[Apocalypse World] love and brutality

edited July 2010 in Story Games
I've been reading with intense interest about Apocalypse World for a long time now, always wishing I could playtest it and find out what was so awesome about it. Now that it's finally been released, I've bought the pdf, and I finally get something from it that I've not gotten from any other game. Just by reading the rules I can see how they foster a sense of intense cooperation, where players' choices always lead to more interesting choices, and their actions always change something about the world they're in. I love poring over the rules and the advice to the MC and learning things that benefit me no matter what game I'm playing.

But there's something I don't love about the game, which makes me never want to play it as it is. The rules as written are all about brutality. Even though the principles of the game are honest and dignified with regard to the players, they are absolutely ruthless to the characters in the story. There are plenty of options for the players' characters to hurt and destroy other characters, but little to no option to try to make something good out of the remnants left over in the world after the apocalypse. The game's rules seem to say, "be nice in the real world -- but in Apocalypse World, nice guys always finish dead."

That's not to say that relationships don't mean anything in Apocalypse World -- relationships are everything. It's just that they're relationships of exploitation and brutality almost every time. A key example is in the game's mechanics related to sex: interesting little bonuses and changes you get when your character has sex with someone. But none of these mechanics have anything to do with love; each and every one of them has to do with using sex to get something else your character wants, or preventing your partner from getting what they want.

Most of the moves in the game are like that in one way or the other. Three of the main basic moves, Go Aggro, Seize by Force, and Seduce or Manipulate, are all about getting someone to do something you want them to do, which they wouldn't normally do on their own. Each one is basically a battle of your self interest versus someone else's. Even the investigative moves, Read a Sitch (or situation), and Read a Person, are all about discovering the weaknesses of your enemies and learning how to overcome them. There are moves for helping and healing, but these seem peripheral to the main core of selfishness, brutality, and manipulation.

Some might argue that this is just human nature, that all relationships in the world are based on exploitative self interest of one sort or another. If that's your view then you're welcome to it -- I'm not here to convince you otherwise. But that's not how I view the world. The Apocalypse World I want to play in is one in which honesty and fair play still mean something, because no matter how few people there are left in the world or how scarce the resources have become, human nature is fundamentally a nature of choices -- we can choose to be bad, but we can also choose to be good. And some people in the Apocalypse World are bound to try and build some sort of positive social system and recover the good things that were lost. These people wouldn't accept that everyone in the world was evil, and I think they'd fight for that. It would be nice if there were a place in the Apocalypse World rules and moves for people like that. But then, maybe Vincent Baker was deliberately going for that contrast between the real world and this imaginary one when he designed the game. Maybe this is the whole point he's trying to make in his design -- that you always have a choice, no matter what someone tells you the "rules of the game" are.

Anyway,

I'm glad that AW is so hackable, and Vincent encourages people to make it into their own thing. I'm having all kinds of fun throwing some things out and putting some things in, gaining insight and modifying everything to suit my particular taste. Just love it. :)
«1

Comments

  • Take this with a grain of salt, as I also have yet to run/play the game (my campaign starts next Tuesday), but I've been thinking about the issues you bring up a lot, and I think there's another side to the story.

    There's a lot of choice involved in sex moves, for instance. Sure, if I'm a Gunlugger, I can find someone to sleep with to get that +1 Forward. But there's a value judgment there - do I want to be the kind of person who will sleep with someone just to get my adrenaline pumping for that next fight? If I am, I am - the game won't stop me (but the MC should make sure I notice that choice I made). I mean, giving any mechanical reinforcement to being more emotionally discriminating about who my character has sex with might be counterproductive, even.

    Take the Battlebabe, for instance - his/her nullifying move might represent the sex being "meaningless." But it also means that s/he never has sex unless s/he wants to, for its own sake.
  • Apocalypse World is definitely brutal. But what the characters do is always up to them. The majority of my players are being a bit scummy. One player is playing a Savvyhead who seems to be an actually decent human being. That doesn't make him any more or less of a target than anyone else, though it might mean he'll have some more difficult choices to make. I find the rules of the game create a very harsh, intense setting, but there are no moral judgments built into it and nothing encouraging you to discard morality.
  • I haven't had the opportunity to check out AW yet, but, David, are you talking about something you're wanting out a post-apocalyptic game in general, or AW in specific?

    What exactly is it you're looking for? A mechanical [i]incentive[/i] to be good people? An in-fiction reason? Mechanics for appealing to someone's better nature on a sincere level?
  • Marshall,

    I'm talking about AW in specific, I suppose. I haven't played many other post-apocalyptic games. Part of the structure of the game, you see, is that you are provided these "moves" at the outset, which are basically just small tables of things you can do as well as some of the consequences that might arise from attempting a given action. You choose the move that most closely resembles what you want to do, then roll the dice and choose from a short list of possible outcomes or opportunities.

    I'd like to see some really good designs for moves that include the possibility that people might want to be good to each other. I made up a custom move for my own AW hack called "Enlighten" in which you roll the dice to try to teach someone something, to share with them an insight you have. If you roll high, the person really understands you, but whether they agree or not is up to them, if you roll a modest success, the person mainly understands you but also has some misunderstandings and might mess up actions they take based on your explanation of things. If you roll low, then the person you're talking to totally misunderstands what you're trying to get and negative consequences follow. That's the sort of thing that sometimes happen in life, when people are trying to do the right thing but sometimes it doesn't work.

    I think some would argue that a nice guy move like "Enlighten" isn't at all part of the post-apocalyptic genre, but I think it's an essential part. "The Book of Eli" is all about a man trying to do the right thing, and the few good people who try to help him; there a key scene in the movie where Denzel's character is trying to convey an important point to this girl, and she understands the main idea of what he says, but her slight misunderstanding of what to do with the knowledge he gives her causes lots of negative consequences. "I am Legend" is another movie about a man trying to keep his sanity and restore his connection to the rest of humanity after the end of the world. I haven't seen "The Road," but I understand it's mainly about this father and son and how they try to help one another and stay together against all the odds.

