Author Topic: Brand new to this system, relatively new to tabletop games! a few quick Qs!  (Read 5276 times)

stirles

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Hey everyone!
so, some friends and I wanted to try tabletop gaming, and so played a DnD campaign with an experienced DM. Then we played a DnD hack of his that was a kind of zombie apocalypse thing. But recently he got a "real job" and cannot continue DMing.
I volunteered to step up and DM a new game for my group, but didnt want to dungeon crawl, and wanted to explore some more interesting, contemporary systems. then the bundle of holding comes out, I read the AW book, and it sounds awesome. It SEEMS like a great game for a beginner DM/MC bc the book is just full of advice on how to do it and examples, but its still a very daunting thing to start so I wanna ask yall more experienced players some questions. Feel free to answer just one, multiple, or just to ignore them, and advise me in general!
How do you usually start the first session?
Do the players start together in one place? do you spend that session getting them together, or just allow them to be doing really varied things?
What are some common pitfalls for a new MC? What is something obvious to overlook?
If your player has a gang, how much control do you give them of the names and personalities and actions of these NPCs?
I find the idea of "fronts" to be unintuitive and confusing at the moment? Why use them? Is it just a tool for organizing the various dangers of your world into groups? If you have multiple, how do you get them to cohere, or do you just not?
any overall tips?

Thanks in advance!

derendel

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How do you usually start the first session?

The way I've always seen it done and how I would do it would be to turn to the character with the most ties to the world (the Hardholder, the Operator or what-not) and ask them where they live what the hard hold is like, how they get food and survive.  Then I see what the other character do to live.

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Do the players start together in one place? do you spend that session getting them together, or just allow them to be doing really varied things?

All the character should already know each other, that's what Hx is for.  When the players are establishing those connections you should be asking questions like "how did your character help out the other when he was in trouble? What was that trouble?"

Once play begins the character should all be in the same relative area. Typically you should aim to do a scene with at least two characters at a time initially. Try to work off of any start of session moves.  So if you have a hardholder and they succeed at their wealth, maybe play out the point when the money comes in (perhaps a successful harvest festival, the return from a raid, or the tax man scouring the market).

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What are some common pitfalls for a new MC? What is something obvious to overlook?

Remember to describe.  Remember to ask questions (especially when people open their minds to the maelstrom, that one is easy to miss). Don't be too hard with your hard moves, or rather hard moves don't always mean someone gets shot. This might be helpful: http://mightyatom.blogspot.com/2011/05/apocalypse-world-guide-to-hard-moves.html

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If your player has a gang, how much control do you give them of the names and personalities and actions of these NPCs?

They are the players to establish if they want.  You can control their actions but the player should get to name and describe them (i.e. take over the hard work).

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I find the idea of "fronts" to be unintuitive and confusing at the moment? Why use them? Is it just a tool for organizing the various dangers of your world into groups? If you have multiple, how do you get them to cohere, or do you just not?

Think of fronts are the main dangers of the game.  In your previous games with your group, the zombie horde would be a front.  Fronts are a way of tying different threats together (for the zombie example you might the threat of the zombie virus, the zombie hordes themselves, and the military indiscriminately carpet bombing city to contain the horde).  You shouldn't worry about it for the first session.  Later on it becomes helpful tool but isn't really necessary.  The threats are more important (since they point out how a problem/foe/obstacle can react).

Anaphory

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Think of fronts are the main dangers of the game.  In your previous games with your group, the zombie horde would be a front.  Fronts are a way of tying different threats together (for the zombie example you might the threat of the zombie virus, the zombie hordes themselves, and the military indiscriminately carpet bombing city to contain the horde).  You shouldn't worry about it for the first session.  Later on it becomes helpful tool but isn't really necessary.  The threats are more important (since they point out how a problem/foe/obstacle can react).

This is something I still have not figured out properly, I must admit. I always think of fronts as thematically linking threats together like this, but then there's also the fundamental scarcity that is expressed by the whole front. Which one would you say these zombies express? And do you usually go from some threats to a scarcity or from a scarcity to some threats or how do you do it? And am I just breaking forum etiquette by hijacking this thread?

stirles

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 wow Derendel! Very clear and helpful post!

 related question to those:  in my past games,  the PCs  were in a fairly rigid party,  and rarely was anyone off screen for any serious amount of time. AW clearly encourages/ requires people to be offscreen.  any advice on how to cut  back and forth,  or keep other players from getting bored?
« Last Edit: December 07, 2013, 09:52:46 PM by stirles »

derendel

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My advice is to keep scenes short and sweet.  If things start dragging either end the scene or give them a decision to make and tell them you'll get back to them.  The same thing if the player is quibbling over a choice.

Ideally your scenes are intense enough that the other (uninvolved) players are watching closely (if only to see if Mack's bar burns down). 

