Actual Play – Iron Road (7/16/2011)

MC: Scott White
Players: Chris Bennet (Amiette), Matthew Klein (Snow), Karen Twelves (Morrel) and Sean Nittner (Trout).
System: Apocalypse World


Iron Road

Game System: Apocalypse World
Game Master: Scott White
Characters Provided: Created during play
Number of Players: 4 (1 seats open, 0 on waiting list)
You grew up with this train, old rusted hulk in the middle of the old trainyard you call home. The old men kept tinkering with it but when the boiler exploded last year one of your best engineers was almost killed and he took a bunch of your gang with him when he walked out. But hell, that train’s finally almost ready to roll now and just in time cause the fires have been inching closer for months and they’re right on your door. Suddenly plenty of people want on your train… too many. Time to fire this thing up and face the Iron Road. Beginners welcome, system will be taught.

Wait a minute

So you’re reading this an instantly you think, “but wait Sean, didn’t you already play in Scott’s Iron Road game?” Or maybe not. But if you did wonder, yes, I played in it back in October at the the EndGame Minicon in 2010 (AP here:

The reason I got into this game was due to two last minute cancellations taking the game from 4 players down to 2. Chris Bennet and I filled vacant seats. I told Scott in advance that I’d be in the game but not to worry about me “knowing the plot”. I was sure it would go much differently than it did last time…and it did.

Lighting character creation

Character creation went VERY fast in this game. I knew I wanted to play a Hocus. I had been itching to do so for a while. Karen quickly grabbed the Savvy Head (a central figure in the game), Matthew was on the Battlebabe and Bennet chose the Brainer. After that we whipped through our playsheets and were quickly at Hx. This made me pretty happy as it meant more play and less prep.


Scott has added another piece to his props array for the game. Cards printed out on cardstock with these gorgeous faded images on them. One of them includes me from the garb last time I ran “Heart of Darkness”, a particularly sweet nod I thought. The cards were great because it gave us a chance to represent our particular “Look” choices. Some of them, like Morrel (the creepy little girl with haunting eyes) were very disturbing, perfect for the game)

The Fire Eaters

Apparently last time someone played a Hocus they created their own followers and they never really fit into the story. So… just before this game Scott created a cult called the Fire Eaters, which is especially significant because in his setting the Psychic Maelstrom is a fire that has consumed most of the world. I travels above and underground and never stops burning. The threat of the setting was that the fire was coming and our train was the only way out.

The fire eaters weren’t really part of the settlement though, they were outcasts who practiced wacko rituals and liked to destroy things. We had some early incorporation during the Hx that established that Amiette was a member but so weird herself (as brainers are) she was shunned by the others, Trout (my character and their mouth piece) included. Snow (Matthew’s Battlebabe) on the other hand was the object of their desire. They wanted to own him, to make him one of them… and Trout made that her mission as well.

Love Letters

We all had some interesting prompts from the love letters, more than enough to fill up the game and make us want to come back for more when it was over. Scott does a very good job (better than mine) of making all the love letters represent how the same situation (namely the omnipresent threat of the fire as well as the immediate threats of Erie and the scrappers) affects each player differently. When I make another pass at my Dead World game, I’ll be writing mine in the same fashion.

Kick it off with a Riot

The first scene started off with some awesome character interplay. Snow was trapped outside the settlement with a huge crowd all trying to get in the front gates between her and access. Trout was on the wall calling out proclamations about the fire and I tried to have Trout make a powerplay, inciting the crowd to present Snow to me “as one of us”. In a bit of awesome failure (I think I rolled misses (6-) on my first four or five rolls) I not only failed to “save” Snow but ended up on fire myself, shaking the faith that my fire eaters had in me. Much of the rest of the game was spent with Trout trying to win Snow over not to take power any more, but to regain her follower’s faith. It was good stuff throughout.

When Morrell entered the scene she was being dragged off by two goons. Her reaction was violent. She slipped out of one boot and knifed her other captor to get free. After a confusing tussle involving Amiette’s voodoo-esk dolls, both would be captors gave up (one doing so with his brain bits splattered all over the place).
Keeping the Train safe

What initially seemed like a opening salvo (the crowd at the gates demanding entrance) turned into the major event of the game). We united the crowd against a common threat (the armored bulldozer Snow saw on his way back to the settlement) with a promise to offer those that helped in the fight could gain entrance to the settlement. The fight was a fast one, and very one sided, but when we opened the gate, the masses rushed in, far more than we could support. We ended up firing on the masses to scare them off (and kill quite a few in the process). A brutal fight to hold onto our own safety and security, just what an Apocalypse World conflict should look like.

