Hope and Beauty in Apocalypse World

edited August 2010 in Story Games
I hope no one minds another thread about theme and tone in Apocalypse World, but I think this is different. Have a look.

Over in Jason Morningstar's thread about tone in Apocalypse World, Amnesiack wrote:
Posted By: amnesiackInterestingly, this thread is really making me think a lot about Miyazaki movies likeNausicaa of the Valley of WindandPrincess Mononoke. In many ways, those movies feel like "verdant wastelands" as someone put it, with lots of PC-NPC-PC triangles and non-horrifying-but-still-dangerous threats.

Also, the anime filmOrigin: Spirits of the Pastfits the bill signifcantly.
And no one really commented on it. We all agree the game can mean lots of different things to different people, and can be hacked into many shapes -- but could Apocalypse World, in its current form, really play out as a Miazaki movie? Whatever the answer to that may be, this comment immediately made me think of how beautiful those movies Amnesiack mentioned were, how sometimes bad things happened but the movies were basically about good people. But this was the exact opposite of my first impression of Apocalypse World, after reading it through the first time. In another discussion called [Apocalypse World] love and brutality I basically tried to argue that the game has doom and gloom, hate and brutality built into the very rules of the game, but tons of people wrote back to me saying, no, it's a game about hope! It was specifically written so that it wasn't just about screwing other people over. I tried and tried but couldn't see it at the time. Now I want you to show me.

What's the most hopeful, most beautiful thing you've seen while playing Apocalypse World? Tell me snippets of actual play that brightened your day, even if just a little.

Comments

  • Have you read the comic version of Nausicaa? There's a hell of a lot there that fits with Apocalypse World. Hope and brutality both. And the weird stuff, too.
  • You may not get a lot of response right away as as most people are just getting their campaigns underway and much of the hopeful/beautiful stuff tends to happen a few sessions in.

    I've seen a few in play and have a great example from a one-shot though. I'll get back to this thread when I can. Off to fight the frackin' toasters at the moment.
  • I just started a campaign, so as Matthew says I don't have much hope and beauty yet, but we'll see later on! Looking forward to this discussion.
  • edited August 2010
    Let me tell you about the Kid.

    The Kid started off as an NPC. Sammy, the Driver, was a reckless, destructive bastard, who liked to pick fights he really shouldn't, and ramp his car into the air so he could land it on his enemies. Once, when he had his brain open to the world's psychic maelstrom, I asked "So is there any line Sammy wouldn't cross?" And got, as my answer, "Sammy wouldn't hurt a kid." So of course his nemesis used a kid as a human shield. That's the sort of thing mindfuckers did, in the olden days of playtesting.

    The kid survived, even though it meant letting Balls get away, and thanks to the magic of the ungiven future, became a PC.

    At that point we skipped ahead a couple years, and the Kid was stylized as a diplomat, and peacemaker (operator with brokering deals, honest work, technical work, and a reputation as a smart kid with no-nonsense solutions to all problems that's really helped out everyone who has listened to him). And let me tell you, I made him struggle inch by bloody inch for every ounce of peace and friendship he eked out in that world. Everybody wanted to fuck over everybody else. Even with the expanded manipulate/seduction rules, there's only so much you can do, one person at a time? And this one time, he went to try to apologize to Barbarossa, another PC, for calling him an evil bastard or something like that, and found said PC warming himself by a bonfire made out of corpses of the villagers he and his gang just slaughtered. Seriously. That's what the Kid had to work with.

    But he still tried. He wasn't perfect, but he was definitely trying.

    The other thing the Kid was trying to do was find out what was beyond the world's psychic maelstrom. He had the expanded move, but not great weird, and couldn't roll that 12+ to save his life. In fact, trying it got him into more trouble than almost anything else, except that bastard Barbarossa.

    So in the final session of the game, all the PCs, who more or less all want eachother dead despite the Kid's best efforts, are in the same area, and there's guns blazing, and people dying, and I don't even need my fronts because they're all doing it to themselves, seriously, the Kid, ultimately, zigs when he should have zagged, rolled low when he should have rolled high, and bites the bullet.

    And the player goes "Hey, can I open my brain to the world's psychic maelstrom, in my dying moments, one last time?" And I say "Sure. Hell, new custom move, when you die, take +1 to opening your brain rolls."

    He rolls, with that +1, a 12, exactly. It's like the dice gods offering their final benediction to a life spent toiling almost entirely in vain.

