The Basics

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 1: The basics

Apocalypse World is a weird game.

I don't mean weird in a silly way, or in an uncomfortable "Chris Fields" kinda way.

I mean it's weird in that it's a pretty freeform story game built almost entirely out of parts of tradtional-style games.

There are classes. There's a very specific list of things the players and GM can do, and the rules for anything outside those things boils down to "roleplay it". But at the same time, the setting is a blank slate to be defined by the players and GM. The players have a ton of narrative control. It uses new terminology for old things.

Yeah, I'm not explaining this well. But that's because Apocalypse World is a really hard game to explain. It practically goes out of its way to be hard to define, but somehow manages to keep things really clear where it matters. It walks a tightrope of narrative mechancics and hardcoded die rolling.

I'll say this about Apocalypse World: the last time a game opened my mind up to the possibilities it presented, I was reading Unknown Armies. That should tell you something.

Or maybe not. Maybe I'm trying to nail smoke to the wall in trying to sum up Apocalypse World in a witty line or single paragraph.

Maybe Vince can help me out here.

Vincent Baker, AW p.11 posted:

You probably know this already: roleplaying is a conversation. You and the other players go back and forth, talking about these fictional characters in their fictional circumstances doing whatever it is that they do. Like any conversation, you take turns, but it’s not like taking turns, right? Sometimes you talk over each other, interrupt, build on each others’ ideas, monopolize. All fine.

All these rules do is mediate the conversation. They kick in when someone says some particular things, and they impose constraints on what everyone should say after. Makes sense, right?

You know, I never thought about it that way before, but he's right. The rules are there to keep the six-way coversation on the rails. It's such an interesting idea, he build a game or two around it. One of them is Apocalypse World.

So let's start reading Apocalypse World. And when I say that, I mean you and me. You're going to be able to read this along with me.

Go grab this PDF from the official AW site . It's the character playbooks and some other documents I'm going to be refering to thought this review. Don't worry, Vince put this file out as the "free preview" for the game, and it'll help you understand what I'm talking about if you read along.

The book starts with the basics, and the basics start with this:


Nobody remembers how or why. Maybe nobody ever knew. ?e oldest living survivors have childhood memories of it: cities burning, society in chaos then collapse, families set to panicked flight, the weird nights when the smoldering sky made midnight into a blood-colored half-day.

Now the world is not what it was. Look around you: evidently, certainly, not what it was. But also close your eyes, open your brain: something is wrong. At the limits of perception, something howling, everpresent, full of hate and terror. From this, the world’s psychic maelstrom, we none of us have shelter.

That's the introduction to the setting. In fact, that's pretty much the entirity of the "official" setting. Starting out, there are only two established facts about the world:
1. The apocaylpse happened about 50 years ago.
2. There is a psycic maelstrom affecting the whole world.

So what was the apocalypse? What's the deal with the psycic maelstrom? That's for the GM and players to decide. But that comes later. Right now, we're going to talk about the characters.

Apocalypse World is, like I said before, a class-based game. Each "class" has its own set of abilities (called "moves") and focus. There are 11 "official" classes, and they're summarized for us in this section.

The Angel is the doctor, the healer, the combat medic. Whatever he is, you can't live without one. At least, not for very long.
The Battlebabe is dangerously sexy, death on two sexy legs or with washboard abs.
The Brainer is tuned into the world's psycic maelstrom and can use it to get into people's heads. Of course, the maelstrom can use him right back.
The Chopper leads a gang of bikers across the roads of what's left of the world. That leadership might balance on a knife's edge, but that's part of the appeal, isn't it?
The Driver is the guy with the wheels. If you need to get something from point A to point B, this is the man you talk to to make it happen.
The Gunlugger is the walking artillery. She's got a half dozen guns at the worst of times and she knows how to fucking use them. So don't fuck with her.
The Hardholder is the guy in charge of a settlement. His power may only exists up to the walls of a compound and is only held by force of will and a few nutjobs with crowbars, but he's still the leader.
The Hocus is the cult leader, the priest, the believer. Given that the world ended and all, a lot of people take that as proof God ain't up here. Doesn't stop people from believing, though.
The Operator does a little of this, a little of that. A jack of all trades, they've always got something they can fall back on. Or too much going on to juggle, maybe. It's a fine line.
The Savvyhead is that weird dude who just... gets machines. He knows how they work, what they need to get up and running again, and is the only thing keeping the water filtration system working.
The Skinner is the last beautiful thing in an ugly world. Maybe he has the last guitar in a thousand miles, maybe he's just good in the sack. Either way, he has something to take your mind off your troubles.

So now we know what our options are, it's time to talk about how we get set up.

AW is designed to work with 3-5 players and a "Master of Ceremonies". Each player picks one playbook for their character. It's worth noting too that duplicates are not allowed. There's only one Angel, only one Hardholder, only one Savvyhead. The GM gets a few worksheets too; there's one for organizing the first session (which is important) and a few for setting up Fronts, which are the overarcing threats.

That's great and all, but how does this game actually work ? Well, for that, we have to talk about moves and dice .

Apocalypse World uses 2d6. When you want to see if you succeed at something, you roll 2d6 and add one of your stats. You see this all over the playbooks; it's written as "roll +cool" or "roll +sharp". The only time you roll, though, is when you do a move .

There are a set of "basic moves" that are shared by everyone, and each playbook has character-specific ones. The only time you roll dice is when you're doing one of these moves, and every time you make a move, you have to roll the dice.

In other words: to do it, do it . If you want to roll dice you have to perform one of your moves, and if you do anything that counts as a move you have to roll for it.

It's important to point out that to do it, do it means that the player just can't say "I use the 'go aggro' move on Nine-Toes" or "I manipulate him". If you want to do it, you have to do it, and the MC is pretty much required to ask the magic question: "Okay, so what do you do?" Moves aren't meant to be a crutch or shorthand; they're the mechanical representations of what your character is capable of.

So we have a move we want to use. It tells us what to add to the 2d6 roll (say, +sharp). When you roll, a result of 6 or less is a miss, and you fucked up. A roll of 7-9 is a hit, and you did what you wanted but maybe with a troublesome rider or two. A 10+ is a strong hit and that's the point where you did pretty damn good.

Each move lists what happens on a miss, a hit, and a strong hit. For example, here's one of the Gunlugger's moves:


Fuck this shit : name your escape route and roll+hard. On a 10+, sweet, you’re gone. On a 7–9, you can go or stay, but if you go it costs you: leave something behind, or take something with you, the MC will tell you what. On a miss, you’re caught vulnerable, half in and half out.

Some moves require the player to pick options off a list depending on how well they rolled.


When you try to seize something by force , or to secure your hold on something, roll+hard. On a hit, choose options. On a 10+, choose 3. On a 7–9, choose 2:
• you take definite hold of it
• you suffer little harm
• you inflict terrible harm
• you impress, dismay or frighten your enemy

Sometimes you'll see something like "take +1 forward" or "take -1 ongoing" or "hold 3". A "forward" modifer applies to your next roll, and "ongoing" sticks around until a certain condition happens. When you're "holding", you can spend your hold to make certain effects happen depending on the move.

Let's just get this out of the way now: each character has a special move that happens when they have sex. But , and it's important to understand this, these moves do not talk about what happens while your character is having sex; it's not a case of not "roll +hot, on a 10+ your partner has the best orgasm ever", which is what a lot of people think it is when they first hear about the sex moves.

No, it's about what happens afterwards and how it affects both your character and your relationship with the person he had sex with. Sex moves cover that scene where the two characters are laying in bed after a night of passion, and one looks to the other and asks, "so, uh...what now? With us, I mean."

Yes, Apocalypse World deals with sex in a pretty mature manner. I know it can be hard to believe given some of the other shit we've seen in this thread, but there you go.

But let's leave that topic for now and talk about your stats. Everyone has five stats, each rated from -3 to +3:

Cool is how in-control you are in bad situations.
Hard is how violent you are, both physically and emotionally.
Hot is, well, how hot you are.
Sharp is how on the ball you are.
Weird measures how tuned in you are to the psychic maelstrom, and how lucky you are.

When you make your character, one other player gets to highlight one of your stats, and the MC highlights another. I'll get to what that means in a bit.

Each character also has a History stat (abbriviated "Hx") with every other character. In this case, the stat reflects how well you know the other character, not how much you like them. Shit, you probably know more about your enemies than your friends, if you think about it.

Each character gets some gear, and possiibly some followers or a gang. Everything that's considered your crap has a few descriptors. For instance, a magnum has the descriptors "3-harm close reload loud". For the most part, descriptors are used by the MC or players to describe what happens when you use the thing.

Characters in Apocalypse World don't have hit points. They have countdown clocks. Your countdown clock looks like, well, a clock. It's divided into quarters at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00; and the section between 9:00 and 12:00 is split by the hour. Every time you take harm, you mark off that many sections. Anything before 6:00 isn't too bad and will heal on its own. Anything after 9:00 gets worse if you don't do something about it, and if it's after midnight...well...

Even though AW uses classes, there aren't any levels. Instead, you accumulate experience by doing three things: using a highlighted stat, increasing your Hx with someone to +4 or -4, or when a move tells you to. When you accululate 5 experience, you get an advance; a stat increase, another move, whatever. If you live long enough to advance five times, you get some extra options.

That's a lot of high-level info I just fired off at you folks, and I'm willing to bet about half of it doesn't make any fucking sense. That's okay, we'll break it all down for you later. That being said, I bet a bunch of you are still asking "why in the fuck would I play this?"


One: Because the characters are fucking hot.

Two: Because hot as they are, the characters are best and hottest when you put them together. Lovers, rivals, friends, enemies, blood and sex — that’s the good shit.

Three: Because the characters are together against a horrific world. They’re carving out their little space of hope and freedom in the filth and violence, and they’re trying to hold onto it. Do they have it in them? What are they going to have to do to hold it together? Are they prepared, tough enough, strong enough and willing?

Four: Because they’re together, sure, but they’re desperate and they’re under a lot of pressure. If there’s not enough to go around (and is there ever?), who’ll stick together and who’ll turn on whom? Who do you trust, and who should you trust, and what if you get it wrong?

Five: Because there’s something really wrong with the world, and I don’t know what it is. The world wasn’t always like this, blasted and brutal. ?ere wasn’t always a psychic maelstrom howling just out of your perception, waiting for you to open your brain so that it can rush in. Who fucked the world up, and how? Is there a way back? A way forward? If anybody’s going to ever find out, it’s you and your characters.

That’s why.

Works for me.

NEXT TIME : Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Limited-Edition Playbooks

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

Lemon Curdistan posted:

AW also has one of the coolest "classes" ever, with one of the coolest moves ever:

I don't know what class that's from, but it ain't the Hardholder.

e: Found it. It's the Touchstone, one of the Limited Edition playbooks.

So I might as well say... LET'S READ APOCALYPSE WORLD

Part 1.5 - Limited Edition Playbooks

Being a class-based game, you'd expect Apocalypse World to have a bunch of supplements detailing new classes and abilities. And you'd bee half-right.

There is a section on how to make a playbook and new moves, but I'll talk about that when we get there. There are quite a few player-made playbooks on the official forums, but as for "official" expanstions, there's the Limited Edition playbooks.

The LE Playbooks is a collection of six new playbooks:
The Touchstone is a person with a vision of a better world, and the drive to try and bring it about come hell or high water.
The Quarantine just woke up. Sequestered deep within a forgotten laboratory are suspended animation capsules, and this poor bastard's capsule just opened up.
The Maestro D' owns an establishment. It can be a bar, a market, a nightclub, or a whorehouse; whatever it is it's the place where everything happens.
The Faceless wears his mask as his true face; he has no identity but violence.
The Hoarder owns and maintains a stockpile of...something. Technology, weapons, food, shiny objects, whatever. Hey, better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, right?
The Marmot is a marmot. No, really, it's a marmot .

These playbooks were made available for a limited time for various reasons; some were made by Vince as backer rewards for Kickstarters, and Vince gives The Faceless to people who buy or play AW at conventions.

While normally I'd be upset at the idea of a "collectible" RPG or needed rules given later, the LE playbooks aren't like that. They're not filling necessary gaps in the original book or a kind of "we had to cut this content". They're bonuses, stuff that you don't need to play the game, but is nice to have.

In addition, Vince encourages people to trade playbooks. He wants them out there. It creates an interesting sub-community for the game and helps spread the word about it.

That being said, since everyone here doesn't have terrible fucking opinions about RPGs, here's all six LE Playbooks . I'll share a few more as the review goes on.

The Characters

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 2: The characters

So let's look at the different characters we have to chose from. Grab a copy of the playbooks and read along.

First up is The Angel . Angels are the ones who know how to put your sorry ass back together when you get the shit kicked out of you. Their main stat is Sharp, and their moves are all about dealing with Harm.

Every Angel character gets an "angel kit". This is your collection of needles, scalpels, bandages and whatnot that you need to patch people up. Your kit has a special stat called "stock". You can use the kit to stabalize someone who's past 9:00 on harm, to speed the recovery of someone who's at 6:00 or better, or to try and revive someone who's dead at 12:00. When you do this, you roll +stock spent (you can spend between 0 and 3). You kinda want to roll high.


To use it to stabilize and heal someone at 9:00 or past: roll+stock spent. On a hit, they will stabilize and heal to 6:00, but the MC will choose 1 (on a 10+) or 2 (on a 7–9):
• they need to be physically stabilized before you can move them.
• even narcostabbed, they fight you; you’re acting under fire.
• they’ll be in and out of consciousness for 24 hours.
• stabilizing them eats up your stock; spend 1-stock more.
• they’ll be bedridden, out of action, for at least a week.
• they’ll need constant monitoring and care for 36 hours.

On a miss, they take 1-harm instead.

Refilling your stock costs cash, so make sure you charge for the service. Clean needles ain't cheap nowadays.

In addition, Angels have moves where they get 1-armor when treating someone in the middle of a firefight, gain access to an infirmary, or can even "lay on hands" if they're willing to open their minds to the world's psychic maelstrom.

Their sex move is that their relationship immediately goes to +3 with the person they have sex with, and the other person gets +1 with your character.

Next up we have The Battlebabe , who are one of the two combat-focused playbooks. Battlebabes are all about the Cool; they even have access to a move that lets them substitute their Cool for their Hot when trying to kill someone (or use their Hx instead if they're trying to fuck up a PC). They can also just get a flat +1harm to everything, have better armor the less they're wearing, or do this:


Visions of death: when you go into battle, roll+weird. On a 10+, name one person who’ll die and one who’ll live. On a 7–9, name one person who’ll die OR one person who’ll live. Don’t name a player’s character; name NPCs only. The MC will make your vision come true, if it’s even remotely possible. On a miss, you foresee your own death, and accordingly take -1 throughout the battle.