Rise of the Fire Eaters

Eventually the Fire Eaters were united to push out the other scrappers and became the defacto defenders of the camp. This was a pretty unintentional shift in the power dymanic, but made the connections between the characters, particularly Snow (the object of their desire) and Morell (the only one to save us all) much more important in the scheme of things.

And now the sex

The first few conflicts were all on top of each other. One cascading right into the other in a orgy of violence and rapture. After that we elided time a bit, cut through several sex scenes (nearly everyone had sex but due to the nullifying power of the Battlebabe’s special, not too many moves were actually played out. I was kind of disappointed in my answers to Morrell’s questions (which were basically why are you so broken) as they came off a pretty trite. The good news was they results of which felt like great fodder for another game, rather than material to try and shoe horn in now.

Need a part

In the morning we got to the scenario’s primary challenges, how to get the train running. We had a fixing up the train montage (which, I could be getting mixed up but may also have been part of the sex montage) until Morell realized we needed new barrings and the only one who could provide them was a guy named Gully, often called the Waterman

The Watterman

Remember the scene with the cannibal family in Six String Samurai. All inbred with guns and wild eyes. That was Gully’s family (though probably minus the cannibalism, Scott feels that trope is overused). Morell pulled out an awesome save though in created a transceiver that picked up reception through the fires and let Gully talk to his (presumably dead) wife. (Fuck yeah Augury!)

What rocked

The characters were awesome. I loved the tensions between them. Having just played a very friendly relationship with Matthew in the previous game, it was a lot of fun to play a very contested one in this game. I know Karen is playing this very spooky girl (well, AI entity using a spooky girl’s body) in an Eclipse Phase game she plays in and wanted to get the creep factor in. That definitely came across in our game. The spooky girl with giant eyes that everybody NEEDS.

The “Frenzy” move is a crazy powerful one. Enough so I’d be damn scared of a Hocus if I was MCing a game. That said I had SO much fun using it. Even when it missed. I loved it.

An NPC “Ula” gave Amiette a chance to “help” by giving herself over to the fire. 2 Harm (ap) and no immediate result. Not long after the flames leapt up through the concrete to burn our enemies. A very nice touch from the MC and a great way to tie the characters together further.

Getting burned in the first scene meant my character had a lot of crow to eat. But a lot of weird rolls early on allowed Trout to pick up “Divine Armor” which Scott rued would work against convention fire as well, representing how the fires had burned Trout and left her strong for it. I liked it.

Snow’s resistance and self reliance was great. As Matthew said, our two characters just kept pulling on the opposite ends of a rubber band making the tension tighter and tighter.

We got to have sex. Lots of it. Woot. I know, it’s silly of me, but I like games where sex happens, sometimes gratuitously. I think it’s good for the ratings. The fact that Vincent made it a mechanical “move” in the Apocalypse World is pure genius. Bless his soul.

We all walked out of the game with a ton of unresolved issues. What about Trout’s questionable faith? Will Snow embrace the Fire Eaters. Will Amiette join the rest of the settlement? Can Morrell get the train running? If felt like a ripe opportunity to play another game of seven!

What could have improved

The Amiette and Ula thread was interesting but as it only involved one character, was hard for the other players to interact with. It felt separated from everything else. Scott brought the effects in thematically but in terms of role-play, we couldn’t interact.

It seemed liked there were two scenes vying for the “opening” slot. Snow was trying to get into the camp to report his finding while Morell was getting abducted. As they were results of a Love Letter, I can understand how the simultaneous immediacy happened, but I think it would have been better to have staged one after the other so that we could address each one. It felt a little like Morell’s abduction got overshadowed by Snow at the gates when there was no reason to not make them both major events in their own right.

How we were going to address Gully (who had our part) broke a little from the narrative into questions of mechanics and who has the highest “hot”. That translated into some conflicting ideas about how we were going to approach him. Eventually we pushed through bit it was the one hiccup in an otherwise seamless game.

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