[Apocalypse World] Your tender ambiguous crotch

Started by Ron Edwards, November 25, 2013, 11:17:24 AM

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Ron Edwards

"You really had to be there." Candy Grip got up in the morning in his or her makeshift quonset hut dwelling thing, and went to the toilet - best bathroom, best fixings in the whole encampment or village or whatever we call it. Brian has been perfectly noncommittal as to Candy Grip's personal anatomy and gender identity, so he only reluctantly admits - when the MC, Sarah, asks - the posture he or she adopts in the privacy of his or her conveniences (which is none of your business, nosy).

Now there appears a three-eyed snake - hostile, venomous as hell, vexed. Candy Grip blows it to gooey smithereens with his or her shotgun, set on wide, so the bathroom doesn't do very well out of this either. Next stop, Niles' hut, because Niles has a coffee machine and that has just become imperative; whoa, but Niles is not there and another snake emerges - it strikes, nailing Candy Grip high at the inner thigh. He or she hits and hits at it, using a scalpel (which is when I, sitting next to Brian, covered my face with my hands), missing mostly, and the snake keeps hitting - as in, the damage is creeping closer to that next step on the clock diagram. We all know what the next step will mean, and that's when Mark shakes his head and says the phrase I used as the thread title. His character, Niles, had come running and now the two of them are resolutely striking at and missing the snake, which if not actually making pit-bull noises, might as well be.

You see? This is what happens when Brother Bat isn't around. 

Because Brother Bat is one bad-ass hocus. After strolling up to see that the snake-wrassling wasn't working out, he whistled up his mob, which descended on the snake, detached it, and obliterated it, as well as (um) trashing Niles' place by accident. But Brother Bat made that good, he's a generous guy, because he'd nailed his Fortunes roll. OK, not so good on the second one, but a solid dose of morphine for every one of the brethren solved that problem halfway through the episode - Candy Grip sort of had to pay up for getting his or her crotch saved, and that seemed reasonable (to Brother Bat). He opened his mind to the apocalypse a bunch of times and spit in its eye. He made so much sense that the other player-characters, who aren't part of his flock, have decided they are at least halfway there. He didn't find out who stole the coffee beans, but he did find the chicken-thief - and ended that whole crisis with a huge group hug, even after having to belt the guy to make him confess. He and Niles combined a makeshift antenna-apparatus with meditation to find the snake-guy who was infecting the town, and they shot him dead as dead can get.

It so happens I've been reading up on The People's Temple lately. It wasn't anything like what people think, up to and including the fact that the drink wasn't Kool-Aid, and that event is definitely not the whole story. Now that I reflect upon it, Brother Bat may partly be my idea of what Jones might have been or done in the absence of his dependency on his close female circle and before his psychological and social meltdown prior to leaving Redwood City. So my character is completely not the typical muttering, scrawny post-apocalyptic mummer-hocus with a racoon skull hat and a sfaff with a BMW hubcap on it. He speaks plain and makes sense. He doesn't need his flock and would abandon one or all of them in a heartbeat if they got stupid on him.

Cool 0, Hard 1, Sharp 1, Hot -1, Weird 2
Man, formal vestments, open face, clear eyes, fit body.
Fortunes, Psychic Antenna, and I've got my eye on Fucking Whacknut.
About 20 followers, good at commerce, depend on him for everything, and now that I earned an advance, they're thrifty and get lots of barter (they're sort of post-apocalyptic Mormons I guess)

Before we started play, I talked with Sarah about why I'd want to play Apocalypse World. It isn't really for the Color, yay, post-apocalypse and all that. It's about the fact that life in the apocalypse sucks, and the characters know it, and pretty much uniquely in the whole setting, they might like to know why. I'd want to play toward that discovery, constructed by everyone's narrations in play, and to discover whether we the players or we the characters can find a reason not to fuck it all up again. She responded very positively to this line of thought, and our touchpoint for the conversation was that no one except a geek closet fascist wants to be one of the motorcycle guys in The Road Warrior. They're miserable, wretched people. My primary point of reference for this game isn't that movie, anyway - it's the Ellison short story (not so much the movie*) A Boy and His Dog.

