Apocalypse World 2.0 Campaign Session 4: The Desiccated God

Who Rules San Pedro?

We started off the session with everyone paying lifestyle. I’d say this feels a bit weird given how much 1-barter is worth; if you don’t cover a long period of time in the session, 1-barter feels like too much for living expenses. But I guess this is just to keep things simple and ensure there is always ambient pressure on the PCs to earn their keep. Spanner and Slim paid up, but Kazuo was still broke, so her old friend Spanner covered for her, no strings attached (yet).

Spanner rolled his session-start move Bonefeel to see what his instincts told him; I got 1 hold to spend to put him in a tight spot during the session. Spanner also started a project in his workspace to fix up the dune buggy Wisher asked him to work on. I told him it required a few days and 2-barter to fix up (I later lowered this to 1 after reading what 1-barter could buy). Mice, who had lost her hands to Spanner’s trap the day before, was shooting him dirty looks, but Wisher said hands off.

Slim and Lala were meeting with the face of the Cult of the Desiccated God in town, Joe’s Girl. They found her in her coach-bus-turned-bar, up on blocks in the Scrap, her junkyard. She said she’d already heard about Wisher’s deal and wanted to make one of her own. She asked Slim to join the Cult and help them take the Copec gas station from the Minutemen. In exchange, she’d give them 1-barter and as much gas as they needed to get out of town. This offer was pretty bold considering Lala was a Minuteman, but she was new and nervous, so Joe’s Girl obviously didn’t give a shit.

Slim Read the Sitch to feel out the balance of power in town. They surmised that the Minutemen had the guns, but the Cult had San Pedro’s heart, plus force in numbers. Ultimately, Wisher had the gas that Slim needed; a Driver without mobility is limited. Slim asked Lala to wait outside so they could talk to Joe’s Girl one-on-one, figuring if they did betray Wisher, it’d be better if Lala didn’t know about it. Lala agreed, but with a partial success on the roll, again needed some collateral. She already had the keys to the Caddy, so Slim gave her his other prized possession, their Magnum. They did promise Wisher no bloodshed, after all.

Once alone, Slim switched allegiance again and agreed to help the Cult. Joe’s Girl asked cultist Last (middle-aged woman, buzz cut, submachine gun) to take Slim out to the Salt Flats to commune with the God, a necessary first step in their partnership. So Slim hopped on the back of an ATV with Last, and they buzzed out of the Scrap in a cloud of dust.

La Canaleta

We cut over to figure out what Kazuo was up to. She was basically still broke, living off Spanner’s generosity. I asked if she would be helping out Slim with the cult situation or trying to make a buck. That’s how we found her working the night shift at La Calaleta (The Gutter), San Pedro’s dive bar and strip club, her disturbing butoh dance confusing the patrons.

We saw a static shot of the open front door of La Canaleta, neon sign blinking on and off, Kazuo writhing on the stage. Slim and Last shot through the frame in a cloud of dust. Slim was, yet again, in over their head. In a somewhat desperate attempt to get help, they Opened their Brain to the Psychic Maelstrom, eyes rolling back in their head on the back of the ATV as they reached out into the multiverse. They were successful, reaching out to Spanner, who saw his tools all turn to point towards the cloud of dust leaving town. Slim’s voice echoed in his head, “Help…”

Spanner jumped into action and Acted Under Fire to finish his buggy a bit early. He got a partial success: he could finish it quick, but it wouldn’t be done and would therefore have worse stats. He took the bargain and did some uncharacteristically sloppy work. He did find time to hide a bomb under the driver’s seat, though. Classic Spanner.

Buggy stats

I figured this was a good time to introduce a mechanic we didn’t encounter in the first three sessions: custom moves. I had written one to account for Spanner’s proclivity to set traps:

When one of your traps is triggered, roll +sharp. On a hit, the trap deals 2-harm hand to its victim with all the following tags in the following list. On a 10+, it goes off without a hitch; cross off 4 and add one tag: +area, +AP, or +AV. On a 7-9, cross off 2.
• harm-1
• barter-1
• messy
• loud
• refill
• You have to be there to set it off

On a miss, your victim spotted it and is on to you.

Now the players knew that certain actions could trigger custom moves, which I keep private until they are unlocked through fictional action. I’m not actually sure if their being hidden is RAW or not… I like it though.

Anyway, Spanner told the Minutemen onlookers he was taking the buggy out for a test ride and sped out of the Copec yard. At La Canaleta, Kazuo was just finishing up her night shift. Spanner picked her up and told her Slim needed their help. She took over driving and they raced after the ATV. Rice and Pellet were on guard duty and saw them leaving town, wondering what they were doing going out to the Salt Flats with Last at this time of night.

