Apocalypse World: Separate Them

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From last night's game...

Jonathan's operator, Lafferty, goes to deal with one of his crew, a woman named Clarion that he sometimes sleeps with. She's climbed up on the water tower and has golden light streaming from her eyes. Lafferty was pretty goddamn certain that he had dealt with The Light once and for all, but no, he didn't -- Clarion is the bitter end of it. So up he goes.

He says, "I creep up behind her." (He's acting under fire. He blows the roll.) She turns her gaze on him and so he opens his brain to the Light, just like that. He rolls an 8, a mixed result. A wave of peace and contentment floods through him (he's felt this before). "You're in the light now. Everything is going to be alright," I say, speaking for Clarion. The choice is: accept the peace and happiness, or tear away from it, violently and for good.

Lafferty tears away. Part of him tears a bit (1-harm ap) and part of Clarion tears, too -- it's worse for her. Lafferty comes out of the Light and sees Clarion collapsing, blood streaming from her eyes, falling off the water tower. He lunges out for her. (He's acting under fire. He blows the roll.) She falls.

We all look at the picture of the island that shows the water tower. "That's pretty tall. I'd say it's 50/50 for her." Everyone agrees. We roll. It doesn't go Clarion's way.

They carry Clarion's limp body into the house where Lala the medic is. Lala works on her for a bit then comes out with the news. "Her head is messed up real bad. Her heart is beating and she's breathing, but that's it. She's not waking up. Ever."


A little later, Lafferty goes into the room where Clarion's comatose body is. He holds her hand. "I'm opening my brain," Jonathan says. "I want to try to find her, wherever she is. Can I do that?" Oh yes. Yes yes, I say.

Lafferty opens his brain. He blows the roll. I think to myself that my move is separate them, but I don't make it yet. He finds Clarion in a dark place. A between-world full of shadows and murmuring voices. She's lost, groping around. Lafferty goes and embraces her, tries to talk to her. She's confused. "I'm not supposed to be here," I say, speaking as Clarion again. "I want my mom."

Lafferty killed her mother a few days earlier. He never got around to mentioning that.

He tries to talk to her, but she's confused. "My head hurts," she says. "I don't like this. I want my mom." She kind of pulls away as if to go looking for her mother in the shadowy netherworld. I'm just about to bring my move to fruition.

"I let her go," Jonathan says. She disappears into the darkness.

Separate them.



Blogger Gregor Vuga says:  


Which brings me to: This would never have happened if Lafferty didn't care for Clarion...

During our last AW game my players never cared for anyone (ok, the Gunlugger cared for a *wheel* he carried around like a charm, the Brainer sorta-kinda cared for this little girl, but only when I brought her up, never on his own, and the Hocus was a misanthrope).

Any tips on how do I make them care? Except asking aggressively leading questions like: Who are you fucking? Who do you like the most? Who do you trust your secrets to?...

Blogger John Harper says:  

First, you can't make them care. If they want to play people who don't care about other people... well, they can. The Hx rules will fight them a bit, especially during chargen. The game can still be fun and all, it just won't be about caring for people, which means missing a chunk of the game. Kind of like playing D&D but not trying to get treasure.

So, no making them. What you can do is name everyone, make everyone human. Play your NPCs like people (they're all threats but they're not monsters). Make PC-NPC-PC triangles. Especially make NPCs vulnerable to the PCs as much as it makes sense to do so. Imagine the NPC who says, "Please don't hurt me," or "I don't know what to do." You'll already make plenty of scary badasses that ride in shooting, so that will take care of itself.

Think about those triangles and who is vulnerable to whom (emotionally too). It's okay if it takes time. AW isn't about crazy emo-stab one shots. It can build over time, and usually does in my experience.

Blogger Gregor Vuga says:  

Cool. Thank you!

Blogger Jonathan Walton says:  

Great post, John.

Gregor, Lafferty started out caring for the members of his crew for impersonal reasons. They were in his crew and he damn sure was going to watch out for his own. But over time they've become more personal attachments, with the possible exception of Amy, who hasn't had a lot of spotlight.

In comparison, Dusk started out not caring about anybody and just, in the last few sessions, has started being drawn more tightly into things.

To paraphrase Gillian Welch, time is a great revelator, but you do have to put the NPCs out there and make them real people; that's an important part of "make apocalypse world seem real," actually.

John created this ridiculous set of twin stone-cold killers, collectively named Tum-Tum, that Lafferty inherited from another gang that he took over. One died pretty early on and the other was still Tim-Tum, by himself. He loved killing random fuckers with a chainsaw, all the while cackling like a madman. He was a dirt-simple, predictable NPC that was really easy to love and when he got outright killed during the taking of Prospect (cannibal island) Twyla, John, and me were all kinda devastated.

Next week, we're gonna have a funeral for Tum-Tum and Clarion, even though Tum-Tum wouldn't have given a rat's ass. I can't wait.

Blogger Zac in VA says:  

So, uh, it sounds like my only Apocalypse World experience involved playing d&d without the treasure.
Moving vignette, by the way! :)

Blogger Hans Otterson says:  

These would go great in the final book as examples in the MC section!

Blogger mptklein says:  


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