    So anyway, at least in the post-apocalyptic movies I've seen, the emphasis isn't only on how terrible people can be, but on how beautifully their goodness can shine through in the midst of such darkness. I'd like to see some moves that reflect this in the game, either designed by Vincent or by anyone who can do a good job at it.
  • I think Apocalypse World intentionally presents a bleak and violent, self-serving world.

    I don't know if there's some "hidden" concept of trying to overcome that with humanity, but it's certainly not intended to read that way.

    Speaking purely for myself, I know I would find Apocalypse World more appealing if it had a little more... redeeming, hopeful qualities to it.
  • edited July 2010
    "I Act Under Fire to pull the child out of the sandstorm."

    "I Go Aggro on the choppers who are threatening Old Mag. I want them to back off and leave her and her kids alone."

    "I Seize the water stores by Force. White has them locked down, but the people of this town are thirsty and they need it more than he needs the money he's getting selling it."

    "I Read a Person and read Old Mag. I want to know how I could get her to smile."

    "I Manipulate Lemma. She's in danger here but she's too caught up in her research to realize it, so I need to convince her to get out of here before something bad happens."
  • David: Vincent wrote Apocalypse World for Meg, because she wanted a game about relationships that WASN'T all about backstabbing and betrayal. Yes, the world of Apocalypse World is brutal, but it's not about the characters being brutal to each other all the time. They live in a brutal world, but they can embrace it, reject it, try to rise above it, revel in it, try to make it a better place, try to destroy it, try to fix it, etc. etc. For example, remember the description of the Skinner: "Even in the filth of AW, there's food that isn't death on a spit, music that isn't shrieking hyenas, thoughts that aren't afraid, bodies that aren't used for meat, sex that isn't rutting, dancing that's real. These are moments that are more than stench, smoke, rage, and blood." If that's the stuff that the players want out of the game, they can sure as hell fight for it.
  • Part of the charm (for me) of Apocalypse World is that isn't that it glorifies or gratifies violence or brutality, but that it makes rising above them difficult. The rules mechanics reflect the world as it exists beyond your character; we only have harsh Moves because that is what the other denizens respond to. By adding extra moves, you are saying "THIS is also something the other denizens of Apocalypse World will respond to." That changes the dynamic of the world, and that is a cool thing. If you want to make Apocalypse World a place where hope still exists, and people still have a future, that's up to you.

    That being said; just because we only have 'brutal' moves doesn't mean we are limited by them. Just the opposite, actually. You only roll when performing an action relating to a Move; the only times the rules contain you is when you are resorting to violence or brutality. While the rules seem to suggest violence as the method of first resort, they also subtly say that when you DO resort to violence or brutality, your fate is taken out of your hands, and becomes subject to uncertainty.
  • Lots of nice reflections on Apocalypse World here!

    I have the feeling (but I can't back this up with any long-term AW play) that just as Dogs in the Vineyard is all about do-gooders working for the common good and battling sin, but often turns into blood and murder instead, Apocalypse World might be the reverse: a game that's all about messed-up, violent mindfuckers, and how they struggle to emerge from that into unexpected moments of good and/or heroism.

    If so, it's buried in all the gruesome "apocalyptica", however, lurching there is a surprise.
  • Let me just tell you a little story:

    Once upon a time, in a session of AW, our Gunlugger just shot up some 30 people, murdering them in cold blood. As he shot the last one, I said something like "ok, he slumps down on the bloody ground, and you stand there, alone, amidst the black smoke of the burning tires and the piles of smoldering corpses."

    We paused. The Gunlugger's player looked at the other guy at the table and said: "I think I just realized what this game is about. If you kill everyone, you loose."

    So yeah, this:
    Posted By: Paul T.Dogs in the Vineyard is all about do-gooders working for the common good and battling sin, but often turns into blood and murder instead, Apocalypse World might be the reverse: a game that's all about messed-up, violent mindfuckers, and how they struggle to emerge from that into unexpected moments of good and/or heroism.
    Very much this. Look at the ungiven future. This is a game where leveling up doesn't give you (just) more powerful ways to kill people, but the power to make allies.
  • I think that it's understood that a lot of Apocalypse Worlders desperately want a little piece of status quo. They want love, they want to be able to plan for the future, they want there to be a future, but it's almost impossible because only hardened badasses can survive the death of the whole world. The mechanics reflect it well. As an expensive advance, you can make someone, or something, some institution, safe, off of the threats list on the home front.
  • David,

    First off, I really like your teaching move, that's cool!

    The main other things I wanted to address have mostly been said, so I'll be brief. First off, the moves are kind of tricky. They *look* like the core of what you're doing, and they certainly are important to the game, but I've been amazed in a few short sessions how much gets done without moves. I've rolled like once, and already my hardholder has made deals, lost a fortune, decided who to back and who not to trust and what not. So, I'd argue that the 'fiction first' approach is more important than the moves per se for determining what's happening in game "system wise" (and here I very consciously use system as broadly as possible, fitting enough in the Lumpley Principle way).

    So, the second thing is that a lot of Vincent's games involve violence very strongly, but he's said in interviews that he finds violence in and of itself terribly boring. Rather, what he finds interesting is why and in what circumstances people do violence. And that's how you get Dogs, Poison'd (where just fighting for it almost never gets you what you want) and now Apocalypse World. You have rules on how violence works when you do it, but you'll notice that the choices about how to use adn respond to violence for the PCs are not mechanized.

    Finally, also mentioned above, I think what makes the goodness in post apocalyptic works so moving is the stark and horrifying backdrop of its absolute lack. In the Road, the smallest acts of decency and kindness take on huge meaning because a man and his son might freaking starve to death for a moment of kindness. But they do it anyway. Wham. So, I say go for a kindler, gentler AW, but maybe not too kind and gentle, or else it won't affect you as deeply. In any case, have fun with it, as you said, it's delightfully hackable, so you can make the game you want and play it with the good advice in the book :)
  • Just remembered another story, I think it was in one of Vincent's games. The savvyhead isolated a fragment of the psychic maelstrom (via Augury) and was going to work on it...Things speak: "What's wrong with this and how may I fix it?" I don't know where it went from there, but for me that kind of moment is what AW is about, deep down.

