Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder

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Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« on: September 08, 2013, 10:41:02 AM »
Hey all!

I've MCed a small handful of Apocalypse World games, and had Hoarders in 2 of them. As a matter of fact, when I was first introduced to Apocalypse World, the Hoarder was my first playbook. The rules for the hoard itself and the hunger mechanic are awesome at putting strain on the player, but as an MC I've struggled with them a bit. I think it's because the risk/reward is so great for the hoarder.

So for example, if the player rolls a 10+ on her start of session hunger roll, the MC is holding 3. If I name 3 things and she gets them all, she is way ahead of the curve in terms of marking experience. But if she gets zero of them, it's likely that her hunger is now at +4, giving her that -1 penalty to every roll until she gets something. Of course, this is the genius of the playbook and puts this very real compulsion on the player.

My question is this: as MC, how do you gauge the difficulty of the items their hoard desires? Or do you? I know I've read across the forums that it's not the MCs job to make sure all the players are improving at the same pace, but when I MC I always wind up wanting to make sure people are more or less at the same level of experience. Especially when I have inexperienced players who need much encouragement to make moves and are having a hard time grokking the language of the rules.

I guess what I'm hoping to hear about are any experiences of MCing games with Hoarders, or of playing Hoarders, in relation to the challenge levels of feeding the hoard.

Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2013, 03:14:22 PM »
I can't really speak to the Hoarder but in the games I've played, making experience match hasn't been that big of a deal. I feel like that's because the playbooks are unique enough and competent enough at the start that they always have something to offer. Even if a Hoarder is behind on XP,he's still going to have unique abilities and goals that no one else has. Anyone who starts a second character with an advance is going to have 0 XP on their new character at a point in the game where some people are six or more advances (30+ XP) in. In a long running campaign, XP can even become a countdown to retirement. There's only so many advances you can check off before "retire to safety" is the only one left.

As far the actual question, my instinct is "play to find out". Pick a couple of things that you haven't defined who has them or how to get them. Maybe he needs to find a kitten or the headset from a submarine hydrophone. Now let the players do the work. As he looks for it, turn the questions around. "Barnum, who in your hold would have a headset like that? Weaver Bird, does anyone in your cult have breed cats? Are they for food or something else?" Then let dealing with the NPC who has the thing determine the difficulty.

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Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2013, 04:31:45 PM »
Isn't the Hoarder play book unbalanced by design? Why is it important to you that PCs advance at similar rates?
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: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2013, 05:13:48 PM »
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As far the actual question, my instinct is "play to find out". Pick a couple of things that you haven't defined who has them or how to get them. Maybe he needs to find a kitten or the headset from a submarine hydrophone. Now let the players do the work. As he looks for it, turn the questions around. "Barnum, who in your hold would have a headset like that? Weaver Bird, does anyone in your cult have breed cats? Are they for food or something else?" Then let dealing with the NPC who has the thing determine the difficulty.

Yeah that makes a lot of sense. I think I sometimes forget to turn things back to the players, so when there is a lot going on and people are asking me a lot of questions I can kind of freeze up. The hold from that move can really suck up my attention as I am trying to task them with finding something that will be a challenge, but be attainable. I'm probably over-thinking it: I just need to name something, and I will have chances along the way to make MC moves to bring in the challenge.

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Why is it important to you that PCs advance at similar rates?

I guess it's not particularly important to me, but it has irked folks in my group before. Apocalypse World is an imbalanced game by design, so folks with a trad background can sometimes have a hard time swallowing that. I think it also has been a case where I've been unable to assemble a group that was as interested in the game as I am, so I feel inclined to help coach people through when they are having a hard time grokking it. I'm acting straight from the book, as part of the 1st session agenda is to "urge your players to make moves." So really, what's important to me is to make sure that my players are engaged in the game, but some of them are most strongly motivated by the simple act of improvement, so I want to help them get there. This is rarely an issue with the hoarder, they are the ones who are usually on their 4th improvement when other folks are on their 2nd.

Just speaking as somebody who has played a Hoarder, that -1 ongoing makes you do some crazy, underhanded shit, which is awesome. I traded two of the hardholder's women to a rival gang for a frialator, and attempted to murder an innocent midget for his bike. As an MC, I've seen a Hoarder join a cult to rob its holy symbol, and another hoarder get sucked into the maelstrom via a window opened with the Hocus' augury in the pursuit of a trapper-keeper full of pokemon cards his hoard demanded. It's a great mechanic, because people start with one idea of who their character is going to be, but the stress on them pushes them to move outside of that preconceived idea or put themselves in harm's way almost immediately.

Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2013, 05:28:12 PM »
Its interesting that you say "unbalanced by design" where I'd say something more like "balance agnostic". If, as a player you're thinking in terms of kill (or fast talk) the bad guys and take the treasure then yeah, its unbalanced. The way the playbooks are designed, though, has always made me feel like the moves and motivation go hand in hand. They're balanced in that everyone (more or less) starts out with a +2 at doing the things they're good at. Its just that those things aren't necessarily normal adventuring party stuff. That in turn informs their goals. The Skinner, Brainer, Gunlugger, Maestro D', Hocus and Chopper (just off hand) are all equally dangerous and equally capable of bending things to their will but all in completely different ways with completely different consequences. The playbook defines the character's approach to the world, so a player is going to pick one that fits the approach they want to play. Everyone should feel like they have the coolest character at the table and that is a better balance than any mechanic.

Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2013, 06:22:27 PM »
Yep, I fully agree with that! That's what I was trying to get at, I think "balance agnostic" is a great and fitting term. The challenge for me is conveying some of those concepts to my players. It's not always easy to retrain people to put fiction first when they are looking for more immediate gratification.

I also am the type that would rather play the game as a PC than run it, but I would rather MC than not play at all, and such has been the case. Always looking to fill the holes in my MC approach.

Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2013, 06:42:29 PM »
I totally get all of that. To me, the easiest way to get more traditional players into the groove of AW is straight up to highlight their high stat in the first session and drive home that advancement comes from using it, whether you succeed in your roll or not. You don't even have to tune the game that much, or at least its never felt like it to me. Get them trying to outpace each other to that first and second advancement.

I remember it took me a session or two of failed rolls to think "hey, the penalty for failure isn't that bad and most of the time it opens up cool situations", then it was on. I was going into situations thinking "ok, how do I use my highlighted stat here" with no real worry about whether or not I was going to succeed.  Its not so much about teaching players to put story first as it is just teaching them to go for broke. If they're making moves, the story will follow from that and they're still getting their crunch fix.

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Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2013, 04:45:20 PM »
Seriously, if you pay zero attention to their sheets, I bet you'd have a hard time telling how much xp any character has. Advancement is less "going up a level" and more "stretching the playbook." A PC with five advancements and a PC with only one are still both very powerful. Don't worry about it, you've got enough to focus on. I don't follow my players' advancements at all, unless they're grabbing something that might affect my narrative choices (like a gang or another playbook's move or something)

Re: Setting the right challenge for the Hoarder
« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2013, 06:20:51 PM »
Cool, I think this thread has vastly helped me shake some of my micro-managing MC style. Thanks to all for your input!

Would still love to hear any good Hoarder stories if anyone has one.