#RPG – Apocalypse World – Again

So, to further illustrate exactly why Apocalypse World has never worked for me, here’s an actual play log, to demonstrate just how hard I’ve tried to make it work.

TL;DR – As written the game constantly and consistently gets in the way of the story, of immersion, of improvisation, which – to me – is essential for good games.

The scattered nature of the rules, the many exceptions and Moves, at least as written, make the game heavier on book-flipping and reference than even conventional games like D&D.

You frequently run into situations where the results of dice rolls should shape the narrative, but can’t. In the situation with the rats, for example, there was someone controlling them, but there was no mechanism or means to make a ‘notice check’ to see if they were there. Things as simple as an athletics check, a perception check – vital in games – are utterly absent which really throws a spanner in the works.

The system is also not granular enough for decent character development or more equipment or situations to make much difference, unlike – say – Cypher, which also puts every roll in the hands of the players, but pulls it off without the same sorts of problems.

The idea behind the central mechanic is fine, and how it can drive the action and choices, there’s just no depth there and the execution completely fails to cash in on the promise.


Look, the full set-up isn’t important, since this is just an example session. In brief, however, it’s a future scenario in a flooded, hot, swampy London. Think Mad Max with boats, but not Waterworld. People are living in the half-flooded ruins and stringing platforms and bridges between them. Disease is rampant, people scavenge – even fifty years later – and find things beneath the waters.The game centres around a hardhold in an old, brutalist, concrete housing bloc from the 1970s and their acts of scavenging to keep their hardhold going.


Lane – The chief of the Hardhold, an athletic woman who dresses in urban sports gear and body armour, an old gasmask etc. She leads from the front, with a gang of miscreants in her wake. It’s a savage, decadent existence.

Haus – Pilots a tug, it’s a brute of a little boat and able to tug enormous weights, but it’s slow. He’s well armed.

The Hook and the Game

GM: “It’s been a hard winter, and a wet spring. The flood waters have risen, flooding another floor of the Hardhold and cramming more people into the upper floors. Summer has come in with a vengeance, turning the air soupy, the stink from the shit-pools is especially vile. With that heat has come the skeeters, horseflies and along with them… disease. Unless you get some decent medicine, and soon, the disease will gut the Hardhold and make people lose faith in your leadership. Already they’re killing anyone who shows sign of the disease, sacrificing them to Father Thames to call for his mercy.”

Lane: “OK, so the Hardhold survives by doing all sorts of things, including scavenging, and it has the perk of a bustling market. I rolled 13 before play started, to see how much extra barter I’ve got, and that makes 4 personal barter for today. Can we check the market to see if there’s any of the pills we need, or a herbal remedy or anything?”

GM: “Uhh…”

[This is trouble. My plot hook relies on them needing to get rare and hard to find medicines. If I just allow them to barter for it, the whole adventure idea is borked. If I don’t, I’m violating the Hardholder’s character and Hardhold concepts. You can choose to ignore the Barter Move, but since I didn’t establish that before play, it’s going to be a violation. Even if I make the cost of the medicine absurd, Lane can just have sex with Haus over and over and over again to produce free and endless barter (until and unless Haus leaves). Still, maybe they’ll fail and it won’t be a problem].

GM: “You can go down to the half-flooded pontoons and piers and ask some of the scumrunners, divers and scavs if you like. They stink worse than anywhere else, and everyone has their face covered with old gas masks, alcohol-soaked bandanas and other breathing apparatus.”

Haus: “We can split up to cover more people, and I’m a scavenger myself, they might be a bit more open with me. I roll Hx +3 to help, I only get a 7, exposing myself to a downside, damn.”

GM: “Hump, a scav you owe barter to, is prowling the piers with his gang of mutants. If you can’t pay, you’d better stay clear.”

Haus: “I’ll keep out of the piers and stand guard on the stairs then, trying to look busy.”

Lane: “Bartering is based on Sharp, so I get ten.”

GM: “Hmm…”

[What do I do here? They’ve already got a ten, but should they have a bonus for their Hardhold having a thriving market? Is that a tag? What do tags do? Can I add bonuses or penalties to their rolls? Nothing in the main book, only in the appendix and online the discussion seems to be anti, even in Dungeon World which is a bit more ‘traditional’. Uh oh, they’re looking at me flipping madly through the book and typing things in, and this is a simple thing to understand in most games. The commentary at the end says +/- one or two, the help/interfere actions suggest the same thing, but without any skills or anything this renders the choices you make for your characters virtually meaningless as – by standard – you only really get +/- one to two, three at the outside. That means the outcome of anything is, essentially, random! What a load of old shite… bugger, better make a ruling. I was hoping they’d fail so I didn’t have to override them and invalidate their character choices.]

