Apocalypse World 2.0 Campaign Session 1: The SceneGame Summaries ·
After a fun Apocalypse World 2.0 (AW) one-shot this summer, we decided to try a short campaign (I’m thinking ~10ish sessions). So we got together and ran session 1 as per the book. I did basically the same thing for our one-shot, but that time I focused more on escalating the action to a serious and chaotic climax. This time I took stuck more closely to the book and did my best to establish a situation of uneven power dynamics. It was a really fun session and will hopefully lead to a fruitful campaign.
Like the last game, I started off the session with a discussion of what our apocalypse would be like: fiction inspirations, environment, themes, mood, etc. Check out my last post for how I did that.
This time the players were eager to choose playbooks, so they did that first but didn’t fill anything out. They ended up with a Savvyhead, a Driver, and a Hocus. I made the observation that having a Driver in group meant it was likely that the group would be mobile, or that the Driver might be a bit more independent from the other two characters. Everyone was fine with that.
The kernel of what we ended up with for the apocalypse came from B, who said she was interested in the apocalypse depicted in Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, which I haven’t read but which she described as an apocalypse where time breaks. From that we spit-balled a few related ideas. One of them was that the apocalypse affected memory; I mentioned the Roll 20 AW campaign where that was the theme to suggest this sort of thing is within AW’s wheelhouse if the players are willing. Another idea was that time or physics was broken in certain areas, sort of like the Zone in Roadside Picnic/Stalker. C suggested that maybe staying in one place led to people getting stuck in an eternal loop, a kind of inertia tending towards a repetitive purgatory. Another player suggested maybe the loop or the arrival of duplicate future and past selves could mean that the apocalypse had something to do with multiple universes.
I think it was me who brought these ideas together by combining the idea of inertia and multiple universes: in this apocalypse, the key is to always keep moving and changing so as not to allow multiple universes to converge. We didn’t establish exactly what happens when these universes meet, but we do know it is bad. Reality now bends towards this ‘convergence,’ but it can be avoided by constant movement, dynamic action, randomness, entropy, etc. This reality provides a concrete reason for the characters like the Driver to be mobile.
I also followed the pattern of having a discussion about the exact shape our psychic maelstrom takes. We tossed around a few ideas but settled on the maelstrom being a glimpse into other universes. Through the maelstrom you can see pasts, futures, and presents. These glimpses can be used as portents or dismissed as random psychic noise.
B is playing Dust Rabbit the Hocus. They are the unwilling leader of “the Scene.” B chose that option for her followers (read: cult) from the playbook and at first we weren’t sure what kind of scene that was. But once B described Dust Rabbit’s look I had an idea (details below). They are ambiguously gendered, wearing tech vestments composed of shiny fabric threaded through with copper wire. The vestments are piezoelectric (I learned this word from B): they use the vibrations caused by movement to generate electricity and power tiny speakers. What a great solution for generating power in the apocalypse!
Once this idea was on the table, plus the fact that we had established that our apocalypse was one that required dynamism, movement, and randomness, I suggested that the Scene might be a kind of noise music cult. This idea was well received and so we went with it. Dust Rabbit’s Scene started with the following stats: +1fortune surplus: +2barter, +augury, +violence, want: +hunger, +savagery. A perfect combination for me as MC: these tags give Dust Rabbit resources (barter for buying stuff and augury for bending the psychic maelstrom to her will), while also creating followers who are difficult to control and dangerous.
C created Spanner Spectrum the Savvyhead. He is a tall and gaunt fellow wearing a corduroy suit and matching bowler cap. His suit is a prized possession, so Spanner wears long gloves to protect it while he works. His workshop is a van full of perfectly organized tools.
