Threat Analysis

  • 16 Replies
Threat Analysis
« on: November 03, 2015, 12:55:10 AM »

While a lot of ink is spilled on the topic of the playbooks and the player moves there's less general discussion about Threats and how to handle them. In part this is because the players are encouraged to discuss their mechanics openly and frequently but the MC has the specific directive to 'make their move but never speak its name'. I'd like to cross that line by doing a series of essays on the MC's most powerful tools: Threats.

Here are some universal principles for Threats:

1. Everyone is a Threat
2. Threats are not good people, but they can be made to be good people
3. There are always two choices: The obvious option and the worst option.


Fear not the tyrant; fear the tyrant's wake.

The Warlord is the only peer of the player characters. She has vision. She has a plan for the future. She has power, the intention to get more, and the will to use it. She is intelligent, brutal, driven and deeply social. She can look the players in the eye and demand they kneel. And the Warlord will ask for that because, no matter her incarnation, she always threatens the same thing: the players freedom.

When designing a Warlord the first questions that should be asked is what her vision is, and what the players' role in that vision is. This vision serves as the Warlord's animating force - she should always be working towards it. If the players accept their role in the Warlord's vision then she shall pass them by unharmed - if they contest her vision then they face the full force of her intellect.


The Warlord offers you something you don't get anywhere else: Active resistance. All the other threat types are passive, incoherent or stupid - the Warlord is the threat that can make a plan and follow through with it. They can not only actively push back against the players and reshape the world in their image, they can co-ordinate their offensives to hit where the players are weak. The Warlord is the brain that lets a Front think, plan and dream.

A Front without a Warlord is not capable of deliberate action. Worse, a lot of PC types are capable of hermit-crabbing into unoccupied Fronts and making it their own. If a Hocus catches a mob of Brutes without their Warlord then they're the Hocus' Brutes now. If you're putting together a Front and there is no Warlord then the fundamental scarcity of the Front has to be sufficiently threatening just by its existence.

Warlords within a player's organisation are the critical nodes. They can allow powerful, effective action at a distance and co-ordinate the players' Brutes in their absence. However, they are also the potential failure points and if they die or go rogue then the organisational structure can collapse. Start these tame Warlords with the exact vision that the player assigns to them and have them hold to that against all reason. That way, if the Warlord is tempted into betrayal, it's because the player changed and not because they did.


You can give your Warlord whatever you want! They can have as many dudes as they need, it's great! However you should really keep in mind their victories and defeats and make them big and impactful. Here are some rules of thumb I use:
- A Warlord should never go anywhere with less than 15 dudes. They don't have to be immediately visible.
- A minor defeat should mean that the Warlord has to abandon one current plan or resource. A major defeat should cripple the Warlord's operations until they can secure something valuable enough to recover.
- If a Warlord has a valuable asset, like a nuke or fleet of cars, then they should have some obvious way of sustaining that - like a gas refinery or a weirdo technician.


• Slaver (to own and sell people)
Example: Mr. House (New Vegas)

The Slaver is an excellent choice for an internal, political or mercantile Warlord. They view the world through a transactional lens and are happy with ceding short term power if it suits their long term interests. They can often be genial and friendly because they are not possessed of the same uncompromising obsession as some of the other Warlord types. But be sure, their vision is a world where everyone is in their pocket.

Putting people in collars and bomb vests is the most obvious form of slavery, but the more insidious partner is desire. Drug addictions are an obvious lever for the Slaver to use, but so is control of necessities like food and water. The Slaver spends most of his attention identifying critical resources and controlling them, and raising the price until people are in his debt. The Slaver also extends his tendrils so he is difficult to violently uproot, encouraging a peaceful confrontation.

When confronted the Slaver is often surprisingly ready to make concessions - he's a businessman. If he is forced into a deal he doesn't like he'll smile, agree, then stab you in the back the second he sees an opportunity.

Key moves:
• Claim territory: move into it, blockade it, assault it.
• Buy out someone’s allies.
• Make a careful study of someone and attack where they’re weak.

• Hive Queen (to consume and swarm)

The Hive Queen is the emergent animus of her people. Other Warlords have people they use; the Hive Queen is her people. She embodies them. She serves them. She enables all their worst impulses and directs their collective will. She sates their hungers and offers them nothing higher than that.

