Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica – Flight of the Condor (3/15/2012)

Apocalypse Galactica SpreadGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Eric Ullman, Jacob Creed,  Andrew McDonnell, Courtney Burmann, Sean Schoonmaker
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

All Eric’s Fault

Several months ago, in fact before Dead of Winter, Eric Ullman got in touch with me and asked me to run this game. He had played in the first run through at EndGame, loved the game, and wanted me to bring it to his home crew. I was super excited about that, but it took us a long time to figure out a good time to meet. Months later our schedules finally aligned and FRAK, am I glad it did, we played and awesome game.

I have to admit I was somewhat nervous about running the game. I wasn’t sure how much Eric had hyped it up and if I was going to be disappointing anyone. It seems like everyone walked away having fun though.

Love Letters

I think I’m changing my approach to love letters in Apocalypse World/Galactica. In the past what I’ve tried to do is forge PC-PC and PC-NPC-PC relationships. So, I’ve pointed PCs at a problem, but tried to put a face on the problem. That ended up with entries that looked like this (example from the pilot):

Boards is a young ECO (Electronic’s Communication Officer) and a good kid. You gave him his callsign when you first met him because of those damn big ears (stuck out like speed breaks). You took him under your wing when he arrived on the Argonaut. Now he’s missing. The last place you saw him was in the hanger before you launched. He was with that frakking bitch Touchdown, his Raptor pilot, who was chewing him out as always.

So, Touchdown is the object here. Lots of people cared about her, but this didn’t achieve what I wanted, which was putting the pilot in a situation that had to be responded to, with some obvious and fun choices.  I replaced that with this:

A small group of Cylon raiders made the FTL jump with you. Two are charging towards the fleet right now. Frak!

And, not to my surprise at all, the pilot chose that option. I mean, why wouldn’t you. You get to blow up toasters! But I complicated it, the Viper was docked in the hanger bay that was full of personnel. Getting it into the launch tubes would take time, opening the air locks would expose every one in the hanger to space. And of course the Engineer (another player) was there as well, to aid, interfere or proceed with his own agenda.

So, while the new options didn’t immediately involve an NPC that other PCs cared about (from the example other PCs cared about Touchdown as well) or another PC, it was easy to figure out how to create those relationships on the fly. And it worked great. The Engineer was literally strapping a single missile onto the wing of the Pilot’s Viper as they were rolling it into the launch tubes. HELL YEAH!


  • Eric Ullman as Master Chief Stannis. Aboard the Battlestar Argonaut for 15 years, this was his ship.
  • Jacob Creed an President Lekas. A former senator who was injured during the fall and now walked with a cane.
  • Andrew McDonnell as “Princess“. The hotshot pilot who had been knocked down all the way from CAG to Ensign for his reckless behavior.
  • Courtney Burmann as Eve, the crime lord bent on taking over the presidency, which she did!
  • Sean Schoonmaker as the Commander, a lean “man of the people” who got along better with the enlisted crew than he did the officers. A real man of efficiency.

Five is a one more than I usually play with, but one less than expected (of several potential 6th players, none could make it). Usually I dislike large groups but having run AG for both 5 (this game) and 6 (Dead of Winter) I think that not only does it hold up in AG, but it actually helps give the feeling of the vastness of the setting. Since the show often hops between macro level problems (images of ships, conflicts in the military and political arena, etc) and the micro level (personal demons, romance, etc) having a larger cast allows me to bounce between those elements by focusing on different sets of characters.


There were several moments of awesome in the game worth noting.

Princess, not even out of her Viper, ordering the knuckle draggers to get his viper in the tubes, while bleeding from an arterial wound. Before he was launched a medic took a look at his wound and said “this man isn’t fit to fly”. Moments later we saw in Princess in the tubes ready to launch, literately blinded for a moment by the pain and g-force.

Crime lords don’t get the kind of support that commanders do. They keep having to earn it over and over. And when Jasvinder tried to make a play for power over Eve, all she had to say was “I’m so disappointed” as she cracked his jaw with the but of her shotgun and then blew his head off. She did the same thing to the Qurom leader just as she had re-sworn allegiance to the president and commander. That one line sold the game.

When Stannis, the engineer tried to take on one of Eve’s men and the dice asked me a for a hard move. It was great turning to the Commander and telling him that his master chief, the one man he needed to keep the Argonaut from falling apart was AWOL. We opened the next scene with him as Eve’s prisoner.

The final showdown between the president, activist, commander, and pilot was a total Mexican standoff. And like any good standoff the tension was broken by an even bigger threat, the Cylon’s had arrived. I loved the exchanges that happened there, though I wonder if I played to heavy a hand in shaping the outcome (see below).

What the game still needs

I need to make a couple more things for the game:

Table Tents (something like this, with the playbook picture on it and room for details like look, rank, etc)

A check list of Love Letter options so I that I can mark as a reminder of all the options the players choose.