Battlebabes start with two custom weapons, which can be either firearms or hand weapons. To build these, you start by picking a base like handgun (2-harm close reload loud) or chain (1-harm hand area). Then you choose two options to stick on it, such as ornate (+valuable), ap ammo (+ap), spikes (+1harm), or hidden (+infinite).

(Oh, those words like "loud" or "hand" or "valuable"? Those are descriptive tags . Damn near every piece of gear has them, and they're used as keywords that the MC and players can use to determine an item's properties. Some have rules tied to them, some don't. We'll talk about them in a few chapters' time.)

Their sex move is unique; they actually cancel out the other person's sex move. Battlebabes don't make love. They just fuck.

From the battlebabe we move on to The Brainer . Brainers are the folks who're connected somehow to the world's psychic maelstrom. Unsurprisingly, their main stat is Weird. They have moves that let them use their Weird stat for moves that normally wouldn't allow it, can control people's minds, and can perform a deep brain scan if they have enough time.


Deep brain scan: when you have time and physical intimacy with someone — mutual intimacy like holding them in your arms, or 1-sided intimacy like they’re restrained to a table — you can read them more deeply than normal. Roll+weird. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. While you’re reading them, spend your hold to ask their player questions, 1 for 1:
• what was your character’s lowest moment?
• for what does your character crave forgiveness, and of whom?
• what are your character’s secret pains?
• in what ways are your character’s mind and soul vulnerable?

On a miss, you inflict 1-harm (ap) upon your subject, to no benefit

Brainers start the game with two pieces of brainer gear. You could take a brain relay (if someone sees the relay, it's like they see you), or deep ear plugs (protects from all brainer moves), or even a violation glove (for the purposes of brainer moves, skin contact counts as time and intimancy).

Just watch out for these guys once you get to know them; when a brainer has sex with someone, they do a free deep brain scan, even if they don't have the move. The catch is that the MC gets to pick the questions asked, not the player.

The Chopper is next in line. The chopper is the guy who has his own motorcycle gang. And if you're going to be in charge of a gang, you're pretty much going to have to be Hard. Unlike the other playbooks, choppers don't get to pick from a selection of moves; they all start with the moves "Pack alpha" and "Fucking thieves".


Pack alpha: when you try to impose your will on your gang, roll+hard. On a 10+, all 3. On a 7–9, choose 1:
• they do what you want
• they don’t fight back over it
• you don’t have to make an example of one of them

On a miss, someone in your gang makes a dedicated bid to replace you for alpha.

You do get to customize your bike and your gang, though. For your bike, you pick 1 or 2 strengths, 1 look, and 1 weakness from a few lists.

Your gang starts out small; 15 violent fuckers with scavenged gear, bikes, and no fucking discipline (2-harm gang small savage 1-armor). You get to pick two upgrades like "your gang consists of 30 or so violent bastards. Medium instead of small." or "your gang’s well-disciplined. Drop savage." or even "your gang’s self-sufficient, able to provide for itself by raiding and scavenging. It gets +rich.". But then you need to pick a weakness: something like "your gang’s bikes are in bad shape and need constant attention. Vulnerable: breakdown." or "your gang is filthy and unwell. Vulnerable: disease.".

Anyone you sleep with has their Hx with you set to +3, and they get to pick if you get +1Hx or -1Hx with them.

Not too far removed from the chopper is The Driver . He's the wheelman, the transporter, the guy with the wheels; they need to be pretty Sharp by necessity.

The driver's stats are a little lower than everyone else's (most characters have their main stat at +3, the driver has it at +2), but they make up with it with their required move "A no shit driver", which lets you add your car's power to any basic move you pull off if you're in your car. You then pick one other move, such has having two extra cars, getting +1armor for taking a stupid risk, or having a fucking tank.

No, really. You can start with a tank.


My other car is a tank: you get an additional car. Give it mounted machine guns (3-harm close/far area messy) or grenade launchers (4-harm close area messy) and +1armor.

Just for comparison's sake, 4-harm is the equivalent of getting hit by a mack truck, and the tank can potentially have 3-armor, which means that all incoming harm is reduced by 3. Period.

Anyway, the way you design your car is that you pick a frame; limo, 4x4, compact, whatever. Then choose one of the provided four stat lines for it, which gives the car Power, Looks, Armor, and Weakness stats. For each level of Power, Looks, and Weakness, you pick tags off the provided lists.

Drivers also have my favorite special move in the game:


DRIVER SPECIAL: If you and another character have sex, roll+cool. On a 10+, it’s cool, no big deal. On a 7–9, give them +1 to their Hx with you on their sheet, but give yourself -1 to your Hx with them on yours. On a miss, you gotta go: take -1 ongoing, until you prove that it’s not like they own you or nothing.

Now it's time for The Gunlugger . Gunluggers are the other combat-focused playbook, and are designed to do one thing and do it well: shoot the fuck out of everybody. If you want to play Clive Wilson in Shoot 'Em Up, this is the playbook for you.

Gunluggers need to be Hard, and pretty much all their moves revolve around doing more damage, but it's possible to start with a first aid kit (like the angel's kit, but it starts at 2-stock), or just be insanely fucking dangerous.


NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH: in battle, you count as a gang (3-harm gang small), with armor according to the circumstances.
Gangs take less damage from single opponents, and do more damage back. That means that a gunlugger can take on a group of 15 pricks with guns on equal footing. Not to be fucked with, indeed.

Even if you don't take that move, you still always start with one big fuck-off gun, two serious guns, a backup weapon, and something worth 2-armor so it's not like you're gong to be a pushover anyway.

Nothing gets the blood pumping before a big fight quite like a roll in the sack. When a gunlugger has sex with someone, she takes +1forward. She can give the other person +1forward too if she wants.

The best thing about being The Hardholder is that you're in charge of the town or settlement or whatever. The worst thing is that you're responsible for keeping the damn place running.

Moves-wise, hardholders don't get much; they have two moves they have to take and that's it. One lets them lead their group when dealing with big opponents, and the other is to see how well things are going in your neighborhood.


Wealth: If your hold is secure and your rule unchallenged, at the beginning of the session, roll+hard. On a 10+, you have surplus at hand and available for the needs of the session. On a 7–9, you have surplus, but choose 1 want. On a miss, or if your hold is compromised or your rule contested, your hold is in want. The precise values of your surplus and want depend on your holding, as follows.

What the hardholder does get to customize is their holding. You start with somewhere between 75-100 people who do some basic hunting/farming/scavenging, have makeshift buildings, basic weapons to defend itself with, and a gang of about 40 violent people to keep the peace. Your holding also starts with a surplus (1-barter), and a want (hungry). Surplus and want come into play based on the result of your Wealth roll at the start of the session; when you're in surplus you get whatever's tied to that state (in this case, 1-barter), and if you're in want you have to deal with whatever that want is.

(Oh, right, barter. See, there's no money in Apocalypse World. Instead, it's abstracted to "barter", the exact nature of which is up to the group. 1-barter is enough to cover one month of living expenses.)

From there, you pick four things your holding has going for it, and two things that aren't so great. Some of the advantages include a large population of 200-300 people (Surplus: +1barter, want: +disease), having access to manufacturing equipment (Surplus: +1barter, want: +idle), or your gang actually has their shit together (they drop the "unruly" tag they start with). Downsides include a smaller gang, everyone is filthy (Want: disease instead of hunger), and having your gang be a bunch of psychotics (want: savagery).

Being the boss, you can afford to be generous to those who've caught your eye. If you have sex with another character, you can give them 1-barter worth of gifts at no cost to you.

While the hardholder is responsible for people's lives, and the brained can control their minds, it's The Hocus who commands their hearts. From spiritual guides to cult leaders to religous whacknuts, the hocus knows how to take hold of people's faith and use it to move mountains. Or wipe the non-believers from the face of the earth. Either or.

Hocuses all start with the "Fortunes" move, which works like the hardholder's Wealth move and is used to determine how well your flock is doing at the start of the session. They get a few stat substitution moves that let them use their Weird in place of other stats for some of the basic moves, but what makes them really fucking dangerous is this move right here:


Frenzy: When you speak the truth to a mob, roll+weird. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. Spend your hold 1 for 1 to make the mob:
• bring people forward and deliver them.
• bring forward all their precious things.
• unite and fight for you as a gang (2-harm 0-armor size appropriate).
• fall into an orgy of uninhibited emotion: fucking, lamenting, fighting, sharing,
celebrating, as you choose.
• go quietly back to their lives.

On a miss, the mob turns on you.
Note that the move says a mob. Not your mob. You roll high enough, you can cause a whole settlement of people you've never laid eyes on before to take up arms and fight for you, give you all their shit, and go home. That, my friends, is power.

As for your followers: you start with 20 loyal followers. They start with fortune+1, surplus: 1-barter, and want: desertion. You pick a tag to describe them (your family, your court, your students, maybe just your scene), and you decide if they follow you around or stay back at the compound. You get to choose two advantages for them (like being dedicated to you, being hard workers, being really good at giving advice, or even being a psychic antenna) and two drawbacks (maybe you only have a handful of followers, or they're totally dependent on you, or they spend all their time bombed out of their minds).

Oh, that "psychic antenna" thing? If you take that, you get access to this move:


When you use your followers or your workspace for augury , roll+weird. On a hit, you can choose 1:
• Reach through the world’s psychic maelstrom to something or
someone connected to it.
• Isolate and protect a person or thing from the world’s psychic
• Isolate and contain a fragment of the world’s psychic maelstrom
• Insert information into the world’s psychic maelstrom.
• Open a window into the world’s psychic maelstrom.

By default, the effect will last only as long as you maintain it, will reach only shallowly into the world’s psychic maelstrom as it is local to you, and will bleed instability. On a 10+, choose 2; on a 7–9, choose 1:
• It’ll persist (for a while) without your actively maintaining it.
• It reaches deep into the world’s psychic maelstrom.
• It reaches broadly throughout the world’s psychic maelstrom.
• It’s stable and contained, no bleeding.

On a miss, whatever bad happens, your antenna takes the brunt of it.

When a hocus has sex with another character, they get a special connection to that person: each of you holds 1, and that hold can be sent at any time to help or interfere with the other person, no matter where they are.

While the other playbooks focus on being good at one thing, The Operator likes to keep her options open. She's always got a gig she can fall back on, always got irons in the fire, always biting off more than she can chew.

Every operator gets this move:


Moonlighting: you get 2-juggling. Whenever there’s a stretch of downtime in play, or between sessions, choose a number of your gigs to work. Choose no more than your juggling. Roll+cool. On a 10+, you get profit from all the gigs you chose. On a 7–9, you get profit from at least 1; if you chose more, you get catastrophe from 1 and profit from the rest. On a miss, catastrophe all around. The gigs you aren’t working give you neither profit nor catastrophe. Whenever you get a new gig, you also get +1juggling.
as well as three playing gigs and one obligation gig. Each paying gig has a profit and catastrophe, which work like surplus and want from before. Most profits are 1-barter, but the catastrophes depend on the job (Scavenging has 1-barter/impoverished, for instance). Obligation gigs don't pay out, but they can do shit like giving you clues or making your life easier if you do them (like Seeking answers: you get a clue/you chase a red herring).

Oh, and you can get this move too if you want.


Opportunistic: when you interfere with someone who’s rolling, roll+cool instead of roll+Hx. Asshole.

If an operator has sex with someone, they get a new obligation gig: Keep them happy (you keep them happy/you fucking blow it).

The Savvyhead is to machines what the angel is to flesh and bone.

If you're a savvyhead, you have a workspace.


Choose which of the following your workspace includes. Choose 3: a garage, a darkroom, a controlled growing environment, skilled labor (Carna, Thuy, Pamming, eg), a junkyard of raw materials, a truck or van, weird-ass electronica, machining tools, transmitters & receivers, a proving range, a relic of the golden age past, booby traps.
When you go into your workspace and dedicate yourself to making a thing, or to getting to the bottom of some shit, decide what and tell the MC. The MC will tell you “sure, no problem, but…” and then 1 to 4 of the following:
• it’s going to take hours/days/weeks/months of work;
• first you’ll have to get/build/fix/figure out ___;
• you’re going to need ___ to help you with it;
• it’s going to cost you a fuckton of jingle;
• the best you’ll be able to do is a crap version, weak and unreliable;
• it’s going to mean exposing yourself (plus colleagues) to serious danger;
• you’re going to have to add ___ to your workplace first;
• it’s going to take several/dozens/hundreds of tries;
• you’re going to have to take ___ apart to do it.
The MC might connect them all with “and,” or might throw in a merciful “or.”
Once you’ve accomplished the necessaries, you can go ahead and accomplish the thing itself. The MC will stat it up, or spill, or whatever it calls for.

Savvyheads dip a bit into the Weird side of things. A lot of their moves involve accessing the psychic maelstrom in some fashion. Maybe they happen to be at the right place at the right time with the right tool. Maybe you're good at offering advice. Hell, maybe there's a werid-ass rift in your workshop that lets you do the augury move. Whatever they pick, they're good eith machines.


Things speak: whenever you handle or examine something interesting, roll+weird. On a hit, you can ask the MC questions. On a 10+, ask 3. On a 7–9, ask 1:
• who handled this last before me?
• who made this?
• what strong emotions have been most recently nearby this?
• what words have been said most recently nearby this?
• what has been done most recently with this, or to this?
• what’s wrong with this, and how might I fix it?

Treat a miss as though you’ve opened your brain to the world’s psychic maelstrom and missed the roll.

What's even weirder is that when a savvhead has sex with someone, they get to use the things speak move on them, and gets the 10+ result.

Finally, we come to The Skinner . A skinner is fucking hot, fucking knows it, and knows how to use it as a weapon.

Skinners don't actually get anything special like everyone else does. That's not to say they're weak or anything, though. They're masters of social combat, able to twist people around their little fingers.


Artful & gracious: when you perform your chosen art — any act of expression or culture — or when you put its product before an audience, roll+hot. On a 10+, spend 3. On a 7–9, spend 1. Spend 1 to name an NPC member of your audience and choose one:
• this person must meet me
• this person must have my services
• this person loves me
• this person must give me a gift
• this person admires my patron

On a miss, you gain no benefit, but suffer no harm or lost opportunity. You simply perform very well.

Hypnotic: when you have time and solitude with someone, they become fixated upon you. Roll+hot. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 2. They can spend your hold, 1 for 1, by:
• giving you something you want
• acting as your eyes and ears
• fighting to protect you
• doing something you tell them to

For NPCs, while you have hold over them they can’t act against you. For PCs, instead, any time you like you can spend your hold, 1 for 1:
• they distract themselves with the thought of you. They’re acting under fire.
• they inspire themselves with the thought of you. They take +1 right now.