Finally we have T playing Slim Jim the Driver. They are a gaunt and weathered figure wearing cowboy boots and hat with a faded Slim Jim t-shirt. B asked if people know what a Slim Jim is; T said no one knows, and Slim Jim doesn’t appreciate when they ask. They also sport a vanity eye patch, which they lift up a bit like when librarians or grandparents skeptically peer over the top of their glasses. Slim Jim is a wanderer and smuggler, driving a huge boat of a Caddy with a bullbar on the front. The Caddy is fast and powerful, but hard to control. While Slim Jim Works as a hired goon, they aren’t really the type to get into a prolonged fight.
During Hx, we also established:
- Spanner recently rescued Slim Jim from a tight spot, towing his Caddy out of a ditch
- Spanner is a member of Dust Rabbit’s Scene.
- Dust Rabbit knows Slim Jim’s heart. I asked B what object she saw that revealed it to her. It was a pointed question that really put her on the spot, but she nailed the answer. She saw his vinyl copy of John Cage’s 4’33” in the backseat of his Caddy. B connected this to the emergent themes beautifully: records can rotate infinitely, but you can get stuck in repeating grooves. The song is about “the sound of the instruments not playing.”
- Some other stuff I forgot!
Spanner and Slim Jim Arrive
At this point I called a quick break while I came up with a good starting situation. We had established a good central organizing community in the Scene and fleshed out the relationships between the NPCs, but I didn’t create any named NPCs during character creation like I did during the one-shot. So I needed a minute to think about how to connect the dots.
Here’s what I came up with: Spanner towed Slim Jim out of the ditch and offered to take them to the Scene, which Slim Jim accepted. They both motored across a cold, dry desert bathed in a light fog. B nailed it when she said it sounded like a Chilean cloud desert; hell yea, this game is now in the region-formerly-known-as Chile. Probably; it could be in any appropriate high desert if we need it to be. So they are rolling across the desert, crest a dune, and see before them the Convoy, home to the Scene. The Convoy is a big group of various vehicles slowly creeping across the desert: motorcycles, bicycles, vans, cars, trucks, buses, and a number of large wooden platforms housing multi-story houseboat-like buildings. Some of the vehicles are burning fuel, while others are solar or even wind-powered. The platform bases look like Theo Jansen’s strandbeesten, “beach beasts” that are kinetic sculptures which move organically with the wind. The goal here isn’t speed; it is to keep moving to outrun any convergence with other universes. The combustion engine vehicles are basically in a constant state of ghost-riding, with drivers hopping in and out as necessary. Refueling happens on the move. Oh, and every surface is decked out with noise-makers: wind chimes, speakers, drums, real instruments, human singing; whatever it takes to keep the multiverse guessing.
Spanner and Slim Jim drove up next to Dust Rabbit, who is riding her signature solar bike. When they pull up, a prominent member of the Scene is yelling at Dust Rabbit. This is Inzane Johnny (T wanted a noise musician reference, I guess) on his dorky touring motorcycle. Johnny was compaining about Tum Tum, another prominent member of the following: “His algos all fucked up! It’s been repeating the same phrase for hours. It’s gonna cause a loop I swear! You gotta get over there and do something about it,” he demanded. Dust Rabbit isn’t keen to get involved in this spat (again, presumably), so she delegates to Spanner, telling him to get over there and fix it. Slim Jim relied on their Reputation here to see what Dust Rabbit knew about them; I forget the results of that roll, though. Someone else Read a Charged Situation here too, but I forget what happened there also!
Here we also established that Johnny and Tum Tum represent a split in the Scene, with Johnny’s crew advocating for total chaos and violence while wearing biker gear and Tum Tum’s gang adopting more of a nerdy normcore approach, hoping to use math and science to identify the perfect chaos algorithm to automate their random noise generators.
