Sunday, May 5, 2013

Actual Play: Apocalypse World The Cirque Comes to the Depot

As my face to face group's unhappy encounter with Dungeon World, we bounced around some ideas for what to try next. We eventually decided to try Apocalypse World (AW). There are some good ideas in Dungeon World (DW), but they seem to be shackled somewhat by the constraints of the designer's view of dungeon fantasy. We were hoping that playing the parent system in the setting it was designed, unencumbered by those restraints, would be a less frustrating experience.

Character Creation

We started the traditional way, by tossing printouts of all the character templates on the table and having a rambling discussion of what they were. On the first pass, no one had a strong preference for any of them, though Will (the GM) did note that the Chopper (biker gang leader) could have a gang that wasn't a bunch of crazy savages, and that led to a riff on the "Shaolin Biker Gang" who used Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a holy book. There was more hesitation, with everyone expressing a range of preferences but no solid choice.

Finally, Rachel committed to a Driver (wheel-man or Mad Max kind of character) based loosely on Jason Stratham in the Transporter movies. Since she was effectively including vehicles, I decided to go ahead and grab the Chopper and put the Shaolin biker gang into action. Ted looked at the Brain (mad psychic) and discarded it as too weird, preferring the psi-scientist of the SavvyHead instead. Derick committed to the Brain, and Joel decided to be the cult leader Hocus template. We made our choices off the templates, established our history with each other, and started discussing our settlement.

The Depot, the Dome, and the Stand

We all need a fortified town to live in, along with some themes. Two things had definitely come out of character creation: many of the characters were technology dependent, and many of the characters were crazy. So we created the settlement with that in mind.

We started with something that could provide mechanical services, like a municipal bus depot. With many of the vehicles gone, survivors could have repurposed the office space as living quarters, so that made sense to everyone. Will wanted a reason for all the psychic powers, and originally proposed the Dome as a buried hospital with a geodesic dome on top, but while we kept the mysterious buried dome, we named the hospital the Stand (from "St. Andrews") and noted that it once had an extensive psychiatric research wing. At Derick's suggested, the leaders of the settlement were a pair of dissimilar twins ("like Danny Devito and Arnold in Twins") collectively known as the Dispatchers, while law enforcement was provided by Chaplain Doom.

With the bones of the settlement established, we sat down to play.

Play of the Game

We started off slow, doing our own random things.The biker gang was cruising around time "in a high speed meditation exercise", Rachel's driver was working with Ted's mechanic to repair the 8-Track player in her van, and Derick's and Joel's characters were spying on people. None of this was particularly conducive to stuff happening.

 The first challenge that developed was a rogue Hocus type who trying to take control of Joel's cult. Since Ted and Derick were members of the cult, the three of them went off to deal with him. That turned out to be pretty inconclusive, with no one willing to escalate to violence or the threat of violence (in all fairness, only my character is particularly good at violence)  Their attempts at persuasion failed, and they eventually wandered off to regroup and plan.

In the meantime, the biker gang came back to the Depot with the report of vehicles on the horizon. After some discussion, everyone met up and headed out to meet the new and interesting thing. The vehicles turned out to be an armed tractor-trailer rig, carrying the "Cirque". There was a meet and greet, and the Cirque leaders convinced everyone to let them into town. We did figure out that they were a bunch of wandering thieves, and were going to try to rob the town blind. Since we lacked proof of any kind (beyond weird psychic impressions), we couldn't figure a reason to stop them and didn't particularly want to risk violence.

Back in town, Joel's cult had been acting up while unsupervised. Everyone interacted for a bit, and my character managed to convince Chaplain Doom to make him responsible for Joel's cult. (My intent had been to forcibly impress two of the cultists into the gang, but that I rolled a little too well.) About this time, Ted started his own thread, trying to find out more about the Cirque. I tuned out, but I understand it went well: Ted's character found out some stuff, got an evening with a prostitute, and learned they had some kind of creepy plan for him.

Meanwhile, Rachel planned to head out to the nearby hermitage to do some trading. I decided to go with her, and made Joel and his cultists jog the way over there in order to exhaust them and diminish the chances for mischief. There were some shenanigans on the way, but when we got there, the little settlement had been raided by cannibals. We did some more wacky stuff, including summoning Ted's character through the psychic maelstrom, and made a plan to track the raiders back to their base on the ridgeline. That's where we ended.

So How Does It Work?

Everyone enjoyed AW a lot more than DW. I think that AW is mechanically tighter than DW, with 5 more or less useful stats instead of the slightly flabby 6 stats of DW. It's a small thing, but it made a difference. In DW, needing to make Dex a dump stat (because you have to have a dump stat) was very painful, since you roll Dex a lot to avoid taking damage - but every other choice was worse. In AW, my dump stat was Weird, the stat for dealing with the psychic maelstrom. Having a low Weird cut off some of my options, but it wasn't mandatory stuff like avoiding damage. It was optional stuff like gaining special insight. Derick, Joel, and Ted had that stuff covered in spades.

The flow of AW was easier. DW is about dungeon crawls, and we all had certain expectations of what was going on. In AW, we were expecting combat to dangerous, and we basically didn't get involved in combat at all. Well, my character did, on one or two occasions, but I also had the backing of a 15 strong gang of armored bikers.

One other difference between DW and AW is experience. In DW, you get experience every time you fail a roll. In AW, you get experience every time you roll for something attached to either of two of your attributes. Since you get some choice of the attributes you get experience for, you tend to pick stuff that you're going to roll a lot. It changed the dynamic, since there wasn't a need to roll for stuff that was likely to fail in order to maybe get experience. There were a couple of times when I said, "hey, I could roll for that, but the issue is mostly settled and I wouldn't get experience for it," so I didn't go anything. It meant I was a little more detached from the game, but it also meant that play went faster.

What Next?

Since everyone had fun, we agreed to play again. We may not play for another two weeks because of Mother's Day, but we'll definitely play AW again.

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