roleplaying games

After-action report: Apocalypse World, October 23rd

Man, this session was so good. I posted the session summary right after so I would forget as little as possible.

On a logistical note, I tried my damnedest to actually run the game for a solid four hours, which was the right decision. Things kept on happening and I kept on throwing them out there, making sure to keep the momentum going. There were a lot of people so some characters occasionally fell through the cracks, but overall it worked well. I felt myself going out on a limb vis a vis improv as I walked further and further from what I had prepped, but when the players responded I felt capable of continuing.

On a mechanics note, I made one minor change to highlighting that was recommended in the text of Apocalypse World Second Edition, which was that the GM should highlight each character’s highest stat unless they had a really good reason not to. I made the necessary shifts before the session and oh man, talk about a difference. Everyone who participated got some points, and the advances got spread around a lot more. With that one small change, which wasn’t even a rule change, the advancement system clicked for me.

And finally, on a story note…one NPC, one motivation, four hours of crazy. One of my players had introduced Amos in an interlude as the new head of security after the former head of security was promoted. Since this guy was described as older and fiercer than the new hardholder, it stood to reason he had been passed over for that promotion in the past. Clearly, then, he wanted to undermine his rival. Everything else just kind of fell into place, including the events of the end of the session when he broke for the raider settlement, Scarytown. I hope my players remember that I noted Scarytown’s tradition of picking their boss by single combat…it’s too delicious a hook not to revisit.

But beyond the story, the characters really brought the drama this time. Having two of the established heavy hitters have a rivalry makes perfect sense, but it got really pitched…and someone’s going to get hurt if it continues. That’s not a bad thing, it’s genre-perfect and all the scenes where it came up just crackled. I loved it.

My next step could be one of many. I don’t want to spoil it for any of my players reading, but in very vague terms the two obvious progressions for me are either to double down on what happened this session and see what I can shake out, or to throw an external threat into the mix and force the rivals back together. Confusing matters of course is that every session changes based on who shows up.

That’s a worthwhile final note, actually. Conventionally role-playing games are run with the same 3-6 people. This game has 9 PCs, and yesterday’s session, with 6 people, was our highest attendance ever. Apocalypse World handles this very well, because the GM is essentially spotlighting different people at different times. As long as your group is OK with ‘attendance immunity’, having an inconsistent group of people is actually fairly easy to do. There are certain roles which are going to show up constantly that should probably be relegated to someone consistent (Hardholder, Maestro D’), but other than that shifting in and out isn’t difficult at all.

This was only the fourth session of this game, which makes me downright giddy at the potential for running a full campaign for my online group with a PbtA system. After numerous systems that have been heavily mechanics-centric (GURPS, Shadowrun, Exalted, FFG Star Wars), I keep on being pleasantly surprised at how much my online group embraces narrative-forward mechanics and the open-ended worldbuilding of Apocalypse World.

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