GM: “It doesn’t seem like anyone has access to the pills that you need, but there is a diver who claims they know where you can find it. If you’ll barter her some lead. (That’s three barter in game speak).”

Lane: “Well I can cover that from my stash then. I do the deal, unless I can argue them down?”

GM: “Nah, three is the price, you got a ten so it’s not going to get any better.”

Lane: “Oh.”

GM: “Meatcalf, the diver, is an odd duck. Greyish skin, knife-shaved hair, water – and snot – constantly drips from her nose. The water isn’t exactly clean in the city, even fifty years after the floods came. Her raft is covered in recovered solar cells and posts a small wind turbine on its mast. Her baskets are full of old bits of electronics, most inoperable, and there’s a smell of stinking plastic as she melts down old circuit boards for the precious metals.”

GM (As Meatcalf): “Hello Lane, what can I do for you – cough – ? Gold, copper, a working calculator perhaps?”

Lane: “You know why I’m here ‘Calf. I’m looking for something to help my people who are sick. Something to bring down the fever so they can survive, even maybe some antibiotics. I hear you know where we can get some.”

GM (As Meatcalf): “I do, I do – cough – but it’ll cost you plenty. That shit’s precious. You’ll have to get it yourself, but I know where you can. You give me that lead I want, I’ll give you the information.”

Lane: “OK, I’ll have the lead loaded on Meatcalf’s raft, but make sure a few of the guys are around in case she tries to run.”

GM: “She doesn’t, she scrawls you a map on a piece of bleached wood with an ancient marker-pen. You recognise the landmarks and you know where it is.

GM (As Meatcalf): “It’s a farmy-cyst, where the olds kept their medicines. Only it’s not on any of the old maps. Must have been changed-a-fresh when the end came. Shelves and shelves.”

Lane: “So why didn’t you take any?”

GM (As Meatcalf): “I like the – cough – ‘tronics. Not the medicines.”

Lane: “I’ll take the map and join up with Haus.”

Haus: “Do I know anything about the area on the map, being a scavenger and everything?”

[Oh dear. There isn’t anything like a knowledge roll, to make. No moves seem appropriate and the state of the city will be in constant flux as different factions fight, so it’s not appropriate to just give or withhold the information. ‘Read the Sitch’ sounds like the right thing, but isn’t, it’s for reading people. The general guideline is ‘if it’s not a move, just do it, but that doesn’t seem appropriate. After thoroughly flipping back and forth through the book, there’s fuck all guidance in here and any time you do try to look anything up you’re looking for something really specific, a ‘move’. I’d improvise and just ask for a Sharp roll, but the point in examining a system is to play it by the book].

GM (Pulling shit out of his arse): “Nothing current. Front lines and arenas shift so often that you’re learning afresh every time you head out there.”

Lane: “We’d better get going then. I’ll leave the gang to keep order and protect the Hardhold. If word has gotten out about the sickness, we might come under attack.”

[Good idea].

Haus: “Off to the tug then.”

GM: “This is the first time we’ve done anything to do with your ship, so why don’t you tell us about it?”

[This will give me a little more time to think].

Haus: “It’s an old pre-apocalypse tug, with some heavy modifications and makeshift repairs. She’s a brute, and rides low in the water, but she’s powerful and tough. The only problem she has, is that she guzzles biodiesel like it’s going out of fashion. There’s some makeshift armour hung around the outside and the cabin, and a powerful winch with a variety of hooks and cables. Her name’s painted on the side, ‘Unnatural Disaster’.”

Lane: “There’s no time to waste, so let’s get going. I’ll sit on top of the cabin and keep watch, you steer and navigate.”

Haus: “Yes m’aam. Right, I’ll top of the tank, start her up, cast off and follow the map as best I can.”

GM: “OK, give me a moment.”

[If they got lost that could be interesting, but it should only happen if they fail at navigation. There’s no such Move and again this falls afoul of the ‘if it’s not a Move, just do it’ rule. So the only way I can have them get lost, or not, is to choose. If I arbitrarily decide to make them get lost that’s a dick move, and puts the onus for that onto me rather than the dice. If I don’t, I’m making things easier on them than they should be. Once again the game’s lack of adaptability or – ironically – room for improvisation lets me down. Rules, typically, allow me to introduce potential problems or threats and allow characters to avoid them if they’ve invested in that area. They help build the game organically. This doesn’t let me do that. I’d rather not be a dick, so they can navigate there no problem].

