#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?

#Gamergate Fiasco

B2RgoYJIAAEGTWsMaking this work will take a little more creativity and bending of ideas and relationships than usual, so is recommended for more experienced Fiasco players.

The Tilt Table pretty much works as written, as this is a satirical, overblown, satire of events intended to be played as a farce. All you really need is a bunch of people caught up in the whole affair on different sides.

1. Adversarial
1. Veterans of many mutual flamewars.
2. Moderator/Banned.
3. Battling Blogs.
4. Troll/Trollee.
5. Stalker/Stalked.
6. Brand New Hatred.

2. Professional
1. Blogger/Editor.
2. Journalist/PR Rep.
3. Website Owner/Studio.
4. Manager/Developer.
5. Former site Contributors.
6. Current site Contributors

3. Romantic
1. Sext Each Other Regularly.
2. Have Cybersex Under Assumed Identities.
3. Have jerked off to their N00dz.
4. Love/Hate Relationship.
5. Unreciprocated Attraction.
6. Snapchat.

4. Social Media
1. Twitter Followers.
2. Facebook Followers.
3. Google Plus Followers.
4. Youtube Followers.
5. Pinterest Followers.
6. Youtube Followers.

5. Hated By
1. LGBT People.
2. Guilt-Ridden White People.
3. The Whole Internet.
4. A Racial Minority.
5. Creative People.
6. Wingnuts.

6. Loved By
1. Downtrodden Men.
2. Creatives – albeit quietly.
3. Gamers.
4. Journalists.
5. Gender Studies Graduates.
6. Strong Women.

1. To Be Creative
1. To Make Games.
2. To Review Games.
3. To Play Games Your Way, that You Like.
4. To Make Non-Problematic Games.
5. To Stifle the Creativity of Others.
6. To Make a Naughty Game.

1. For Gamers!
2. For Developers!
3. For Me!
4. For Teh Gayzorz!
5. For Racial Minoities!
6. For Women!

3. To Soothe Your Crushing Guilt
1. About Being White.
2. About Being Male.
3. About Being Cisgendered.
4. About Being Heterosexual.
5. About Being Rich.
6. About Wasting Daddy’s Money on a Bullshit Degree.

4. To Play Games
1. RPGs.
2. First Person Shooters.
3. Third Person Action/Adventure Games.
4. Weird Indie Games Nobody Actually Likes, Even You.
5. To Win.
6. So You Can Bitch About Them.

5. To Get Money
1. By Selling Games.
2. By Selling Radical Feminism.
3. Through Dubious Crowdfunding.
4. Via Patreon.
5. Through Sympathy.
6. By Threats.

6. To Get Lulz
1. By Trolling.
2. By Doxxing.
3. By Harassment.
4. By Impersonation.
5. By Not Taking it Seriously.
6. By DDOS Attacks.

Locations (Sacrifice any Second Dice When You Choose)
1 – Forums – The topic might be banned, but you haven’t been – yet.
2 – Reddit – If there’s subreddits, are there domreddits?
3 – Youtube – The bottom half of the internet is terrible.
4 – Mainstream Media – Clueless nubs with an audience of millions.
5 – The Chans – The lawless frontier of the internet. Except for 4chan, who are now ‘fags’.
6 – Meatspace – Roll again.
1-2 – A Convention – We’re all friends here. Please don’t Nerf me in the balls.
3-4 – A News Studio – Five minutes to talk culture war to a partisan idiot.
4-5 – Someone’s Home – Put all that doxxing to use.

Features (Replace Objects)

1. Information
1. N00dz – She was on Suicide Girls. Him? Nobody Cares.
2. Dox – You know where they live.
3. Actual, hard facts.
4. Fake facts from bad surveys.
5. Social Media Analysis.
6. Compromising Information.

2. A Personal Object
1. Gaudy Hoop Earrings.
2. Rainbow Hair.
3. Gluten-Free, Hypoallergic, Ginger-Persons of indeterminate gender.
4. A Hard Drive Full of Porn.
5. A Neckbeard.
6. A Fedora.

3. The Internet Never Forgot…
1. That You Used to be a Nazi.
2. That You Were (or are) A Porn Star.
3. That One Time You Said Something Racist.
4. That One Time You Said Something Sexist.
5. Your Fashion Horrors of the Past.
6. An Embarassing Secret.

4. Secret Corruption
1. Bribes from Developers.
2. Threats from Developers.
3. Membership of a Secret Group/List.
4. Sex for Favours.
5. Political Corruption.
6. Cabal of Mutually Supporting Arseholes.

5. Extreme Views
1. Actual Nazi.
2. Anarcho-Capitalist Libertarian.
4. Your Actual Marxist.
5. Radical Feminist
6. #KillAllMen

6. Potentially Embarassing Non-Traditional Sexy Funtimes
1. Likes to Be Pegged.
2. Extreme Furry.
3. Hardcore BDSM.
4. Indescribably Weird Fetish.
5. Non-Practicing Love of Something Beyond the Pale.
6. Waifu.

Taboos in Gaming: The Overlooked

In the fuss about me, the remainder of the panels and events Indie+ haven’t gotten the profile and attention that they should have. People who claim to care about their voices and concerns instead chose to fixate on me, to the cost of the other events.

Let’s do something to fix that a bit:

Don’t Fuck it up for the Rest of Us

how-to-write-a-horror-story.WidePlayerAs an indie writer, game publisher and all-round amazing person I spend a lot of time talking to new writers and artists and – unfortunately – that means I run into a lot of horror stories. There are a lot, a LOT of budding artists, layout people and other freelancers upon whom us indie producers rely who are being put off from ever, ever, ever working with indie producers again. Needless to say, this is a bit of a problem for everyone.

