Help with threats and play write-up

  • 7 Replies
Help with threats and play write-up
« on: May 16, 2016, 01:14:27 PM »
Hi all.
We played of 5th session of AW and we’re living this cool moment when we realize RPG will never be the same. We actually wanted something like this, and AW made it possible. So again, thanks to Vincent, Meg and the community for offering us this.
I have some trouble to design threats, and would like to benefit from other experiences. This post will be a bit long, because I’m gonna explain the settings to show precisely on what particular details I’m having troubles. Sometimes, some answers came at me while writing the post, but I didn’t delete my questions and let it open, in case it would open some debate. While there are many external and important threats outside the PC’s holding, they are not discussed in this post, as I’m not looking to be exhaustive, but to get some advices on the process of prep.

My main concerns :

•   I'm afraid to create too many threats, and struggling with the level of agency which determines is something need to be a threat or no.
•   I’m wondering about the criterium of choice of making something a threat or just leave it in the wilds.
•   I'm struggling with the way to connect threats, be it into front or in the threat map.
•   My concern is to a fear to « complexify » too much my prep, where AW is an excellent system to avoid unneeded prep to let open some space for collective creativity, and that's why I choose it in the first time.

Here's the campaign

This is not a description of the campaign in a chronological order, but the actual state of the game by summing up all the improvised constructions during our sessions. Most of the relationship between PC and NPC has been built on the Playbook Focus from this forum.

TumTum is a Hardholder. TumTum has inherited « The Camp », a holding who seems to be an old humanitarian camp. They have strong weapons, strong defenses, unshakable discipline and a good reserve of medics. These assets makes TumTum the main Warlord of the region and the 3 other main holdings pays him tribute. Iron walls with turrets. People lives in iron containers superposed together, organized as a roman legion camp. The camp lives on the racket of the small holding of the region, very scarce hydroponic agriculture and hunting. The population is composed of a dozen families, named after the pre-apocalypse world. TumTum is from the « Brassard » clan, and has a Doctors of the World brassard at the arm. Another family is the «Fanion clan», which owns the DoW flags and is a direct rival of TumTum, and the previous chief of the Camp (before TumTum's father). We didn't design or name other families. The population is filthy but TumTum's disciplined gang is his most important asset, and holds everything together.

As suggested by the rules, I don't make any internal factions within the gangs, and don't use it as a threat to the PC. I still consider that individual members can become threats themselves, and the population has internal rivarlies that can become threats, always showing when needed how TumTum's gang's discipline put things in order to affirm his dominance.

Entretoise is a Brainer. He's a Brainer fascinated by the Psychic Maelstrom. He puked light when he was a baby and it gave him a weird and feared status in the Camp. He works for TumTum, is always near him and providing advices, but he's not a Lieutenant. The rules is that to be Lieutenant, The Hardholder affirms his dominance by having public sex with the promoted person in some kind of military ceremony. TumTum leaves always the choice (if we can speaks about choice). This ceremony is called « The Initiation ». This simples rule creates every kind of complicated relationship in the Camp, preventing some really good gangers to be promoted as they don't want to suffer humiliation. In this regard, Entretoise has a specific status. Here I'm hesitating. Some of the lieutenants could become threats to Entretoise, but not to TumTum. This rule helps to create PC-NPC-PC triangulation (even if that's not the reason it appeared, just the pushing of the fiction after a few sessions). Actually, Entretoise's goal is to « incorporate» some people he identified as « Conducts » to the Psychic Maelstrom, and he tries to identify them, thus barter to buy them and form them. Here again I'm struggling with something : Entretoise's player told me out of game that his goalis to « have little brainers », not a sect, when I advicedhim to read the Hocus playbook  and the Fortune's move, for his character improvement. I made clear that a Brainer's a PC playbook and if some weird things can happen, his followers will not be an army of little brainers. I'm stuck in this position: I'm playing « by the book »,but I don't wont to restrain creativity. What do you think about this ? This creates all kind of ingame conflicts as Entretoise litteraly keeps children from families in the camp without retribution, when TumTum gives his support.

