Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?

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Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« on: February 19, 2016, 09:57:50 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.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2016, 01:43:16 PM »
You land on a bear is only an appropriate when it's appropriate. And when it's appropriate, it's awesome. There is no explicit directive to make things shitty for the PCs. I don't experience antagonism between GM and players. In any game. Across thirty five years of play. So I'm not really sure how to address that.

I like how the explication of moves (MC and player-facing) shapes our ability to explore the fictional world. I like how the game provides the MC with an explicit agenda to help her guide her in-the-moment decisions. I like how it formalizes a bunch of normal (but not ubiquitous) gaming practices and procedures so that it's easier to think about them. I like the balance between the things the core game sets up and encourages and the way it guides you into the creation of new stuff (fiction, possibilities, moves, playbooks even). I like how easy it is to MC the game (though I recall it being intimidating five years ago or whatever). I like how much bits of rules and e.g. the playbooks define about the world, without having a boring world-dump to read.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2016, 01:48:32 PM »
Apocalypse World was the first game that immediately clicked for me, as though it reached through the psychic maelstrom and spoke in the language of my mind. Vincent and Meguey are no shit designers and I love their voice in the rules text, conversational and evocative but frank. I love that the game trusts the players and encapsulates all that they need to know about their character in a playbook, all that they need to know about the world on the move sheet, and it elicits everything else through play. I love that the MC has procedures to govern and support their role at the table. I love the way information is structured in the game - the modularity of the moves, the hierarchy of moves/principles/agendas. I love how powerful language is in the game without taking away from the numeric mechanisms.  I love that the game-as-conversation works so, so well across formats from face-to-face to play-by-forum. I love that the game was meant to hacked and that the designers supported those endeavors in the text (and in person). I love how Apocalypse World pushes and pulls and seduces and manipulates you into the post-apocalyptic genre and how each of its hacks suck you into theirs. I love how mature the game is, how it demands humanity from you even in a world of scarcity. There is so much to love.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2016, 03:01:48 PM by mease19 »

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2016, 02:02:53 PM »
It sounds like you're afraid of the MC killing everyone off! I have to ask: have you played? I think I can at least allay some of your fears in that area.

I am only talking about Apocalypse World here, by the way; other games are other games, and different things may be true.

1) I mean, at the end of the day, it sounds like you know that the issue is one of trust in your MC. And it sounds like you don't think you have MCs around that you can trust. Which kind of sounds more like a playgroup issue than an issue with the game! It may not be the game for your group, and that's cool. But I wonder: in my experience, people are generally pretty surprising. And in RPGs, people usually want the other people around them to have fun (otherwise stop playing with those people, jeez). Generally, when I see people new to AW-style games run them for the first time, they are scared of being a 'killer GM' (the rules make it sound super easy to kill PCs!), and pull their punches way more than they need to.

2) "You land on a bear"--what exactly is wrong here? Presumably the roll this player is making is "act under fire"--which means that, if the player is rolling, then the situation has already been established as dangerous (otherwise no roll necessary!). If it had been established prior to the roll that bears were at the bottom of the wall (maybe the bears are the fire), then, well, sounds like you knew the risks going into it, and "deal harm as established" is a valid MC move to choose. If the bear is being introduced wholecloth by the MC at the moment of failure, then, presumably, the GM move being applied is "put them in a spot". And in this situation, note that it is not kosher for the MC to introduce a bear AND have it deal harm before giving the PC a chance to react. Instead, introducing the bear allows the PC a chance to attempt another move--and AW PCs tend to have plenty of ways to deal with a bear in one roll.

3) It's way harder than you think to kill a PC. The MC is waaaaay less powerful than the PCs in Apocalypse World. By which I mean: in practice, the players control what happens. Really. As an MC, most of the time you're only making hard moves when the players roll poorly, which the players do less than half the time usually. And you have to do multiple hard moves to set up doing harm at all. Gotta establish the harm, then deal it. And even once you do the harm, IF it's enough harm to kill the PC, they can take a debility to not die anyhow.

4) In which I actually get down to answering your question! Here's what I like about Apocalypse World. I come from a trad games background (mostly AD&D into 3.0/5 into 4, with some White Wolf thrown in, typical stuff). Apocalypse World was the game that taught my play group to trust each other--it's hard to describe the feeling but you might get it. For the first time, two things were true about our game experience that had never both been true before. Firstly, everyone sitting at the table was on the same side. We were all playing, not to beat each other, but with the primary goal of discovering what this world was and who our characters were within it. And secondly, nobody at the table had any idea what was going to happen next. I was the MC, and I'd always thought of myself as a good GM, I knew not to (obviously) railroad, and I knew how to pull my punches to keep things balanced but not easy. But with Apocalypse World, I'd get to the end of a session and be like, "holy shit, I had *no idea* ANY of that was going to happen". It kind of made me realize how much I'd actually been (somewhat unintentionally) railroading the whole time in other games, in contrast. I was also mentally exhausted at the end of those first few sessions in a way I, as an experienced GM, was not used to feeling! But I got in shape eventually, and the game was life-changing, and I'm not using that term hyperbolically.