A trick you can sometimes manage is if two (or more) player characters get into an in-game conversation of relatively low stakes (in other words you probably won't need any hard moves for it or add any description), you can switch to another group while they handle themselves.

plausiblefabulist

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You can switch-back and forth mid-scene, you don't need to wait for action to have ended. You can do this intentionally to raise tension. "They've got you surrounded, you hear a gun go off behind you -- but let's pause and see what's going on with Dremmer over here. Have your boys got the airflow fixed?"

For "getting them together" at the start of the session, remember that leading questions are this incredibly powerful tool for collaborative scene framing. You can simply assert that their characters have done things, but leave the why and how open-ended enough to let them regain control of their conception of the character:

"So you and Dremmer are crouched together behind some sanddunes in the middle of a firefight. Why?"

You're simply asserting that they are. You don't actually have any idea why. You don't have a precooked backstory in mind to convince them of, of how they met in a bar and one of them talked the other into a heist, or an ambush, or whatever. All you have is this image -- you're throwing them together and into a tense situation. Then you immediately let them paint on the canvas, filling in backstory, helping establish the scene. All you've done is used MC force to skip the boring part -- where PCs don't know each other and they circle around each other warily or fuck off to do something else rather than engaging with each other. In traditional gaming where you draw up characters independently, with no HX round,  and then throw them into a preplanned GM scenario, the GM is forced to use on-table force that distorts the story -- the King throws them all in jail and offers them a pardon if they do what the GM wants, they meet in a bar and a mysterious stranger offers them gold and knowledge, whatever. You can do that all in a sentence with a leading question. "You're together and in trouble. Why?"

Munin

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Also, you should absolutely ask questions during the Hx round any time something interesting crops up.  OK, so Casey the Brainer has decided that he is going to take the Hx bonus for having watched Deke the battlebabe sleep.  Ask about the circumstances behind this.  Either one or both players will probably have something awesome to add.  Doesn't need to be more than a few sentences, but it serves to add something to the fiction that will come in handy later.

Declan Feeney

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A trick you can sometimes manage is if two (or more) player characters get into an in-game conversation of relatively low stakes (in other words you probably won't need any hard moves for it or add any description), you can switch to another group while they handle themselves.

I would recommend strongly against this. The message you are giving to the players is: "This new scene I am switching to isn't important enough to warrant everybodies interest."

The logical next stage from this is they start playing on mobile phones, reading or gazing out the window when they're not involved in a scene.


stirles

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Hey yall!
Thanks so much for the help! It was all a great aid! We have now had two sessions and I think its going really well! I still dont have everyone together, but it is less of a problem than I thought it would be. Our Hocus may even be making moves to be the Big Bad of the whole game, totally derailing the threats Ive been cooking up, but the way the system works it all seems to flow. "play to find out what happens" makes a lot more sense rightnow.

But some new questions:
What if players seem to be making moves exclusively to grind experience? Like if sharp is highlighted and they just read EVERY NPC that comes into the scene, or our brainer that opens the maelstrom to send messages to another character constantly just to roll the highlighted weird. Ive warned them that once they miss a roll that I think is one of these exp-grinding-rolls I will make a very hard move against them, but with +3 weird, the brainer wont be missing often. These rolls seem to hold up the game and break the balance (bc a "hard" character cant just start goin aggro on everyone with the same lack of consequences). thoughts?

Also, Im having a hard time imagining how my threats could evolve into something truly catastrophic but still able to be addressed by the players (I havent been using the "fronts" system, it just doesnt make sense to me at the moment). The psychic serial killer that many of my players are tracking seems pretty fully realized as a threat, shes just killin folk, hard to scope that up bigger. While the group of raiders that could come into town seem like theyre either offscreen or are fully raiding the town, in which case my players seem pretty fucked. What sort of threats have yall used that can develop smoothly and preventably?

Munin

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A couple of things - first off on the experience grind just highlight different stats if you want to "slow someone down."  Or institute a policy whereby a player can only get experience off a highlighted stat once per scene.  It's kind of a hammer, but if you feel that your players' grinding is disrupting things, don't hesitate.

Second, for threats that build but can be head off if caught early, some of the best ones are internal pressures.  A new cult, a new organized crime group setting up shop, corruption within the hold's governance, or decay of existing physical infrastructure.  Also, look to the playbooks that aren't in use for inspiration.  Is anyone playing a Touchstone in your game?  Because if not, a wandering visionary with messianic dreams of a "better tomorrow" makes a fantastic threat that can build over time.

And even though you've classed them as a major threat, you can also start out small with your raiders.  Have them make small probing raids to gauge the hold's reaction/defenses, or better yet infiltrate, either to get something of value, to get information, or to sabotage the hold's defenses.  Look at the moves for Warlord threats - they're not all about large set-piece battles.  There's lots of room for build-up there.  The use of force is at some level an economic proposition.  It is pointless to attack something if your losses will outweigh your gains.  As such, any Warlord worth his salt is going to soften up his target first, rather than simply attacking head-on, especially if his target is adequately defended.  Use that to escalate your threat over time.