GM: “It takes about an hour of chugging through the waterways of the drowned city to get there. You see a few others out and about, scavvers hooting at you to stay away from their claims, hunters from the blood clains – though they give you a wide berth. Seems like the news about the disease has spread and they’re unwilling to catch it. Finally you reach what seems to be the right coordinates. The water is fairly still here, though it is thick and dirty with a slowly disintegrating mulch and the rotting plastic of the time-before. The place you want should be beneath the four buildings here that stab out of the mire, a crossroads of the before-time.”

Haus: “Do we notice anything out of the ordinary? Want to be safe before we dive down.”

GM: “Hmmm…”

[Well shit. Is there an awareness type move? A notice-hidden-things type move? If I’m pitting their alertness against an enemy’s ability to be stealthy what the shit am I supposed to do here? Enemies don’t even have stats exactly, even less so than in something like Numenera. So I can’t even pro-actively roll for the bad guys to see if they succeed on being sneaky – and there are bad guys here. Again, I’m forced to make a choice in which neither player competence nor bad-guy ability play a roll. Acting Under Fire comes close, especially from the examples, but not really. I have to be a dick and impose it, whatever way I decide to go, and that tends to lead me to play nice, since it’s all on me and not emergent from the dice].

GM: “Uh, well, it’s been occupied at some point. That seems for certain. There’s still some remnants of old rope bridges between the four buildings – or at least the ropes. The thickness of the muck suggests a fair few people were here fairly recently. There’s no real sign of any people now though, though there is a fair amount of junk on the roofs and an old windmill is still turning at the corner of one of the buildings. Otherwise, all you can see are a few rats, sitting and grooming themselves on the flotsam and jetsam.”

Haus: “Alright, I’ll chug us on in, slow and careful, bump the tug up against one of the buildings to help hold us in place and drop anchor. Gauge the depth.”

Lane: “And I’ll stand watch still, but if we’re coming to a stop I’ll stand up.”

GM: OK, so…

[Still no way to handle stealth or alertness that makes sense in this situation, Read Sitch isn’t appropriate, again I don’t want to be a dick and Lane is standing watch, but ugh. Just ugh.]

GM: …As the tug comes to a halt there is a sudden rushing sound, almost like water, from the building you’re anchored to. Lane sees sudden movement from within one of the empty holes that used to be windows and then realises, in horror, that it is a tidal wave of rats. Huge ones. They gush out of the opening like a firehose has been connected to your nightmares. They’re huge, sleek, well fed, mutated or bred to be enormous and squealing with malevolent glee. What do you do?

[Enemies don’t get much in the way of stats, so there’s not a great deal to differentiate one enemy from another. These rat-dudes exist in great numbers though, even though individually they don’t pose much threat. All I really get to control is armour and harm. So let’s go base harm 0, base armour 1 (hits are only really going to take out individual rats and leave the swarm relatively untouched). This makes the enemies rather statistically flavourless].

Haus: “Fuck, I’ll dive for the ship’s motor and move us off. We’re anchored, but they’ll have to swim in order to reach us. I know rats can swim, but they won’t be able to just rush out of the building on to us.”

Lane: “I’ll stomp the shit out of any rats that make it to the tug with my boots.”

GM: “Alright, let me just figure this out…”

[Is Haus acting under fire? Are they helping Lane by increasing the distance, or hindering the rats? Why is helping or hindering dependent on your personal relationship, rather than what’s being done? Lane is obviously Going Aggro, and the ratswarm is clearly attacking, doing potential harm. That harm, from the rats, is going to be base 0, +3 Harm for size difference, 1 Armour, +3 Armour for size of the swarm. Oof. For rats, or anything else for that matter? I’m going to have to fiddle something here. First things first though. Let’s call it helping].

GM: “Uh, OK, so you’re trying to help Lane, essentially, by stemming the rate at which the rats can attack. So make an Hx roll.”

Haus: “I only get 8… wait, do I add the tug’s power here?”

GM: “One sec… yes, I think so.”

Haus: “Ten then.”

GM: “Alright, so that’s enough. The tug starts pulling away, though you’re still anchored for now, you’ve only got the play left on the chain. Lane, roll for Going Aggro.”