    That's why Vincent says that it's not much of a game until you're many many sessions in. At first it's all blood and guts and shit and everyone's dying but then you rise above it, try to heal the world, get a place for yourself, make peace, get some hope for a better future, reach beyond the psychic maelstrom, get a moment of grace.
  • Posted By: TeataineJust remembered another story, I think it was in one of Vincent's games. The savvyhead isolated a fragment of the psychic maelstrom (via Augury) and was going to work on it...Things speak: "What's wrong with this and how may I fix it?" I don't know where it went from there, but for me that kind of moment is what AW is about, deep down.

    That's why Vincent says that it's not much of a game until you're many many sessions in. At first it's all blood and guts and shit and everyone's dying but then you rise above it, try to heal the world, get a place for yourself, make peace, get some hope for a better future, reach beyond the psychic maelstrom, get a moment of grace.
    That was my savvyhead. A lot of terrible things happened while she tried to make the world a little better, but now it's starting to be better-- in that gentle, timid way, where you're holding your breath because you're afraid it'll all fall apart if you breathe too hard.

    AW is something really special. Thinking about it honestly, it's one of the least optimistic premises I've ever played in a game, but my play experience of it has more goodness and grace than any of my other play to date. That's not to say it doesn't have its horrors; to save the world from extermination, my savvyhead had to stop a protocol on an orbiting ship, which caused all of the pregnant women in the holding to miscarry except one. But the hardholder, not knowing he had Healing Touch, managed to save a single baby who would have been stillborn otherwise.

    Her name is Pumpkin. She's healthy, normal, perfect. Ten fingers, ten toes.

    Talk about the ungiven future.
  • Posted By: jprussellI've rolled like once, and already my hardholder has made deals, lost a fortune, decided who to back and who not to trust and what not.
    You're playing AW and not rolling much? I've only played it twice, but I have a hard time imagining a game of it where I don't roll at least once in a scene that includes my character, probably twice, maybe many more times depending. In fact, the rolling is part of what I love so much about AW: You have your character do something, then you roll, then you have an outcome that leaves you in a place to have your character do something. It's such a wonderful cycle, and, like so much of AW it seems so simple and obvious, but really it's just great craftsmanship on Vincent's part.
  • In my game, we have:

    - a driver who's a perennial fuck-up, but when he tried to seduce a girl and had to make a promise that he knew he wouldn't be able to keep, he couldn't do it.
    - a savvyhead who first pissed off the worst chopper gang around by preventing them from raiding a bunch of cultists he didn't even know, then gave himself over to their mercy because they threatened to hurt someone else.
    - a brainer who simply longs for human connection, having to overcome her social ineptitude and people's fears about her, who's making herself just heartwrenchingly vulnerable.

    Anarchy is what you make of it.
  • Lots of things to respond to here, and haven't had a chance until now.

    Bret Gillan: I grant that Act Under Fire is not inherently brutal or exploitative, but I think the others are. It's possible to use brutal or exploitative methods to do good things, as in the examples you gave, but usually brutality destroys things, and finding out the weaknesses of enemies is just a prelude to brutality. My issue isn't that it's impossible to do anything good in AW -- obviously you can do good if you really want to -- it's that the rules themselves don't bring goodness to the story. You have to add it in on your own.

    J. Walton: I'll agree with you that AW isn't about backstabbing and betrayal. It's about finding people's weaknesses and exploiting them to either get them to do what you want or else kill them outright. What you say is true, that players can rise above the filth if they want to, and some of the color text hints that this is possible, but the rules themselves don't present nobility as an option.

    Jacob: It's true that the rules make acts of violence subject to uncertainty, but acts of goodness should by no means be a guaranteed success! How many times have you tried to do the right thing, only to find yourself having to suffer some nasty consequences for it? If I'm an MC and my players want to do something good, I think I should make them roll the dice for that, and if things go bad, they should have to deal with that too.

    Paul T.: You may be right. I've heard interviews with Vincent where he talks about this emergent sort of design as one of his goals. But still I see a difference: Dogs in the Vineyard has an inherent "escalation" mechanic, where conflicts can easily turn violent and brutal, and the "good guys" may suddenly find themselves doing really bad things if they get too caught up in their immediate goals and lose sight of their real purpose, or too fanatical about what is right and what is wrong. There's nothing like that in Apocalypse World -- no sort of mechanic to encourage people to be good at all. It's just like D&D is basically a tactical combat game into which you can add story if you like -- AW is a game about the consequences of ruthless violence, into which you can add goodness if you wish. Perhaps, as Teataine said, when a ruthless character follows the rules through to the end, he will find himself all alone and wish he had a shred of goodness in him (but by then, of course, it's already too late). Maybe, just maybe, that was the point behind the whole design.

    ccreitz: Making someone safe is a positive choice, true. But it's a relatively obscure mechanic, not part of the core design.

    jprussell: Thanks. As hans otterson said, though, I think if you're not rolling the dice, you're not interacting with the rules of the game. You're doing freeform roleplay, which is fine, but it's not AW, as such. What you say about the beauty of goodness shining through in a post-apocalyptic world is totally true, and I'd like to see the rules in AW bring that out more.

    Others: You're right that you're finding beauty, goodness, and grace in the AW stories, and that's awesome! But I think that's because you're bringing it there for the most part, not finding it in the rules of the game itself. Is that the way the game should be? Do you want the game to let you add goodness in on your own, the way some people want to add story to D&D on their own? Or do you want the game to support you?

    I suppose that's a valid choice, whichever way you answer.
  • edited July 2010
    I think it's very important that AW doesn't have any major system push towards nobility. The whole point is that if you decide to act in a noble fashion you do it fully knowing that you're probably going to be completely wrecked by it. Noble acts that cost you little or nothing aren't particularly noble after all, and any system help or push in that area would detract from the weight of such acts.

    Let me put it this way. If the characters all go about trying to be noble (because there are system-based incentives to do so), then it means little to nothing. It's like a Musketeer going about being witty and having duels. It's just what they do and nothing out of the ordinary. It's just window dressing.
  • Posted By: Kayfallccreitz: Making someone safe is a positive choice, true. But it's a relatively obscure mechanic, not part of the core design.
    I disagree with this - the ungiven future experience options are absolutely a core part of the game. They're there for people to work towards.
  • If I'm reading this correctly, the ungiven future experience option you're talking about, on page 182-3, it says "retire your character (to safety), and create a new character to play." This doesn't seem to mean retiring some other NPC in the story to safety, only your own character. It's questionable whether this is really a sort of kindness, or just not wanting to feel as though the effort you put into the character goes to waste because the MC kills it off.

