Apocalypse World 2.0 Campaign Session 5: An Erotic AgreementGame Summaries ·
After checking the temperature of the group at the start, we decided that this would be the last game of the campaign. So that meant we’d run it pretty hard and try to come to a conclusion.
We returned to our ragtag trio of desert rats in the San Pedro standoff between Wisher’s Minutemen and Joe’s Girl’s Cult of the Desiccated God. Having just sacrificed Pellet and Last to appease the God and prevent a convergence, the town was feeling both supportive and terrified of the Cult. Joe’s Girl said what everyone was thinking, which was that the town couldn’t survive without the Cult’s sacrifices. Wisher still couldn’t stand the threat to her power, however. They both looked to the PCs to see which side they were on.
Feeling caught between a rock and a hard place yet again, Slim Jim turned to their new God, spending hold to access the custom move asking for guidance (see the custom move in the last post). They avoided any consequences from the ψ-harm and were granted a vision. In it, the dusty road was divided in half, the glowing golden bird from earlier sitting in the middle of it, huge wings spread. On one side, the cult members, covered in blood and gore, rejoiced on top of a pile of dead Minutemen. On the other side was a different future, with all of San Pedro having an orgiastic party, music blaring, bodies moving, and in the center of it all, Wisher and Kazuo making out. The message was clear: the only ways through were to kill the Minutemen or to lure them into peace through partying.
Slim whispered this vision to Kazuo while the Minutemen reached for their guns nervously. Kazuo decided she preferred the party path and thought that continuing her strategy to seduce Wisher was the way to go. She walked up to Wisher and removed her black latex body suit with her teeth. It was weird, but thanks to An Arresting Skinner, it distracted everyone. With the tension momentarily defused, somehow they convinced everyone to party with another strong roll. I think Kazuo or Slim manipulated Joe’s Girl by telling her about the plan to convert the town using the water from the Salt Flats.
It’s funny being the MC when the players get a bunch of strong hits in a row. They get everything they want and more. But that luck can only last so long…
An Erotic Agreement
Residents slowly emerged from their hiding places from the convergence, opening up their market stalls and unshuttering the windows of their shacks. Spanner helped cult members roll out big speakers and a town-wide party started. Slim and Kazuo got behind the bar at La Canaleta and started mixing the brackish water from the Cult’s font with booze. Kazuo makes a mean terremoto, so the party was soon in full swing.
Slim took the opportunity to sidle up to Lala, the pacifist and newest member of the Minutemen. She still had the keys to their Caddy and their magnum, both given over as collateral to ensure their cooperation. They decided it was time to get out of town though, so some sweet-talking was in order. After another 10+ on Manipulate move, Slim managed to convince Lala that the danger had passed and the cult would stand down. She tossed them the keys, a slow-mo shot revealing an enamel key-chain of Macho Man Randy Savage snapping into a Slim Jim.
Spanner and Kazuo also wanted to get the gas and jet, so they came up with a plan to steal back the keys to Spanner’s workshop from Wisher. Kazuo used her stripper skills to pull off a complicated maneuver where she pole-danced and used the tip of her ornate sword and a swish of the hips to grab the keys out of Wisher’s bag. FKA Twigs was inspiration for this little move. Another 10+, this time on Act Under Fire!
They continued to roll amazingly well and somehow engineered Joe’s Girl and Wisher together with a classic make-out switcheroo. Spanner helped by setting the perfect playlist while Kazuo Seduced Joe’s Girl. They waltzed through that party and got their keys back. At this point I mentioned that the PCs had created peace through an “erotic agreement.” Spanner obviously made note of this phrase; it would come back later.
It was time to get out of town. They bolted to the Copec, unguarded during the festivities, gassed up, and hit the road in the Caddy, the van workshop, and the still-smoking dune buggy. At the last minute, Slim decided to bring Lala along. She still felt she didn’t belong in the militia, so she took her chances and jumped into the Caddy next to them.
Adios, San Pedro
The crew headed out in the desert, guided by Slim Jim. At this point we had to decide a bit more about character knowledge and motivations. As players we had been talking about the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the John Cage 4’33” LP as holding some kind of importance to controlling the convergences, but we hadn’t really established what the characters knew. So we decided they knew the record had some kind of space-time warping powers due to its locked groove, and they knew that the VLT could be used to amplify those powers in some way. So they PCs decided to head for the VLT. Slim rolled a custom move to navigate the Atacama and again had a 10+ result.