The Hive Queen is not a patient Warlord. She identifies what she wants, strikes at it, and then becomes still until she has finished digesting it. When she is fat and bloated she can be generous and friendly. When she is hungry she does not negotiate. Her followers tend to be insular, and she may spend a lot of time whipping them into a frenzy in secret, but when it comes time for her to emerge and strike she does not give her opponents time to prepare.

When beaten, the Hive Queen capitulates entirely. Her devotion to her people overcomes her pride and she is prepared to beg for mercy. When on the ropes the Hive Queen will search wildly for allies and fight like a cornered lion.

Key Moves:
• Attack someone suddenly, directly, and very hard.
• Seize someone or something, for leverage or information.
• Claim territory: move into it, blockade it, assault it.

• Prophet (to denounce and overthrow)
Example: The High Sparrow (Game of Thrones)

The Prophet has a vision and her vision is that you are wrong. There is nothing constructive to her, no brighter future or five year plan - she is defined by her opposition. She arises naturally from a group of Brutes who feel like they have been slighted and begins to escalate and co-ordinate their opposition. Alternately, a Warlord who has been peacefully deposed can sometimes become a Prophet - especially if anything goes badly on the new ruler's watch.

The Prophet does not want open battle. She wants a long, drawn out period of instability. She wants her people marching around on the streets shrieking her message. She wants to avoid throwing the first punch for as long as possible so she can provoke the authorities into striking first. Some Prophets are actually quite happy to be martyrs if that is what it takes - after all, their vision is not about their victory but their opponent's defeat.

When Prophets demand concessions they ask for a little at a time - less than they actually want. Then they take their minor victory back to their mob and announce that they are making progress. The Prophet is exalted but the war is not won, and so the Prophet's power grows.

Key Moves:
• Make a show of force.
• Make a show of discipline.
• Offer to negotiate. Demand concession or obedience.

• Dictator (to control)
Example: Edward Sallow (New Vegas)

The Dictator is here to stay. All his plans are based around the society he wishes to create - one where everything flows to and from him. He is both proud and cautious - while he will not back down from a fight he will choose his fights very carefully. The Dictator frequently emerges from Brutes with a high sense of self preservation. He does not like losses - losses mean anarchy, and the Dictator always has an eye turned towards his potential rivals.

The Dictator is easy to satisfy - simply obey his commands and salve his pride and he will focus on the enemies outside his power. However, the Dictator must respond to challenges to his authority as these are existential issues for him. He is prepared to make deals but will not accept anything lower than 51%.

A Dictator's sense of order attracts extremely devoted followers, and the Dictator tends to have a very resilient command structure with capable lieutenants he can trust missions to. While the Dictator's caution can make them seem weak, it also transforms an uncoordinated mob into a skilled, disciplined fighting force.

Key Moves:
• Outflank someone, corner someone, encircle someone.
• Make a show of discipline.
• Attack someone cautiously, holding reserves.

• Collector (to own)
Example: Dante Wallace (The 100)

The Collector is the most selfish Warlord. Her vision of the future is about herself and the things she possesses - people are simply disposable tools to her. She is a black hole, a sucking pit that valuable resources vanish into. When she requires something she gathers assets suited for that particular task and discards them afterwards.

The Collector is defined by her desires and her desires should frequently point her at the players and their friends. While the Collector is not generous she should identify people who have fallen on hard times and quickly move in with job offers. When she decides to add someone to her collection she snatches them without hesitation and demands that they play out whatever part she has imagined for them.

The Collector is aware that she is unpopular so she tends to be extremely well defended. She only emerges from her fortress when she wants something and withdraws the second she has it. Due to her indifference to the outside world, the Collector is most capable of atrocity - when threatened she can unleash some ancient terror from the World Before without reservation and then sift through the ashes for valuables.

Key Moves:
• Seize someone or something, for leverage or information.
• Make a careful study of someone and attack where they’re weak.
• Buy out someone’s allies.

• Alpha Wolf (to hunt and dominate)
Example: Darth Vader (Star Wars)

The Alpha Wolf is the biggest and the baddest. He is individually the most powerful dude in the Apocalypse and is so widely feared that he has developed a following of hangers-on and sycophants. He doesn't need them. They're like fog to him. He simply goes about as he wills, takes what he wants, and indulges in his impulses and the roving band of howler monkeys imitate his strength and charisma. If you kill one in front of him he'll laugh.

