Apocalypse World: Inspiration

Last night and this morning, I was seized by a setting for AW, a setting that excites me. It’s a very specific vision at its core, but with lots of easy messing.

The core is the Central Valley, post disaster. Like normal AW, we’ll play to discover what happened, etc. But some elements will be stable, part of the pitch.

The core idea is that it’s our topography–though minus today’s functioning dams, so we get back Tulare lake, etc. Lots of marshy areas return, but the lack of groundwater (due to current and anticipated pumping) remains, so everyone’s dependent on catchments.

The weather’s like today but worse. Winter brings back dense Tule fog everywhere, with a side of ashy grit. Spring and fall are each a seized month of bliss, before temperatures head over 100 for months. (Basically, today + humidity from the surface water, without a/c, with some climate change to add 5-10 degrees.)

Play will focus on the little towns; Fresno/Clovis and Bakersfield are gone and barren, irradiated. Hell, maybe every city with a population of 20,000+ on this list is gone–burned in the troubles. Assume that everything built post 1970s won’t work. In AW, it was built to fall apart, like fireplaces as decoration rather than useful heat sources.

Diaspora: Gathering Resources

What is Diaspora? It’s a science fiction game, a little less fantastic than Star Trek or Star Wars. Ships still spew reaction mass to travel, it’s a world without transporters and replicators (*probably). The short hand was “Traveler with Fate” — so a modern, less cumbersome system, in a traditional GM & Players role, but without 1970s roleplaying tech.

Basically, it’s useful for a universe somewhat like Firefly with slightly more “realistic” (or just different) ship limitations. In the first session, we’ll generate a cluster of 8-10 or so systems that are close enough for trade and travel. There’s a cool methodology that uses random prompts to encourage us to each create worlds, then link those worlds together with a rough diagram of history, trade connections, etc. Cluster generation is collaborative–we each create the worlds together at the table.

Then we make the characters, who will (probably) become a ship crew that travels between systems. The default idea is that you’ll be independent merchants traveling the black, slipping between systems to turn a profit–but maybe you’ll be explorers, or diplomats trying to defuse the cluster’s crises, or even “archaeologists” exploring the ruins of collapsed cultures. (We might make characters in the same session that we create the cluster–or it might be the second session if we get elaborate with the cluster generation.)

Now that we have the characters and the universe they’ll explore, we’ll launch into play.

Some resources:
Diaspora G+ community
VSCA’s Diaspora page. Which includes the Diaspora SRD, if you’re interested… plus a number of quick references.
Astrobit Diaspora play aids
Diaspora files on BGG
Atomic Rockets, and their common misconceptions page.

2011 Cluster Generation at RPG Meetup
Harmonium Cluster
Labcats play Diaspora
Angels and Omens campaign sessions, campaign setup
A pocket full of star dust

BlueMax Studios, Diaspora

NPCs you’ll meet while traveling
Ship with token
Spacehabs mostly cool pictures of space habitats
Random prompt: Aunt Chelsea’s planet
Colors of Blood Earth chemistry discussions
Cool spaceship illustrations
Simple world building from tectonic plates through wind cells and climate zones
Fate SF
Notes on Engineering Goals of Starship Designers

Background info on Stars
Star Gen
Random Star System generator.
Orion’s Arm stellar links page.
Planetary map generators

Mage: Prepwork 1

The last thing that I want to mention is the five questions that are the main part of character creation. These questions get to the root of the character. What does the character want, what do they appear to be, what are they really, what brought you into the world, and what just happened to you. These questions a designed to give you a lot of freedom to design your character and a lot of hooks for the game master to tie the character to the setting and to drive the story.

King Brion’s Heir deconstructed PCs

I’m going to create the PCs as three “snap together” segments to create a complete character. The idea first came to me when planning out my Spirit of the Century game, but I realized that I’ll work well too for this–and prevent me from falling into “it should follow the novel” expectations. I’ll pass out blank character sheets and

Core Concepts

  • High Concept: The Rightful Heir
  • Trouble: Precious, but still a kid
  • Skill: Empathy +4
  • Stunt: You’d be a fool to cross me: +2 Provoke when overcoming opposition by reminding them that you’ll soon be king.
  • High Concept: Deyrni Duke (or Duchess)
  • Trouble: Reviled by the Church
  • Skill: +4 Deyrni Power
  • Stunt: +2 to Notice Deyrni Power manifestations
  • High Concept: King Brion’s Brother
  • Trouble: Obligations to the Throne
  • Skill: +4 Fight
  • Stunt: Leader of Men: +2 to Rapport with Pages, Squires, and Knights trained at Rhemuth.
  • High Concept: The King’s Confessor
  • Trouble: The Episcopate has many demands
  • Skill: +4 Rapport
  • Stunt: +2 Stealth to avoid the notice of your superiors.
  • High Concept:
  • Trouble:
  • Skill: +4
  • Stunt:

Strong Elements

  • Aspect: Deyrni Halfblood
  • Skills: Lore, Deyrni Power +3
  • Stunt:
  • Aspect: Hidden Deyrni
  • Stunt:
  • Skills: Deceive, Stealth +3
  • Aspect:
  • Stunt:
  • Skills:
  • Aspect:
  • Stunt:
  • Skills:
  • Aspect:
  • Stunt:
  • Skills:

Recent finds

Simple World, a purpose built Apocalypse World hack for one-shots.

FAE con “pregens” — an excellent technique. I can’t get no…

Making characters was fun. I didn’t want to do full char gen at the Con, even with a simple game like FAE. Too long, or more likely, choice paralysis. Nor did I want to do full pregens as a big part of Fate’s fun is the group making the decisions. So I mooted a card based idea, and ran with it in the end. I wrote 6 high concepts onto cards and let the players pick.

