We played our fifth and final session of our Apocalypse World mini-campaign last night. Very satisfying! I was very pleased with how it all wrapped up.
For whatever reason, early on, I keyed into this circus/evil clown theme for the Maelstrom stuff, which bled into the main bigbad gang. There had been an unstable triangle of power players: the Night Circus crazies, quasi-feudal Purgatory with a “king” and his loyal biker gangs, and the Patriots, who had mythologized ‘Murica and were the “good” guys if you allow inflexible morality and poorly interpreted Hannity-esque Constitutional law into your definition of “good” (so, really, not at all good, but predictably patriotic).
The center of the action ended up being Durango, which I revealed over time to be this haunted hellscape, the Night Circus’ true form hidden in the maelstrom surrounding the area. They thought it was just a Juggalo gang! But it was way worse, way weirder.
The stuff I focused on in terms of my own development was really playing up the role of the Maelstrom in the setting. It was my main method for evoking meaningful feels, because of the whole “the maelstrom asks you questions” stuff. Super fun to ask provocative stuff about relationships and history and opinions about the current situation. Kind of magical, to be honest, helping the players seed their own minds with deeper feelings about game events than I think even they knew they had.
Like every time I run a well designed PbtA game, the 7-9s and misses always seemed to show up at exactly the right time for maximum impact. The battlebabe 7-9ed to dash across a firefight to join his lover, who took a bullet the moment they got together. The driver 7-9ed at the worst possible time in his car, achieving one pyrrhic victory but ruining his ride. The savvyhead 7-9ed dashing to a school bus acting as a blockade, forcing him to work without any tools at the worst possible time. And so on and so on.
Mostly I noticed that I no longer fear the Act Under Fire 7-9 outcome like I used to. I’ve always got a “yeaaaah but” answer at hand. Mostly I’m concerned with how hard a move to make from several options.
The new battle stuff is solid. The slugfest option is good and necessary, I guess, but it does mean the players can more easily indulge their “I just want to fucking fight and kill” urge rather than nudging then back to answering why they want to fight and kill. Mechanically it’s virtually identical to Seize by Force, only with even fewer options.
Five sessions was enough for everyone, I think, to get into their second-tier move choices. Not many of them saw play unfortunately, but the battlebabe’s player got to struggle with whether to just retire or not. I love that it was a struggle! Especially since he’d been such a louche up to that point.
So, totally satisfying. It was really nice to come back to an old favorite and play it hard.