#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 25 – Favorite RPG Nobody Wants To Play

Aha! I did mess up the numbering for the last three #RPGaDAY, Last Year posts, but that’s because I was travelling about this time last year and had a whole bunch of posts lined up and squirted out into the ether, one day a year ago. Apparently I’m back from wherever the hell I was[1] and thought it was high time to tell you about My Favorite RPG No One Else Wants To Play. Oddly, it hasn’t changed. It’s still Apocalypse World.

awI really like the system[2] and how the AW book delivers information to the reader. But we played the not-quite-final version of Dungeon World well before we ever played AW. Our Dungeon World game was quite an awful experience and I think some of that tainted our Apocalypse World game.

With AW, there’s all these other characters in the world to interact with, all these interactive situations where players can just go and the world works. Characters in AW don’t have to be opposed to each other; they can function as a team – some people in my group absolutely hate inter-party conflicts[3], and even still, AW can work.

dwDungeon World, because it sets up the game as a group of dungeoneers, separates the player’s characters from the “other characters” of AW. We ran the Bloodstone Idol adventure, which is a straight up dungeon delve. Your dungeon explorers may come into contact with a mad sorcerer, but there’s nothing that makes that “boss monster” as real as Midnight, a leader of wasteland scavengers, that you have to deal with in AW. This probably comes from one of the core principles of AW that doesn’t transfer over to DW: name everyone, make everyone human. When your characters come face-to-face with Midnight, they know her name. This implies that they’ve heard of her before. Maybe they’ve encountered some of Midnight’s men and heard her name that way. Our dungeoneers don’t know the name of the goblin chieftain that’s shooting arrows at them. AW focuses on interaction with others, DW focuses on interaction with the environment. When this happens, AW becomes a role-playing game, DW becomes a game where you’re moving pieces on a board and rolling, occasionally.[4]

Dungeon World didn’t work well in the dungeon. Last year, I played in a DW game and it worked well when we were at the Elf Queen’s court, negotiating, and at the village where we had to confront someone fleeing from the village and the people assaulting her/guarding the village. Both of these scenes would have fit into an AW game. We didn’t go into a series of caves or tunnels where we were cut off from the other people in the world, and it worked. If we had, we’d be forced to bounce off each other.

Which leads me to why I much prefer the Hx of Apocalypse World to the bonds of Dungeon World. In general: Hx shows the relationships between characters, bonds exist to set up conflict between them. Sure, there are a few Hx with “you left me bleeding and did nothing”, but that’s in the past, and not every character has those. Each character in DW has a bond that is about some sort of current conflict: “you are keeping an important secret from me”, “you know incriminating details about me”, and “I am working on converting you to my faith” as examples. Everything is current and everything is set up to foster dysfunction.[5] …which I suppose is how DW deals with three or four characters, deep underground, with nobody to talk to but themselves. But the linear dungeon crawl from Room 3 to Room 4 to Room 5 isn‘t really a good venue to discuss how St. Cuthbert is a really kewl dood you really should follow, room after room after room.[6]

The World After the Apocalypse Wallpaper__yvt2

But in Apocalypse World, we’re making it about the characters and how they exist and survive and function in this setting. Even with trying to get the focus on this, and having a great time running Apocalypse World, there were a few missteps I took that helped to tank the campaign. (Our apocalypse was Poison Ivy’s fantasy come to life: nature went wild and choked the world in plant growth. We were on the island of Manhattan.) We had a Hocus, a cult leader, and two other players who weren’t cultists. Now, when I decreed this, I meant that the other two weren’t people that the Hocus could push around, but I made the mistake of referring to them as outside the Hocus’ inner circle (when they should have been the inner circle) and having a believer assigned to the players to watch over them and make sure they didn’t step out of line. So right off, I started adding toxicity to the mix between the players’ characters instead of introducing conflict between the characters and the others in the world.[7] We also didn’t have a hardhold to start in, so we went with a travelling band of cultists on the island, which meant that when there were conflicts between the Brainer and one of the cultists, it was a proxy conflict between the Brainer and the Hocus.

