Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?

  • 20 Replies
Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2016, 08:03:45 PM »
Here's how I described my like of AW elsewhere; basically, it's exactly the complications that I think are so cool:


Most recently I’ve been enjoying Apocalypse World and its offshoots, that forces a very different play-style from more traditional systems. Core mechanic has the players rolling 2d6 and adding a stat that ranges between -3 and +3; the fun thing is that if the outcome is 6 or less, the attempt not only fails, but the GM is also *required* to throw something Bad at the character who attempted the roll. 7-9, the task succeeds but possibly with a complication or a tough choice, and 10+ it goes off perfectly.

This means that gameplay remains… interesting. No more of that “make your roll, you failed, well you can try again I guess”. Rather it’s difficulties and twists galore! Forces the GM to think at their feet, too.

For example, I was once running a Shadowrun game using the AW system. Player characters are in a hotel, being escorted by security to meet with their Mr. Johnson. One of the players declares his character tries to read a sitch, meaning that if he succeeds, he gets to ask me a question about the situation. He fails.

I blink and think. They’re in a hotel, surrounded by security guards. A player just failed his roll big-time, so the rules say I have to come up with something Bad. But what Bad is going to happen in such a safe situation?

I look at my list of NPCs and story seeds I co-created with the players before the game. Then I know! The character who failed his roll, his backstory says that he stole something from a megacorporation and the corp wants it back. One of the security guards has been bribed by another group of shadowrunners, who have been tasked with getting that stolen thing. So suddenly one of the guards tells the character to follow him, because the guard wants to talk with the character privately. To threaten him: the character spills the guts about the stolen artifact, or the guard is going to ruin their upcoming mission by letting the target of their raid know about it in advance.

Things just got a lot more interesting. This led to a whole new side-plot that took up most of the next session, with the blackmailed character being unwilling to tell that to the party leader, the party leader deciding to stay behind in order to eliminate the guard just in case, just when the other group was setting up an ambush on the player characters... none of which would have happened without that one failed roll.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2016, 08:08:09 PM by Kaj Sotala »



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Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2016, 08:40:50 PM »
Apocalpyse World is my jam. 

There are a lot of reasons why that's the case and it certainly is tailored for a certain kind of GM. Ahem... MC.  It either works for you or it doesn't.  If you're the kind of GM who creates beautiful story arcs and creates story points for your characters to go between then this is PROBABLY not your game. I have a lot of friends who GM like this and they are FANTASTIC GMs. They don't get PbtA games. If you're the kind of GM that wants to shoot from the hip and find out with the players what's going on with the world.  If you want to be surprised at where the story is going as much as the players and you are COMMITTED to that, then that's the sign that you should REALLY try to figure out how this game REALLY works.

I troll forums and listen to people who are clearly trying to shoehorn their standard campaigns they've been running into Apocalypse World or it's hacks... even it's bad ones.  Those GM's are using the moves to highlight what they've already written and not taking the game for what it really is, and here's the secret about Apocalypse World... this is a game for the GM.  These rules aren't for the players. They're for me. When a player reads the sitch and asks, "What is the most dangerous thing here?"  You can be a good GM or a shitty GM.  A shitty GM looks at the biker gang they're facing and adds up some stats and looks at the weapons they're armed with and points to one and says, "That one."  For that GM.  If he likes AW... great.  If he doesn't... I'm not going to bother him.  This just might not be his jam. The good GM looks at this "sitch" and uses the move as a cue.  What would make this more interesting GM?  Sure.. bikers... in an AW setting... you're not really working at this hard enough... how can this be COOLER!?  The good GM looks at this and is pushed to make a better story.  RIGHT THERE. ON THE SPOT.  BARF IT FORTH. NOW!

"The three bikers waiting on their hogs belching forth smoke and fire are all pretty hard.  But pretty hard isn't good enough out here.  They're shit.  You could take 'em.  But... you notice that off to the side of what was once a glorious stretch of paved blacktop there are 3 prisoners in a cage.  The cage has wheels and is meant to be towed .  There is room for all of you in there if they push.  Inside that cage there are three prisoners.  Two men and a woman.  The men are as good as dead and one of them might be already.  But the woman. She's standing calmly in the middle of the cage.  Her mouth is gagged and her eyes are made of the maelstrom.  She... is the most dangerous thing here."