So I'm going into this game with pure risk and pure courage - because something is wrong with the world, the one you and I sit in, and I'm happy to adopt this particular bit of genre technique to find out why, according to us. Just like when people wrote stuff like that story or made films like that (even more so, Mad Max), without it being retro or cool. Before the awesome lines in Planet of the Apes were diluted into geek identity-phrases to be giggled at.

I want to arrive at some conclusive ideas about the game's design. I need Moreno's help with something: Moreno, can you post here the single, definitive, no-debates definition of "parpuzio?" I'm pretty sure my plan is to show why Apocalypse World isn't one, but also why it might end up being played that way.

Best, Ron

* The movie's fine, sure - but the original story was a primary character shaper for me as a pre-teen and young teen, and I know it just about rote as Vic would say.

Callan S.

For what it's worth, while the movies don't go into the psychology of living in an environment of random resource scarcity (the movies, as movies often do, favour 'othering' the opposing force), it's not like being a motorcycle guy is somehow a lifestyle choice. Someone else wrote on it better than me once: "Tell people stories about parents eating their children during ancient sieges and they think, What the fuck is wrong with those people? Those people. Not us people. Those."

I actually even feel excited for the potential theme of a character, divorced from the animal existance by a flukey windfall of resources, goes through (from what we get to see from our privileged viewpoint as players) acting as if he's distinct from such motorcycle guys and better yet, it's all a choice thing from his, by chance, privileged viewpoint. It's a rich area for exploration, IMO. Even what is a pretty old school 'changing places' routine put in place after playing this out for awhile would, despite the simplicity of that, lead to rich rewards of further play. Pumped by the idea, so I thought I'd pitch it here!

Though the movies name is 'Mad Max'.

Moreno R.

Hi Ron!

The (long) definition of Parpuzio, or "the game afraid to speak its name", was in this long rant from 2008, when I first used the name:
http://www.gentechegioca.it/smf/index.php/topic,112  (in italian, sorry)

The core concept is: a rule is something you follow. If you can ignore it any time you want, it's not a rule, it's just a suggestion (and many rpg manuals say this same thing: "the rules are only suggestions). But every game has rules, the saying that "there are no hard rules in rpgs" is simply born from the unwillingness to see the real rules used.

Parpuzio (a name chosen simply because is sound ridiculous in Italian) is a rpg, played by a lot of people who say (and believe) that they are playing something else, that has a very simple resolution system (short version):
"The GM says what the characters see, hear or perceive in any other way. The players tell to the GM what the character want to do. The GM says what the players have to do to allow that. (roll dice, play cards, speak in the character's voice, convince the GM, etc - different manuals suggest different methods, but it's the GM that has the last word about the method used in that specific occasion), and after the player do that, the GM says to the players if their character did what they wanted, how, and what happen during that and afterwards"

Any time a group play with the "golden rule", or with "the GM above the rules", they are really playing this game, even if the GM follow the book "suggestions" every time: he is simply following the book suggestion about what the method to use, but he is not limited by any rules to doing that.

Notice that the definition doesn't say that the GM has to consider in any way the results of what the players did: he can say "roll X dice" but then he is not limited by the results in any way: no matter what the result of the roll is, the GM can decide what happen, any way he wants.

To return (for a little bit) to a discussion from a few days ago: the most effective way to get what you want in this game is not with rolls or with cards, but it's about convincing the GM that it's better to let you win.

About Apocalypse World and Parpuzio...  in Apocalypse World you always roll 2d6, but that is not enough to say that is not Parpuzio: it's really common to use always the same methods (the same roll-to-hit with a d20, for example), the most important part is about the GM deciding what will happen.  And in Apocalypse World, the GM/MC is in that role. He should follow the guidelines and principles in the manual in doing so, but... he is following them as RULES or as SUGGESTIONS? This is the question.

And even if the MC want to follow them as rules... the way they are formulated, allow him to do so?

Seeing that this is question I still have not found a satisfying answer myself, I am very interested in this thread, and what you have to say about it, Ron!

Christopher Kubasik

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 25, 2013, 11:17:24 AM
It's about the fact that life in the apocalypse sucks, and the characters know it, and pretty much uniquely in the whole setting, they might like to know why. I'd want to play toward that discovery, constructed by everyone's narrations in play, and to discover whether we the players or we the characters can find a reason not to fuck it all up again. She responded very positively to this line of thought, and our touchpoint for the conversation was that no one except a geek closet fascist wants to be one of the motorcycle guys in The Road Warrior. They're miserable, wretched people. My primary point of reference for this game isn't that movie, anyway - it's the Ellison short story (not so much the movie*) A Boy and His Dog.