    Wham! His spirit punches through the cloud of ash and smoke that have kept the earth in endless night and nuclear winter, since the Golden Age went up in flames. And a single shaft of sunlight, the first the world has seen in 50-odd years, falls upon his body, and green shoots sprout up out of the ground around him.

    Fade to black, roll credits, good game everyone and thanks for playing.
  • That is truly beautiful, Ben. Sad, too.
  • Gorgeous. Well played.

    The hope and beauty in the game I played in was the people in our holding honestly working together and trying to help our hard holder. We had rooftop gardens to harvest food from, and my angel would go around from hold to hold, helping folks.

    The brutality and beauty was that Cal spent his time bargaining and using his position to get folks to *not* kill eachother. There were so god damned few people left, each life really mattered. Then as we went on, a moment came when Cal had the choice to kill someone threatening the folks he cared about, the people in his hold. He took it. That small flame of hope died. Cal's story ended there.
  • That's really sad Emily. Could Cal have put this person is prison or something? Or was it a desperate moment where he had to either kill the guy or let his friends be killed by him? How did you feel when this happened in play? Was it depressing?
  • Posted By: BenhimselfLet me tell you about the Kid.
    I'm glad you told that story Ben, because if you hadn't I would have tried and done a shittier job.
  • Posted By: KayfallThat's really sad Emily. Could Cal have put this person is prison or something? Or was it a desperate moment where he had to either kill the guy or let his friends be killed by him? How did you feel when this happened in play? Was it depressing?
    It wasn't a big moment for anyone else, I think. Killing folks happens all the time in AW. But it was a long moment for me as I figured out how Cal responded, then pulled the trigger. It was sad, but it felt right somehow.
  • Interesting. So is this the theme of hope and beauty in Apocalypse World? Is it always sad and tragic and hopeless in any practical sense? Maybe that's why we feel it is so poignant, because it's hope against overwhelming odds, so unrealistic and yet so longed for that it feels sublime and transcendental?
  • What this thread really emphasizes to me is that everyone at the table has to work together to make the sort of Apocalypse World game that I was talking about in my original post in the other thread.

    The MC has to emphasize human NPCs who can be addressed in ways other than "kill or be killed". If the players are all about a better world and the MC keeps throwing them up against berserker cannibal rapists, it's not going to work.

    The players have to want to make characters who are trying to improve the world for more than just themselves and who are genuinely striving for hope and beauty. If the MC and two players want this, but the third player just wants to pile up the corpses and kick back while they burn, it's not going to work.

    So, I guess it's a lot easier to go dark/horrific, because a single person can easily inject that into the game. For anything else, you really have to have everyone working in sync. This matters a lot to me, because I will be MCing a game of AW starting in a couple of weeks, and one of my players has an extreme aversion to (as he puts it) "games that make him sad." I'm really hoping that I can facilitate a game that is as rough and tumble as I feel AW should be but without sacrificing hope and beauty. I'll check back in after we've started playing, and hopefully I'll have something to share.
  • edited August 2010
    @Kayfall: The "theme" of AW is what you make it. The game isn't the same thing every time. You play to find out what happens.

    "Play to find out what happens," is kind of the opposite of "play to impose your idea of a theme on the game."
  • Like John says, you really, really don't know what's going to happen. I love the way that the game so thoroughly surprises me each time I play.
  • @Amnesiack I dont think you need all the players on the same page about hope/violence. You just need people willing to stand up for what they want in the game and willing to push back if the other players are going for something else.
  • edited August 2010
    It seems to me that the MC still has a lot of influence over the tone, regardless of players' ideas. For instance, the MC of the AW game I currently playing in feels that post-apocalypse fiction is a subgenre of horror -- that's going to affect the tone a fair bit no matter what the other players decide. Mind you, in this particular game, out of five players, one's character is sort of feral (the Chopper), one's character is bugfuck insane (the Hocus) and one's character is both (the Brainer), so it's not likely that it would end nicely, anyway.
  • Our last game was full of hope and laughter!

    I don't know about beauty.
  • Posted By: JohnstoneHave you read the comic version of Nausicaa? There's a hell of a lot there that fits with Apocalypse World. Hope and brutality both. And the weird stuff, too.
    Nausicaa and Mononoke Hime are both in the Ludography! TRUE FACTS!
  • Mononoke Hime is, like, the perfect AW example. Maybe even better than Deadwood. Maybe.
  • Posted By: Vernon R@Amnesiack I dont think you need all the players on the same page about hope/violence. You just need people willing to stand up for what they want in the game and willing to push back if the other players are going for something else.
    I think it might work, or it might not. I mean, if the fate of the world comes down to Player vs. Player action, someone's going to win and someone's going to lose, right? And if the "wrong" (you know what I mean) character wins, there goes all your hope and beauty.
  • Posted By: skinnyghostPosted By: JohnstoneHave you read the comic version of Nausicaa? There's a hell of a lot there that fits with Apocalypse World. Hope and brutality both. And the weird stuff, too.
    Nausicaa and Mononoke Hime are both in the Ludography! TRUE FACTS!

