Transform Your Gaming With This One Weird Trick
So I don’t know if you follow small press gaming very closely, but there’s this very clever little game that came out recently y’all should know about. It’s called Apocalypse World. There’s even a second edition of it.
Right so at…I want to say RinCon this year, a bunch of us aging indienerds were lamenting the fact that good old Apocalypse World never really gets played any more. There is so damned much PbtA hotness swirling around, and indienerds seem to mostly have a thirst for novelty, so the great granddaddy languishes, beloved when we remember to feed him but mostly ignored in the attic.
I had three strong players and a very early Tuesday game day start (430! Unheard of!), so fuck yeah, let’s throw down.
I read through second edition when I got my paws on it, kind of skimmed until I ran into obviously new stuff (battle moves, road war), nodded yup yup yup, didn’t really notice the smaller details, the little gestures. Turns out Vincent and Meg Baker packed a lot of small adjustments into the new volume.
It’s been, jeez, five years or more since I actually ran Apocalypse World. I think my last touch was playing with MadJay Brown at a BigBadCon several years back. The infrastructure of the game is lodged in there tight because I’ve been brining in PbtA juice for years now. But actually playing the new thing again was eye opening.
Thoughts in bullet point form for your potty reading pleasure:
* Apocalypse World is an adventure game. AW is far less feels-oriented than many of its excellent offspring. I’d go so far as to say that AW isn’t my favorite iteration of itself! That said, jeez, shit definitely snowballs quickly and brutally. It’s still a master class in compact design! But I was kind of surprised to find that there’s very little ummm emotional manipulation happening with the various economies and incentives.
* It is the fastest PbtA to deploy. I haven’t played all the PbtAs but I’ve played enough that I feel like I’ve got an informed opinion on this. One thing I’ve seen among the new PbtAs is ever more elaborate pre-game situation setup. Frequently there’s so much (Urban Shadows, Space Wurm vs Moonicorn, Headspace, etc.) that we’ve sold ourselves on this setup-is-play ethic. Especially true whenever I’ve spooled these games out in a con slot: yes yes I’d also rather be playing than setting up, but since that’s not happening let’s at least try to enjoy the prep.
But this game, jeez. One of my buddies was marveling that we hit the ground running and played hard for four or five hours. The only setup they had to do was the Hx questions, plus my further interrogations, plus some very high-gloss “so where in the country? Four Corners area? Okay great let’s go” type stuff. That was, I want to say, not more than 30 minutes from playbook selection to the first hard frame.
* So many little changes. Did you notice that help/hinder is different now? I didn’t. It’s a good change!
Act Do Something Under Fire’s 7-9 has always been, I think, the moment of heaviest cognitive load in the game, but help/hinder 7-9 was right up there alongside. Now it’s a +/- 1 on a soft hit, or +/- 2 on a hard hit. Excellent, simple, straightforward. It produces less draaaama but it’s also faster handling time.
Another one: lots of options and ideas for how to interpret Seize by Force. Very welcomed. It’s functionally identical as far as I can tell but now there are explicit ideas of what all you can Seize.
The new MC worksheet for doodling out the relationship map is very nice. It’s kind of a situation map (smap!), which always excites me. They’ve added a physical component to mapping out the threats (north or south, near or far, internal or external, etc.) which I think very much helps ground the game.
Oh jeez what else? There are way, way more common moves now — that is, if you count battle moves and road war moves among them. I do. That shit is all pretty frequent (first use of “common”) and everyone has access to them (other use of the word), so, yeah. Common moves. I’ve been auditing my entire PbtA collection for my own purposes and found that 8 or 9 common moves is the typical spread. AW itself has all those and several additional combat moves and road moves. It’s a lot of moves. It felt, in my opinion, foreign and unwieldy. But mostly just because I’m used to 1E.
The Battle moves are a welcome change in our group, by the by. The old Seize by Force stuff was definitely a speedbump for my people, so expanding on that and offering additional just-kill-em options are good for us.
The only move subset I’m feeling iffy on is the Tactical & Support set: lay down fire, stand overwatch, keep an eye out. They feel…fussy, maybe. I get that folks who aren’t right in the shit making the actual Seize roll want to feel involved, but tbh I kind of preferred ye olde Help/Hinder for that. Stand overwatch in particular I found hard to implement well. The target takes harm and that’s that? Really? I suppose the counterbalance is that they’re rolling more and therefore risking a miss more. But stand overwatch turned our Battlebabe into an overwatch machine with his +3 Cool. Which meant he reflexively bowed out of being involved in anything but a supporting role. Still deciding how I feel about that.
* I remember the game having more feels than it does. I don’t know why I remember it different. I can’t point at anything in particular; possibly it’s the Hx questions. Or it’s the fact that my more-favorite iterations (Sagas of the Icelanders, Urban Shadows, Masks) have more gut punches baked in. I didn’t ever really feel the emotional content of our game. Either that or my bandwidth was just being taken up with all the new moves and I didn’t have much brain left over to push buttons.
* It is ridiculously well tested. I mean, yeah. Obviously there are a zillion committed players and a very active community. And Vincent and Meg are smart as hell. But, like here’s a small example: one of my players took the Battlebabe, I think because he eyeballed the playbook as “better” than the Gunlugger because of the Battlebabe magic (dangerous and sexy). He quickly discovered that the Battlebabe’s secret sauce is that they have to directly confront people: Battlebabe is all about Go Aggro, not Seize By Force. So next up he went for Ice Cold, which lets the Battlebabe swap in Cool for Hard when Going Aggro. Then he earned an advance and went shopping through all the playbooks for a move that’d let him Seize By Force with cool instead of hard. We can’t find it! I don’t think it exists, and thank goodness otherwise you’d have a mechanically boring advancement track for the Battlebabe, who simply ceases to be anything other than cool. He grumbled that the Gunlugger has the opposite effect — swap in hard for cool — and thought it was “unfair.” I was surprised because he’s usually not sensitive to minmaxing, but in this case I think he thought he’d found a useful exploit. But he didn’t, because AW is ridiculously well tested.
* Wow so many reference sheets. Way way more than before.
So anyway, yeah. Our particular apocalypse isn’t super inventive and that’s fine: warring biker gangs lurking around southwestern Colorado, battles on the open plains, badass road fights in the mountains, lunatic evil juggalo bikers, a big unwieldy gang for the Chopper, a cool-ass Driver who’s just revealed her homebuilt tank, a louche Battlebabe wandering from hardholder to hardholder looking for the laziest/easiest gig even as a three-way war is bubbling up.