Internal Threats : in the camp

First, the population. I should create an affliction for them, but I'm struggling with the idea. Any advices ? Inside the Camp, Parchemin is the oldest Patriarch. He's the instructor to the youngest and the memory of the camp, and has power over TumTum. He constantly opposes TumTum in public, something TumTum struggles to contradict and speaks about how his father was far better than him, how the population is now corrupted, and constantly approves and recompenses TumTum's lieutenants publicly, while opposing TumTum. I make Parchemin a Threat : he's a Grotesque (Mindfucker) who acts a bit like a Prophet but I give him the Grotesques moves, as it seems to fit better to him. During the game, other NPC appears to be important. Screw is the only ingenior of the camp, the games begins when he sabotates the Water Filtering System. He becomes some kind of slave, tortured so much he became a kind of dog, attached to a rope. I didn't decide myself if he's gonna die, but it would be great, he's the only ingenior, that would push the story forward at a moment, but not now, as I want to disclaim decision making. There are the conducts (Entretoise's followers) : Barbeduct (a mix of Barbecue and conduct, the first « conduct » identified by Entretoise), Sunshine (a little girl), and Boiled-Face, an handicaped little girl who has no connection at all with the Maelstrom, but TumTum wanted her alive and she's simply a burden in Entretoise's shoes, a stomach to fill. We also have Ammo as the leader of the hunting team, and Fisc as the leader of the scavenging team (just names).

As there is no angel, I opted for the « make a medic NPC and write him as a threat » idea. Our Medic is called Putrid, but I'm struggling about which kind of threat. I'm thinking about a Grotesque(Disease Vector) but totally arbitrary.

We have the Gang, the Doctors of the Apocalypse World, whose motto is « The World is sick and we are the doctors » (stolen from the Iron Sky movie). Inside the gang, we have Dog Head, the chief of defense, who comes from the Fanion Clan, the rival family. Mimi is the chief of security, NiceTeeth is TumTum's personal bodyguard, Repus is the leader of the sentinels, and there's nobody to lead the control of the territory's borders. A new Lieutenant has been promoted, Harpy, after TumTum has raided against the Reserve, capture everybody and looted what he can (for reasons I'll explain later, maybe).

Thus I decided to exploit this flaw and make some territory contest as a background story. I don't make any lieutenants as a threat. But here I'm questioning myself : I consider the threats as threats to PC. But we can consider threats as threats to NPC ? As the only use of 'threat' is to provide ideas and way to put the fiction in. Thus I create the whole gang as a threat : Brutes (Enforcers). I also create Harpy as a threat. She can create interpersonal rivalries inside the gang, even if there will no be deflect of  loyalty, as TumTum choosed a disciplined gang during the creation. Here, I'm hesitating about creating the other Lieutenants as threat, because I just fear it will be too much ...

As threath, we ave the Doctors of the Apocalypse World as Brute (Enforcers), The Camp as Landscape (Fortress), Harpy as Grotesque (Mutant), Parchemin as Grotesque (Prophet/Mindfucker), Putrid as Grotesque (Disease vector? Maybe ?). But if we think about it: Screw, Sunshine, Barbeduct, Harpy, Dog Head, Mimi, etc could be threat too. I have the feeling that if I do, I'm losing myself. Harpy, Barbeduct, Sunshin Boiled-Face are good examples of different cases of agency in the fiction. Let's talk about them.

Boiled-Face will no be a threat, because when we play, she doesn't develop much agency for the moment. I play her as scared, she doesn't give as much information, we don't have much interactions.

Sunshine and Barbeduct are the more reactives when we play.  Entretoise's player expects lots of agency from Barbeducts as he wants him to become a link with the Maelstrom. I gave Barbeducts a specific behaviour. He always screams that « He's not a CONDUCT !! » which he takes as an insult (because he doesn't understand what it is). He's been beaten to death, and sometimes Entretoise gives him orders that contradicts TumTum's own orders. So he opposes Entretoise and follows TumTum's, being subjected to violence everytime. He has an iron will and never suck it up. Sunshine doesn't have this kind of « specific » behaviour (and here, I don't mean Barbeduct's iron will, but a very specific behaviour that makes her special). Struggling again: should they be threats?