The Alpha is pure ego. He is the strongest and wants others to know it. He operates for his own amusement, releasing prisoners and hunting them down himself. He doesn't just want to win, he wants to dominate - to rub his foes' faces into the ground so that they know that he beat them. A narrow loss can be just as dangerous to an Alpha as a decisive one.

While the Alpha doesn't care about his followers, when he chooses to use them he uses them decisively and to support something he himself is doing. The Alpha leads from the front  and will use his followers to distract or encircle his foes so he can deal with them himself. The Alpha does not negotiate, but he might offer his enemies the chance to grovel before him.

Key Moves:
• Outflank someone, corner someone, encircle someone.
• Attack someone suddenly, directly, and very hard.
• Make a show of force.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2015, 12:55:53 AM »

And as in men's bodies, so in government, that disease is most serious which proceeds from the head.

Grotesques are loners. Keep that in mind whenever you think about them: they're alone. They have no friends. They have no family. Nobody likes them. They wander the earth, or squat in their pits, broken minds running in circular thoughts they cannot give voice to.

Anyone who you would describe as a unique individual in Apocalypse World is probably a Grotesque. A lot of player characters are Grotesques.

Grotesques all have their impulse put in terms of cravings. A craving isn't a rational, deliberate desire - it's a f*cked up obsession with something you know you shouldn't want. It's a low, nasty impulse that animates a Grotesque and hurls it bodily around the room without its consent. A Grotesque may hate what it is, or revel in it, but ultimately it's not in control of itself. It's fundamentally broken. It's possessed by its craving as surely as by any demon.

When creating a Grotesque, keep the isolation in mind whatever it does. A lot of the Grotesque's moves are about trying to communicate in f*cked up ways because ultimately the poor bastard is a person - and people just want to be loved.


Grotesques are a vector for the true threatening Weirdness of Apocalypse World to shine through. They're your vector to weaponise the Psychic Maelstrom and shove it into everyday life. Grotesques are also your opportunity to create really complicated and scary opportunities - a Grotesque can and should possess unique skills, gear and knowledge paired with a deranged willingness to help. Mad scientists, evil doctors, awful death-cult assassins are all excellent Grotesques to decorate your world with.

If a Warlord is a front's brain, the Grotesque is its mouth - a pit that beautiful things go into and awful things come out of. It is capable of metabolising resources fed into it, or barfing forth awful creatures and secrets. Add a Grotesque to your Front if you want the fundamental scarcity behind the Front to be able to communicate its true nature.

A front without a Grotesque isn't able to express itself. Warlords don't discuss their secrets and Brutes only know the stories that they've been told. They're people that can be dealt with but you'll never understand who they are, really. You'll never know what the Warlord is afraid of or what lines the Brutes won't cross if there isn't a Grotesque outside the circle, defining it by their exclusion.


The Grotesque's move list is all about kidnapping people, taking them somewhere secret, and doing awful things to them. This process of abduction, revelation, transformation is how the Grotesque communicates so it is worth thinking through exactly what their lair looks like.

Grotesques are also uniquely vulnerable because of their isolation. Kill one and the world breathes a sigh of relief. Operating without backup or fire support, a single Seize By Force against a Grotesque is usually enough to kill it outright. As a result Grotesques should - unless they have a custom move to make them particularly dangerous combatants - avoid fights at any costs. An allied Landscape can give the Grotesque an escape vector or nearby Brutes can be sacrificed to buy time for it to escape. The second the Gunlugger rips a fist free of the handcuffs it's time to leave.

A good Grotesque should have something valuable. Not only does this give them something to bargain with, which helps with the fragility, it gives them something to really exhibit the nature of their obsessions with and something to ruin or destroy. Something particularly fun to give a Grotesque is an Ambassadorship - the Grotesque is free to engage in it's awful provocations knowing that it is protected.

