Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast

  • 11 Replies
  • 4824 Views
Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« on: April 19, 2016, 05:52:41 AM »
Hi,

I'm going to be GMing a game of AW for my regular group this Thursday. I've run plenty of one shots, but this might be my first campaign. Eek. We're going to do the first session, and if it's a horrible train wreck, our regular GM will take over.

Speaking of train wrecks, one of the players wants to play a driver. With a train. I really dig the idea, it's cool as hell and I want to run with it. But I'm worried about making it work.

The other thing about our campaign is the other players. We have a core group, but every so often something will come up and someone will have to miss a session. It's not as often as some groups I've played with, but life does happen sometimes. Sometimes we get a new player who will be there for maybe a session or 2, then disappear. I need to make a setting that can incorporate this. Without the driver, I'd just anchor things to a single setting or area. Absences are explained by the character off doing their own thing for that session. Having a very mobile train kinda throws that into whack.

I'm thinking of setting it in post apocalyptic midwest USA or central Europe, severely depopulated. There's a lot of big ol diesel trains around there that could still work. Plenty of places to go and things for the driver to do without it being too overwhelming for me. Maybe japan, but I don't really think I could give the players a Shinkansen at chargen! If the population is severely limited, to little island hardholds between vast stretches of badland wilderness you need a train to get around, that would be cool.

Does anyone have suggestions on how I could run this? Block the player and ask him to just make a truck instead? Seems a bit of a cop out.

*

Ebok

  • 415
Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2016, 06:53:47 AM »
Being a driver with a train sounds very tricky. First of all you're extremely limited in where you can go, and how much it will cost to get you there. Doing a post apoc train is actually doable, and if you want examples you can take a look at the 2013 movie Snowpiercer. However, I'd go as far to say that a working train on tracks that is self-sufficient fuel wise sounds more like a hard hold rather then a drivers vehicle.

I've incorporated working trains before, controlled by various allied strongholds with limited means of surviving long treks through the destroyed world. We went a different way though, and the things hovered across nodes, rather then tracks. Doing something like this might be more useful to you if humanity everywhere is actually on the move. In that light, the driver might be able to pull off a small train with a few engines, borrowing the scattered nodes of other vehicles, but in doing the only way not to fuck the driver over with range and mobility is to make quite a few other groups using the tracks themselves, and thus he wouldn't have the only train.

I'd probably go ahead and find out what everyone else was playing, and then ask the driver how does he make the train viable and fun? Why is it necessary, and how many cars / people was he thinking his train should have. If it was unique, and from where to where does his train run. If he is certain he wants a train then maybe he has an idea he hasnt shared yet. Personally I'd still say a working train is probably more hardholder then driver, but if the holds were big enough you can try to make it work. Just try to provide reasons why they don't blow up the tracks, the bandits. (that would basically end the train...)

If the guy with a train still thinks it'll be fun despite the limitations, then go for it. If the others around the table love the idea too, then maybe they'll help design a world where the trains are all still running. As for absent players, it depends thoroughly on whether the game revolves around the train moving (aka hardhold train) or the train comes and goes between places. It's pretty easy to say, someone arrived on the train today, enter a new player. And when they leave, describe the manner in which they leave--if they come back love letter with options time. If the driver misses the session, he's probably working or stuck elsewhere waiting for some tracks to get repaired or some wild storm to pass. The best way to figure this is to ask your group though.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2016, 09:03:15 AM »
Thanks Ebok.

The train as a hardhold is an excellent idea I'd not considered. I reread the 2ed preview during my lunch break, and it really looks like it fits way more than a driver vehicle. Paticularly when it comes to the new vehicle battle moves and stuff like shunting, spinning out of control and the like don't really apply to trains, or at least applying them massivly changes the stakes to the point where it's not going to work as a regular thing.

