Actual Play – The Garden: Second Course (7/2/2017)

MC: Karen Twelves
Players: Dale Horstman, Matt Klein, and Sean Nittner
System: Apocalypse World, 2nd Edition

Just before Go Play, Karen, Dale, Matt and I have a tradition of finally getting together to play a game… knowing we’ll probably play a bunch of games together at Go Play as well, and then forget to hangout for the rest of the year. In this case I’m glad we did because we hardly saw each during the con.

In honor of AW 2nd Edition, Karen decided to make a second playset for the Garden game. Olive Garden: Second Course. Since so many of the original game end in the Garden being trashed by roving warlords, the premise for Second Course is that the Garden has fallen and now the people who once lived there are out on their own, looking for a home.

It’s filled with biblical overtones (just like the first Garden was) as well as plenty of opportunities to define things like home, family, and faith in a world where the status quo change more often than the blue plate special.

Apocalypse World, 2nd Edition

This was my first time playing 2E, so I think it’s worth noting the changes I saw and how they affected game play.

Hx changed for the good. Instead of the confusing rounds of On My Turn and then On everyone elses’ turn, the Hx interactions are resolved by the active player asking other players questions and setting their Hx accordingly.  Questions like One of you. I’ve seen your soul? Which one? I know the reasons for Hx being so challenging in the first edition, but as a player I did appreciate how smoothly this went, and the great conversations that the questions triggered.

Seduce or Manipulate someone got a real stick when used against PCs. In first edition, the “stick” was if they don’t do it they act under fire. Not only was that rarely a challenge, it was sometimes hard to bring into the fiction. What was the fire? The seducer being angry or disappointed? What does that mean in Apocalypse World? I mean, who the fuck cares in a place like this?  Maybe it could mean that a lot of people got angry, and you had to convince they that what you were doing (or failing to do) was cool, and maybe if you didn’t act under fire to do that, they would clobber you or take your working watch, or speak your true name to the mind controlling satellite in the sky, but that’s work on everyone to figure out. Also, if you couldn’t thing of a way to represent that fire, then it meant you were jumping straight from mechanic to linked mechanic without the connective fictional tissue to make those mechanics meaningful.

Now the stick is that you lose a highlighted stat for the game, which has the advantage of not needing fictional justification to be created, but I think this move could go further by specifying that somewhere in the move you determine what kind of fictional leverage you have, so when it’s time to apply the stick (with mechanical effects or not) we know what that stick looks like.

Barter has become part of the scarcity model. You start with more of it, but it costs 1-2 barter per session to maintain a normal lifestyle. This causes some upkeep, but I like that on top of everything else, people still need to figure out how to eat and put a roof over their head. Also, the Operator got removed as a playbook, because everyone can do gigs now, which is very clever.

Apocalypse World is now in the fiction. This might have been there before but I didn’t notice it. The playbooks speak to the characters directly and the speak specifically about Apocalypse World. That’s the place we live in and what we know it by. I think that’s a good branding decision. It’s not like AW needs any more distinction, but long term I think it makes a lot of sense to codify the game itself into the play of the game!

There are a ton of other changes but those are the one we ran into during play so. All for the better.

By the light of the sign

In our mythos the reason the Garden was taken was because the sign went out. Without the protective light of the sign the Brutalitarians, led by Parcher and the Palisades, led by Axle, were able to breach it’s defenses and destroy the place. We made off with a van that we converted into a food truck, the sign strapped to a trailer towed behind it, and more mouths to feed than we could imagine.

As mentioned above, the biblical references sprang up immediately. We were persecuted people, hunted down (still!) by rival gangs who wanted the idea of the Garden to be no more (they were after the sign) and we traveled hungry through the desert to find a new home.

The internal friction started off the bat between Pajamas and Sticks.

Pajamas, was the busser and dedicated to the Garden. When the building was on fire he prayed to the gods Corporate and went into the fire to get the red phone they communicated to us with. He walked out of the fire unscathed [Divine Protection] carrying both the phone and the last of the breadsticks. He said that management had given him a message to go west and that is where he would lead the people. After that, he was believed to be the vessel that corporate spoke through. He was the listener of the phone and the keeper of the breadsticks, dispensing one crumb at a time before our evening meals. Pajamas wanted to find a new garden, a paradise on earth that would be our new home.

Sticks was the cook. He had converted the van into a food truck and he was the one who fed everyone that followed us. He had to deal with the practical issues of keeping everyone fed and safe, and he just wanted to find a place. Really any place would do so long as it was good enough. The sign was a burden to carry, and there was nothing be endless desert to the west, or whatever direction we were going. He didn’t want to be a leader, but he didn’t want to follow Pajamas on his mad quest.

And to ping pong between them, was AC⚡️DC, the janitor that let the sign go out and would never forgive himself for it (he was captured by Parcher and tortured when it went out). AC⚡️DC now was in charge of the work crew that pedaled all night long to power the sign and if it ever dimmed, he would make sure the pedaled harder. If it ever sparked, he used all the understanding to repair it, including cannibalizing from the food truck. That said, he also wanted a home and thought that Sticks was far more likely to find one that Pajamas ever was!

The Journey West

Was halted almost immediately. The caravan spread out over miles but when we stopped and the sign was lit, people hurried to catch up to enjoy the blessings of Pajamas and the food from Sticks. Layla, however, who normally stays an the end to make sure people keep moving, did not make her way into camp.

We had a lot of internal debate but finally agreed that we would go find her. The people were rallied into a mob an we were set to face any Brutalitarian or Palisade that might have her. Then Pajamas picked up the phone, holding the melted plastic to his ear and asked Corporate where they could find Layla. And what he was told was “you are not worth of the breadsticks. You are not fit to be management. You are a lowely busser and nothing more.”

The mob was riled up and ready to go, but Pajamas just fell apart in front of them. Sticks quickly took over to remind everyone that we need to keep the sign lit and we should probably all just forget about Layla and tend to our own needs. In that moment Pajamas lost his faith and the esteem of the others.

Sticks soon found a place that was good enough. An old Applebees. We cut to the Brutalitarians who did have Layla following up and seeing the “Olive” part of the sign sticking out of the sand. They destroyed it with crowbars and chains and pipes and believed the had finally defeated the Garden, and in a sense they had. When we flash back to the new holding it show two signs mashed together, both glowing in the night.

Apple Garden.