• Cannibal (craves satiety and plenty)
Example: Doug Stamper (House of Cards)

The Cannibal is an addict. It only feels whole when it is engaging in some offensive debauchery, and eating human flesh is just the start. It could also be a serial killer or have an awful fetish (or even just be as simple as drinking). While it's easy to put a Cannibal on the outside, Apocalypse World doesn't make good detective story. No, the best place for a Cannibal is to pick a NPC who occupies a critical position and have them secretly be one. The hold's doctor is a good choice, as is a farmer or administrator.

The Cannibal then uses the position of trust and influence he possesses in the player's organisation to indulge his vices. He does an excellent job for the players, is preternaturally considerate and skilled - so when it's revealed that he can't get off without carving pentagrams into peoples' backs people will have to think about if that's really something they're going to fire him for.

The Cannibal might agree to try and get his addiction under control - and with the help of the players he might even manage it. But he's only got to fall off the wagon once.

Key Moves:
• Insult, affront, offend or provoke someone.
• Offer something to someone, or do something for someone, with strings attached.
• Put it in someone’s path, part of someone’s day or life.

• Mutant (craves restitution, recompense)
Example: Two Face (The Dark Knight)

The Mutant is an excellent Threat to transition existing NPCs into. You thought that you killed Rolfball in that car wreck? Guess again - he crawled his mangled carcass out and slunk back into the hold, obsessed with vengeance. If the players whacked a guy who didn't deserve it consider bring them back as a Mutant, or turning someone who cared about them into a Mutant.

The Mutant doesn't just want to settle the score, though. Its obsession has gone further and broken it as a person. Maybe the Mutant wants to hold an elaborate show trial for its victim, acting out the roles of both prosecution and defence. It wants to kidnap its victim and disfigure him so they know how it feels. The Mutant can still show signs of who it used to be but it's all messed up - like they put their personality in a blender and all the good, evil, and psycho ran together in a horrible mess.

The Mutant knows that it has been wronged. It wants to communicate how it feels by inflicting its agony on someone else.

Key Moves:
• Display the contents of its heart.
• Seize and hold someone.
• Ruin something. Befoul, rot, desecrate, corrupt, adulter it.

• Pain Addict (craves pain, its own or others)
Example: Zazz (Gotham)

The Pain Addict is the perfect warrior. Creepy, unsettling, deadly, and the left hand of a powerful Warlord, the Pain Addict is a view into a corrupt and powerful organisation. Either as a torturer, brainwasher, assassin or super-soldier the Pain Addict is unleashed by the Warlord when it is time to send a message that He Is Not Happy. The Pain Addict will helpfully explain this to his victims while he's putting out their eyes.

The Pain Addict is a notable leader of a specialised group of Brutes on loan from the Warlord. Acting under him they ambush the players where they are least expected and fight in an unnatural, oily style. I personally keep the Pain Addict moving and fighting until it takes 5 harm, even if limbs are blown off in the process.

While the Pain Addict is a deadly enemy it is not a true leader, and if it is confronted by a dedicated resistance it will melt away. He should also be a genuine believer in whatever its Warlord stands for and never return to him empty-handed.

Key Moves:
• Attack someone from behind or otherwise by stealth.
• Seize and hold someone.
• Display the nature of the world it inhabits.

• Disease Vector (craves contact, intimate and/or anonymous)
Example: That Guy What Gets Bitten In The Zombie Movie (any Zombie Movie)

The Disease Vector was a person first. She had a life, a family, a future. That person is dead - something terrible climbed inside her and hollowed her out.

God help you if you try to tell her that.

The Vector clings to the life and duties it once had. It is obsessed with proving that it hasn't changed, proving that it's still a person - see? - just as good as anyone else. The Vector's craving for assurance and normality, her ongoing refusal to accept the fact of her condition, her focus on her bright shining future puts everyone at risk.

If the gun is taken to the Vector, she might defend herself - or she might do it pre-emptively, or someone might step in to defend her. A Vector is at her best when it's someone loveable, someone who's loss would alienate multiple other people - and whoever does what needs to be done will draw everyone else's hate.

Key Moves:
• Display the contents of its heart.
• Put it in someone’s path, part of someone’s day or life.
• Steal something from someone.

• Mindf*cker (craves mastery)
Example: Coach Morceau Oleander (Psychonauts)

The Mindf*cker is incapable of trust. That's his defining feature. He might be a wonderful person but he has to be able to know for sure. His paranoia winds up alienating those who he needs the most - alone at the top.

