Actual Play – No substitutions…ever (6/6/2014)

Apocalypse WorldMC: Karen Twelves
Players: Matt Klein, Dale Horstman, Eric Fattig, and Sean Nittner
System: Apocalypse World

Come in, come in. Shut the door. Shut the door now, shut it now, I don’t care who’s still out there, shut the door–great. Thanks. Hi, you guys. How many of you are there? Six? Oh, there were six? So five, now. Right? Okay, great. Welcome to the Olive Garden. Have a seat. Do any of you need medical attention? Any bites? Anyone fallen asleep during one of the sandstorms? None of you have seen the Preachers, have you? Okay, great.

I’m sorry, we can’t open the door again. She’ll stop screaming in a few minutes.

We have a six-top in the corner if you’d like to follow me…

-Mallory Ortberg (

Thus was the inspiration for Karen’s Olive Garden Apocalypse World game. It’s the Apocalypse World. Nothing really has changed about it, except The Garden! The garden has unlimited salad and breadsticks, amid a wasteland of (in our case) impassable sandstorms, petrified forests, tar pits, and two rival holdings. That said, can I take your order? Today we have black bean soup, or black bean soup. (Note: no one has know what a bean was since before the fall).


The one tweak Karen made was to rename the playbooks to Olive Garden appropriate titles. Behold the splendor.


Diamond – A titan of a woman who ran the kitchen. Diamond had been at the Garden for six years so she was senior to most of us. She left a nearby gang, the Trogs, when she was 12 or 13 because she knew it wasn’t safe there any more. At The Garden she has a new family… and she doesn’t take shit from any of them (Head Chef/Chopper)

Spice – A completely self absorbed man who plays a casio keyboard and sings in spoken word to entertain our crowd. Spice has always been in it for himself, and The Garden represents a safe haven for this troubadour (Lounge Act/Skinner)

Vonk the Sculptor – A small black woman built like a triathlon runner, all corded muscles and a blasted face that had seen one to many explosions. Vonk’s gang attacked the Garden two years ago and when the rest of then had been gunned down the General Manager offered her a choice, to die there or become of of The Family. She’s been a devoted employee ever since (Hostess/Gunlugger)

Burrows – A touched man who had been at The Garden forever and spoke with a British accent, not that anyone knew what “British” was. The most fundamentalist believe in The Garden and all of it’s tenants. We are family here. WE ARE FAMILY HERE. The employee handbook is sacrosanct. The word of Corp Or Ate is the word of God.  Burrows was wrapped in all white tablecloths that had been stitched together. Nobody knew his height because always walked horribly hunched over. Under his wrappings was a yellow greased dishwashers glove for when he needed to “touch” people. (Server/Brainer)


Nobody really understood Burrows, some (Spice) cared even less about understanding him. Spice was also the one that took sexual liberties with Burrows whenever he felt like it, a pain and embarrassment that the server endured without complaint.

Diamond didn’t trust Burrows. She knew that professionally he was impeccable, he never missed an order, never offended a customer, but personally she was creeped out by him. She respected Vonl the Sculptor for standing up to her once when she tried to take black bean soup off the menu. Vonk insisted that there must be black bean soup!

Spice was in it for himself. He had left Vonk bleeding when fending off some customers-gone-psycho so trust wasn’t high.

Vonk the Sculptor had gone into battle with Burrows and trusted him (though no one ever saw how Burrows fought off the assailant, the camera just panned over to him standing over the dead man looking stunned). She thought Diamond was pretty, but there was tension there too. Diamond didn’t always follow the employee handbook!

What just happened

Our beloved General Manger Martini was gunned down in front of the garden. What would we so now? Who would talk to Corp or Ate? Would we still get Breadsticks? Where were his keys that opened the delivery truck and the safe with the employee manual? Fuck!

Thursday morning in The Garden

(from the notes of the lovely Mr. Klein)
Act One scenes:

  • Preparing for the warlords visit – checking the “my-lan” room
  • Serving black bean soup and bread sticks to everyone
  • Spice and the Drooler
  • Vonk pushing Diamond to be Manager
  • Table 6: where are our drinks – birthday song – runners!
  • Vonk with the “parents” in the Break Room
  • Convincing Juju Bee to join the Garden Family behind the Salad Bar
  • Spice in the bathroom with Pierce
  • Sewing Juju Bee’s apron while the warlords arrived
  • Diamond greeting the warlords by herself
  • Serving Furious & Shyla their iced teas and black bean soup

Act Two scenes:

