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Topics - Thanqol

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Apocalypse World / Threat Analysis
« on: November 03, 2015, 05:55:10 AM »

While a lot of ink is spilled on the topic of the playbooks and the player moves there's less general discussion about Threats and how to handle them. In part this is because the players are encouraged to discuss their mechanics openly and frequently but the MC has the specific directive to 'make their move but never speak its name'. I'd like to cross that line by doing a series of essays on the MC's most powerful tools: Threats.

Here are some universal principles for Threats:

1. Everyone is a Threat
2. Threats are not good people, but they can be made to be good people
3. There are always two choices: The obvious option and the worst option.


Fear not the tyrant; fear the tyrant's wake.

The Warlord is the only peer of the player characters. She has vision. She has a plan for the future. She has power, the intention to get more, and the will to use it. She is intelligent, brutal, driven and deeply social. She can look the players in the eye and demand they kneel. And the Warlord will ask for that because, no matter her incarnation, she always threatens the same thing: the players freedom.

When designing a Warlord the first questions that should be asked is what her vision is, and what the players' role in that vision is. This vision serves as the Warlord's animating force - she should always be working towards it. If the players accept their role in the Warlord's vision then she shall pass them by unharmed - if they contest her vision then they face the full force of her intellect.


The Warlord offers you something you don't get anywhere else: Active resistance. All the other threat types are passive, incoherent or stupid - the Warlord is the threat that can make a plan and follow through with it. They can not only actively push back against the players and reshape the world in their image, they can co-ordinate their offensives to hit where the players are weak. The Warlord is the brain that lets a Front think, plan and dream.

A Front without a Warlord is not capable of deliberate action. Worse, a lot of PC types are capable of hermit-crabbing into unoccupied Fronts and making it their own. If a Hocus catches a mob of Brutes without their Warlord then they're the Hocus' Brutes now. If you're putting together a Front and there is no Warlord then the fundamental scarcity of the Front has to be sufficiently threatening just by its existence.

Warlords within a player's organisation are the critical nodes. They can allow powerful, effective action at a distance and co-ordinate the players' Brutes in their absence. However, they are also the potential failure points and if they die or go rogue then the organisational structure can collapse. Start these tame Warlords with the exact vision that the player assigns to them and have them hold to that against all reason. That way, if the Warlord is tempted into betrayal, it's because the player changed and not because they did.


You can give your Warlord whatever you want! They can have as many dudes as they need, it's great! However you should really keep in mind their victories and defeats and make them big and impactful. Here are some rules of thumb I use:
- A Warlord should never go anywhere with less than 15 dudes. They don't have to be immediately visible.
- A minor defeat should mean that the Warlord has to abandon one current plan or resource. A major defeat should cripple the Warlord's operations until they can secure something valuable enough to recover.
- If a Warlord has a valuable asset, like a nuke or fleet of cars, then they should have some obvious way of sustaining that - like a gas refinery or a weirdo technician.


• Slaver (to own and sell people)
Example: Mr. House (New Vegas)

The Slaver is an excellent choice for an internal, political or mercantile Warlord. They view the world through a transactional lens and are happy with ceding short term power if it suits their long term interests. They can often be genial and friendly because they are not possessed of the same uncompromising obsession as some of the other Warlord types. But be sure, their vision is a world where everyone is in their pocket.

Putting people in collars and bomb vests is the most obvious form of slavery, but the more insidious partner is desire. Drug addictions are an obvious lever for the Slaver to use, but so is control of necessities like food and water. The Slaver spends most of his attention identifying critical resources and controlling them, and raising the price until people are in his debt. The Slaver also extends his tendrils so he is difficult to violently uproot, encouraging a peaceful confrontation.

When confronted the Slaver is often surprisingly ready to make concessions - he's a businessman. If he is forced into a deal he doesn't like he'll smile, agree, then stab you in the back the second he sees an opportunity.

Key moves:
• Claim territory: move into it, blockade it, assault it.
• Buy out someone’s allies.
• Make a careful study of someone and attack where they’re weak.

• Hive Queen (to consume and swarm)

The Hive Queen is the emergent animus of her people. Other Warlords have people they use; the Hive Queen is her people. She embodies them. She serves them. She enables all their worst impulses and directs their collective will. She sates their hungers and offers them nothing higher than that.

The Hive Queen is not a patient Warlord. She identifies what she wants, strikes at it, and then becomes still until she has finished digesting it. When she is fat and bloated she can be generous and friendly. When she is hungry she does not negotiate. Her followers tend to be insular, and she may spend a lot of time whipping them into a frenzy in secret, but when it comes time for her to emerge and strike she does not give her opponents time to prepare.

