Situation, setting and "status quo"

pemerton

Legend
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:

I’d just say it outright to your players: "your setup's easy and now you’ve already done it. Mine’s 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, that’s 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 doesn’t. 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.
 

Riley37

Visitor
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."
 

aramis erak

Explorer
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.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
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.
 

Numidius

Explorer
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?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.")
 
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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
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.
 

Numidius

Explorer
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
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
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
No locations?

It seems that: "no self sustained authority" would be the status quo? Also the scarcity. Except "the party" is there?

This seems confusing.
 

Numidius

Explorer
No locations?

It seems that: "no self sustained authority" would be the status quo? Also the scarcity. Except "the party" is there?

This seems confusing.
No "prewritten" locations. Although a lot of stuff is suggested in the examples of the text.
In the First session of play characters are made, and also worldbuilding, but not a whole fantasy world, just the locations in which the players, or the party, live and start playing, a smallish postapoc setting, supposedly rich of npcs and connections.
 

Numidius

Explorer
I humbly suggest to the op to read the fluff intro, of course, and jump straight to reading all the pc playbooks. Most of the setting is there.
Also before starting to play, the players, of course, should read'em. They're very inspiring to find, come up, with situations around the pcs classes. Every single choice the players make compiling the char sheets, the Gm should ask lots of questions to them about anything, and help define the starting situation.
It is pretty organic in its development.
 

Numidius

Explorer
A good example is The Hocus. The post apoc paranormal Priest head of a religious sect, community. Simply reading the options on the playbook (character sheet) about his/her followers, in form of multiple choises to ...choose from, the situation, the setting comes to life.
The gm then asks for details about really every choice made and anything else worth of interest, and mixing it with the other pcs provides a starting, complex situation/setting.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
No "prewritten" locations. Although a lot of stuff is suggested in the examples of the text.
In the First session of play characters are made, and also worldbuilding, but not a whole fantasy world, just the locations in which the players, or the party, live and start playing, a smallish postapoc setting, supposedly rich of npcs and connections.
I get it now, though I think the language could be a little clearer. In one of my games, for example, I grabbed a line from a book ad about "violent gangs vy for power on the frontier" (frontier could be changed to post apocalyptic wasteland) which sort of described most of what the players needed to know. Other parts, I let them fill in the blanks.
 

pemerton

Legend
I humbly suggest to the op to read the fluff intro, of course, and jump straight to reading all the pc playbooks. Most of the setting is there.
Yes, I've done that. I get the setting in the sense of genre/colour/tone.

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?
Interesting. Maybe my use of "setting" is misleading, or just flat-out wrong?

I'll try to explain what I was getting at, and why - for me - it's distinctive compared to what I'm more familiar with.

Painting in broad brush strokes, and doing some classification on the run, I would say that I'm familiar with 3 main sorts of situation - and I'm thinking here especially of situations at the start of a campaign/"arc":

(1) The PCs have to leave home/comfort/their default to deal with a challenge/threat/problem;

(2) The PCs are in the midst of some immediate crisis/threat/challenge (eg the gladitorial arena; an assault on the homestead; etc) and have to resolve it;

(3) The PCs have some sort of standing disposition to action (eg knights like to joust, and to rescue innocents and restore justice; mages wish to learn magical secrets; a servant wants to protect the interests of his/her master; etc) and some event occurs that triggers that disposition.​

For this sort of situation, setting is a backdrop but often not fundamental. And (1) and (3) can certainly co-exist with a pretty robust status quo, and (2) can as well although maybe is more likely to produce outcomes that upset a status quo.

What's struck me about AW, by way of contrast, is that the situation is (or, I should say, seems to be) established by the arrangement and orientation of the setting elements - rival warlords/hardholders and the like; poison in the water or food supply; fifth columnists and crazies; etc. In this way it seems closer than what I'm used to to what Ron Edwards wrote about here.

Comparing to DW - which I have read, and even played a little bit of - the concept of "fronts" also seems much more at home in AW. I can see how that sort of technique relates to the idea of the non-status-quo.

I've been thinking of trying to do some DW with my group some time in the not-too-distant future, but now I'm thinking AW looks more interesting. (If also more challenging, because I think it would push me as a GM in ways that I'm not used to being pushed.)
 

Numidius

Explorer
Right. I believe with AW, Baker goes beyond those structures of reasoning, towards a freeflowing play and Gming.
From his previous games, the pattern, the direction of his designing is visible and AW is the apex of that
 

Numidius

Explorer
Numidius' caveats ;)

Once a gm, at the end of a difficult first session, introduced an enemy out of the blue, just to let us roll some dice. Not cooperating players and a condescendent gm... bad results

Once I been proposing Aw to my vampire group. They pushed for having a zombie apocalypse as main theme. I tried to change their mind, arguing that "that" is also a status quo. I eventually refused to gm :D
 

Numidius

Explorer
About the "status quo" thing. I see the written passage from Baker more as a warning, than an advice: the system works effectively against a status quo scenario (unless maybe it is treated as a continuous, neverending Front).

Once this Gm forced us to confront a gang of sort of humanoid monsters, I had a Gunlugger and warned him I could wipe out his gang with a single roll :D then I rolled and we moved on...
 

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