Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica Beyond Thunderdome (4/21/2012)

Apocalypse GalacticaMC: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Hamish Cameron, David Gallo
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

David wins all kinds of prizes for being int this game. He is:

  • The only person to play three games of Apocalypse Galactica with me (notably Karen Twelves, Michael Garcia, and Eric Ullman have all played two).
  • The only person to play three games at Nerdly Beach Party with me.
  • The only dude who got me to introduce a warlord inspired by Grace Jones ala Tina Turner vis a vi Thunderdome!

I started this game with my confidence a bit shaken. The previous game was fraught with trouble and I really wanted this one to be better. Also, David had already played through the scenario I prepared (Damascus Falls) twice.  By the second run, I had changed things substantially, but even with that a 3rd run through seemed like it would be lackluster at best.

So I tried something I’ve never done with Apocalypse Galatica (or with AW for that matter, beside the very first time I ran it, when I was still learning the system). I ran a “1st session game”.  I took all my love letters and tossed them, held out a few playbooks that I thought would be fun to see, and let the players pick something they wanted.

The Cast

Karen – Pilot – Elspeth Reiss, call sign Apex. Reiss wanted to be a good pilot, wanted more than anything to be a good pilot. Wanted it so much that she used stims to stay awake all the time… and got busted for it. Freeze, her CAG had put her on non-combat duty (not quite grounded, but nearly as bad) and she started the game loading passengers on to her Raptor to ferry from the Battlestar to the the Prometheus.

Hamish – Daljeet Solomos, a security officer (the first time someone has played the Partisan) who was an ex-marine from the colonial navy. He now did whatever work he could get to play the bills. Dajeet was well dressed and tried to create an air of professionalism, but truth be told he was hired for thug work as often as not.

David – Levin Solat, aka, The Solat was a visionary and priest of the Lords of Kobol. He believed that the fleet had been offered a moment of respite and the gods willed that they take this time to rejoice, in a completely bacchanal fashion! His flock were dedicated enthusiastic drug fixated anarchists. Wow, I didn’t even realize that combination of options existed. How awesome.

Hx

With three players, I really wanted every one to be in each other’s faces. I asked the players to all think of reasons why they were together.  It came very easily, actually. The Solat had heard word that one of his followers ran afoul a powerful businesswoman named Kanti aboard the Prometheus. He hoped to resolve the situation peacefully, but wanted to be prepared, so he hired Daljeet to come with him as either bodyguard or extraction expert, depending on the situation.

Apex was on shit duty. Now that there was a reprieve from the Cylons, many families that had been separated were now being brought back together. She was on ferry duty, taking passengers on her Raptor back to their respective ships. Her assignment included a group of civilians, going back to the Prometheus. Polati, Hsing, Targaris party of two (mother and daughter), Daljeet, and The Solat.

The set up made, each player picked the person to have +3 Hx with.

Reiss had a love/hate relationship with The Solat’s followers. Though she had never met him personally before how, that same feeling of begrudging dependency extended to him. She needed his people for the drug hook up but hated having to listen to their religious yammering.

The Solat, it turns out did not hire Daljeet just for his protection, but because he saw something in the man and though it would feed his soul to be around The Solat and his followers. He didn’t want to convert Daljeet per se, but just show him the spiritual side of life.

Daljeet had no idea what he was getting into but new that most jobs ended up being a whole lot crappier than they sounded at first. He didn’t really care about The Solat per se, he was just another client. Apex however, had saved his life back in his days of being a Marine. A boarding party hand landed on the Sisyphus and the ship was about to blow. The CAG had ordered Apex to get the hell out of there but she stayed till the last minute till Daljeet and his fellow marines made it back to her Raptor. She didn’t even remember him (especially out of uniform) but he owed her an incredible debt.

Apocalypse Galactica

We started this game asking questions, barfing forth the Galatica, and generally doing the 1st session kind of things. I wanted to know what it looked like when Reiss did a roll call for her raptor and Solat was on board. The result was “huh… next!”

We followed the characters, and their very low intensity interactions for a while. The Solat asked for a prayer on board, that made people uncomfortable. Reiss’ CAG called her on board and told her she’s have to stay on the Prometheus to do some work… and could take her mandatory drug test there.  Daljeet noticed that two of the passengers has untoward intentions. Hsing was packing a small arm under his jacket but it was Polati that deferred to. All in all we had a lot of subtle tension, but no overt threats.

Getting off the raptor on the Prometheus made it clear that something was wrong. Luggage checks were being done by the civilian officers and while Daljeet had to “check” his gun by placing a tracking beacon on it, the other armed passenger Hsing passed a handful of cubits to the officers and walked passed unaccounted for.

Unarmed and seemingly unaware of the guards, The Solat walked passed. He belonged here, he knew it and so did everyone else. I had David roll+cool (Acting under fire) for this, but it was such as cool move (as you’ll see below) that I’m considering make it a Visionary move:

I belong here: Put down your defenses and walk among enemies with tranquility in your heart. Roll+cool (maybe +faith). On a 10+ choose 2. On a 7-9, choose 1, either way you are where you want to be.