What Rocked

Oh it was so much fun to play with these folks. Apocalypse World 2 was great. The Garden was great. Karen’s threats on all sides and harsh truths were great. So much fun.

This game had a much more somber tone that the first. It wasn’t about restaurant tropes, it was about finding a home in the place that you live. “When you’re here, your family” was a phrase we examined often through the game, and for all the silly tropes in the game, the character’s emotions felt real.

I’m a fan of burning characters to the ground in one shot games (and sometimes in other games too… Stacy Mulligan!) but I don’t usually see them change so much in their motivation and their status. Pajamas went from a leader who thought he knew everything, to a lost soul, wasting away. Just another mouth for Sticks to feed. It was a huge pivot for the character, and a huge pivot for the game. An entire front became moot, because we just stopped caring about the thing our enemies wanted to destroy. This was a great point in the game and it’s a great reminder to me to be open to letting things go in completely different directions than I expect, and see where that takes us!

Ah Bingo, the bouncer who had feelings too. He left the Brutalitarians to join us (part of why Parcher wanted to destroy us so badly, because we took from her), and because of that was mistrusted by AC⚡️DC, which hurt him deeply. Bingo was clearly the POV character for our game, exposing all of our terribleness.

Karen is a great MC. Not only does she barf forth the apocalyptica, but she also makes people human. She gives everyone a name and a desire and makes us think a bit from their perspective. From the sensitive Bingo, to the talkative Bin, to the trying to help Pitchfork. All people with their own deals, and their own spark.

Something we realized mid way through the game was that in our version of the story, when we had the Garden, that WAS the golden age. I mean, yeah, it was still Apocalypse World, but infinite breadsticks! And walls! and a kitchen! We kept referring to “before” and realized that we had made our own second (albeit very small) apocalypse in our own setting. It was great reflecting on the fact that things can always get worse!

Each character had a motto:

  • Pajamas – Go west!
  • AC⚡️DC – Light it up or else!
  • Sticks – It’s good enough

What could have improved

There was a rose that Parcher gave Bin (one of the people walking with us) to give to the “person in charge”. It was meant to signify that they had Layla (who had a tattoo of a rose on her leg) but the only person who knew about the tattoo was AC⚡️DC (they were lovers) and because we fought a lot about “who was in charge”, it meant the existence of the rose and it’s significance took a while to unfold. In a longer game I would have loved this, but as a one shot, I was sad that we kept not being able to make the connection, even though everyone at the table really wanted to. That was really on the players though, we were being cagey!


Actual Play – Redemption Rail (11/14/2015)

Apocalypse WorldGM: Michael Garcia
Players: Mike Bogan, Bry Hitchcock, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Apocalypse World

What is it about a train that makes it such a strong symbol of salvation? An extension of some still ingrained Manifest Destiny? The sense of locomotion on such a grand scale? The grandeur thousands of miles of track; a bold conquest over nature? Connecting people from so far away?

I’m just speculating here, but I’ve seen trains multiple times in games: Scott White’s Iron Road, John Harper’s Ghost Lines his ongoing rail Apocalypse World game, and now Mike’s Redemption Rail. Transportation means getting out of this horrible place, with the hope that there is something better on the horizon? Regardless of the psychological or sociological reasons, I know my experience playing games centered around trains has always been one of strong purpose, there was something worthwhile to strive for!

History of Redemption Rail

Redemption Rail was formerly an isolated railway junction and during the Apocalypse a great train passed through. It was westward bound and escaping a disaster in the east. The train was almost a complete ecosystem (like Snowpiecer) with solar panels on top, and cars devoted to providing it’s own food and water. For an unknown reason, someone decoupled the tail end leaving most of who would become the decedents of the holding. These original residents are known as the Waysiders, and they struggled to survive in what is equivalent of the Nevada badlands. Over time, they formed a religion centering on two beliefs: there was place in the west called Pair-of-Dice filled with clean water and green plants, and that a great engine would come and carry the remaining cars to there.

Though, Redemption Rail is isolated, there were rare trade caravans that would drop by a few times a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t immune to raider attacks, and one particularly nasty one struck about fifteen years ago that decimated the community. Among the dead was the spouse of the Gunlugger who also was one of the parents of the Hocus. This encouraged a man named Frost to take over Redemption Rail who ruled the Rail who became a despot eventually lead him to a confrontation the Waysider who were opposing him. This confrontation critically injured the Hocus and killed their twin sibling. In retaliation, the Gunlugger single-handedly murdered Frost and his entire gang (about 20 people). Some say it was justified, while others believe they should of spared the less enthused members of his gang. Following Frost’s downfall, there has been relative peace in the holding. Though there was no clear leader, the Hocus took over the Waysider, and through it, was able to keep any significant conflict arising for the next ten years.

Gradually, refugees began to trickle into Redemption Rail, escaping either devasting raider attacks, or a natural disaster. The raider attacks all came from a group known as the Immolators: brutal cannibals with seemingly supernatural powers that swept over holdings like locust picking everything clean before moving on. K the Ruin Runner, knows of them intimately, but rarely speaks about them. The natural disaster has come to be known as the Conflagration and is responsible for most of the refugees that have ended up in Redemption Rail. It is a fire that burns out east, and immolates regardless of the presence of fuel, poisoning the land, water, and sky with it’s smoke.

During this period, the Hocus started getting visions of the Savvyhead and the Conflagration. The visions showed that a great fire was coming to Redemption Rail, and the only means to escape it was for a new engine to be built by this Savvyhead. Though many of the Waysiders were faithful, they were still surprised when the Savvyhead showed up with their sibling, the Brainer. Unfortunately, the Savvyhead wasn’t the only refugee to show up, as the Conflagration started claiming the last remaining holdings out east, causing a horde of refugees to poor into Redemption Rail, many of which lead by the Chopper, Canker.

Facing starvation, it was the generosity of the Hocus and the Waysiders that saved the refugees, but now the holding is facing food and water shortages as the refugees doubled the number of people in the holding.This has caused increased tensions between the Hocus’s cult and Canker’s gang the Prarie-Jackals, vying for the limited resources in Redemption Rail. For now, peace has been maintained, but pressure is building for change to occur, good or ill.

The Cast of Redemption Rail

For this game, Michael created six pre-generated characters that already had history within the rail. He also tweaked the playbooks some to fit the setting. We had:

Canker the Chopper: You lost everything to the Conflagration except your daughter, who was burned badly, but survived.. You arrived at Redemption Rail with nothing, but have managed to transform a fair number of your fellow refugees into the very dangerous gang: the Prairie-Jackals.

