Pre-Humpocalypse World: PbtA Prep Revisited

Session 3: I Wuz Wrong, So Wrong

Tonight we’re getting back to our Apocalypse World game. And I’ve had time to complete my for-realsies prep.

I am a prep hater. And I’ve specifically called out conventional PbtA fronts as ehhhh I kind of don’t bother. And I usually don’t. But I wuz wrong, so wrong, probably on lack-of-time grounds that I then rationalized into a well-reasoned “argument.”

Well so I have time, now that my kid’s on a swim team and I have a lot of sitting around not doing much. And what can I say, my mind has turned toward the apocalyptic since, oh, exactly one year and a day ago.

For second session, I had kind of half-assed my way through ye olde “everyone and everything not a PC is a threat” stuff. Mostly just listed assets, figured out how to map ’em to the seven threat types. That wasn’t that interesting to me, mostly just hooking up fictional assets to GM move subsets and those kind of wear me out anyway. No, where it got very interesting for me was forcing myself through the whole process. I added clocks to the “big and/or interesting” problems and started cooking up custom moves.

Jason D’Angelo has been writing a series of really thorough discussions of the AW2E text. I’ve been following on and off for a bit but his latest one was super revelant so I wanted to call it out. I read it the day after I doodled up my threat clocks and it was interesting! For me, the clock process is a very interesting sort of uh…guided meditation. Yeah. It’s not traditional prep-prep, you know, stats and shit. It’s more like…let’s figure out the worst case scenario, accept that that’s the worst case, put it on a shelf, and take away the ladder so I can’t get to it again. It’s interesting! It’s like tricking yourself into granting your own text authority that overrides whatever whim may come to me later. Which, as a practical matter, it probably doesn’t. Not really. But if I’m taking “be true to your prep” super-seriously, well, that’s a very neat logical/rhetorical trick.

Doing up custom moves relative to my threats drives that effect home. It turns out I’ve developed a talent for writing moves, what with my various in-progress projects and a few throwaways over the years. What’s the done thing on those, anyway? Kosher/cool/expected to share those out for everyone, or to unleash them when the fiction dictates? I’m leaning toward the big reveals. But I’m really proud of a few of them and kind of want to show off. Maybe next week I’ll show the ones that got used and keep my powder dry for the ones I didn’t.

So anyway, yeah. I started out by dreaming through the stages my worst-case scenarios might pass through, keeping in mind I’ll have to live up to that later — it’s like how a responsible parent really can’t make empty threats to their kid, you know? Then if I add a move, well, that’s a rule. A capital-r Rule! Now I can’t back out. Very interesting process.

Building custom moves into prep is also interesting to me because it seems to break the sanctity of the official moves, in a way. This is a related topic that probably deserves its own thread at some point, but the tl;dr in my head is: Given the intense struggle we designers go through to nail down a common move set that captures our genre or theme juuust right, isn’t it interesting that the source document kind of doesn’t give a shit about moves that work juuust right? It’s pretty cavalier. And, sure, in a practical sense probably either most folks don’t do custom moves or if they do, they suck. And yet the game probably doesn’t suffer even in the face of sucky moves. Meanwhile it’s teaching MCs what makes for good moves.

0 thoughts on “Pre-Humpocalypse World: PbtA Prep Revisited”

  1. I’ve been known to do my custom moves more or less on the fly, for weird edge cases where a bit of unpredictability is required but none of the core moves quite fit. What I like about them is that they take that “just right-ness” of the common move set and allows the MC to drift the setting to match their expectations.

    You can tailor them to environments (most of my draft custom moves in Borealis Wood for The Warren were weather-related, and the best ones stayed in) or specific locations (I used a custom weird move that triggered when people entered a weird hallucinogenic cave in the first game of AW I ever ran) or characters (to highlight a distinct style, or a special power).

    Sometimes they are terrible! But as long as they convey the thematic or mood element they are designed for, it’s easy enough to tweak them between sessions, or maybe they just never come up again.

