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thoughts on Apocalypse World?

pemerton

Legend
Based on a roll to learn the terrorist's whereabouts from local criminals--the player rolled a success with consequence on a risky Command action to intimidate them--I figured they were now being led into a trap. So they took a boat to another area of the city where the target was supposedly staying. This being a one-shot test session, in which I very much wanted a noir-ish moment where the newbie's more experienced partner gets killed, I figured the trap would start big, with an A-Wing attacking the boat from far above--a kind of sniper situation. I said that they could hear a high-pitched keening sound during the boat trip, but my player did nothing (he's also new to playing FitD, though not reading it). When he stepped off the boat I triggered the attack.

At this point I suddenly didn't know what to do, because in theory the Attune action specifically notes that you can use the Way (aka the Force) to "sense unseen danger or killing intent." But the player didn't initiate that action upon hearing the suspicious noise. So we awkwardly decided he could use Attune now to sense the attack and try to get himself and his partner off the boat in time. He rolled a critical success (two sixes) so he decided to pull the boat's driver off as well.

Everything about how I handled this seemed wrong, and in the moment we were left with the sense that if the player just kind of waits out a situation instead of taking action, maybe that's on them, because, as discussed in this thread, passive actions--especially the sort of passive Perception rolls that are almost constant in many trad games--just don't make sense in FitD. But what do you guys think? Was this just a hopelessly trad and off-base encounter from the start? And how do you handle stuff like danger sense or similar unnatural/enhanced perception in FitD, if it seems like an ambush has become part of the story?
You've had some good replies to this from people who know the system.

Similar to some of those other posters, when I read this, my first thought was how did you convey to the player that the characters were being led into a trap?.

Thinking in AW rather than FitD terms, it seems that the high-pitched keening was an announcement of future badness. Which the player ignored - which sounds like a perfect opportunity on a golden plate - so then rather than calling for the Attune action (because if they didn't do it, then they didn't do it!) it seems like making a hard move was in order - eg A powerful blast rips the back off your vessel. Looking up into the sky you can see the A-Wing that's been following you and has chosen this moment to attack. What's left of your boat is crashing down to the ground. What do you do? The hard move could even have included killing the offsider NPC.

(Is the "boat" a flying vessel as I've assumed? If not, and it's a waterborne vessel, then imagine my suggestion has been appropriately adapated.)

Building on @chaochou's reply, I think the real risk in what I've suggested - and I get the feeling from your post that you were aware of this risk in the moment of play - is that the player will think you're being unfair. Where's the saving throw? Or roll to hit, or whatever? Where's their Passive Perception? I've got nothing very useful to say about how to overcome that feeling. It was an issue for me when I started GMing Burning Wheel, and to be honest I think as a GM I sometimes held back too much, afraid of being seen to be unfair. My friend who GMs me is better than me at being as brutal as the rules require!

Last year I GMed each of my daughters (early teens) in a solo Classic Traveller session. For both there was a bit of an issue of proactivity, and for one it was a big issue. I just followed through on the fiction I'd created, but tried to ensure that - even if everything around them was going to hell in a handbasket - there was at least one obvious way forward for the PC. And I made some suggestions too - like You've got Mechanical-1, so you could probably break into and hotwire the car if you want.

There's obviously a fine line between framing+ suggesting vs just narrating a story; and the proper approach to a fellow adult and experienced RPGer is different from parent-child. Still, my tentative suggestion is that it's probably better to make the moves and then be very forthright with what do you do? than to hold back from implementing the basic structure of the game.

The player and NPC decided to get to a rooftop to deal with the A-Wing assassin, and here, again, I may have defaulted to a trad situation. I said that as they were running into a building and about to get into the stairwell, a pair of guys entered from the street and immediately pulled blasters and opened fire

<snip>

toward the end of the scene/session, the PC and NPC realized they were stuck, with the A-Wing loitering above the roof and a large group of people running up the stairs. How this situation was resolved was, again, very cool to me, and pushed me even harder toward wanting to do lots more FitD. But as with the earlier appearance of the two shooters, this horde of dudes did not appear based on a subsequent player roll or suggestion.
So in both cases this looks like an announcement of future badness - a soft move. Was it warranted at either point? As you know, I don't know enough about the details of FitD to be sure about what it was telling you to do at this point. But I think - or at least hope - that I'm asking the right question here.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I am literally asking how the rules work. I am fully aware that this isn't a "traditional" RPG, and thus I want to find out what the differences are and how they're played. But everyone is treating me as if I'm some sort of idiot for not immediately understanding the rules.

