Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Pit - Part One

I always find it really hard to kick off a game of Apocalypse World. I don't know if it's because I need to ask more questions and establish the world better before I start following people around, or if it's because everybody I've ever started a game for has been new to the game and isn't yet on board with what to expect and how to contribute. Whatever it is, there's always a moment where I feel my brain-gears seizing up and I don't know how to start things off.

I can probably do better on the first front, I admit. I did ask the Hardholder lots of questions about how his hold was set up; as I've come to expect, he described pretty favourable conditions. That's cool, though - people make settlements in the best spots they can, and being in a favourable position just makes other people envious of what you have, inviting trouble later. But I forgot to ask what the weather was like, and didn't manage to establish any particular weirdness in the landscape or legacies of the apocalypse.

This time around, we had a Hardholder, a Gunlugger, and a Battlebabe. While I'm fairly conversant at presenting external threats that invite violence, such as raiders and enemy holdings, one of these days I'd like to MC a game where combat is a dangerous exercise and we can drill down into the heart of the community. To do so, I might need to take the Gunlugger, Brainer, and Battlebabe off the table. New players often seem to gravitate towards them because they offer raw mechanical power without the social connections and responsibilities of most other Playbooks.

  • Geoff plays Fluffy, a male Gunlugger wearing battered carbon-fibre armour. He has a worn face with wise eyes and a stringy body.
  • +Michael plays Maxine, a female Battlebabe with a leather trenchcoat over a suit of metal armour. She is blonde with frosty eyes, a striking face, and a muscular body.
  • +Sasha plays Barbeque, a male Hardholder wearing a suit from the before-time. He has a stern face, commanding eyes, and a wiry body.

Geoff was a last-minute addition as one of the expected group was unable to make it, so unfortunately I hadn't had an opportunity to introduce him to any of the concepts or expectations.

After setting up the group's History with each other, Maxine didn't trust Barbeque but had been with him for a long time and was currently working as one of his lieutenants. Fluffy had betrayed or stolen something from Barbeque long ago, and Barbeque had left him in the wilderness to die. Fluffy just thought Maxine was pretty. I know Apocalypse World says the PCs don't have to be friends but they shouldn't start off as enemies, but well... that's a hell of a history between Fluffy and Barbeque that's an awful lot to overcome.

Barbeque managed a full success on his Wealth roll, so I didn't even have any community-generated problems to kick things off with - and believe me, there are plenty to choose from: disease, hunger, famine, and savagery.

In previous games I've tended to fall back on "inflict harm" as the response to failed Moves, so as a personal challenge I'm going to do my best to avoid that and use other options. I'm sure there'll be plenty of Harm flying around anyway.

So nobody really likes Barbeque, but he's running the town known as The Pit. It's a large and heavily fortified settlement in a sheltered valley, with fields to the North and wastelands to the South.

Fluffy doesn't live in The Pit. He's just passing through, looking to trade, get laid, and re-stock his supplies before heading out into the hills to fend for himself again. He doesn't even know Barbeque's in charge until he runs into Maxine in the marketplace. Maxine heads off to report Fluffy's arrival to Barbeque, while Fluffy looks at finding himself a little comfort in exchange for a little jingle.

Barbeque's HQ is underneath a church, in a fortified basement accessible by a little-known and circuitous route. He's angry at Maxine for letting Fluffy know it's his town, and sends a guy to keep an eye on the Gunlugger. He also puts together a posse of scouts to head South and keep an eye out for trouble. However, before they can head out, a sentry runs up to announce raiders are coming! Barbeque orders the church bell rung to sound the alarm.

Fluffy's tumbling with a girl when the bell starts ringing. He grabs his stuff to leave, promising to return and pay later. When the girl draws a gun on him and demands payment now, Fluffy shoots her dead with his magnum. Outside, he follows the crowd towards the walls and joins up with Maxine. The raiders are avoiding the city and sweeping around towards the fields. Although Barbeque's orders are to stop them from bothering the town, Maxine leads the gang out to chase them down before they can hit the farms.

They take out the rear half of the raiders; Fluffy falls off the back of the buggy, but manages to acquire one of the raiders' bikes. He races ahead after the rest of the raiders while Barbeque's savage gangers start hunting down the ragged survivors of the first lot. Maxine tries to get them to follow Fluffy, but one of the men challenges her authority. She puts her magnum in his face and threatens to blow his brains out; he agrees to continue the pursuit and come back for trophies later.

I could have gone harder here, since Maxine completely failed her roll to Manipulate the gang. Most of them ignored her except the guy who challenged her authority, and he foolishly walked right into position for a Go Aggro move. Reviewing the MC Moves now, though, I don't think there was much else I could have done without having the gang attack her, which seems a bit much.

Meanwhile, Fluffy rips into the second half of the raiders, decimating the outriders and impressing the survivors. The remaining raiders pull up and parley. Fluffy agrees to let them go if they "pay" him in weapons or barter. They throw him one of their pistols and drive off over the hills. Maxine and the rest of the gang turn up just in time to see them go. The gang wants to hunt them down, but Maxine talks them into going back and looting. The gang is really starting to sour on her leadership, but they cooperate for now.

Barbeque's waiting at the town gate. He and Fluffy meet face to face and have a heated discussion where sparks fly as their past causes friction. Fluffy is trying to be reasonable, but sorely wants to go for his gun despite the gang arrayed against him. Barbeque doesn't want to let Fluffy into the town, but eventually relents and offers him a week's quality accommodation as thanks for his assistance against the raiders.

Fluffy visits the evening market and offloads some goods before retiring to his new quarters. Barbeque makes sure he has someone keeping an eye on Fluffy at all times.

As I mentioned earlier, Geoff hadn't had a chance for a proper briefing on expectations of play. We discussed the Fluffy-Barbeque situation, and I said I wouldn't be surprised if it came to violence one way or another. The game does rub the characters against each other, and those two were primed from the beginning. PVP is OK as long as everyone's aware it's on the table, and sees the game as being more about experiencing drama than "playing to win". Basically, playing to see what happens to their character (good or ill) instead of considering their character to be inviolate and always sticking with the group no matter what. Apocalypse World is a game of interpersonal drama where stuff can blow up in your face. Sometimes relationships become untenable.

We also spent a little time talking about the shape of the world, since we hadn't touched on any weirdness apart from the collapse of civilisation. Since I'm a little tired of nuclear apocalypses, I've taken a couple of other interesting ideas - maybe the apocalypse was a natural disaster, such as a collision with an asteroid, and that for some reason all of the water is contaminated and must be filtered before it can be safely drunk.

So, I have a few ideas to take away and turn into Fronts for next session. Hopefully with a few ideas worked up, next session will flow a little better.

>>> To be continued

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