To the Salt Flats

They tried to Overtake their quarry and were able to do so at a cost. Kazuo spun the buggy out in front of the ATV to stop it, but the engine was taxed from the effort and was belching acrid smoke. Kazuo took 1-harm from the smoke, but Spanner was used to it and had a mask in his bag (1-armor). Kazuo’s taking harm also meant she missed her animal companion Eltun the Andean condor flying away when they reached the edge of the Salt Flat. Last was surprised to see them, but when they said they wanted to come to the Salt Flats as well, she welcomed them. Spanner had to spend 1-barter to field patch the engine and then the whole gang was off.

The two vehicles kicked up salt as they drove towards a wide shallow lake, dark blue under the bright stars of the Atacama night. In front of the lake they saw an area with spotlights running from gas generators. The lights illuminated a strange sight: a dried vulture corpse, it’s wings spread wide, propped up in a mound of salt. In front of the vulture was a font from a Catholic church: a wide basin on a pedestal made of bronze.

Salar de Atacama, in the background the volcano Licancabur
Salar de Atacama, in the background the volcano Licancabur - Francesco Mocellin (2009) - CC BY-SA 3.0

Last hopped off her ATV, crossed herself, and drank from the font. She looked at the others with a slightly crazed look in her eyes and invited them to commune with the Desiccated God. Spanner joined in enthusiastically, drinking from the font of brackish water. This action unlocked another custom move:

When you drink the water from the temple on the Salt Flats, roll+cool. On a hit, you commune with the Dessicated God. On a 10+, hold 2. On a 7-9, hold 1. Spend your hold 1 for 1 to take 1 Ψ-harm and choose 1:
• Call upon the God to predict paths into the immediate future. You state your desired future. The MC will tell you what the God requires to bring it about. Take +1 forward to pursue this path.
• Call upon the God to survive inhospitable conditions. Ignore the effects of d-harm for the remainder of the session.
• Call upon the God to heal your wounds. Heal 2-harm.
• Call upon the God to bring a follower into the fold. Take +1 forward to seduce or manipulate someone into joining the cult.

On a miss, you are judged by the God and receive a frightful vision: take 2 Ψ-harm and the MC will tell you where you end up.

C liked the idea of the move being secret to the player until they drank, so I went along with it and we kept the move secret for now. Spanner Drank and held 1, Slim Drank and held 2. I liked B’s contribution of saying that the water here had tiny diatoms and invertebrates that the flamingos in the salt flats eat. Gross.

Kazuo decided she’d like a little more information before drinking. She Opened her Brain while doing a dance with her sword and reached out to the Psychic Maelstrom. She got a 10+ and saw the area around her change in a flash as she was granted a glimpse into a different space-time. In this world the vulture before her transformed into a glorious shining golden bird with bright white eyes. She surmised the Salt Flats must be a site of random multiverse collision, with the warped space-time giving adherents to the Cult the ability to shift and view other possibility spaces. She also caught a glimpse of etched writing around the rim of the font: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24.

Viewing the apparition of the vulture convinced her the God was benevolent, or at least useful. She took a big old Drink and also got 2 hold. Spanner had the idea to bring some of the water back with them. Last thought it was weird and assumed it wouldn’t have any affect outside the Flats, but she didn’t protest as they filled their canteens with the salt water. Festivities concluded, the gang drove back to San Pedro. On the way back they could see a giant yellow laser shooting into the sky; this was from the Very Large Telescope to the south. We took a break.

The Very Large Telescope's Laser Guide Star
The Very Large Telescope's Laser Guide Star - Gerd Hüdepohl/ESO (2010) - CC BY 4.0

Subterfuge in San Pedro

Back in town, Rice and Pellet saw the vehicles driving back in as they ended their night guard shift. Last went back to the Scrap, and Pellet happily let Kazuo through the gate to the Copec. Spanner got back to work on the dune buggy, trying to fix it up from the drive out of town. Slim and Kazuo went to talk to Wisher. On the way back into town they had cooked up a plan: they would mix the water with booze and throw a big party, inviting the Minutemen under the pretense that the Cult would still practice, but would respect Wisher’s authority in the town. Now they just had to trick Wisher into attending. If the water converted all of them, happy days. If not, they’d just have to shoot all of them. The God would look out for them in either case.

They found Wisher with her feet up on the cashier’s booth in the Copec shop. She immediately asked them if they drank the water. She was suspicious and obviously heard about their trip to the Flats. Slim did their best to lie, and Kazuo backed them up by claiming all the water in the Flats had dried up, nothing to worry about. This Seduce or Manipulate was a partial success; Wisher bought it for now. The downside was that everyone in the Copec missed spotting the strange drone that hovered into view through one of the windows to the shop, a bright red light blinking.