Lane: OK, with Haus’ bonus that’s… still only 7.

GM: “Wait… I think it’s Seize by Force, though that’s really counter-intuitive. Same result?”

Lane: “Same result.”

GM: “OK, choose two of the combat options.”

Lane: “I will ‘take little harm’ and ‘inflict terrible harm’.”

GM: “Stompy boots and going all out will give you one damage, terrible harm raises that to two. You’re stamping and mushing rats underfoot, but for every one you crush, two more leap onto the deck or swim up to the side. They swarm up your legs, biting at you, tearing your clothes and squirming inside. You take… three harm, minus one for armour, minus another one for ‘take little harm’. So one harm, roll that, 2d6+1.”

Lane: “Nine.”

GM: “In your desperation to scramble the rats off you and to stamp them to death, you lose your footing on the blood and guts and tumble off the tug into the water with a splash. Well. More of a splat really.”

Lane: “Arse.”

GM: “Arse indeed. So the rats continue to pour out of the building, splashing into the murk, squirming through the water, scrambling up the side of the tug to bite and devour in a furry wave. What do you do?”

Lane: “I swim for my life towards the building, maybe I can get inside.”

Haus: “I drag my shotgun from its holster and unload a blast of shot into the biggest knot of rats.”

[I guess swimming away is an Act Under Fire, though it doesn’t seem appropriate, but nothing does and the ‘only a Move is a Move’ rule gets in the way once again. Haus is ‘Seizing by Force’ I suppose, but that’s really badly named].

GM: “Lane, Act Under Fire, Haus, Seize by Force.”

Lane: “Nine.”

GM: “Uhmmm…”

[I’m supposed to offer a worse outcome, a hard bargain or an ugly choice here, but it’s hard to see what that might be here. Harm? It’s not an explicit outcome of an Act Under Fire, but it’s implied in the examples. So she takes harm, but gets into the building I guess.]

GM: “The rats are crawling all over you, biting, squirming, it’s almost like you’re swimming through a sea of rats, rather than the water. Take three harm, minus your armour, that’s two harm. Roll for it.”

Lane: “Ugh, fourteen.”

[Balls. This wasn’t meant to be remotely this tough. Lane is getting really fucked over by this rat swarm].

GM: “You manage to scramble into the building, covered in bites. The room is on a slope and half full of stagnant water, but the rats aren’t following you in, they’re looping back towards the tug.”

Lane: “Yay?”

Haus: “I add the power for the tug, right, since I’m on it?”

GM: *Nods*

Haus: “Eleven. Booyah. So that’s three options. Can I put all three into damage?”

[There’s nothing that says you can and nothing that says you can’t. It would let me get them out of the trouble they’re in, but if I let him do that it sets a dangerous precedent for later on in the game, though maybe I can find some justification not to let them later on].

GM: “Sure, I guess. It’s a spread weapon and they’re lots of little creatures.”

Haus: “So that’s six damage.”

GM: “Minus their armour, is five. You blast your sawn-off into the wave of rats that’s cresting the tug, shattering many of their tiny bodies and clearing the deck of most of them. With another cartridge still in the chamber you’re able to advance down the deck and blast the window hole they’re scrambling out from, that seems to stem the tide, with the ones that are left scattering in all directions and squirming back into the building.”

[Bugger, I forget the size difference, but what the shit, let’s just get it done].

Lane: “When I think it’s safe I’ll climb around the outside of the building back to the tug.”

GM: “Rats or not, this does seem to be the right spot. You still need to get down there and find the drugs you need.”

Haus: “I think we’re best of you go down and I keep watch. I know how the ship works, I’ve got the gun. I stand the best chance against any other attacks or problems.”

Lane: “And the settlement will respect me more if I’m the one that gets them what they need. Alright, I’ll strip down, take a rope and bag in one hand, and if Haus has a torch I’ll use that in the other.”

Haus: “Do I have a torch?”

GM: “Uh, sure, makes sense to have one, even if it’s old and battered. You have an old wind-up electric torch with a cluster-LED bulb, most of which still work.”

Haus: “I’ll crank it to build a charge and hand it to Lane.”

Lane: “Alright, here goes. I’ll dive in and swim down, using the light to try and figure where this pharmacy is.”

