Tell me about PvP in Apocalypse World (and clones)

edited July 2012 in Play Advice
When I look at PvP moves for apocalypse world, they look clunky, compared to the moves vs. the environment. This has been my (limited) experience in play, too.

Have you tried different things? How has it gone? Have you been able to make it smooth?


  • IME, Apocalypse World isn't really built to do PVP all that well, at least in a "to the death" sense. The PCs are kinda like a post-apocalyptic family or the crew of a fishing boat or a military unit, in that they sometimes fight, but in the end they typically need each other for emotional and practical reasons. That said, the rules for just fucking with other PCs are great: seduce/manipulate, read a person, sex moves, tons of special moves (esp. Brainer and Skinner), etc. And the occasional go aggro is also totally awesome.

    Monsterhearts amps this general fuckery with other PCs up a notch, with the String economy and a bunch of other moves.
  • If you are reffering to the "manipulate or seduce" move, then it isn't clunky. They are constructed in a way that does not de-protagonize the PC targeted by the move, and at the same time moves the pressure from the character to it's player, which in turn I find as a very elegant solution.
  • A real fight is hard to wrap your head around as a new MC since you're trying to be fans of both players. But once it's to the point where they're seizing by force, you're still of course following the fiction, but you're likely to have them both roll to seize, both interfere with one another and apply both sets of results. It gets ugly pretty fast.

    When it was clunky for us, it was because we hadn't come to the conclusion that that's how to do it and we were trying to do other awkward stuff like take turns.
  • JWalt, can you talk about those other moves, what makes them work?

    Is there any room for a "fallback PvP" move the way act under fire is the fallback PvE move?
  • The fallback move for PVP is Interfere, generally. Roll+Hx, on a hit, they take a -2 penalty to their current move. 7-9, expose yourself to cost. It's basically Act Under Fire for PVP, like you say.
  • P.S. I'm happy to talk about those other moves, but "what makes them work" is pretty general. Can you say more specifically what aspects you are interested in?
  • RyRy
    edited July 2012
    Well, I really dig the back-and-forth elements of both In A Wicked Age action resolution (player-player) and AW moves (player-GM). In both you get this rolling thing that happens (in IAWA this is within the 3 round structure, in AW obviously there's no set number of actions but you have snowballing and natural downbeats).

    I feel like In A Wicked Age has a lot more sense of momentum / escalation in the player-vs-player moves, compared to the default interference rule.
  • PvP works fine if you just go by the rules. Players make their moves against each other. It gets ugly, maybe someone backs off, maybe someone ends up maimed or left for dead. But you're characters not going to die unless you're cool with that. Sometimes you don't even need to roll or make a move to PvP.
    For example Allison the hardholder invites Eternity, the Touchstone into her office to have a "talk" about those shotgun shells she stole back when we made our Hx moves. Balls and Satan lead her into the room and lock the door.

    Eternity asks Allison if she can perform a concert for the Hardhold. Allison delicately picks up eternity's hand, turns it over in her own, "Well thats going to be really difficult for you to perform with broken fingers."
    Allison spends a hold to to figure out how she can get Allison to let her perform a concert for the hard hold.
    Allison says "well when you're all healed up, you can have your concert." then leaves the room.

    In the next scene, Eternity is playing the concert using her cast as a slide. Notice that all of that PvP happened with only one move, and that was reading a person. The rest was just fictional positioning.
  • Ross' point is great. There's so many different ways to do it, since you can selective decide when to make which moves. Allison could also have totally rolled Go Aggro in that scene as well, due to her threats of violence.

    If you're still confused or uncertain, can I recommend an actual demonstration? Like a quick little play-by-post where we have two PCs go at it in a hypothetical situation? Probably easier to show than to tell.
  • Like I've said already, I don't know what kind of AW y'all guys are playing!

    ♥ "PvP" situations are just like any other scene! You don't need any special moves or special rules to do that.

    ♥ That you're a fan of all PCs is what makes it awesome to behold.

    ♥ Plus, as soon PCs start disagreeing, players roll to Interfere a lot (in addition to whatever else they're doing) and that's when their Hx scores with each other finally make sense!

    When you think about it, while all NPCs are, by default, threats to PCs, no NPC's got the mechanical weight to back up the threat — they're, at best, glass cannons. In the end, those "external" threats only exist to sow dissent between the PCs who, being the baddest asses around, are the only real threat to each other.
  • Hearts should be the default story-games bullet points, particularly in Apocalypse World related conversations.