If I'm pushing back, it's because Ovinomancer and others seem to me to have this mentality that "other games" are somehow lesser because they don't work like PbtA games are. Like when Helpful NPC Thorn said I must only have experience playing D&D. That may not be their intent, but that's how I'm reading what they're writing.

And I would have loved to have stayed on-topic--which is "I don't understand this game, please explain it to me"--but every time I do, I get chided because everyone assumes that I must be some sort of railroading D&D GM who forces players to solve mysteries. I've even been told that my preference for prepping games is bad for running my preferred genre!
Um, if I thought that 5e was lesser than PbtA, why would I spend the majority (well, recently no, but usually and without scheduling oddities) of my gaming time playing it?

I've said I rather like 5e, and enjoy playing it. Why must people insist that I must be lying when I say things like this. 5e provides a very different thing from other games I enjoy. There's no "more" or "less."
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
So in both cases this looks like an announcement of future badness - a soft move. Was it warranted at either point? As you know, I don't know enough about the details of FitD to be sure about what it was telling you to do at this point. But I think - or at least hope - that I'm asking the right question here.
This is very useful. One of things I'm picking up is that, given how open-ended some aspects of FitD (and by extension, PbtA) are, different people will of course have different takes on what the "right" approach to a given sequence or scene might be. I was leaning toward the approach you presented--that a bit of warning could be followed up by events that just happen in the fiction, PbtA-like, even if FitD doesn't have GM moves in that sense. But I think what others have responded with is important, which is that consequences (as a result of action rolls, whether they're failures or successes with consequence) are basically the FitD equivalent of GM moves. So by not directly and obviously tying these consequences to those rolls I was sort of inherently slowing (or killing outright) the roll-consequence-roll action loop.

It's possible that pulling off a FitD Star Wars game will mean reeling back some of the story now principles just a tiny bit. Maybe it'll never be a perfect fit. But from what little I played it seemed to work so well that I want to keep at it (even if a FitD purist might ultimately--and reasonably--balk at the slightly trad end-result).

However I'll no doubt be back on these boards with more questions once I get more testing in, especially when I get a full group going, and more edge cases to deal with.
 

pemerton

Legend
Maybe they hear people talking about it. Maybe they come across a body. Maybe someone sends them a head in the mail. Maybe they hear that their loved one has been arrested. Maybe, yes, a PC decided to open their brain and learns that way.
@Faolyn, I think you would make more progress if you framed your remarks in terms of the play at the table.

I mean, you say maybe they hear people talking about it. I assume the "they" there is the PCs. So how are you envisaging that this bit of fiction is established at the table? Who do you imagine is saying what. Is it a player saying it? Perhaps in response to the GM asking the question So, what did you hear when you were in the marketplace this morning? @chaochou gave an example of this upthread - the player of a Hocus responds to a question from the GM by saying that people they know (maybe their cult followers?) are being killed.

Or are you imagining that the GM is saying it? Well, then, in what context? What aspect of game play prompted the GM to tell the players that their PCs hear this thing? (Upthread you complained about the GM taking it as uncontroversial that Keeler would be walking by her armoury paying attention to what her gang members are doing? What assumption are you making about the PCs' behaviour such that they hear "people" - which people? - talking about something?)

That would depend entirely on how the PCs act and who the killer is and, well, how I want the story to go down.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by how I want the story to go down. That sounds like a pre-authored plot. AW has no systems or principles to support that - something like CoC or Gumshoe or even Fate might work better if that's what you're looking for.

Could I ask the PC why think this happened? Yes, of course, but "to get at me" is kind of cliched. To get at you why? Should the PC really be able to know what the killer's motives were right away?
I don't know - you tell me! I mean, you're asking how AW works and I'm telling you. Mostly by reciting salient bits of the rulebook and providing a few imagined examples.