On a miss, they hold 2 over you, on the exact same terms.

As you'd probably guess, they have a pretty powerful sex move. When they have sex with someone, they get to pick off a list: each of you take +1forward, the skinner takes +1forward and the other person takes -1, they have to give you a 1-barter gift, or you can use the hypnotize move at 10+ even if you didn't take it.

So, it's time for you guys to get in on this action. The next section is about character creation. I need folks to tell me what character I should make, and the names and playbooks of the other 3 characters in my group. Bear in mind that each player has to pick a different playbook, so no repeats.

NEXT TIME : To do it, do it

The Moves

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 2 and change: The moves

This is actually part of the characters section of the book, but I forgot to include it. That post was getting pretty long, anyway.

In addition to each playbook's specific moves, everyone gets access to the basic moves . The basic moves are:
Do something under fire means trying to do something when someone else is trying to stop you. If you don't do this well, you might flinch or get offered a hard bargain.
Go aggro is the threat of violence if you don't get your way.
Seize by force is the follow-through. This also covers seizing someone's life.
Seduce or manipulate someone. If you succeed, the target marks experience if they do what you want, and act under fire if you don't.
Read a person lets you ask the MC a few questions about the person in question.
Open your brain to the world's psychic maelstrom to as the MC a few questions about anything. Thing is, he gets to ask you some questions back.
Help or interfere with someone to give them a +1 or -2.

The thing about the basic moves is that they don't do anything on a 6 or less; you just don't do whatever you were trying to do. A 10+ is still a full-on success, whereas a 7-9 is success with a bit of a bite. For instance:


When you try to seize something by force , or to secure your hold on something, roll+hard. On a hit, choose options. On a
10+, choose 3. On a 7–9, choose 2:
• you take definite hold of it
• you suffer little harm
• you inflict terrible harm
• you impress, dismay or frighten your enemy

There's also a special end-of-session move. At the end of the session, you pick one person who knows you better than they used to; that person gets +1 Hx with you.

In addition to the basic moves, there are a few peripheral moves that are either optional or require a special character feature to access.

By default, the harm & healing moves are in play. The harm move works like this:


When you suffer harm, roll+harm suffered (after armor, if you’re wearing any). On a 10+, the MC can choose 1:
• You’re out of action: unconscious, trapped, incoherent or panicked.
• It’s worse than it seemed. Take an additional 1-harm.
• Choose 2 from the 7–9 list below.

On a 7–9, the MC can choose 1:
• You lose your footing.
• You lose your grip on whatever you’re holding.
• You lose track of someone or something you’re attending to.
• You miss noticing something important.

On a miss, the MC can nevertheless choose something from the 7–9 list above. If she does, though, it’s instead of some of the harm you’re suffering, so you take -1harm.

Any time you inflict harm on another character, they get +1 Hx with you. If you heal their harm, you get +1 with them.

There are three moves involving barter:
Give 1-barter to someone, but with strings attached is the same as manipulating someone, except it’s treated as if you got a 10+ on the roll.
Go into a holding’s bustling market to buy shit. Getting a 7-9 on the roll means you have to pay more, you gotta meet the guy around back, or they just don’t have what you’re looking for.
Make known that you want a thing and drop jingle to speed it on its way , and you’ll get it. Strings might be attached.

I already talked about the augury move. There’s another hocuses can get called insight . When you use it, the MC tells you what the best course of action is. If you play along, get +1 to all your rolls to complete your goal; if you try to meet your goal and fail, you mark experience.

There are a few optional battle moves available, but I’m not going to cover them now; I’ll hold off until we get to the combat section.

At the beginning of each session (before you check on the hardholder’s and hocus’s situations), each player highlights one of the base stats of the character they have the highest Hx with, and then the MC highlights a different stat for each character. Every time you roll a highlighted stat for any reason, you mark experience.

So there you are. That’s all our building blocks. Time to learn how to put them all together.

NEXT TIME : Getting your shit together

Character Creation

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 3: Character creation

Okay, we got our playbooks . We picked which character we wanna play. How you we actually make your character?

Character creation is pretty easy, and happens in two overall phases. In the first phase, we go through the steps listed in our playbook.

But before we get to that, let's talk about what the book has to say on character creation, because it has some interesting things to say about it.

This section of the book leads off by reminding us that two people can't use the same playbook. Then we get something the MC should tell the players:


Your job is to play your characters as though they were real people, in whatever circumstances they find themselves — cool, competent, dangerous people, but real.

My job as MC is to treat your characters as though they were real people too, and to act as though Apocalypse World were real.

(There's a couple of these "say something like this to the players" bits through the book, and they're mainly there to help reinforce the relationship between the players and the MC.)

That's followed up with the two default setting assumptions: the apocalypse happened 50 years ago and nobody remembers what happened, and that there's a psychic maelstrom.

After that, Vince gives quick one-paragraph summaries of each character. Each summary hits the class' selling points ("Play a skinner if you want to be unignorable ."), but also provides a warning to what the character's biggest drawback is (for the chopper: "Warning: externalizing your power means drama. Expect drama.").

There's a brief summary of the stats and how moves and crap work, which leads us into the setting expectations. This is another "say something like this to the players" bit, but it's expected you're going to add things, remove points, or customize it to your group. The main points are:
• All the characters know each other. They may not like each other, but they know each other.
• Each character is unique. There may be lots of hired guns, and some who're good enough to be called gunluggers, but you're the only gunlugger .
• Armor-1 can be anything, but armor-2 is serious business. Like reinforced-car-door-on-a-harness serious.
• Everyone needs to decide what "barter" represents; it can be a general thing, or it can vary from character to character ("I only take payment in booze.").

I want to call out the last point, because it's an important one, and pretty central to the concepts of the game.


I’m not out to get you. If I were, you could just pack it in right now, right? I’d just be like “there’s an earthquake. You all take 10-harm and die. The end.” No, I’m here to find out what’s going to happen with all your cool, hot, fucking kick-ass characters. Same as you!

This is a game that makes it very clear that the MC is working with the players, not against them.

So let's make our character. Let's see who I'm gonna make...

Tasoth posted:

A Gunlugger that speaks with a heavy cockney accident and is focused on bigger guns, loud explosions and fighting with no definite order

Sounds good.

First thing is to pick a name and a look. There are some sample lists for names (but we can pick something else anyway), so let's pick "Keeler".

For the look, we have to decide on five things: the character's gender, dress, face, eyes, and build. Again, there are lists of samples. Let's keep using the provided options and pick male, scrounged mismatched armor, blunt face, mad eyes, and stringy body.

(As an aside, I love that you don't do the ususal "height/weight/hair color/eye color" thing. Describing your character's face, eyes, and body is much more interesting to me.)

Now we pick stats. Each character has five sets of stat arrays, and we pick one. For the gunlugger, each option has Hard+2, with the other stats generally totalling up to +1 or +2. For Keeler, he seems like the kind of guy who's (relatively) calm while he's blowing the shit out of everything in a thirty foot radius. Let's pick Cool+2 Hard+2 Hot-2 Sharp=0 Weird=0. He's good at anything involving violence, not so much everything else. Plus he's an ugly motherfucker who sucks at social skills.

Keeler starts with all the basic moves, plus he gets to pick three gunlugger moves. To keep with the theme of careless gunplay and explosives, let's take:
Bloodcrazed: whenever you inflict harm, inflict +1harm.
NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH: in battle, you count as a gang (3-harm gang small), with armor according to the circumstances.
Insano like Drano: you get +1hard (hard+3).

For the record, that brings Keeler's stats to Cool+2 Hard+2 Hot-2 Sharp=0 Weird=0. Also, this comes up in the rules later but NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH only kicks in when it's a serious fucking battle.

After moves comes gear. Gunluggers start with 1 big fuck-off gun, 2 serious guns, 1 backup weapon, armor worth 2-armor, and oddments worth 1-barter. For the big fuck-off gun, the obvious choice is the grenade launcher (4-harm close area messy). For serious guns, let's go with the magnum (3-harm close reload loud). For a backup weapon, let's stick with the theme and take grenades (4-harm hand area reload messy).

And...that's it. Some of the other classes have some more things to design (the battlebabe's weapon, the hocus's followers, etc.), but that's all there is to the first part of character creation.

The second part is determining Hx. In this phase, everyone goes around the table and introduces their characters. Then they go around again, but this time they have some backstories they can set up with at least one other player to set up the inter-character relationships. The backstories determine the starting Hx with the target character, then everyone else gets a different value. Some characters also modify the incoming values.

This part can be a little confusing, so let's keep going with the example and take a look at the rest of Keeler's group.

Tasoth posted:

a Driver who is overweight, wears flannel and a vest and drives a 'tank', which is really just an up-armored pickup with the above gunlugger in the bed, an Operator with a bald battle babe with a british accent that does a surprising job of beating everything up and a chopper who they're following on their 'hajj' of the easy rider.

Sir, yes sir.

Let's start with the driver. On his turn, he can determine one or two backstories. The one he gives Keeler is "Once got you out of some serious shit; what happened there?". Both players work out the situation, and this sets Keeler's Hx with the driver to +2.

Keeler's next. Gunluggers have to pick the character they think is smartest; when that character gives them the starting Hx, he adds 1 to it. For this, he picks the operator. He then sets up the following two relationships:
• The driver fought shoulder to shoulder with him, and has Hx+2 with Keeler. Here's the thing, though: drivers subtract 1 from any Hx value they get from others. They don't like getting attached, so his Hx with Keeler is only +1.
• The chopper once left him bleeding in the street. The chopper has Hx-2 with Keeler. He also has a -1 modifier to incoming relationships (choppers don't give a shit so much), so that's Hx-3 with Keeler.
Everyone else gets Hx=0 with Keeler.

The chopper is next in line. Choppers just give everyone Hx+1. Easy enough.

Lastly is the operator. The operator sets up both backstories, but the one we care about right now is the one with Keeler, which is that Keeler let him down in a pinch and left him holding the bill; that would be Hx-1, but we already know that Keeler's going to add +1 to it to make it Hx=0.

After that's all done, here's what Keeler's relationship stats look like:
• driver: Hx+2 (I got him out of some serious shit)
• chopper: Hx+1 (he left me to die)
• operator: Hx=0 (he's smart, but I left him in the lurch)

(Of course, all these backstories will be fleshed out by the characters and MC during this part. Everyone is always encouraged to ask questions about each other's characters.)

Remember: Hx doesn't represent how much or how little you like someone; it represents how well you know them. Keeler knows the driver pretty well, but really doesn't know anything about the operator.

Once Hx is settled, you find the person you have the highest Hx with, and that person highlights whichever stat he thinks in most interesting. In this case, that's the driver; that player then picks which of Keeler's stats is the most interesting and highlights it. In this case, he picks Hard. Then the MC picks a different stat and highlights it; this time the MC picks Weird. If Keeler rolls one of his highlighted stats, he marks experience.

And that's it. Character creation is done and it's time to get the game rolling.

I know the Hx example can be a little confusing; it's one of those things that doesn't make sense until you sit down and do it. Rest assured, though, that it's the most complex part of the whole game. It's smooth sailing after this.

Well...mechanically, anyway. For the characters who're actually in the game world, shit just gets complicated.

NEXT TIME: your biggest fan

The A-Team

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

It was a really slow day at work and the next LoA chapter is pretty dull. So let's do something else.

Lemon Curdistan posted:

Comedy option: a Touchstone named Hannibal, a Skinner named Face, a Gunlugger named Baracus and a Driver named Murdoch.
Well, B.A. would be more of a battlebabe instead of a gunlugger, since battlebabes are more all-around combat monkeys (instead of just being artillery). Plus I think Hannibal's more of an operator than touchstone, since he's the leader who comes up with the jobs and plans.

Okay, so the A-Team, where the "A" stands for Apocalypse.

We have:
Hannibal, the operator
B.A., the battlebabe
Face, the skinner
Murdock, the driver

Instead of listing out every choice, I make, I'm just going to skip to the relevant bits.

Look: Man, vintage wear, open face, sharp eyes, rangy body
Stats: Cool+2 Hard=0 Hot-1 Sharp+2 Weird-1
Moves: All the basic moves, plus:
Moonlighting: you get 2-juggling. Whenever there’s a stretch of downtime in play, or between sessions, choose a number of your gigs to work. Choose no more than your juggling. Roll+cool. On a 10+, you get profit from all the gigs you chose. On a 7–9, you get profit from at least 1; if you chose more, you get catastrophe from 1 and profit from the rest. On a miss, catastrophe all around. The gigs you aren’t working give you neither profit nor catastrophe. Whenever you get a new gig, you also get +1juggling.
Reputation: when you meet someone important (your call), roll+cool. On a hit, they’ve heard of you, and you say what they’ve heard; the MC will have them respond accordingly. On a 10+, you take +1forward for dealing with them as well. On a miss, they’ve heard of you, but the MC will decide what they’ve heard.
Paying Gigs: Brokering deals (1-barter / shut out), Infiltration (1-barter / discovered), Enforcement (1-barter / overthrown)
Obligation Gig: Avoiding someone (you keep well clear / they catch you in a bad spot)
Gear: 9mm (2-harm close loud), oddments worht 1-barter, fashion worth 1-armor.

Operators are pretty straightforward; nothing to customize, just pick your gigs and move on.

Look: Man, display wear, sharp face, frosty eyes, muscular body
Stats: Cool+3 Hard-1 Hot+1 Sharp+1 Weird=0
Moves: All the basic moves, plus
Ice cold: when you go aggro on an NPC, roll+cool instead of roll+hard. When you go aggro on another player’s character, roll+Hx instead of roll+hard.
Impossible reflexes: the way you move unencumbered counts as armor. If you’re naked or nearly naked, 2-armor; if you’re wearing non-armor fashion, 1-armor. If you’re wearing armor, use it instead.
Gear: Assault rifle (2-harm far loud area), ornate heavy rings (2-harm hand valuable), oddments worth 2-barter

(A battlebabe gets two custom weapons; you pick a base then add two options. The assult rifle starts with a rifle base (2-harm far reload loud), then I picked automatic (+area) and semiautomatic (-reload). The rings are a "handle" base (1-harm hand) with the ornate (+valuable) and head (+1harm) options. I took impossible reflexes because he goes around wearing just combat pants, boots, and some gold chains;; if the MC said that doesn't count as "nearly naked" I'd take merciless (When you deal harm, deal +1 harm) instead.