So I'm going into this game with pure risk and pure courage - because something is wrong with the world, the one you and I sit in, and I'm happy to adopt this particular bit of genre technique to find out why, according to us. Just like when people wrote stuff like that story or made films like that (even more so, Mad Max), without it being retro or cool. Before the awesome lines in Planet of the Apes were diluted into geek identity-phrases to be giggled at.

Leave it to Ron to explain plainly why I've never quite gotten excited about whole AW/Plabook/Setting thing... and the kind of take on the setting that would make me excited.

As far as I can tell, my concerns having nothing to do with "parpuzio" -- though I look forward to seeing where this goes.

Eero Tuovinen

Quote from: Moreno R. on November 26, 2013, 01:17:35 AMHe should follow the guidelines and principles in the manual in doing so, but... he is following them as RULES or as SUGGESTIONS? This is the question.

To me this distinction seems pretty arbitrary: as per the Lumpley principle, the only difference between those "rules" and "suggestions" is whether the group actually allows you to get away with it when you go against them. I've often felt the impossibility for a designer to actually make his text somehow authoritative, and this is very much more so when we're discussing game moves you make according to artistic judgment. AW could not make the parts it leaves up to MC consideration any more legislatively constraining without also removing the freedom of artistic choice inherent in those choices.

I mean, "Barf Forth Apocalyptica", is that dictum a "suggestion"? I suppose it is, considering that the game does not attempt to provide a test for whether it has been "broken" as a rule. A player might accuse you of relinquishing your duty to barf forth if you don't actually do it, but you might as well claim that you've been barfing forth just fine, and the player is just too ignorant to notice it in your contributions. It's an aesthetic matter, far beyond simple technical rules that might be objectively measured. The only way to have that discussion about "breaking a rule" when it comes to a principle like this is for the MC to acknowledge that there is this perception among the players that he's not fulfilling the principle, and then either agree or disagree with them. There can be no talk of breaking the rules unless the accused himself acknowledges that yeah, I was actually not trying my best to follow that principle.

I don't have complaints about the actual concept of Parpuzio, it seems like an useful term. I just wanted to note that this mechanical perception of a game as consisting solely of rules, and everything else being Parpuzio, it's a bit naive. I feel that focusing on rules vs. principles does not really attain the core of the concept Parpuzio attemps to be, maybe? There are plenty of games that mostly consist of principles instead of rules, and yet easily succeed in escaping a traditional auteur GM model of play.


Moreno's link isn't working for me. This link gets page 1 of the thread: http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=it&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fweb.archive.org%2Fweb%2F20110530121733%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.gentechegioca.it%2Fsmf%2Findex.php%2Ftopic%2C112

Minor point: Ron, I'm pretty sure you meant Redwood VALLEY, not Redwood CITY, in talking about the People's Temple.

I too am looking forward to seeing how this develops, although I'm still not all the way to engaged with AW - I'd be more interested in fixing things (and, of course, the problems involved in undertaking that effort) rather than uncovering what's broken. But maybe that's two sides of the  same coin.

Ron Edwards

My aim is not to accuse the Apocalypse World rules of parpuzio. But I do think that every RPG rules book needs to be assessed very, very critically regarding that issue, and I also think that for any popular, widely seized-upon rules book, even more so.

It's neither a secret nor a revelation that Apocalypse World is strongly inspired by Sorcerer and Trollbabe, both being acknowledged in the text. The core principle of both of these "parent" games is quite explicit: no fair prepping plot.

What that means is my distinctions among the types of authority. Here, the broadest and narrowest types (back-story, immediate narration) are less important; it's the middle two that matter, situation vs. outcome.

I think the Apocalypse World text is actually quite explicit in locating full situational authority with the MC and locating outcome authority as subject to mechanics constraints; in this it's very like Sorcerer. My take on this is based on scattered spots in the text, so although there's no "exactly how consequences get into the fiction" section, I think the conclusion is never contradicted and is occasionally very straightforward. So textually, I'm sayin', no parpuzio here.