If you don't want to ask provocative questions and build on the answer, then you'll need to make a different move.

I find it bothersome that there's no other options here. No just talking to people. No putting out the word move--presumably, pumping your sources would be going aggro.
As I've posted several times now in reply to you, not every action declaration triggers a player-side move. If the player describes their PC talking to someone but with no threat (ie not going aggro) and no offer (ie not seducing or manipulating) then there is no player-side move triggered. And the GM's job is simply to make a move - typically a soft move, but maybe a hard move if the player provides a perfect opportunity on a golden plate. The relevant pages of the rulebook for these purposes are pp 117 and 198-99.

AW is not the only RPG in which not every action declaration triggers a player side move. Eg imagine, in D&D, a character sleeping in an upstairs inn room. The GM tells the player that it's morning and the PC wakes up. The player says OK, I walk downstairs to see what's happening in the common room. In D&D, unless something unusual is going on, that does not require any sort of check. The GM just responds by saying what happens next.

So if the AW PC just wanders around talking to people but making neither threats nor offers then the GM responds by saying what happens next. The difference from D&D is that the AW GM is doing that in accordance with the principles (including saying what honesty and prep demand) and is making moves - some obvious ones in this case being announcing badness, either offscreen or future, and offering opportunities with a cost. It's likely that those moves will then prompt further action declarations from the player. And at a certain point, if the GM is making moves in accordance with the principles, it is likely that conflict will break out because eventually the player will try and stop some threatened badness, or will try and seize an opportunity. At which point a player-side move will be triggered and the dice will be rolled.
 

Faolyn

Hero
I think this has been explained. You have a scene with a threat or obstacle prominent, the player declares what their PC does, this usually triggers a move, you resolve the move, and iterate. If this tells the story of an investigation, it's an investigation. There's no one way this happens.
But it hasn't been explained in a way that makes sense to me, and at this point I don't think it ever will be.

I only picked "investigate a crime scene" because I had a question about "Read Sitch." To whit, can it be used in a non-charged situation and if not, what do I do instead. People sort of answered me by suggesting I could just tell the PCs what they want to know, no rolls needed, but then people also said I shouldn't be having situations that weren't charged and nobody should ever have to read the situation unless it was charged or they wanted to make it charged.

When people wanted to know what sort of non-charged situation there could be, the idea of a crime scene came up. It's important to the story (maybe not a PbtA story, but to most games it would be important), and it's not charged because nobody is possibly going to be hurt.

Your comparison to a mechanic where you roll for renown is not remotely similar. Nothing is risked, there's no action involved, and there's no consequence for failure.
And I have no idea why you would say this. If there's a roll, there's always a chance for a failure. You're trying to give a speech to rouse the morale of the troops. Make a Persuasion or Performance roll or whatever. The troops do well at war or anything, your renown might very well go up because it was your speech that urged them to fight harder.

This is a big point of difference in games like AW from D&D -- actions change things, there and then, and create new fictions. The spread is such that your chance of outright success is pretty low, so you'll rarely straight out succeed (unlike D&D games) and complications and issues begin to accrue which then drive play further afield. You can't prep this, you have to roll with it.
I literally don't see how this is any different than other games. (Successful) actions change events in the world no matter what the game. I don't know why you're saying that they wouldn't in a non-AW game.

Yes, actually. And no. The bigger world is expressed through the complications and moves the GM makes. Fronts are there to express this, and you advance Fronts when it makes sense to or as part of a complication or consequence. I get where you're trying to go here -- it's not an uncommon opinion that if the GM isn't doing solo play with the setting and revealing that to the players that the setting lacks depth and doesn't feel full. This isn't true, and anyone that's grokked these games will refute this statement strongly. So, again, we're at a point where a leap of faith is required -- either we're all stupid and/or lying or it actually does work. I can't help you make this choice.
I'm not calling you stupid or liars, and I'm upset that you think I was. I am saying that I don't understand. You're doing a better job of explaining stuff to me, and I appreciate it, but you're still saying "PbtA/AW can do this stuff that no other game can, when the stuff you're talking about looks exactly like the kind of things that go on in the non-PbtA games I run and play in.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I assume you're talking about me. I guess that me playing and GMing Fate, Cypher, GURPS, TOON, oWoD, CoC, d6 system games, homebrew games, and probably dozens of other systems over the course of 30+ years count as "not planning on playing RPGs outside of D&D"?