The Mindf*cker is deeply lonely but it has a vision. Usually, it is capable of interacting directly with the Psychic Maelstrom itself - its obsession with control means that it has made progress towards controlling the uncontrollable and the impossible. If it has collected or constructed the right subordinates then it can coordinate them without any hint of the infighting that would usually mar such a group. The Mindf*cker brings unity and stability through sheer awful force rather than trust or negotiation.

If appropriately tended to, a Mindf*cker can dwell perpetually in isolation, working through its operatives. If it perceives anything that might be a threat its paranoia forces it to act, pre-emptively, before the initiative is lost.

Key moves:
• Attack someone face-on, but without threat or warning.
• Seize and hold someone.
• Display the nature of the world it inhabits.

• Perversion of birth (craves overthrow, chaos, the ruination of all)
Example: Monobear (Dangan Ronpa)

Some people are just born bad.

The Perversion is a great option to keep in mind when looking at your existing Threats. Look at any one of them and ask yourself, 'what if they were secretly a Perversion?' If they are, well, that's simple. It's not that they're an emotionally conflicted Dictator trying to bring order to the wasteland. No, they're just a nightmare demon aping that emotional conflict while fully planning to drive the entire thing directly into Hell. Maybe they know. Maybe they don't. But the truth is that they're just going to make the worst decisions imaginable ten times out of ten.

Putting a Perversion on the table is the worst thing you can do as a MC. There are no redeeming features to this thing. Any compassion, understanding or second chances given to it are wasted. Worse, it is capable of imagining sweeping, long term evils. The very existence of a Perversion in the setting indicates that there is something profoundly wrong with the world - it is a direct symptom of the Apocalypse, a vector for the Psychic Maelstrom's hate, the gasping horror of humanity's extinction.

Ideally, the Perversion is in a situation where the status quo benefits it. Perversions don't jump out of bed and do fifty jumping jacks to pump themselves up for a busy day of evil. They are winning, right up until the moment someone makes them lose.

Key Moves:
• Ruin something. Befoul, rot, desecrate, corrupt, adulter it.
• Display the nature of the world it inhabits.
• Put it in someone’s path, part of someone’s day or life.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2015, 12:56:28 AM »

Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are stupider than that.

Brutes cannot plan ahead. When you're MC'ing for Brutes keep that fact clearly in your mind. When Vincent talks about NPCs having simple impulses that's the key to the Brutes - they want a thing and they get that thing now. They think a boy is pretty, they make a pass at him now. They get angry and they shoot the offender now. Doesn't matter if any of those things land them in trouble two seconds from when they're finished - if they had the vision to think that far ahead they'd be Warlords.

If you keep this fundamental limitation of Brutes in mind they'll basically play themselves. Have them blurt out the first thing that comes into their heads like they've never heard of OpSec. If a player does something scary have them run for it. If a player manipulates one have them fall over themselves to help. Have them react instantly, and have those reactions be big and occasionally inappropriate. Players love it, it's like flattery to see how totally they can dominate the lives of these poor saps.

When I write Brutes down, I do a grid with five slots: Their name, their crew, their haunt, their deal, and their damage. The crew and haunt are the Brute's support structure and where they go whenever they're in trouble. A Brute's deal should be simple and pejorative - drunken farmer, sexy aunt, loose cannon. Their damage is any harm done to them, diseases they carry, grudges they've picked up or shortages they resent (I use coloured sticky notes for these to help me track the spread of these things through populations).

Because of their simplicity I think Brutes aren't really capable of malice. They're crude, rude, angry, self destructive, afraid, brutal, but they're very rarely outright bad people. They're also defined by their sense of community - there should never be just one disconnected Brute, that guy's a Grotesque or a Warlord. Brutes are a unit and have very strong social bonds with each other. Every Brute should have at least one person who cares if they live or die, and they should be quick to extend that same courtesy to the players.


In a lot of ways, the Brutes are the prize of Apocalypse World. Almost everything anyone does is a struggle for control of the Brutes. A Warlord without any Brutes is just a pretentious dude. A Brute without any Brutes is a Grotesque. When the Brutes put their muscle to it they can build up or tear down basically anything.