[Bugger, another thing for which there are no rules. Generic athletics is so fundamental to most games that it’s conspicuous by its absence in this game. Just letting her do it (the rules as written) seems inappropriate. The closest thing is, perhaps, ‘Act Under Fire’, the ‘fire’ being the hazards of operating underwater, but again that just doesn’t really seem to be right. It’ll do].

GM: “Make an Act Under Fire roll then.”

Lane: “Seven. Shit.”

[Ah crap, now I have to come up with one of those worse results, hard bargains or ugly choices. It still really doesn’t adequately work here, but what can I do…]

GM: “In the gloom you spot the filthy remnants of the cross shape the old ones used to mark such places, but against all odds the windows are intact and the door locked. You’re running out of breath, the only thing you really have to hand to break the window is the torch, but it’ll likely break. Still, without it, you’ll have to surface and waste more time and risk another descent.”

Lane: “I’ll smash the window.”

GM: “The torch light flickers out after the third hit, but the ancient glass finally gives way. You can barely see but you scramble around in the dark, feeling for the shapes of pill bottles. Finally, with your lungs burning you break the surface with a few handfuls of plastic bottles, though the labels have long soaked away and disintegrated.”

Lane: “Once we get back we can try and make sure of what’s what. Can I dive back down a few more times to gather more?”

[Another problem. There’s no generic intelligence ability and you need a Savvyhead to have a Move that seems appropriate, and that rolls on Weird, which doesn’t seem right. Problem for another time].

GM: “Sure, but without a light you waste a lot of time finding your way and grabbing what you can. You’ve got quite a bit though.”

Haus: “Let’s head home.”

[This is more trouble than it’s worth, it would go much smoother to do a similar game using Interlok or something better suited, where things would work properly and improvisation would come easier].

Bonus: #MayRPGQ2018 What is one setting or game mechanic that just ‘butters your biscuits’?

DB2As5-UQAA_ywzApocalypse World, which the indie luvvies have all gone ga-ga over is an impenetrable mystery to me in terms of its appeal. Dungeon World does a far better job of explaining how it is all supposed to work and be played but it can’t overcome the central plank of fail that courses through the system like a dose of castor oil ravaging your intestines.


Moves suck. Moves suck the creativity out of role-playing, coming up with on-the-spot actions and improvising absurd plans and Hail Mary’s out of the creativity of sheer desperation.

Characters in Apocalypse Powered games are, meanwhile, lumbered with a pretty restrictive set of ‘moves’ that channel them into a narrow set of actions. This is something that goes against the very nature and appeal of RPGs to me. This is ‘narrative’ chess, the horsey moves like this, the battlebabe takes on diagonals.



If there’re redeeming features to this game, they are that it makes a good workbook for plot-mapping and tracking, and that some of the artwork is borderline fetishy.

Otherwise, it’s a pretentious, bag-of-wank, ‘indie darling’ and when you don’t like it, people treat you like you don’t know how to use the three sea shells.

Blummin’ cultists.


#RPG – Post Apocalypse World – Salvage

Salvage-Crew-Removes-USS-Guardians-Bow-Section*Smashes Apocalypse World to pieces*
*Rummages through the bits*

OK, how can we retool this into a halfway enjoyable, workable game…

OK, we need more scale to finesse things, so let’s double the scale from 2d6+bonuses to 2D12+bonuses.

You could whack together any stats you wanted, but for sake of argument let’s go with…

  • Will
  • Body
  • Sexy
  • Mind
  • Soul

In AW stats are normally -2 to +2 normally, -3 to +3 later than character generation. This would normally be doubled here, but here’s an opportunity to do better.

Let’s bring in a more traditional Stat+Skill organisation structure, since Moves suck balls, so we can have stats and then skills, which combined give you your totals. So Stats run -6 to +2 and skills run from zero to +2, with 3 possible later on and certain exceptions.

Stats start at zero and can be bought up to +2 at character creation with the four points you have to spend.

Skills start not being had at all, but again you have four points and spending a single point gives you a skill at +0.

You can drop stats for extra points to spend on stats and skills, but no lower than -6 and buy no higher than +2 at character creation.

You have six health, at zero you’ve snuffed it. You can choose to take a permanent penalty of -1 to a stat in place of damage at any point.

You get two spare points you can chuck into anything, like extra health, extra in a stat or skill (still within limits) or for weird abilities not unlike FATE stunts.

You can develop relationships with players and NPCs or communities in games from -6 to +2(3)

Every session gives you 1xp which can be used to buy stuff by paying 1 or its existing, current level, whichever is highest. That could also limit the maximum amount that helping people is good for.