I asked Ovinomancer questions because I wanted to understand how to play this game. For whatever reason, they refused to answer me, refused to say what about my assumptions were wrong (just that they were), or to show me what the correct methods are. I must have asked how do I do this? half a dozen times. They didn't even bother to link me to a site that explains it!

What, is the AW rulebook holy writ that must never be questioned? Is this a cult? Are you told to shun those who don't immediately see the light? What's going on here?
Not to pick on you, but D&D, GURPS, oWoD, CoC, most d6 games (I assume you mean WEG here) all feature roughly the same authority distribution as D&D. These expect the GM to come with prep that the players play to discover*. Pretty much exclusively, unless you're making big efforts to confront the system and do it differently. And there's nothing wrong with this -- it's how I run 5e after all and I like it fine.

FATE's a game I have issues with specifically because it doesn't provide guidance on how to lean into what it can offer, but instead is wishy-washy and lets you run in in the same authority distribution style. So, not really a clear cut example without more detail. Cypher system I'm only vaguely familiar with as to it's core mechanics, but I can't say how it distributes authorities or how hard it is to play with a strong GM authority core.

PbtA games have a very different authority distribution to the games you've presented, and that makes a big difference. Of course, it's possible you played FATE in this manner, but then it shouldn't be very hard to leverage that experience with FATE into understanding how AW does things. You aren't, you aren't even mentioning FATE in relation to the current discussion, so perhaps you did play FATE with GM prep and players playing to find out what that is.

*To further expand on this -- this is a shorthand and blunt version of the play of many games where the GM has prep and play goes with that prep. It's exemplified by both B/X dungeon crawls and by modern AP products -- there's a good deal of prep and play is about learning of it and navigating it. B/X differs from AP in that there's not plot prepped, just a confined location, and play is more about defeating the challenge of the map and key rather that looking for a plot (it's very story after), but it holds true as a heavy GM authority game.

There's nothing wrong with these approaches, I'm just calling them out clearly because it's a big difference in approach and play. I very much do enjoy these kinds of games, as they tend to scratch one of my gaming itches. I'm finding my play of Aliens with one of my away groups lends to this style of authority distribution and play as well, and I'm hella excited to run some Aliens for my home crew when we get to a break with the D&D campaign. (My home group is a bunch of friends I've been gaming with f2f, some for 20 years, while my "away" groups are new friends but aren't part of my home crew. I have 2 away groups right now, one Blades and the other Aliens.)
 

Faolyn

Hero
I'll be bowing out of this thread now. It's clear this is not the game for me. I'll play it, if someone else offers to run it, but I won't run it myself.
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
I am literally asking how the rules work. I am fully aware that this isn't a "traditional" RPG, and thus I want to find out what the differences are and how they're played. But everyone is treating me as if I'm some sort of idiot for not immediately understanding the rules.
There are limits though. I don't remember the last time I've seen something explained in so many ways. At some point, you have to just try it. That's the only way this stuff started to click for me.

If I'm pushing back, it's because Ovinomancer and others seem to me to have this mentality that "other games" are somehow lesser because they don't work like PbtA games are.
And this, I think, is the problem. Ovinomancer certainly wasn't pushing that. They're just part of a minority of ENWorld posters who talk about games other than D&D. If someone daring to present the virtues of a given game and how it differs from other games (D&D included) comes across to you as trashing those other games, you might need to interrogate why that's your takeaway.

But again, why not just try it out?
 

pemerton

Legend
This is very useful. One of things I'm picking up is that, given how open-ended some aspects of FitD (and by extension, PbtA) are, different people will of course have different takes on what the "right" approach to a given sequence or scene might be. I was leaning toward the approach you presented--that a bit of warning could be followed up by events that just happen in the fiction, PbtA-like, even if FitD doesn't have GM moves in that sense. But I think what others have responded with is important, which is that consequences (as a result of action rolls, whether they're failures or successes with consequence) are basically the FitD equivalent of GM moves. So by not directly and obviously tying these consequences to those rolls I was sort of inherently slowing (or killing outright) the roll-consequence-roll action loop.
Interesting. I just learned something new about FitD!