  • You’re the center of everyone’s attention.
  • You draw no notice to yourself.
  • You have an audience with the leader.
  • You are able to bring your friends with you, under your protection.
  • One f your followers is already present in the group.

They encounter Jasvinder almost as soon as they passed security. She ostensibly was there to tell The Solat about Acario, one of his flock who had gone missing after he displeased Kanti. Her first encounter, however was with Reiss. The pilot knew she was taking a blood test and knew she was still high on stims. I had her read a sitch to see if Jasvinder could find her something to detox with, so she could pass the compulsory drug test. I think this was my favorite missed roll (6-) of all time.

“Yes, we have an herbal root that will purify you. It is called Chamalla and it is known for it’s healing and restorative properties.” For folks not a fan of the show, Chamalla is yes, used to fight diseases, it is also a VERY powerful hallucinogenic. YES!

Jasvinder then pointed the way to the cargo decks, where Kanti, leader of the black market could be found.

Visions of Serpents

I could tell, just at the mention of Chamalla (and seeing David’s enthusiasm) that this episode of AG deserved a little more of the supernatural than normal. Sure, pass it of as hallucinations or delusions, I was ready to start in truly giving the visionary capital-V Visions.

As they walked down the bulk head they could tell things were worse than they expected. I proceeded to barf forth the Galactica. Lights were flickering, comm stations had been ripped form the walls, bulk head doors were welded shut, and detritus filled the passage way. At the end of a hall the met two guards, Kelso and Cosmo, who clearly had armed themselves with Colonial Navy munitions. They also saw that Daljeet was packing a giant shotgun and Reiss was dressed in a  Colonial Navy flight suit. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

The Solat did again, what would be his signature move. He just walked passed the guards. He was unarmed and clearly someone who belonged in a seedy place like this.

Reises and Daljeet were told plainly however, they weren’t wanted.  And the question came up, why hasn’t anyone done anything about this blatantly illegal behavior on the ship? Cosmo, who had a marine radio on his shoulder had just squeeze the push-t0-talk button to call in reinforcements (he really didn’t want to answer that question when the prospective answer was going to result in a fair fight). And what did Cosmo get for his hesitation? The butt of Daljeets shotgun to his head… and Kelso go the business end of that same shotgun in his face.

From here the mechanics drove the narrative in a really, REALLY, awesome way.  Daljeet had rolled to seize by force (in this case, seizing control of the situation) and Reiss wanted to help buy pinning the guy down after he dropped.  Daljeet got a 10+ and did all the awesome seizing you’d expect. Reiss roll a miss to help, so when she jumped on Cosmo to pin him down, he raised his SMG right up into her gut… and cut to Solat vision. Watching all this happened I turned to Solat and told him he saw one of his companions in danger. A man had a gun in a her belly and a snake was crawling up his arm and around his neck. He leapt to kill the snake, another seize by force. He squeezed the serpent till it feel limp in his hands and then dropped it to the ground.

What everyone else saw was him grabbing the shoulder strap to Cosmo’s SMG and using it as a garrote to choke the life out of the man, friction burning his own hands from grabbing so hard in the process.

Damn, I felt like that changed the game in a fundamental way. First off, I revealed that I may not depict things as they are in reality to the players, especially Solat. Second, if felt like a major bonding moment between the characters. They had all just been involved in a major physical altercation and now a man was dead, so that one of them could live. In the hallway earlier Daljeet and revealed to Reiss that he was one of the marines she saved on the Sisyphus. So now, both Reiss and The Solat had saved someone’s life… and Daljeet was hired as the bodyguard. The upcoming danger of his job was implicit.

After that, they entered the cargo bay

Beyond Thunderdome

What was this place going to be like? Frak if I should know. So I pulled out the Businessman’s playbook and handed the back of it, with the “Bussiness” options to the players and told them to hand the playbook around, filling it out. The selected that the primary business was “Fight Club”, and the secondary trades were recreational drugs and water. For atmosphere they chose: violence, noise, and kink.

I ask you dear reader. How could I not make the the Thuderdome? I described hanging cages, artificial waterfalls that people drank from and or defiled each other in, a heavy cloud of smoke that clung to everyone and everything, and pounding, thundering above it all was a constant thrum of music, so loud and full of bass, it could only be heard as noise. Yeah, I barfed forth the Apocalypica.

This is the point in the game where Karen later told me I had gone to far, but it was very hard to stop adding these details when David kept applauding them. Every nuance was met with a resounding “Yes” and so it encouraged me to add more.

The Fight Club, as the the found was a pit surrounded by tall walls made of cargo containers. Above the pit was a carosel mechanism of cages, like some carnival ride gone horribly wrong. Seemingly at random the cages would slowly whirl and clack above head and and when it pleased Kanti, stop, deposit their contents into the pit, so they could fight for their own survival. The contents were one part prisoner, one part gladiator.

