2nd session woes - an observation

  • 7 Replies
2nd session woes - an observation
« on: January 13, 2017, 05:20:58 AM »
So, we've had quite a few decent Apocalypsw World campaigns, and quite often the first sessions sings beautifully, but the 2nd session is often really bad. It's turtling in every sense of the world, from both MC and often the Players; new NPCs are stale and the characters often get to roll less. I myself fumble alot when MCing the 2nd session.

Is this something common to Apocalypse World? (..or even the -PbtA  RPG engine?)

Some thoughts:

Is the reason a bad grasping of the threath clocks? I think I often try to involve them after making them between the first and second session, but in the first session things flow because I just make a judgement en passant and I think cooler things happen. Maybe I'm shoehorning in my threaths?

Also I think my threath clocks are wrong*. I think I just announce future badness in the 3 o'clock-segment. Something should happen. Something immideate and threathening.

Is is just that Apocalypse World demands a lot from it's MCs? Incorporating into the fiction, learning about the characters, springing forward with named, human NPCs, thinking off screen (mechanical and fictional), caring about versimilitude, being a fan of the characters and being a fan of the players' enjoyment**, saying relevant things, finding perfect break spots (while the players really enjoy the flow), understanding the Psychic Maelstrom and being sure everyone gets a say while validating different playbooks input, understanding just that playbook that doesn't tickle your fancy, ... etc, etc

Do anyone have similar observations, or thought on our observation (and musings)?

*Maybe threath clocks could be a topic for another thread
** another thing I've been thinking of. Different players seem to have different wishes (/preferred enjoyment)

Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2017, 05:44:21 AM »
A few things:

1) First sessions ride the excitement of character creation and introduction.
2) Once that excitement wears off people need motivation, not all the playbooks come with that as standard equipment. Therefore it might take longer for them to figure out what it is they are after.
3) Because you now have a bunch of threats, you may be presenting too many of them too timidly. Later on things will ramp up until they have to do something right the fuck now, but initially that isn't there. Having a long list of things to get done someday is not as motivating as one thing you need to do before it turns ugly.
4) Players are starting to worry about jingle. They know if they don't do a job, no one will be able to pay up come session 3. Thus you have most of your players going in different directions which are mostly uninteresting.

Not sure if any of these will be true for your group, but some food for thought none the less.

Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2017, 10:09:01 AM »
Thank you, ZombieAcePilot, this is very insightfull (and helpful).

Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2017, 03:33:03 PM »
For me, as both a player and MC, one of the main tensions in the 2nd Session is always between wanting to continue to create and establish setting and wanting to start actually finding out what happens next. Players have different preferences -- in terms of how much to establish, etc. -- but also often had greater or fewer opportunities in the First Session to actually say/establish/speculate about all the things they wanted to get on the table or into the game. So sometimes one player is like 'ok, I know everything about my guy, let's go' but another is like 'I didn't even get a chance to Open my Brain last session, and I have all this stuff I want to say about how the Maelstrom fits into my character' and then the MC has usually either not had time to prep or has built like six Fronts and wants them all to start moving at once.

My own preferences, and to a lesser degree the preferences of my group, tend to lean very heavily towards establishing a lot of stuff -- and folding that into new conflicts and new happenings can be challenging, because those new things might be fucking up the very things the players were excited to keep building around. But ultimately, this desire to remain in setting/building-mode is destructive to the game, because what usually happens is you are just piling in more Status Quo when you should be rushing towards the crazy new future. So I feel like the trick is to provide players with opportunity to contribute new settings things specifically in contexts where they are disruptive to what we know so far -- new information that makes things harder or more fucked up or less static.



  • 415
Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2017, 01:26:56 AM »
... I don't know that I can be of much help here. I've only had trouble running a second session when the player dynamic implodes during the first one. We basically just picked up from where we left off and keep going. To really answer you question, I will need a lot more information about why things stall, what you setup, how the players were motivated... Its a very complicated question to answer blindly.

I guess for me the simple truth of the matter is that once we establish the world, I tend to push them into something urgent, a single thing that is dominating their threat radar. It's the process of exploring that thing that helps develop the rest of it. To turtle, something seems to have gone wrong.
1. They have too much to risk doing anything but protect it.
2. They have too many threats and don't know what to do.
3. They have become aimless because you all haven't been presented with a narrative to grab on to and shape yet. 

In general, I find there are way to many ways of successfully going about this to say there is any sure fire advice. Are these experienced players? Are they used to other systems? Have you asked them what they're struggling with? Have you announced badness?