When you travel through the Atacama, roll+sharp. On a hit, you find the place you are looking for. On a 10+, you keep your cool as well. On a 7-9, choose 1. On a miss, you don’t find the place and the MC chooses 2:
• You take 1 Ψ-harm. What did you see that did this?
• You lose track of time chasing a mirage. What was it? Suffer 1 d-harm.
• You lose track of space and get lost. The MC says where you end up.
• You return without something or someone important. The MC says what.
I suppose that result made sense fictionally, since we had established that the VLT projected lasers into the sky at night, and since it was dawn, they could simply follow the giant laser beam. As the vehicles sped across the desert, Spanner was watching The Amazing Spiderman on VHS. They pulled up and saw the telescope array surrounded by more of those pesky drones with red lights in a big swarm. Kazuo’s Andean condor Eltun returned in dramatic fashion by taking out one of the drones with its talons and crushing it on the hood of her buggy as a present.
Slim decided a direct approach was best and repeated the same power slide we saw when they met Kazuo for the first time, careening into the area in front of the central telescope in a cloud of dust. We saw a view from above where the car disturbed neat mandala-like lines raked into the sand all around the VLT.
The Scorpion and the Frog
A female voice crackled over loudspeakers on the exterior of the building. It belonged to Krin, the leader of the Convergence. “Hey Slim. I see you’ve brought the record for us. Mind handing that over?” We established that Slim knew of Krin because he used to run goods for the Convergence through San Pedro, but they’d never met. Slim had been on the run from them ever since they found out they had the LP.
I don’t remember the exact context, but at some point I think Kazuo felt betrayed that Slim knew the Convergence so closely but hadn’t told anyone their history with the group. Slim replied by telling her the story of The Scorpion and the Frog. Slim just can’t be trusted, they said. Like the scorpion, “It’s in my nature.” However, at some point they must have had a change of heart - or maybe a vision of the future if the Convergence had their way - and decided not to give them the record. Maybe Slim’s nature is not so set in stone… But despite their discovery of a conscience, they had unwittingly brought the record right to them.
Some player debate occurred about what path to take. B and C didn’t trust the Convergence and wanted to try to access the VLT themselves. So, Kazuo sped ahead towards the blast door, smoke billowing out of the engine of her damaged dune buggy. They established a plan over CB that she would bail out of the buggy, and Spanner would activate his under-seat bomb to help blow the door open. She Acted Under Fire to time the bail properly and got a partial success. I gave her a hard bargain: you spot the glint of a scope up on top of the building, a Convergence sniper aiming right at you. Your choice is to stay in the buggy long enough to guarantee a hit, but also get shot, or to bail early and avoid the fire. She took the bargain (and 2-harm), rolling out of the buggy and lying bleeding in the sand.
Spanner tried to detonate the seat bomb, rolling his custom trap move, but got a miss: he was too distracted watching Spiderman. By the time he looked up, he exploded the bomb after it had already bounced off the door, creating a nice fireworks display, but nothing more. Kazuo’s buggy did some damage (4-harm minus 2-armor), but not enough to break the door completely. It had some holes in it they could crawl through, but if they wanted to drive in, it would have to be bigger.
Seeing the others had decided on a strategy, Spanner hopped back in the Caddy and tried to finish off the door by Going Aggro. He dealt an extra +1harm with Combat Driver, but a partial success meant the car got stuck under the debris and Lala passed out in the wreck. It got the door open. Spanner kicked the van into high gear and picked up Kazuo and Slim. He Acted Under Fire not to get shot by what were now several Convergence gunmen on the roof, getting another 10+ to make it inside the building without further injury. We took a break.
Convergence with the Convergence
The van put-putted into the big, warehouse-like building containing some lab trailers and a big central column housing the radio telescope and control room (something like the actual telescope, but bigger. White flags with black ink mantras hung around the building, all proclaiming the importance of order and bringing about the Final Convergence of timelines, the scientific and religious goal of the organization.
Arrayed in front of them at the base of the telescope was an squad of elite Convergence soldiers, wearing body armor and wielding military-grade weaponry. We established they are unusual in this world because they have access to high technology. They were formed from the military, scientific, and intelligence communities shortly after the apocalypse. I suggested that maybe some former Pinochet death squad soldiers were in their ranks, and B rightly suggested it wouldn’t even have to be Pinochet given what’s going on in Chile right now. Similar smaller religious texts hung from their clothing (I was thinking of Warhammer 40k space marine chaplains). Krin was in middle: a heavily-armed middle-aged lady with long black hair and a white cape scrawled with religious proclamations. She again demanded the record.
