Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?

  • 9 Replies
Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« on: September 18, 2016, 04:09:50 AM »
I will be a "guest" GM for my D&D gaming group next month and the system/setting they wanted to try was *surprise!* Apocalypse World 2e.

While I do have GMing experience with other systems, this will be my first attempt running anything from the PbtA system.

My one main concern is that this will be only a one shot (well actually a two shot, as there will be one session of character and world creation). Now I've heard that AW really doesn't lend itself well to one shots. And I can believe that as it has some depth that cannot really be covered in one sitting. I would love to run this, but after some thought, I began to worry that only one game might not give the players the full AW effect.

What can I do in that session that will help my players get the best that AW offers? Is "Hatchet City" still a viable adventure, even for 2e rules in this case? What should I cut or focus on?

TLDR: Any helpful tips or advice for running a one shot AW session?

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2016, 06:34:01 PM »

The good news is that there is TONS of great advice on this. A quick google search for "apocalypse world one shot" will immediately link you to some awesome conversations. Here are a few samples I would recommend (roughly in order of length/importance): - The shortest and best place to start

The short version (TL;DR, as they say):

When you decide to run an AW one-shot...

Read the first link, above. It's solid advice.

Then choose which playbooks you feel excited to MC for, and put away the others.

Finally, choose 1:

* Put together a focused scenario yourself. (I'll give an example below...)
* Bring the "Hatchet City" scenario, possibly trimming it down for content you want to focus on.
* Tell the players: "One of you is the Operator. Who is it? Ok, the rest of you are her crew." Roll the Operator's session move, and you're ready to rock.
* Tell the players: "One of you is in charge. Who is it? Are you a Hardholder, an Operator, a Chopper, or a Hocus?" Then position players against them in different ways. "Which one of you is the thorn in her side? Which one of you is angling for their position?" Etc.
* Tell the players: "We're going to get a taste of AW, not the full experience. Things will just start getting good and we'll probably be about to stop." If they're cool with that, use the first session rules as written.

These are all discussed in the links.


The bad news is that making a successful one-shot for AW is not an easy or obvious thing. Lots have struggled with it. The game is not optimized for that. (Many have also had awesome one-shots! It's not impossible, not at all.)

* "Hatchet City" is a good scenario, but not ideal for a "one-shot". It's designed, rather, to demonstrate what a later session in a campaign feels like. It's best with lots of players, and sends them all in a million directions (there are about 22 NPCs in the scenario, for instance!). Don't expect it to wrap up or stay focused.

* The Operator is no longer supported in 2e. Also, some people have not had success with that approach (even while most seem to!).

Now, the further good news - or complication - is that you have TWO sessions! I think there's no need to spend a whole session on character creation. That's nice for a long campaign, but you should be more economical here: get to the game quickly! (So, maybe Hatchet City would be great for you after all - I don't know anyone who's played it over two sessions, but that would be a very different dynamic!)

Here's a brand new idea, from me:

If (IF!!!!) all your players have seen "Mad Max: Fury Road" (and you have, obviously, right?), tell them this:


"We're going to make our own 'Mad Max' film. It will start in a similar way, but then it's free to go in any kind of direction. OK? Imagine the first few minutes of the film - that's where we start. Big rock stronghold in the middle of the wasteland, the local overlord rules it all, and pours water out of huge floodgates onto the thirsty masses... But today, something major is about to happen here.

Now, who are you? You can be:

1. The boss. You run the place. You're in charge. Create your character as the Hardholder.


If your Wives (or even just one of them) were to go missing, who would be more furious?

* You
* Your subjects

(Mention it's possible to leave the Hardholder as an NPC, instead. The second option allows the Hardholder to be a reluctant "good guy".)

2. The Hardholder's most prized Wife. Not for long, though: you're about to escape. The other Wives, in your view, are generally weak, stupid, loyal to the Hardholder, or pregnant. But you, you're special. Choose: are you the Skinner, the Battlebabe, or the Angel?

Also tell us:

* If you had a chance to escape, would you want to take the other Wives with you, or make a go of it on your own? (You can change your mind later.)

3. You're a prisoner, a new person who doesn't belong here. No one really knows you. What's your deal? Choose the Quarantine, the Gunlugger, or the Battlebabe (for the last, only if character #2 didn't already claim that playbook).

Choose 1:

* You've just spotted the perfect opportunity for an escape. Describe it! Which other character will be able to see it?
* Another character (or one of their lieutenants) has come to rescue you or let you escape. Ask who it is, and ask them: Why are they helping you?