Look: Androgyne, casual wear, handsome face, bright eyes, steady hands, slim body
Stats: Cool+1 Hard+1 Hot+2 Sharp+1 Weird-
Moves: all the basic moves, plus
Artful & gracious: when you perform your chosen art — any act of expression or culture — or when you put its product before an audience, roll+hot. On a 10+, spend 3. On a 7–9, spend 1. Spend 1 to name an NPC member of your audience and choose one:
• this person must meet me
• this person must have my services
• this person loves me
• this person must give me a gift
• this person admires my patron

On a miss, you gain no benefit, but suffer no harm or lost opportunity. You simply perform very well.
Hypnotic: when you have time and solitude with someone, they become fixated upon you. Roll+hot. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 2. They can spend your hold, 1 for 1, by:
• giving you something you want
• acting as your eyes and ears
• fighting to protect you
• doing something you tell them to

For NPCs, while you have hold over them they can’t act against you. For PCs, instead, any time you like you can spend your hold, 1 for 1:
• they distract themselves with the thought of you. They’re acting under fire.
• they inspire themselves with the thought of you. They take +1 right now.

On a miss, they hold 2 over you, on the exact same terms.
Gear: Hidden knives (2-harm hand infinite), skin & hair kit (applied valuable; gives +1 hot forward when used), antique coins (worn valuable), oddments worth 1-barter, fashion suitable to your look.

Again, pretty straightforward. Face is designed to get close to people and get in their heads. Skinners start with a "gractious weapon" and two pieces of "luxe gear", all of which are picked from lists.) I also made him androgynous just because.

Look: Man, showy scrounge wear, fine-boned face, pale eyes, slim body
Stats: Cool+1 Hard-2 Hot=0 Sharp+2 Weird+
Moves: all the basic moves, plus:
A no shit driver: when behind the wheel
if you do something under fire, add your car’s power to your roll.
if you try to seize something by force, add your car’s power to your roll.
if you go aggro, add your car’s power to your roll.
if you try to seduce or manipulate someone, add your car’s looks to your
if you help or interfere with someone, add your car’s power to your roll.
if someone interferes with you, add your car’s weakness to their roll.
Daredevil: if you go straight into danger without hedging your bets, you get +1armor. If you happen to be leading a gang or convoy, it gets +1armor too.
Gear: sawed-off (3-harm close reload messy), oddments worth 2-barter, fashion suitable to your look
Car:The Van (Power+2 looks+1 2-armor weakness+2; van frame, huge, rugged, muscular look, guzzler, loud)

No real surprises here. Whenever Murdock performs most of the basic moves while driving, then he adds 2 to his roll. He also gets +1armor when driving like a psycho.

So there's the characters. Once everyone's done, they go around and introduce themselves. Then they go around again for Hx. To keep things clear, I'm going to use this table to keep track of everyone's Hx as we go along.

Each playbook can also affect the Hx they get from other people, and these are done on the other players' turns. Instead of pointing it out each time, here's a quick reference:
• Hannibal gets +1 to whatever number people tell him, since operators depend on clear relationships.
• B.A. takes all numbers as they come, but being a battlebabe means that he has to pick the character he trusts the least to overwrite whatever they tell him with Hx+3. Gotta keep an eye on that guy.
• Face, being a skinner, gives every incoming Hx value either +1 or -1, his choice.
• Murdock gives any number he gets a -1 because drivers don't like getting close to people.

Let's go in order and start with Hannibal. Hannibal picks B.A. and says "You faced down dedicated violence to get me out of a fix. What happened?" They hash out the details, and B.A. gets Hx+2 with Hannibal. Everyone else gets Hx+1 with Hannibal.

BUT remember the modifers above. Face choses to take a +1 since he's known Hannibal for a while (making it Hx+2), and Murdock gets the automatic -1 making it Hx=0.

So here's the table after Hannibal's turn.

Now we move to B.A. His turn is quick; he gives everyone Hx+1 with him. Easy enough, and Face decides to take a -1 to it just because. Here's the new table after everyone else's modifiers:

Face is up next. He has up to three people to pick, but he picks two: B.A. is his friend (Hx+2), and Murdock is in love with him, or at least Face thinks that (Hx-1). Hannibal defaults to Hx=0.

Finally, we come to Murdock. He decides that Face has been with him on the road for days (Hx+2), and that everyone else gets Hx+1 because drivers get around and everyone's heard something about him. B.A. overrides that (as stated before, he doesn't trust Murdock) and gets Hx+3.

Here's the final Hx breakdown for everyone:

So let's see what that means. B.A. actually has everyone else pretty well sussed out; guess that comes from having to bodyguard the group all the time. Everyone knows Murdock pretty well, and in fact if B.A. or Face increase their Hx with him they'll mark experience (and their Hx with Murdock will reset to =0). Murdock, on the other hand, barely knows anything about the rest of the group, and completely misunderstands Face.

Still, sounds like a pretty fun campaign.

The Master of Ceremonies

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 5: The master of ceremonies

We are currently 100 pages into Apocalypse World now that we're done with the character creation stuff. That's almost exactly a third of the book dedicated to making characters and how the players do shit. The majority of the remainder of the book is stuff for the MC.

Time to learn how to run this thing.

As the MC, you have an agenda:


• Make Apocalypse World seem real.
• Make the players’ characters’ lives not boring.
• Play to find out what happens.

Those are your goals. Your job isn't to kill the characters, or make the players "lose" or drag them around by the nose on a magical mystery tour of your setting and force them to watch your NPCs do all the cool shit.

Vince Baker, page 108 posted:

(DO NOT pre-plan a storyline, and I’m not fucking around).
No, you're here for the same reason the players are: to play the game in an interesting setting to find out what happens. And the only way you're going to find out what happens is for everyone to play.

We're also give four things to always say:

ALWAYS SAY posted:

• What the principles demand (as follow) .
• What the rules demand.
• What your prep demands.
• What honesty demands.

In other words, don't use the game as a weapon against the players. I could go into detail here, but Vince puts it better than I ever could.


Always be scrupulous, even generous, with the truth. The players depend on you to give them real information they can really use, about their characters’ surroundings, about what’s happening when and where. Same with the game’s rules: play with integrity and an open hand. The players are entitled to the full benefits of their moves, their rolls, their characters’ strengths and resources. Don’t chisel them, don’t weasel, don’t play gotcha.

If you’re playing the game as the players’ adversary , your decision-making responsibilities and your rules-oversight constitute a conflict of interests. Play the game with the players, not against them.

So what are the principles we're expected to follow? Glad you asked!
Barf forth apocalyptica means to paint the world in the colors of ruin. Everything is broken. Everything. Make sure the apocalypse has touched every inch of the world.
Address yourself to the characters, not the players is a very basic principle. Never say "Rich, what is Keeler going to do?", say "Keeler, what are you going to do?".
Make your move, but misdirect. The MC has moves too, and we'll get to those in a bit. This means that the players should know the effect of what's going on, but not the direct cause.
Make your move, but never speak its name just means that you don't tell the players what specific move you're making. Narrate it, don't name it. Don't say "I use the capture someone move." Tell the player what happens as someone jumps up behind his character and pulls a plastic bag over his head.


These two principles are cause and effect. The truth is that you’ve chosen a move and made it. Pretend, though, that there’s a fictional cause; pretend that it has a fictional effect.
Together, the purpose of these two principles is to create an illusion for the players, not to hide your intentions from them. Certainly never to hide your NPCs’ actions, or developments in the characters’ world, from the players’ characters! No; always say what honesty demands. When it comes to what’s happening to and around the players’ characters, always be as honest as you can be.
Back to it.
Look through crosshairs at someone or something to figure the best way to threaten it. Conflict is important in an interesting story, after all.
Name everyone, make everyone human because that's what makes things feel real. Even if they players never hear it, even if they only interact with someone for more than 5 seconds, give everyone they meet a name and one self-interested goal. 'Cause you never know.
Ask provocative questions and build on the answers to help build the world. Even simple questions like "How long have you known Bert?" can lead to interesting ideas if you remember to either barf apocalyptica on it, refer to it later in play, or just make it part of the setting.
Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards
Be a fan of the players’ characters is something I've quoted in full in other threads, but it bears repeating here.


“Make the characters’ lives not boring” does not mean “always worse.” Sometimes worse, sure, of course. Always? Definitely not.

The worst way there is to make a character’s life more interesting is to take away the things that made the character cool to begin with. The gunlugger’s guns, but also the gunlugger’s collection of ancient photographs — what makes the character match our expectations and also what makes the character rise above them. Don’t take those away.

The other worst way is to deny the character success when the character’s fought for it and won it. Always give the characters what they work for! No, the way to make a character’s success interesting is to make it consequential. When a character accomplishes something, have all of your NPCs respond. Reevaluate all those PC–NPC–PC triangles you’ve been creating. Whose needs change? Whose opinions change? Who was an enemy, but now is afraid; who was an enemy, but now sees better opportunities as an ally? Let the characters’ successes make waves outward, let them topple the already unstable situation. There are no status quos in Apocalypse World! Even life doesn’t always suck.

“Make as hard and direct a move as you like” means just that. As hard and direct as you like. It doesn’t mean “make the worst move you can think of.” Apocalypse World is already out to get the players’ characters. So are the game’s rules. If you, the MC, are out to get them too, they’re plain fucked.
Think offscreen too because interesting shit still happens when the PCs aren't around. The moves they make (and you make) might affect people who aren't even there. Yeah, you took out the warlord's gang, but now he's going to take that out on your hometown while you're off doing something else, and you ain't finding that out until you get home.
Sometimes, disclaim decision-making and pawn it off on someone else. Maybe one of the players, maybe an NPC. Maybe create a countdown clock for the players to race.

So we have our agenda and our principles. Let's talk about putting them into action via the MC's moves.

Like the players, the MC has a bunch of moves he uses to steer things. They are:


• Separate them.
• Capture someone.
• Put someone in a spot.
• Trade harm for harm (as established) .
• Announce off-screen badness.
• Announce future badness.
• Inflict harm (as established) .
• Take away their stuff.
• Make them buy.
• Activate their stuff’s downside.
• Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
• Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
• Turn their move back on them.
• Make a threat move (from one of your fronts) .
• After every move: “what do you do?”

These don't work like the players' moves. These aren't things you roll to see what happens. In fact, the MC never rolls dice at all. Hell, there aren't even any rules for them.

Instead, this is the list of things the MC chooses from when the players turn their eyes to him, waiting to find out what happens next. You pick the one that makes the most sense, and describe what happens to the players (remember; make your move, but never speak its name ). Then, after every one, you ask the all-important question: "What do you do?"

They players are in a convoy, going from point A to point B? Separate them. "Suddenly, a pickup truck with the symbol of the local warlord swerves onto the road, and rams the car Face and B.A. are in off the road. What do you do?"

They need something important? Make them buy. "The Guy has what you're looking for, but he says its his last one and that's gonna drive the price up. What do you do?"

Things getting slow? Put someone in a spot. "As you head back to your house, you see Grey's Son step out of the shadows, he looks like he's still pissed about how you shot him in the leg last week. What do you do?"

Somebody fucked up on a move? Turn their move back on them. "Oh, you botched the roll to go aggro? Well, Smitty didn't like you getting in his face. You can try to stand your ground, but if you don't, you get -1 forward. What do you do?"

A character's being threatened with violence? Inflict harm (as established) , or trade harm for harm (as established) . "You manage to dive behind the wall before most of Blink's crew opens fire, but you still catch a bullet in the leg. Take 1-harm. What do you do?" Note that the MC doesn't need to roll to inflict harm; only the players roll dice.

("As established", by the way, means that the MC has either already set up in the scene that the PCs can receive harm, or are in a situation where they could get hit. It can be as obvious as a few guys with crowbars glaring at the characters, or as subtle as the fact that the guy they're talking to is the local hardholder and therefore probably has some pricks with guns floating around. Don't just do harm out of the blue; at least give the players a hint that they're in a situation where harm is on the table. It also means that the harm has to match the situation; if someone's waving a 1-harm pistol at a PC, it's not going to turn out to have super-heavy bullets that actually do 3-harm or some shit like that.)

You get the idea, right?

Now, it may seem strange that, as the gamemaster (if I may switch terms for a moment), you're expected to pick What Happens Next from a list of 14 options instead of just making something up like we always do. This is a role-playing game, isn't it? Magical Tea Party and all that?

I thought so too, when I first read the list. After all, I've been GMing for more years than I care to admit, everything from D&D to Fate. I know how to keep a game interesting.

But then I realized something very important. That list is all the standard-issue GM tricks that we've all been using for years. All Vince did was codify it, add a few options, and explain it in a way that actually makes you think about the choices you make when you're running a game. It's not just about reactiing to the players, it's about understanding what your options are when you react.

Remember this?


You probably know this already: roleplaying is a conversation. You and the other players go back and forth, talking about these fictional characters in their fictional circumstances doing whatever it is that they do. Like any conversation, you take turns, but it’s not like taking turns, right? Sometimes you talk over each other, interrupt, build on each others’ ideas, monopolize. All fine.

All these rules do is mediate the conversation. They kick in when someone says some particular things, and they impose constraints on what everyone should say after. Makes sense, right?

Makin' a hell of a lot more sense now. The MC's moves are there to provide narrative structure for the MC's job (presenting the world and reacting to the players) in the same way the players' moves provide mechanical structure for their job (moving around in the world and reacting to the MC).

Even the players' moves will tell you what to say as your part of the conversation. If a player goes aggro on someone and gets a 7-9 (" get the hell out of your way "), then you know what to say: "Grey's Son stares for a second longer, then blinks and looks away with a scowl and lets you walk on by."

There are a few final bits of advice that are optional; not moves, just suggestions to keep things interesting. Make maps like crazy. Turn questions back on the asker ("I don't know, what kinds of things does Core like to receive as tribute?"). Digress once in a while to fill in interesting details ("As you walk through the beaded curtain, you see it's actually made up of a couple of hundred souvineer spoons from places you've never heard of."). Don't be afraid to zoom in or out on a scene or expand or compress time. Make sure every player gets some spotlight time each session. Take breaks and take your time.

I'm going to be honest: in twenty pages, Vince put together some of the best damn GMing advice I've ever read.

NEXT TIME : getting to know you

The First Session

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 6: The 1st session

So far, we've learned how to create characters, how to put them together in a group, and what our goals are as MC.

Time to start playing the game. And that starts with the first session.

Before we actually dive into the first session, we're reminded that the MC should familiarize himself with the rules, his moves, things like that. BUT, and this is important, he shouldn't create anything yet. No setting details, no threats, no storylines. That's all meant to come out in the first session.

At the start of the first session, everyone goes around again and re-introduces themselves, does Hx if they haven't already, and highlights stats.

Then the MC says this:


“your setup’s easy and now you’ve already done it. Mine’s harder so I’m going to take this whole session to do it. So no high-tension kick off from me, let’s follow the characters around for a day and get to know them. Cool?”

Oh, don't roll your eyes.