An order to present the information. This time I went with Fleet/Battlestar playbook, Love Letter and Character Playbook. However, the love letters couldn’t be completed until the playbooks were done because we had to know what stat was highlighted to know if they got XP. So maybe I should do Playbook before Love Letter? Not sure, as sometimes the love letters effect how the playbooks are filled out. Gotta work on this.

Thoughts on the game

I ran the game with all the gears exposed. I frequently told the players I didn’t know what was happening either and that we were going to find out. I also revealed (even though Vincent says not to) when I was making a move. At one point I told them “I haven’t been able to think of any moves to respond to those last two failed rolls with, so I think it’s time for the Cylons to arrive.” In retrospect, I should have framed it as “That Cylon just died…he has the coordinates for the fleet and relayed them to the others… now the Cylons arrive!” Heh, hindsight.  I wonder though if that improved the game by making it more conversational and more communal or if it wrecked suspension of disbelief. I’d love to hear the players thoughts on this.

There were a few moments where I wonder if my attempt to flavor the narrative stole the spotlight from the PCs. Specifically these instances:

  • Princess, the pilot was badly injured, high on morpha (morphine) and running blind from a tear gas grenade explosion. She had failed to “read a sitch” so I responded with hard move that when she turned the corner and launched a grenade at the enemy, it was actually a mix of hostiles and friendly forces. She killed two marines on accident. I don’t know Andrew’s expressions well enough to tell if that was something that was a cool “collateral damage” moment or if I had deprotagonized his character by making the “crack shot” pilot a sloppy gunslinger.
  • When Eve (the activist) wanted to kill Lekas (the president) and succeeded at seizing by force (note: seizing the presidency, how awesome is that!) and her band of criminals opened fire on the president, I just turned to Jacob and said “I think the president is dead.” The awesome news was he had 5 XP at the time, tossed them to me, picked up the remaining Cylon playbook and said “That’s okay, I resurrect!” Still, buy the rules of the game, I should have said you go to 12:00 and maybe, possibly could be saved (or you could take a crippling wound and survive). It seemed cool for the president to just die, but it was also very quick, without him being able to do much about it.
  • At the end Hestin (the commander) was ready to just leave Eve to her plots, even if that meant she was the new president, Princess (the pilot) didn’t want to give up so early. He had a plan to leave the room and fire a grenade into the bridge just as the bulkhead door was closing. I did a little handwaving here as the game was just about to end and said “don’t you have some toasters to frak?” It seemed like so much word had been done to take the presidency, that killing Eve moments later would be a shame. For the second time that game I wasn’t sure if I had trumped Andrew’s hopes or given him another more attractive offer (as is we ended with Princess flying the commander’s old Mark II viper out of the Argonaut and having to blow open the hatch doors with a missile because Stannis (the revealed Cylon) disabled the launch tubes.

At one point two PCs were both going Aggro on each other. One was threatening a bullet in the brain pain, the other threatening to blow up a nuke on a civilian ship. So I thought, all good, both can do this, but then when I looked at the the move I saw this:

When you go aggro on someone, roll+hard. On a 10+, they have to choose: force your hand and suck it up, or cave and do what you want. On a 7–9, they can instead choose 1:

  • Get the hell out of your way.
  • Barricade themselves securely in.
  • Give you something they think you want.
  • Back off calmly, hands where you can see.
  • Tell you what you want to know (or what you want to hear).

Umm… how does that work on a PC? I ended up handling it as a manipulate instead (even though I had them roll hard), and that worked great, but I knew I was fudging things.

Cylon Reveals were both cool but I think I need to be more explicit to the “audience” (or at least camera) what that looks like. I had in mind at one point that stannis was tied up, he had taken the “inhuman strength” option on the Cylon playbook and I should have had a brief scene where after everyone else is looking away, Stannis (a #4 by the way) just snapped his bonds open. In the case of the president the reveal was great because it happened just as he died…so the reveal was cutting the resurrection ship and seeing him pop up out of tank.

I had a really deliberate pacing going on in the game. It starts in chaos. Everything is hitting the fan and everyone is trying to put out fires. Then there is a lull, a time when people have the opportunity to talk about what just happened, figure out what they want to do and then charge back into the action which then builds to the the climax of the game. I’ve done this is several games and I think it’s a nice format for a four hour game slot. It reliably delivers a complete “episode” without having to cut short the session, go long or hand wave the end. I’m happy with that.

Oh, and to explain the AP post title. The endgame all took place on the Condor, a ship gone rogue in the fleet.

8 thoughts on “Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica – Flight of the Condor (3/15/2012)”

  1. I’ve played Sean’s Apocalypstar Galactiworld (as I refer to it) hack twice now, and I want to acknowledge Sean for the incredible job he has done in creating this game. The BSG setting fits perfectly with Apocalypse World’s focus on scarcity , and Sean’s playbooks and moves are as compelling, evocative, and tightly woven as those in the Apoc World book. I have some experience in this area, having run straight Apoc World and having played Dungeon World.