Doing stuff?

Roll 2d12+Stat+Skill

1-2. Fail and six bad things happen.
3-4. Fail and five bad things happen.
5-6. Fail and four bad things happen.
7-8. Fail and three bad things happen.
9-10. Fail and two bad things happen.
11-12. Fail and a bad thing happens.
13-14. Succeed, BUT a bad thing happens too.
15-16. Succeed and a good thing happens.
17-18. Succeed and a two good thing happens.
19-20. Succeed and three good things happen.
21-22. Succeed and four good things happen.
23-24. Succed and five good things happen.

Every two more higher or lower cause more bad or good things to happen. Those things can be more damage, knocking a weapon flying and so on. Maybe you could also spend multiple good things to do special effects (I did something like this in Kagai! where you spend your successes to do damage).

Armour reduces damage 1-6.

Weapons do base damage, modified 1, 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d12 and maybe descriptions of special stuff they can do.

Baddies have a difficulty rank from +6 (like an asthmatic goblin) to -6 (an imperial dragon), health points, armour, some tactics they can use and some ‘bad things’ that they can do.

You get the idea.

So a character might look like…

Sir Fighty McFighterson – Knight of the Realm

Will +1
Body +2
Sexy +1
Mind -2
Soul -2

Stabbing Monsters +2
Riding Horsies +2
Bellowing Scarily +1

Two handed sword for jobbing monsters 1d10 damage, bleeding.
Plate Armour: 6
Shield: +1 Armour (7).

Sir Fighty is clobbering an orc, an Orc warrior is difficulty -2 and carries a dirty cleaver, that does 1d6 damage. The Orc can also take 6 damage.

The orc lunges for him with its dirty sword and Sir Fighty decides the best response is to clobber the motherfucker.

He rolls 2d12+Body+Stabbing Monsters for a total of 17, -2 for the orc challenge level for a total of 15. The sword does 6 damage +1 for a ‘good things’ making 7. That’s a dead orc.

A new challenger appears, another nasty orc. In closing with this wee bastard Sir Fighty ballses it up only rolling a total of 6, which with the -2 is reduced to 4. That’s a fail and five bad things. The orc rolls 4 for damage, which is all soaked up by the armour, spending all the extra ‘bad things’ brings that up high enough to do two damage. Huzzah for orcs!

You get the point, there’d be a lot more to do but stripped bare and reconstructed there’s a more workable (if still somewhat clumsy) RPG in there.

Dungeon World does it better, but doesn’t solve all the issues.

If you’re after a Post Apocalyptic game of worth, Barbarians of the Aftermath is good, retooling Cyberpunk 2020 with the Maximum Metal book works well too.

#RPG – What IS the Appeal of Apocalypse World?!?

8850393Trying, again, to ‘get’ Apocalypse World

I’ve tried, several times, to get my head around Apocalypse World. I’ve appealed for help, listened to Podcasts and Actual Play and read the book over and again and I still can’t see how there’s really a playable game in here – worthy of the name – or what the bloody hell the appeal is to people.

This is immensely frustrating as I generally have an intuitive grasp of games systems and their appeal, even if I don’t personally like them very much.

So why not share my experience and frustration to see if that helps people help me…

The Basics

TB1. The first, major, problem with the game is that it drips pretension to such a degree that it is almost painful to read.

TB2. The archetypes and friendship-oriented play seems singularly ill-suited to the trops of a post-apocalyptic setting (with the exception of zombie horror, which is often ‘social horror’ in a similar way to ‘social science fiction’. Setting and system are not in harmony.

TB3. Bleh, psychics. See 2.

TB4. ‘Master of Ceremonies’, see 1. It’s kind of a tradition to rename Games Master at this point, but particularly bad choices still grate. At least it’s not ‘Hollyhock God’. Terminology in general is a problem this and a lot of other pretentious games have. It renders their communication more opaque than is strictly necessary.

TB5. Moves. I loathe and detest the whole idea of ‘Moves’ as they are presented in this game. For me the great, grand appeal of the RPG over other forms of interactive entertainment is the sheer freedom that they have, in spite of the limitations of rules. Apocalypse World, however, seems to hard-code into itself an extremely limited set of interactions that herd you into thinking in terms of ‘moves’ rather than ‘what is my character doing?’ Weirdly, the same problem 4e D&D had.