Yeah, it's unusual for a game to start out with a "day" of nothing major happening. And yes, it seems to go against the whole "there are no status quos in Apocalypse World" idea.

But here's the thing: you need to know what a "normal day" is before you deviate from it. You need to eastablish some sort of status quo before you can start breaking it.


What it means instead: it’s your job to create a fractured, tilting landscape of inequalities, incompatible interests, PC-NPC-PC triangles, untenable arrangements. A dynamic opening situation, not a status quo you’re going to have to put your shoulder against and somehow shift, like pushing a futon up a ladder. No: an unstable mass, already charged with potential energy and ready to split and slide, not a mass at rest.

So how do we go about doing that? Vince helpfully gives us another list of guidelines, starting with the best piece of advice first:
• MC the game. Bring it.

How is it brought? Glad you asked.
• Describe. Barf forth apocalyptica. We already saw this before, but it still holds.
• Springboard off character creation. Look at the operator's gigs, the savvyhead's workspace, the brainer's weird gear, and ask where they came from. Look at the chopper's gang or the hocus's followers, and ask what they're like. Look at Hx, and ask what it means.
• Ask questions like crazy. Don't just ask the players about their characters. Ask them what the landscape looks like, what color the sky is. "I don't know, where DO you get your food?"
• Leave yourself things to wonder about. Don't define everything now. Leave your self and the players room to build later on.
• Look for where they’re not in control. Because that's where the interesting shit is going to come from. Maybe it's an NPC who's in charge of things, maybe it's the environment.
• Push there. Find those weak spots, because when you hit those, that's when shit happens. The NPC hardholder gets up in a character's face. Duststorms threaten the town. Whatever. Just get ready to announce future badness because everyone knows it's coming.
• Nudge the players to have their characters make moves. Some characters have moves that happen automatically at the start of the session. But don't be afraid to prompt them into using moves so they see how they work. "It looks like Grey's Son and Teller are really starting to piss each other off. Anyone want to read the situation?"
• Give every character good screen time with other characters. Don't just deal with everyone oen at a time around the table; have their scenes happen together. Say things like "B.A., you bodyguard Hannibal a lot, right? Let's see how that works out when Grey's Son comes to confront Hannibal about something."
• Leap forward with named, human NPCs. Name in Apocalypse World are weird, but there's a reason for that:


Here’s Shreyas about names: “In Apocalypse World, it’s like they have cultural references without the cultural referents. They don’t know what a mother superior is, so they think it’s reasonable to name the baby it.”
The MC's playbooks have a lot of interesting sample names to choose from, but the playbooks also call out specific NPC names so don't be afraid to use those. Give NPCs interesting names, a memorable quirk or visual cue, a relationship to one or more of the PCs, then write it down so you can bring them back later.
• Hell, have a fight. Yeah, I know we said we weren't going to have a big slam-bang intro, but come on: what better way to see how the characters react to a fight than by springing one when they thought they were safe?
• Fill up your 1st session worksheet. Yeah, there's a 1st session worksheet; it's part of the playbooks PDF . At the center, you jot down the PCs names and roles. Around them, you write the NPCs you've all estrablished, and where they stand on a few basic emotional keywords; Hunger, Envy, Despair, things like that. The sheet also has a nice long list of names to pick from (and cross off when you use them), as well a list of resources you can use to help narrow down what the world's like. What do you have a lot of, and what do you need?

Lastly, it also has a nice blank session labeled "I wonder..." where you jot down those little questions that come up and you can expand on later. "I wonder why Two Tone and B.A. hate each other so much." "I wonder why it's hard to grow crops around the settlement." "I wonder if the raiders would try to bribe Hannibal to their side." Shit like that. Because once you've done all the 1st session things and prompted those questions, that's where the rest of the game's going to come from.

So here we are at the end of the 1st session. We've got a filled out sheet, we've established the characters and the setting, so what next?

Well, before the next session, think on the stuff that came up. Let it percolate in your mind. Think on your "I wonder" questions. Take everything you learned about the characters and world and pull it apart, see how it ticks. Look at the potential threats, and figure out which ones are going to be turned into fronts for the PCs to deal with.

'Cause your second session is going to look a lot like the first (give everyone screen time, find those weak spots, bring it), only you're going to be able to bring fronts into the mix.

What's a front? We'll talk about that next chapter.

NEXT TIME : if it's not one goddamn thing it's another


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 6: Fronts

So what's a Front? I mentioned them last time but didn't really talk about them.

A "front" is basically a collection of threats with a common theme or goal. Threats, of course, are the people, places, and things that threaten the PCs.

A front is more of a conceptual thing than mechancial, but that doesn't mean we don't have some guidelines on how to make one. The AW packet has some front design sheets, so grab one and play along.

Creating a front involves the following:
• Choose a fundamental scarcity.
• Create 3 or 4 threats.
• Write its agenda / dark future.
• Write 2–4 stakes questions.
• List the front’s cast.
• Create the front’s overall countdowns.

"Fundamental scarcities" are things like Hunger, Fear, or Ambition; it's the thing that actually drives the front and the threats it contains.

Now you pick a few threats. There are five types of threat: Warlord, Grotesque, Landsacpe, Affliction, and Brutes. For each threat, you pick the specific type, and that gives you the threat's "impulse", which is that type's overall motivation. Each threat type also gets a handful of MC moves that go with it.

Just for example's sake, let's look at the Warlord. Some of the warlord types are slaver (impulse: to own and sell people), prophet (impulse: to denounce and overthrow), and alpha wolf (impulse: to hunt and dominate).

Warlords have these MC moves:

• Outflank someone, corner someone, encircle someone.
• Attack someone suddenly, directly, and very hard.
• Attack someone cautiously, holding reserves.
• Seize someone or something, for leverage or information.
• Make a show of force.
• Make a show of discipline.
• Offer to negotiate. Demand concession or obedience.
• Claim territory: move into it, blockade it, assault it.
• Buy out someone’s allies.
• Make a careful study of someone and attack where they’re weak.

These moves work just like the regular ones; when it's the MCs turn to react to something, he can bust out one of a threat's moves instead of the normal batch. Like all MC moves, they're just more options to choose from, the only difference is that these moves are tied to

Once you've picked the threat, you put together a quick description of it, name it (if it makes sense to), and give it some appropriate gear.

For each threat, you may also want to make a countdown clock for it if its something that's not going to just sit around and wait for the PCs to come to it. You remember how the countdown clocks work; it's a circle marked off at 3:00, 6:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, and 12:00.

Up until a threat's clock hits 9, it's still something that's preventable, but still coming. Between 9:00 and 12:00, the threat's inevitable, but at least you have time to assume crash positions. At 12:00, though, shit hits the fan.

So when does a threat's clock advance? When it makes sense to. The MC makes a list of conditions that cause the threat's clock to advance ("three days pass", for instance); if the condition's something that depends on the PCs doing something, make sure you list it with an "if". (" if B.A. confronts General face-to-face").

A threat's countdown clock isn't some hard and fast mechanic to measure time until everyone's fucked. If circumstances change, then add or remove advancement conditions, or move the hands of the clock so it makes sense under the new situation. Remember: there are no status quos in Apocalypse World.

If you're really feeling creative you can make custom PC moves relating to the threat. It might be something the players need to roll:


When one of Siso’s Children touches you , roll+weird. On a 10+, your brain protects you and it’s just a touch. On a 7–9, I tell you what to do: if you do it, mark experience; if you don’t, you’re acting under fire from brain-weirdness. On a miss, you come to, some time later, having done whatever Siso’s child wants you to have done.

Or maybe it's like one of those modifier moves.


When you try to read Monk you have to roll+weird instead of rolling+sharp. Fucker just does not have normal body language.

We'll talk more about custom moves later on, but for now all you need to know is that they're great ways to make a threat more than just some dude you need to kill before the clock hits midnight.

You also want to be aware of threats that might pop up during play; if the PCs keep screwing over a particular PC, they might end up siding with an established threat or front.

Once you've put together a few threats, it's time to revisit the front as a whole. Make sure you write down what the fron't agenda is so you at least know what the overall goal you're having it work towards is.

(Oh yeah, there's also the home front. It's just a normal front, except for the following:
• No fundamental scarcity.
• No agenda / dark future.
• No overall countdowns.
• Otherwise front-less NPCs listed as threats.
• Stakes questions as you need them.
• Custom moves that aren’t attached to any particular threat.

It's basically an empty box that's there if you need it.)

You also want to give your front some stakes; write down a few short questions about the fates of characters you're interested in (both PCs and NPCs). Stuff like "Who will join Grey's Son's rebellion?" or "Who'll die if Geiger changes sides?". You know, the kinds of questions you'd ask if you were watching the game as a TV show and were really into what's happening to the main characters.

Basically, stakes are the questions that have serious, concrete, and permanent consequences when they get answered. When a stake gets resolved, something big is going to change, somebody's gonna die, the status quo gets curb-stomped again. Stakes are the shit that you want to find out about, not because you already know what's going to happen, but because the fallout isn't really up to you.


They should also be things you’re genuinely interested in finding out, not in deciding. It’s the central act of discipline that MCing Apocalypse World requires: when you write a question as a stake, you’re committing to not answer it yourself. You’re committing to let the game’s fiction’s own internal logic and causality, driven by the players’ characters, answer it.

That’s the discipline and also the reward. Your control over your NPCs’ fates is absolute. They’re your little toys, you can do anything to them you choose. Raise them up and mow them down. Disclaiming responsibility for the two or three of them you like best is a relief. And when you write down a question you’re genuinely interested in, letting the game’s fiction answer it is uniquely satisfying.

It really is, isn't it?

NEXT TIME : bad to worse to fucked

Moves snowball

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 8: Moves snowball

I've spent a lot of time talking about moves. Player moves that are used to determine what happens in situations where the dice come out, and MC moves that help the MC move things forward in response to the player's actions, especially in those situations where the player rolled a 7-9 and gets a success with a rider.

How do all these moves fit together?

The answer is "very snugly". It's just a matter of following through on two very important principles:
• If you do it, you do it.
• To do it, you have to do it.

Everything flows from there.

This chapter is just one long back-and-forth between an MC and a player as his brainer tries to deal with an enemy in a permanent-like fashion. Instead of just summarizing that (which is boring) or c&p-ing the whole damn thing (you understand why), I'm going to make up my own example.

Remember B.A. the battlebabe? He's in a bar waiting to meet someone. His fence, Whip, is coming here to sell B.A. a big gun B.A. needs for a uncoming job.

Just as a reminder, here are B.A.'s character moves:


Ice cold : when you go aggro on an NPC, roll+cool instead of roll+hard. When you go aggro on another player’s character, roll+Hx instead of roll+hard.
Impossible reflexes : the way you move unencumbered counts as armor. If you’re naked or nearly naked, 2-armor; if you’re wearing non-armor fashion, 1-armor. If you’re wearing armor, use it instead.

B.A. is sitting in a ratty-ass bar, glaring at Whip, his gun supplier. B.A. is not in a good mood, because not only did he have to check his weapons at the door, now Whip’s trying to up the prices on him and he really fucking needs that rocket launcher Whip was supposed to sell him.

"Look, I know what the normal rate is, but the price went up. This was hard to come by." Whip licks his lips nervously as B.A. glares at him.

"We had a deal, Whip," B.A. replies. "We have a good working relationship; I'd hate for a rise in prices to cause me to break your head open on the table and find a new supplier."

B.A. wants to haggle the price of the guns down by threatening Whip with violence. That's going aggro , so he rolls +cool and gets a total of 9. The MC has to choose what one thing Whip does from the list of outcomes for that move, and picks "give you something they think you want".

Whip gulps audibly. "Uh...s-sure, B.A. ...I mean I'd hate for something to happen too. N-normal price then? Uh...u-unless you'd l-like to put something forward on your next shipment?" Whip begins looking antsy, glancing nervously around the room and eyeing the doors.

The MC is announcing future badness . Whip is acting like he's expecting something to happen.

B.A.'s eyes narrow, and he glaces around the room as well before focusing on Whip again. "Something wrong, Whip? You expectin' someone?"

B.A. attempts to read a person to try and figure out why Whip's so nervous. He rolls a 4; that's a miss. When a player misses with a move, the MC can make as hard and direct a move as he likes . In this case, the MC decides to set B.A. up for a bad situation (that future badness from before), so he puts someone in a spot . But instead of B.A., he chooses Whip so that way B.A. will have to make a hard-ish choice.

Before Whip can answer, Grey's Son strides into the bar, flanked by two slabs of hired muscle. Ignoring everyone else in the bar (including B.A.), he grabs Whip by his collar and yanks him out of his chair. "Hello, Whip," he says humorlessly. "It's Thursday; where the fuck is my money?"

Whip squirms in Grey's Son's grip. "I-I-I'm workin' on it! I got this deal right now," he replies, jerking his head towards B.A., "and I've got another one later tonight..."

Grey's Son shakes his head. "I'm sick of waiting, Whip." He then turns to face B.A., adding, "This is private business. Piss off."

B.A.'s eyes narrow. "Look...normally I wouldn't get involved, but Whip here is my source, so why don't we just sit down and try to work this out?"

At this point, B.A. is going to read a charged situation . He rolls and gets an 11. That's a strong hit, so he can ask three questions off that move's list. He picks "what’s my enemy’s true position?" (Grey's Son wants to make an example of Whip), "which enemy is most vulnerable to me?" (the goon on Grey's Son's left isn't really paying as much attention as he should be), and "what should I be on the lookout for?" (a few of the bar patrons are a watching the scene on the sly and look like they’re packing).

Now that B.A. is focused on the situation, the MC decides to return the favor by offering an oppotunity, with or without a cost ; now that B.A. knows what the situation is, the MC's going to give him the chance to walk away and not get involved, but with the cost of Whip (probably) getting killed.

Grey's Son growls under his breath. "Listen, asshole. This is between me and this little shit right here. Walk away and nothin' bad'll happen to you." As he says this, he draws a pistol and holds it right in B.A.'s face.

At this point, B.A. has two options: walk away, or try and defend Whip. B.A. decides to stay and save Whip's ass, and tries to sieze Grey's Son's gun by force .

Before Grey's Son can open his mouth again, B.A. tries to grab the gun out of this shithead's hand.

That sounds like siezing by force to me. He gets a 9, so he gets to pick two choices. He picks “take definite hold” and “impress the enemy”.

He yanks the gun out of Grey’s Son’s hand, and spins it and points it back in his face while his bodyguards stand dumbfounded. It’s pretty clear that none of them were expecting B.A. to stick around; hell, Grey’s Son hasn’t even let go of Whip’s shirt. But it only takes a second for Grey’s Son to get his wits together, and assemble them into a look of fucking rage.