    Are there any other experience options I'm missing that actually benefit other people other than yourself? Are there experience options about making the world a better place? Or are they all just making your own character more powerful, and/or adding more characters to play and such?

    I don't see any sort of "goodness" for people to work towards yet.
  • I suspect people are talking about expanding the basic moves, specifically "seduce or manipulate", which lets you change someone from a threat to an ally. Making the world, bit by bit, a slightly less dangerous place.
  • C. Edwards: What you say is true from a certain point of view. If you give mechanical rewards for goodness, then it's just another kind of selfishness, right?

    What I'm saying isn't that the game should try to push them towards being nice, but rather simply just acknowledge that there is goodness in the world, and provide moves or other rules for players to choose that if they want to. It should be an option, not a moralizing system.
  • Posted By: KayfallIt's about finding people's weaknesses and exploiting them to either get them to do what you want or else kill them outright. ...t the rules themselves don't present nobility as an option.
    Dude, I don't know what game you're playing there, but it's not the same game I'm playing. I don't know what to tell you. You should come play with us some time and we'll show you how to get something totally different out of AW.
  • Hans and David,

    After reading your responses, I realized I tricked myself into the old "we didn't roll the dice at all!" bit, which used to be viewed as a good thing in roleplaying, but nowadays we like having systems that encourage and support good play. So, yeah, I should have clarified that I've been playing in an online game, and so the 'few short sessions', now that I think about it, probably woudl collapse into maybe an hour of table time. I'm sure there's plenty of rolling coming up and I'm sure it will continue to make things more interesting.

    And, David, to answer your question about the experience options opening up avenues towards potential goodness, the 'expanded moves' are indeed mostly where that's at. As mentioned, the 'seduce/manipulate' becomes a move where you have the potential to actually win someone over to your side, and the MC is instructed that that person is no longer a "threat", and should *not* be viewed through crosshairs like all the other NPCs.

    Also, expanding "open your brain" gives you the chance to see 'beyond the psychic maelstrom', which can imply getting to why there is a psychic maelstrom and how to fix it, or at a minimum, some deeper meaning.

    Expanding the 'read a person/situation' moves lets you ask any question you want, not just the 'exploitative' ones provided as a base.

    So, I'd say that yeah, a lot of that stuff isn't right there in the rules from the get go, but having that sort of stuff as the things you work towards is interesting.
  • Oh yeah, also, I felt like I should say that I'm not trying to argue "you have to play it this way, raargh!" or anything like that. As you said in the OP, the game is marvelously hackable, so if you love the rules and the principles and advice but want to play a different way to get meaning and fun out of it, then don't worry about what myself and others are saying about the 'default' assumptions of AW.

    I'm just getting into the discussion because I find the issues involved interesting, and I was initially put off by the violence and fuckery as presented too. As usual, it's hard to tell on the internet the difference between strident opposition and interested friendly debate.
  • J. Walton: Oh I totally grant that your AW games are not like I'm saying at all. I would love to play AW with your group if I could, and I'm sure it would open up my brain to the maelstrom of possibilities in this game. But here's my question for you: does the goodness in your game interact with the rules, the moves, and the dice and so on? If so, how? Do you have special moves which help you do good things? Or do you use the moves as they are to do good things? Or do you add it in without the help of the rules, just freeform roleplaying as jprussell was mentioning earlier? Or is it something else I'm missing? I'd really like to know, especially if you can help me see something I'm missing here.

    jprussell: I see now what you mean by the expanded moves. You're right that it's more than just the simple brutality and exploitation presented in the the Basic Moves section.

    I think part of my problem comes from the casual sort of brutality portrayed in the examples of the rules. There's this one example that really sticks in my mind (on page 193, actually), where one of the players' characters is trying to sneak into an enemy camp, and she rolls to see if she can do so undetected. She gets an 8, so the MC gives her an "ugly choice," where a teenage guard spots her on her way in. He asks if she wants to kill him before he makes a noise, and she says, "Yes, duh." Just like that. So, then in response the MC says, "Great. You leave him dead and make your way in."

    When I read that, I thought... Is that how this game is supposed to be played? When I'm an MC, am I supposed to offer up innocents for people to kill offhandedly, and then say "great" when they do it? There are a number of examples like that which left me scared to play. I wish there could have been some counter examples of people actually caring, and using the moves to do good things, like the ones Bret Gillan mentioned in post #7 up above, or maybe even the option for goodness built into the moves from the start, not only after I've made at least five improvements to my character and can advance the basic moves.
  • It sounds kind of like you want the rules to force people to be good.
  • So Vincent hast this idea about the mechanics (and all other parts) circling around, but not really directly addressing, what's important in the game. That's important so that the players can address it on their own. Basically, if you had a "roll to be good" mechanic, it wouldn't come out of the characters, it would come out of the system. That would make it less meaningful. Just as if you had a "roll to overcome your grief" mechanic in a game about grieving. See what I mean?
    Posted By: KayfallI think part of my problem comes from the casual sort of brutality portrayed in the examples of the rules. There's this one example that really sticks in my mind (on page 193, actually), where one of the players' characters is trying to sneak into an enemy camp, and she rolls to see if she can do so undetected. She gets an 8, so the MC gives her an "ugly choice," where a teenage guard spots her on her way in. He asks if she wants to kill him before he makes a noise, and she says, "Yes, duh." Just like that. So, then in response the MC says, "Great. You leave him dead and make your way in."
    The thing with this is: the PCs in my game wouldn't have done that. The MC thought it was a tough choice; the player didn't. This reveals something about the PC, however, rather than the game. Even if the game had a mechanic for helping people, this PC still would have shot this kid without any qualms. I think the point there is that what the MC might think of as a tough choice doesn't necessarily mean it is for the particular character, so you keep on probing to find out what the PC's limits are. What do they care about? What aren't they willing to do to get what they want? That's the kind of stuff that makes for interesting exploration of characters, IMHO.
  • edited July 2010
    Here's my take on the teenage guard:

    By putting the teenage guard there and asking what the player wants to do ("tell them the consequences and ask" right?), the MC is asking the player a question about their character. He's saying: "Hey, is your character the kind of person who murders people who are only vaguely involved in what's going on (the teenager works as a guard for a murderous fuckhead, but that could just be a bad-but-temporary lifestyle choice), just because they're in your way?" And the player has answered, "Yes, my character is exactly that kind of person." And that revelation is what makes the MC say "great," because he's supposed to be "a fan of the PCs" and also create situations to find out what happens and who the PCs are. He's not necessarily saying awesome to the murder itself, though murder in AW is often sexy and cool (everything is potentially sexy and cool and hard and sharp and weird in AW) as well as violent and terrible.

