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 – 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 – 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 – 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.