"Are you fucking stupid or something? I’m givin’ you one last chance, shithead: drop the gun and walk away, or my boys are gonna fuck you up."

See what the MC did there? That’s announcing future badness again. Technically, the MC could have done something like inflicting harm or trading harm, but he’s having too much fun seeing how how B.A.’s player will go while handing him enough rope to hang himself.

B.A. thinks for a second, and shoots Grey’s Son right in his fucking face.

Now, at this point, the MC is going to be nice and tell B.A. the possible consequences, then ask . "Are you sure you want to do this with two of his boys, like, right there?"

B.A. thinks for a second, and shoots Grey’s Son right in his fucking face.

O...kay then. Now, a pistol does 2-harm. But as we’ll see later, NPC’s aren’t as hearty as PCs. Remember the countdown clock? For NPCs, 2-harm is "wounds, likely fatal". And since it’s established in-scene that the gun was right in Grey’s Son’s face, then it’s not much of a stretch to say that he’s fucked. Still, that’s seizing by force , even though it’s a clear shot ( if you do it, do it , remember?). B.A. rolls...and gets a 6. Shit. On a miss, the MC gets to make as hard and direct a move as he likes.

Grey’s Son sees the twitch in B.A.’s eye, and ducks to the side a split-second before the gun goes off. On the plus side, he lets go of Whip. On the down side, Grey’s Son’s bodyguards draw guns...and B.A. gets shot in the shoulder by someone behind him. Looks like a few of the people here are working for Grey’s Son too and got here early to keep an eye on Whip. While most of the bar’s patrons are making for the door, a handful are pulling pistols and shotguns. Well, except for the asshole who just shot B.A.; he’s reloading his shotgun.

The MC inflicts harm (as established) , since it’s already established that there are people here with guns. Shotguns do 3-harm, but B.A. has impossible reflexes that act as armor-2. So he takes 1-harm (filling in the first section of his countdown clock); sucks, but he’s still up.

The bar erupts in thunder as B.A. dives behind a table. Whip’s screaming, Grey’s Son’s screaming, there’s a ton of these pricks, the table’s only like two inches thick and all B.A. has is a fucking pistol. Time to grab Whip and make for the fucking window or something here.

B.A.’s player wants to grab Whip and dive out the window while being shot at. Amazingly, that’s acting under fire , so B.A. has to roll for it...and gets an 8. That’s not good; B.A. hesitates, flinches, or stalls, AND the MC gets to offer him an ugly choice.

B.A. looks around the bar for an exit; a window, a door, [i]something
he can drag Whip through to get to a better position. But then he looks down at Whip, and sees that he’s curled fetal and crying: there’s no way he’s running out of here on his own power, even with B.A. dragging his ass, but staying here is pretty much suicide. B.A. has to decide right fucking now: if he stays and tries to defend Whip, he’s probably going to get his ass killed hard. But if he wants out, he’s not doing it with Whip.

That’s the choice: either stay and defend Whip (which means a really rough gunfight he probably won’t survive), or bolt and leave Whip behind (losing his contact and probably his reputation in the bargain). The MC looks at B.A.’s player and asks the all important question: "What do you do?"

What indeed?

NEXT TIME : if i don't hurt you, you'll never get better

Harm & Healing

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 9: Harm and healing

Now you've done it. You couldn't play nice, could you? You had to get involved in someone else's business, you had to get in his face about it, you had to draw and now everyone's trying to kill everyone else.

It always ends up like this, doesn't it?

There are a few way you can wind up taking damage in AW: screwing up going aggro, failing to sieze by force, or failing a move and the MC gets to inflict or exchange harm.

Harm equals the weapon's damage rating minus the target's armor rating (unless the weapon is ap). As for weapons and harm:

Simple grappling or some kids throwing garbage is 0-harm .
Fists, getting shoved down the stairs, or being out in the desert all day is 1-harm .
A handgun or one-story fall is 2-harm .
A shotgun, rifle, or glancing hit from a car is 3-harm .
Getting hit by a truck or serious fucking enemy fire is 4-harm .
A big-ass explosion, getting hit by a train, or getting tied down and your head slammed in by a sledgehammer is 5-harm .

(Some of those things are automatically ap; dehydration, getting hit by a truck, and the sledgehammer thing. If it's obvious that armor wouldn't help you out in the situation, then the harm is ap. This also applies to guns; remember how B.A. was holding a pistol in Grey's Son's face? It didn't matter if Grey's Son had armor or not because the bullet was going right in his face so the attack was considered ap for that circumstance. If it was a normal gunshot, then Grey's Son's armor (if any) would have been taken into account.)

So now that we've established what harm is, what happens when it's handed out?

Well, remember the countdown clock? When you take harm, you fill in a number of sections equal to the harm dealt. There's basically six sections to the clock: three sections before 9:00 and three after it. The first three sections are lesser wounds that'll heal on their own with time as long as you're not doing something stupid like running around getting into more fights. The last three represent more serious wounds that won't heal up without help from an angel.

There are two special (optional) moves related to suffering harm:


When you suffer harm , roll+harm suffered (after armor, if you’re wearing any). On a 10+, the MC can choose 1:
• You’re out of action: unconscious, trapped, incoherent or panicked.
• It’s worse than it seemed. Take an additional 1-harm.
• Choose 2 from the 7–9 list below.

On a 7–9, the MC can choose 1:
• You lose your footing.
• You lose your grip on whatever you’re holding.
• You lose track of someone or something you’re attending to.
• You miss noticing something important.

On a miss, the MC can nevertheless choose something from the 7–9 list above. If she does, though, it’s instead of some of the harm you’re suffering, so you take -1harm.


When you inflict harm on another player’s character , the other character gets +1Hx with you (on their sheet) for every segment of harm you inflict. If this brings them to Hx+4, they reset to Hx+1 as usual, and therefore mark experience.
These are mainly there to add a bit of unpredictability to the static back-and-forth of dealing harm. It's worth noting that for the suffer harm move, you actually want to roll low , not high.

In addition, if you take harm that wheels you past 9:00, you can choose to take a debility. If you do, one of your stats gets a permanent -1, but the harm doesn't go past 9:00. Debilities are serious business (like Disfigured: -1hot or Shattered:-1cool) because they never go away. You better be damn sure before you take one, 'cause you're stuck with it.

When NPCs take harm, it's a little different. See, the way the clocks are set up for PCs means that they can take an extra hit or two because they're the PCs and therefore badass. But NPCs? They don't get that buffer.

An NPC's countdown clock is divided up just like a PC's, except that anything after the second section is "fatal"; the main diference between sections being how fast the poor fucker's bleeding out. Even the second section is "probably fatal", so while a PC can take a pistol shot and keep going, an NPC who's shot is pretty much fucked. If you don't like being arbitrary, you can always roll to see how fatal a "fatal wound" is so someone can have a chance to save him.

If a gang suffers harm, it's a little different because a gang is treated as a single "unit". Gangs are rated by size (small/medium/large), with "one or two guys" being the step below small. For each size rank the attacker has over the target, they do +1harm. For each rank that the attacker is below size, they do -1harm. That's on top of however much harm the gang does normally, of course.

(Remember the gunlugger's NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH move? He's treated as a small gang; that means that when fighting random assholes, he deals +1 harm and takes -1 harm. It also means he can fight with a gang of like 15 guys on equal terms. Yikes.)

Harm, again, works a little differently for gangs:


1-harm: a few injuries, one or two serious, no fatalities.
2-harm: many injuries, several serious, a couple of fatalities.
3-harm: widespread injuries, many serious, several fatalities.
4-harm: widespread serious injuries, many fatalities.
5-harm and more: widespread fatalities, few survivors.

Gangs can usually keep their shit together up to 4-harm if they've got a good leader; the worse the leader the less harm it can take before everyone abandons ship.

Vehicles can take harm too, with the added bonus of acting like armor for everyone inside. When a vehicle takes harm, it takes the full brunt of the hit, and one less harm travels through to hit everyone inside. So if a car takes 3-harm after armor, it fills in three sections of its countdown clock and everyone inside takes 2-harm (before armor). Of course, it's up to the MC to figure out if it makes sense for the damage to blow through. Bullets'll probably go through, but a flamethrower not so much.

So now we know how to shoot the shit out of each other. How do you heal?

The only real answer (besides "sit around and wait") is to talk to an angel. Remember this?


To use an angel kit to stabilize and heal someone at 9:00 or past : roll+stock spent. On a hit, they will stabilize and heal to 6:00, but the MC will choose 1 (on a 10+) or 2 (on a 7–9):
• they need to be physically stabilized before you can move them.
• even narcostabbed, they fight you; you’re acting under fire.
• they’ll be in and out of consciousness for 24 hours, maybe longer.
• stabilizing them eats up your stock; spend 1-stock more.
• they’ll be bedridden, out of action, for at least a week.
• they’ll need constant monitoring and care for 36 hours.
On a miss, they take 1-harm instead.

To use an angel kit to speed the recovery of someone at 3:00 or 6:00 : don’t roll. They choose: spend 4 days (3:00) or 1 week (6:00) blissed out on chillstabs, immobile but happy, or do their time like everyone else.
That's the angel's big Thing. Of course, stock doesn't replenish itself, so even if the angel is another PC, you can bet your ass he's going to charge you.

If you don't happen to have an angel on the team, your only real other options are having NPC medic (with all that entails), having NPC medic who's effectively a vending machine (you put your barter in, you get your healing out, but at least they won't be threatened), or not having any healing available and being (and I quote) "shit out of luck".

Moral of the story: keep the fucking angel happy .

NEXT TIME : if you kill him, he won't learn nothin'


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 10: Improvement

Sooner or later, your character in Apocalypse World is going to get better. He does this by (like in most games), getting experience points.

Each character has five experience "bubbles" on his sheet. Every time you earn an experience point, you check off one of the bubbles. When you mark your fifth bubble, you get a character advance and clear out your experience track.

In other words, every five XP you get you level up.

Before we talk about what a character advance is, let's talk about xp.

You can earn experience in three ways:

Rolling a higlighted stat. At the start of each session, each player highlights one stat on another character's sheet. Then the MC highlights a different stat on each character's sheet. The idea is that you're highlighting the stat you think is most interesting for that character, or that you want to see them use. Every time you roll a move with one of those stats, you mark experience.
Your relationship with someone hits +4 or -4. When that happens, your Hx resets to +1/-1 and you mark experience.
A move says to. Some moves (like the manipulate or seduce basic move, or the hocus' insight ) will tell you to mark experience.

So you're going to be marking experience pretty often, and probably getting an advance like every other session. That's fine, that's the idea. So what kind of advances can you get? They're listed in the playbooks, but let's do a quick rundown.

The most basic advances are getting a +1 to a stat; your stats max out a +3. You can also get a new move from your playbook or another playbook, or pick a new option for your playbook's features. Generally speaking you can get +1 to each of your stats, two more moves from your playbook, two extra feature options, and two moves from other people's playbooks.

(Just so you know, though; if you take a move from another playbook that depends on a non-move feature, then you don't get the feature. If you take the hardholder's wealth move, you don't get the holding with it and you just wasted your advance. Dumbass.)

There are advances that will get you both a move and feature from another playbook; you can get a gang and become pack alpha like a chopper, or get wealth and the holding to go with it. What special stuff you have access to depends on your playbook, though. Like, a brainer can't get a chopper-style gang, and a savvyhead can't get a hocus' followers.

Once you've taken five of your possible improvements, another list of "advanced" improvements open up. The most basic are taking another +1 to a stat (still capped at +3 though) and creating a second character to play (so you're playing two characters).

You also have some more...interesting options.

One thing you can do is change your character to a different type. Like, completely swap playbooks. When you do this, you keep your stats and Hx and moves, but you lose your old playbook features and get the new ones. If you're a hardholder and switch to chopper, you don't get to keep your holding but you gain a gang. You'd also keep all your hardholder moves (even though you can't use some of them) and get chopper moves as a new character would.

Another advance you can take is to retire your character to safety. His story is over, and he's spending the rest of his days rockin' on the porch and napping peacefully. You play out the character's last scene, he says goodbye, and rides off into the sunset or background or whatever. But however it happens, it says happened.


“To safety” means two things. First, it means the retiring character’s safety: as MC, you promise not to kill her off just because now she’s yours and technically you could. No fair decorating your up-and-coming new warlord’s pike with her head.

Second, it means the player’s characters’ safety: as MC, you promise not to turn her into their enemy, just because now she’s yours and technically you could. No fair making her be your up-and-coming new warlord either.

Lastly, there are two special advances available: choose 3 moves and advance them, and advance the other 4 moves. If you take these, you actually improve the basic moves for your character. You can pick any of the basic moves except "help or interfere with someone".

When you advance a basic move, the 10+ result becomes 10-11, and on a 12+ you get a new fucking badass effect.

How fucking badass?


When you do something under fire , or dig in to endure fire, roll+cool. On a 10–11, you do it. On a 7–9, you flinch, hesitate, or stall: the MC can offer you a worse outcome, a hard bargain, or an ugly choice.

On a 12+, you transcend the danger, the pressure, the possibility of harm. You do what you set out to do, and the MC will offer you a better outcome, true beauty, or a moment of grace.
Incredibly fucking badass.

I mean, look at this.


When you try to seduce or manipulate someone , tell them what you want and roll+hot. For NPCs: on a hit, they ask you to promise something first, and do it if you promise. On a 10+, whether you keep your promise is up to you, later. On a 7–9, they need some concrete assurance right now. For PCs: on a 10+,
both. On a 7–9, choose 1:
• if they do it, they mark improvement
• if they refuse, it’s acting under fire
What they do then is up to them.

On a 12+, only if they’re an NPC, they do it, and furthermore you change their nature. Choose one of the following; tell the MC to erase their threat type altogether and write it in instead.
• ally: friend (impulse: to back you up)
• ally: lover (impulse: to give you shelter & comfort)
• ally: right hand (impulse: to follow through on your intentions)
• ally: representative (impulse: to pursue your interests in your absence)
• ally: guardian (impulse: to intercept danger)
• ally: confidante (impulse: to give you advice, perspective, or absolution.

That's a straight-up "I slept with the villain's assistant, and they turned into a good guy" move like you see in every spy movie ever.

Why play Apocalypse World? Because you start out badass and only go up from there.

NEXT TIME : getting back down to the basics

Basic Moves

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 11: Basic moves

The next chapter is all about the basic moves, and getting into the nitty-gritty of how they work with a lot of examples and commentary. Let's just start at the top and work our way down; I've already talked about these moves before so I'm not going to repost them or anything.

So what does it mean to do something under fire ? Well, you have to understand that "under fire" means any type of serious pressure. It can mean trying to do something without being noticed, or trying to get under cover from actual gunfire. Another thing to bear in mind that while the 7-9 result means that the MC gets to offer you an ugly choice or worse outcome, you still succeed at what you were doing. More or less.


