?Burn After Reading? an AW optional move about literacy and the Maelstrom

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Burn After Reading

When the cities burned and the seas opened up, libraries and landlines alike collapsed into the rubble. When the psychic maelstrom opened up, it flooded through the tunnels in the collective unconsciousness made by stories, songs, and recordings of the past. The stories we tell among ourselves have changed now. They had to, because now the old stories can change us.

Core AW is all about scarcity, but some scarcities are more far-teaching than others. This supplement adds optional rules to mechanically represent scarcity of information, and is very loosely inspired by Ray Bradbury?s Fahrenheit 451.

By default, all chapters in an information-scarce apocalypse are illiterate; they can recognize commonly-accepted symbols like danger signs, and maybe write their own names, but they can?t put down a meaningful sentence or follow an instruction manual without clear diagrams. You can handle the Literacy move in a number of ways. Here are 2 I just came up with.
- [ ] The player characters are lights in a maelstrom of ignorance. Literacy is added to the basic moves for all Playbooks.
- [ ] Literacy counts as a Playbook move for the following classes: Angel, Hardholder, Hocus, News (1e), Savvyhead, Solace (1e), Touchstone (1e). If your group uses advanced playbooks, Quarantine and The Landfall Marine probably start with Literacy automatically. Other characters can become literate by selecting the ?take a move from another playbook? advancement.

When you study a record from the golden age (like a book, although a database or even film archive could be appropriate) roll +Sharp. On a 10+, choose 2 from list 1. On a 7-9, choose 1 from each list. On a failure, the MC picks 2 from list 2.

List 1
- [ ] The words are burned into your mind with holy fire. You will remember this book for the rest of your life.
- [ ] Some of the knowledge recorded is still useful, even in a world where so much has changed. Pick a stat and take +1forward next time you roll it. The content of the book determines the bonus it gives - a pulp detective novel might apply its bonus to Cool, Hard, or Sharp, for example.
- [ ] You understand something important about the world before, or the way it ended. Answer a question from the Quarantine playbook. If there?s already a Quarantine in your group, get them to sign off on your answer first.
- [ ] It seems like the book was written just for you, in this exact moment. Get insight from the book. Decide what the author wants you to do and treat it as you rolled a 10+ roll on insight.

List 2
- [ ] Even as you learn something from the archive, it learns something from you. Answer questions for the MC as though you just opened your brain. Your answers are added to the book - as a forward, addendum, scribbled footnotes, or just implied by subtle changes in text and wording. Whoever reads that book knows them.
- [ ] The words seem to crawl like insects, drip blood and dissolve, or turn into unfamiliar hieroglyphs. You take Psi-harm. Make your harm move at +2 instead of the usual +1 for psi-harm.
- [ ] You?re drawn into a fascinating narrative, with characters that seem to perfectly parallel the real people you know. Unfortunately, you?re either getting duped by something in the maelstrom, or just reading way too deeply into superficial similarities. (?Wow, this Donnie Darko guy acts so much like Gritch, that creepy Brainer who lives out in the Trash Flats. I wonder if Gritch?s bunny-suit-monster acts like that.?) Take -3 from your Hx with another character, the MC gets to tell you which one. You can?t decide they?re the character you know better during the next end-of-session move, either.
- [ ] The author of this old book seemed to have some very particular ideas about how you should be living your life. The MC will tell you what they are. Until the end of the session, you?re acting under fire when you take any action that you think the book disapproves of.
- [ ] You read something so good you just have to share it with another person. Decide with your MC who would appreciate the hidden beauty or truth in the passage. When you take it to them, whether you shove the book under their nose or read aloud to them, make them roll Literacy too.

When an NPC or an illiterate PC tries to read, or someone reads to them under the effect of a failed Literacy roll, they take psi-harm. PCs roll to suffer harm at a whopping +3.


This is an idea that spilled out of my head while I was on break at work yesterday. I haven?t had a chance to playtest it yet, and I understand that Burned Over isn?t about scarcities in the same way ?core? AW is, so this may not be of any interest to people who have switched over, but I thought there was enough here that it might be worth sharing with the community.
My own self-crit of the move as-is, and things I plan to keep working on:
-This is more psychic weirdness. I?m honestly still in the process of talking my gaming group into trying AW, but I have read and heard from a non-zero number of experienced players and MCs that after a few games, they start to want less psychic weirdness, or more restrained psychic weirdness, as some players try to make narrative choices that turn the maelstrom into a vehicle for Capital-M Magic. I find science-fantasy fun, and I think this is still fairly ?grounded? in what it does and doesn?t allow, at base, but if you want your players to focus more on the real world and less on psychic stuff, you won?t like this, I don?t think.
-Lists need names other than ?list 1 and 2.? And I?d much rather have 5 options in each list.
-At the same time, I?m not sure all the options are balanced with each other, in terms of power or narrative interest. Oh wow, you get a +1 bonus on something. Uh-oh, it?s Psi-harm for possibly the 50th time. *stifles yawn* My favorite detail is personally the ?knowledge burned into your mind like holy fire? thing, but again, it might not even mean anything unless the MC also has some funky memory rules going on or something.

Thoughts and criticisms welcomed. Do people still say PEACH on these RPG forums?



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Re: ?Burn After Reading? an AW optional move about literacy and the Maelstrom
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2021, 02:43:03 PM »
This is conceptually interesting. Thinking back to some of my own games, this could have applied to some of them, but wouldn't have been at all appropriate to others. Much will depend on the nature of you game's psychic maelstrom, but that is largely impossible to know going in because it gets defined increasingly during play (unless everyone agrees to something specific in Session 0, which we've also had happen).

I feel you on the narrative interest part, it can be hard to some up with a set of choices that feel fundamentally equal without having something that is either an auto-take or super situational. I find it's easier with consequences/complications than it is with any kind of buff or boon, but that might just be my MC reflexes being more consistently tuned for coming up with engaging consequences.

Re: ?Burn After Reading? an AW optional move about literacy and the Maelstrom
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2021, 01:29:09 PM »
I like it, it really taps into the post-apocalypse misunderstanding of the pre-apocalypse. Tempted to make a culture-interpretation move for any piece of Golden Age stuff.