AW is a movie, can be slow or fast, but it's up to you as the MC to pull everyone together and make them feel like something is happening. If your group are action fans, make something explode!  If your group are chess-players, make something change politically, maybe someone died that wasn't suppose to, or something broke that no one assumed would ever fail them. If they like the personal drama, then strike up relationships, people that need them, people they need (This is what I call personalization, and I tend to focus here whenever there is a pause in tempo). 

Watch a movie. See how the camera moves? That's what you're doing as the MC. If its always pointing at something bland, or waiting for the people on the scene to do something interesting and catch it... well, sometimes you gotta pan to what they need to be looking out or something they should see.



I dont do second session prep. first session is the same as second session for me. I just keep pushing, we keep learning, and together we normally find out whats going on.

Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2017, 07:40:25 AM »
Thanks, Ebok. This was actually a general question, since there's two of us (we've both played a lot together, but also with other groups) who've noticed that the 2nd session usually don't sing that well.

(excuse the idiom, when something sings it's describes when everything falls into place, engages/entertains and has exxcellent flow)

In this case the player's really said it wasn't that bad, but I (as MC) did bad calls and I think especially I was to timid in presenting the threats. (I've now gathered that 3 o'clock should be something serious (someone get's shot/the generator breaks down/someone get's ill/bugs appear on the crops/etc, ...and not simple an announce future badness, that should be for telling there's a threath.

Quote from: Ebok

I dont do second session prep. first session is the same as second session for me. I just keep pushing, we keep learning, and together we normally find out whats going on.

This is quite possible really good advice, and I will need to test it out, as in there's often something limiting the first session. (Now we had telephone-interupptions, but it could be ... stressed from work (and late), communal dinner dragging out, the old "it's been ages since we've met: how are everyone?" or just "there's too many choices", "what playbooks should we take?", "do you remember when?" ...

I do recall on campaign where uncertain fronts made for uncertain MCing on my part, but... extending the first session and not caring whether there's threats that should be announced could be great solution.

Thanks everyone, I find it interesting too contemplate rpg-craft. Improvement in RPGs often means improvement in other fields in life as well.



  • 415
Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2017, 11:19:22 AM »
In that case I can probably expand a bit more.

My overall advice to anyone struggling with flow is to restate that AW is a Movie. Not the kind of movie where everyone is on the director/staff/actors, but the kind you all go and sit down to watch together. Cinematic flow is a narrative style, the escalation, the tension, the drama. I suppose it might be hard to picture the game around a table on the big screen, but if you manage it--maybe it'll provide a great deal of inspiration, description, and in some cases it can add in an addictive enthusiasm to the group.

This has a number of truths, first is that the movie doesn't last months. AW isn't 1 movie, it is a series. Rather then thinking in episodes however, you think in scenes. This brings me to my next point.
I've now gathered that 3 o'clock should be something serious
If we've talking threat clocks, yeah. I don't use them, or rather, I use them when things start to get out of hand or pats of the fiction seem to be getting left behind. They're more of a mental exercises and not something I'd actually use. Just writing them out correctly is often enough to tell you what it is, and you can push that when the tempo calls for it, and manipulate it on the fly to fit cohesively. This is why I brought up scenes.

The threat clock for me is the fundamental of the scene. The next conflict. The seed starter, or a bit of emotive description to prompt my barfing forth more apocalypse. The reason I don't really do this in live time, is often just the process of writing it down can lock it into what maybe it isn't. You've got to have watch a movie that surprised you when it veered off from what you were expecting right?  Same deal. I do flesh out the NPCs though, ask myself who are they and what do they want, if only to inject some smaller details to make them seem more real.

Basically, to sum up. Dont use any prep that gets in your way. You should know what gets in your way better then anyone else. I think the threat clocks exist to do two things. 1) To keep reminding ourselves what the threats are/ prevent tangental things from losing focus, 2) Make sure something is always happening.

Re: 2nd session woes - an observation
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2017, 12:12:21 PM »
I agree that it's possible the "threat clocks" are holding you back. Like Ebok says, the importance of immediate conflict in the story comes first (i.e. keeping making MC moves, and if the game stagnates, make harder ones) - the clocks are just a way to track background information in a simple way.

Your job as MC:

* Make their lives interesting.

The job of countdown clocks:

* To remind you that there's something in the background you should bring up again later.

Don't let countdown clocks *keep you* from introducing interesting fiction. (It sounds like maybe you're holding back interesting threats because "the clock isn't marked far enough just yet".) "Making their lives interesting" is more important.

Also, don't be afraid to keep asking questions, like in the first session. Do this to figure out where a PC's situation is unstable and push there - either provide more destabilizing trouble, or give opportunities to change things. This will create motion in the characters' lives, sometimes reactionary and sometimes character-driven.

This is just a guess, though! For better guesses, you'd have to tell us more about your game.