  • Vonk blows up the Salad Bar with a hand grenade to find Martini’s keys
  • The call from Corp-or-Ate “What did you do to the Salad Bar?” and Burroughs crisis of faith in Diamond as manager
  • Diamond and Burroughs tussle – does not end well
  • Vonk tries to sway the kitchen crew and fails mightily – flees into the hinterlands on Diamond’s armor-plated Goldwing
  • Burroughs calls Corp-or-Ate – “Where is Vonk?” – given a vision of the Savior out in the sand
  • Pushing past Diamond, Spice, Enough to Eat, Pierce being pierced – deliver black bean soup to the Savior
  • Furious attacks the Garden with his UPS truck and mounted heavy MG
  • The delivery truck arrives and circles slowly to docking bay
  • Vonk distracts the UPS truck, Burroughs takes control of the MG
  • Diamond battles Enough to Eat at the docking bay with Spice’s help
  • Getting into the truck with the keys – finding the breadsticks, food… and co-Manager badges
  • Spice holds the door for Burroughs, Burroughs chooses Vonk
  • Vonk & Burroughs head off into the storm (take refuge in the Last Caravan – I added this maybe in my mind)
  • The remaining crew clean up the Garden and open for business “under new management”


  • Vonk & Burroughs find their way to an Outback
  • Juju Bee finds old shoe box in laundry room with the left-handed oily grey violation glove
  • The runners (who had been forgotten) call out from the break room “Hello… anybody still there?”

Thoughts on the Game

The great thing was that Matt was taking notes and recorded all our scenes. The daunting thing is that looking at that scene list was a bit to paralyzing for me to write up the account of all of them. So you’ve got the bullet points above, which may or man not make much sense out of context. Welcome to The Apocalypse Garden.

I wanted to experiment in this game with a Gun Lugger (I haven’t played one before) and specifically playing a Gun Lugger with a -2 Hot that was trying to convince people to follow the rules of the Garden. It didn’t go well. It went horribly in fact, and Vonk ended up hog tied over the bar. I can really see how a character trying to avoid violence (but that was particularly good at it) would eventually say Fuck This Shit, and us violence to solve their problems. It was fun times.

As I mentioned in the game Dremmer’s Birthday, playing Apocalypse World in two or more sessions ads a lot to the game. It give it a sense of an enduring narrative as well as an opportunity to progress to the next interesting thing. I really dig it.

The first act lacked a certain degree of tension because there was nothing to really fight over (and there wasn’t supposed to be) but it set up enough triggers that it was easy to find that tension in the second act. Who was going to control the Garden (since our Manager had died) was a big deal, and eventually I decide that Vonk was going to go for the prize (to really disastrous effects mind you). As soon as that tension was there, we had plenty to go on for the rest of the game.

Believing in something and having something worth fighting for make such a difference. Karen’s game gave us both! We got really biblical really with with “The Garden”. It was pretty awesome. Note, the salad bar (said slowly with gravity) was alive. It was also The Garden!

A small essay written by Matt as he waxes poetic on our lovely game:

A couple of observations about improv. Good improv stories require a few scenes up front where we don’t make any trouble but instead set our platform. In this way we set stakes and allow the audience to develop bonds with us, care about the players. That’s often hard to do because we all want to get into the action and cause trouble. Also, we need to identify questions we want to see answered as the story unfolds. We don’t know what the story is about at first, but usually very soon it can be identified in terms of a couple essential questions that need to be resolved. I believe these aspects are also true about story games in general and AW in particular. We’re basically doing a highly structured form of improv. Or bringing improv principles into RPGs. Take your pick.

I think we did a pretty good job setting up the Garden. Perhaps we could have tried for a set of quick “day in the life” scenes with mixes of characters so we could build on bonds and further develop relationships. Quick Spice and Diamond scene, quick Burroughs/Diamond/Vonk out on the floor scene. Quick Diamond and her crew scene. Nothing fancy, no trouble… just typical interactions that get us interested in who they are and what they mean to each other. Interacting with Table 6, the Drooler, Enough to Eat were helpful but we could have done a quick round of nothing much happens so we cared and understood what might go wrong when Enough to Eat says, “Ooo, I’m not feelin’ so well.” (for example)

I write this basically as a reminder to myself to support such things. I have a tendency to wait for my character to “hit” me, and off I go, sometimes playing for quick laughs that aren’t actually all that helpful to the story even if they’re kind of fun to start. I need to get my mind back into the relationships because I get lost with the plot if I don’t. “What does Burroughs really want here? What are his stakes and who might support them and get in the way?” I’m working on this.

As for plot, I think our major questions became, “Who will run the Garden,” and “Will the Garden survive Furious’s attack?” If we’d openly gone looking to identify them sooner, called them out, and played harder toward them, I think the game would have popped even more. Something I struggle with in story games is the feeling that I catch on too late to what the story might have been about and then I get that twang of regret that it’s over. Endings sometimes feel a little ret-conned. I felt ours succeeded and created some really nice closure to arcs which made me wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. But I don’t always feel that way and believe it’s not that difficult – we just need to look for and identify the key questions we’ve raised and then answer them. “Play to find out what happens” isn’t quite descriptive enough for me because I can sit at a bus stop and report back “what happens” as a mundane account of nothing very exciting. An account is not a story – we need stakes and investment in how those stakes turn out, which can usually be expressed in terms of provocative questions.

Anyway. Look at me with my philosophical meanderings. I love poking around under the hood of our hobby, tweaking this, experimenting with that, turning parts around in my hands and saying, “What if we did it this way? That way?” There is just so much amazing potential to this thing we do! Thanks for reading all the way to here.




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