When beaten, the Hive Queen capitulates entirely. Her devotion to her people overcomes her pride and she is prepared to beg for mercy. When on the ropes the Hive Queen will search wildly for allies and fight like a cornered lion.

Key Moves:
• Attack someone suddenly, directly, and very hard.
• Seize someone or something, for leverage or information.
• Claim territory: move into it, blockade it, assault it.

• Prophet (to denounce and overthrow)
Example: The High Sparrow (Game of Thrones)

The Prophet has a vision and her vision is that you are wrong. There is nothing constructive to her, no brighter future or five year plan - she is defined by her opposition. She arises naturally from a group of Brutes who feel like they have been slighted and begins to escalate and co-ordinate their opposition. Alternately, a Warlord who has been peacefully deposed can sometimes become a Prophet - especially if anything goes badly on the new ruler's watch.

The Prophet does not want open battle. She wants a long, drawn out period of instability. She wants her people marching around on the streets shrieking her message. She wants to avoid throwing the first punch for as long as possible so she can provoke the authorities into striking first. Some Prophets are actually quite happy to be martyrs if that is what it takes - after all, their vision is not about their victory but their opponent's defeat.

When Prophets demand concessions they ask for a little at a time - less than they actually want. Then they take their minor victory back to their mob and announce that they are making progress. The Prophet is exalted but the war is not won, and so the Prophet's power grows.

Key Moves:
• Make a show of force.
• Make a show of discipline.
• Offer to negotiate. Demand concession or obedience.

• Dictator (to control)
Example: Edward Sallow (New Vegas)

The Dictator is here to stay. All his plans are based around the society he wishes to create - one where everything flows to and from him. He is both proud and cautious - while he will not back down from a fight he will choose his fights very carefully. The Dictator frequently emerges from Brutes with a high sense of self preservation. He does not like losses - losses mean anarchy, and the Dictator always has an eye turned towards his potential rivals.

The Dictator is easy to satisfy - simply obey his commands and salve his pride and he will focus on the enemies outside his power. However, the Dictator must respond to challenges to his authority as these are existential issues for him. He is prepared to make deals but will not accept anything lower than 51%.

A Dictator's sense of order attracts extremely devoted followers, and the Dictator tends to have a very resilient command structure with capable lieutenants he can trust missions to. While the Dictator's caution can make them seem weak, it also transforms an uncoordinated mob into a skilled, disciplined fighting force.

Key Moves:
• Outflank someone, corner someone, encircle someone.
• Make a show of discipline.
• Attack someone cautiously, holding reserves.

• Collector (to own)
Example: Dante Wallace (The 100)

The Collector is the most selfish Warlord. Her vision of the future is about herself and the things she possesses - people are simply disposable tools to her. She is a black hole, a sucking pit that valuable resources vanish into. When she requires something she gathers assets suited for that particular task and discards them afterwards.

The Collector is defined by her desires and her desires should frequently point her at the players and their friends. While the Collector is not generous she should identify people who have fallen on hard times and quickly move in with job offers. When she decides to add someone to her collection she snatches them without hesitation and demands that they play out whatever part she has imagined for them.

The Collector is aware that she is unpopular so she tends to be extremely well defended. She only emerges from her fortress when she wants something and withdraws the second she has it. Due to her indifference to the outside world, the Collector is most capable of atrocity - when threatened she can unleash some ancient terror from the World Before without reservation and then sift through the ashes for valuables.

Key Moves:
• Seize someone or something, for leverage or information.
• Make a careful study of someone and attack where they’re weak.
• Buy out someone’s allies.

• Alpha Wolf (to hunt and dominate)
Example: Darth Vader (Star Wars)

The Alpha Wolf is the biggest and the baddest. He is individually the most powerful dude in the Apocalypse and is so widely feared that he has developed a following of hangers-on and sycophants. He doesn't need them. They're like fog to him. He simply goes about as he wills, takes what he wants, and indulges in his impulses and the roving band of howler monkeys imitate his strength and charisma. If you kill one in front of him he'll laugh.

The Alpha is pure ego. He is the strongest and wants others to know it. He operates for his own amusement, releasing prisoners and hunting them down himself. He doesn't just want to win, he wants to dominate - to rub his foes' faces into the ground so that they know that he beat them. A narrow loss can be just as dangerous to an Alpha as a decisive one.

While the Alpha doesn't care about his followers, when he chooses to use them he uses them decisively and to support something he himself is doing. The Alpha leads from the front  and will use his followers to distract or encircle his foes so he can deal with them himself. The Alpha does not negotiate, but he might offer his enemies the chance to grovel before him.

Key Moves:
• Outflank someone, corner someone, encircle someone.
• Attack someone suddenly, directly, and very hard.
• Make a show of force.

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