5) So yeah, trust is hard, especially if you're not used to it in the context of RPGs. But do you trust your players/MC to at least play by the rules as written? I'm sure you have a rules lawyer or two in your group. The rules keep the MC in check, hardcore.

Does any of this make sense? Do you kind of get where I'm coming from? I'm happy to expand on things.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2016, 02:04:26 PM »
Hi Korbl! When you say:

"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."

I'm a bit dumbstruck. That's really rather sad. And it has nothing to do with Apocalypse World (AW), because no game can protect you from that. Especially not all those traditional games that give the GM leeway to do whatever they want. In fact, AW has principles and agendas that directly tell people NOT to act like this. Check out these agenda items for the GM:

• Make Apocalypse World seem real.
• Make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.
• Play to find out what happens.

Is it "real" to have characters land on a bear? Only if you've established in the fiction already that it would make sense. It would definitely make the character's life not boring, and it would be interesting to see what happens. But you should follow all three items.

But what should the GM do instead of the bear? You were asking for "without broader lists of potential complications for such rolls." Let's take a look at the GM Moves:

• Separate them.
• Capture someone.
• Put someone in a spot.
• Trade harm for harm (as established).
• Announce off-screen badness.
• Announce future badness.
• Inflict harm (as established).
• Take away their stuff.
• Make them buy.
• Activate their stuff’s downside.
• Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
• Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
• Turn their move back on them.
• Make a threat move (from one of your fronts).
• After every move: “what do you do?”

These are broad and easy! Here are examples of them in action, regarding the climbing roll you mentioned:

• You fall off the wall and land on the other side. You're separated. And to make that have teeth, you hear enemies coming. Can your allies get over the wall in time to help you?
• You fall right into a net (depending on your fictional circumstances: mutant raider trap, giant spider, ...). You're captured.
• You make it up, but there is someone with a gatling gun on the other side, aimed at you. You're in a spot. What now?
• You take one harm from the fall, as established by the wall being dangerously high (why else call for a roll?).
• You drop and lose your weapon, and it falls into a crack on the other side. How to get your stuff back?
• You spot a piece of treasure on the other side! You can grab this opportunity, but only at a cost of leaving your allies behind.

All of these without even knowing anything more than "there's a wall you're climbing." Imagine how these Moves could spark ideas when you've got a whole fictional situation going on!

I love AW because it sets out these stakes before every roll. I know the GM moves. You know the GM moves. No need to discuss the bad things that could happen. Just roll and snowball forward.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2016, 02:04:50 PM »
If you don't trust the person running the game, there is no reason to be playing in their game, no matter the system. 

Making the character's lives interesting is not the same as shitty.

I love that as a player I can wrap my head around my character and just describe what they do and a story will happen.  Also, AW tends to incorporate what the players are actually interested in more than most games.


Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2016, 02:06:59 PM »
Quote
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.

This might seem how it feels sometimes from the player perspective, but if this is how you MC, you need to reread the book.

First, any time you game, from D&D to PbtA, you should have a trusted relationship with people at the table that you're not cheating, and you're playing the game by the rules to all have a good, and fairly balanced session. And if the MC is following the rules, they don't just 'fuck over' players on missed rolls, the make a move. If it's a Hard move, it's still a move. Let me explain.

"You fall on a bear" is Putting someone in a Spot. That's the Hard move. But now you as the MC have for some reason added in a bear to your campaign in exchange for the other dozen things you could have done to advance your own agenda. You didn't hurt the character (yet), you didn't move a threat on a front, you didn't take their stuff or capture or offer an opportunity... you took one path. And now, you don't just start talking about how the bear mauls the player... no. Your turn is up. because now, as stated explicitly on page 117, you ask "What do you do?"

The MC needs to remember that they're playing a game, too. And they have rules. If you want to advance your fronts, you need to be pushing the threats from your fronts. If you want to disarm, or trade harm for harm, or capture someone, that's what you do instead. But then the buck passes back over to the stars of our show, and they get to retalliate, or gain higher ground.