I think the right balance between framing and establishing consequences in accordance with the game's rules and principles on the one hand, and railroading or just plain ballsing it up on the other, is very contextual. And can be hard to convey, especially to posters with fixed mindsets.

I remember posting years ago now about a 4e episode where I described a rock formation early on in a fight in the Underdark (the PCs were upper paragon tier), and in response the player of the invoker/wizard declared a Perception check. The check succeeded and so I narrated that he had spotted a roper before it could get the drop on him! Until that point I hadn't had a roper on my encounter roster, but now I added it.

Many ENworlders responded to that with outrage: "gotcha" GMing, railroading, blah blah blah. But from my point of view I was rewarding the player by (in AW terms) providing an opportunity (admittedly with a cost!). At the table it didn't cause any issues, and the player felt gratified that his proactivity had put him (in the fiction) in a position of advantage vis-a-vis the roper - even though I'm pretty sure he knew, at the table, that but for the check there would have been no roper. (And maybe at the table there were even groans from the others of "N____, what did you do that for!" - I can't remember now but it's entirely possible.)

Now in 4e the opportunity is to earn XP, and to show off in the ensuing combat. If the game I was GMing was AD&D, or even maybe 3E (I don't have a good handle on that one), of course I'd handle it differently because introducing a roper into the combat isn't an opportunity at all, it's just a hosing. So there's an interplay of mechanics plus principles plus overall point/logic of play plus the mood of the table at any given moment, which make some calls reasonable or even excellent for some games in some contexts, but terrible for other games in other contexts.

That digressed a bit from the scheduled topic, so I'll stop now!
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I'll be bowing out of this thread now. It's clear this is not the game for me. I'll play it, if someone else offers to run it, but I won't run it myself.
That's of course entirely up to you, and I hope you find plenty of enjoyment in your gaming. I would, as a takeaway, reiterate the earlier recommendation of grabbing the free game Ironsworn (link) and giving a solo game a try using those rules. It should take about an hour to digest the rules to the point you can start your game, and you can always revisit rules as you need to. This may very much help understand the approach to play (Ironsworn is an offshoot of PbtA and FitD).

Happy gaming!
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I remember posting years ago now about a 4e episode where I described a rock formation early on in a fight in the Underdark (the PCs were upper paragon tier), and in response the player of the invoker/wizard declared a Perception check. The check succeeded and so I narrated that he had spotted a roper before it could get the drop on him! Until that point I hadn't had a roper on my encounter roster, but now I added it.

Many ENworlders responded to that with outrage: "gotcha" GMing, railroading,
Hi, I was one of those ENWorlders. Ah, the before times.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'll be bowing out of this thread now. It's clear this is not the game for me. I'll play it, if someone else offers to run it, but I won't run it myself.
I feel a bit like I've been trolled. You asked questions, and I poster multiple detailed replies with many references to the relevant pages of the rulebook. You seem to have ignored those posts, while continuing to ask the same questions and complaining that no one is answering you.

Hopefully some others might find my replies helpful.
 



@Grendel_Khan

Here is the order of operations/cognitive workspace for GMing a Job/Score situation after the initial Engagement Roll obstacle:

1) Regarding the Job/Score:

* What is the Plan (Assault, Deception, Infiltration, Mystic, Social, Transport)?

* What is the Goal?

* Who is the primary antagonists (relevant threat level, nature, assets) and any secondary antagonists?

2) The setting/situation for this moment of the Job/Score:

* Where are we?

* What relevant factors impact the type of obstacles/consequences we can see within this space/time?

* What fiction predated things in total and what immediately predated this moment of the Job/Score?

* What is the present gamestate (Position prior to this and how that interacts with the immediately prior Action Roll outcome...any Clocks out there and where are they at relative to going off?)?