4. You work for the Hardholder, you're one of his lieutenants. Which are you?

* You're the Driver. You've got a big-ass truck, mighty and fast, which you know inside and out.
* You're the Brainer. There's another crony who drives a huge truck, and you've got him wrapped around your finger - you can play him like a marionette.

Now! You've stumbled on an opportunity to take something the Hardholder loves so dearly: his Wives.

Choose 1:

* You're doing it because you've had enough. You want to help, you want to improve the world, you want to rescue someone from terrible slavery.
* You're doing it because you need a bargaining chip to get what you REALLY want. What is it?

5. You're not one of the Hardholder's people - you hold your own, and you are *important* around here. Perhaps a rival warlord, or something like that. Choose if you are the Chopper, the Hocus, or the Maestro'd. Your home base is the next settlement over, not too far away, maybe in the cliffs on the horizon: another oasis in this wasteland, smaller but still lively.


* You're hanging out just outside the Hardhold, with your people, ready for action.
* You're an honoured guest at the Hardhold, enjoying the Hardholder's finest.


* Choose one of characters 2, 3, or 4. You feel that they *owe you*... or that they are owed *to you*. Either way, you're not leaving until you get your hands on them, or some compensation. Which character is it, and why?

Now, if the Hardholder is a PC, ask them:

* What do you depend on me for? What would happen to your Hardhold without my help?

If not, tell the MC to ask you the same:

* What does the Hardhold depend on you for? What would happen to the people here without your help?


(MC: Think about this and create it as a Threat. Later, if the game flags, bring it into play.)


To start the game:

1. For the prisoners with valuable gear: ask them where it is, and how hard (or how easy) it would be to get their hands on it. Accept their answer! You're trying to find an excuse to give it to them, not keep it away. Tell them it's an option to just "find it" or steal it - it's not actually theirs just yet - and that, in this case, you'll contrive an opportunity for that shortly.

The first scene:

* Find out who's helping the Wife escape. Ask them what the situation is like, and why they don't have much time. What's the immediate danger?

Ask the players (any of them!) lots of questions about this; find out what the circumstances of the escape are.

Frame the first scene right as it's happening! Maybe the Driver is busting open the door to the Wives' quarters, with some of the Hardholder's hit squad just moments away; something active and juicy like that.

Your Mad Max movie starts now...
« Last Edit: September 18, 2016, 06:43:08 PM by Paul T. »

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2016, 12:40:07 AM »
(Meguey Baker also has a really neat, fast and furious take on doing a one-shot. I hope she will chime in here!)

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2016, 02:54:47 PM »
Thank you for the incredible feedback... with bonus adventure included!!!

I did previously search AW one shots (apologies for not mentioning that earlier). I recognize a few of the links you provided. However I think due to self-doubt, I didn’t feel they were as applicable or up-to-date as I had wanted. Asking the question here—where apocalyptica barfs forth!—would surely bring me the fresh answers I seek! But I see that I was being stubborn. With your recommendation I will revisit these links and pay them a little more attention.

My original plan was to sit with the players, create the characters and the world they wanted in the 1st session. And then take what they have given me, write a few love letters and pare all that down to an action scene or two. How hard could that be, right?

But then I read other people’s experiences with one shots and AW sessions in general. I began to realize that my plan might not be ideal. I grew concerned and even said so to my friends. But they just responded with: “Relax. It will be fine. We’ll figure things out.”

My new plan is to really hit home to the players that this ain’t <insert traditional tabletop RPG>. If they really want to be involved with creating their characters and their world, we are going to need more than one session. Otherwise, we will be doing a premade one shot.

If that still doesn’t work for them, then I will suggest a PbtA title that is better suited for one shots (Dungeon World, perhaps).

All that being said, thank you again, Paul, for the pointers! This is giving me more confidence in my approach to all this. I will look into “Hatchet World” again. But I also really dig your Fury Road-inspired adventure! We have all seen that movie. And that might really help embolden the less experienced players.


PS - I would really be interested in hearing Meguey's take on a one-shot as well.

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2016, 09:02:36 PM »
In summation:
"Did you see Mad Max: Fury Road? Did you like it? Ok, it's kinda like that; you play the badass heroes, you do amazingly cool stuff, sometimes things go terribly wrong. Here's the playbooks you can choose from" [places playbooks I want in the game on the table]
They start sifting through playbooks, I watch the players. Who came to the table together? Who lets on they know the game? Who is totally new?

Once someone grabs the Gunlugger, I say "what's you name? Ok, Keeler, tell me a about yourself. Everyone, see the looks and such on your character sheet? Which are you, Keeler? Ok, cool. What weapons do you have? Cool So you know those old water towers? Dremmer's got you tied to a chair up in the bowl of one, and he's pacing back and forth in front of you, whacking a length of chain against his leg. He's sweating and looks really nervous. What did you do to piss off Dremmer so bad he wants to maybe kill you?