To both continue the serpent theme further and to really irk Reiss, a Viper (as in the ship) wing was perched above the pit, like a deadman’s plank over the open sea. At the end of the wing (which had a missile still attached mind you) the cockpit seat had been placed like a throne. Kanti, covered in serpent tattoos, wearing black leather boots, with black hair standing straight up, sat in the throne, ruling over all. At each foot was a servant, literally licking her boots.  Okay Karen, perhaps you’re right. This may have been too much for Apocalypse Galatica… or maybe (in retrospect) it was just the cloying vapors of Chamalla smoke in the air, that made everything seem as surreal as it was.

A new range category for Apocalypse World: Intimate

The character split up. Reiss and The Solat went to speak with Kanti (and try and smooth over relations with her) and Daljeet looked for Acario (in case they couldn’t)

For the third time (and why I really think I need to make a move for this) The Solat just walked past Kanti’s guards and addressed her. The music was turned down to a low thrum and the audience quieted their shouts so everyone could hear the exchange. Kanti, still sitting on her throne, had her back to The Solat as he walked down the plank towards her, but as he addressed he, her two servants, like twin headed serpents looked up from licking her boots and spoke to The Solat, offering her response.

Kanti was not impressed. An least not until The Solat grabbed a bucket of water and threw it in the face of one of her servants, causing him to fall off the edge of the wing into the pit below, where he broke his neck on the uneven wreckage.  That got her attention, the one head had to talk in double time (as his twin was now dead) but she was willing to discuss the division of their interests. See, it was at this point that I realized Kanti was just the dark shadow of The Solat. His followers revered violence, indulgence and recreation… as did the patron’s of Kanti’s hold. The talked, realized they were fighting over the same audience, and (thanks to a miss on his roll to manipulate) The Solat got clubbed in the back with a Viper landing support turned weapon and knocked down into the pit.

We had a bit of confusion in play, because I had thought, as part of that hard move to finally resolve Daljeet’s search for Acario and have him in a cage (of course) and have Acario drop down into the pit and be forced to fight The Solat. Well, that was a bit more than the characters were going to idle by and watch.

Daljeet climbed on to one cage as it swung by and then leapt onto Acario’s cage to rescue him. Yay the “smash and grab” move got used.  I really like that one.  He picked the “don’t make a mess of things” and “don’t have to fight my way in” options, leaving “don’t have to fight my way out” for me to give him a fight.

Meanwhile, Reiss grabbed a chain and threw it down to The Solat to get him out of the pit. Unfortunately, that chain was attached to a big guy, that she tossed down with ease… because of course a) she revealed herself as a Cylon (yay) and b) she got a 7-9 acting under fire, so that was an actual “reveal” to those around, given her inhuman strength.  With some effort (his hands were still burned from choking Cosmo) he climbed back onto the wing.

This was too far for Kanti. Actually it had been too far the moment he climbed out of the pit without fighting his way out, but I didn’t want to interrupt all the awesome. She lurched at him like a servant darting forward, wrapped her arms around him, and planted her two curved blades (like fangs) into his back (and I’m sure several internal organs).

Their two sweaty bodies were pressed up against each other, face to face. Held fast by her strong arms digging the blades into The Solat. They were at “Intimate” rage.

A new range category for Apocalypse World: Erotic

With what could have been his last breath The Solat began chanting to his followers present (which of course there were plenty of). He spoke the truth about Kanti’s corruption, about his own teachings and the home they would find in his flock. Yay, Frenzy! He incited them to surge forth and then go quietly back to their homes, ebbing away the the violent energy in the crowd.

Kanti spit in his mouth. It didn’t accomplish anything. It was her final act of defiance. Even if he died then on her blades he had won. Still though, we had to invent yet ANOTHER range category for Apocalypse World: Erotic.

Exodus

It was Daljeet and Reiss’s final heroic action to get The Solat to a doctor before he bled out. And because we established that Doc Burns was in fact on the Prometheus (as he was going to do Reiss’ drug test), it made total sense that they could get him there. The Solat’s wounds were at 11 o’clock and it was a final “acting under fire” that got him there. And they got the 10+ because of aiding one another. How cool is that!

In the final down beat, we saw Daljeet and Reiss again in the doctor’s surgery room. He handed her a small vial and said “here, that’ll get you through the drug screen.” Aw.

Thoughts on this game

Yeah, I went overboard. But I had a blast with it, and I think so did the players in the moment (though they might be wincing in retrospect). What I really should have done was to premise the the fight club scene with a puff of chamalla smoke as they walked it. Then it could have all been metaphoric and shit.

If fact, I did dump some smoking chamalla root in Reiss’ face towards the end, to fulfill the he miss she made early on to detox, but we never really played off that. A bit sloppy on my part.

Also sloppy was introducing the other passengers, and having none of them come back. We really didn’t have time for any more NPCs to have spotlight, but I had made a point that they were bad news and then we didn’t see them again… maybe next session…?

This game was just a shit load of fun for me. I wasn’t worried about keeping track of a gillion things. I just played of what the characters did. The players were great about finding reasons to stick together and it invest in each other.  I didn’t have nine thousand things going on, just one stream of awesome.

I’m definitely going to run more “1st session” games of Apocalypse Galatica. I liked that we were more focused on what the characters were up to than what was happening around them.

Range Categories: Far, Close, Hand, Intimate, Erotic. Rock!