3) The obstacle for this moment of the Job/Score:

* How does it come between the players and their goal (this is extremely important for Consequence handling)?

* Can I use any of the player's thematic material (a particular PC Rival, Vice, Heritage or an established Enemy Faction that is Allied with the antagonist of this Score)?

4) Ask Questions > Use the Answers > Clarify/Focus player Action Roll (s):

* Determine if Position needs some modification based on Action Roll (getting in the face of the Rancor Monster).

* Assess Factors (Potency < > Quality/Tier < > Scale) of Action Roll.

* Keep meta channel open about prospective Consequences.

* Do they want to trade Position for Effect and how?

* Offer a Devil's Bargain (particularly if they're stuck/consternated).

5) Resolve the Action Roll:

* Handle Position/Effect results correctly, consult the Principles and Best Practices, consider all of 1-3 above.

* 2 lesser Consequences are almost always better than 1 single big Consequence (change the situation more dynamically and give them more inputs to the changing situation, Resistance Roll considerations, and subsequent Action Rolls to resolve the new situation). HOWEVER, sometimes Harm 3 or 3 Ticks on the Clock in Desperate is just plainly the right move. If its the right move...just make it. You'll know it when it is.
 

innerdude

Legend
I am not trying to insist an investigation looks like anything. I'm trying to find out how AW does it.

So why won't you tell me how they're run? How do people look for clues in AW? Do the PCs make the clues up? You keep bringing up Monopoly and Risk, but what I really want you to bring up is how you do it. This'd be, what, the fourth time I've asked? Is there a reason you won't answer? You say "people investigate things in AW all the time." How?

Heh, I'm chuckling at myself now, because much like the other participants in the conversation, I'm trying to figure out how to actually explain the principles of play in a way that makes sense without just saying, "Play the game and find out."

So I mentioned playing Ironsworn solo earlier, because it's a great way to demonstrate the overall principles when playing PbtA with a group or when you're the GM.

So let's take your scenario you proposed earlier:

"One or more people have died. At least one of those people was known to and cared about by a PC. There's some evidence that the killer murdered this person to rile up the PC. Investigation--whether through talking to people, doing research, or examining the crime scene--will point the PC to the likely identity of the killer (there are multiple ways the PC can find this info). If the PCs take too long, the killer will either murder someone else or disappear (depending on GM whim), leaving the murder unsolved and the victims without justice/revenge.

"Again, these is a legitimately serious question here: Is this plot, such as it is, bad or wrong for AW? If it's not a good plot for the game, why? What would be better for the game?"

So imagine you're playing Ironsworn solo. So you're both the player and GM and the same time . . . but you're playing in a principled manner, and you're using the Ironsworn "Oracles" tables to guide decision points that are uncertain, helping you discover what's happening in the game world right along with your character.

So think for a minute about how you would run a mystery like this.

The existence of a situation around "one or more people have died, likely murdered", wouldn't have been preconceived in anything but the most general terms by you, the player/GM beforehand. Why would you even bother coming up with an elaborate plot your character is going to uncover when playing solo, when the "GM half" of your mind already knows exactly what happened and who's responsible?

Answer is, you wouldn't. It would be boring.

More likely, in Ironsworn, the situation you describe would have arisen as one of many possibilities from a failed roll, or a partial success roll with complications. In the moment, you'd be thinking of complications, obstacles that might arise from the current fictional situation. You made a move earlier, and are adhering to the consequences described.

So maybe you or the Oracle tables present a situationally relevant complication that is now in front of you and your character --- "Some people have died, and it's entirely possible they've been murdered."

Cool, awesome! Something to explore. But the underlying context cannot be pre-authored ahead of time for it to be meaningful to you in play. It can't pre-exist as a GM-authored situation for it to be fun.

Okay, so, next your character goes out and looks for information. Along the way you invoke moves specific to your search, in the appropriate contexts. As a result of the success/partial success with complication/failure, you in the very moment of resolving those moves create contextually appropriate, relevant clues --- oral histories provided by witnesses, blood samples, tattered piece of a cloak, footprints, whatever.