We talked about this pretty extensively prior to playing last night, and I wanted to do that before posting about it for a lot of reasons. The main one is that I'd prefer to start with the real people before turning the topic over to Mizter Internetz, and another is that I needed a better idea of where Sarah was coming from in her GMing. In a nutshell ...

1. At the end of the first full session, Niles and Brother Bat killed a mysterious dude who seemed to be rabid, skulking snake-wrangling avator of infection. His origins are entirely mysterious to us. Niles got pretty close to him in the final part of the fight, and Sarah announced that he was now infected. It wasn't immediately obvious to me whether this was the mandated result of a roll, the use of an "opening" for the MC permitted by a roll's outcome, or a straightforward MC-says interjection.

2. So we talked about parpuzio and the way a skillful "story GM" can make a story-event seem like it's a systemic outcome when it's actually not - such a GM knows that if he or she told us, "Niles wakes up and he's all infected," we'd respond with protests, as in, "where's my roll and how did that happen," so the solution would be something like, "ah ha, you got too close during the fight, I heard you say you stepped right in there, so boo! you're infected." It looks as though the moment of infection arose from events in play, but in fact, doing it that way is really no different from saying "hey, it happened when you were asleep, because I say so."

3. So is that what Sarah did? My inquiring mind wanted to know - somewhat more sternly, such GMing would be flatly out of my Social Contract zone, in about every way possible. I'd rather get her take in this thread rather than try to interpret or paraphrase it myself, but briefly, we ended the conversation with me satisfied that Niles was infected within the mechanics constraints of the system, not through mere "gee the fiction says so now that I put the fiction into place for me to say so."

4. The next question concerns others' understanding of these issues. Has anyone encountered parpuzio taint in their Apocalypse World experience? I think there may be plenty of that out there, based on my readings of various posts, but I am not very experienced with the game, and I encourage discussion here to investigate. My long and painful experience with Sorcerer publishing leads me to think that such habits are very deeply ingrained in many groups, which is actually one of the reasons I wrote Trollbabe - to make a game in which it's literally impossible. How many people play "story games" as a way to do parpuzio in a hip free-formy way? - in which the first step is simply to ignore their rules. PTA was quite vulnerable to this - what's the situation with Apocalypse World?

In other news, Brother Bat continues to be Master of the Dice, as his flock's psychic antennae pumped his Fortunes roll over the top, and every time he did anything risky, the total was 10 or higher. Even when I rolled snake-eyes one time, it happened to be a contest in which negative outcomes were minimal. I know this can't last forever, though, so I'm thinkin' that getting consistent helping-rolls from the other player-characters is going to be my big priority.

I looked over the sheet carefully to make sure I was recordings things accurately here, so here he is, currently:
Fortunes (like every hocus), Frenzy, Charismatic, Perfect Instincts (from the Battlebabe)
Flock: successful commerce, psychic antenna, hard-working and no-nonsense; I'm theirs, they rely entirely on me

To round out the image of play a little, Niles keeps embracing the apocalypse into his head in the worst way, so that the toaster and whatnot keep talking to him, and Candy Grip and Brother Bat barely managed to keep various community members from killing one another.

Best, Ron

Moreno R.

[Edit: I wrote this before Ron's last post, so I was replying to Eero and clarifying something I left out in my description. I am adding now my reply to Ron to the end of this post]

Probably it's better if I explain the contest (what the 2008 rant was about)

At that time the first indie rpgs were published in Italy (Primetime Adventures and Dogs in the Vineyard), in a environment where "the GM is above the rules" was so ingrained to be "the way you play a rpg" practically by definition. The effect was that a lot of people used these new games in the same way: DitV played without using the town creation rules ("I already know how to create an adventure, I will put a demon cult under the city, in a dungeon..."), PTA without fan mail, or with fan mail given only by the GM, with every outcome narrated by the Producer and task resolution, etc.

So we started to say, when we did convention demos or when we talked about the games in the forums: "these are not common rpgs, you have to follow the rules here". And this caused a lot of polemics because telling a GM that he had to follow the rules was practically a blasphemy. I was so fed up with all this that I wrote that rant to say "you follow the rules, too, the problem is that you follow these exact same rules every time you play, and you don't even realize this. Try to play a different game for a change".