Hector or Hope the Hocus: Fifteen years ago, a feud broke out in Redemption Rail between two factions which you and your sibling found yourself opposite sides of. Not wanting to kill your own twin, both of you tried to broker peace, but, in the end, you were gravely injured and your sibling was shot dead. In the aftermath, you took over the Wayside church and have nearly doubled the size of your congregation. Unfortunately, the refugees, the raiders, and the coming of the Conflagration threaten the stability you bled for.

Samson/Sister the Gunlugger: You remember the world before the Conflagration, though you were very young then. You spent your entire life in Redemption Rail raising your twins, Hector and Hope praying that they never know they pain you had to endure to survive. Then the feud broke out and you nearly lost both your children. With one in the ground and one at death’s door you snapped and went to murdering every single one of those sons of bitches. Fifteen years later you still have all their guns as mementos of slaughter you committed, but you swore you’d never use them again…unless you had to.

K the Ruin Runner: You are the only one who have seen the Immolators and lived, but the price you paid for your survival was very high. You had to watch everyone you ever loved, including your entire family be tortured and murdered. You yourself were no stranger to their cruelties, but one day, you managed to get the upper hand on one of your captors and you bashed his face in with a crowbar before escaping into the wasteland. Out there, you learned to survive with nothing but your wits, but the isolation was too much to bear so you found your way to Redemption Rail. Most see you as complete wackjob, but you can’t help it. It’s hard to talk to people after all you’ve been through. Luckily, someone has taken pity on you and given you place to stay, and more importantly, their friendship.

Ash the Savvyhead:Your father was a fucking monster, but he had to try and sacrifice your sibling for you to discover that. After you gunned him down, Phoenix and you escaped to Redemption Rail. There you found your abilities to fix old tech has made you invaluable. However, there is prophecy of a great engine and you role in creating and you’re not sure if this a party you want to play.

Phoenix the Brainer: Your father was a fucking monster and Ash saved you from him, or at least that’s what you both want to believe… You are incredibly gifted as well as cursed. In addition, you have insight on an enemy no one else understands.

Highlights of play

We selected K (Karen), Ash (Bry), Pheonix (Mike), and Canker (Sean). The other two characters became important NPCs in the story. I don’t want to go into to many details because there are some fronts and threats that Mike is a) still working on and b) planning to drop on players at Dead of Winter.

We saw an awesome transformation of K from a terrified creature to someone whose drive gave him courage. In our first scene when given the choice of saving his own skin or facing his fears to help another K just bolted! Boom, he was out of there. In our final confrontation though, K didn’t lead the “charge” (we were mostly running anyway) but he did show us where we needed to be, despite the risk to himself.

Ash and Phoenix were two sisters that had been messed up something fierce by their father. We never got the whole story behind Phoenix but it was pretty clear that her name wasn’t coincidental and that her sister had somehow given her a new life. It was great that Ashed loved her sister unconditionally, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a little scared of her too. Brainers, right?

This moment when Ash gives Canker’s daughter a present (a hood ornament from the SUV that we just took by force) and she turns to her daughter and asks “what do you do when someone gives you something?” and Delfinia immediately ferrets the shiny object away under many layers and inside a hidden pocket safe from robbers and thieves. “Good girl!”.

The mounting complications involved with turning on the “Food Switch” (my character’s very limited understanding of hydroponics and gardening combined with a real urgency for food meant she just kept driving towards whatever the Savvyhead said was needed to provide food).

Fucking running away through a minefield! K had a secret holdout on the other side of the minefield and woe be to those who try to chase him down. We found Bone in pieces afterwards.

Pheonix getting to the truth of the matter…one broken brain at a time.

What rocked

I usually play characters that care, that are at some level driven by compassion. They are easier to empathize with for me. Canker wasn’t that person. She cared about her daughter. She cared, in a general sense, about stability, but she gave exactly zero fucks for people that got in her way. We started the game with me “making an example” of Fuckboy and curb stomping he head against the rail itself. In fact, up till the end, most of the blood spilled was by Canker asserting herself over the savage fucking Prairie-Jackals. I think I realized I was breaking my norm when Bry said “I know now not to fuck with Sean when we play Apocalypse World”. Being badass in this game isn’t hard, but when I heard the siren call of “This is a Canker problem” I responded.

Mike B did a fantastic job of playing a Brainer who was fucked up, but not weird for the sake of being weird. Pheonix wanted to know the truth about her father, about the impending doom, and about the doomsday cult that hailed it. All the scary ass shit she did was in the service of finding out that truth, and then acting on the knowledge she had.

Lots of strong ties in this game. Between Ash and Phoenix, between Canker and Delfinia, between Ash and Lagato (sp?). Some great PC-NPC-PC triangles between Phoenix-Bone-Canker (Phoenix knew Bone was our enemy, Canker trusted her with her daughter) and K-Samson-Canker (Samson had taken K in and took care of him, Canker threatened to put a hole in the old man’s head if K didn’t return her daughter). You know, good, healthy relationships.

The props, both the map and the pictures were great. They breathed life into the characters…which we snuffed out one by one. Sorry Pampers, Bone, Gerber, Fuckboy, Diesel, et al.

Ash’s scene where she used and old timey radio to tune into the Psychic Maelstrom and find out what started this all was just amazing. The call backs were great.

Mike’s answer to what was needed to fix the train was great. Drove two PCs (Ash and Canker) right against each other!

What could have improved

The Conflagration, a force beyond mortal ken existed alongside the Psychic Maelstrom. I think it would have been stronger (and present less confusion when making moves like “open your brain”) if it was the Psychic Maelstrom. In this world, that’s what it is!

There were some NPC relationships between Hope and Grove and Hope and Sampson that made sense but they weren’t “charged”. No PC agency meant the players were bystanders to their development which dragged some energy out of the game. It seems like Hope is a pretty central character. She should be given out first, before the other characters are offered.

We had some discussion after the game about pitching this as horror. The horrific threats were distant and external. The immediate threats were personal (two people at odds) or based on scarcity (food, water, etc). There were great but didn’t evoke horror or fear. We needed more announcing future badness in the form of our loved ones being either converted or consumed by the unknowable threat.