Screw has been a treator since the beginning, and he's paying that. He's the community slave and scapegoat. He destroyed the Walter Filter in the first session, has been brain scanned by Entretoise, has been publicly tortured, abused, slaved by TumTum but kept in life if he repairs the filter. Which he did, crying that he has done this to help family (I don't go in details). Should it be a threat? Writing it, I would say no: he's only a tool of another threat, an external one. The destruction of the filter was only a threath move with Screw used as a tool.

On the other side,  Harpy is also a focus of TumTum's player, but when we play a scene, she's not as much important, at least the way I play her (lack of creativity, but I always forget to chose a body part and build an impulse from that, still struggling with that). I feel TumTum's expectation to put her on the stage, but didn't find a way to do it properly. So she's still there, with a bit of agency, not as much as she deserves.  We also have NiceTeeths, who is always there, as a body guard,and I play him very well, giving him personnality, interactions with other NPC, supporting TumTum's. But my feeling is doesn't have the same focus that Harpy. Even if in the fiction he has far more importance (he's the body guard, Harpy has no other responsibility and owns his grade because TumTum wants her as a regular), but for the fiction, I feel Harpy has more importance (player's focus). Which one should be a threat ?  Harpy, because I need to put her on stage ? What about NiceTeeths? He's always there, but his rôle is to represent the Gang's loyalty, that's all. Note :When I ask this question, I'm asking what's the better way to design narrative devices of course, in a clear method that's helping while playing. Not to apply a proper classification to NPC that would have no pratical use when Mcing. I'm just affraid to lose myself by creating too much threats in piles ofpaperworks. Any advices?

Answering myself : While writing, I realize how the Threat Map is made to help in this. By putting threat on geographical zones, it helps to say « when the PC are there, activate theses threats and put the others in the bakground », right ? Something the fronts can't help,by design. Because to be pratical, each session has its threats activated by the action of the player: not all of them. This is very true in my case, where we play session of 2-3 hours max, only.


In summary, if I put my own thoughts in order, I would create these threats :
•   The Camp. Landscape (Fortress)
•   Doctors of the Apocalypse World. Brutes (Enforcers).
•   Parchemin. Grotesque (Prophet/Mindfucker)
•   Putrid. Grotesque (Disease vector)
•   Barbeduct. Grotesque (Pain addict)
•   Harpy. Warlord (Mutant): I give her Mutant's impulse but Warlords' moves, seems to fit. And we have so much grotesques...

Following my own discussion, my criterium to decide if a something becomes a threat is : « will it develop agency », as the book states. I'm going a little further thou, I don't developp as threat something that already has some kind of agency, but only some things that will actively build ont the agency it already developed. NiceTeehts is not a Threat according to this statement, not because his personnality is not developped in the game, but because he will not act on itself to create fictional events that the PC will have to deal with.

I have 6 threats, including 3 grotesques, isn't it too much, and repetitive? Knowing the Doctors of the Apocalypse World are TumTum's gang and will generally not act on themselves (except their interpersonal relations), and the Camp will only be useful to react to another MC threat (an attack from a rival Warlord). Which let 3 Grotesque on the spot. Some important NPC are forgotten here, as Dog Head, the Chief of Defense (which is also there very often, but I treat him as I do with NiceTeeth). Any thought on this?

Maybe it’s because I have trouble to design clockworks and custom move, and all of this make sense if I force myself to do it?

Anybody who reads this: thank you for your interest and patience!