ANY game can be played like "Parpuzio" (I have seen an actual play report about a Polaris session where the "usual GM", after playing a couple of rounds following the rules explained by the guy who was proposing the game to the group, started saying that the game could not work that way, and they finished the session playing with a GM (him) playing all the npcs, the other players united their character in a party, and they started to roll d20 to hit. I kid you not.). Even if at first sight the players are following the rules (rolling the dice like in DitV and making raises for example) that can be made irrelevant with the usual GM techniques.

After Apocalypse World began to be played at large by a lot of people (some of whom hated "indie games" before), we have seen a lot of threads where
1) People complained that "AW is parpuzio" (this from people used to indie games)
2) other people were happy to play AW "because it's traditional" (as in, Parpuzio), and from their actual play reports, they really play it that way (this more with Dungeon World, that got a lot of traction with groups that never played indie rpgs before)

My impression, from the times I played (I played AW, Monsterhearts, Monster of the Week, but not DW) is that they are not technically written like parpuzio, but that kind of "play to convince the GM" somewhat returned to be felt during the sessions. And it's not the only reservation I have about the way they play...

@Ron: when I have encountered Parpuzio taint in AW? Well, most of it was in other people's descriptions or posts, but talking about my personal experience, what I remember now is:

The very first time we played AW. I wasn't the designated GM at the beginning, as you know I really dislike having to GM any game with prep work and I had some other issue with the MC role in AW, so I wanted to step down from my usual GM's role and be a simple player for once. But at the last minute the designated MC didn't have the time to do it and I had to be the MC anyway.
This did mean that I started playing without internalizing very well the MC rules and with not a lot of motivation to spend in the creation of the fronts. (when I did try to write them after the first session I actually threw the printed pdf of the game to the wall and stopped after the first half hour)
I don't know how much these factors influenced the game experience in these sessions (I never played as MC after that so I don't have other experiences to compare), but what happened during the game was that I felt again the old "everything that happen here is decided by me" sensation. I tried to follow the rules but "when people look at you waiting, you do a hard move" is not much of a restriction, right? In one specific case I had a player character that made what I thought was an obvious mistake in returning to his own home with people searching for him everywhere, so I had these people find him (it was a soft move that snowballed to his capture in play). Then he tried to "convince" them to free him in a way that I considered absolutely unbelievable, by the rules I should not have allowed him to roll for that, but at the table there was already some tension because the player was complaining loudly about being caught. So that was absolutely a "table diplomacy" ruling, like thousands I did when I played D&D, not a sincere assessment of the fictional  situation. The player failed the roll so I had the character tied up and brought to the den of his enemies.
The players passed almost all of the session with his character tied up and gagged (and sometimes hit by someone when he did fail some move). I had a conflict of principles at that time. I had to be a fan of the character, so I was failing very badly at that - the character was deprotagonistized at every turn, but it was because he was failing roll after roll, and i was torn between giving him a bone, using some of the usual "this has no sense in this movie but the villain now will free the hero" scene that I usually hate in movies, just to make him stop complaining, or follow the logic of the situation... and kill the character. I tried to do baby steps in the first direction allowing rolls that I should not have (just to be able to assign the blame for the deux ex machina to a roll, and not to myself) and I ended up assigning damage (the hits after the failed rolls) to him to the point of almost killing him, still tied up.
In hindsight, I should have passed the hot potato to the player: "the boss of the gang free you. Why?", that is a cop-out but it would have saved me (and others at the table) some frustration.
In general, I found myself moving the story to the exact direction I decided... even without wanting to! Maybe the players were too passive in their character's actions, maybe I was the one that pushed the game that way, but I found myself in the same place I was a lot when I GMed old traditional games, a place I hate: being the one who decide, and having to decide trying to juggle my enjoyment of the game, the table diplomacy of trying to make everyone happy, some kind of fictional consistency,  a "good story", and trying to avoid irking the "usual complainers". Seeing that it's not possible to get everything you want, something has to suffer (usually, my enjoyment of the game)

After a while I could not stand it anymore and I stepped down, asking another player to play as MC. She did run one single session, then she did step down too, and the game remained unfinished.  Some of the players played the game (with other characters and players) by hangout and they said that they enjoyed the game very much. I too played (after much more time) by hangout, with mixed results, but I don't want to be MC anymore.

