Situation, setting and "status quo"
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  1. #1
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    Situation, setting and "status quo"

    I've been reading the rulebook for Apocalypse World. It's not the first Vincent Baker RPG rulebook I've read, and the punchy style and unequivocal evocation of the spirit of the fiction and the expected feel of play is not surprising.

    There's one particular bit that I wanted to post about. Discussing how to set up and run the first session of a campaign, and having laid out the process for character generation and forming a "party", Baker says:

    Id just say it outright to your players: "your setup's easy and now youve already done it. Mines harder so I'm going to take this whole session to do it. So no high-tension kick off from me, let's follow the characters around for a day and get to know them. Cool?"

    A couple of you groaned, I could hear you from way over here. Oh great, getting to know the characters, thats a recipe for will anything ever happen? Following the characters around for a day and getting to know them, it could mean establishing a whole unwieldy mass of status quo, right?

    It could mean that but it doesnt. Say it with me: there are no status quos in Apocalypse World.

    What it means instead: it's your job to create a fractured, tilting landscape of inequalities, incompatible interests, PC-NPC-PC triangles, untenable arrangements. A dynamic opening situation, not a status quo you're going to have to put your shoulder against and somehow shift, like pushing a futon up a ladder. No: an unstable mass, already charged with potential energy and ready to split and slide, not a mass at rest.

    I've started campaigns in media res. And of course I've started campaigns with some form of mission, sometimes with the PCs carrying it out, sometimes with the briefing scene being a prelude to some sort of in media res thing. Off the top of my head I can't think of a campaign I've started where the setting is the situation, in virtue of being free of status quo in the way Baker describes. Maybe the closest I can think of is (unsurprisingly, maybe) an In a Wicked Age session I ran a little while ago.

    Any thoughts, and/or experiences, would be welcome.

  2. #2
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    Spellbinder (Lvl 16)



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    The webcomic "Order of the Stick" started with the PCs fighting some goblins. Where and why? Not yet established; the fight scene sufficed to set up a joke. I dunno how much the author had thought ahead, and how much he made decisions episode by episode. Hundreds of episodes later, the setting and characters are established in more detail than some TRPGs I've played.

    I dunno if the same approach would work for a TRPG, because any two players could be making decisions based on divergent assumptions. For example, one player could assume that the PCs always default to "goblins are all bad guys, and any interaction with any goblins means violent conflict" and another player could assume "clearly we have some specific beef with these particular goblins."

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    With good players, yes, setting can be established in play. Some games rely upon that mode: John Wick's Houses of the Blooded and Blood and Honor do so writ large. One doesn't roll for success, but for narrative control. Fate, 2d20, and Cortex Plus allow defining new elements on the bounce, too.

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    I'm not thinking so much of establishing setting in play - I've done that quite a bit in my RPGing.

    What struck me about the AW instructions is that the setting is itself the situation, in virtue of having no status quo.
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    I started off my long running pirate campaign with two players in a jail tower, and two other players climbing the tower to free them. I wanted the campaign to start with action right away, and with an event that brings the party together. During this session the players could also recruit other prisoners as members of their crew. This also served to introduce some of the bad guys and set the tone of the campaign.

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    Hi there! I wouldn't say the setting is the situation. Perhaps the situation is the (first) session, instead. By reading the manual and the playbooks the setting is mostly implied. Does it make sense?

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    Archtypically, for a game like D&D, we buy (or write) a setting book, and then we have to assemble (or purchase) an adventure which takes particular elements of the setting, and places them in a current situation the PCs have to deal with.

    When we say "the setting is the situation" is to say we haven't bothered writing a whole darned book of setting, and then plucked elements out of it to make a current situation/adventure. We instead establish the elements of the setting that we *know* are relevant to the PCs at the moment, and we work with them. The rest of the setting is implied, and not terribly detailed until it needs to be.

    Some FATE games (I'm thinking The Dresden Files, specifically, but others as well) do something similar. They have a session before play really begins where major elements the PCs are expected to interact with are created. The rest of the setting is.. the city, but not pre-stocked with huge amounts of stuff. For FATE, this is done explicitly ("Let's all sit down and generate our city!") rather than implicitly ("let us follow you around for a day, and the things we happen to establish while we do that play will be our starting situation.")
    Last edited by Umbran; Friday, 24th May, 2019 at 03:27 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I'm not thinking so much of establishing setting in play - I've done that quite a bit in my RPGing.

    What struck me about the AW instructions is that the setting is itself the situation, in virtue of having no status quo.
    The first thing I did was to look up the definition of status quo:


    Definition of status quo

    : the existing state of affairs
    Huh.

    Personally I find settingless RPG's to lack depth and continuity, ok for a one shot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dragoner View Post
    The first thing I did was to look up the definition of status quo:




    Huh.

    Personally I find settingless RPG's to lack depth and continuity, ok for a one shot.
    Actually AW is intended to start "clicking" after half a dozen sessions, at best.
    The setting is heavily implied in the text. There are no locations, tho, since it is a post apoc setting.
    No status quo means no self sustained authority bigger than "the party" that cannot be subverted if They so choose.
    Lots of connections, tho, between all the factions/npcs involved.
    Lots of procedures to create a coherent environment with scarce resources needed by anyone, but not enough for everybody, hence no status quo.

    Hope it helps
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    Quote Originally Posted by dragoner View Post
    The first thing I did was to look up the definition of status quo:

    Huh.
    Beware short definitions. They tend to miss meeting.

    There is a connotation to "status quo" beyond that - the status quo is the existing state of affairs and that has been the state for some significant time. The status quo is the current state that is relatively stable or static, and has not been changing much. You do not refer to the status quo of a highly dynamic situation in which the current state is new, and highly likely to change soon.

    For our purposes, a status quo setting is one in which the various powers have found some sort of balance, and settled into it - if the PCs do not act, there will be no significant change to that situation. This is in contrast to a setting with a metaplot, where the setting is going somewhere specific unless the PCs act to stop it.

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