Actual Play – The Garden for a can opener (9/5/2015)

Apocalypse WorldGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Kyra Sims, Keith Stetson, and Dev Purkayastha
System: Apocalypse World
Scenario: The Garden by Karen Twelves

The Apocalypse

The world ended two years ago, or at least it did for everyone besides Mama Ban.

Chemical weapons. A global civil war. It hit so quick, it didn’t matter where it started, the world was ash tray full of burnt out butts of civilization.

What’s left now are spore storms. If the spores get on you, and then get on everything, they just start eating away and never stop. Detergent, gasoline, bleach, they all work for a fashion, but the spores keep coming, keep eating away at every organic material they touch.

There were pockets of survivors, like the on on a long stretch of I-55. South of the Hungry Ones, west of The Fortress Brutal, as a lone Garden. Rumored to still have food because of some underground hydroponics lab, or vast hidden stores, or because it was delivered by the psychic maelstrom. Not many knew exactly how they still had them, but they did. Unlimited salad. And breadsticks. Always.

Effective as of the ApocalypseWhat came before

Before the fall was Banta, who everyone calls Mama Ban. She was manager of the Garden and still is. She wears combat boots and a clean floral dress. She runs the Garden and awaits the day things will be normal again. She holds onto that belief so strongly, many believe she is right.

Here head chef was T-bone, he made the best sauce in the land. But this isn’t T-bone’s story. T-bone was traded for Domino after the Brutalitiarians took them. Now we have Domino, and now they run the kitchen. Now they have to find a replacement for T-bone.

What we have now

Keeler works the door. He loves Mama Ban but doesn’t see any good way out of this. He keeps us safe and hates October, who just wants to break everything. She’s a regular, a regular pain in the ass.

Humphrey was an old chef but he was broken by the fall. Out of pity they keep in him in the kitchen as a dishwasher. A broken dishwasher as well. Hooch and Blues run the kitchen when Domino isn’t directing things. They a veterans. They miss T-bone but don’t speak of it. They are still a cook down, but no one seems to last.

Darby and Ghost work the front. Darby is still in shock. He takes everything literally, gets confused easily, and when in doubt, gets it wrong. Ghost is fine.

Dune, October, Jackson, and Sammy are regulars. Most of them are fine. They don’t cause much trouble. Most of the time.

Everyone outside is hungry.

The Big Day

The red phone that says CORP on it rang yesterday. Ronald Dexler, the Franchise Owner, not seen since before the Fall called. He’s coming to the Garden. Today.

A caravan pulled up. Two well armed women, Frost and Plum, mother and daughter, guarded it. They were on a pilgrimage along I-55 and needed to rest because the knew a spore storm was coming. They knew because a young one they called grace told them one was coming, and she had never been wrong before.

A day in the life

Mostly people were just people. Plum and Frost offered to guard the Garden in exchange for food. October wanted a job. Grace was a little weird but kept to herself. Meanwhile.

Mama Ban traded for other things as well. She took several oddments from the traveling cult, including, a much coveted can opener, for which Domino rewarded her with a can of sweetened condensed milk. She also had to deal with Plum setting up her giant fucking gun right in the middle of the restaurant.

Keeler keep trying to keep everything normal. No, October should not be working for us. No, Plum should not have a giant gun set up at a table. No, that giant dust cloud on the horizon does not bode well. Two fists full of bacon (despite new company policy) solved one of his problems. One out of three ain’t bad, right?

Domino’s hold on the kitchen never slipped, but it was challenged often. Someone had to replace T-bone, especially with all these hungry mouths.

Smoke on the horizon

At the end of our session, the franchise owner arrived, and with him a roaring mass of Brutalitarians, ready to take the garden.

Which they did. Domino fought, and Keeler fought and Mama Ban Fought, and so did Plum and Frost, and Hooch and Blues, and October. A lot of them died.

Those that didn’t got on the vehicles the caravan came in on and fled the destruction.

“When you’re here, you’re family.” – The Garden’s motto.

“If you stay here, you’re dead.” – The truth.

Mama Ban’s dream was finally broken.


What Rocked

The game was, almost entirely about the relationships between the PCs, and in some cases between the PC-NPC-PC triangles. Until the end there just wasn’t that many high pressure things that had to be fixed. This was in part because the players were all rolling 10+ on most rolls (until the end, when a string of 4s really made things bad), but more than that, it was because the items at stake weren’t about violence and domination, they were about finding a home and understanding people. It was Sandcon, it was a small game, it was taking place next to the Sweedish government enforced speed dating larp. It was late and we had all been playing games all day. Lots of reasons, I’m sure, but the end result was a low key gang.

In fact, none of us were really excited about the violence in the end, and we condensed the result down to a couple of rolls. Mama Ban’s Leadership should have saved the garden, if she didn’t roll a 4. So it was lost, but had we the time there was more story to tell, and most of it about how Domino and Mama Ban and Keeler would live now.

What could have improved

My NPCs should have wanted more. When the cult arrived looking for shelter and food, I explicitly didn’t want to make them wierd. I mean, yeah they are weird because they have a child they named grace who can predict the storms and has them traveling on some pilgrimage to parts unknown. But they weren’t weird wierd. Basically, their practices were practical. Two armed women (mother and daughter) guarded the caravan, while the rest did what they could to contribute. They weren’t cannibals and they didn’t want the PCs to go naked into the storm or any crazy shit like that. Which, in retrospect is all fine, but they should have needed something. Lots of italics in this point. They should have wanted to move in, or to take some of the regulars with them, or to steal the garden’s good. Basic, but a threat.

On the other hand October had a really simple role, to take Keeler’s job. She just wanted to be the one with the power to tell people to fuck off or be seated as she wished. And she didn’t mind working and or fucking her way to the top (well, I guess to the middle really). Everyone was afraid of October, and rightfully so. Her motivation was simple, but her means were erratic and short sighted. She didn’t take no for an answer and she just kept poking at things till she got what she wanted. October wanted!

Actual Play – Fuck it, you’re the MC (6/28/2015)

Apocalypse WorldPlayers: Dale Horstman, Matt Klein, Brad Tuel, Sean Nittner, Eric Fattig
System: Apocalypse World
Setting: Fury Road

Who Killed The World? Who is the MC? What the Fuck Are We Still Doing Awake?

It was late on Sunday. We shouldn’t have even been away. But fuck it, we played Apocalypse World anyway. Who was going to MC? We were all too tired. So we just said fuck it, whoever wants to run the scene will do it. Call as scene out if you want it.