What I felt during the time as a MC was most of all the return of the usual "buzz in ear" of old D&D campaign: the constant pressure from the players with complains, argumentations, passive-aggressive behaviors, etc, to decide in their favor. Because, again, like in old D&D, the GM assessment of the fictional situation means bonus and more effectiveness, and if the GM don't agree with you you don't only get worse decisions, but you lose "playing time and power".

I stopped getting that "buzz" in my ears when we started playing games where the players never lose effectiveness, no matter what happen to the character (PTA is a perfect example: you always get a scene, you always get your cards, period, no matter if you are prisoner or half dead). Hearing it again after all that time was much worse than before.

Probably, playing with fixed fronts (as the rules says) could have lessened that "everything depends on my whim" sensation, I would have had some more fixed-in-position game material to rely on, but the point is: there was simply no way for the player to know that. What happen in the MC brain when he decide about a hard more...was it a front? Was it a whim? Was it the table pressure? Was it a "Story" he already has written in his mind?

By the way: when I played with another MC by hangout, I found myself trying to "convince" him to decide in my favor. That MC didn't seem to mind (and everybody did it, not only me), but think I am a worse player in AW-based games, too many bad habits return to the surface.

Jesse Burneko


I'm a little confused.  How is, "You wake up feeling ill." not simply a bang or "announce future badness" in AW terms?


Ron Edwards

Hi Jesse,

It's a Bang if it's situational authority - if the threat posed by the front is making itself known. In AW terms, that's pretty much announcing future badness.

It's parpuzio if it's outcome authority - if the threat posed by the front has succeeded in infecting the player-character. In AW terms, that's precisely what Vincent tells you not to do in the text: playing with specific outcomes in mind. Actual bona fide infection should occur only when there's a mechanical opening to do so. Exerting outcome authority without having subjected it to the mechanics constraint is against the rules in this game; there's even a parenthetical bit about it as a general principle along the lines of "and I'm not fucking around here" somewhere in the Moves text in relation to another issue.

As a secondary point, is non-mechanics outcome authority always parpuzio? Depends on what you mean by "mechanics." Some of the games we know have rather sophisticated speaking-distribution rules which impose mechanics constraints without fortune mechanics. And some games we know do use dice and cards but are too blithery about outcomes and permit parpuzio after all.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Callan, you get a pass this time due to national origin, but I really was talking about The Road Warrior, for a reason. It's the pop-fan favorite - most people haven't even seen Mad Max - and is subject to the most fetishizing and the most imitation in other films and games.

I'm very much in the exception in the U.S. in having seen Mad Max first. Minor example: Moore ripping off Mad Max so totally in The Watchmen, and I swear I was the only person who noticed ...

The Road Warrior is a pretty good movie, but it's also 100% western boilerplate designed to please mainstream American audiences, and falls into the very significant subset in which many fans of the movie cannot actually recount the plot (Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Fight Club are others).

Your post suggests you did not understand my point about "being" a gang member in The Road Warrior. I am talking about a fan reaction which perceives such an existence as being totally cool. Unlike your description (which I agree with), such a fan fantasizes not examining such an existence but rather reveling in it precisely as portrayed. There are plenty of villains who I think it'd be very cool to be, but the gang members in The Road Warrior aren't in that zone.

I guess I'm not a very good SF fan in some ways. The very idea of calling the soldiers in Star Wars "storm troopers" bugs me, even more so dressing up as them under any circumstances, and yet more so seeing five-year-old kids doing so.

I'd easily add Mad Max, which has no comedic elements except for utter gallows humor/excess, to A Boy and His Dog as primary influences on my interest in Apocalypse World.

Best, Ron

Moreno R.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 27, 2013, 10:41:17 AM
I'm very much in the exception in the U.S. in having seen Mad Max first. Minor example: Moore ripping off Mad Max so totally in The Watchmen, and I swear I was the only person who noticed ...

Do you think?  ;-)

About the "cool" factor...  I don't think it goes beyond the "look". I mean, I have seen players totally enamored with some fan-favorite image, like the gang members in Road Warrior, but it doesn't go beyond the look, there it's not as lot of thought about the kind of life they could live.  Most players play them like cardboard pictures. These days I seldom run demos at conventions for players of traditional games, but when I did I remember the baffled looks what I asked questions about the characters lives, like as the idea that these cardboard pictures had families or friends or any kind of life apart from fighting monsters was totally foreign.