    It's a bit like that part in Dogs in the Vineyard where the characters make some sort of judgment about something and the GM is supposed to set up situations that ask, "What about now? Is that still the case even in THIS situation?" For example, maybe the Dogs decide that they don't shoot possessed people, because they can't control their actions and are innocent. Then, the GM can create an NPC who intentionally allows themselves to be possessed. Is it okay to shoot them? Or maybe there's a character who conducts a ritual specifically for the purpose of being possessed. What about now? The GM's job is to ask moral questions of the characters all the time, but the GM can't decide how the players ultimately choose to answer those questions or lay the heavy guilt hammer on the players for the choices they make, because the whole point of the game, in many respects, is to explore how the players answer those questions. Why would you want a situation where the players always answer your questions as you expect them to? A large part of the fun is in the surprise.

    So the MC legitimately doesn't know if the players will decide to casually murder a teenage guard, even though they might have some suspicions. The MC could even smile wickedly and say: "So you murder him, right?" Making the players sputter and say: "Uh... hmm.... no, NO! I try to sneak past him." And then the MC might go, "So, you're Acting Under Fire?" It depends on how much fuckery you're responding with, how hard you want to press the players with your hard choices. But if you're uncomfortable letting the players decide how to respond to situations, if you're going to be uncomfortable with the game if they decide to be a bunch of murderous fuckheads, then I think you probably have to solve that at the social contract level, because AW doesn't tell the players how their characters are supposed to act: it intentionally has no personality mechanics aside from the Key-like stat highlighting, to allow the players to make their own choices about the kinds of people they are. That said, I think you exaggerate the degree to which the mechanics encourage the PCs to be murderous fuckheads. Yes, you can use the moves to murder, rape, pillage, mindfuck, and destroy everything beautiful, but you can also use the moves to support and protect things that are deserve fighting for, as Bret gave you some examples of previously.
    Posted By: Kayfalldoes the goodness in your game interact with the rules, the moves, and the dice and so on? If so, how? Do you have special moves which help you do good things? Or do you use the moves as they are to do good things?
    We use the moves as written to do both good and bad things. The moves themselves are not morally-neutral, maybe, but they aren't heavily tilted towards evil. You could even decide, as a character, to only use your Brainer moves on people who "deserved it," but of course you would expect the MC to keep presenting you with opportunities to use them on all kinds of people.

    In the last session I played, my character Rose shot two people -- both murderous fuckheads -- who were trying to undermine her temporary leadership of a gang that she had inherited from Dog Washington, another PC. One of those wasn't even a move, she just shot this guy in the back of the head while he was distracted by an explosion. There's no doubt in Rose's mind that what she did was necessary to keep the gang together and preserve whatever good there is to be have out here in Apocalypse World.

    At the end of that session, we captured this guy Cricket who'd been shooting at us (Seize By Force, I think) and initially weren't sure what to do with him. In the end we decided to give him the train that we'd captured earlier (also a Seize By Force) and tell him to deliver food up and down the coast to people who needed it. So the result of all that violence was ultimately doing something really good.

    In another session, my character Lafferty went Aggro on the Lighthouse, this beautiful building of glass and gold, and Isle, this amazingly powerful witch-queen (at least in Lafferty's mind) who was brainwashing everyone into worshipping the Light, this crazy supernatural force that infected your thoughts. In the end, he ultimately destroyed the Light or at least prevented it from entering the world and controlling people's minds. So, again, violence used for a purpose that Lafferty thought was noble and true.

    Here's the thing, though. In all these cases, the MC hadn't really decided whether any of these setting bits -- the guys Rose shot, or Cricket, or Isle and the Light -- were good or bad, if they were "deserving" of death or not. He just set all these bits of setting out their in all their moral complexity. The Light, for example, made people feel really good and peaceful even as it invaded their minds. To Lafferty this made it even more seductive and evil, such that it had to be destroyed. But he also could have decided that it was a really great thing and tried to protect it and help it spread. Both of those were equally awesome choices as far as the game is concerned. And that's where AW really has its moral teeth. The players, not the MC, ultimately decide who needs to live and who needs to die, what things are worth doing and what things shouldn't be done, when killing is justice and when killing is murder. All of that stuff. And when they make a decision, the MC says "great," because we've learned some new stuff about the characters -- things that might change later, of course -- and that's one of the main goals of the game.
  • The examples in AW weird me out and here's why.

    The example characters share names and splats with characters from three different AW games Vincent ran for our group, but none of the actual examples are things that happened in any of the games. It would have been easy to use examples that happened in play, but Vincent didn't and that's his call, I'm sure he has good reasons for it. But I mean, yeah, I haven't seen a game with something like that "teenage guard" moment.

    Oh wait! We had a hardholder that murdered a pregnant woman and her unborn child because the pregnant woman went nuts and was cutting off her husband's hand. But the other character in the situation with him was like, "Dude, NOT cool," and interesting things came out of it.
  • Christian and Jonathan, thank you for saying what I was awkwardly trying to get at in much more eloquent and informed language. David, I'll be interested to see what you think of their posts.

