AW convention demo advice

edited March 2011 in Play Advice
Sorry if there's a thread about this somewhere, please direct me to it.

Any advice for running a demo (or rather: presenting) Apocalypse World in a three hour slot at a Convention? Dos, don'ts, recommends, warnings, anecdotes?



  • You may want to look at Hatchet City.
  • Brilliant, Michael, thanks!
  • I've had the most success by running it as a first session, and telling the players that this is how a first session of Apocalypse World works. It's good to have some big nasty threats in mind that you can push on the group to give them something to work together against. You can also then finish up with a quick explanation of how campaign play would go based on that first session.

    Be careful about the characters you include. Some don't suit a one-shot well. In my experience the Quarantine in particular doesn't work well, but having lots of violent characters is just fine.

    I ran a convention game of Hatchet City one time, and that worked pretty well, but I think the first session approach is easier (for MC and players).

    See also: AW forum thread about con games
  • Mike, do you take a break to write up fronts, or how do you do that?
  • Per,

    I've played Hatchet City, and I don't think it's well-suited to a one-shot. When I said so to Vincent, he agreed: it's not intended as a one-session game but rather as an example of what a session of Apocalypse World looks like in the middle of a campaign: a snapshot of an AW game in progress.

    Hatchet City just has too much stuff going on in it; it's confusing for a focused scenario.

    That kind of approach, though, is fantastic (the focused questions used to create the starting situation). I've used it in my Lady Blackbird hack, and I'm planning to do a similar thing for an Apocalypse World one-shot, as well.
  • I just run a first-session, as normal. I tell them, "This isn't going to be a nice, neat one-shot. We'll get going, and it'll be getting really good when we have to wrap up." Everyone has been okay with that, so far.
  • That all makes sense - I found the thread on the AW forums about Hatchet City. I'm still not sure when/how you get time to prepare fronts.
  • This:
    Posted By: John HarperI just run a first-session, as normal. I tell them, "This isn't going to be a nice, neat one-shot. We'll get going, and it'll be getting really good when we have to wrap up." Everyone has been okay with that, so far.
    Although, writing up some Love Letters, hatchet-city-style, can be very helpful in kicking the session ahead a bit, pre-charging the situation, establishing a lot of relationships etc. in one go.
  • Per: You don't make Fronts for the first session. See the AW book, starting on p.124.
  • AH (light bulb) - I had 1st and 2nd session somehow melted into one in my head.

    Now I get it even more!
  • Yes. No fronts, but if you can grab a threat that comes up early on and make them a huge pressing danger OR a PC-NPC-PC triangle of chaos, that seems to help things hum along well.
  • Posted By: Paul T.I've played Hatchet City, and I don't think it's well-suited to a one-shot.
    I'll politely and entirely disagree.

    Worked perfectly for a one-shot we did and ended on a nice note using the optional battle rules with a large shootout with the Hardholder's gang against Ambergrease's gang and our Skinner taking down the Mindfucker miles away simultaneously to an epic conclusion.

    Everything is nice and tense from the get-go as far as situation thanks to the Love Letters (which have the additional benefit of showing off that mechanic).

    However, I will say I wish we had a Brainer.
  • When I ran Hatchet City I opened with a spiel about how this was like the middle game of a campaign so the love letters would cover what happened in the last few games and that not everything would be wrapped up nicely at the end. Then when the love letters moves were done I had each player take a few moments and decide what they wanted to do or accomplish in the game today and to play fucking hard for that.

    It worked really really well and was one of the best con games I have run, I was also lucky and had a rocking table too.

    - Colin
  • That's good advice, Colin.
  • My best one-shots have started like this:

    Joe: So, the world fell apart and now there's a psychic maelstrom raging just barely outside your perceptions. Everything is unstable and messy. We'll figure out the details as we go. Right now I want to know: who's in charge of this place? [Waits patiently for someone to say "I am."]

    Bill (a player): I am.

    Joe: Hm. So, like, when you say you're in charge of this place, do you mean that you own the place where you all live? [Tosses Hardholder onto the table] Or, like, that you have the biggest gang of goons, and everyone's scared of you? [Tosses Chopper onto the table] Or, like, that people turn to you for guidance and vision? [Tosses Hocus onto the table]

    Bill: [eagerly grabs at the playbooks, and begins weighing the options]

    Joe: Right, and, who's the thorn in his side? [nods toward Bill]

    Leah (a player): Oh, I am.

    Joe: Yeah? Like, you're working your own angles and constantly bidding for power? [Tosses Operator on the table] Or, like, you're that creepy headfuck that keeps reading his thoughts and controlling his emotions? [Tosses Brainer on the table] Or did you just mean that you do your own shit, and fuck the rules? [Tosses Battle Babe on the table]

    Leah: [immediately grabs for The Brainer] The headfuck option.

    Bill: I'm totally playing a Hardholder.

    Joe: Luke? What's your deal? [Tosses the rest of the playbooks on the table, and slides them all toward Luke]


    The actual questions being asked don't matter. In fact, I've probably never asked those exact questions. What's key is: if you're only playing for one session, you want to get to the PC-NPC-PC triangles and unstable power dynamics as soon as possible. That means that you open with provocative, leading questions.