    I've been playing around with a slightly more fiddly PvP system for my Paranoia AW hack that will never be finished. It works in a feedback loop similar to Poison'd. It's a bit of a mess, but I have my hopes.
  • Last game I used "retire to safety" to protect my character from imminent PvP attack. I agree with Rafu, every move can easily come to PvP if you need it too and the players are the greatest threat to each other. And when the players start to frag the community with their personal vendettas, I've always found the implosion beautiful to behold.
  • Funny, of the two full games of AW I've played, both last session involved one of the PCs using "retire to safety" to rabbit from a bad situation. We're heading into the final stretch of my current game. It'll be interesting to see if the same thing happens.
  • OK, to clarify let me say that I wanted to think about PvP because I wanted to use IAWA scenario generation that creates that quick conflicted situation among the PCs. But since that would increase the level of PvP, I wanted to make sure I had my head around making that smooth.

    Simultaneous seize / interfere rolls don't work for how I GM, it just reads like too many operations before I know what I'm supposed to say next.

    I don't have any actual play experience with AW PvP; both the time I GMed and the time I played we steered clear of that.
  • All the PvP I've seen in the AW games I've played has been of the insidious "I'm fucking with your plans" sense, rather than the "let's have a fight" sense. I mean, as an example - I took Fortune and Followers as an advance for my Hoarder because I can see the other PCs aligning together in a way I don't like. I want to gather leverage and protection in case I need to act on it.

    It's more about motivation than direct mechanics. I don't think there's any reason to think about specific "PvP scenarios" or anything. Good PvP leverages the system the same way "PvE" does.

    Compare and contrast World of Warcraft and Dark Souls for a CRPG example.
  • Ry, if you don't like Interfere, then I'm not sure how you make this work, since it's pretty core to how AW handles player-on-player conflicts. Maybe you don't really want to run AW in a "PVP" fashion then? Or, as you originally said, hack together a totally different means of handling it, which is totally possible. I mean, functionally, instead of Interfere you could always have the interfered-with PC roll Act Under Fire, where the fire is the other PC.
  • Ry,

    notice how PCs in AW are "the protagonists" by definition (we're supposed to be their fans), while PCs in IaWA are just that, characters that a non-GM player picked, but they're never warranted to be protagonists: what they have is a fair and equal opportunity to emerge as protagonists through their actions.

    IaWA gives you objective, "hands off" mechanics for direct, all-open PC-vs-PC action. What the GM does relative to circling and framing conflicts is not fundamentally different from what an AW MC does when creating PC-NPC-PC triangles and applying pressure through scarcity, just much faster (which is the part you say you want to port in from IaWA: instead of letting conflicts brew slowly in play, have built-in conflicts handed you from the setup). But! When PC-PC[-PC-…] conflict finally erupts, in IaWA, it only concerns those 2+ players, anybody else just takes a seat out of the ring and lets them work it out. Whatever comes from the conflict resolution, including permanent death of a PC, is fair: they brought it upon themselves, right? There are mechanical safeguards in place to ensure a conflict is a fair, balanced, equal opportunities sports match with very high stakes on it.

    In AW, we're never allowed that level of detachment. Because of the way Moves work, there is no warrant, ever, that a fight is a fair fight. Because of the way Moves and Harm work, among other things, the consequences of just about any direct conflict can be dire, and there's no layer of OOC buffer to undo them. No problem when it's PC-vs-NPC: the MC was already looking at them through crosshairs anyway, right? But then, in PC-vs-PC, since the PCs are the protagonists we all root for, no matter that we're playing to see what happens, we can't just accept any consequence from conflict resolution. Which in practice means that:
    ♥ interesting PC-vs-PC conflicts need to be long, protracted, slow-brewing affairs, with inconclusive battles being fought, truces being called and loyalties changing, friendships being forged before hatreds are rekindled.
    ♥ the MC has to maneuver for the above to happen. That is, since she is a fan of all PCs and wants to make their lives not boring, she has to employ her own moves with purpose to interrupt and delay PC-vs-PC conflicts, interfere with them, and mitigate the severity of any direct consequences PC suffer (preventing their death, usually) while, usually, making indirect consequences (on NPCs, property, hard-holds, etc.) as severe as possible.

