Saturday, 25 September 2010

Why Apocalypse World rocks

It has style
Apocalypse World oozes in style. The high-contrast illustrations, the words, the writing style... I can pick up a playbook and instantly know what Apocalypse World is about. Like, I see a picture of an  woman (?) in a welder's mask, and beneath the picture it says


in big, bold, broken letters. I flip it, and the back says

-The Gunlugger-
Apocalypse World is a mean, ugly, violent place. Law and society have broken down completely. What's yours is yours only while you can hold it in your hands. There is no peace. There's no stability but what you carve, inch by inch, out of the concrete and dirt, and then defend with murder and blood.
Sometimes the obvious move is the right one.
I open it up, and it tells me to pick moves such as Fuck this shit, Insano like Drano, Battle-hardened, Prepared for the inevitable, and NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH. 

I know what the gunlugger is about.
I know what Apocalypse World is about.
Let's play!

This style runs through the entire book, even when Baker speaks straight to the MC (Apocalypse for GM), and it just sets the tone and imagery for what kind of game this is.

Style is a underused aspect of game writing. By picking the right words, you will evoke images in your readers head, set up a vision of the game that is very loose but also very tangible. Excellent for improv games.

It's spot on
Vincent Baker has an eerie ability to point to exactly what is relevant, and then do just that.

In Apocalypse World, he points to dice-rolling and tells us what is relevant in that. We are given a list of moves that everyone can do. Act under fire, Seduce/manipulate, Seize by force, Go aggro, Read a situation, Read a person, and Open your brain to the psychic maelstrom.

This is when you roll dice.

All of them are supposed to be used in a charged situation, except for Open your brain, which can be used in a charged situation. All of them either opposes other persons, or help you figure out what you want to do (to oppose other persons)

Now roll. On a 10+, you get what you wanted. On 7-9 you basically get what you wanted, with some complications. On a 6 or less, you get trouble.

If it's not charged situation, and if it isn't the PCs doing things, don't roll, basically

What Baker tells us here, that is spot on, is when we roll dice, why we roll dice, and what should happen when we roll dice.
We only roll dice when it matters. We roll dice for the PC's agency, when opposed by other people's will. When we roll dice, it should add to the story, not just sucess-failure, but build on that.

My players quickly grasped this, and love rolling their dice.

It's queer
And not just queer, the whole of society is gone in Apocalypse World.

A human life isn't sacred anymore. A human life isn't secure anymore. Sure, we've seen post-apocalyptic people in stupid hairdo's and with stop sign shields before, in Mad Max and the entire genre... But still I got the feeling those were today''s people, dressed up. I get the same feeling from much of the fantasy genre: People in a historical setting, acting, thinking and talking like modern people.

The people of Apocalypse World are truely post-modern. Society, values, tradition, it all broke down, and you can tell people are lost, or rather they have lost the foundation for their lives. This is post-apocalypse I can believe in.

But my most favourite part of this is that it's also so queer. Names aren't gender-coded anymore, you can be girl named Bill, or a guy named Mother Superior, or Shit Head for that matter. Ethnicity, sexuality and gender aren't important anymore, their meanings are forgotten and lost.

Everyone has sex. With whomever they like. There are six genders to choose from, varying from playbook to playbook: Male, female, ambigous, transgressing, concealed, androgynous.

This makes my group play things we haven't tried before. It's exhilirating.

The characters rocks
Okay, I already showed you the gunlugger, which is the baddest ass. But there is also the Maestro D' who owns an establishment, the Hardholder who owns a freaking town, the Driver, the Hocus, the Battlebabe, the Operator, the Chopper... They all move on different scales - One of the players is a doctor, one is a mayor, and one is just a troublemaker - They all have their different kind of trouble and ways to influence the story - And it works! I can see why a Battlestar Galactica hack is in the progress - It's basically the same story structure.

All of these characters are evocative, sexy and awesome. (When the players want to play everyone and pick every move, you know that's a good sign.) And when you pick them up, you know what you want to do with them, what they are doing in this world, right away.

This mystifies me still - Just how do you write characters that players will pick up, and instantly be ready to act on, yet two people will play the Battlebabe in two different ways?

And they need to act. There's no status quo in Apocalypse World, and no story either. What we do is we follow the characters around and see what they do, see what happens to them, because they are dead sexy.

It's got the flow
And here's the big one.

Apocalypse World is how improv games should be written. Game is fluent, fast-paced, involving and fun. We consistently have flow when playing, and two sessions were all flow. That's something of a record for me at least.

And I knew it would. In a way, Apocalypse World was proof to me that my ideas where not totally off the mark, they were true - At least for my game. That was a great feeling.

In my follow-up post, I will analyse Apocalypse World with my Flow-er Model, and try to explain why it delivers in this aspect.


Part 1 of 2. Part 2 can be found here: Why Apocalypse World flows
Apocalypse World, the forums and the playbooks are here:

1 comment:

Arvid Axbrink Cederholm said...

Correction: Six genders, androgynous is in there too.

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