I was originally thinking of making him take the "collector" move and limiting him to 3 carriages. He was talking about setting up a makeshift gun emplacement on the roof, and "my other car is a tank" could cover this. But I'd probably need to throw him a freebee light bike or dune buggy just to make the character work. It was to be a small train, just the one engine and a 2-3 cars. But even then, there are the problems you highlighted like the state of the track and having it be unique (how) vs all the problems of multiple trains on the same track with no central control system. One idea I had comes from out last game - Blades in the Dark - where life outside settlements is totally untenable and nearly all transport takes place on specially protected trains. If you're lucky to survive 5 min in the wilderness, it would explain why no one's blown up tracks (yet). I could borrow bits to make a maelstrom, or just whole sale take the world we had and fast forward a couple hundred years. Nothing about AW says it needs to be Earth. I like the nodes idea too. There's no reason not to do that. I think the player just likes the idea of a mobile base, so a road train truck might work too, of not quite as cool.

I'll talk to the player. He's quite inexperienced in roleplaying games. Most of the group except myself and the regular GM are too, which is why I was planning on doing a little more setup than is usual for an AW game, and just giving them them things rather than asking. To be honest, from playing with him, I kinda expected him to be all over the hardholder rather than driver. The rest of the players are still undecided on characters. There's a good chance he'll like the idea.

If he really wants to play a driver, what could work is another player plays the hardholder, and "owns" the train. The driver just drives it. It'll be a bit bigger as a hold (I looked up Snowpiercer - how have I never heard of that? - although not that big). But big enough that there could be a car or 2 that houses buggies as the driver and the hard holder's regular vehicles that can offload and sortie off for raiding and supply gathering. So he gets to drive a train, just not own it, and do regular driving things as well. Maybe enforce taking the smaller hold option and change a want to fuel. If no one wants to be hardholder, an npc one will do and give us a bit more freedom in designing it anyway.

I'll have to see how it goes on Thursday. If it's a train-wreck (hurr), our regular DM has a Dungeon-world game as back up. But I love modernish settings more than classic fantasy, so I'm hoping they like it! You've given me a lot of ideas. I'm less apprehensive and more excited again now.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2016, 01:50:47 PM »
I think giant vehicles as holdings is a great way to go; the Hardholder's holding in my current game is one of those mega cruise ships. The train can be a lot bigger that way, and the mobility issue won't be such a problem. The Driver's all about freedom and mobility; getting stuck on rails feels a little problematic for that playbook. I think letting the player pick between being the Hardholder of a train and being a Driver on a holding that is a train, thus giving him another vehicle as well, is your best bet. (Even if no other player wants to play the Hardholder, you can have an NPC hardholder as some sort of Warlord.)

It will be to your advantage to have a relatively large population on the train anyway, so they have an easier time forming relationships and triangles. Games with very mobile parties often struggle on this, since they don't have an opportunity to form lasting relationships with NPCs.

And unless your first session is really a complete disaster, I'd encourage you to stick with it for at least a little while. Apocalypse World takes a few sessions to really get good, since the first is all about exploration and setup anyway. By the second session, you'll have your threats established, and then you can really get into it.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2016, 06:58:24 AM »
I've talked to some players and they're not massively keen on the hold as a train. Not quite sure if they are unaware a hold can be as small as 75 people at the start. If they want a smaller train again, we can all ways set an npc as holder and reduce it to 10-20 people on board. I personally like the idea a lot more than a driver vehicle.

Game is tomorrow. Once we meet in person rather than texting, the other players have characters, and we've done some world gen, we can sort what works for everyone.

I've played quite a few AW games. Sadly never had a full campaign of regular, but I've played in some very good one shots. One shots are just more common in my area because it's hard to get a regular crew together. Had a decent length campaign of monster hearts which was fun. I've also ran games before, but only rules lite games like lasers and feelings, this will be my first AW based game form the other side of the table. I've never played long enough for things like threats to properly come into play, but I have drooled all over the concept from the 1e book. Have the 2e rules form kickstarter.

Got as much prepped as I can. Stayed in the office late last night so I could print of all the handouts. I work in a major university so they don't monitor printer usage, people use it for personal things all the time. But at the same time, I don't want people picking up sheets with the words "battle babe" on them :) Printed one copy of each playbook, 1 copy of the GM moves, 2 sets of threat sheets, and a couple of copies of the basic moves. I'm going to get some hex grids printed today for maps and such. Picking up a folder to store it all neatly this afternoon. Have some dice, pencils and erasers at home. Anything else I need?