Spanner to the Rescue
Spanner chugs over to Tum Tum’s platform. He’s got a big one, tricked out with a residential structure on top. Out front under some tarps he’s got a bunch of Marshall stacks blaring an abrasive melody. The stacks are hooked up to a wooden rack full of blinking guitar pedals and wires. Tum Tum is fiddling with them, ear protection on to guard against the noise. Spanner awkwardly says hello, and Tum Tum tells him he can’t figure out what’s gone wrong. Thankfully, Spanner rolled at 10+ on Bonefeel at the start of the session, and he was able to spend one hold to be there with the right tools for the job. He quickly found that several of the screws holding pedal cases on had been stripped. He popped them open and found someone has tampered with the pedals: sabotage. Ever the loyal follower, he headed back to tell Dust Rabbit.
Slim Jim on the Run
While Spanner was gone, Slim Jim tried to Seduce or Manipulate Dust Rabbit, saying they’ve been on the road a long time… wink wink. T misses the roll: Slim Jim’s got no game. Dust Rabbit learns this and turns it into a bargaining chip: they want someone to keep an eye on the split in the Scene. Dust Rabbit agrees to let Slim Jim stay with the convoy if they’ll work for them as a general gopher/security guard. Dust Rabbit took it pretty easy on Slim, but in exchange they learned a bit more about the Driver: they are fleeing The Convergence, who want his John Cage record. The Convergence is a group (cult?) working to bring about convergence between the multiverses. They welcome the on-going apocalypse and this special artifact holds some kind of significance for their rituals. Slim Jim pledged their (tenuous) allegiance in return for letting them hide out from the Convergence in the Scene.
Spanner came back and told Dust Rabbit that Tum Tum’s pedals were tampered with. He had a plan to search the Convoy for tools, but that required some sort of cover. We established that the driver’s seat of every vehicle was public space, able to be commanded by any member of the Convoy, but the rest of the vehicles were generally personal property that belonged to the owner(s) of the vehicle. How would Spanner and Slim Jim find a way to search the Convoy? I had a brainwave: maybe Dust Rabbit occasionally declares a Halt: constant movement is great, but they have to mix it up every now and then by stopping. The Scene would gather on foot for ceremony, leaving the vehicles exposed for searching.
One of my “I Wonder…” questions I jotted down during play was “Does Dust Rabbit actually have power?” as in, do they have special abilities in accessing the Maelstrom? If so, are they actually willing to wield them? Eventually they answered that in a cool way: B said the choosing of a time for a Halt was auspicious and required Dust Rabbit to commune with the Maelstrom to see if the time was opportune. As a player, she had to choose whether to bluff and declare a Halt as an excuse for the search, not requiring a move (maybe Seduce or Manipulate to lie to the Scene), or to Open Her Brain to the Psychic Maelstrom and look for a sign. Dust Rabbit actually also had access to Augury from their followers, but B chose not to mess with those powers yet.
So, Dust Rabbit Opened her Brain to the Psychic Maelstrom (7-9) and received a vision of when Spanner first joined the Scene, back when it was in its infancy. I put her on the spot again by asking her who it was that was against letting him into the Scene; we left that as an open question for later. We established that Spanner joined during a particularly memorable Halt; Dust Rabbit got the impression (no certainty with that result) that her vision meant it was a good time to Halt. So, the Convoy creaked to a stop, the Scene members piled out and gather on the dunes, and Dust Rabbit began her “Tarot-card-based-DJing” noise music set to bring her followers together.
Meanwhile, Spanner and Slim Jim Acted Under Fire to quickly search the convoy for the suspect tool that damaged the pedals, with one Helping the other based on Hx. It still wasn’t enough, so the 7-9 result meant an ugly choice. Brain showed up: a portly fellow with a pair of bongos on his hip and a number of other old analog instruments strapped to his back. He heard there was a new person in the Convoy and was using this time to slip away and see if they owned any cool stuff. He was trying to break into Slim Jim’s Caddy. Bad idea, touching the Driver’s car… So Spanner and Slim could continue the search, or deal with the Brain situation.