But since you are literally authoring this simultaneously as you are playing, the discoveries follow from the context, the fiction, the moves being invoked, and the principles of play associated with those moves individually and the general ethos/spirit of Ironsworn generally. And depending on how a set of moves play out, some of the relevant context from earlier moves only becomes fully clear as you progress.

Hmmm, why was there a set of hoofprints next to the river, but no sign of tack or offal anywhere? Hmmm, does that mean maybe a local was involved? Ah, that would explain why someone at the stable was so anxious to get me away from there yesterday morning. What was his name? Oh yeah, it was Gregor, right? (And maybe right up until that very moment, there was no character named Gregor in the town, manning the stables, but because it now fits the other moves and clues, it is now part of the fiction).

These are things that arise through your own authoring experience, as you explore the situation and come to conclusions---with the help of the Oracles---that are fully grounded in the fiction, your character's situation, and how those situations apply to your character's understanding of the world.

Now, if that doesn't sound like a satisfying way to run a mystery scenario, fair enough. If you don't think you and your players are disciplined enough or creative enough or fair-minded enough to really let the story emerge this way, hey, it's understandable. It takes a very firm mindset (especially in solo play) to not just author immediate solutions for your character to get everything (s)he wants, when (s)he wants it.

So, now imagine needing to apply that same level of principled play to a GM-led scenario. The only difference when you switch from Ironsworn solo play to GM-led play is that the GM can, at their discretion, occasionally set up some additional flavor, context, and obstacles in the moment during play that should resonate with the players, rather than wholly relying on the Oracles tables.

But this in no way should assume that the GM is creating huge swaths of backstory (more on that below).



From what I can tell, in AW, the book tells you how NPCs react to your actions. The only difference is that you get to pick from a list of reactions, right? One of this is you roll 7-9, or 3 if you roll 10+. How is this actually different in the long run? You may get to choose from a list of options, but it all boils down to how well you rolled. Does this mean you'd be happy if D&D had a rule where if you roll above a certain DC, you get +1 renown?

In probably most games, the player can and will say "I'm going to try to intimidate him so he'll move out of the way/give me the thing/tell me what I want to know/tell his friends I'm really scary."

I dunno. Maybe all the other games you've played have been, the GM tells you what's up and only lets you do certain actions when it's your turn. But that's certainly not how I've ever played it.

Again, it's less about the mechanics and more about the principles involved. For social encounters In PbtA, 1) the level of stakes must rise to being worthy of a check even being made at all, and 2) there are constraints imposed on the GM when you get certain levels of success in your move checks. The GM MUST provide a certain quality of information / interaction / context / value. If (s)he does not provide the appropriate quality of response based on your check, (s)he is violating the principles of the game. In a very real way, if the GM is behaving against these principles, by rules as written (s)he is sabotaging the game.

I don't think that ethos exists at all in D&D. In D&D, it's technically impossible for the GM to do so. GMs are welcome to provide as little or as much information as they desire on any successful information gathering check.


So basically, don't do anything unless there's action. No background stuff, nothing to indicate a bigger world unless it directly affects the PCs, no trying to figure out what's going on, no having anything that the players actually have to figure out on their own, no letting characters just talk to each other unless there's a possibility they'll roll dice at each other. It has to be conflict conflict conflict all the time.

Well, no. But yes. But no. But yes, mostly . . . .

In Ironsworn, the whole "what's going on" isn't really authored beforehand. The whole point is that the GM hasn't even bothered to create most of this backstory beforehand, because the game neither requires it, nor even wants it in the first place.

If there's any "hidden GM backstory" involved at all, it should be largely sweeping generalities, with a few "fronts" that are currently in play that may impact what happens to the characters. The goal is that the GM and players should in 90%+ of cases collaborate on key backstory elements, especially in areas that are germaine to the character's goals and drives.

Again, it's a flipping of the script from traditional D&D / other "trad" games. The goal is to explore what really matters to the character, in this moment, in this context, right now. Backstory only becomes important as it intersects with that principle of play. Until then, it should be left in the shadows, vague and unseen, until such point in time that a critical moment, a critical decision, brings it into the light --- at which point the players and GM work together to hammer down its importance, relevance, and adjacency to the action happening right now.