    Also, David, what are some games whose mechanics interact with and support goodness the way you're thinking? Because I was thinking about it, and I couldn't come up with any that really did off the top of my head, other than the goodness being 'tacked on' the way you talked about earlier.
  • Okay now I'm all confused. But I'll go ahead and try to work out the questions in my head:

    I agree that MC shouldn't dictate what is right and wrong, and should try to find tough choices for the players to make, but I don't like that it considers whether or not to kill an innocent, have exploitative sex with someone, or a host of other options in the rules as tough choices. Those are not tough to me -- they're obvious. They're beyond my limits of what I want to roleplay about. I think the answer to "are you willing to kill this innocent person to get what you want?" is "absolutely not!" and if the game itself suggests we play with people who say, "yes, duh, I kill him" then something seems really wrong to me. The rules of the game as written assume that you're okay with the sorts of choices the rules usually give you, and I'm just not.

    It's not just about examples like that either, it's about the whole *slight tilt* of every move towards brutality and exploitation; it adds up to a lot. All of you are right that I can do positive things in the game, but unless I want to threaten force, use force, seduce, manipulate, or read the people or situation for weaknesses to exploit -- all in the name of trying to do something morally good -- then the only option I see among the basic moves is Do Something Under Fire. It's the only real morally neutral basic move there is at character creation.

    I mean, it's not like I want Vincent to add in a move like, "when you want to Spread Happiness and Love, roll+kindness... on a 10+, give everyone a hug and hold 3 joy." No! I just want more options like my move "Enlighten" above, which could be good or bad depending on what my character is trying to teach. Or maybe a move that says something like, "Deal with a problem indirectly," which is morally neutral as well.

    I don't know. Maybe it's just a social contract issue. Maybe AW just isn't my game. I'm not saying it should be, since clearly other people are happy with it -- I'm just pointing out something which wasn't obvious before about where my problems with it are. Thankfully, I love the core principles of the rules, which are eminently hackable, so I can have a try at designing moves I'm comfortable with.

    As for jprussell's question about what sorts of games address goodness without it being "tacked on"... I'm not sure. The question of how to make a game's mechanics interact with and support goodness is a really tough one, and none of us have come up with a perfect answer yet. I think many general games such as Fate, try to be absolutely neutral in terms of morality in the rules, while a lot of story games people talk about here don't allow neutrality as an option. Vincent's idea to circle around what's really important (such as goodness) rather than address it directly is a useful contribution that has helped me a lot. It helps us stay away from false moralizing, and yet at the same time I have problems with his implementations of it. Maybe the game I'm looking for hasn't been invented yet, but who knows? I'll keep looking.
  • edited July 2010
    What I get out of David's posts is this: "wow, Apocalypse World is darker than I expected."

    Which is not only fair enough, but really fair.

    Yes, its moments of grace are crucial, but yes, they're few and they're hard to come by. I don't give them to you, you have to find and make and seize them as best you can. David's right. For a game about hope, it is pretty damn dark.

    -Vincent
  • Posted By: KayfallI think the answer to "are you willing to kill this innocent person to get what you want?" is "absolutely not!" and if the game itself suggests we play with people who say, "yes, duh, I kill him" then something seems really wrong to me. The rules of the game as written assume that you're okay with the sorts of choices the rules usually give you, and I'm just not.
    Cool, David. Like Vincent says, this is a different issue than the one I was talking about above, but also a totally legitimate one. Your last post made it much clearer to me what your concerns were, so thanks for that. If you don't want to play in a game in which it is okay -- social contract wise -- for the players to say "yeah, my character murders this semi-innocent person," then, yeah, maybe you want to hack AW rather than play it straight. It does tend to bring out the darkness in people, which makes the moments of grace more powerful, I think, but if that's not what you're looking for in your roleplaying experiences, then there are still ways to play AW-hacks (Dead Weight, Apocalypse D&D, other stuff, something you create) that lets you enjoy a lot of the cool stuff AW does without the brutal violence and fucked up emotional stuff that you find problematic.
  • Thanks Vincent and Jonathan. I get what the game means to you all a lot better now, and at the same time understand my own reaction to it better too. That's why I posted, after all.

    AW makes my mind explode with all sorts of new ideas -- can't wait to read more about what more people do with it!
  • There are, of course, also lots of great story games out there which are very hopeful in nature, like The Shadow of Yesterday or Spirit of the Century, so you may want to check some of those out (if you haven't already).
  • I don't think there's any inherent morality to the game. It's about making people who are real and behave as they would in a fucked-up world. Sometimes people are noble, sometime's they aren't. There are no status quos, right?
  • Thanks Paul. I bought The Shadow of Yesterday and I like it a lot, but it didn't grab me the way Apocalypse World has. TSoY has lots of rules and mechanics that I like to hack on to other systems (especially Keys), but the rules of Apocalypse World make me fall in love hard with the system, and yet feel as though my experience is still not complete, such that I've just got to hack and hack and hack until I'm satisfied.

    I never played Spirit of the Century, but I have played Fate a little bit. The idea of invoking aspects has also grabbed me and stayed with me no matter what game I play, but for some reason I could never got the hang of compelling aspects. Whenever I tried it just sort of felt arbitrary. Apocalypse World's "MC moves" on the other hand, make sense to me right away -- it's as if they're just a way of clarifying and improving what I've been trying to do all along in every other game I've ever run. My GMing style in any game I ever play will be improved because of MC moves, because now I can logically approach the fiction of the game in a way that I could only do by intuition before.

    I hope what I've written in posts up above is clear. The setting and darkness Apocalypse World are not for me, but I love the heart of the game. I'm not an unhappy customer -- I'm a customer who has become fascinated by the problems he sees in his favorite product and wants to be part of a community of engineers who work on such things in order to learn and find new solutions.

    I'm sure that whatever game I GM next will be a mix of all these games we've mentioned, and more.

    (and p.s. to skinnyghost: I do see an inherent morality to the game, as I've written about above. Even Vincent admits it's really really dark. But you're right, there are no status quos.)
  • David,

    Do give The Shadow of Yesterday a try: it's easy to use those mechanics in any setting (it doesn't have to be the world of Near), and a great and truly time-tested game.

    And also check out all the Apocalypse World hacks over at Apocalypse World forums--some seem much more optimistic in tone than the original (maybe most of them, in fact).
  • All I can do is add my voice (perhaps more unequivocally) to the chorus: Apocalypse World absolutely, totally supports PCs making positive moral decisions.