This makes my job a lot harder, it makes forming a trust relationship with other freelancers hard and it reflects very poorly on indie/self publishing as a whole.

You want to publish? GREAT! The bar has never been lower which has its pluses and minuses, but if you’re going to invest money you should first invest a little time.

  • Images come in different resolutions, 72 dpi is typical screen/web while 300 dpi is the minimum for print. Make sure you know what you need and send the right files!
  • At LEAST read the help documents for the POD and other outlets you plan to use, and the software you use. That’ll give you a basic grounding and there’s plenty of free tutorials for just about anything online. Go look.
  • Paying someone to edit? Make sure their English is native to where you consider your main market or style to be. American, English and International English are NOT IDENTICAL! Even grammar varies surprisingly.
  • Don’t try and cop work for free. You want money out of this don’t you? Something is better than nothing. Publicity isn’t. The only people who might justifiably work for you for free are students needing to learn how briefs and projects work and they need money more than most!
  • Pay early, pay often. Cough up the dough, don’t sit on it. You don’t want people riding you for their bar all the time, it’s stressful as hell. Paying on time is also worth about the same money again in terms of reputation and goodwill. If you’re in a pinch later on, these people are more likely to help you out.
  • Be – fuckin’ – communicative. The moment that email pings you need to be ON IT! Even if it’s just to say ‘OK’. Artists and writers can’t get on until they know they’re on the right track and that you’re happy.
  • Do you have a deadline? DON’T FUCKING LIE! Yes you do! If you say ‘there’s no rush’ you’d better goddamn mean it because people are going to take you at your word and your project is sliding down the priority list. Make one up even if you don’t really have one! Nothing motivates freelancers like a deadline (other than horsewhips).

The Description System – Unleash the power of words

The Description system is the system powering the Neverwhere fan RPG and recent release ImagiNation.

Role-playing has long been credited with improving mathematical and social skills in tweens and teens but the ways in which it can improve English skills, descriptions, narrative and so on have been less championed. TDS is a system that encourages creative use of the English language.

Not that I want to put you off by making it sound all educational…

The Description System uses descriptive paragraphs to define powers, challenges, monsters, characters and everything else in the game world and minimises the mathematics involved to a single dice roll and some simple addition.

A powerful system and a good introduction to roleplaying, TDS would work well for off-the-cuff games and quick conversions of favourite settings as well as for more developed games.

This system is completely open. Do what thou wilt.

Download HERE

If you like and enjoy TDS and ImagiNation and want to encourage future free, fan-based or charitable projects, please consider supporting us by buying some of our other work or donating to our current fundraising campaign.

With the release of TDS as an entirely open system, my final obligation to the ImagiNation fundraiser is discharged, so hopefully that’ll show I’m a closer!

Postmortem Studios Financial Year

My financial year runs 1st January to 1st January so far as my accounts go.

I’m not going to give absolutely precise figures to you but I’m going to let you know where the business currently stands financially and what I think this means for me, and potentially for you if you work in this sort of area or have expectations thereof.

Postmortem Studios covers my income from fiction self publishing, RPG self-publishing, freelancing for other RPG companes/small publishers and also my income from stands at conventions, sales via distribution through third parties and so forth.

Postmortem Studios has a diverse RPG product portfolio with many different games and one-off products, support materials for other companies and generic products.

In our last financial period we made around £8,000 and have approximately £500 worth of stock currently in storage.

We made less than the UK minimum wage, but more than the US minimum wage (close to $13,000).

The year was a difficult year due to the economy being bad enough to reach into the leisure market and due to personal problems and additional expenses. My depression kept me from working at my full capacity and turned more than one month completely unproductive. Medical costs have increased for me despite the NHS and the cost of learning to drive has been considerable but may pay for itself later on with easier and increased convention attendance.

Agents of SWING was the banner product, supported by hardy perennials such as the 100 seeds books and increased access to distribution.

The best move I made was probably becoming involved with IPR and supplying them with hardcopy product though cashflow issues have prevented me fully exploiting that avenue for sales. Potential profits have also been impacted by the relative slow speed at which third party access to distribution has been processed.

I speculate that had I not been so ill this past year I would have been able to break the UK minimum wage barrier for yearly income for the first time, rather than merely the occasional month. Without a strong hit (like Agents of SWING) I am unlikely to make the same amount this year, particularly as I intend to concentrate on my diversification into written fiction.

Good things we did this year

  • The $1.99 pricing for short or one-off products seems to work well and to attract interest to things that might otherwise be passed over.
  • Conventional pricing for larger products seems to work better than cheap pricing.
  • Blog engagement has been good and has driven sales, especially in hardcopy.
  • IPR has been worthwhile to join and e23 sales have continued to grow.
  • Assisting/boosting new writers has been good and driven engagement and enthusiasm.
  • Social media engagement, especially Twitter and G+. Facebook doesn’t appear to be worth the effort.
  • Managed to pay artists more and get good rapport with co-workers and bind regular co-workers together.

Things that didn’t work out

  • Deluxe versions of products are very expensive with little return other than buzz.
  • Still haven’t managed to find a stable, usable and common enough platform for running demo games or found people to reliably run demos etc at cons.
  • Depression, enough said.
  • Didn’t get to more cons.
  • No improvement in direct sales.

Urban Faerie: Pocket Edition RELEASED!

Tidied up, tinkered with, added to (a little) and wrapped up in a somewhat shinier package. This is the Urban Faerie Pocket Edition. If you liked Invaderz, odds are you’ll like this…

Faeries living like rats in the walls cause havoc for the filthy humans. A beer-and-crisps game you can pick up and play in short order, even while drunk.

Download HERE

Hardcopy HERE