The interesting thing about planning a game using an Apocalypse World is how little planning you can actually do. In Apocalypse World itself, the setting is fleshed out by the players with little pre-existing geography to get in the way. In Dungeon World, the setting starts with two points connected by a line: the first dungeon and the first steading. The Sprawl, on the other hand, starts in a city.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to work out the setting in the Sprawl like in other games, where locations are added as they come up in the fiction. That said, Cyberpunk games thrive off of the “day after tomorrow” vibe, so starting somewhere real can clearly add something. This is the conflict I’m having now. Do I start the game in a city based off of an existing one? Or shrug and go for the blank slate?
If I were to run the game in a version of Pittsburgh, my initial thought since much of the group went to college there, it’s going to look pretty different. My initial thought was more of a megacity that has sprouted between Pittsburgh and Youngstown, but that would require some explanation. Even without the megacity angle, there’s still going to need to be some logic as to how Pittsburgh has grown so dramatically in…let’s say 30-50 years. There’s a lot of potential reasons, but having a backstory helps get these ducks in a row.
If you aren’t going to look at the existing city and come up with a narrative that brings it into the time period of the campaign, it could be just as easy to come up with a fictional city and fill in the boxes as you go. I had an idea involving a very large arcology city that I had written for a campaign I wrote in college, which gives some interesting possibilities with vertical space and a very different view. It also takes a very different approach to what a city looks like, one which may conflict with some of the roles as written in the game (i.e. the Driver).
As I continue to ponder this I’m feeling more like going the direction of an existing city, or at least a conventional one. But the lesson I feel like I’m taking away from looking at it as a setting for The Sprawl is to let go. Through character choices and establishment in play, the players will tell me what’s important and what they want their stories to be about. I do need to emphasize this to my players too, though. I have some ideas, but I won’t be making all of the decisions.