What happens when Immortan Joe doesn’t return, but instead an Imperator (Battlebabe) does and tries to take control? What happens when the curator of the gardens realizes the gardens themselves have a plan and a purpose.

Fuck, if I know, I was too tired to remember. But I do remember we had a great time and realized playing without an MC worked just fine.

Good times.

Actual Play – Garden on the Edge (6/28/2015)

AWOG CoverGM: Karen Twelves
Players: Jackson Tegu. Jeremy Tidwell, Eric Fattig, Max Hervieux, Sean Nittner
System: Apocalypse World
Scenario: The Garden

The Garden is so awesome. This is the second time I’m played in it, in fact it was the second time for Jeremy and Eric as well, so most of us had already done it. That just made it better.

Chunky, Icicle Nic, Amiette, Madame Tranh, and Duke made this little oasis at the literal edge or a collapsed fault line, their home. The Home Depot was crumbled and in ruins. The Shell had a Caffino coffee stand on top to serve as a lookout tower, but otherwise was gutted, but the Garden, it still stood, and still served unlimited breadsticks.

Our situation was that a powerful biker gang was coming for their annual summit (Motor Khan) to eat at the garden. The were traveling through, collecting tribute, and we knew they would stop, eat, and the leader Garble Khan would meet with our manager Madame Tranh. If all went well they would eat our food, take what they wanted, and leave. If not, they’d take more.

The problem was that they took up most of the tables, there were only two free for others, and demand for the Garden never ceases. Duke had to hold off the families outside and keep them from breaking down the door. Of five families that had been waiting over a day for a table, we knew we could only take two. That would not due.

IMG_4776Also, there as a foot in the walk in freezer. Just a foot in a shoe. Nobody knew whose.

We learned that Chunky, our janitor who got around in a rascal, was wise and worth listening too. That there would be another Chunky and they would be wise too. Also, don’t go in his shop, it’s trapped like you wouldn’t believe.

Nic, who used to be Icicle before Madam Tranh cut her face open, learned to just do the fucking job that was in front of her. Don’t worry about being loved or special or secure. Just do the fucking job Nic.

Amiette. She was crazy. “The bullets go this way, the bullets go that way” was a lullaby she sang when daydreaming. She brought another, a girl offered up for a table, into the family.

We never did learn much about Madame Tranh. She kept the peace, until of course the families who we did let in, pulled out guns and opened fire, but even then she never lost her head. Tranh spoke in signs. A single breadstick with a bite taken out of it put on in your breast pocket. A slice of cheese left on the counter. These were her signs and none of us understood them, but neither did we cross her.

Duke, poor Duke. He tried to keep the peace, but this place wasn’t for him. We had a patio in the back that sloped slightly downwards to the yawning ravine that swallowed anything that fell into it. Our hardcore “we’re tough” patrons liked to sit there. Sometimes people sat there if there weren’t any other tables. Sometimes people also came to the Garden expecting an mecca and found… it was just this. That there was no escape, and what we had to offer was lacking. Sometimes when people saw that, the wanted to be seated out there, we gave them the office chair with wheels, that was attached by a chain to the building. We pulled the chair up as needed. Duke, he wanted that chair, and was just trying to hold on.

IMG_4775What Rocked

C’mon, did you just read that. Our characters, that’s what rocked. Nic’s insecurity. Tranh’s obscurity. Amilette’s sincerity. Chunky’s sagacity. Duke just wanted to fucking die.

The whole premise is just fun. We run an Olive Garden after the apocalypse. How does that work? I enjoyed finding out.

Chunky with his rascal was awesome. Whenever he’d talked to someone Jeremy would roll his chair over to them. Brilliant. Also the Savvyhead move to give advice. Totally worked. So good.

Nic kept getting thwarted. Like at every turn. And for a moment that bled over to me and I started getting frustrated and anxious too. Then I remembered I was with friends who all love me and that hardships were good. I channeled that back into Nic and felt good watching her flounder in the wind. It was okay for Nic to be off kilter, unsure, and let someone else (Chunky) set her straight.

Karen brought breadsticks from the cafeteria. Yay!

What could have improved

I wanted more time. More time just to hang with Jackson and Jeremy and Eric. More time for our characters to build things and break them down. I wanted to know what happened when I made the Mai Thai for Garble Khan (we elided past all of that). I wanted more weird brainer shit and more touch choices for the hardholder/manager.  It was all good and I wanted more of it.


Actual Play – The Fuck Flash (1/16/2015)

Apocalypse WorldMC: Sean Nittner
Players: Jennifer B. Warner, Karen Twelves, Erin Sara DiPeso, an Avi Warner.
System: Apocalypse World

The world died a hundred years ago. We are all who remain… wait, wait, wait. Before all that, this was my first timing gaming with Avi, and I think only my 2nd or third time gaming with Erin Sara and Jen. Yay for gaming with new peeps.

Okay… onto the Fuck Flash.

Some time ago… before grandma there was a solar event, it just burned out everything. We all died. Most of us. and the few that didn’t had to weather a seemingly eternal summer. Now the sun was cooling again and going outside was possible once more, but the world was a baked shell of it’s past. That… and sometimes the sun still visited you in Fuck Flash!

Our Crew

Brace, the brainer, dressed in acrtic wear that concealed their gender and their slight frame. When visible Brace’s eyes were always wet, their face pale. Like many brainers Brace just showed up in places. In this case they had a purpose though, moving drugs from their dealer Look in The Sky to Burnt Rock and setting up sales there.

Nils, the savvyhead. Fucking weird. She stole shit like pear trees because she said she needed them for her inventions. Do you know how rare a fucking pear tree is? When she opened her brain she saw how things fit together, or how they didn’t. And when the didn’t she wanted to fix them. She “fixed” shit really well. Nils saved Frankie’s ass from Tum Tum and his gang, so she was cool.

Frankie was the driver. Living on the open road, taking shit between the holdings in her sweet ride. A converted camper van. Plenty of room to live in the back and store cargo. Right now she had boxes of dry ice and there used to be squid oil too, until someone fucked that up.

Kickskirt, ah, why does your shitty MC always have to fuck it up and call you Kickstart? All long legs and arms, and armed with a sniper rifle to boot. A true battlebabe, great a getting into trouble, and at least making it out alive. Wary of Nils, that chick was crazy, and keeping an eye on her.