TB6. Strictly in terms of probability you’re going to hit a ‘7’ on 2D6 21/36 times (nearly 60% of the time). This seems a bit too easy for what’s supposed to be a dangerous setting and 10+ is a ‘strong hit’ – or a good result. Modifiers don’t seem to, normally, extend to more than +/- 3.

TB7. Character creation is normally pretty sacrosanct. Allowing another player to interfere with your character creation by ‘highlighting’ a statistic for you seems to me to horribly dismantle perhaps the most important aspect of player agency.

TB8. Stat terminology pretension rears its ugly head again and while Hx seems like a reasonable concept it makes less sense later on.

TB9. Gear isn’t well described here and the apparent rules raise some red flag but it’ll have to be understood ater.

TB9. Harm and healing seems needlessly complex and counter-intuitive. Debility seems to make sense though, not dissimilar to FATE’s consequences. Again, not well described here which makes it hard to know what to really think at this point.

TB10. Character advancement based on Hx seems to be just begging to be abused and could either turn every game into an orgy or a backstab-a-palooza.

The Characters

TC1. These characters just kill any desire I might otherwise have to play. The pretentious descriptions suck the potential joy out of them.

TC2. For a game with a largely non-explicit background, the explicit use of psychic weirdness relating to abilities not necessarily rooted in psychic power is an annoyance.

TC3. All these interwoven relationships are really going to fuck a game up if one of the players can’t make it from session to session and means that pregenerated scenarios for conventions are going to be in trouble if you can’t fill your table completely.

TC4. While you can get moves from other Playbooks with advancement, some moves on characters seem like things anyone should be able to get anyway and, again, the specificity of the moves is inherently limiting and anti-RP, a huge turn off.

TC5. Pre-set statistic grabs also limit your options and do not appear balanced, at all. EG: On The Battlebabe why would you take the second entry (total +3) as opposed to any other stat-grabs, which equal +4?

TC6. With gangs etc at your disposal from the get go, there’s much less impetus (or reason) to build, less goals for a character to have and less reason to take risks or do anything yourself.

TC7. Carrying +1 forward to your next roll often won’t make any sense. The Gunlugger, for example, will get a +1 on their next roll after having sex, but how will having had sex necessarily relate to what they’re doing?

TC8. Hardholder has all the problems that a Chopper has, but with the added problem of not being able to move, severely limiting game possibilities.

TC9. The other huge problem with ‘set moves’ is that they’re a bit of a throwback to very old RPGs where different things you did might have entirely different rules, whereas today (thankfully) most games operate under a unified rules-set. With every move acting differently, reference is demanded. I guess this is why there’s ‘playbooks’ but it seems like a sticking plaster over a basic design fault. Specialist booklets would normally be bonus material, not a necessity.

TC10. Helping or hindering people is based on your relationship with them, not your applicable statistic to the task at hand. So if you were trying to move a heavy object you’d be better off asking your girlfriend than Hunk Meatloaf the bodybuilder.

TC11. Rolling Harm in addition to taking it is going to slow down play. There’s also huge potential for abuse by Games Masters (sorry, MCs) and Players alike – repeatedly slapping the weapon out of someone’s hand on your attacks for example, will not be hard to do at all.

TC12. These Battle Moves aren’t explained at all. There’s a Battle Countdown but it doesn’t explain how it counts down, why it’s limited or what it does. It’s just thrown in there.

TC13. Why is ‘doing stuff under fire’ based on Cool and not based on what you’re actually doing? Given the layered rolling etc elsewhere why not roll Cool to see if you do better or worse at what you are really doing under fire?

Character Creation

Didn’t we cover this already? No, it’s more like the unspoken stuff from most games and a recap.

The Master of Ceremonies

MC1. So no predetermined plot. Fine. This is my favourite way to play but the game does not seem tailored to help the ‘MC’ with their improvisation, or indeed anyone else, another flaw with very set character types and set ‘moves’.

MC2. It’s useful to compare Apocalypse World with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Where LotFP takes a ‘this is how I do it!’ tone, AW seems to take a more ‘this is how it IS done’ tone, which is offputting.

MC3. This mostly seems to be fairly generic advice, which can be useful, but again it ends up dripping pretension which just makes me want to be contrarian.

The First Session

TFS1. This was always the problem with FATE as originally written too, spending all that time on a formalised getting-to-know-the-characters and linking their backgrounds made it hard as fuck to throw together a game on short notice and was actually less meaningful than building relationships in play or in a free for all, or even simply ignoring the problem altogether.

