plant is in serious trouble. Only one of you knows this. Who is it? How do you know? Did you see something in your dreams?"

"Which one of you is the most threatened by the potential meltdown?"

"How does the weird warlord dude see a huge opportunity connected to this reactor?"

And so on. You'll only need a few questions to be ready to rock.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2013, 12:20:42 AM »
There's a lot of great advice here (I'm brushing up myself), good job everyone.

For you, TiresiasBC, I only have three words: go for it.

Shoot, those are the most important words, but here's more - I had only run one game before I tried to take AW to a con, and it can be intimidating. But once you've gotten your chops as MC, you'll start to get a feel for how it's different than being a PC, and how to challenge the players but in a good way and all that fun stuff. So if you're serious about your MC role, and keep the principles in mind, just go for it. Well begun is half done, they say.

By the way... octoscott, I'd love to see your Iron Road materials if you'd hit me up with them too, please. =D

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2013, 09:13:16 AM »
@Paul T.:

Excellent point about PC-PC conflict. I think I'm more okay with how to handle that than with anything else, given some of the extreme player-versus-player examples in the book.

The second is what I'm leaning towards right now. I just need to stuff myself full of apocalyptica and concoct a few unsolved situations, all with leading questions (and perhaps custom moves in love letters).

I was reading the Extended Mediography thread, and something popped out at me. The holding that was sterile (because they made their cookware out of salvaged lead pipes) and thus steals children to maintain their community is going to be at least one threat. It's too good to pass up.


I've primarily been a GM for my few years as a tabletop gamer. So I'm not too worried about the basics. I am worried that strict adherence to the MC moves will get in the way of my instincts, but I'm trying to familiarize myself with the MC moves by coming up with hypotheticals and deciding what move is appropriate as a response to a miss.

Thanks for the encouragement!



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Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2013, 08:19:21 PM »
Don't get too caught up in the moves list to be honest. If you're up and you have an idea that is just solid gold, an idea that pushes forward the action in an interesting way, you don't have to verify it fits on the list of MC moves. It probably does, just run with it.

The list of moves is most useful when you're not sure what to do. Skim the list, find a move that makes you excited and flows with the fiction, and bounce back in with it.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2013, 12:23:51 AM »
Yeah.  Some moves,  like Separate Them,  would never even occur to me without the list. I intend to have it printed out and next to me, along with my fronts.

I'm not sure what other materials I'll really need  beyond the playbooks.  Thinking small folding name placards to set in front of each player,  note cards,  and paper.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2013, 03:03:12 PM »
Placards are good. Note cards are good too.

I bring a large drawing pad to use as notes and a relationship map. It serves as a good visual cue to determine if a player needs more attention than not. If one player has very little notes next to him/her and another has a lot, then it reminds me to pay attention to the first player.

And it also helps to draw lines to connect NPCs or things to the PCs.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2013, 07:07:29 PM »
Something else you can do is print a cheat sheet with all of the moves from the available playbooks on them (so you can refer to them during play without going to the text) Also, some room to note character names, things important to them, etc...

Another handy thing is a name card for each PC (Mine have pictures, I print a zillion of them and players love to pick a portrait in most cases for themselves and key NPC's) And it helps to call everyone by their character name at a glance.

Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2013, 08:43:34 PM »
Thanks, everybody!



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Re: Running AW at a Convention with Zero Experience
« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2013, 03:36:52 AM »
Below is a pre-prep convention game that I know have been used to great effect at more than one con. I've been told that it's a lot easier to run than Hatchet City, though I haven't made the comparision myself.