  2. Adam D okay, yeah, that’s also a good point, the fine tuning assuming they’re not terrible. I’m making terrible assumptions all around on that point (who will think of the children terrible moves!?).

    I’m kind of thinking on the fly move making doesn’t really fit into the aesthetic process of this game, though, since “be true to whatever goofy idea flies out of your skull at any given moment” isn’t a principle of the game. Different that The Warren- and I’m okay with that. Like…I’m not sure I’d actually want a playbook where “make a move” was a move. That’s probably just me being a control freak.

  3. So, I ran a “Funnel World” adventure at my friends’ Extra Life event this past weekend, and the group seized a magical relic and started just praying over it, hoping for some magic to happen. I had established in the fiction that it was legitimately magical, but of course none of the players had class levels or specific moves to do that sort of thing, and neither of the two Funnel World catch-alls (Defy Danger nor Test Your Luck) seemed to apply, so I threw together a quick custom, something like:

    When you pray over the Hand of St. Ignys, say what you want from the Saint and roll + CHA.

    On a 10+, a miracle occurs! You get what you want.
    On a 7-9, pick two:
    -A minor miracle; you get a slightly diminished version of what you want.
    -The Flames of St. Ignys don’t scour your flesh.
    -St. Ignys gives your party a blessing (MC’s choice).

    I literally just scribbled that out on a piece of scrap paper as we were playing. If we had any intent of revisiting those characters in that setting, I would have probably tweaked it to make it apply to other relics, maybe, or to clarify what “a blessing” meant or whatever.

    Maybe that’s different because it’s DW instead of AW? I’m not sure. But, then again, if it was AW, I probably would have had a downtime session between introducing the idea of a holy relic and the characters actually encountering it to come up with a custom move, whereas this was always meant as a one-shot and I came in with basically zero prep.

  4. I suspect when Vincent stridently stands by his statement that AW is “a traditional game,” this is the sort of thing he’s talking about. The all-improv-all-the-time thing is, I think, a second gen innovation.

  5. I’m greatly enjoying this discussion of custom moves — it’s the next thing I’ll be writing about, so it’s been on my mind. I would say that the game (and probably Vincent and Meg too) is comfortable with the making up custom moves on the fly. I have a theory brewing that custom moves are the “rulings not rules” of Apocalypse World. Come across a situation for which either a move doesn’t fit or isn’t desirable, make up one that does! The extensive instruction in the book on how to create moves is there I think not only because they knew people would be making their own moves but because the game wants you to make them. Especially in the context of moves surrounding threats. The text actually commands you to make custom moves in the case of “disease threat[s] or . . . disease-like threat[s]” (119).

    For the most part, the moves have got you covered (as you pointed out in your previous post, Paul Beakley, the game is playtested to an incredible extent), but it knows you will need to tweak and adjust things, and it gives you all the tools to make those rulings moves when complications arise.

  6. Over the years I’ve become more and more enamoured by simple, direct and narratively based moves in my prep. For more complex situations, I find Love Letters (which are really just extended custom moves) Super helpful and rewarding.

  7. Its been fun tracking your slow acceptance of fronts this past year. From headspace where they didn’t really click to SWvMC where its the main driving force of the game. The shelf analogy makes a lot of sense to me.

    I’m curious, with your new appreciation of fronts do you find using the ye’ olde trick of npc-pc-npc triangle less? Or is it just as often but couched in bigger plan? I ask because it seemed like relationships were the driving force of most of your pbta games before, and I’m wondering if that’s still the case.

  8. I hit triangles, at least to set them up for future use. Pretty much any given NPC is at least one PC’s bud and another PC’s enemy. That’s still where the drama happens, especially in the moment-to-moment of resolving moves.

    The front prep is more like, uh, fertilizing my fields for the future. And functionally writing up a buttload of moves for me to make in the future when I need to make them and the standard lists feel overwhelming.

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