Jason agreed to run Apocalypse World for Karen, Morgan and me after doing a full day of running in Games on Demand. The man is a machine!
We found a pretty plush spot on the mezzanine level of the Omni (the Crown Plaza, where me met, was a just a bit to spooky with all the train people everywhere) and settled in for a few hours of gaming. I think I assumed that because Jason had been running two hour slots all night that is what we would be doing. Luckily I was wrong, we played till 2AM and had a blast.
Jason started off asking what we wanted to do. I said I wanted some one hard. I’ve played the operator, savvyhead and hocus, I wanted a beat you in the face kind of guy. And I like complications, which people always create, so I took a chopper. Karen, also wanted to try something new, and who doesn’t love the creepiness of a brainer. She hopped on that. Morgan thought for a bit and decided he wanted to be in charge and have a holding. Hardholder it was!
Sean – Diamond – A guy who didn’t look tough and had spent his life proving that he was. I modeled him after a mixture of “A Boy named Sue” and the character U-Turn from the show Weeds.
Karen – Burroughs – A cute as kittens brainer who everyone was terrified of. She could make people want what she wanted them to want… and she broke everything she touched, just like Diamond.
Morgan – Jackson – A sophisticated man living in an unsophisticated world. A hardholder that appreciated the finer things in life even if nobody else did, sometimes especially because nobody else did. Much of the story ended up being about him coming into his own.
What’s wrong in on Rust Mountain
Out of nowhere Jason whips out this beautiful map with a dangerous Monster Dog Canyon where no one goes, salt forests, a crumbling bridge across Dead Lake, and several holdings. Places like Sheppetts, the Car Farm, Lolly Bend, Chinampa and Rust Mountain. When Jason asked Morgan where his holding was, without even looking at the map he said “Rust Mountain, we’ve got an old iron mining operation that is still in tact, we’re the only ones who can make iron.” Awesome.
The the problems started heaping up. Some came from our playbooks. We had disease in the mine, something coming from digging too deep. My crew had an obligation in Chenapwa. The was the start of it but then Jason just started asking question after question until we had this beautiful myriad of NPCs all tangled up in our affairs.
Black Alice lead the chain gang inside the mines (apparently near slavery in there) and hated Diamond, for you know, Diamond kind of reasons.
Semilla was brought back to Rust Mountain a slave but freed and treated to every luxury by Jackson. Does he love her? We all think so, but why?
Fox used to love Burroughs, until something inside him broke. Now he’s down in the mine trying to earn his way to freedom, dying a little more every day.
Lets get rolling
When we agreed there was enough trouble inside Rust Mountain, and clearly Jason had a few other yet unrevealed threats as well, we started rolling.
As expected in Apocalypse World, one clusterfuck just rolled into another.
We opened with Black Alice dragging Diamond into Jackson’s rather plush office. This kick started the main plot of the game, Rust Mountain’s survival against an unknown threat. Black Alice was pissed that Diamond had brought some disease back to the mountain and everyone was getting sick.
More importantly though, this is the scene were we established that Jackson did NOT have a hold of things. One miss on a Go Aggro and he set Jackson up to spit in his face (figuratively), questioning his authority.
This was also when we saw Burroughs… who was just THERE all of the sudden, or rather, it was just then that we noticed her. Cute, creepy little Burroughs in her hand knit violator gloves. She watched, as brainers do you know, and made every one in the room feel a little cold.
Gotta get the doc
I was really happy that Jason highlighted Hot on my character sheet. I wanted Diamond to be the kind of guy who breaks someone’s knee cap and then offers them a reasonable deal. In this case Diamond made his hard move, trashing Jackson office a bit and then making a reasonable deal “You call Black Alice off me, and I’ll take my boys to go round us up a doc.”
Why won’t Jackson love me
The next scene introduced what would first be side plot and later eclipse what we thought was the main threat. Semilla, Jackson’s trophy walked up to Burroughs outside the camp. It was dangerous to walk alone out there but Semilla had protection, one of Jackson’s gangs tailing her with the scope from his sniper rifle. Semilla, who had arrived in rags, was wearing the kind of luxe garb nobody in this camp could afford. Ridiculously dolled up she still looked sad. “Can you help me Burroughs, can you tell my why Jackson doesn’t love me. I do everything I can to make him happy.” Burroughs offered her tentative aid, she was going to look into it.