  • Rafu, that response is awesome and insightful and I need to digest it more before I respond.
  • But then, in PC-vs-PC, since the PCs are the protagonists we all root for, no matter that we're playing to see what happens, we can't just accept any consequence from conflict resolution.
    This makes no sense to me. Sometimes being a fan of the characters means respecting them enough to let them die when the narrative and the dice say it's time.
  • Joe, you're absolutely right! But then, notice: "when the narrative and the dice say it's time". Sometimes it would be a disservice to your game and your characters if you just let anti-climatic stuff happen. We have to be satisfied that we are respecting the characters before we accept the consequences of conflict befalling them, that is, we pass an aesthetic judgment on the consequences (whereas in IaWA we pass judgment on the characters, a posteriori).
  • By narrative, I mean the actual factual stuff that's happening in the story at that moment, not the developing themes or arcs or any other such stuff. In our recent game, there was all sorts of interesting things happening with the Faceless and his opposition to a particular power group. Then he got shot up. But instead of laying low and licking his wounds, he put himself in another firefight. So he got killed. Because that's what happens when you're all shot up, and then get shot again. Good-bye interesting character. Good-bye emerging story.

    The disservice to the game is letting being-a-fan trump making-Apocalypse-World-real.
  • Isn't that where you warn the player? "If you do that, you're gunna die. Are you sure you want to do that?" If they say yes, then obviously it was interesting and "right" to them to let them die. Right?
  • Yes, there's lots and lots of announce future badness, and hard choices.
  • Yes, yes, and yes to everything you're saying, guys. And see? The example Faceless totally got himself killed because he totally chose to took that risk - it made sense dramatically besides making sense fictionally and mechanically, ok? If the player had not wished to risk, the Faceless would have been "laying low and licking his wounds" — because in AW you have absolutely no mechanical recourse against fictional risk (I'm exaggerating a little, as PCs have a bigger Harm track than NPCs and effectively have 3/4 extra "lives" through debilities, but still). As a protagonist, he chose to risk his life, because it was worth it. Just like, you know, when you choose to escalate to gunfight in Dogs, yeah?

    Compare with IaWA:
    ♥ PC is not assumed to be protagonist from the get go — can turn up to be or not;
    player has no option to have the PC "lay low and lick wounds" 'cause of the way the GM frames right in their face plus the other PCs (and NPCs, as well!) being out to get them (Best Interests);
    ♥ declaration of conflict is always optional: you can instead say "yes" to whatever humiliating shit the others are putting you through (mechanical recourse, layer one);
    ♥ if you go into conflict and lose, you still are in a position to negotiate, somehow: you can suffer wounds, or if you can't or wouldn't you can instead swallow some other sort of shit your foe wants you to, usually (mechanical recourse, layer one);
    ♥ you can die (a) if you say yes to it, (b) if you're wounded/exhausted multiple times or (c) if you agree to it post-conflict: effectively, a PC can only die if their player is OK with it or if another player makes it their relentless purpose to kill them;
    ♥ if you stood in the face of terrible odds, hey, maybe we retcon you into a protagonist in the end.
  • When PC-PC[-PC-…] conflict finally erupts, in IaWA, it only concerns those 2+ players, anybody else just takes a seat out of the ring and lets them work it out.
    This is critical, and actually in my In A Wicked Age games this is where it's gone off the rails. When there's no one who's job it is to keep it real, these conflicts get really weird. You get the deaf-blind-chained-to-a-rock ninja problem where someone doesn't want to give but their victory doesn't make sense. Or you get the "I thought we were in anime physics" vs. "I thought we were in Game of Thrones physics" problem. I'm attracted to Apocalypse World in the first place because I'm interested in solving / ameliorating that problem.
  • So Rafu, I want to show up to a session without and generate a situation fast, often with brand new characters, and get right to the drama, but I want to keep the world more consistent moment to moment.

    Do you think I'm barking up the wrong tree?
  • Do you think I'm barking up the wrong tree?
    Not in the least. I believe what you're trying to do can maybe better be described as "playing IaWA but with AW resolution" (as opposed to "AW with IaWA-like setup"). Which is done, IMO, by retaining AW as your vocabulary, but writing down your own set of Principles for the game based on IaWA.
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