Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The playtest documents are done. More or less. I've discovered that Google Drive's formatting is awful when it comes to bulleted lists, but that's okay for an alpha document. I'll shape it up for the next pass.

So, what's it look like?

Structurally, not much has changed. The work was in getting the details in there for a playable document of some sort. There are some things which need to be firmed up, but that's why it's an alpha. I definitely need to detail how a movie is expected to play out, but I also want to see what people do with it now. Plus, I need to run it several times on Hangout or something to help guide me on how I communicate that.

One interesting thing cropped up which reminded me a bit of Pendragon and, by extension, Before Iron. Obviously these are two different styles of gaming, but in both AMW and Pendragon you know how things end.

In Pendragon, this is specific: you know that Uther will beget Arthur, that Lancelot will betray him, that Mordred will slay Arthur, and that the dying Arthur will sail off on his little boat to his little imaginary island and everything sucks.

In AMW, this is more general. The good guy wins in an American action flick. He or she (it's almost always a "he", but I'm very into being gender inclusive in this project, even if the movies aren't; the Cynthia Rothrocks of the world deserve no less) is going to kill or capture the bad guy, get the love interest, and ride off into the sunset.

How do you make this interesting? It's not going to be for everyone. I've had players balk at the notion that they weren't going to wield Excalibur (I mean, you can play Pendragon that way, but I don't find it interesting so I didn't run it that way) or rule Britain. Others (most) thrived on it.

Pendragon took the tack that your knights were equal to the greats but different. The big stories were there as backdrop, but the stories of the PCs were running in parallel. So, no, you were never going to get Excalibur, but you might get Farfar the Axe of Jormungandr in Fairy Land or whatever. You might go to the Battle of Badon knowing that, in the larger narrative, Arthur is guaranteed to win. Which is lame, maybe, until you consider that what's not guaranteed is your PC's survival or glory.

In AMW, by contrast, one character is designated as the Lead. This rotates and you can't do it a second time until everyone else has had a crack at it. The Lead essentially has plot immunity. He or she can't die and is guaranteed to eventually kill the bad guy. I say "eventually" because the Lead absolutely can be beaten up, set back, and generally screwed with to make it hard. But the Lead can't lose.

The supporting cast, of course, can and probably should lose. I offer a mechanical carrot of 2 XP if a supporting character dies in the movie (which really isn't terribly punitive, since you just come back for the next movie), but even there, broad leeway is given to those characters in how and when they die. What drama demands comes first, mechanical doodads and notions of balance/fairness come second.

I like Vincent Baker's maxim that a roleplaying game is a conversation. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't have latched onto Apocalypse World as tightly as I have. So AMW is a conversation, too, but it's shaped differently than AW's conversation. What's going on is that we know how the conversation in each movie in AMW begins and how it ends, but we don't know what it looks like. We don't know how the AMW heroes know each other. We don't know where they are. We don't know how the big villain gets his or her comeuppance or even why it's deserved. That's what you determine in-game.

Interestingly, I feel that this overlaps with another AW engine project I've been testing, +Nathan Paoletta's World Wide Wrestling. It is, as you can probably guess, a pro wrestling game. Pro wrestling matches are scripted (what? NO!) and Nathan's been cooking up ways to acknowledge that while giving the players control of how things look. He's doing a good job of it so far, but I imagine it's challenging; at the least, it's challenging for me.

I'm going into this knowing that this is going to be completely uninteresting to some people. I'm totally okay with that! As my father-in-law says, it wouldn't do for everyone to like the same things. I do think that, because of this difference in what the conversations are like, it's important to be up front about the expectations and zero in on conveying how the conversation should ideally look once the blanks begin to get colored in.

That's really the most challenging part of the project. I'm mostly happy with the playbooks and Scripts. I'm generally happy with most of the moves, though I feel like there's a bit too much overlap in some of their outcomes. It's making sure a movie "looks" like a movie that's tricky.