While you're thinking about that, which of you grabbed the chopper? Cool, tell me a bit about yourself? Cool. One of your gang, Jackbite, comes screaming in and runs over to you shouting that Keeler's in Dremmer's Tower and it doesn't look good from what they could see from the lookout. What's your Hx with Keeler?

Ok, Keeler, what did you do to piss of Dremmer and get him so scared he's got you tied to a chair? Ok cool. Now you probably want to read a person here - check out these basic moves. [Let them roll, follow up the roll, make sure everyone sees how the dice work.]

Inter-cut fiction with character creation, make sure you are bringing everyone along at roughly the same pace, don't spend more that a couple minutes with any one PC in isolation, get them together in the same location even if it's inside and just outside the water tower, so their actions have effect on each other. Ask questions , sure, but follow their lead like crazy as well. If one of them throws down a Brainer with a violation glove, I am for damn sure going to give them a chance to use it! if they need a second, I give it to them, and once I've got everyone's names, I lean back and recap and make sure everyone is clear on who is where before diving back in.

That is literally it. No further prep for a one-shot than "Dremmer has a PC tied to a chair in a water tower*, the other PCs know about it, go" Start in media res, follow the fiction, ask questions, barf forth apocalyptica: "Ok, so outside there's like this scrubby little stand of pine trees and couple rocks, enough for some cover and some high ground, and across the way there's Dremmer's gang (small gang rules apply) and two-three beat up pickup trucks, one's fitted with a gun turret. You might want to read a sitch there, Chopper PC."

For an example, listen to episode one of +1 Forward:

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2016, 10:14:56 PM »
Good lord. Brilliant! Thank you for chiming in!

...And thanks for connecting me to +1 Forward.

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2016, 01:45:01 PM »
Wonderful! And with a recorded example.

Thanks, Meg!

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2016, 04:26:33 PM »
I had a chance to listen to the podcast and the recorded example...

Unfortunately, while it's a good example of what it's like to be stuck in a water tower, for me that's not the challenging part of throwing together a one-shot this way.

It gives a good starting situation, but what do we do once the situation is played out? Are there any techniques or principles for spinning the starting scene into a full session's worth of material? What are the potential roadblocks or challenges?

For instance, it strikes me as a important to include some kind of "lifeline" to a larger situation or problem inherent in the "water tower" scene. If someone can show up and kill everyone present... and that resolves the entirely of the situation, well, you're back to square one if you wish to continue the action (unless the PCs go at one another, of course - that's one solution to a lot of these issues).

I could see building a situation out of a series of provocative questions/prompts, even absent specific prep. (e.g. "Who's the one person who *should* have been with Dustwitch's gang, but is conspicuously absent today?")



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Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2016, 12:33:36 PM »
I have an idea on an improvement to the water tower based off Paul's criticisms. This is intended for three players, but it works for four or more if you double up on the roles.

You let people pick their playbooks, maybe their stats. Then you spring the situation on them and let them pick their moves as the game develops.

Pick a random player and tell them that they're tied up with jumper cables to the antenna on top of a radio tower, shaking in the howling wind like a skeleton tree.
Tell another player that they're interrogating them, and that Bluenote on the other end of a CB radio says 'Ask about Doghead's stash. Don't take no for an answer, we're running out of time."
Then tell the last player that they're approaching the radio tower. Panky, Tee-shot, and Driller are guarding the gate to the chain link fence that surrounds it. At the top, you're damn sure Bluenote's up there, and nothing's gonna stop you from getting a word in with that asshole.

Spice this up with some obvious and provoactive questions (How'd you get captured, how rough do you wanna get when you're interrogating, who the fuck is Bluenote and why do you wanna talk to him, what's up with Doghead's stash) and see where the hell this goes.
No need to do 'a day in the life': this is a one-shot so move as fast as possible into a crazy situation.
Remember to let your players develop and mess around with it: for instance, if the interrogator wants to free the captive, that's awesome because that adds in more conflict.

What do you guys think? I think I'll try this with my next game, I'll let you guys know how it goes.

Re: Any advice/tips/feedback for running an AW one shot?
« Reply #9 on: October 15, 2016, 12:27:40 PM »
That sounds interesting to me! Let us know how it goes.

I like how the Hx questions can throw some wrenches into the flow, could be fruitful for creative minds. (e.g. "This person saved your life, once. Why do you have them tied to a chair, now?")