Keeler the gunlugger’s taken off her shoes and she’s sneaking into Dremmer’s camp, armed as they say to the upper teeth. If they hear her, she’s fucked. (On a 7–9, maybe I give her an ugly choice between alerting the camp and murdering an innocent teenage sentry.) She hits the roll with an 8, so the ugly choice it is. “There’s some kid out here, huddled under this flimsy tin roof with a mug of who-knows-what. You think you’re past him but he startles and looks right at you. You can kill him before he makes a noise, but you’ll have to do it right this second. Do you?” “Yes, duh,” she says. “Great. You leave him dead and make your way in. You’re crouching down by a big piece of fallen wall, looking into Dremmer’s camp. He’s eating with a couple other guys, they have no idea you’re here.”

When you go aggro on someone , you're using the threat of violence (or actual violence) to get someone to do what you want. This is sort of the wind-up to combat; if things go south you're probably going to end up inflicting violence on each other, but hey, at least you tried, right? It's important to note that even though this move can result in someone taking harm, it's not a "combat" move; when you go aggro, actual violence is an outcome, not the intent.


Bran yells at Fleece, calls her a stupid slut and threatens to push her off the roof. He hits the roll with a 12. “She falls to her knees, she’s crying,” I say. “She’ll do whatever you want. Jesus Bran, you’re a piece of work.”

When the time comes to actually try and kill someone, that's when you try to sieze by force . You can sieze pretty much anything by force; you can sieze the moment, sieze control of the room's attention, or sieze someone's life; if you're using violence to do something, this is probably the move you want. This move can be a little tricky since not all the options will apply to every situation; sometimes there's no logical way you can "take little harm" or "deal major harm" if you're (say) trying to get the attention of the room by firing a gun in the air. Either way, 90% of the time you're going to use this move to put the hurt on someone.


Seizing by force is very strictly only for fights, times when characters move with violence directly against people able to defend themselves. If the situation doesn’t allow for a full exchange of blows, attack for attack, harm for harm, toe to toe, it’s not seizing by force.

Going aggro is the more general move. It’s for direct threats when the character can and will follow up with violence. The victim may or may not be able to defend herself, that’s fine either way — what’s crucial is that the victim isn’t defending herself yet. It may or may not include preliminary violence, to get the victim’s attention and make the point, that’s fine either way too. It may be just that the character wants to murder the victim without giving him the chance to fight back.

Seducing or manipulating someone means you're actually trying to offer something in return for a favor. Just asking "hey, can I borrow your gun for a minute?" doesn't count. It also isn't just having sex. This move is when you offer something and expect to get something in return. Sometimes it's a favor, sometimes it's just the unspoken promise of "don't tell Grey's Son I did this, okay?".


Keeler confesses her crush to Bran. She wants him to like her back. She hits the roll with a 7. “If you like me back, mark experience,” she says. “Wow I’d like to,” Bran’s player says, “and you’re sweet and all, but…” “Oh no!” Keeler’s player says. “Crushed!”

You read a charged situation when you want to get a grasp on what's about to go down. It can be a quick scan or an involved analysis of the situation, but either way you get to ask the same questions. What's more, if the situation involves other PCs, then let them answer some of the questions too.


Bran doesn’t like the way things are going, so he takes a quick look around. He hits the roll with an 11, so let’s see. Tum Tum isn’t his biggest threat, Tum Tum’s psychically-linked cultistbodyguards are. His enemy’s true position is closing in slowly around Tum Tum’s temple, where they’re talking. And if things go to shit? I think his best escape route would be to take one or the other of Tum Tum hostage. (Bran’s player: “Aw fuck.”)

Read a person is pretty much the same as reading a situation, and has mostly the same riders and notes. The big difference is that reading someone takes time; you can't just look at someone and know all about them, you need to engage them in some way. And yes, two PCs can read each other and ask each other the questions.


Keeler’s sitting back watching Foster give orders and receive reports, all business. Keeler pays attention to her manner, mood, body language, and hits the roll with a 7. She asks almost idly what Foster’s really feeling. “She’s scared,” I say. “Scared? Of what?” she says. “Of Marie,” I say, as honesty demands. “She is?” she says. “But that would mean …Oh shit.”

One important thing about reading a situation or person:


When a character reads a charged situation, the player asks all the questions up-front, right then. When a character reads a person, though, the player holds onto the questions and asks them one by one during their interaction. You may have to remind the players a few times before they get in the habit.


When the player blows the roll to read a sitch or read a person, one of my favorite moves is to turn the questions back on them . “Hey by the way, where are you most vulnerable? Also, what should Roark be on the lookout for? And while I’m at it, what’s his best escape route?” and then use the player’s answers to just fucking bring it home .

And of course, you can always open your brain to the world's psychic maelstrom because that'll never go wrong. The player does have to open his brain about something , though, be it person, place or thing. This is a great move for letting the MC build on world stuff (since the questions don't have to be about something directly in the scene), and the answers you have to give in return work just as well. Just don't expect straight answers in either direction.


Keeler, against every instinct in her body and soul, opens her brain once to the world’s psychic maelstrom, because she’s once-in-a-lifetime desperate. She hits with a 9. I tell her that the vultures are circling and they aren’t real, but they all have the faces of Tum Tum. “What?” she says. “What does Tum Tum have to do with this shit? Jesus, cryptic much?”

When you help or interfere it's always important to ask how . The book recommends having both characters roll at the same time, and if multiple people want to help out or get in the way, then the bonuses and penalties don't stack.


Bran’s going aggro on Marser, threatening his life, his family’s lives, the lives of everyone he’s ever known. Keeler’s helping by sitting nearby, idly loading gun after gun. (Maybe on a 7–9, Marser decides the real threat is Keeler and the only way to be safe is to get rid of her.) In fact Keeler hits the roll with an 8, so Bran gets the +1 to his aggro roll, but Marser does indeed so decide. He’ll move against Keeler first chance he gets.

Oh yeah, there's also a move that happens at the end of each session, where each player picks one character who knows their character better, and gives that character +1 Hx, although it's also allowable to give someone a -1 Hx depending on the circumstances. The main thing about this is that you can't not do this; every player has to pick someone. But since every Hx is one step closer to getting an experience point, why wouldn't you?


During the session, Bran pursued his own interests mostly apart from the other two, enlisting them both occasionally but without really revealing himself to either. If he could, he’d pass, but he can’t. He chooses to tell Marie’s player to take the +1Hx, more or less arbitrarily, and figures he’ll choose Keeler next time.

That covers all the basic moves that're always in play. There are still a few that are more or less optional, though. These don't have as many examples and advice because they tend to be pretty straightforward and situational.

The harm and healing moves are about adjusting your Hx with someone if you heal them up, or having something bad happen to you when you take harm.


You can remember it like this: when you hurt someone, they see you more clearly: now they know what you’ll do to them. When you heal someone, you see them more clearly: there’s nobody so uniquely vulnerable and exposed as an injured person in your care.

The barter moves come into play if you want to bribe someone (which isn't really a move; bribing just means you manipulated them as if you rolled a 10+) or buy something. And even if you're buying something, you shouldn't use the move to see if it's available if it's something that the characters can just get.


When it’s obvious whether the character can just go buy the thing, it might be obvious that she can, or obvious that she can’t. “Obvious” is for you to decide, but do remember that your agenda is to make Apocalypse World seem real and to make the characters’ lives interesting, not to arbitrarily deny them things they want or would find useful.

There's also some advice for the augry and insight moves, which the hocus and savvyhead can get. The only real advice on these is that they're a great way to barf forth apocalyptica and come up with more ideas about the world's psychic maelstrom.

We close out with some optional battle moves . There's some advice on using countdown clocks to manage the flow of a battle (from initial maneuvering to serious fighting to concentrated fire). It's the closest thing AW has to a more "traditional" combat mechanic.

The fight starts in the first segment, and for each segment everyone gets to do one thing. "One Thing" can mean actually moving around, using a move, or using part of a move (like spending hold or something). Once everyone in the fight does something, the clock moves up one tick. At 12:00, the fight stops, one way or another.


At 12:00 the battle ends. Make the dispositions of the sides at that moment final. If one side’s dominating the other, that’s how it ends, with that side dominating and the other dominated. If it’s a stalemate, the battle ends stalemated, with both sides withdrawing or entrenching. If it’s a bloodbath, at 12:00 there’s nobody really left whose blood to let. Make whatever moves you need to make to get there.

Read the clock prescriptively and descriptively here too. If you come to 12:00 by counting down, make the battle end; if the battle ends itself sooner, make the countdown abruptly to 12:00.

It's more structured than normal combat (which is "everyone does stuff when they say it"-levels of abstract), and is a bit more "traditional" in its function. There are a few moves for this style combat, and they're a lot more literal than the normal moves. For instance:


When you provide covering fire for someone , roll+cool. On a 10+, you keep them from coming under concentrated fire, even past 9:00. On a 7–9, their position or course is untenable, and they proceed accordingly. On a miss, they suffer concentrated fire now. (If it’s before 9:00, now it’s 9:00.)

If nothing else, the optional battle moves give you a way to ease the more traditional gamers into the more abstract stuff. Barf forth apocalyptica on their playstyle. They'll thank you for it.

NEXT TIME : everyone is special in their own way

Character Moves

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Part 12: Character moves

This chapter's pretty much like the last one, but this time around we're talking about the character-specific moves.

Also like last chapter, the notes here are more guidance for the MC to understand how a character's moves work, how to play off them, and other small details. And yes, that includes the sex moves too.

Instead of doing another move-by-move breakdown, I'm going to touch on one move per character.

The angel move touched by death gives the character +1weird (max +3) every time someone in his care dies. Forunately (or unfortunately), just being around an angel doesn't count as being in his care. Same deal if the angel kills someone willingly; that doesn't count as being cared for.

Vincent posted:

When a player takes this move, I make it a personal goal to get her to weird+3 by session 5.

The battlebabe move dangerous and sexy lets you hold someone at bay simply by maintaining eye contact, and works until the battlebabe breaks contact. "Breaks contact" usually means the character does something else like attacking or jumping onto a moving vehicle; but if it's an iffy case, then treat that as acting under fire to maintain it.

When a brainer uses in-brain puppet strings , he can force someone to do what he wants. If the person refuses, they'll either take 1-harm(ap) or take -1 right then and there. But since NPCs never roll, all the brainer can do in that case is the 1-harm. Brainers have more options when it comes to forcing their will on PCs than NPCs. Interesting, isn't it?

So you remember how choppers had to use their pack alpha move to "impose their will on their gang"? That's not as rough as it seems. See, just asking the gang to do something they'd probably go along with doesn't require you to roll. It's when you want them to do something they don't want to do (or would be pretty dangerous even for them) that you have to roll.


If the gang fights back over it, as MC you have a choice: (1) summarize the fight. ?ey just inflict harm as normal, determined by their weapons and your armor (you can have them choose not to go all the way with their weapons, if the circumstances don’t call for a full-on battle). Or else (2) zoom in on the fight, playing it out in full, with the chopper making moves and the gang making moves, and attending to all the consequences of all of the moves they make.

The big thing about drivers being no shit drivers is that they add their car's stats to damn near everything they roll, even those optinal battle moves I mentioned last time. Generally speaking, if it doesn't involve rolling +sharp or +wierd, then the driver gets the boost.

Oh yeah, and on the subject of the driver's sex move (particularly the "prove they don't own you" penalty):


MC, you’re the judge of whether she’s proved it. Remember that your agenda is to make Apocalypse World seem real and to make the characters’ lives not boring, not to make the players jump through stupid hoops.

Gunluggers are all pretty straightforward. The biggest thing is that when they use fuck this shit and get a 7-9, they have to either leave something behind or take something with them.


“Take something with you” can mean that the gunlugger suffers harm on her way out. She’d suffer harm as normal, determined by her enemy’s weapon and her armor. It can mean taking a person too, like “I can get you through that door, but you gotta take me with you.

Oh, and remember NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH ? The move that lets a gunlugger fight as a small gang? That only counts when it's a battle , not when you're just exchaning bullets with some asshole.

The hardholder's like the chopper in that they don't get a lot of moves customization, they only get the leadership and wealth moves. Here, we have some advice on what to do when the hardholder misses when using leadership :


Here’s Graham: “My interpretation of [missing the roll], by the way, is that a missed roll doesn’t necessarily mean your gang turning on you completely, ousting you, taking over the headquarters… Instead, it means one of your lieutenants stands up to you, or they abandon you in a fight, or something. So it’s a temporary and significant disloyalty, but it doesn’t mean you’ve lost your gang.”

He’s exactly right.

One of the hocus's big things is the frenzy move, which allows him to "speak the truth" to a mob of people, and convince them to do what he wants. It might cause them to take up arms and riot, it might make them offer tribute, it might even make them just get on with their lives.


MC, you’re the judge whether the hocus is speaking truth to a mob. Remember that your agenda is to make Apocalypse World seem real, and to make the characters’ lives not boring, NOT to preserve your NPCs’ lives, dignity, self-determination or status quo. There are no status quos in Apocalypse World.

The operator's main shtick is his gigs, and the moonlighting move is what lets him work and manage his gigs. Gigs are extra income, so it's important to let the operator use them.


Moonlighting happens at a natural break in the action — Whenever there’s a stretch of downtime in play, or between sessions , as the move says — and it gives you good stuff to work with going forward. Give the operator her downtime stretches regularly, you’ll be glad you did.

Savvyheads are weird. In addition to being really good at fixing or upgrading shit (which will be explained next chapter), they also have ability to "read" an object (or person) to get some details of that object's history.


As with reading a charged sitch: (a) You should enlist the other players’ help answering, if they’d know the answers better than you. (b) Don’t be super picky about the player asking one of these stock questions, just pretend they asked the nearest one when you give your answer. And (c) whether you already
knew the answer or you’re making it up now on the spot, you’ve committed to it.

Last up are skinners. Skinners get the "most complex move in the damn game": hypnotic , which lets them hold against PCs and NPC, and then things get weird because the effects of the control is actually up to the controlled person.


Notice that it’s the subject who spends the hold, mostly, not the skinner. The skinner doesn’t get to say “I spend 1 hold so now you fight to protect me”; instead, the subject says “I fight to protect you so that uses up 1 of your hold.” The skinner gets to spend her hold only if her subject’s a PC, and then only to distract or inspire her.

Take care to have your NPCs not act against the skinner when she’s hypnotized them, though. Fuck around with this shit and the players stop trusting you to play the game fair, and then the game’s done.