If Grotesques are the mouth and Warlords are the brain, Brutes are the beating heart of Apocalypse World. They're love, fear, hate, compassion, community. The Brutes give you access to moral judgement - at the end of the day, when the rescued girl falls weeping into the Gunlugger's arms or the mob turns on its hateful prophet, the Brutes allow the world itself to recognise, reward or destroy what is right and what is wrong. The Brutes are the future, God help us. The power players of Apocalypse World will fight over what that future is and who will be alive to see it, but it is the Brutes who will inherit it in the end.

The reason to use Brutes is to communicate the simple, primordial needs of the people to the players. Don't have a Brute get into a big debate about it, just have him say what's on his mind - "That didn't feel right, Keeler", "I'm scared about them storms", "Hey Uncle, do you ever get hungry?" When it comes time for a Brute to speak right from the heart, not parroting a Warlord's words, have it be something simple and insightful that cuts right to the core of who these people are.


Each Brute should have one Thing. That thing could be a gun, a good blanket, an antler they pray to, a box of seeds, whatever. That thing is the one thing they've salvaged from the ruins of civilisation and they've built their identity around it. In the rare situation where a player asks a Brute how they're doing have them start talking about their one thing and not shut up until they're made to. Their total life assets, including house, gun and blanket might add up to about 1 barter, 2 barter if they're really cashed up.

The other thing a Brute should have is an Affliction. A lot of the time in conversation it'll make a lot of sense to have a Brute make an Affliction move, so every Brute should have a pet Affliction that's the thing that bugs them about life in Apocalypse World.

• Hunting Pack (to victimize anyone vulnerable)

Hunting Packs are fearful creatures. They're constantly afraid for their lives, for their status in the pack, if they're going to go hungry. They find security of a sort in surrounding themselves with other people like them and pretending to big strong badasses. They're doing it for protection, for the safety of numbers, for the ability to cower in the shadow of an Alpha. And as long as they have the edge they'll channel that fear into making everyone else afraid, constantly proving to each other that they're big, strong and safe.

The one thing a Hunting Pack will never do of it's own free will is attack a superior foe. They don't want to lay their lives down for this - what is it? Bunch of drinking buddies? They'll only go if they think they can win, and the moment that's in question they out. This trait means that Hunting Packs are magnetically attracted to big, confident badasses because they reckon their odds are better if their leader is a stone cold killer. If their big bastard goes down then they're going to surrender or run, and within the week you'll see them hanging around in the shadow of the next big f*cker.

Key Moves:
• Make a coordinated attack with a coherent objective.
• Demand consideration or indulgence.
• Make a show of solidarity and power.

• Sybarites (to consume someone’s resources)

Sybarites are the simplest of the simple. They want a thing? They go and get it, right now, no questions, no explanations. They can clearly express their desires only by immediately acting on them. They don't tell anyone they're hungry, they break into the grain silo. They don't lodge a complaint with the Hardholder about the Cannibal, they just go and kill him, and they sleep well that night. They're not an organised group, they're small collections of friends and drinking buddies. If you ever find yourself wondering what a Sybarite does in any given second, remind yourself their immediate thought is likely to be "Ah, f*ck it, YOLO"

As frustrating as Sybarites are to deal with they're possibly the least violent type of Brutes in Apocalypse World. They could endanger everyone by drinking all the water or whatever but they're doing that out of stupid impulses, not out of hate or anger. If confronted with the negative consequences of their actions they'll often be quite abashed. They might get in fights all the time but they're not going to go out and deliberately murder anyone who doesn't clearly have it coming.

Key Moves:
• Tell stories (truth, lies, allegories, homilies).
• Ask for help or for someone’s participation.
• Cling to or defy reason.

• Enforcers (to victimize anyone who stands out)

If your players are anything like mine, this is what they'll want most of their Brutes to be like. Loyal, obedient, disciplined, punching down at the riff-raff. I personally hate these guys, they're cold and dead and frog-like, full of petty hate and an internalisation of rules. If Brutes are the heart of Apocalypse World, these f*ckers are the cold, shrivelled and joyless heart of a tiny little dictator.