You're supposed to be a fan of the characters and rooting them on. But even if you somehow fail to do this, if your head is in the space of your nefarious villain, you should still be playing by the Move rules, and they have a fair shake to get their bearings.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2016, 02:09:24 PM »
Apocalypse World is my favorite roleplaying game by a wide margin.  I love plenty of games, but I really love Apocalypse World.

I feel like the mechanics provide a framing mechanism for failure and hardship that make them fun. In some systems, the fun comes from avoiding failure and overcoming hardship—and failure typically sucks, as in "you took 8 points of damage from that zombie, now you're dead"—but Apocalypse World provides a way to seek out failure and enjoy hardship, and to do so while portraying a cool and awesome character.  My characters get to be bad-ass when they succeed, and they get to be bad-ass when they fail.  Every roll tells my story through the filter of my character.

A good example of this:  we once had an Apocalypse World game where the players succeeded on every roll.  It was fun, but it was not the most fun of our sessions.  It might have been the least fun of our sessions.  The most fun sessions were when everything went to hell, where hard choices got made and consequences got delivered, and where the characters came through changed, intact—and very, very cool.

I also adore that the mechanics do a good job of creating the illusion of character fragility while providing players with a robust toolkit for asserting narrative control, and putting their characters in dangerous situations, in ways that don't automatically end with "you lose, game over."  As an MC and a player, I know characters in Apocalypse World are startlingly robust.  But it still feels like the world is dangerous.

I adore how much of the drama revolves around NPCs, and around driving them like disposable cars.  I love that Apocalypse World gives us a system for making the relationships between and among characters matter. The directives for NPC management are a major part of what makes the game excellent.  (The worst Apocalypse World game I've run may have been one where the focus was on the environment rather than the people in it.  Oops.  But it was still decent!)

I completely love that Apocalypse World codifies, and gives me the tools to enact, my default MC position:  which is to be a fan of the player characters.  I love being on their side in terms of telling great stories about what they get to do.

I love that the moves system give players and the MC a fruitful interface to the narrative.  There is almost never a case of "we beat our heads against that problem for an hour and it was frustrating" or "we didn't do what the MC expected and it was hard for him to adapt."  I love that Apocalypse World requires basically no prep,  but that it also blossoms when subjected to flexible prep, like roll-pick-two love letters.  Man, I love love letters. I love love letters!

Furthermore—and this may be particular to my gaming troupe—Apocalypse World redirects the goofiness and gonzoness sometimes inherent in gaming, and adapts them to the narrative (whatever that might be) in a way that works well for generating great stories.  It is difficult for any player to have the potential to derail the game or mood, not with the toolkit the rules provide the MC; the worst thing a player may do is nothing, and even that is something the rules can accommodate, and accommodate well.  But a character shoots first, ask questions later?  A player tries to take on another player character? A player wants to make a character who wears a pink sombrero and is named Bob the Rock Star?  Okay.  We can do that.  Why not?

- - -

Man, I really wanna play some Apocalypse World right now.

- - -

We're doing a cool thing where we're playing a Game of Thrones game using Apocalypse World rules as written, and it's amazing.  It works because it taps into what Apocalypse World does well:  giving rules for an unstable world in which the fragility of any status quo is navigated by totally cool characters.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2016, 02:10:17 PM »
Good question!

Relying on the MC to fail forward sensibly and constructively is exactly what I love about Apocalypse World.

No game mechanic can do that for you in a reliable way. Games that don't have the same concept of failing forward still rely on the GM to present sensible and constructive things to the players, they just don't tell the GM WHEN to do it.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2016, 02:32:22 PM »
It's true, Apocalypse World does require trusting the MC to run the game fairly and consistently. This "flaw" is also present in D&D, as well as pretty much every RPG where the DM/GM/MC/etc. gets a say in what happens next, so if that's a deal-breaker to you then your question is not "why do people like Apocalypse World" but "why do people like role-playing games," which is a fascinating question that I'd be happy to talk about, but it seems pretty off-topic for this thread.

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2016, 02:54:34 PM »
I kind of didn't like apocalypse world when I first encountered it.  The playbooks seemed cool, but... eh? The mechanics seemed over simplified.
Still, I love Post Apoc settings. Tried it again and still was kind of meh.
Bought the book and decided I hated it. (The aggressive writing style was not my cup-o-tea-Sorry Vincent!).
Still, I love Post Apoc settings. I decided to read the forums more, see what I (And probably more importantly, the group that introduced me to it) had been missing.
Watched Richard Rogers and his Intercontinental Group of Awesome play it on YouTube.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru7Bm7J_1rU Watching them made me want to play so much my teeth hurt.