Now tell me that's not a better story...

I didn't know that was going to be the case when I put three bikers on that road.  I don't know what she's capable of.  I don't know where she's going or what will happen.  But I feel down in my soul that shit just got REAL!

That's why apocalypse world is great. It's there for ME.  It's there to PUSH me as a GM.  It's there to make me make this better for YOU.

That's the real reason that this game is my jam.

The bear thing is lazy GMing.  The game asked you to make the story better and you made them fall on a bear!?  How is that more interesting?  PbtA games are there to push the GM to be better. If he doesn't answer the call this isn't your game.  NO ONE should run out there and decide to PLAY in an AW game.  You should go out there and RUN one.  If you're just looking to play AW you might get lucky with the GM you have or you might not.  I can't vouch for every GM out there.  This is a game for GM's.  Run it. Make it great.  When a player says he LOVES apocalypse world.  Vincent gets some credit.  But really... it's a love letter to me.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2016, 08:57:56 PM by Golux »

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #17 on: February 20, 2016, 12:09:33 AM »
Which is to say that if you're climbing over a wall, and roll a 1, "you land on a bear" is technically a valid response from the MC.

To get to what I love about Apocalypse World, we gotta step back a bit from this. Why is this character rolling to get over a wall? Who is this character, what tools does their player have at their disposal? What dangers are present? What are the stakes?

In Apocalypse World, you don't just roll to "Get over a wall" You only roll when a move with a roll in it is triggered. In Apocalypse World, according to the player facing and the MC facing rules, everything that is happening to and around the characters matters. Who the characters are matters. Their relationships matter. What has happened before matters. Apocalypse World isn't a game of skill checks, it's not a game of "did you do the thing?" It's a game of tense situations with stakes the characters and players care about. It's a game of "What do you do?"

The game gives you a lot of rules to follow and tools to utilize to figure out what happens next. The MC looks at the Fronts, they look at the parts of a scene, they look at the stakes that have been established, and they look at their Agenda, Principles, and moves. Then they use their imagination, or talk it over with the players if they're really stuck.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2016, 02:33:47 AM »
I could go into a spiel about what I find less than optimal about PbtA, but I won't. At the end of the day, the big "problem" I see with and hear about PbtA is that the main mechanic relies on trusting your MC to know how to make Failing Forward work, to generate complications which are relevant and at least consistent with the situation if not necessarily balanced.

Which is to say that if you're climbing over a wall, and roll a 1, "you land on a bear" is technically a valid response from the MC. And without broader lists of potential complications for such rolls, and an explicit directive to the MC to make things shitty for the player characters, that's a hell of a lot of faith to put into the guy running the game, especially in a hobby where the idea of an antagonism between MC and players is still clinging on from it's modern originator. I know one person who I've played with that I would maybe trust to not kill all the players an hour into the first session, whether through malice or incompetence.

So I'm just wondering what people see about PbtA games, and especially AW, that makes them like it so much.

It just so happens I wrote an essay about why I love Apocalypse World on my blog last year, it's too long to repost as a single comment here so how about a link?

Here is an excerpt:
At it's crunchy core Apocalypse World has a pretty simple mechanic for determining success. You roll two six-sided dice then modify it by one of your character's stats, -2 is the worst and +3 is the best. Other factors could adjust that modifier, but usually it's just one of your stats. If you roll 10 or higher, that's the best possible result. But if you hit between 7 and 9 you get a partial success, or a success with a cost. If you roll 6 or less, you missed the roll completely and the MC gets to make a hard move. Sometimes this hard move is in addition to some negative effect of the roll you were making.

Why does the MC get to make this hard move? Because the MC never rolls dice.

Instead, when a player rolls the dice and they fail the roll this generates the hard move for the MC to use which in turn keeps the action going and sometimes presses the player to make another roll. A hard move is something bad that's going to happen and that you know is likely to happen, or it's letting the player know that something bad is going to happen. If you're in the middle of a gunfight and you miss your roll, it’s obvious to everyone at the table that you're likely to get shot, which could be the MC’s hard move -- the character gets shot.