I manifest this by having all the judgement these guys have to offer fall on the players. I have them disapprove of everything the players do. They disapprove of creative thought or unconventional tactics, they disapprove of new technology, they disapprove of making peace, they disapprove of treating people politely. They disapprove of the Gunlugger's pink Mohawk, they disapprove of the Angel's healing touch and they disapprove of the Hocus' new vision. They'd never upset the status quo by organising a revolt, oh no, they'll just sneer at you and undermine you in petty ways. They'll take their vindictiveness out on minorities, outsiders or standouts. They'll never do anything that puts them personally at risk.

Key Moves:
• Make a coordinated attack with a coherent objective
• Rigidly follow or defy authority.
• Ask for help or for someone’s participation.

• Cult (to victimize & incorporate people)

A Cult is what happens when some idiot teaches the Brutes how to articulately express one of their primal desires. By giving them unifying words and phrases, pictures, traditions, music, paints, stories and rituals the Cult can not only ask for something they want but ask for it in an extremely sophisticated and effective way. While an ordinary Brute desire might be to hit a guy sometimes, a Cult can take that emotion and refine it into an elaborate warrior cult that exults in glorious death and battlefield unity. A Cult, uniquely among Brutes, can explain exactly what it wants and how it plans to get it.

The problem with Cults is, of course, none of the language used to articulate those desires belongs to the Brutes themselves. They were told these things by some Warlord who was either insane, enlightened or manipulative. And the brilliant sophistication that allows them to explain exactly how they intend to die on the battlefield or how to maintain every minor component on an elaborate system of solar panels works against them when they try to get across some unrelated concept - like maybe they think that it's not right to burn people in sacrifice to the King in Yellow.

If a Cult is dissatisfied it begins to generate tension but it cannot act on it because it doesn't have the words to express something outside its paradigm. When someone who understands the Cult's language well enough to phrase their hidden objections arises then the Cult can explode with startling speed and ferocity - the new heresy falls upon the old orthodoxy and fights it to the death.

Key Moves;
• Tell stories (truth, lies, allegories, homilies).
• Rigidly follow or defy authority.
• Make a show of solidarity and power.

• Mob (to riot, burn, kill scapegoats)

A Mob is what happens when some idiot tells the Brutes that it's okay to shout. They raise their voices - and to their shock they get what they want. They're amazed. It's like they've discovered a superpower. If they yell they get what they want.

And, like most newly minted superheroes, the Mob doesn't know the limits of it's power. How could it? These poor f*ckers have never had any control over their lives before now and now suddenly they can force the Hardholder - jesus, the f*cking Hardholder himself - to do what they want. So they're going to yell for something else. They're going to go through their wants like a shopping list until they literally cannot think of anything else they want. God help you if you tell them that their demands will be met later.

And really, if it's just the Mob without a Warlord whipping them into a frenzy then they'll run out of things pretty quickly. They can probably be paid off, threatened by armies, impressed with speeches, or have their collective energy sapped by any kind of crisis or distraction. Heck, even rain can probably disperse a Mob pretty quick. But even if the Mob breaks up it's not dissolving, it's splintering - breaking down into little groups of angry people who are fundamentally upset that yelling didn't solve their problem. And these angry little splinters are the real danger - they're the dudes who'll set buildings on fire in the middle of the night with no warning. The instability feeds back into the mob and it'll soon re-form, louder and angrier than ever. Mobs are only really dangerous when they have a prolonged period of time to really whip themselves up into a frenzy. Like a wild fire, a leaderless, angry Mob cannot be stopped - it can only run its course.

Key Moves:
• Demand consideration or indulgence.
• Burst out in uncoordinated, undirected violence.
• Make a show of solidarity and power.

• Family (to close ranks, protect their own)

If you have a NPC who just seems like a regular dude with nothing weird going on his life at all then he's a Family. Family is the basic social unit and an excellent resting point for Brutes who aren't caught up with anything weird or nasty. Families are solid, dependable, reliable, salt of the earth people who have each others' backs. Blood spreads slowly so they're not in danger of spiralling out of control or forcing their will on the world around them. Simple.

And, if you've seen any sort of horror movie at all, you know that when a Family goes bad it goes really bad. Inbreeding, blood rituals, dark secrets and all-powerful matriarchs who rule more totally and invasively than the cruellest dictator.