Shit gets real
Spoiler alert. We never got the doc. We didn’t even get close. Before we could leave on the raid, Diamond’s second in command III had to give him shit about picking the Car Farm to find a doctor in. “That little shit hole has nothing. The car farm?” That ended up being kind of running joke throughout the game “The Car Farm?” became the way to embarrass Diamond. But for now, this was one of his men giving him guff, which was great because it meant I got to use the “Pack Alpha” move, which I think is my favorite move in the game, or perhaps tied with Frenzy, because not only does it do something cool, but it has written into the move horrible things that you’ll probably have to endure.
Before going out Burroughs talked to Jackson, inquired why he didn’t give his affection to Semilla but he was holding out. I think from the meta perspective this was a question we as a group and/or Morgan as the individual wasn’t quite ready to answer. Within the story Jackson seemed guarded, which was appropriate.
Destination: Car Farm. Speed bump along the way: Sheppetts.
On the road Jackson and Diamond discussed the way of passing through Sheppetts. Jackson’s norm was to light it up with lead so everyone kept their heads down while the gang rode through. Jackson wanted a more civilized solution, so he told Diamond to let him take the lead.
Jackson met with the town leader (as much as their could be one) Sunny outside the gates. We all noticed they had a brand new machine gun mounted on the wall, way nicer than anyone had seen in these parts for a long time. This made negotiation difficult. Jackson probably could have bullied Sunny in the past, but apparently there was a new sheriff in town that had guns and food and offered protection. Something called the Egg…
Meanwhile back at the ranch
Burroughs got a glimpse of remorse from Semilla when she had last touched her. Something to do with leaving the Egg and she wanted to know more. So she found out more in one way brainers can. She slipped by her guard Cloud (who used to be doted on by Jackson like Semilla was now being) easily. Cloud had no love for Semilla and assumed that Burroughs would probably mess her up something fierce without leaving any marks. Cloud was partially right. Burroughs seduced Semilla. Told her that she could help her if they touched “more”. And the brainier special ensued!
It came down to some “thing” called the Egg. It was calling to all of us in different ways. Semilla was an antenna, connected to “it” through the psychic maelstrom, the people of Sheppets had sworn allegiance to it and we knew it was coming for us.
We took Sheppets by force (talking didn’t work out so hot) but suffered some bad losses in the fight, namely Diamond’s friend and chief pain in the ass III, and Jackson’s driver (who’s fate was gruesome and depraved).
From there it was preparing, if we could, to fend off the Egg. Diamond and Jackson got a nasty brawl of their own over leadership and Jackson was finally able to come out on top, put Diamond and the rest of his holding on order. He approached things in the most literal manner one could imagine. Semilla was the eyes of the Egg, so he removed hers!
I really enjoyed seeing the growth of Jackson through the game. Even though he was the hard holder, and presumably had been in charge for some time, the game started with everyone giving him grief. Not just problems, that is expected, but really bucking at (or just plain ignoring) his authority. In the first scene, Diamond man handled him in front of his lieutenants, by the end of the game he had kicked the shit out of Diamond, shot one of his own men in the head and cut the eyes out of a spy. He really became the “hard” holder.
The character interactions were very funny. Diamond was really rough around the edges but aspired to have some of Jackson’s sophistication and Burroughs’ insight. I loved little scenes where he was trying to drink espresso out of tiny cups that his huge gnarled hands could barely hold.
Burroughs and Diamond had this weird bond that grew over the game. They both realized that everything they touched, they destroyed. In Diamond’s case it was obvious. He was a man of violence, plain an simple. Burroughs though tried to help, at least help some people but she always broke them along the way. Their minds were he play things and she just couldn’t help playing with them until they broke, there were always more in the toy chest we called a holding. At first she denied it but by the end of the session they had a better understanding of each other. I felt very good about taking my +1 Hx with her at the end.
Jason is amazing. He pulled this entire situation out of a map he had drawn, some questions to the players and a list if names stored in his noggin. While there were clearly some vague ideas out there (what’s up with Semilla and Jackson? what is the Egg, etc) they worked themselves out through play, and I was delighted with the story we told.
What could have improved
I think we made the common apoc world mistake of creating callous characters, myself being the worst offender. I hadn’t played a chopper before and was delighted at the prospect of pushing up against my hard holder while at the same time struggling with rival gangs (Black Alice was great) and my own savage violent bastards. What I did though was lead with violence and I think that set the stage for people solving problems with bullets. In a long term game (which I would LOVE to play) I could see a character presenting as a violent bastard and then revealing a nobler, thoughtful side through play (Al Swearengen, “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, Darth Vader, etc) but in a one shot it’s hard to get the opportunity to make someone that dynamic.