Fuck Flash


Our Little Apocalypse

They were all high tailing it out of Burt Rock on the way to The Sky. Look was there with a deal for Brace, and Frankie still had her dry ice in the back of the truck. That hadn’t left on peaceful terms. When Frankie didn’t have all the squid ink Tum Tum wanted, he was pissed off. Wanted what she had but didn’t want to pay for it. Nils jumped in and sprayed something nasty, acid or some shit like that in Shithead and Wisher’s faces, burning them bad, before they both high tailed it out.

Left in so much of a hurry, the didn’t fuel up.

So that’s where we opened. Frankie’s ride rolling down an exit ramp off the freeway,  the one that still stood, and dying right there on the edge of a steep hill above the tar pits. Frankie knew Gremlin lived out here, just over that hill or another, and would have gas. But Gremlin was mad Nils (for stealing her fucking pear tree!) and tended to drive a hard bargain. Oh and she had this dog, mean old thing, on a chain.

The dog barked at them like crazy. Kickskirt, still back at the truck shot the dog and it dropped. Gremlin came out from all the noise (of the dog, not Kickskirt, her rifle was silenced) and shit started rolling down hill. Brace killed the dog (it was bleeding out anyway) and hid it. Frankie started sweet talking preacher and managed to make a trade. Some sex, that was the sweet talking, and some squid ink for gas.

It took time though, and in that time Kickskirt noticed dust clouds on the horizon. Tum Tum hadn’t forgotten about them, and he had rounded up two armored jeeps to come after them.

Wild ass shit happened. Frankie played chicken with a jeep and jumped on the hood. Shithead fought her on the roof and would have run a knife right through her if it hadn’t gotten caught up in the boning of the corset part of her wedding dress.. oh yeah, Frankie wore a wedding dress all the time, pretty awesome. She eventually got inside, but was shot by the passenger. It was a bit ugly. Meanwhile the other jeep was busy ramming her parked truck off the side of the embankment when Brace and Kickskirt got in the mix. It went ugly for a while, Brace was being dragged around outside the jeep by a foot, the truck went down the embankment, and it was looking grim. But these are some dangerous fuckers here. The took the jeep with them down the hill and survived the roll, more than can be said for the fuckers inside.

We ended with Frankie claiming the armor plated jeep as her new ride and Brace in a Psychic Maelstrom coma from a brainer bomb gone wrong. Nils went into her workshop and opened her mind to figure out how to get him out. Awesome.

Thoughts of this Game

Man, I am rusty at barfing fort the apocalyptica. Several of my setting details were either borrowed (like the dog having a second set of subcutaneous membranes) or were a little too gross for the table (I kept talking about people’s faces. To many details about cheeks and teeth).

The Good

Shit changed. Irrevocably. Frankie’s ride was gone but she had a new one. Gremlin knew her dog was dead and wouldn’t be fooled again. Tum Tum was dust, which meant Omie Wise was going to take over Burnt Rock. Look was their only hook up for a job, but Brace needed to wake the fuck up if they ever wanted to find her. Kickskirt, our battlebabe, was unfazed. All was well.

Avi, who kicked this off by saying he’d like to play a game with us, wanted to play again!

The Bad

I made some dumb calls with regards to Frankie. Erin Sara did a totally awesome driver move of jumping onto a moving jeep, fighting her way inside and taking it over. When she did, she wanted to use the “A no shit driver” move to add the jeeps stats to her rolls. I ruled that until the jeep was claimed as “hers” either with an advancement or because she gave up on the camper truck, it didn’t have any stats. I feel like I rules lawyered that shit for no good reason, and in retrospect should have just stat’d it up, or let Erin Sara do it, and given her the mods. Bad Call Nittner

The Ugly

There was this point when Jennifer asked “So, when (maybe “how”?) do I get to make some rolls?” It just about broke my heart. Here I was yacking and yacking and forgetting to make sure that she had some good screen time. I was biffing it hard. After that I asked her some questions, and that led to some action. Better, but not great. I’m sorry about that Jenny B.

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.




Actual Play – King of the Sump (4/11/2014)

MC: Colin Jessup
Players: Josh Roby (Shit Head), David Gall0 (Sunset), and Sean Nittner (Grip)
System: Apocalypse World

Josh posted on the Nerdly G+ group that he was looking for some straight up Apoc World. No hacks, just barfing forth Apocalyptica. This sounded pretty hot to me as well. Add Colin as our MC and David as another player and BOOM, Friday night game was happening.

Fuck you all, I’m almost done

I grabbed and Angel because I’ve never played one and the hard ass medic (which I ended up not being) appealed to me. I just started filling out dots. Grip, appears female, stout body, haggard face, shining eyes. I decided the face was scarred, two burn marks on her cheeks from her face being pressed against hot metal bars. And shining eyes were really shining, like Fremen shining, some shit had happened to her that made her this way, a bit broken.

I felt uniquely comfortable in this group. We had started out pretty late (9:30 PM, give or take) and I really wanted to get in a game before we all got too sleepy. Note, this was at Camp Nerdly, so we were all outside in the cold as well.  As I got a ways in and the others were still picking away at playbooks I told them all to fucking hurry up and pick their shit. It felt right for the night.

Josh almost took a Hardholder but settled on a Chopper named Shit Head. A calm dude that Shit Head. David make a battlebabe named Sunset, a man with a gorgeous body.

I played my normal card which is “oh, you’re a leader character, we’re all in your gang, yeah?” It works great. I was the medic, abducted from her previous holding but now loyal to the gang. Sunset thought was more of a mercenary. Previously part of the gang he had recently defied Shit Head (calling for less random violence than the gang was inclined to inflict on the Sump people) and so his standing in the gang was uncertain. That ended up being the central point of tension in the game. What was going to happen between Shit Head and Sunset?

Apocalypse Drowned

We went for a wet, constantly raining, usually drowning apocalypse. The holding we had just rolled into was the Sump, and we had taken over an building in it (or the usable parts of it at least). In the center of the Sump was a building that had still working pumps which kept the basement dry (if not humid and loud), occupied by a warlord Corbit. A man Shit Head alone had met, and one he was in debt too. Corbit didn’t much like Shit Head beating on his people, but he provided something useful (muscle and mobility) so Corbit tended to look the other way.

What’s Wierd Here

Grip learned her medicine from a witcher woman in her old holding. A woman who was alive before the fall, who knew actual medicine. But she chose Grip because the (at that time) young woman had a talent. She could use leeches to help people. Applying them first to her own face to absorb the healthy humors and the placing them on the fallen to balance the humors of the wounded.