    It also establishes very clearly that, after the Apocalypse, acting morally is hard, and consequently most people don't do it. And I don't mean hard like 'the target number is very high' I mean hard like 'what does good mean, here, exactly?' If you are criticizing AW from the point of view of situations where the choice is to kill an innocent person or not kill them... that's just not the game. Deontological Ethics 101* will only take you so far in this game, and that's what makes it so morally interesting.


    * "No, I just don't kill innocent people! Because it's wrong!" etc.
  • Posted By: KayfallI do see an inherent morality to the game, as I've written about above. Even Vincent admits it's really really dark. But you're right, there are no status quos.
    Kayfall,

    I think that it's important to note that something being dark doesn't mean that something is immoral.

    In my play of Apocalypse World, I've seen characters do amazingly brutal things, but also amazingly beautiful things.
    The game walks you towards ugly conflict because the world is comprised of ugly conflict.

    There is no magic "do good" button. There is a magic "do violence" button.
    That makes inherent, immediate sense to me. That's how the world works, both Apocalypse World and Real World.
    If Dog Head is hording water, how easy is it to enlighten him to the joys of sharing and equality and communal access?
    Damn hard. To communicate a viewpoint and find a harmonious common ground isn't something you can just roll dice on.
    It's something you have to spend a lifetime working for. In the real world, I can attest to this as being a truism, and I'm sure you can too, at least to some degree.

    How easy is it to work Dog Head's ego, or his paranoia, or that stuff in his pants, or his heartstrings... and get the water shared that way?
    Easy. In fact, you've got odds good enough to roll dice on, my friend.
    Manipulation and force have such rich immediacy to them. In the real world, in apocalypse world, always.
    And the messy thing is: you can use manipulation and force for good! You can get Dog Head's water into the throats of the people!
    You can do in an instant with violence what would take a lifetime with kindness and vulnerability.

    Apocalypse World could be seen through this lens: in a world where things have gone to shit, and you've been handed shit tools, what next?
    Do you believe in the importance of honesty and sincerity and love and selflessness?
    Yeah, good, me too.
    Do you believe that that shit's hard to accomplish in a violent world?
    I do. Apocalypse World seems to agree with me.
  • Earlier tonight in AW my character saved the town. (I'm the savvyhead in Bret Gillan's game.)

    Matt
  • This has been an awesomely interesting discussion so far. Every time I think I got it figured out, one of you comes along and shares an aspect I hadn't thought of before.

    Paul: Yes I will spent more time with TSoY, on your recommendation. Thanks. :) Also, I see there are a lot more hacks on the AW forums than I had seen previously! I'll check them out.

    McDaldno: I think I get what you're saying here in a way that I haven't really understood from what others have said so far. To clarify, I wasn't saying that playing or running AW itself was somehow immoral, only that, as you said, the rules tend to encourage immoral behavior on the part of your characters. "There is no magic 'do good' button. There is a magic 'do violence' button," is my point exactly.

    And you're absolutely right that the real world doesn't necessarily provide us with magic "do good" buttons either -- so in that way the rules of AW sort of reflect this aspect of real life, that you may want to do good, but doing it the "good way" is just so hard and time consuming, that you have to wonder if it isn't better to do good the "bad way" just for the sake of efficiency. Sometimes it may seem that there is no good way forward that actually works. It's incredibly hard at times. Absolutely.

    I guess a part of it comes from my own experience in life, where I feel as though I actually have picked up some "do good" moves that work. They're definitely not "buttons," in the sense that they don't work every single time, but they're "moves," they work sometimes, and when they don't, there tend to be similar sorts of consequences that I can learn from. The move "Enlighten" I suggested up in post 5 sort of reflects one of these, and as I reflect more and more on this topic and this game, more different sorts of ideas come to me.

    I want to play a game with these "do good" moves in it because that's part of who I am, you see? That's really the beauty of the AW system I think, that you can create moves to suit your own experience of what a person can do in life, and what the consequences of your actions might be. After a few years, will I still be limited to the same moves I can imagine now? Absolutely not. Perhaps in a few years I'll be playing AW as it is, and you'll be playing my hack of it.

    On the other hand, if I could join a game one of you was running now, even of AW-as-written, I would. I'm now curious enough to find out for myself if I could enjoy the game or not, and maybe if I could experience it with the right people it would really work for me! All I know is I can't MC it right now... but perhaps I could be a player.

    I live in China though. I would have to play over Skype or something. And time zones. And scheduling. One day, perhaps.
  • edited July 2010
    If I'm reading this correctly, the ungiven future experience option you're talking about, on page 182-3, it says "retire your character (to safety), and create a new character to play." This doesn't seem to mean retiring some other NPC in the story to safety, only your own character. It's questionable whether this is really a sort of kindness, or just not wanting to feel as though the effort you put into the character goes to waste because the MC kills it off.

    Nah, that's not what he's talking about, he was talking about the expanded moves where you can turn NPCs into allies. EDIT: pg 186-187

    AW to me, is less about how you think the game plays out morally and more about what you do with it. If you're playing the game and you find yourself thinking "Man, this is really violent and bleak", to me, that says more about you and your group than the game. And I think that's an intentional part of it's design.

    The game pushes you toward violence. Is that what the game's about, though? It is if you give in to violence, becoming another threat. As PCs, you guys are the only ones, mechanically, who can rise about their selfish, base nature. No one else in the world can; they are ALL threats, to themselves and others.

    I also think that people are focusing too much on the mechanics; ninety percent of any game happens at the table. Another way to look at it is that if the moves are violent, that means that violence is the only thing you can FAIL at. Everything else, if it's not a move, just happens. Do you want to give that family a shit load of barter-able goods? No roll, it just happens. Want to kill them? Now, you have to roll and with that comes the possibility of failure.
    I made up a custom move for my own AW hack called "Enlighten" in which you roll the dice to try to teach someone something, to share with them an insight you have. If you roll high, the person really understands you, but whether they agree or not is up to them, if you roll a modest success, the person mainly understands you but also has some misunderstandings and might mess up actions they take based on your explanation of things. If you roll low, then the person you're talking to totally misunderstands what you're trying to get and negative consequences follow. That's the sort of thing that sometimes happen in life, when people are trying to do the right thing but sometimes it doesn't work.