So that didn’t end well.

By the time the group stopped the game, we had the cult (and group as a whole) dealing with a warlord, a hardhold, and about to take on the Mayor of New York, so there were plenty of people to bounce off of, but we started with an unstable foundation in the group, and that snowballed downwards.

Despite that, I really love the system and I’ve seen/heard other groups play the game with some fantastic AP reports. I’d love to play it again, but I feel the earlier DW game and the way last year’s AW game imploded have soured *World on the other players in the group.

Any additional comments you’d like to well, add?

Yes! Thanks, me.

While I seriously think the reason why people in the group don’t want to play AW again is the inadvertent toxicity that I engineered at the get-go, one person I spoke to after that said they didn’t fell like their character was heroic. And to be honest with myself, I think there is something of that with not having a place to defend or protect, which meant that the protagonists didn’t have anything concrete to care about. We didn’t start off with a hardhold and the Hocus chose a nomadic cult (which meant the others were nomads as well). Instantly there wasn’t anything concrete for our Faceless or Brainer to grab onto to protect or defend or tie to themselves; the other cultists, maybe, but they were all the Hocus’ flock.[8]

I strongly feel that all three players in the game would enjoy playing Apocalypse World, if we had their protagonists tied more to something in the setting, rather than just floating from settlement to settlement. But because of our playthough of Dungeon World and how our last Apocalypse World game ended, I don’t think I’d be able to get all of us back to that particular game again.[9]

  1. Probably camping in Acadia National Park. []
  2. See this post at G+ and the footnote at this post []
  3. Fighting between the characters, that is. It’s okay if some characters have different goals, but when one player’s character attempts to kill another’s, that’s right out. []
  4. Which is exactly what happened in our game. About three chambers into the dungeon and nobody was speaking in character. “I go over to this wall and peek around the corner.” Stuff like that. So when we got to the room where if anyone spoke these statues would come to life and attack us (which means that it just triggers a fighting sequence instead of any actual role-playing), the adventurers were just mute pieces moving around a board. No living statues. No nothing. []
  5. Ryan Macklin speaks a bit about this at his website: http://ryanmacklin.com/2012/05/antagonist-bonds-toxicity-dw/  []
  6. Also, in that DW game with the Elf Queen and all, by the time we went through character creation and bond assignments, my character went from someone nice to a manipulative dick. []
  7. Sorry, gang. []
  8. And to complicate things, the Hocus didn’t want to lead them, they just followed him — further distancing from things to tie the protagonists to an anchor. []
  9. Plus, during daylight savings time, we’ve got a three-hour time difference between us. []

#RPGaDAY2015, Day 18: Favorite Science Fiction RPG

Yesterday on #RPGaDAY2015, our topic was Favorite Sci-Fi RPG. This topic is a bit difficult for me because a science fiction roleplaying game is different from a fantasy one. In fantasy, you’ve got your default setting of a pseudo-European medieval-ish feudal system where magic works and the countryside is plagued by green-skinned monsters that need killing. Where you get your specific game branches off that there, adding or deleting elements, but pretty much sticking close to that core. Science fiction — oh, man, that could be anything: are we talking Flash Gordon, Star Wars, or The Matrix? For a sci-fi RPG, setting and system matter so much more than fantasy.

landscapes aircraft tokyo trees ruins postapocalyptic fantasy art airports artwork jet aircraft ivy abandoned flooded overgrowth tokyogenso_www.wall321.com_11

I’m drawn to Apocalypse World because of the various science fiction RPGs to consider, it has the best marriage of a system that l like and a setting that’s interesting. Setting-wise, there’s a ton of games that are cool. Topping the list is Blue Planet—a setting wide open for gaming possibilities but whose system is an unfocused haze.[1] Shadowrun, I love the setting (as gonzo as it is), but the ruleset seems to be stuck in that decades-old mindset of trying to realistically simulate the physics of shotguns and grenades in a world where magical dwarves can very easily instantly conjure 40 foot wide explosions of acid to attack a pack of guard dogs that breathe fire.[2] Eclipse Phase is interesting, but intimidating. Other games have an amazing system, but the setting doesn’t do much for me. (Specifically, I’m talking about FFG’s Star Wars RPGs.)