Played a game of Monsterhearts at a Con and discovered that HOLY SHIT, this game system can be amazingly fun when it is done right. (John Stavropoulos ran that game)
The more I played PbtA games at cons, the more I found other games lacking. (PbtA particularly shines in that setting IMO)

So why didn't I love it at first? I don't think those MCs gave the players the kind of control they needed, or prod them to take control. So our groups tended to be built waiting for adventure to happen to us, rather than being the source of those adventures. While our characters might have been cool (hard not to be given the playbooks), we didn't embrace just how cool they were.
Is it a perfect game? No. Throw away all your other RPGs? No. But it is a ton of fun. My wife hates the tone of AW, and isn't a Post Apoc fan, but after trying it, it is her favorite game system by far.

Does it require trust, yes. But all games require trust. But if you and your fellow players buy into the fact that you are all here to have fun and not ruin other people's fun, then AW is amazing.
It is fun. Easy to learn. Easy to get into the good stuff. You can sit down with a group of strangers with no setup and be playing within minutes. When done correctly, you are empowered and everyone gets to enjoy the sense of discovery and creation. 7-9s...love those choices. A ton of stuff to love really. Can't wait for AW2 so I have even more to love.

 

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2016, 02:56:48 PM »
Things I love:
__ the first session rules
__ the weak hit, strong hit, miss mechanic
__ descriptive tags, constraints, prompts
__ no monsters; everyone is fundamentally a person
__ the MC's agenda and principles (by the way, 'make things shitty for the PCs' is explicitly breaking the rules here)
__ explicit MC moves
__ rules for custom moves
__ rules for MC prep
__ AW as a powerful set of tools for making your own RPG

Things I deal with:
__ sometimes mapping the fictional action onto a move bogs the game down, or results in an unsatisfying MC call
__ the game wants to be serious, but sometimes the players show up and want to be gonzo
__ Hx and XP are a little wonky

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2016, 03:34:41 PM »
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.

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,

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.

It sounds like your issue is one of trust. And that's fine and normal.

I actually find that PbtA games help solve trust issues! GMs who don't like giving up control now have players that can change the scope of the game AND the world. Players now have a GM that can throw ANYTHING at them if they fail, not just some damage from a chart based on a specific threat. The GM thinks his players can POSSIBLY make as good a story as he can, and the players think the GM can't POSSIBLY generate fair consequences.

But the game doesn't play that way. You do your RPG trust fall and the group catches you.

Have you played?

Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2016, 04:27:33 PM »
No game can withstand determined bad faith on the part of the players, particularly if one of those players is the MC. So nope, AW ain't magic, and it can't fix a bad group.

But here's what I love: the MC's Agendas, Principles, and Moves? Those are RULES. Explicit, first order, no-shit fundamentals of how the game works, as critical and integrated as "roll 2d6+stat" or anything else with a number or tags attached. You've looked over the MC tri-fold, yeah? Or the First Session one? Those core elements: the Agendas, the Principles, the Moves are first and foremost, hammered on over and over again in the text. There's even in-depth explanation of what each of those means: if the MC isn't following them, they're not playing by the rules of the game, and you can point out where it says so, right there on the page.

Threats also do quite a bit of legwork for helping the MC come up with something when the table's looking at them expectantly, or somebody rolls snake-eyes. Any problem they throw at you is going to fall into one of those threat-buckets, each of which comes with a list of moves that's a good fit for that sort of problem. Those threat move lists are in addition to their default move options; if anything, there can be too many inspirations/lists of potential complications to chose from!

There's no directive to make things shitty, and clear and explicit direction not to play in an antagonistic way. My take? If you need to make up complications for what the consequences of failure are, you shouldn't have been rolling in the first place: there's a reason establishing future badness is one of the MC's moves. It should be clear from the fiction what's at stake, and backing up and re-explaining there's a bear beneath the wall, and letting players reconsider their course of action in that context is repeatedly hammered on as good play in the examples.

An MC one who thinks GMing is a universally fungible skill and doesn't read the rules before running the game? Yeah, you're going to have a bad time. But I'll happily take the explicit safety net of Agenda, Principles, and Moves over the usual calvinball on the GM's side of the screen in other systems any day of the week.

*

noclue

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Re: Genuinely curious: Why do you like Apocalypse World?
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2016, 05:29:52 PM »
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,

I'm a little unclear what the issue is here. The bear hasn't even done anything yet. The GM still has to ask you "What do you do?" You may end up wounded and bleeding at the end of the day, but that's a long way off yet.

Let's play. Korbl, your battle babe just landed on top of a big fucking Kodiak bear. It rears up on two legs throwing you to the ground. Oh, noes! What do you do?
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