Hopefully you can see, if this is the assumed play model, that creating huge swaths of detailed backstory beforehand is not helpful. Backstory elements should remain fluid as long as possible---but once they are nailed down, they are nailed down. They are now just as much a part of the fictional framing as anything else.

When I ran Ironsworn with a group, my basic premise was that the PCs were living out their own version of the Vinland Saga in Guy Gavriel Kay's "alternate historical world" of his novels The Last Light of the Sun and The Lions of Al-Rassan. But that was really just to give enough color and baseline "grounding" into what kind of world it was. At no point did I expect any of the characters to have any notion or conception of the events of the novels, nor would they have any interaction with any of the places or characters within the novels.

Other than that basic background, all I set up was a couple of key fronts, an inciting incident, and detailed maybe 5 or 6 NPCs that lived in the immediate dwelling where the game started. That's it.
 

Arilyn

Hero
I'll be bowing out of this thread now. It's clear this is not the game for me. I'll play it, if someone else offers to run it, but I won't run it myself.
PbTA games really need to be played in order to understand them. I know I was surprised how immersive my first experiences were and how deep the world felt, although very little prep was done by the GM.

The games feel like they'd be awkward and artificial until you play. Players and the GM need to fully engage, however. Nobody at the table can be there just to roll dice and eat Doritos. 😁I hope you'll give it a chance.
 



But it hasn't been explained in a way that makes sense to me, and at this point I don't think it ever will be.

I only picked "investigate a crime scene" because I had a question about "Read Sitch." To whit, can it be used in a non-charged situation and if not, what do I do instead. People sort of answered me by suggesting I could just tell the PCs what they want to know, no rolls needed, but then people also said I shouldn't be having situations that weren't charged and nobody should ever have to read the situation unless it was charged or they wanted to make it charged.

When people wanted to know what sort of non-charged situation there could be, the idea of a crime scene came up. It's important to the story (maybe not a PbtA story, but to most games it would be important), and it's not charged because nobody is possibly going to be hurt.

There are two ways to unpack what "charged" means when Vincent Baker uses it:

1) The generic way which is shorthand for "charged with conflict." You will find this in Dogs in the Vineyard. This just mean that someone wants something out of this situation and some other one or some thing is out to deny them it. What does a climber want? They want to ascend. What does the peak want? It wants the climber to fail...and maybe to send a message to future climbers. Same thing in any other matrix. What does the addict really want? To quit the habit. What does the habit want? To maintain the status quo (another drink/hit won't hurt!).

2) The Apocalypse World specific way:

AW 97
Oversee character creation. Answer questions. Open this book to the character creation chapter but put bookmarks in the characters’ moves
and crap chapters.

Go around for introductions, do the Hx thing, highlight stats.

Then 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.


What should your takeaway be from that?

THE FIRST RULE OF APOCALYPSE WORLD IS THERE ARE NO STATUS QUOS IN APOCALYPSE WORLD.

If you're spending any real, consequential table time on a thing, it should be charged (with conflict); unstable, dynamic, not at rest.

Someone wants something and someone or some thing doesn't want to give that thing up.

So a PC wants something out of investigating this "crime" scene (maybe a PC came to a garage and its an important parley to resolve an evergrowing powderkeg...but its a bloody mess like in Reservoir Dogs).

What does the crime scene want? It doesn't want to give up its secrets (that is what crime scenes want)!

What does the possible causal agents of this mess want? No witnesses? Maybe they wanted everyone who was supposed to attend the meeting dead (oops...the PC showed up late)?

What does the guy on the floor who is mostly dead want? To live? To pass on the secret of what happened to someone else before they breathe their last breath?

What does the pool of gasoline on the floor want? It wants to ignite by way of the precariously hanging, sparking light fixture that is ready to fall to the floor after the calamity.

What does the picture on the dead girl's hand want? It wants to be reunited with the family of this stranger so the ghost can rest. And maybe the family has a relevant dark secret to tell...the picture wants that dark secret told.





Fill the scene with charged conflict and awesome stuff. People want stuff. Other people/things don't want them to have the stuff. Play to find out how this whole scene fits together and then wildly blows apart...as_you_play.
 

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