    It’s worth noting that four of our five players had never played Apocalypse World before, and one was entirely new to role-playing in general.

    What I Liked:
    * Sean’s knowledge of the system helped players make their moves within the contect of the system. Sean didn’t get bogged down looking something up. (Maybe he glanced at a move during a lull, but if he did, we didn’t notice.)
    * Sean’s skill as a story-teller helped him guide the story in an episodic format similar to an episode of the BSG series. He even described camera shots that highlighted the characters’ actions. Very cool.
    * All the players brought it (yes, brought, not bought, as in brought their A-games), especially Courtney, who was completely new to role-playing. She dove right in and scared the shit out of the rest of us with her rendition of the Activist.

    What I’d Change:
    * I’d like to have seen more relationship triangles get defined during character creation. There were a few (like the Commander and the Engineer had worked together for many years), but there weren’t any juicy ones. For me, relationship triangles are a critical element of Apoc World, especially in a four-hour game. Sean’s BSG game I played in at EndGame last year had relationship triangles in spades.
    * I’d like to have seen the players make more of their unique moves, because they’re just so damn cool. Maybe there just wasn’t the opportunity in such a short game, and it certainly shouldn’t be forced.
    * Because almost everyone at the table was new to the Apoc World system, I’d make sure all the players had copies of the Basic Moves in their hands. I find that those provide a nice guideline for what the players can do, and it helps players new to the system get started.
    * I’d have made sure Sean’s dinner was there waiting for him when he arrived, so that we didn’t have a starving MC. (Oh, and if you’re not providing Sean with a meal, snacks, and beverages when he comes to run something for your group, you’re doing it wrong. ;-))

    I’d love to run this game at a con…maybe BBC this fall. It’s just so damn well done. Kudos, Sean! I hugely appreciate you coming out to run this for my buds. It sounds like everyone wants to play again, especially the two guys who missed it. Perhaps ’33’ is in our future?

  2. Many thanks to Sean for running – it was a great game.

    Kudos to “I’m so disappointed” Courtney, but there was good roleplaying all around!

  3. Thanks very much for running, Sean. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I definitely enjoyed the feel of creating an episode of the show on the fly. Dramatic camera cuts, inter-character tensions, several important story threads intersecting (and others floating around in the minds of the “viewers”), very neat. We’ve played a couple of these really narrative-focused type games recently as one-offs, and it reminds me of other reasons that I originally got interested in the genre. I think it’s also helped me think about my “primary” game characters differently, which is great.

    Everyone else, it was a lot of fun to see the directions that people took their characters. Hopefully we can do this again at some point, and the other people who weren’t able to make it can join.

  4. I wanted to ask your opinions on how transparent I was about the story elements. I mentioned several times that I didn’t know something (for instance did Princess shoot your allies on accident or had the marines on the ship turned on the commander) and that I wanted to find out in play what was really going on. Other times for instance I told you that since I hadn’t figured out what else to do with a failed roll, I was going to have the Cylons arrive.

    I’m wondering how you felt about that transparency. Were you happy to see the workings of the system or would you have preferred that I introduce all of those elements only in the narrative as though I had them planned out, or at least as though they were just part of the fiction rather than results of missed rolls?

    What did you think?

    1. I thought you did a really good job, I told Andrew I thought you were a professional and they had paid you to run game night. We agreed you could get people to pay you to run that game for sure.

      I liked how you explained things. Maybe it would have been cool if both the players and the characters did not know who was a cylon (like in the show). For instance you could include a note to just the cylon player in the letter you gave us at the beginning letting him or her know they are a cylon. Or something like that. If they were one of those sleeper cylons I guess you would have to slip them a note under the table during the game and that might get awkward…. 🙂 Or have them commit an act they didn’t realize they were committing, like the show did with Boomer. Anyway, that was just an idea, I had a lot of fun how you set it up also.

    2. Being completely new to this system, and being a “system tinkerer,” I actually really appreciated being able to see some of the inner workings of the system, so for me the level of transparency was just about right.

      I also appreciated the “holding of failures” for a bit to add tension and promote the story – I may be stealing that for future use 😉

      My only, admittedly minor, criticism was that sometimes it seemed to me that the “set the stage” descriptions went slightly long, when it was really the reaction of the characters (everyone was very good at being in character!) that I was itching to see.

      1. Good point Sean, the PCs are totally the protagonists and that’s totally where the action should be. I’ll work on keeping those scene openings snappy.

  5. I thought last night was awesome, thanks for letting me play with you guys! Thanks Eric for setting this up, and Nate for your office!

    I really enjoyed everyone’s characters and voice modifications (and of course hearing Andrew being referred to by his callsign was pretty sweet 🙂 I’d definitely like to play again, especially with more people. I thought all of the props/fancy paper and Sean’s costume really made it special.

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