TFS2. The worksheets seem like a good idea in theory, but as presented here it just seems like a confusing mess.

Prep for Play: Fronts

FR1. Fronts seem – like much in this game – needlessly complicated and hard-set where they don’t need to be and vague where they don’t need to be either. When should the clocks count down and why use clock terminology when the ‘clock’ only has six segments anyway and would be better and more conveniently represented by a D6?

FR2. Stakes aren’t well enough explained, or how they come into play.

FR3. With regards to opposition, so far at least everything seems to depend on the players FAILING. Not on an enemy succeeding. This would seem to rather rob NPCs and enemies of agency or, indeed, having a point. This isn’t like in Numenera, ‘baddies’ seem to be genuinely pointless. This may clear up in a bit.

Rules of Play: Moves Snowball

RoP1. Yeah, even the example of play shows the problem with the set moves.

RoP2. MC ‘moves’ don’t even seem to be moves and have, again, been unnecessarily formalised. This is stuff that emerges naturally through play.

Rules of Play: Harm & Healing

HaH1. Sources of harm don’t appear to include enemy action (as a direct attack) just screwing up, still.

HaH2. Cinematic harm doesn’t seem to fit with the implicit setting.

HaH3. How does harm against/from enemies work? Seemingly by fiat, or by forcing the player to make a roll – and fail. Sucking the tension out of the game. NPC harm is also a special case – again – further complicating matters.

HaH4. Gang damage seems like it wouldn’t work too well in practice either. A PC group could blast away at an enemy army forever and never do it any harm – at least by the rules.


Imp1: Still not convinced the advancement system isn’t ripe for orgy-led/Hx tinkering abuse and handing over control of your highlighted stats to others robs the player of choice in character creation.

Imp2: Multiple characters? Because it leeches away player investment in characters and is ripe for abuse, again.

Basic Moves

BM1: ‘Bargains’ are a genuinely interesting ideas for a mechanic (yes, but…) but aren’t particularly well described or covered.

BM2: The battle clock is better described here, but still seems unnecessary and something that would emerge during play anyway.

Character Moves

CM1: Why are we filling a book with repetition?

The Character’s Crap

TCC1: Abstracting money is old hat and has always been super annoying. Abstracting barter makes more sense, after a fashion, but does harm immersion.

TCC2: As with most low-fi game systems the absence of distinction between types of gear and weapons makes them far less important, which can harm story and character specialisation due to the meaninglessness of the choices. The descriptive words here also seem somewhat useless or unnecessary to point out. This is especially an issue with the vehicles.

Advanced Fuckery

AF1: So it takes the advanced and optional rules before making things easier or harder is even an option.


This was probably the most useful thing in ‘grokking’ the game (even though its for Dungeon World), but I still l don’t really ‘get it’. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3269630/dwdotcom/eon-guide/Dungeon%20World%20Guide%20pdf%20version%201.2.pdf

AW is complex where it should be simple and simple where it should be complex. The ‘moves’ make it relatively inflexible and each move restricts a player unduly by their playbook and in their actions – as well as being further disempowered by several, deliberate system choices as written.

Relying on players fucking up, rather than enemies doing well is done better, IMO, in Numenera and the rules here as a whole seem manifestly unsuited to the implicit setting, as well as being hugely open for abuse.

I just cannot understand the appeal here. The disjointed mechanics and design choices seem antithetical to roleplay, to immersion, to the implicit setting, to making reactive, in-character choices and on top of that are ripe for abuse.

Character customisation and scaling is particularly pathetic, you only have statistics that range (normally) from -2 to +2.

If I were to use this for anything I’d have to tear it down to virtually nothing, boost the scale (2d12 would at least take the scale to 10, -4 to +4), get shot of the moves and cut out all the needless hectoring and pretension.

I’m not saying any of this to be mean. I have issues with other systems whose popularity escapes me as well (Savage Worlds for example) but AW appears to be a particularly egregious example where I can’t see anything that it actually does well enough to justify the love some people seem to have for it. There’s pretty much nothing a more conventional RPG doesn’t do better.

The one good thing I can take from it is only the nature of dice results.

1. No, and something bad happens.

2. Yes, but something somewhat bad happens.

3. Yes and something good happens.

This also might work even better if it were further expanded.

The appeal of this game as a means of doing anything remains a total mystery. What the hell does it do well? Why did it get all those awards?