Actual Play – Dead World (7/16/2011)

MC: Sean Nittner
Players: Matthew Klein (Al Swerengen the Gentleman), Brent Sturdevant (Loyd the Muscle), Karen Twelves (Rose the Calamity), and Jon Edwards (Roy the Sheriff)
System: Apocalypse World hacked to Deadwood (Dead World)


Dead World
Game System: Apocalypse World
Game Master: Sean Nittner
Characters Provided: Created in Play
Power Level: Inappropriate for public consumption
Variations: Deadwood inspired setting
Number of Players: 4
A frontier settlement on the edge of nothing California, Scottsburg was not just a home; it was the last refuge for its inhabitants. Criminals, dilatants, and hard working miners that could not find a place anywhere else in the world carved out a small niche there, ever mindful of how tenuous their hold on the town is.

The bounty of Scottsburg, long unnoticed by neighbors in the east, caught the attention of a entrepreneur O. C. Wheelock. His appearance in the town was a swift and painful one; turning private gold miners out of their homes, moving his own employees in and letting them have run of the town. He held the deed to the town and threatened that if his will was contested he would bring in authorities that would not only enforce his claim on the land but make life for Scottsburg’s inhabitants impossible.

Life was further complicated by a pox that has slowly been spreading through the town. Effort to treat and quarantine the sick was an uphill battle, being lost each day in pints of blood and puss, running deeper than the streams of gold beneath them. Welcome to Scottsburg, welcome home.

A bit about the hack

For a while I’ve had a fascination with the show Deadwood. I love how human and weak and miserable the characters are. I love the every son of a bitch has something to redeem them, even if only a little. I like that the people are are desperately holding on to a dream that is always slipping between their fingers like streams of gold without a pan to catch it in.

Shaun Hayworth, Kristin Hayworth and Randy Davenport did a Burning Wheel hack to Deadwood some time ago and from all reports I heard it was great. Burning Wheel is awesome for capturing that real need for something that will drive people into action.

For my tastes though I wanted a lighter system that would still capture the “oomph” that burning wheel offers. I considered Smallville, as it focuses on the player conflicts, but I kept getting drawn back to Apocalypse World. I think in large because Jane is the epitome of the Battle Babe, better conceived that Vincent’s archetype. She brings trouble with her everywhere she goes. Jane is the Battle Babe I can identify with and understand, not the ice cold inhuman figure I think the playbook presents. In honor of Jane, the playbook was named “Calamity”. Perfect.

So, hacking Apoc World to Deadwood seemed like the solution that would give me the game I wanted. Gritty, fluid, tense and mechanics that can keep up with the pace of the narrative.

Most of it was easy. Change a few names, mostly filing off serial numbers. What to do with Weird and opening your brain was tough at first. I floundered a bit with a “make an earnest plea” idea but it was too much like going aggro or manipulating. Thankfully I took my troubles to Story Games and Jonathan Walton gave me the perfect move “Indulge your vices” (see the ugliness of my first thoughts and the beauty of Jonathan’s here:

The other hiccup was the Preacher. An obvious choice was the Hocus but the preacher doesn’t have a congregation as such, at least not in the show. So, he started as a Hocus but lost his congregation and eventually got a “mask” of faith to cover his demons. He’s one part hocus, one part faceless and a touch of brainer

The playbooks and moves are all on a PDF here:

Love Letters

I wanted a set of love letters that all focused on how a few pressures on the camp were affecting the different characters, specifically an arson the night before and generally the presence of O.C. Wheelock taking over the camp.

They were adequate to get the game started but didn’t drive the characters together enough. I did this at the last minute and I think they suffered because of it. I’m going to keep working on them till I get them looking like Scott White’s letters (example:

Character selection and creation

I told everyone we needed the Gentleman and Matthew immediately stepped up to the plate. Karren nabbed the Calamity and then it was up to Jon and Brent to figure out where to go. Jon thought the story needed a Sheriff to butt heads with the Gentleman and Brent went for the Muscle, to be the Gentleman’s, well, muscle.