Wisher bought that they weren’t cult members - for now - but didn’t see why Joe’s Girl would agree to this peace treaty. It was a clear tenet of the religion that they would hold no authority above the God. Their Cult and Wisher’s rule were incompatible.

Running out of obvious options, Kazuo decided to employ her classic “wits and tits” strategy (knuckle tattoos, anyone?) and Seduce Wisher. She wanted some assurance of success, however, so she spent a hold to ask the God about the best path forward into that possible future. The God responded by sending a vision of a jealous Wisher pining for what she couldn’t have. Kazuo got the message and decided she didn’t need to prove to Wisher that the party indicated a real truce - she just had to get her there. The easiest way to do that was to make her jealous, so she mentioned that she already had a date - I think she said it was Last. Kazuo turned to leave, hoping playing hard to get would lure Wisher to the party.

Was there a full success on the seduce?

Showdown at the Copec, Part II

Meanwhile, the conversation took long enough that Spanner was putting a sound system into the dune buggy. So he was blasting some 80s rock. I think we heard some “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “November Rain”, and a few other classic tracks. He saw Mice whispering to Rice, obviously plotting her revenge. He decided he needed to help in a more significant way - I forget what his plan was exactly, but he started to leave the Copec.

I took this opportunity to spend my Bonefeel hold to put him in a tight spot, having Mice and Rice jump him as he tried to leave the compound. They exchanged harm and he took a good hit to the back of the head and the knee from their blunt weapons. He pulled a classic Spanner move and fought back with a god-damn grenade, blowing their blood and guts all over the wall to the Copec. It wouldn’t be the second half of an Apocalypse World game if Spanner didn’t throw a grenade.

This loud and messy scene caught the Minutemen’s attention and somewhat foiled Wisher’s seduction. She called in White from the back of the station and they escorted Slim and Kazuo out of the shop at gunpoint. Out in the yard, Spanner threatened the rest of the Minutemen on guard with his hand on the pin of another grenade. Music blared out of the speakers, turned back on by a new remote control Spanner had added. It looked like the control could maybe move the buggy remotely as well.

Tensions were high in this odd standoff; a bit of a repeat of the first scene at the Copec. However, before the bloodshed ensued, alarms sounded over the Copec PA system and red started flashing. Lala popped out of the hatch on the roof used by Wisher back when the gang arrived in town. She got on the PA and announced a multiverse collision had been spotted outside of town. She immediately called all the townsfolk to assemble in the town center.

Roll of the Dice

Spanner was happy his recent indiscretion was no longer the priority of all the people with the guns. He happily marched along with the rest of the members of town. Cut to the dusty central road, the stalls of the Mercado shut and all the rag-tag inhabitants of San Pedro lining the streets. The prominent members of the Cult lined one side of the road, with the Minutemen brandishing weapons on the other. Slim, Spanner, and Kazuo stood somewhat awkwardly alongside.

Joe’s Girl stepped into the road and yelled across to Wisher: she knew what had to happen. Wisher looked conflicted, but eventually gave Joe’s Girl a nod of assent. Last stepped out from behind Joe’s Girl and rolled some ceremonial dice into the dirt. She consulted the results on a piece of paper and called out two names: “Pellet and Last.” Pellet, the scrawny teenage boy member of the Minutemen with a crush on Kazuo gripped his machine gun tightly and his eyes widened. He begged for mercy from Wisher and Kazuo, but they both looked away. Last stepped forward proudly. Pellet was freaking out and had an itchy trigger finger, so White stepped up behind him and knocked him out with the butt of his AK, sending him tumbling into the road.

A few members of the cult escorted Last and dragged Pellet down the road towards the outside of town, bringing a few rods of sharpened rebar with them. They impaled them and hung them up in the wind next to the other desiccated corpses at the entrance to town. The entropy of the town now increased through random sacrifice, the oncoming image (mirage?) of the Scene flickered on a longer interval before disappearing entirely.

That concluded the session. We finished with another Fringe-style image: a more close-up shot of the VLT at night, the telescopes shooting yellow lasers into the star-studded sky. A swarm of drones like the one seen outside the Copec fluttered around, their lights blinking in and out and their tiny motors breaking the ubiquitous silence of the desert night.

Header image: Vulture from page 65 of Az Osztrák–Magyar Monarchia Írásban és Képben - The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in Writing and Image, editor-in-chief Mór Jókai (1885)