    Why can't you do this in the game as written? AW is much more hopeful than this because it just works! Just tell someone your idea! In your version, a much more bleak version, people have such problems communicating ideas that it requires a roll, with most of the percentage chance focused on misunderstanding. That's pretty damn bleak.

    In short, yes, the game's obvious options ARE violence, much like the obvious options in a world without reason or law are violence. Is that what you're doing with it? Is that the road you'll take?

    Violence is obvious, but kindness is easier.

    Hmmmmm.
  • Putting "do good" moves into the game risks making those things ("doing good") much, much less interesting. Apocalypse World seems more about the struggle to turn bad means into good ends--and that's the real creative and moral challenge. Mechanizing acts of good could make them that much less interesting to explore.

    Still, it's worth a try! I think it could be done, if done carefully.
  • Last night Ozair built a wall of sand and lightning rods to protect the town from a firelightning storm. Sorrow got his cult to assist with the building of the wall. Proust provided covering fire for him as raiders were attacking and preventing the wall's construction. They each took some bullets for it. Also, Ozair dragged a wounded raider out of the fray and healed him, keeping him from dying.

    Between the three of them, they successfully kept the entire town from burning alive.
  • Posted By: Paul T.Putting "do good" moves into the game risks making those things ("doing good") much, much less interesting. Apocalypse World seems more about the struggle to turn bad means into good ends--and that's the real creative and moral challenge. Mechanizing acts of good could make them that much less interesting to explore.
    +1. I agree with this concern. It isn't an absolute, but it is a concern that should be considered.

    Especially if caring & doing good is an important part of your life/worldview.
    Posted By: Ice Cream EmperorIt also establishes very clearly that, after the Apocalypse, acting morally ishard, and consequently most people don't do it. And I don't mean hard like 'the target number is very high' I mean hard like 'what does good mean, here, exactly?' If you are criticizing AW from the point of view of situations where the choice is to kill an innocent person or not kill them... that's just not the game. Deontological Ethics 101* will only take you so far in this game, and that's what makes it so morally interesting.
    +1.
    Posted By: KayfallI made up a custom move for my own AW hack called "Enlighten" in which you roll the dice to try to teach someone something, to share with them an insight you have. If you roll high, the person really understands you, but whether they agree or not is up to them, if you roll a modest success, the person mainly understands you but also has some misunderstandings and might mess up actions they take based on your explanation of things. If you roll low, then the person you're talking to totally misunderstands what you're trying to get and negative consequences follow. That's the sort of thing that sometimes happen in life, when people are trying to do the right thing but sometimes it doesn't work.

    I think some would argue that a nice guy move like "Enlighten" isn't at all part of the post-apocalyptic genre, but I think it's an essential part.
    Enlighten is brilliant, for the record, in my opinion.
    The 7-9 consequences are a bit soft, but some more stern wording would tighten that up, no problem.

    The reason Enlighten is brilliant is that it's about manipulating people to get them to do what you want.
    What you want is for them to see the light, something they wouldn't have wanted without your guidance.

    You're leading them by their hearts and heads, which is what Apocalypse World is about.

    Enlighten is generally the same as Manipulate*, but with a much subtler set of repercussions. The repercussions of Enligthen are "and they go forward and barf forward misinterpretations upon the world", and that is the stuff that both post-apocalyptic fiction and good fiction in general are built out of.

    *for serious. You can use it in the same tone, with the same intent, with the same actions, towards the same end goals. The differences are in the repercussions of a less-than-10 result.

    So, if this is what you mean by "do good": risk damaging social fabric while guiding people towards your vision of the world... you're looking at exactly the right game for it.
  • Posted By: Bret GillanLast night Ozair built a wall of sand and lightning rods to protect the town from a firelightning storm. Sorrow got his cult to assist with the building of the wall. Proust provided covering fire for him as raiders were attacking and preventing the wall's construction. They each took some bullets for it. Also, Ozair dragged a wounded raider out of the fray and healed him, keeping him from dying.

    Between the three of them, they successfully kept the entire town from burning alive.
    Ahem. I believe it was an *electrofire* storm. I would have had to deal with a firelightning storm in a totally different way!

    Matt
  • Damn. I've been reading this thread hoping that DWeird would drop in and post about The Kid.
    We played a game in #playnow that strongly focused on the conflict between my character (A Gunlugger who thought he was a hardholder) and his character (A 16 year old Operator who's "brokering deals" gig involved trying to get the local communities to cooperate and work together).

    My character was a horrible person. I committed atrocities in almost every session and became a terrible villain just by trying to solve all my problems by siezing things by force, and it was damn easy the whole time.

    DWeird had to struggle for EVERYTHING, and he even complained about how hard the rules made it to do good in the world.

    However, in the end of the game, I lost everything I had worked for when I blew up the hardhold and the farms just to keep it out of the hands of the army of mutants (who The Kid tried to arrange a peace treaty with, despite my psychotic reaction) and The Kid managed to create the first meaningful spark of hope in the world since the apocalypse occurred.

    I know I'm really just echoing what other people have said, but I really believe (based on my experience) that the dark and brutal nature of the world as described by the mechanics exists to say something really powerfull and meaningfull about hope and goodness, not just to revel in darkness and brutality.
  • Posted By: ChristopherNah, that's not what he's talking about, he was talking about the expanded moves where you can turn NPCs into allies. EDIT: pg 186-187
    Yes, that. I know it's going to sound weird, but this is the one thing that most got my attention in the whole book. It's one mechanic that sums up my favorite Apocalypse World, Hokuto no Ken - everything else Kenshiro loves will be destroyed, and he'll do a lot of the destroying himself, but the two kids, Batto and Rin, are off-limits. They get to grow up and thrive no matter what else dies, and indeed no matter whose head explodes. He gets to be warm toward them, rather than having to project his Instant Murder Badass persona 24/7. The kids aren't Threats, they're off the Home Front, and the notional MC has to let Kenshiro have them.

    NOTE TO SELF: If I run an Apocalypse World game, I will circulate a list of my favorite episode/volume titles as a flavor bit. "TOO MANY DESERVE TO DIE!"
Sign In or Register to comment.