I said this before, but it's nice to see a game that devles into the nitty-gritty of how it works from a GM's perspective instead of just saying "power X has effect Y". It's not just a matter of "here's how this works," it's also "this is why it works this way" and "here's what you can do with it besides rolling dice."

Don't worry. The next chapter isn't a rehash.

NEXT TIME : a man's best friend is his gun

The Character's Crap

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Part 13: The character's crap

Ah, equipment. Guns, gangs, and gear. How does Apocalypse handle these?

Before we get into that, let's talk about barter . Barter is the intentionally vague currency of Apocalypse World; what the physical representation of "one barter" is is left up to the players; it might be some form of currency, or it might just be undefined goods.

Whatever it looks like, 1-barter is defined as "a month’s living expenses, if your tastes aren’t too grand". Well, that's not the only definition, but that's the easiest one to really "get". Some of the other definitions are things like "a year’s tribute to a warlord" and "bribes, fees and gifts sufficient to get you into almost anyone’s presence".

There's also a few playbook-specific barter costs too. If your angel is doing around-the-clock care to someoen important for a week, he'd get paid 1-barter. Likewise, getting one of the violent characters to kill someone pays out 1-barter, and that's also how much a savvyhead would be paid to fix something hi-tech.

Each playbook helpfully lists what you can do to earn 1-barter. And once you have some barter, you can spend it on some crap.

Weapons and other assorted gear are defined primarily by tags . You've seen these when I was describing gear in previous chapters; everything had descriptors like "loud" or "valuable". Those're tags.

There are about 20 main tags, and they fall into one of three categories:

Mechanical tags tell you how something works in conjuction with the rules. Area is an example of this; it means the item can affect an entire area at once. n-harm is a mechanical tag that tells you how much damage something does.

Constraint tags tell you when you can or can't use the item. Something with refill is "used up" when you use it, and can't be used again until you can refill it. Likewise, infinite is a constraint (sort of), which means that the item has as many uses as you need.

Cues are there to help the players and MC define the item in non-mechanical terms. Alive means the item is a living thing, loud means it makes a lot of noise when used, and so on.

Pretty much all the items characters will have are built out of tags. A 9mm pistol, for example, is 2-harm close loud ; it does 2 damage, has a range of "close", and makes a lot of noise. A machette is 3-harm hand messy , which means it does 3 damage, only works in hand-to-hand, and makes a pretty bug mess when applied.

For the characters who get to customize items, you'll see things with a plus or minus on them. Plus means the tag is added to the item, minus means it's removed. So a silencer for a battlebabe's gun is "-loud", and making it ornate is "+valuable". Simple enough.

Of course, some characters get specialty gear. The angel's kit and the brainer gear being the best examples. Those are pretty much covered by their playbooks, so I'm just gonna move on here.

Vehicles have their own stats, but those stats really only matter if you're a driver. All the stuff you pick when you're building the vehice (frame, strengths, looks, weaknesses) are all pretty much cues, but they can come into deeper play depending on the situation. Just use your common sense.

Savvyheads have access to a workspace, and this is where they can alter things by basically just adding tags. They have this move when it comes to working on something:


When you go into your workspace and dedicate yourself to making a thing, or to getting to the bottom of some shit, decide what and tell the MC. The MC will tell you “sure, no problem,
but…” and then 1 to 4 of the following:
• it’s going to take hours/days/weeks/months of work;
• first you’ll have to get/build/fix/figure out ___;
• you’re going to need ___ to help you with it;
• it’s going to cost you a fuckton of jingle;
• the best you’ll be able to do is a crap version, weak and unreliable;
• it’s going to mean exposing yourself (plus colleagues) to serious danger;
• you’re going to have to add ___ to your workplace first;
• it’s going to take several/dozens/hundreds of tries;
• you’re going to have to take ___ apart to do it.
The MC might connect them all with “and,” or might throw in a merciful “or.”
Once you’ve accomplished the necessaries, you can go ahead and accomplish the thing itself. The MC will stat it up, or spill, or whatever it calls for.

Obviously, the more stuff you want to at to whatever it is you're building, the more things the MC should pick. But once you've done it, it's just a matter of adding the appropriate tags to the item, putting together the profile for it if it's a vehicle. Wanna put a machine gun turret in the back of a pickup? That's just a matter of doing the work and adding "3-harm far loud" to the pickup. Easy peasy. Well, except for the "do the work" part.

Gangs are gear too, sort of. Independent, violent gear.

Gangs have their own specific tags; things like mobile or savage . For the most part they're about the gang's overall personality.

One of the big things you can do with a gang is use them as a weapon. You can use your gang to go aggro or sieze by force, and in those cases it's the gang that suffers the immediate consequences. When a gang fights someone, they add 1-harm to all damage they do for each size category they are above the target, and take one less damage for each size category they are above the target.

The thing is, though, that a gang isn't just a big weapon, it's a group of people. Remember the MC's principles: name everyone, make everyone human. A gang isn't going to just follow blindly because their leader told them to jump into a meat grinder. They can puch back, and challenge. Remember: no status quos.

Now let's talk a bit about holdings and followers. Hardholders and hocuses get these, and they work pretty much the same way. Holdings and followers work pretty much the same way; in addition to tags, they have two special tags called surplus and want . When your hold/followers are in surplus, that means things are going well and they get a bonus tag (like barter which means you have some spare cash, violence (when things are good, they "celebrate" via rampage, or grant access to the insight or augry moves if you're a hocus.

It's important to point out that just because you're in surplus, that doesn't mean that things are automatically good, and being in want isn't automatically bad. There are good and bad options for both.

Last up are gigs, which are things that operators have. Gigs are ongoing jobs that you take to earn a little scratch on the side, or build up favors or something. We covered this back when we were talking about the operator's playbook; each gig has a profit (which is what you earn when you successfully pull of the gig), and a catastophe (which is what happens when things go tits-up). For instance, the "Deliveries" gig has 1-barter/bushwacked, which means that if you do well you get paid and if you fuck it up you got attacked.

The overall success or failure of a gig is determined by rolling the operator's moonlighting move between sessions or during downtime. Once you figure out how the gig went, you can then determine how the gig comes into play; maybe success happened just before the start of play and you start the session spreading some jingle around, or maybe you start play just at that moment where things go wrong. Fortunately, the book gives some nice advice on how to work the various catastropies into play.

But above all, remember: the characters' crap doesn't make them who they are; don't define the characters by what they have, define them by how they use it.

NEXT TIME: the right tool for the right job

Advanced fuckery, ludography, and the wrap up

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 14: Advanced fuckery, ludography, and the wrap up

This is it; the last chapter. And one of the best ones of the book, too, because it talks about how to pull the game apart and put it back together in the shape you want.

In other words, this is the chapter that gives you the guidelines on how to create custom moves.

The first reason to make a custom move is for changing the action . Interestingly, it starts out with an example of how not to do it:


Here’s a custom threat move. People new to the game occasionally ask me for this one. It’s general, it modifies nearly every other move:

Things are tough. Whenever a players’ character makes a move, the MC judges it normal, difficult, or crazy difficult. If it’s difficult, the player takes -1 to the roll. If it’s crazy difficult, the player takes -2 to the roll.

Several groups in playtest wanted this move or one like it. All of them abandoned it after only one session. It didn’t add anything fun to the game, but did add a little hassle to every single move. So it’s a legal custom move, of course, and you can try it if you like, but I wouldn’t expect you to stick with it.

Ideally, a custom move at this "level" is tied to threats. If the local warlord Scratch has something he's really good at (like fighting with a chain), then a move can be built to reinforce that.


When Scratch hits you with his chain , roll +hard. On a 10+ you just take the damage and that's it. On a 7-9, choose one:
• The chain wraps around your arm or leg.
• The chain knocks your weapon out of your hand.
• You take the hit to the temple and take s-harm.

Of course, a threat's move can be pretty general too.


Whenever a player’s character makes a move against an NPC where the NPC is strong , the NPC can interfere. Treat it as though the NPC had hit a roll+Hx with a 10+: the player takes -2 to the roll.

This one is for when, like, you’re in a fist fight with Rolfball, with his fists like big wedges of stone, or you’ve been tied to a table by Grome, who is really very practiced at tying people to tables.

Custom moves can also be used to fill in spaces in the world ; those little areas that come up but aren't covered by the presented rules. Take stealth, for instance. Under the standard rules, being sneaky is considered "acting under fire", with the danger being "being caught". But if you want something a little more detailed, there's these two moves created by one of the playtesters:


When you infiltrate a place by stealth , roll+cool. On a 10+, both. On a 7–9, choose 1:
• you get in
• you go unnoticed
On a miss, neither.

When you try to steal something , roll+cool. On a 10+, both. On a 7–9, choose 1:
• you get it
• you get away clean
On a miss, neither.
Man, I love those. Simple and effective.

Creating new custom moves for characters is also helpful when people want to spin a playbook or a character in a new direction. Want to be a sniper, but there's no move to support the idea? Then fucking make one up!


Assassin : When you attack from hiding or from a circumstance prepared by you in advance, your harm is armor piercing.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't share this story from the book:


Gabe had just used healing touch for the very first time ever, trying to help his friend Jessica, a savvyhead, but Harry blew the roll. By the rules, he’d just opened both of their brains to the world’s psychic
maelstrom, unprepared.

The world’s psychic maelstrom in that game was all about love.

“Now, I’m not going to tell you that you fall in love with her,” I said. “That’s up to you. But”:

Close to Jessica’s soul : whenever you do anything that puts Jessica’s interests above your own, mark an experience circle.

Gabe was already a white-knight angel, not a bitter hard angel, and he took to it like crazy.

It bears repeating: Vince wants people to make this game their own. You're not supposed to bend your ideas to fit the game, you're expected...hell, encouraged to bend the game around your ideas.

One thing Vince says he likes to do is write "love letters" to his players when there's been a long gap in the game or a demo needs a certain set-up to get things rolling quickly. These love letters all contain custom moves that are designed to take the pre-done setup and put the changes right in the player's hands. Like this one from the Apocalypse World demo:


Dear brainer,
Go ahead and create your character, following the rules in your playbook.

You live in a holding called Hatchet City. Hatchet City is at war with this rival warlord named Ambergrease, whose gang fights with a viciousness beyond all reason. You’re in charge of some important prisoners — a presumed spy, a captured enemy gang boss, maybe others. However and more interestingly, the world’s psychic maelstrom itself seems to have turned against Hatchet City.

After you’ve made your character, before the session starts, I’ll ask you what you’ve figured out. Roll+weird. On a hit, ask me some of the following questions. On a 10+, ask 3; on a 7–9, ask 2:
• Is Michi really a spy for Ambergrease?
• Why is it that Ambergrease’s fanatics fight so … thoroughly?
• Upon what or whom is the world’s psychic maelstrom so intent?
• Who are some other people implicated in this situation?

On a miss, ask 2 anyway, but also you are yourself implicated in the situation.

Furthermore, the I’ll tell you the names and circumstances of some NPCs. Choose at least 3 of the following:
• Which one is in love with you?
• Which one have you enslaved?
• Which one are you going to kill?
• Which one have you fallen in love with?

Love and kisses, your MC

See? Sets up the scenario, establishes what's going on with this character quickly, and still puts some choices and control in the player's hands. Plus, love and kisses.

Of course, once you understand how moves work, it's pretty easy to modify the rules to cover other genres. Right now there are three major AW hacks in various states of "released": Monster of the Week, Dungeon World, and Monsterhearts. They all use the same basic engine, but use the moves framework in different ways.


Magic User: Cast a spell (intelligence)
Arcane magic comes from the use of formulae, ritual, and the magic user’s own life force.
Roll 7–9: Player chooses 1
Roll 10+: Player chooses 2
• The spell is not forgotten
• The spell has a powerful effect (maximize dice)
• The spell has a large effect (double range, duration, or number affected)
• The spell does not misfire

(By the way; pretty much all the moves I've listed so far are from the book, and Vince credits each move with its creator. Very classy.)

After all the examples and inspiration, we finally get to the nuts and bolts of a move. Unsurprisngly, there's not many.

Every move uses the same basic structure: "When X, then Y." "When" can mean "when you try to do this thing", "at the end of the session", or just "all the time".

Once you've got that, it's just a matter of picking the "then". Do you roll? Substitue stats? Mark experience? Change the current circumstances?

I know that seems pretty general, but once you "get" how moves work, making them is pretty easy. Vince provides a bunch of "move parts" that you can plug together pretty easily; and once you understand what you want the move to do, it's just a matter of picking the right mechanical terms. The book closes the chapter by taking the in-brain puppet strings move apart for you, so you can see how it was put together in the first place.

The last chapter is the ludography , which is the Big List Of Things That Inspired Vince. Apart from the (pretty long) list of playtesters, Vince lists all the RPGs and movies that inspired the game. He even goes so far as to call out which specific mechanics in other games inspired what in Apocalypse World; like how threat countdowns are based on "Bangs" from Ron Edward's Sorcerer . The remainder of the chapter is just some small bits about where countdown clocks came from, why there's still gas 50 years in the future, a small blurb on indie RPG publishing, and the recipe for Apocalypse Corn.

We close out the book with an index (that also lists all the moves and sorts them by stat), and we're out.

It's hard to sum up a game like Apocalypse World, but it's because the game itself is such a blank slate. Everythign about this game is designed to facilitate playing the game you want to play. The setting is completely player and GM defined and driven. The game flat-out tells you to play to find out what's going to happen, because the game doesn't know. The joy is in the discovery, and Apocalypse World is as fun a game as you are willing to make it.

What impresses me most about it is that Apocalypse World is both an engine and a toolkit. It has a level of transparency in how it works that I don't think I've ever seen in another RPG. Not only is the system transparent enough that you can see how the engine is ticking away, it encourages you to open it up, take the parts out and see what makes them tick. Then it practically begs you to put it back together the way you want.

It's real sandbox gaming; when you get right down to it, AW is about exploration. It can be exploration of an unknown world, it can be exploration of a theme, or it could be the exploration of the characters. But whatever you explore, rest assured that it's your game. Apocalypse World just helps you find it.

You can get Apocalypse World directly from The Unstore for $10 for the PDF, and $28 for the print+PDF. I also highly recommend hitting the official forums ; Vince is there and active, and the community is really helpful when it comes to helping people understand the game. If nothing else, hit up the "hacks" subforum to see the things people are making with the engine.

Finally, I leave you with a special FATAL-and-Friends custom move made by yours truly.
When Evil Mastermind reviews an awesome game , roll+cool. On a 10+ pick 3, on a 7-9 pick two.
• You go out and buy the game.
• You play the game.
• You tell Evil Mastermind he is a good reviewer.
• You yell at Evil Mastermind and blame him for making you buy games you'll never play.

The world is broken, and I don't know why. Time to go fix it.

Love and kisses, Evil Mastermind