This got great buy in straight away. None of this is set in stone and I deliberately wrote Aspects with flex in them. Then, Troubles, on another six cards, and again with plenty of flex and some obvious conflicts written in.

At this point the players were brainstorming away and looking at each other’s picks. This was a big plus for me. Usually with pregens, players are so intent studying their own paper that they don’t pick up on the other PCs. With this, everyone was super aware of the party, all of it.

Then I put out some rules in the form of some pre picked Approach numbers, written on cards, taken straight from the FAE book. (see page 10). Easy. Then I killed the entire party.

Gaming After Action Report 8/16

Lessons Learned

  • A good group of people makes for a good night, even if the game derails–or never includes a moment of interesting challenge.
    • Self: You know how you write against bait and switch game pitches? Then you provide half a setting, leaving out the twist? Prime example, dude!
  • If you don’t take the time to get everyone on the same page, you won’t be playing the same game. That only frustrates everyone when the action comes.
  • Character creation in Fate is fun. Aspects are great, as is collaborative story building. (After the initial “crap, brain freeze” that everyone gets their first time generating their adventure.)
  • A setting of intrigue and betrayal is very hard to build in two hours of game play. Duh.
  • Following the setting’s logic leads to boredom. When in doubt, let drama determine what happens next and cobble together a matching explanation.
  • When your wife presents reasonable limitations (such the tunnel and portal size restricting the availability of the helicopter that will derail your prep), thank her and say, “Yes, that”.
  • On the other hand, you know how the original setting had everyone uploading languages so easily? That was clearly to avoid the situation from the game where the talky character couldn’t do his thing because he didn’t speak the language. Total failure there.
  • Even more: when you’re working from an existing setting and modifying it, write down the modifications. I kept wrestling with Schrödinger’s organization–it was simultaneously a 30 person startup with limited staff and budget that needed to prove itself to survive another funding cycle AND the powerful, somewhat corrupt bureaucracy that it would become.
    • Speaking of which: Yes, you need to establish a base where I’ve prepped–we need a proof of concept before we invest several billion more! We need to demonstrate our relevance, or SDI will steal our budget. Etc. Lots of bureaucratic reasons were available to limit the adventure to the prepared area, but I spaced on them all in the heat of play.
  • While prepping, I kept thinking I that I needed to make org charts, names, and relationships withing the agency. Instead I researched historical information (that wound up being leapfrogged). Yup, I needed that prep, more than just about anything else that I could have prepared.
    • Speaking of which: I should have shown the ‘uploading data’ scene on camera, not just hand waved it. Yes, I needed to get to the adventure… but it missed a great grounding piece of setting.
  • Dude, you know and love European history. Just set it there with hand-waving. Plus, that doubly reinforces the requirement to keep the site that’s picked–it’s the only place that the host countries will permit, or that we can sneakily create overseas.

Long story short: Don’t fall in love with a setting and shoe horn it into a format and story length that don’t play to its strength. Prepare a setting that works in two hours and save your haunting setting for a long form game down the road.

Again, it was a fun night, even though I spent the actual “game play” part of the night beating myself up about the lack of interesting action and interaction. I picked up the wrong setting tool.

End of the World

Recently I’ve had strange thoughts cross pollinating and thought I’d share. The common theme is the end of the world– in a transformative way.

The idea was inserted into my brain by Joshua’s quick overview of Children of Men. That, in turn, brought back memories of Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, a different book about a humanity that just stops reproducing and slowly dwindles. It’s a cool look at cloning and social biases– not on the same point as Children of Men (as I understand it), but closely related.

Recently I’ve been reading The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure, a book about the Wraeththu. After reading some good critiques of the original series and overall setup, I know I’m reading the new book with a somewhat tainted mind, but it’s still interesting. In the backstory, a successor race (the Wraeththu) emerges from the midst of humanity and starts competing and killing it off. It’s kind of a “vampire/zombie plague” like spread, and is a fascinating look at the struggle between humanity’s remnants and its heirs.

In that, it reminded me of Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear. In Darwin’s Radio, a few people giving birth to Homo Sapien’s (assumed) successor, strange children with talents as different from us as we are different from Neanderthals.

The other thread it sparked was the fantasy twist– the Patryns and Sartan from the Death Gate Cycle. They too are descended from humanity, grow up in its midst, and eventually blow up and recreate the world in a new pattern. (That’s all backstory!) The Deryni series is another story of insiders… thinking of the Wraeththu and Patryns and Sartan makes me wonder if their history, shadowed and paralleling the larger humanity’s, would also work.

So, five or six threads came to mind, none of which match together smoothly. The Deyrni are different from the rest– but always close to my heart I guess– I’ll set them aside. The rest are about a huge upheaval, the changing of the world.

On further thought, I can think of one RPG that kind of fits this mold– including the ambivalent role of a newly emerging superrace. White Wolf’s Aberrant is reputedly straight on target– super beings emerge in a relatively “realistic” world of today. It’s a bit like X-men (at least the movie versions I’m familiar with), with their interactions in larger society a little strained, with everyone trying to figure out how to pigeon hole them.

I wonder if an interactive history style game would work. For the first four ideas (humanity dies out, what replaces it), it’d be interesting to have a general timeline [maybe play out society wide stuff Reign or Aria style], then dip into specific characters at times of crisis in the history. So maybe start with a short series centered on the eruption of the alternate race, with the PCs playing both sides of the fence. Then hop forward a few decades or centuries and play characters in the new situation, as the balance between the new and old changes.

Anyway, I’m not actively planning anything along these lines at the moment– strangely, this came up just as I was studying the very heroic Spirit of the Century. I wonder if my interest is as a balance to the optimism of the pulps. Or just getting hit with similar plot ideas several times in succession.