This got…weird. Eventually grip used her infirmary and brain matter from a recovering patient (who was no longer recovering after she finished) to forge a connection between the leech attached to her and the leech she left in Bar’s brain (the thug who had just recently had his brains mashed in by Sunset). This all ended up in me taking the In Brain Puppet Strings move. Yikes, Angel gone Brainer.

What Matters Here

What really mattered though ,was the conflict between Shit Head and Sunset. The game opened up with Twice, one of Shit Head’s reliable violent bastards, telling him that he (Shit Head) had to sort things out with Sunset. The fucker couldn’t be allowed to defy Shit Head and just walk around scott free. Whoever the fuck scott is.

Shit Head gave Twice leave to solve the problem any way he wanted, which he took to mean kill the bastard but Shit Head assumed mean go get killed by the bastard.

Neither one of these two asses were making any friends. Grip was trying to keep them together. Let Twice eat shit and die, so that Shit Head could promote Sunset to his #2 and have him as an adviser with a conscience.

It seemed like it was possible. Shit Head was open to the idea. Grip had a few other parts of the gang that she could control too. Shugsui and Mox knew enough to listen to her. Bar had his brain all fucked with but would take single order, and Swiss Miss (the Sump girl who Shit Head kept along to give him shaves but who really knew what was happening with Corbit) was on board too.

Fucking Sunset!

The fucker just couldn’t see a good thing when it was right in fucking front of him. Shit Head gave him options but he didn’t want any of them. He wanted to cut him out, go work for Corbit directly, give the warlord Grip as well. Take everything Shit Head had from him… and what was the chopper going to do about it?

Blow his fucking head off. Yep. One PC just killed the ever loving fuck out of another. And that was how order was restored in Shit Head’s gang.

Thoughts on this game

Colin really nailed it by focusing the game on the conflict between Sunset and Shit Head. I was stoked to play a support character in that interaction.

Josh does good job of planing the non-hard ass chopper. The guy who just doesn’t have the ego or the fucks to give about what people think of him. He was very good ad being hard to goad.

I wonder if I got too weird. Never quite sure with AW how weird I want to go. Self mutilation, glowing eyes, leeches. Too much? I don’t wanna be that guy, the one that goes gonzo in place of having character, story, or being affected by things.

Didn’t get a pick of the game but we were playing at night by a campfire, occasionally inhaling smoke that made us choke and generally cold as fuck. You know, as you should Apocalypse.



Actual Play – Charm City (10/20/2013)

urban shadowsGM: Mark Diaz Truman
Players: Kristin Firth (Ash/Vampire), Sean Nittner (Esther/Immortal), Tim Rodriguez (Tatiana/Oracle), Jonathan White (Meng Xi/Wizard), and Christopher Corbett (Sam/Fae).
System: Urban Shadows (Apocalypse World Hack)

Game Description

The city of Baltimore has many names: Charm City, Mobtown, The City of Firsts. Yet for the supernatural creatures that haunt The City that Bleeds, B’more is a vibrant ecosystem of debt and violence ruled by The Bird: Ravenstown. Everyone who lives here, every vamp, every wolf, every wizard, owes The Bird… no exceptions.

What do you owe him? And what will he demand from you this time?

Urban Shadows is an urban fantasy hack of Apocalypse World in the spirit of the World of Darkness, the Dresden Files, and the Mortal Instruments series.

Five Slots = Five Great Games = Burning Con Wins

I had the lowest priority for this game and was sure I’d be bumped. There was some shuffling of folks, but luckily when all the marbles fell, I was in he game. I was excited to game with Mark because he’s working on Do: Fate of he Flying Temple for Evil Hat and I’m his project manager on the game. I heard about his play-tests and they totally have me excited to play even though the game isn’t written yet.

Urban Shadows

This is a neat looking Apocalypse World hack. Some things that it does nicely:

  • Represent the “powers that be” in the form of factions (Night, Wild, Mortal, Power, etc) and clump character playbooks into those factions (Vampires and Werewolves are Night, Wizards and Immortals are Power, etc).
  • Take the string mechanic and change the power behind it from an emotional tie to a political one. By earning debts, folks are obligated to perform services for each other. This is what I wanted when creating the “Favor” mechanic for Apocalypse Galactica, though in this setting it is even more appropriate.
  • Offer some really classic archetypes with fun powers. I choose an immortal and I really enjoyed the “Been there, Done that” move, which was clearly taking from the Operator’s reputation move, but in the case of the Immortal it felt super appropriate.
  • The corruption mechanic often allows someone to get out of a bind (for instance pay 7-9 cost) by taking corruption and giving in to the power that they wield. We didn’t get to see enough of the corruption mechanic evolve but it eventually opened up new corruption moves (acting like gaining experience) which of course generated more corruption themselves. All to the end of turning your character into a monster. This is what WoD was trying to do… like forever!
  • There were also some high level faction moves. We didn’t see those come into play, but my understanding was that they controlled some of the factions as a whole interactions with each other. I’d be excited to see what they did.

Our game was actually several concurrent stories told onto of each other.

  • Ash’s service to the Raven, and the trials that came up from that.
  • Esther and Meng Xi’s realization of a power grab from the vampire prince Cozlof, trying to wrest control of the city from the Raven.
  • Sam and Tatiana being throw a sharp right curve from their normal day, when a simple drop was interrupted by a pack of werewolves.

Each of these stories played out concurrently with some overlap between the first and third, but enough separation that they painted a mosaic of the developments in Baltimore as a whole, very fitting to the theme of the game. Very Sin City.


Thoughts on the game

At the end of the game Mark asked for Roses and Thorns. First a round of what you liked in the game, and then a round of what you thought could be better, or what you’d like to see more of. This is the exact same format we used evaluating games in Good Omens, and I think it is a really strong format to use when evaluating games. Unfortunately I really just remember two:

Rose: Mark built up beautifully from the PCs contributions. Specifically in the case of Ash being an accountant before he was a vampire…and continued to be after he was a vampire. Ash’s story, and really the story of the game, was that of an accountant just trying to do his job.

Thorn: Because the city is so vast, because the panoply of moving parts was so intricate, I ended up never interacting with three of the four other players in the game. I had a handful of scenes, and every one of them was with the same other PC. It was fun to see where that built, but I wanted interactions with the others.