Character choices went pretty quickly (though I’d still like to add a list of last names to the playbooks, currently only the preacher has last names) but Hx had it’s usually “Hurh?” moments.


Making the play books took a LONG time, as I had to learn how to use In Design. That said I was still able to cobble together my basic standards of props:

Playbooks: Custom made.
Love letters: Formatted in In Design like the playbooks and sealed with wax (thanks to Karen)
Experience points: Shotgun shells. In the future I’d use some nice poker chips.
Character tents: Also formatted in In Design to match the play books, included bits like Name, look, Hx, Hold and highlighted stats.
Dice: provided but nothing special. In the future I’d like to get some “bones”.
Attire: Thanks to Jack Young and Adan Tejada for dropping off cowboy duds at the Con so I could dress up the part. Pictures coming once I get a hold of them.

The play is the thing

Without going into the specifics of the plot I found that two bits of magic and one semi-dud. Magic happened when two PCs wanted different things out of a situation but respected or feared the other enough to make concessions or when basically hapless NPCs show up with news that complicates life and then struggle desperately not to be fed to the pigs. I had a semi-dud when my warlord came with a show of force making an ultimatum. The results were cool, but the choices began feeling narrower than before and gang level violence erupting felt like a forgone conclusion rather than a desperate option. Perhaps splitting hairs but my warlord didn’t have the oomph I wanted him to bring.

What rocked

PC Relationships is my THING. Especially watching them change, grow and be challenged. I’m not always good at provoking that kind of play, but it’s always what I want. Luckily Apocalypse World is AWESOME at encouraging PC interactions and my group was ALL about it.

Little things really MADE the game. Like the sheriff wrestling the dope dealer off the ledge of a second story balcony into the mud below. Even given the indignity of it all, I never imagined Sheriff Roy flinching. He was just doing his job, messy as it might be.

There were some hard choices, like what do I do with the guy I just kicked so hard in the gut, he isn’t moving anymore? Knowing he worked for the Warlord and he is a new deputy? How much to I let the Sheriff in on what’s going down?

We felt like this game was a great pilot for a campaign. O.C. was killed (VERY killed) and the common understanding was this would bring all manner of hell on the camp. I hadn’t thought to have him die, but as Vincent says, keep your NPCs in the cross hairs.

The relationships between the low status characters (Loyd and Rose) and the high status characters (Al and Roy) were great. Both sets understood their roles and understood that not liking each other had nothing at all to do with how they got along. Very true to the show.

Rose used the move “indulge your vices” at the table, which besides getting her the jingle she needed, drew out one of the other fronts, an NPC making moves on the Gentleman’s establishment. Unexpected and a lot of fun.

What could have improved

I could have done a LOT more with the deputy that got killed by Loyd. Instead of shoe horning in the Doc’s threat (the Sheriff’s wife being raped) I could have had the warlord (who offered up the deputy) demand the Sheriff enforce justice. Everyone saw him kill the deputy in cold blood. O.C Wheelock (the warlord) should have demanded that Roy (the Sheriff) lynch Loyd (the Muscle). That would have been intense!

As mentioned above, my big scene with the posse rolling out felt like playing my hand a bit too soon. Nothing had been done to establish O.C. as any more dangerous than the next cocksucker, so it wasn’t particularly threating when he came around. The good part was the conflict involved all the characters.

One thought on “Actual Play – Dead World (7/16/2011)”

  1. Just wanted to thank you for putting together another great con. I loved, loved, loved our game of Deadwood Apocalpyse World. I hope it lived up to your expectations. I think we all really enjoyed playing our characters – Deadwood is such an amazing show. Our game reminded me of my best improv experiences, playing characters and having fun with others and not wanting it to end.

    My games with you keep getting better and better – I was feeling kind of guilty knowing all the other people who would have also loved to be in the game but couldn’t get in.

    I was starting to fade approaching 11pm last night. I had all kinds of thoughts and ideas in the shower today. Mostly, I wish I’d gotten sheriff Roy more into the action at the end so he could have let out a Rebel Yell!

    Thanks again!

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