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2016, 07:51:30 PM »
I don't know if you can have too many threats, really. I just did the first session for my new campaign last night, and I ended up with the following;

The Immediate Area
•The Waterbearer's Source, a furnace
•The people who populate the source, a family
•The Show's bike
•The Angel's assistant, a pain addict
•The Hocus's scene, sybarites
•The local drug problem, a disease

Nearby to the North
•The North Pass, a maze

Farther to the North
•Odin, a rival hardholder who demands the Source
•Asgard, Odin's fortress
•The Einherjar, Odin's army, a hunting pack

The Source, family, bike, pain addict, and scene came out of character creation. The drug problems arose due to the scene missing his Fortunes roll and being judged. He decided it was because he wasn't sharing his drugs, and the scene then went and failed to kick in the Angel's infirmiry. The child-thing wanted to run some messages, and said he'd worked for this King named Odin before. Some Chinese whispers between the Water heater, Child-thing, and Odin resulted in Odin attacking, getting held back, then embargoed.

The drug problems, pain addict, and the landscapes to the north didn't come into play, as no one went north and Odin's demands kept everyone busy.

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2016, 03:24:36 AM »

I don't have time to go into detail here, but let me summarize:

Everyone and everything is a Threat. EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. EVERY. ONE. AND. EVERY. THING.

The only choice is a) when you are going to bother figuring out what kind of Threat they are and b) whether  they are part of a Front or just on the Home Front.

But if you have bothered to give somebody a name in more than passing, they are a Threat. All these things you described are Threats, or part of Threats. They are not selectively Threatening to only one PC -- they are just Threats. To everyone. They may manifest in a way that is a bigger deal to one or another PC -- the angry mob might try to kill the Brainer first, and only later destabilize the Hardhold -- but they are ultimately a Threat to everyone.

On a) I suggest doing a run-through early on, but don't worry if you end up with a few left over where it just doesn't seem that important yet to figure them out. Then keep those ones in mind, and if they show up in more scenes you should probably decide what sort of Threat they are (hopefully the scenes themselves will help you figure it out.)

On b), you can be more selective. If you have a ton of named NPCs left and right but only a few Fronts, you may have lots of Threats in your Home Front. Only put Threats in a Front if it makes sense. And unlike Threats, you DO want to limit yourself to a smaller number of Fronts.

On the other hand, if you have some Threats that are clearly a big deal in the fiction, but aren't part of a Front -- you should think about building a Front around them, in an effort to bring their Threat-ness into focus.


The distinction between something being 'just a Threat' and something being a Threat that is part of a Front is I think maybe why you seem reluctant to call things by their proper name. Deciding what kind of Threat something or someone is doesn't mean _they are currently a huge problem_ or that _they will always be acting out their Threat moves_ -- it just means that when (not if) something goes wrong with them, this is how it is going to go wrong. Knowing what kind of Threat something is makes it easier for you to decide what happens on a Miss -- you can just look at the Threat type and go 'oh, they probably do THIS' or 'oh, maybe THIS happens'.

Something that is part of a Front, though -- that's something that is actively threatening things, or is about to be actively threatening them if the PCs don't intercede. Fronts are on the move, and their Threats are their moving parts. Threats that hang out on the Home Front are just chilling -- something specific will have to provoke them, whether it be something the PCs do directly or something that results from the activities of the Front-related Threats. But they're still THREATS, and your life will be much easier if you know what kind they are before a PC randomly decides to shoot one in the gut.

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2016, 03:28:33 AM »

Also, go read this thread:

It is fairly long but it is by far the best thing anyone has so far written about Threats and Fronts. IMO it should be pinned to the top of this forum.

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2016, 02:23:15 PM »
Seconding Daniel Wood on this one. It's worth noting, though, that this doesn't mean that every named NPC is their own threat. They can be part of a group of Brutes, or somehow involved in an Affliction. (In rare cases, they might even be part of a Landscape--note the "offer a guide" and "present a guardian" moves.) I was confused about that early on and tried to make every significant NPC into a Warlord or Grotesque, which just didn't always work--some people are followers, not leaders or loners, but they're still Threats. As long as they're in the cast list for at least one *threat, you're good.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2016, 05:37:41 PM by JustusGS »

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2016, 05:00:15 PM »
Thank you for your answers. You're right Justus, particulary useful.