    No, fuck that shit. The ludography lists "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)." That's the movie, not the comic. Recommending the movie is like recommending you play AW with only two playbooks ever, and no ungiven future. I'm not gonna do it. That comic is far more AW than any of his movies.

    Okay, rant is done.
  • Posted By: JohnstonePosted By: skinnyghostPosted By: JohnstoneHave you read the comic version of Nausicaa? There's a hell of a lot there that fits with Apocalypse World. Hope and brutality both. And the weird stuff, too.
    Nausicaa and Mononoke Hime are both in the Ludography! TRUE FACTS!

    No, fuck that shit. The ludography lists "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)." That's the movie, not the comic. Recommending the movie is like recommending you play AW with only two playbooks ever, and no ungiven future. I'm not gonna do it. That comic is far more AW than any of his movies.

    Okay, rant is done.

    What Johnstone says is truth.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: John Harper@Kayfall: The "theme" of AW is what you make it. The game isn't the same thing every time. You play to find out what happens.

    "Play to find out what happens," is kind of the opposite of "play to impose your idea of a theme on the game."
    I agree with you to some extent John, but I do think some themes are hard-baked into AW. Scarcity is one, conflict is another -- in particular, conflict due to desperation caused by scarcity is a part of any AW game, right?

    On the other hand, the game definitely doesn't tell you, "okay now shoot and kill everyone with as much gore as possible! muahaha!" It's more like, "okay here are some people, some problems, and some weapons, what do you do?" Someone who has an urge to hurt or manipulate others can do that relatively easily, and someone who wants to make the world a better place can try to do it with a lot of difficulty, and maybe succeed, maybe not. You start from a similar place in every game, but where you end up, nobody knows.
    Posted By: John HarperMononoke Hime is, like, the perfect AW example. Maybe even better than Deadwood. Maybe.
    How is that so? Can you elaborate?
    Posted By: amnesiackI mean, if the fate of the world comes down to Player vs. Player action, someone's going to win and someone's going to lose, right? And if the "wrong" (you know what I mean) character wins, there goes all your hope and beauty.
    I agree that the MC and the other players have a huge impact on the tone of the game. On the other hand, from the stories I've seen so far, the players who want hope and beauty in AW seem to be able to find it somehow, even if only in tragedy.

    Can anyone share more examples of actual play please? I do enjoy discussing all this in an abstract sense, but what I'm really looking for is solid stories of what happened while playing the game to inspire or uplift people in any way.
  • All right, I'll give an actual example of Hope and Beauty.

    Shelby and the Doc are a Driver/Angel combo who drive a battered, armored Ambulance from holding to holding. The Doc abides by the Modern Hippocratic Oath, especially this part:

    "Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God."

    She spreads not only healing, but she also tries to educate members of each holding, showing them things like basic hygiene, preventative care. She tries to bring light to a dark place.

    Shelby's role in this is to keep the Doc alive, and in doing so, keep hope alive.

    The Actual Play writeup is over here..

    Not all MC moves are horrible death awful, by the way. I mean, one of the Brute moves is just to tell a story. A landscape move is to reveal something to someone. It doesn't have to be horrible horrible horrible all the time. It even tells you not to do this in the principles "Respond with Fuckery and Intermittent rewards".

    Without some beauty in the game, the ugliness gets bland and boring. Sweet and Sour, right?
  • Posted By: Benhimself
    Wham! His spirit punches through the cloud of ash and smoke that have kept the earth in endless night and nuclear winter, since the Golden Age went up in flames. And a single shaft of sunlight, the first the world has seen in 50-odd years, falls upon his body, and green shoots sprout up out of the ground around him.

    Fade to black, roll credits, good game everyone and thanks for playing.
    My players asked about expanded moves today. I told them what it meant and how it worked, and gave a few examples. At the last minute, I remembered reading this, so I told them about it. They were blown away. I have not seen such pure delight and excitement in my players' eyes since I first pulled out the D&D 3.0 books and told them about this rad thing called roleplaying, ten years ago almost to the day.

    Thanks for sharing that, man.
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