Spanner had Slim take the wheel while he went to go dig around in the back of the workshop, looking for something. Slim saw the heavy arsenal facing them, considered a battle charge, but upon reflection of the harm that might be inflicted, decided to veer off behind the trailers instead. Spanner kept digging around.
B was still a bit unsure what Kazuo’s motives were in the situation, so I suggested the players allow the mechanics to help decide that if they didn’t have their own ideas. B spent her last hold with the Desiccated God to ask what path she could take to stop the space-time weirdness. She shrugged off the ψ-harm and saw a vision of herself in the control room of the VLT, placing the John Cage record onto a spotlighted turntable connected to a bunch of computer terminals and analog oscillators. This meta-discussion of Kazuo’s motivations also lead to T wondering if the Scene was ever going to show back up. We all did want them to make another appearance, but wanted it to be fictionally justified. I stated to the table that I was planning on having them show up somehow, either as friends or enemies, depending on the outcome of rolls.
The World’s Weirdest Hostage Situation
This gave Spanner the impetus to Open his Brain to ask for help from his former cult members. Using a 90s mouse-pad track-wheel on his remote control, he tuned in over the multidimensional airwaves, looking for a familiar signal. Eventually we heard from back in his van the sound of a familiar voice crackling to life: “Spanner old buddy! It’s Tum Tum! I’ve done it! The Algo is perfect. It stops the convergences! I’m coming to the VLT right now to hook it up and fix this damn mess. Only problem is Inzane Johnny’s pissed at me still, thinks it won’t work. Him and the gang are hot on my tail. Hold on, I’m coming!”
A partial success meant that whatever Spanner was looking for in the back of the van was not going to work. We soon found out what that was when he emerged from the van holding a red lace teddy with a leather backing, some writing etched into it. He ran towards the Convergence soldiers, proclaiming: “Do not worry! We are willing to negotiate. I have created a lingerie contract!” This was a bizarre but excellent callback showing that Spanner had been ruminating on how peace was brokered in San Pedro. He decided that the “erotic agreement” was the key. C had been jotting down synonyms all night and before the session was done, managed to have Spanner refer to a:
- sexy promise
- throbbing handshake
- lusty pact
- carnal accord
- romantic arrangement
I was very confused about why Spanner had a teddy bear, until it I was reminded that a teddy is a type of lingerie. 😑
Seeing this insane attempt at bargaining, Slim thought their side of the negotiation might need better leverage, so they followed Spanner, holding their magnum to the record like a hostage. In response, generators started up behind the soldiers, and they began flicking in out and out space-time. The Convergence had access to some kind of timeline-manipulation tech. Slim asked what the Convergence wanted to do with the record. At this point, Tim Tum arrived in a big rig lined with speakers, blasting the horrible chaos algo noise.
Slim had a choice: continue to be a selfish asshole and save their own skin, or stick by their friends in this tight spot. They decided that the chaotic, wild, but free lifestyle of the Scene and San Pedro was better than the imposed order of the Convergence. They gave a rousing speech to this effect.
Krin reacted with her own oratory, demanding “the Liturgy” from her companion Millions. The other soldiers teleported into kneeling positions in rows before her as she read from their holy scripture: “We prostrate ourselves to Order. Entropy is the enemy and must be wiped out. Chaos and free-thinking were what created this disaster in the first place. To fix this error we must bring about the Final Convergence.” After her sermon, she gave Slim a counter-offer: “If you give us the record now, we’ll let you live.” B - classic B - identified that the groups in this Apocalypse represent the eternal struggle between smooth and striated space as identified by Deleuze and Guattari.
Unimpressed by her speech, Slim decided to let chaos reign. They tossed the John Cage record like a Frisbee and levelled their Magnum at it. Ironically after all that talk of friendship, Kazuo and Spanner both absolutely didn’t want Slim to destroy the record, so they both get partial successes trying to Interfere, adding -2 to Slim’s roll. Slim spent their final hold with the Desiccated God to get +1, so with their +cool canceling out the -2 they were at +1 overall. They still got a 10+. The record exploded in a burst of vinyl, clattering to the floor of the warehouse. Slim turned to leave the warehouse.