@Daniel, thank you. I think I didn't totally explained my concern. First, I read the thread "Threat analysis" before my post and he actually helped me a lot. Second, the question "should it be on the homefront or a front" is not at all at concerns, it works really well with the Threat Map. My problem is very practical problem. When I'm MCing the game, during the session, I'm struggling with all the paperwork. If I have 20 threats, I have  pages of threats, and I'm not just sure I can think of them all, going through the papers, finding the right threat, etc... + dealing with the Threat Moves, etc.. I'm not saying I have trouble to organize paperwork, but it's the expression of the organization of adaptation during the scene. I can't think about 20 threats in the same time, with custom moves and clockworks. Our session lasts 3 hours. So I'm trying to see which threat to bring on the table.

In fact, I realize that maybe my problem is less with threats than moves : as I'm still discovering the game, I'm finding a way to deal with all the MC moves + threat moves, and I'm still struggling to bring them on the scene when managing the conversation in the flow of actions.

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2016, 12:43:49 AM »

Oh, okay. That's a very different thing. My advice there is: never think about 'which Threat should I use?' -- just think about what should happen next, using the other tools (Agenda, Principle, MC moves). You should think about who might show up or what might happen or where would be a cool next scene... and then you've already answered your question as to 'which Threat' because you know who is there or where it is, and now you only have one or two Threats at most to keep track of: the ones that are in the scene.

If it is literally a matter of physical organization of paperwork, I suggest one index card per Threat, with the most relevant Threat moves written on it. It should hopefully be pretty straightforward to shuffle through them and select the 1-3 ones that are relevant for the current scene. (This could be adapted to help you with MC moves in general, too: pick a few MC moves that you think that Threat is likely to use as well, and put them on the card. That puts all the likely MC moves for a scene in one place, by focusing them through the Threats.)

As for countdown clocks, my feeling is that those are basically just for Fronts, unless you have a really great idea for a Threat-based one (though even then, probably should only be Threats that are part of Fronts.) I can't imagine running a game with more than two or three countdown clocks running at once -- like one per Front, max, unless I thought of something really cool or clever, in which case I shouldn't have trouble remembering it anyways.


As to the general 'there are too many moves omg' -- MC moves are there to help you when you don't have any other ideas. Most of the time, you will just think of something to happen next and it will turn out to be very similar to an MC move --  but you don't have to think 'what MC move am I using right now.' You just need to say what happens, using Agenda and Principles. The big list of MC moves is there for when you're stuck -- either stuck in the moment, or stuck repeating the same patterns over and over.

Like, there are lots of MC moves I never think about, because they're part of my natural idea of 'things that happen in apocalypse stories' -- but there are other MC moves that I will almost never think of by myself, because they aren't part of my storytelling habits. So when I am going to MC a game, my only move-related prep is usually going to be picking ONE or MAYBE TWO of those second kind of moves -- and writing myself a reminder to try and use them this one session.

The key is not to worry about all the moves at once, the key is to prep yourself a very small sub-section of the moves for that one session. That way when you are feeling overwhelmed you just look at a list of like, five things, and pick one of those. Instead of a list of 30 things. You don't need to make every MC move in every session, after all -- just spend a little time if you can before the session starts, going over the list of MC/Threat moves, and pick out a few that seem likely to be relevant. Like, 'okay, they're going into the radioactive swamp this session, so 'Separate Them' is probably a good one' -- and then maybe one or two of the Threat moves for the swamp, based on what kind of Landscape it is, and there you go -- a really short list, that can fit on one small piece of paper. If you're not sure where a session is going to go you can prep a few of these -- and don't be afraid to overlap moves. Sometimes I'm just like 'ok, MC, your ONE GOAL this Session is gonna be to Separate Them at least once...' and then I just run the game as best I can and when I'm stuck I'm like 'oh right, Separate them!'

Re: Help with threats and play write-up
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2016, 11:22:20 AM »
Yeah thanks for these great answers, I got ideas to improve the next session now, we'll see next wednesday!