    Those questions made a bunch of assumptions. In my experience, doing so has made for tighter one-shots of Apocalypse World. If you only have 3-4 hours to play, you want to have unstable power dynamics established within the first 15 minutes.

    Also consider ignoring the Hx rules. I don't think they're important to one-shots, and they're time consuming. Instead, let players highlight a stat for the player on their right. Give everyone Hx+1 with everyone else. You lose something, but you also gain 5-10 minutes to determine whether Roark manages to take out Tum Tum's crew at the end of the session, which is more important.
  • Joe's advice is good, I think.

    John Harper had a thread about doing a "operator + crew" type setup, somewhat a la Firefly, which sounded like another good way to do it.

    The problem with Hatchet City is a one-shot is a) there's just too much going on (I think there are, like, 22 NPCs in that scenario, and several geographic locations), and b) the characters could easily end up not interacting with each other.

    When we played it, we kind of forced everything into a climactic battle at the end to make it all come together (as Michael describes it working when he played it). However, for our group it felt railroady and unsatisfying, not a natural conclusion. I'd prefer something more focused for a one-shot, personally. More close connections between the PCs, more situations they're all involved in (ideally in different ways).
  • Posted By: Paul T.
    John Harper had a thread about doing a "operator + crew" type setup, somewhat a la Firefly, which sounded like another good way to do it.
    I often make the choice to omit the Operator from the options presented, altogether.
    I do that because the Operator's gigs tend to have a huge impact on where the session goes: one should either make the Operator focal, or not include it at all. IMO.
  • I like Joe's thing. A lot.

    I did an Operator + crew setup a few times. That worked. Starting with the moonlighting roll gets things moving very nicely. I imagine a Hardholder's wealth move or a Hocus's fortunes would work equally well.
  • Posted By: Paul T.However, for our group it felt railroady and unsatisfying, not a natural conclusion. I'd prefer something more focused for a one-shot, personally.
    Right on! I was just sayin' - I don't think it's unsuitable for a one-shot. Mileage may vary and all that. :)
  • Posted By: John HarperI like Joe's thing. A lot.
    Yep, actually, I think when you ran this for us at Gencon the game went really similarly and was presented in a similar way. Except I'll add an addendum to what Joe said that I think you should definitely take the 5 mins to figure out the HX. It's so important to the game in my opinion, and if you're just getting a taste you want that sugar, baby. I mean, esp cause of the sex moves.

    I just ran a one shot for my group last weekend, and did it like a "first session". But we made it a bit more elaborate. I did the set up the same as Harper and Mcdaldno, but after character creation we took a 10 min break, I asked someone to draw up a map of the town we were in, and I drew a map of the surrounding area setting up 3 locations nearby that we could interact with in the first session (exactly like Harper did in our game at Gencon, thanks!). It was the hill people to the west, Rothchild's fortress north, riverpeople to the east. It works well, cause it gives people a direction if they want to interact with those 3 loose threats. Also, when we drew up the town, we created opportunities for NPCs and conflicts. It was a Hocus run scenario, and they totally wanted to jump into converting the riverpeople to their cult!

    Also, one last tip. I kept notes. During that break I just wrote down scary things I thought would be weird to throw at them the first session that were indicative of the setting. Plague dogs. Androgynous river mutants with webbed fingers. Absinthe colored sky. Scary visions of a red tide (since we had a Hocus and a Brainer in play, I wanted a clear view of some scary visions of the psychic maelstrom). Then, when one of these things came up in play, I had a jumping off point to describe things.

    I kinda just stuck with the basic advice in the book too. I asked a LOT of questions during the character creation of every player, so I could determine how people saw their PC, and what I could throw at them that would be fun conflict in that short amount of time. That level of transparency I think really got it going. We were so involved in that first session, even though it was a one shot we could easily jump into more. It ran a bit longer than a typical con game would, but I could've cut it shorter with the same results, and stuck to a stricter timeline.
  • Ah, Kira, great point about the map and presenting opportunities. It's such an automatic thing for me, I forget to mention it. Making that map is huge, though. It drives play in a big way, as you say.
  • edited March 2011
    Regarding maps, I really like the way Fiasco uses sticky notes to create a spatial array of information. I wonder if you could use sticky notes to create a map and simply make new sticky notes as people mention locations/threats/etc.? You could then give each person a small apocalyptic token (e.g. spent bullet casing, scratched up coin, etc) to place in whatever location they are in (if people split up...).
  • Speaking of maps, Harper did something brilliant when he ran a one-shot of this at Gamestorm.

    He asked some questions, drew a map sketch, and said, "Okay, let's have all the events of the session take place within this map, okay?"
    I mentioned that I was a Chopper, and having places to ride out to was important, so he replied, "Okay, so, let's say that the scale of this place here is a couple city blocks of ruined buildings, okay?"

    It was a great framing technique. We went from Apocalypse World to Apocalypse Industrial District.

    I highly recommend finding ways to hone in on a particular play experience, as quickly as possible.
    One way to do that is to make one player The Operator, and the rest become The Operator's crew.
    Another is to draw a map and limit the action to that space.
    Another is to declare that someone is in charge, and someone else is a thorn in their side.
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