And yes, I have problems with the pervasive "storm trooper" imagery. I love Firefly but I have problems with "Browncoats" too. But in a "gamers scene" that venerate things like the explicit fascist imagery of W40K there is a lot of even worse very questionable blind adoration...

These days I have seen the Road Warrior sources eclipsed by one of their derivative, though: the "First of the North Star" ("Ken the Warrior" in the rest of the world) anime has stolen that image and made it its own. And the way Ken dispatch the gang members in a few seconds in a very gruesome manner has much lessened their "cool factor"... the absence of references to this anime and other more recent fan favorites make the Apocalypse World's starting playsets somewhat dated (to the '80s) in geek terms...


Hm. I think I need to read up on Papuzio. "What are we following, rules, or advice?" has been something that had interested me a lot - it's one of the things I used to blog about as "Blinders", saying when we playtest rules, we need to make sure the rules do what we want them to, when often I felt it's so-called advice that's actually making the game do what you expect it to.

Don't have much to actually add, at this point, other than to denote my interest in the topic.


Hi there. This is Sarah, the MC in question.

Taking all of this back to the specific game in question, the infection was a direct result of a roll during combat. Niles didn't wake up infected; he started experiencing what amounts to 'all electronic-ish devices turned up to 11' immediately after the fight. Candy Grip then had to dope Niles because he started flipping out.

The move in general - Snakedude belonged to a front I had made, and possible infection was on the countdown clock. I had not decided exactly what the infection was, or how it was transmitted, or if it could be cured. I decided to let the manifestation of the disease be informed by who (if any) of the PCs and/or NPCs were infected. It was not pre-determined that infection would happen, merely that Snakedude was around with some secret purpose. Having Niles' connection to electronics suddenly amp up seemed like an interesting turn to take, but if it had been Brother Bat who had been infected instead, it would have been different. And if no one had gotten close enough to be infected, I would not have forced it. We have plenty of other meaty hooks to play with in this particular game.

This idea - letting the characters inform the fiction - is the basis of how I run AW & associated hacks. In the first session, Niles started describing his elaborate set up for brewing coffee. This was a perfect opening for a MC move - Take away their stuff. So Snakedude steals Niles' coffee beans, because I wanted to see what awesome thing he would do to get them back. Candy ran with the idea of having a private bathroom (thus keeping his/her gender identity ambiguous) so I put a snake in there to see what s/he would do. The characters tell me how to challenge them. I just have to pay attention.

One of the most important MC directives is to always say what honesty demands. I don't lie to my players. The rules explicitly state a few things you must always do, and then goes on to name the moves, which is the part I believe is open to interpretation. When someone rolls a 7 and it's up to me to offer them a hard choice, I base that choice on my knowledge of the character, player, and that specific situation. Just because they're in the middle of a fight doesn't mean the hard choice is either taking harm or getting away. Maybe they can get away but they have to watch their lover get gunned down, or they can save them and get captured. But if they roll a 10, the character gets (mostly) what they want.

Ron Edwards

Thanks Sarah, and welcome!!

That's the essence of not parpuzio, I think: the idea that outcome narration (which includes its fictional severity) is subject to constraint. When you explained that to me, I felt much better - I think you might recall that I cheered up considerably going forward, that evening.

To see the dividing line in action, or at least to see it referenced, consider the purported "intensity" of the moment when, in playing AD&D back in the 80s, the DM looked solemnly at the players, then set aside his screen. So you could see the rolls, you see, and know that at least at this moment he was not fudging rolls. (Cue gasp of appreciative horror around the table)

(I use "he" for two reasons: historically, I cannot think of ever encountering a female DM prior to 1985; and the anecdote as told to me with great pride came from a person who was talking about a male DM.)

I used the terms "purported" and "referenced" on purpose, because the drama of "setting aside the screen" is actually melodramatic - the DM in such a game has plenty of Force techniques (i.e. imposing pure will upon the fiction) that are subtler than merely lying about dice outcomes. It also occurs to me that the DM in my final 4E session a couple of weeks ago had done this, and as I discussed, easily stacked things against his villain by having him fight stupid and by giving us high-level NPC allies.

That point is a big deal too, because again, such techniques remove constraint (in this case the heightened chance for us to lose) from the outcomes.

Best, Ron