A funny moment from character creation came back to haunt T here. We established that Spanner is an expert in explosives and booby traps. He kindly put a grenade under the driver’s seat of Slim’s Caddy; a sort of kill switch in case anything real bad happened. Like, someone forcing the door, for example. T saw that Spanner was kitted out with grenades, so didn’t see much point bringing a machete and instead chose the loud magnum. At this point T wished he had made the other decision: either he could face a loud explosion if Brain broke in successfully, or he could create a suspiciously loud gunshot while everyone was supposed to be congregating with Dust Rabbit.
After some debate over tactics, Slim Jim tried to threaten Brain to leave by Going Aggro (miss), but before they finished their threat Brain put a rusty switchblade in their ribs. They duke it out in Single Combat and Slim Jim blows Brain’s brains all over his driver’s side door, but also takes another cut to the face. They’re at 9 harm by the end of the tussle and not looking good.
So the cat’s out of the bag and the gunshot rings out even over the din of Dust Rabbit’s music. They see some followers on the edge of the rave looking suspiciously back towards the Convoy and starting to drift away. Taking action, they decide to amp up the noise and send the group into a Frenzy (7-9). They announce the threat of the Convergence and demand tribute, asking everyone in the convoy to bring forth their tools and weapons as some sort of spiritual donation to Dust Rabbit. So their followers run back to the Convoy to gather their donations. One problem solved (now all the tools will be available for inspection), but another created: what the hell is our Driver going to do about Brain’s brains?
It turns out that B got a hit on her roll and the Scene is violent and savage; they don’t really give a shit about murder. So most members ignore Slim Jim’s smoking gun and go about their business. Cici, however, does not. She’s a member of Inzane Johnny’s posse sporting a close-cropped haircut and leathers. I establish that she was the one who didn’t want Spanner to join the Scene. Now Spanner’s new buddy just murked Brain, who was also riding with Johnny. She was pissed and suspicious but avoided violence, for now. She headed back to Dust Rabbit with her donation and B spent another hold to send the crowd into an orgiastic celebration.
We cut to the PCs standing in front of a tall pile of tools and weapons, the debauchery of the Halt winding down around them. Spanner proceeded to arrange all the tools and weapons by function, color, and size in the sand of the cloud desert. That made for a nice image of an overhead shot of this mosaic of metal and plastic with Spanner frantically inspecting it all. C was gearing up for a big Things Speak roll to gather some information once he found the tool, but I cut the session at a cliffhanger. We’ll find out what he learned - if anything - next session!
AW is definitely pretty easy to run. I love how much you can get done in a single session. Next time I will review the playbook moves before the game so I can have a better sense of when one of those might kick in, but I think the players are paying close attention there already. I think we all did a good job identifying when moves should kick in and what exactly they required. I remember specifically stopping a few times to have players read the moves out loud so we wouldn’t just, e.g. roll +hot to seduce someone, but to actually establish the stakes as the moves demand. That part of AW is so great compared to my experience with D&D where all of that stakes establishment is off-loaded to the DM and social rules at the table, rather than the rules of the game itself.
A few things we messed up to keep in mind moving forward:
- We missed rolling Dust Rabbit’s Fortunes at the start of the session because I forgot about it. All good, we’ll do it from now on.
- I also missed a few important details about the Scene as B created it. Her sheet says the Scene doesn’t necessarily travel with her (though in fiction right now it does) and that it consists of 20 people. I was picturing the Convoy as larger. An easy solution is that the Scene is the spiritual component of the Convoy, but there are others in the community. Or the Convoy is just smaller than I pictured. We’ll talk about that next session.
- There were probably a few spots where I could have asked more questions and used the answers. I noticed writing this summary that a lot of the ideas we went with were mine; either I am just remembering others’ ideas as my own or I dictated a lot of the direction. But I don’t think I overstepped the role of MC.
- I introduced four named NPCs, which is probably a bit low for a first session of AW. But there are plenty more where that came from, and I’m happy with the ones we have.
Looking forward to the next game in a few weeks!