At this point it wasn’t super clear what the plan was, but Kazuo and Spanner thought maybe they could hook Tum Tum’s algo up to the VLT and broadcast that instead. It looked like it was working, disrupting the teleportation powers of the soldiers. Spanner sprinted between cover and ducked into the control tower to try and disrupt the generators powering the Convergence’s tech.
Sensing the need to seize control of the VLT, Kazuo got a partial success on Act Under Fire to put Krin in an acrobatic thigh-headlock. The downside to her partial success was she got knocked unconscious by one of the teleporting goons. Spanner heroically ran back out to grab Kazuo and bring her to the control room, forgetting the generators for now. He got a partial success Acting Under Fire, making it to the top but getting shot and nearly dying in the process. Krin began marching up the stairs behind him.
Down below, Slim dramatically decided not to abandon his friends, turning around to help Tum Tum position the big rig to disrupt as much of the Convergence’s power as possible.
The Final Convergence
Back in the control room, Slim spent his last hold to heal 2-harm for Kazuo, a final blessing from the God. He rolled the Healing a PC’s Harm move and it actually led to him advancing by resetting Hx with his old friend Kazuo. This effort was too much for his taxed brain, however; he got a partial success on the ψ-harm roll, buying Krin more time to climb the stairs. A dazed Kazuo woke up to find Spanner bleeding all over her. She Acted Under Fire to find a microphone to amplify Tum Tum’s algo with the VLT before Krin reached the top of the stairs. She got a partial success… At this point there was a bit of silliness happening where C and T were passing me notes trying to influence the end of the game. Thankfully I had mostly similar ideas, so I didn’t need to let anyone backseat MC the game. 😂 More on that dynamic later.
But this partial success set up a great hard bargain for Kazuo. Spanner spent his Bonefeel hold to be in the right place at the right time with the right tools… In this case, the right tool is a copy of John Cage’s 4’33” record. (It is only occurring to me now as a write this that I don’t think Cage never actually recorded this as a vinyl single. I like the idea that it was a single in this universe, though.) However, Krin was here too, pointing her sub-machine gun at both of them.
So, Kazuo could grab the record and throw it on, but would have to let Spanner sacrifice himself as a human shield to protect her, or she could refuse to let Spanner die and try to fight Krin (with a sword and a gunshot wound). She decided to honor Spanner’s sacrifice and let him die. Spanner used his last strength to charge Krin, letting Kazuo place the record on the turntable, broadcasting John Cage’s work to the entire planet and some of the cosmos. This action triggered the final custom move for the game, letting Kazuo harness the power of the record to choose among an infinite array of timelines. I definitely broke some AW principles writing this one, but it sounded like the game was heading in this direction, so I wrote it along with a few other possible outcomes, as a final move to finish the game.
When you broadcast John Cage’s 4’33” record using the VLT, roll+weird. The multiverses align and are spread out before you in infinite possibility space, allowing you to choose which to inhabit. On a 10+, choose 3. On a 7-9, choose 2. On a miss, the MC chooses 1. In your chosen world…
• The first Convergence never occurred and you are all living a normal life. What does it look like?
• This is the final Convergence. The on-going apocalypse is over. What will you do now?
• Your companions still exist.
• You keep your memories.
• You still exist.
A strong success gave B control over how she wanted the game to end. She ended up deciding that this was the final Convergence, that she gets to keep her memories, but that she no longer exists in this timeline. So, we saw her flicker out of existence, a small price to pay to fix space-time weirdness and allow society to try to get back to normal. I suppose keeping her memories meant that somewhere out there, in a different timeline, there is a Kazuo who remembers her adventures in the Atacama.
We ended it there. Who knows what Krin thought of the Final Convergence arriving, but not under her control, or what Inzane Johnny thought when he and his gang showed up. A story for another timeline.
T thought we could have a credits sequence showing what all the characters were up to before the apocalypse, or maybe in other timelines where the world didn’t go to shit. Slim Jim was sitting in a basement, playing video games and yelling at his mom. Kazuo was a waitress at Applebee’s, living a normal and boring life. Spanner was an early childhood educator, teaching a classroom of little children.
Here are some bonus tidbits:
- the golden bird was inspired by the Alicanto
- thanks largely to C’s amazing DJing skills, a campaign playlist
I had a ton of fun running this little AW campaign. I’ve been mentioning a few thoughts along the way, but I’ll recap a bit more thoroughly here, in the last post for the game.
The shape of the game was not what I expected starting out. We definitely did not play AW exactly as it is designed to be played, but I think it worked out. Here are a few ways I think we drifted from the spirit of the game (though not necessarily actually breaking the rules), or just issues I ran into as a new MC.