I've got some basic skeleton setting/plot ideas on what to do so I'm not stuck, but I don't want to go too far ahead planning the setting. I had previously said they'd prefer more to be handed to them, but I'm no longer so sure that's the case. The players expressed a lot of excitement about trying the cooperate world building parts of AW.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2016, 12:00:50 PM »
Print a big list of NPC names (here's mine, using names from the book and additional sources -- I have a 5 column layout to get them all on one sheet) and cross them off as you use them. Write NPC's name and their basic deal on index cards as you introduce them, e.g. "PARCHER - chief mechanic, runs the garage in the hold".

If you have time, curate a collection of character portraits, maybe selecting from something like this. Print portraits and paperclip them to the NPC index cards. Having a visual of the NPCs really helps the players remember who's who, and even helps drive story -- "oh, he's hot, can I get with him?" or "she looks scary as fuck, I'm keeping a close eye on her."

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2016, 12:54:53 PM »
Index cards! I knew I forgot something! I think I have a stack of them around the house from the last time I rand a game. Other wise I can just pick up a pack in the morning (campus shop closed 9 min ago and I'm not likely to find them in my local store) Or else I can pinch some post it notes from the supply drawer, there's tons of em.

I'll get a names list posted. There's a small one in the rulebook, but a bigger one is always better. The pictures are an excellent idea but may need to wait for session 2.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2016, 09:22:02 PM »
More ideas about the train:

1. Make sure you ask the player about his personal vision, first. He may have great ideas for how this would work (as may the others!).

2. If there is a typical hardhold/homebase, but the player still wants to be a train driver, give him some kind of "train station", where he can have his train as his main vehicle, as well as whatever other vehicles. He can run his train out along the tracks, but bring it back there to store and maintain while he does other things.

3. Give a thought to where the tracks go, and make some interesting destinations along the way. However, keep it local. Perhaps a loop going through three or four interesting locations and then coming back.

Or, if you've seen Mad Max: Fury Road, you can see how the action all happens basically along a straight line - there and back again. The train could operate along a relatively short stretch of rails, heading back and forth: one location at one end, another at the other end, maybe passing through something interesting in the middle. The train is important for transporting something back and forth - trade, water, food, slaves, whatever. That's the driver's "gig": transporting this stuff back and forth.

4. An opposite approach: how come the tracks are in good shape, not blown up, and not limiting the Driver's travels?

Perhaps there is some kind of automated system from the Golden Age gone haywire. Weird tank-like machines roam the landscape, randomly activating and deactivating. They lay rail tracks behind them; no one know why or how to get them to stop. You could wake up one morning to find a railroad stretching across the horizon. They repair these, too.

In the long-term game, the players could figure out how to control these things, or why they're around.

Weirder version: the psychic maelstrom actually GROWS railroads across the landscape. Maybe it's magic/fuckery, or maybe it's a crew of assembly nanobots gone out of control. It looks completely wild out there, railroads disassembling and reassembling themselves...

5. Have you seen "Ghost Lines"? Your apocalypse takes place in the ruins of a place like that: so there are railroads EVERYWHERE. Most are broken or run-down, but hunt around enough and you can find a way through to somewhere.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2016, 09:51:40 PM »
Perhaps there is some kind of automated system from the Golden Age gone haywire. Weird tank-like machines roam the landscape, randomly activating and deactivating. They lay rail tracks behind them; no one know why or how to get them to stop. You could wake up one morning to find a railroad stretching across the horizon. They repair these, too.

In the long-term game, the players could figure out how to control these things, or why they're around.

Weirder version: the psychic maelstrom actually GROWS railroads across the landscape. Maybe it's magic/fuckery, or maybe it's a crew of assembly nanobots gone out of control. It looks completely wild out there, railroads disassembling and reassembling themselves...

Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World might be good inspiration there. The Engines of the story are gigantic, demonic intelligent locomotives who psychically dominate armies to conquer territory and construct rail.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2016, 01:33:38 PM »

5. Have you seen "Ghost Lines"? Your apocalypse takes place in the ruins of a place like that: so there are railroads EVERYWHERE. Most are broken or run-down, but hunt around enough and you can find a way through to somewhere.

The last game we played was "Blades in the Dark" which is actually the same setting, just focused on one town. It's an idea I'm putting forward tonight for sure, see if the group likes it.

Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2016, 06:47:28 AM »
To give an update, we played last night. No one liked the idea of setting it anywhere but earth, but the player who wanted the train really dug the idea of train as hold. Turns out he's watched Snowpiercer, and that's where he got the idea from!

50 years before the start of the game, the sun went dim, not with a big supernova bang, but a whimper. It's now a red dwarf, too dim to see much even at noon (I have no idea how the science behind that would work, it doesn't really matter). But there's a hell of a shortage of light.

"The Conductor" drives a nuclear powered train name Thomas around this landscape. Thomas is a bit of a behemoth, nearly 150 people call it home. It's got carriages dedicated to growing basic plants, a market carriage that's well known when it pulls into stations, homes, even a simple garage with a ramp so supply buggies can scavenge dead towns the pass through without needing to stop. The roof has various heavy battlements made of of concrete and heavy iron build on top, with machine gun nests, especially around the engine. Most of the leftover power after the wheels goes to the grow rooms and the workshops. The Conductor keeps a tight ration on what's left to light the marketplace and homes. Light is pretty scarce throughout the world, to the point where working batteries, candles, and torches are a working currency. Thomas has been going for 15 years now, The Conductor has been in charge for the past 8 after ousting the previous ruler. Why they keep moving is still a mystery. As is exactly how old he is. He looks to be in his 40s, but has strange memories of green grass and sunshine. He's pretty much the only well dressed person on Thomas, with a dapper suit and cigar.

"Marrion the Mole" is an old friend of The Conductor, from back before the coup. Dressed in dingy shirt and tie, a mining helmet, and thick googles with multiple interchanging and telescoping lenses. He looks after the engine of the train, and the various supply buggies. He lost and arm a while back, and since then has been rather cowardly and dosen't really play nice with others. He built his own prosthetic, a swiss army knife of various tools that he uses in his work. He's the sort of person who would gladly trip you up in a zombie movie, in order to escape himself. He largely sticks to the engine room and his workshop, only going down to the market to trade various odds and ends. The engine makes way better conversation anyway.

"Petrichor" is a mercenary of sorts. Looking at her and her lithe build, you wouldn't think it. But she is an ice cold killer. She's got a weird pistol on the end of a chain weapon she can use to devastating effectiveness, whirling trickshots that leave nothing but red. When out scouting or defending the train, she wears an old school gasmask and heavy environment suit. Back on the train, she's not exactly modest, removing the suit to the waist and letting the gasmask hang round her neck, covering what's left of her modesty and the strange scar on her chest, almost like an operating theater scar. She's been travelling on Thomas for a couple of years now, helping protect it form bandits and going on scouting missions in exchange for access to the train's well stocked armory and a small private area she can read her dictionaries. She feels protective towards the younger people on the train, often having arguments with The Conductor over his use of the weird kid's ability to sense dead towns worth savaging along the way.

"Kyuu" is the weird kid on the train. She may only be 9 years old, but she's far from safe. She's able to do things to people's brains. She's got a weird glove thing she was given when she was even younger, and swiped an word high tech looking orb thing from The Conductor only she knows how to use. He deeply mistrusts her but has let the theft slide. For now. He needs her weird ability to reach her mind to the weird place where everything is bright again, painfully bright and death shows up as beams of light. When in this state she gets visions of towns with much needed supplies. And he can't exactly kick a kid off his train without uproar. And Petrichor has taken an interest in her well-being. He will send a scouting team out to places she points out before committing a full scavenging party.

We had a blast making the characters and the world. I may do a full write up of the first session later (a little rail repair bot even showed up at one point). Thanks for all your help.


Re: Driving trains, settlements, and rotating cast
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2016, 02:50:43 PM »
Sounds interesting! Looking forward to hearing more about it.