But the MC might instead declare that a barrage of gunfire forces you behind cover and you lose sight of what's happening, or you might see one of your opponents has a grenade in his hand and he just pulled out the pin, or you might realize that the tractor you're taking cover behind just had a hole blown through the gas tank and the ground at your feet is quickly pooling gasoline. These are all variations of the same hard move, and there are about two dozen hard moves that the MC could use, each is a narrative decision which metaphorically throws a brick at the player’s head. The MC is instructed to always follow up a hard move with the question “What do you do?”
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Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #19 on: February 24, 2016, 01:53:43 PM »
Others have already talked about trust and MC Principles and Agenda very eloquently, so I'll hit a few different aspects.

First and foremost, I love its simplicity. It takes virtually no time to pick up the rules. Tell the MC what your character is doing. It's as simple as that. If that triggers a move, the MC will tell you to roll 2D6+stat, and the narrative situation will snowball from there. For players new to RPGs or for convention games, this simplicity is freaking amazing, and means you go from zero to having a blast in virtually no time.

Second, I love that all rolls are consequential. There's no such thing as "trying again" in a PbtA game, at least not one that's run well. Oh, you missed your roll? Well, the fictional situation has changed, and now whatever you were trying to do before just ain't gonna work in the new situation. It's not that you tried to pick the lock and failed and now you get to try again, it's that as your intense concentration is causing beads of sweat to drip off the end of your nose and your fingers vainly grope to try to feel the break-point of that last tumbler, you hear a gruff voice of the guard who you could have sworn was safely off taking a piss from behind you; "Something I can help you with there, friend?" And as always, what do you do?

From a time-savings perspective, this alone lets the story proceed at a much faster clip than most other games. Where an even moderately-sized combat might grind a session in a more traditional RPG to a shuddering halt, in Apocalypse World you get to bypass all of the failed rolls, passed armor saves, or otherwise inconsequential details and get to the really important stuff - how the fallout of the battle changes the world's underlying fiction. What does it mean that we won (or lost) this fight? Whom does it effect and how? Did we make the world a better place, or did we just trade for a different kind of danger?

Third, I love Hx. I love not only the fact that all of the characters explicitly know each other, but also that both the players and the MC have concrete hooks upon which to contextualize the interactions of the PCs. Even something as simple as "one of them helped you out when it mattered" can really change the dynamics between two PCs from the very beginning of the very first session, and those choices are explicitly in the hands of the players.

Hand-in-hand with this is the idea that your character concept is not exclusively your own. When one of them says, "you cut and run when I needed you," you don't get to say, "no, I didn't." And when the guy playing the Skinner says, "your character is my lover," you don't get to say "no, I'm not." You roll with it and actively flesh out your character's back-story and relationships and find a way to make it true. This in and of itself is a HUGE departure from traditional RPG games (where PCs are often mechanically created in a vacuum) and lends itself to a much more cohesive, interesting, and dynamic set of PCs.

Finally, I love the fact that the game almost never takes away player agency over a character's actions in-game. Even if someone knocks their seduce or manipulate roll out of the park, you are never forced to take (or refrain from) any particular action. You are merely given a choice - do this and get rewarded and/or don't do it and get penalized. The choice is ultimately yours alone. Only the case of advanced go aggro deprives you of the option to suck up the damage and do whatever it was you were going to do anyway, and that's pretty hard to pull off (especially if the person you're going aggro on is trying to interfere with you). The way these agency mechanics play out in the game is absolutely brilliant.

Ultimately, AW is about telling awesome stories about hot characters. If you have a group that wants to do that, AW is one of the absolute best tools I've ever encountered in the almost 35 years I've been playing and running RPGs. And even if you don't like post-apocalyptic settings, reading the MC sections and digesting the advice therein will make you a better GM in pretty much any other game you choose to run.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #20 on: March 02, 2016, 09:51:44 AM »
Sorry, I just got a job, so my free time has been constricted as of late. Thanks for all the answers, they give me something to think about.