A very fun note for me. I realized about halfway through the game my character was a lich whose eternal life fed off the wide scale loss of lives only found in horrific massacres or wars. She had been a driving force in every American war since at least WWI.  Ugh, she was terrible.

Oh, and juice box posse for the win!

Actual Play – Dremmer’s Birthday (10/19/2013)

MC: Vincent Baker
Players: Matt Weber (Frost Gazelle), Sean Nittner (Cybelle), Donny Van Zandt (Hooch), and Dustin Hodge (Frog)
System: Apocalypse World

Game Description

Of course it’s not Dremmer’s actual birthday. Who gives a crap about birthdays in Apocalypse World anyway. But nevertheless, frickin Dremmer’s gotten his hands on something big and now he thinks he’s the birthday boy. He thinks he can own you. He thinks he can give you the spankings and demand your toys as presents. The kick in the head is that he’s absolutely right.

Priority 2

I didn’t think I’d make it in the game. In fact I was the only priority two player there. Everyone else was one. Let’s make some sense of this. At Burning Con games are filled based on a priority basis. Everyone goes and sits down at the table they want to play at, but if the game is full and you have a higher priority in that slot than someone sitting there, you can bump them. It means you never know what you’ll be in for sure, but it also means no sign ups and that first-come is only first-served in one slot for each person attending.

Anyway, I was quite pleased I made it through the culling process!


Vincent didn’t do character creation as I’ve normally seen it.

He started drawing this map, but we totally couldn’t make any sense of it. And as we’re all looking at him doing it, Vincent laughs. “I love that I’m drawing this map, but it doesn’t make any sense at all”. And indeed, we could tell what it was.

He said “Okay, I need one of you to play a chopper. He’s the leader of a biker gang. You’ve got a gang and you’ve got bikes, you’re pretty bad ass.” Donny grabbed the playbook and Vincent held out a few more that were available for this game. That’s all standard enough, but then he just started play. We hardly had names and he was describing the scene. Hooch (Donny’s Chopper, that he picked a name for when prompted) was tied up in this emptied out cistern being beaten to hell by Fucking Dremmer. With him was Putrid, one of his gang, who apparently had turned on him.

Outside he said our characters were walking up… and that’s when we figured out who we were. We picked stats as needed, described out look as needed, and then when it came up, established Hx as needed, all as a result of needed to engage the mechanics and not before.

Our lot

Hooch (Chopper) – Our leader. A tough man covered in scars and bondage leathers.

Frost Gazelle (Skinner) – A gorgeous woman who wanted a nice place in the wastelands. She controlled everyone with her beauty.

Frog  (Faceless) – A man that just wanted to know his place in life, to be useful, and not to be lied to.

Cybele (Brainer) – A talk lanky figure covered in arctic snow gear. Cybele wanted peoples brains to work right, and when they didn’t, she made them stop.

Some things Vincent did

The adventure was a blast. We kicked Dremmer’s ass and sort-of took his power. It was good times, but rather than map out the details I mostly want to focus on Vincnet’s MCing techniques

1. Start with some fuckery. Vincent just teased us for a few minutes drawing this little map and laughing that we had no fucking idea what he was doing. He wasn’t being a jerk, but he was definitely fucking with us… and getting our attention.

2. Do everything in media res. Everything from picking characters and stats to introducing moves was explained or brought into play at the table as it became relevant in play. Even though three of the four players were very familiar with Apoc World, I noticed that we all spent more time looking at each other and at the tiny map that at our playbooks.

3. He left out what he didn’t need. “I don’t understand these Hx choices. Who wrote that shit? It doesn’t make any sense.” First, I’m glad to see that even Mr. Baker realizes that the on your turn / on everyone else’s turn instructions for establishing Hx is confusing as fuck, but more importantly, he wasn’t wasting time on little shit that wasn’t central to the action. Hx mattered, but it mattered in play, not for what happened before play started.

4. Only using Hx when needed. We never rolled Hx to aid unless someone had a 6 or a 9 on a roll. So we were posed with the question of do you want to help and expose yourself to danger after we already knew that our friend was in danger themselves.

5. Ending a session. Three times! This was the big one, and I think made the biggest difference. After just as each beat was reaching it crescendo, or shortly after, but before we resolved the fallout of the action,  Vincent called for “end of session”. It wasn’t the end of the game, but it encapsulated what had just happened, prepped us to move forward in the fiction, and engaged the endgame Hx advancement mechanics.

6. Creating permanency in the world. When I opened my brain and described the  Psychic Maelstrom as “An arctic tundra, impossible to see very far in because of the storm that rages constantly” that’s how it stayed for the rest of the game.  I may have been partial because I described it but I love that we created some consistency in the game, instead of it just being a different place for everyone that goes there.

7. Hanging a lampshade on inconsistency. At one point we had Dremmer beat. He gave and offered us anything we wanted. As soon as he had an opportunity though, he was going to take it. And instead of us wondering what they hell was going on, Vincent just called it out. “Fucking Dremmer man, a minute ago he was totally yours, but man the moment he has an opportunity to fuck you over, you can already see the gears turning.” It was great, because we didn’t wonder if we had missed something as players, he made it clear that yeah, we beat him, he just a weaselly son of a bitch with a backup plan. This made slitting his throat much simpler.

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Thoughts on this game

I know I talked a lot about how Vincent MC’d the game, which was very cool an all, but there was a lot of other cool stuff happening at the table.

Frog and Frost Gazelle started off with something cool. Clearly Frog wanted her, but he didn’t think he had a chance. She played with him, like pretty play with others attracted to them, and at first it worked. Eventually though, he just didn’t want the bullshit. He was still fond of her, but he knew she was lying to him. I would have loved to see how that panned out over a few sessions.

At some point I was with Hooch and said “remember the time we were fucking and…” I’m not really sure what the and was now, but it totally spun the direction our relationship was going in a different direction. I think Cybele became something of Hooch’s confidant after that. I also loved that Donny, who hadn’t played AW before, totally just rolled with it.

When Vincent asked if we were in Hooch’s gang, we all jumped on it. Hell yeah, we were. I loved that nobody pulled the “I’m a loner playing my own game” bullshit. I fucking hate that shit. It was great to see everyone inwardly focused on the PCs instead of on their moves or other NPCs. Putrid did get pulled in as a central figure (we wanted to help her) but she never pulled us away from interacting with each other. Yay for PCs interested in other PCs!