Tsenn

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But some new questions:
What if players seem to be making moves exclusively to grind experience? Like if sharp is highlighted and they just read EVERY NPC that comes into the scene, or our brainer that opens the maelstrom to send messages to another character constantly just to roll the highlighted weird. Ive warned them that once they miss a roll that I think is one of these exp-grinding-rolls I will make a very hard move against them, but with +3 weird, the brainer wont be missing often. These rolls seem to hold up the game and break the balance (bc a "hard" character cant just start goin aggro on everyone with the same lack of consequences). thoughts?

Reading a person in a charged interaction?  What makes it charged?  Where's the tension?  You can't grind XP just by sitting at the post-apocalyptic bus stop and watching the people go by.  Keep close to the word of the book, but talk with your players out of game if you feel they're trying to game the system.  Are they deliberately introducing tension into a situation to trigger the call for the move?  I bet there are some NPCs that don't like feeling like they're being put under a microscope every time they go to talk to that character.

Brainer using the maelstrom as a pager service?  Hoo, boy.  I don't care if you're tapping 10+ every time, I've got a threat brewing just for you.  Maybe the maelstrom wants to use you as a prophet, makes you an offer.  Maybe if wants someone else to bring you to it so you can't refuse.  I don't want to take away from the coolness of your success, I'm a fan of your character, but if you use the maelstrom casually you'll run into danger just like if you jump to Go Aggro or Sieze to solve all your personal problems.

Also, Im having a hard time imagining how my threats could evolve into something truly catastrophic but still able to be addressed by the players (I havent been using the "fronts" system, it just doesnt make sense to me at the moment). The psychic serial killer that many of my players are tracking seems pretty fully realized as a threat, shes just killin folk, hard to scope that up bigger. While the group of raiders that could come into town seem like theyre either offscreen or are fully raiding the town, in which case my players seem pretty fucked. What sort of threats have yall used that can develop smoothly and preventably?

Psychic serial killer escalation?  Starts killing more important people, people you can't replace.  The community starts demanding resolution from its leaders.  Why won't you protect us?  Or copycats, or some kind of cult starts up.  Who has been killed?  Why?  Did they do something wrong?  Did they offend the gods in some way?

About the raiders, well, those three guys who rolled in on bikes this morning, they're not raiders, just travelling scavengers, sure.  They just happen to be spending a lot of their time asking questions, looking around, noting where your guard towers are, what kind of firepower your gang has, looking at the holes in the wall you never got around to properly sealing up.  Or maybe they happen to know about a stash of guns they want to find a buyer for, maybe the holder would like to come and see?

Daniel Wood

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Re: Brand new to this system, relatively new to tabletop games! a few quick Qs!
« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2014, 03:14:27 AM »
Lots of good suggestions so far.

I would add, regarding the Brainer sending messages through the Maelstrom -- if this is something that happens so regularly, and with such ease, maybe the Brainer just doesn't need to roll for it anymore. Maybe the Brainer has actually just taken a custom move that allows them to use the Maelstrom to communicate. While escalating the risk, or developing a specific Maelstrom-y threat as the result of this use, are both legit, the other option is just to do the same thing you do when your ultra-badass gunlugger wants to shoot some chump: you just let them shoot the chump, no dice required. It really depends a lot on what your Maelstrom is like, and what sort of relationship has developed between it and the Brainer.

The other thing is that apart from the risk of failure, moves have an opportunity cost. You use dice when there is something happening; when actions will have consequences. Presumably those are the situations in which these people are Reading or Opening Their Brain -- and that means they aren't doing something else, instead, to deal with whatever is going on. Reading the Situation does not always happen in a freeze frame, it's a thing you do, just like Going Aggro or Seizing by Force. It exposes you to risk, but it also exposes you to someone else reacting in a way you don't like, even if you didn't fail the roll -- or acting in a way you don't like, just because that's what they were going to do next anyways, and you decided to hang back and scope out their intentions.

"What does Dremmer intend to do? He intends to grab Wakkabakka's infant son and make a run for it... and oh, there he goes now." A conversation goes back and forth, and if your players are deciding to use their turns-to-talk to grind xp instead of doing something that really addresses the frickin' situation, here then that's an opportunity on a golden platter. And a legit choice on their part too, for that matter. Play to find out what comes of it.

ETA: I would add, for all these things, that if you decide to start dealing with these sorts of rolls in a way that is going to be dramatically different from how they've gone up until now, you should obviously let your players know up-front that this is your intention. If players are used to being able to always Open Their Brain or always Read a Person without any time passing or without that person reacting, then you should tell them if you're going to try and put pressure on that idea. Players should always know what they're getting into, when they decide to have their characters do particular things.