We were very mobile. Most AW games I’ve listened to or read about tend to be based in a single location, such as a Hardholder’s holding. I can definitely see this making the game easier to run. The NPCs you create stick around (if they live) and you can always foray out into the world, but have somewhere to come back to. It feels like having a community is important. That said, we knew that choosing the Driver would make us more mobile and were fine with that. However, the three locations of the Scene, San Pedro, and the VLT made it so that there wasn’t a huge amount of continuity between sessions. I could have tried to address that by bringing old characters back, but that felt fictionally forced. Things might have gone differently had Dust Rabbit not died in the 2nd session.
I admit I broke one of the MC principles of not planning anything out in advance. I didn’t do that in Sessions 0 or 1, but then Dust Rabbit died, and the players were feeling a lack of focus for the game. Using the record as a MacGuffin and teasing the VLT as a location gave us something to work towards, but it also introduced a degree of linearity and planning that is antithetical to AW. I wrote a few moves that could potentially be rolled to end the game, which also feels a bit against the philosophy of AW. But, in the end I think they worked well to provide focus for the narrative. That said, I tried not to impose any particular direction on the game and let player agency drive the action. Part of the issue might be that as players, we are more used to D&D or Pathfinder and more linear adventures or dungeons. So it can be hard to strictly let character motivation drive the action. However, as a player I am way more interested in that style of play. I feel like I learned some skills to try to encourage that as a GM/MC.
I could have done better building NPC - PC - NPC triangles. I found it hard to do that on the fly. I also found this group really liked to stick together like a D&D party, so it was hard to try to pry them apart with separate loyalties. If I MC AW again, I would definitely try really hard to build those triangles.
We all said after the last game that playing AW as a one shot or knowing you want to come to some kind of conclusion actually let the game shine. I thought that was an interesting result, considering everyone (including Vincent and Meguey Baker, the authors) suggests that AW is a game that really only starts to shine with the extended play of a campaign. Part of me wonders to what degree
- I MC too conservatively and should do more to upend the status quo in normal play and/or
- as players we just prefer the chaotic action created in these sessions over the more interpersonal/character development stuff that you get over a campaign.
I don’t know. Part of me wonders what the secret is to MC a game of AW that doesn’t feel like there is a constant state of panic. If you are always facing scarcity in combination with external and internal threats, I feel like you are just sort of fated to burn through NPCs and locations as the PCs basically blow everything up. But maybe I’m treating the game too much like an action movie and there are other, less violent ways to drive the narrative…
I wish it were even more explicit what the difference is between a hard and a soft move in AW. Maybe I just still don’t get it. I guess irrevocable action is the dividing line. Maybe I’m just too conservative in my use of hard moves, but I felt like my soft moves were very often “announce future badness,” and I could have made better use of the other options to create dramatic tension. I enjoyed MCing, but I did find it hard to come up with good moves (i.e. moves that feel fictionally appropriate and drive the narrative) some of the time. Hopefully that is just something that comes with practice and learning the move options.
Lifestyle costs felt unnecessary in most of our games. Maybe because I stuck to a pretty moment-by-moment timeline where we didn’t elide the passage of time. I admittedly did not fast-forward in time hardly at all during the game. I could have driven scarcity a lot more, generally, but I also found that the PCs weren’t ever that tight for cash. In my next AW game, I will definitely try to push scarcity a lot more.
Secret Moves and Notes
The secret passing notes that happened in the last section felt very D&D and not AW. I am more of a fan of collaborative storytelling rather than uneven information in RPGs. That said, I did like our hack (I think it’s a hack?) of keeping custom moves secret until they are activated. That decision created a fun moment where a PC would take a fictional action and I’d grab a slip of paper with the new move written on it, now available for everyone. I’d keep that hack for AW games in the future. I’m not actually sure what the RAW is on that; it doesn’t seem to say if these moves are public from the get-go or not. I assume since they are written on threat sheets (e.g. p. 118), they are private to the MC.
Despite these difficulties, I really did enjoy the game. Thanks to the players for being good fun. I loved the diverse influences we all brought to the game. I’m looking forward to playing more Powered by the Apocalypse games. Next up we’ll be playing a campaign of Blades in the Dark (you can read about our one-shot last year here), which isn’t PbtA, but is heavily inspired by AW and did start as an AW hack.
Header image: Scorpion image from the British Library (1888)