The best way to mobilise a Family threat is to give them something to protect. One option is to make one family member a Grotesque. Now your Mutant or Cannibal has a place to hide and a score of violent people who will rigidly defy demands to give him up. Another option is to put them in charge of some key piece of infrastructure. The Family will attach itself to that thing like a starfish and become extremely secretive about how it maintains it. Either way, the slow rate of family expansion means that they're unlikely to expand in a timeframe that threatens the players, make the players come to them.

Key Moves:
• Rigidly follow or defy authority.
• Cling to or defy reason.
• Make a show of solidarity and power.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2015, 01:34:24 AM »

This is fantastic.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2015, 04:40:38 AM »
It really is. I suddenly have a much better idea about how to form and use my Fronts/Threats.



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Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2015, 07:59:40 AM »
This is great, Thanqol!


Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2015, 09:20:02 PM »
Thanks everyone!

I went through a lot of games before I really developed a vocabulary and feel for threats, but the more time I spent on it the more I became convinced it was one of the most important aspects of Apocalypse World. In my most recent game I'm putting all this into practise and it's the best game I've ever run.

This also helped me get my head around how to manage Dark Futures and countdowns. When I started using AW I did not get MC countdowns because it'd be like, okay, two seconds into the session Rolfball is dead and the Hocus has decreed that violence does not exist but Eclipse is still crawling around the sewers so are the people, like, still hungry?

This categorisation as to what each threat brings to the table helped me figure out what happens when a front loses key people. What the Front wants stays the same but it loses its ability to express that want in a certain way - so if Rolfball eats a bullet then his mob is still going to riot but now they're going to do it stupidly and aimlessly because Rolfball was their brain. If Eclipse gets flipped by the Skinner then he'll explain that the real reason why crops don't grow is the ground is thick with spiderworms but the mob is still hungry now.

I've got a less firm grip on Afflictions and Landscapes but I'll hopefully get around to doing write-ups for them soon!

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2015, 07:24:15 AM »

My appreciation for Fronts/Threats definitely followed a similar trajectory over many, many games of AW. The characterization of different types in terms of their function within a Front is great -- though my initial reaction was to kind of pull back from the idea that the Warlord would always be the brain, the Grotesques always the mouth, etc.

But upon consideration I think this helps explain a quirk of my own Front/Threat design as it developed over time -- namely, my increasing use of dual/hybrid threat type assignments to fully characterize different parts of a Front. For me this started out as 'well what if this Landscape was also a Warlord?' -- but in light of the above, I think it would be just as sensible to say 'well okay this is a Landscape, but it is the brain of the Front as well' as a way of explaining why it seemed to also have Warlord characteristics.

I've never gotten much out of countdown clocks, though. I suspect this has more to do with my extremely lackadaisical approach to pacing in general, though, rather than some specific issue with the AW tech.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2015, 05:22:04 AM »
Fantastic, hon! This saves me having to hunt through the playground to find these again~

Daniel: I find countdowns are either just a note – "there's concentrated fire so this is gonna wrap up in a few ticks regardless", "right, okay. We Are at 'throat spiders control the town'" as notes on where you're at in your plans – or as a tension device where the players see they are running the clock down and they haven't figured it out yet.

Check out microfronts for dungeonworld prep. They're basically clocks without clocks.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2015, 04:59:17 PM »
How does one like, favorite, or upvote on this site? This is really good stuff!

Dangan Ronpa reference FTW! Monobear is the best example of a perversion of birth ever!

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2015, 11:35:46 PM »
Holy moly! This is really cool!

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #11 on: December 02, 2015, 11:31:08 AM »
This should be a supplemental PDF somewhere (similar to many playbooks). Hugely informative and useful to beginners!

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2015, 11:08:40 AM »
More praise! For a long time I realized I'd almost entirely run one-shots of any World-based game, so I'm trying to figure out the back end and this is helpful.

I had a similar reaction to Daniel Wood about always, but all the points were well taken.

Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #13 on: June 02, 2017, 04:04:47 PM »
I wonder if there's any chance the original author (or even someone else!) is interested  in updating and/or completing this really excellent bit of AW advice?

It would be great to see it in complete form.



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Re: Threat Analysis
« Reply #14 on: July 15, 2017, 04:28:53 PM »
Is it just me, or are these posts missing pretty sizeable parts?

If anyone has the unclipped versions, let me know. I'm after the last half.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2017, 04:39:51 PM by Ebok »