Apocalypse World has a system I really like. It’s simple and the system is really tied to the game. The system doesn’t seem like Vincent mashed together something and stuck a post-apocalyptic theme on the framework, it guides a play style. Unlike Blue Planet’s directionless game system, each character has custom moves that tie into what you’re supposed to be doing in the game. If you’re playing one type of character, it’s spelled out that you, and only you, are able to do these cool things, like open yourself up to the psychic maelstrom that’s threatening (?) the world to heal someone. These aren’t class abilities, like in other games, these are actual rules for how the game is played.

I kind of like that. It’s a bit niche protection, but it’s more like character spotlighting and taking ownership of one’s place in the world.

And the world of Apocalypse World is interesting, too. There’s not a setting here—there’s an implied setting. The change to the world took place over a generation ago, but not several generations back; there’s a “psychic maelstrom”; there are settlements of humanity, biker gangs, cults, and the like. However, the flavor and location of your apocalypse is up to you. We had a game where nature took over, and we were set in a vine-choked Manhattan. I’ve heard of games as diverse as a Las Vegas-area setting where the ghosts of the deceased were used to power electric generators, a cluster of satellites fused together in Low Earth Orbit with no contact from the planet below, a ski resort in the mountains of Colorado trapped in an ice age, and a drowned city being invaded by other-dimensional weirdness.

Yeah, it’s that combination of ur-setting and game-driven system that really calls to me.

  1. Blue Planet’s system is good, it’s the implementation that’s particularly awful with how the skills and attributes are broken down. But my biggest complaint is there isn’t any guidance on what to do with Blue Planet: the rules don’t point you in a particular direction, so the massive list of skills/attributes have to cover anything your group decides to do. []
  2. It takes over a dozen steps to cast that force 6 Toxic Wave spell and find its effects on the targets. []

#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 18 – Favorite Game System

A year ago, I wrote a short piece about why I like Apocalypse World’s system. In the past few months, I’ve had a chance to work on a few Powered by the Apocalypse games (games that use the base system from AW) and have been glancing over at what’s going on with the second edition of Apocalypse World. You know, I’m still intrigued. I like how it is fast and gets to the point of the conflict without a lot of dicking around, has a lot of player buy-in, and how the philosophy of the game carries through the design. So yes, my Favorite Game System hasn’t changed.

Here’s what I wrote last year.


road warriorI’m going to make this a different answer than the one for the “favorite RPG of all time” writing prompt.[1] I will have to go with Apocalypse World’s system: roll 2d6 + stat, succeed on a 10 or higher, succeed at a cost on a 7-9, fail at a 6 or lower. But sometimes it’s succeed at a cost at 10+, succeed at a greater cost at 7-9. The actions–moves–often are written with options your character can take with the ones you don’t take acting as prompts for the GM. Here’s a typical example:

On a 10+, choose two. On a 7-9, choose one:

  • You don’t get hurt
  • You don’t hurt someone you care about
  • You don’t lose a thing you care about

So if you succeed, and you don’t choose “You don’t get hurt”, you get hurt. Similarly, if you don’t choose losing a thing, you lose a thing.

Not everything is set up like this, but it’s simple enough to go between the “it’s impossible to succeed without cost” and “you can succeed cleanly” settings with this system.

The system itself is so simple (and the writing in the AW book strongly drives play in a specific direction), the AW system has been co-opted by several other games for several other genres. It’s a light, fast, fun system that can be surprisingly gritty. I think it’s pretty cool.

  1. This will be on the 31st. []