Tales of the Apocalypse: Part 1, Character Creation

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World role playing game and found it very well written and intriguing enough to give it a few session’s worth tryout.  I brought the whole crew back together and we sat down to create characters.

(in spite of what transpired earlier this summer, we ended up talking about it out and decided to stick together and try a new approach)

Character generation in Apocalypse World is in many ways peculiar to the traditional Role Player.  The Game Master (AKA Master of Ceremonies) drops a pile of playbook for about 10 different character classes and each players get to choose one, no duplicates. Then follows a series of choices for names, look, stats, gear and class-specific moves (powers) directly from the playbook.

Through this process, the MC asks all kinds of questions regarding the PCs to help create better defined characters.  This process results in some very colourful characters…

Shanty Town’s crew (Dramatis Persona)

All the story/background elements were created through players answering my random questions or interacting amongst themselves. It was very cool.

Allison, female Hardholder (owner/leader of a populated compound), played by Yan.

Always dressed in combat fatigues, she’s insists on being called Colonel Allison by her 75 or so citizens although the title is meaningless since no organized armed forces have existed in the last 50 years.  She rules a rickety settlement called Shanty Town made of corrugated iron panels too rusted to be recycled and thousands of yards of plastic tarp centered around an old, well-preserved car factory turned into a weapons plant.  Its economy runs on recycled metal that her citizens scrounge/raid from the countryside and turn unto weapons.

While rich and very lucrative for Allison and her lieutenants, Shanty Town remains an undefended shit hole of trash and pestilence.

She also has no current partners, leading me to jokingly refer to her gigantic Magnum .44 handgun as “Allison’s Boyfriend”.

Quote:

Calm down, let’s do this right you bunch of savages.

Raven, female Faceless (masked, supernatural brute). Played by Franky, who literally wears a Raven full face mask whenever he’s in character.

Raven wears leather and spiked fetish wear weaved all over with black feathers and, of course, a black raven’s mask.  She was a member of a nomadic “murder” of similar clad savages who got wiped during a disastrous raid (possibly involving the Thunder’s biker gang, see Eric’s PC below).

After the massacre, guided by the spirit of her Mask’s, she followed a caravan back into Shanty Town and currently hangs at the edge of the settlement near Ambush Hill, scrounging a living meager living under the watchful eye of Smith (Mike’s PC, see below).

The last thing that people see when Raven decides to kill them is her gigantic, gleaming machete.

Quote:

Nothing escapes the Raven.

Eternity, female Battlebabe (The name says it all). Played by Math.

Exceedingly sexy gal wearing a skintight bulletproof latex-like bodysuit complete with front zipper. When asked what she applies to her skin to keep it that splendid, she answers “sweat, and lots of it”.

Her signature weapons are a custom humongous brainsploding gun and a long, very sharp curved sword with cute spindly drawings on its handle.  She “got” that blade from a very insistent client who got too friendly in her past life as a stripper.

She travels around by renting the services of a driver or from Thunder’s crew (Eric’s Chopper).  She’s also currently employed full time as Allison’s bodyguard.

Quote:

Its so sad you have to die, you were this close to getting me in the sack.

Thunder, Male chopper (Biker gang leader) Played by Eric.

Thusder is large, shaggy and none too bright, but he’s one mean motherfucker. His boys call him Sarge even though he doesn’t want them to.  This diseased and dirty gang is made up of 15 14 or violent motorcycle bastards. They get their fuel and food from Allison as part of the payment they get from the lucrative raids they perform on surrounding settlements.

The last guy Thunder killed was during a recent raid where he got too excited using his crowbar on a poor schmuck, doing his signature “working up” move by breaking all joints from ankles to shoulders.

Quote:

You had shit at the end of your machete, I smelled like gas. We fucked. End of story (Actual game quote).

Smith, male Brainer (Think psychic brainhacker). Played by Mike.

Wears a dirtied but valuable three-piece suit.  Bony faced and sporting dead eyes, Smith is Allison’s Director of Security.  He walks calmly around town, making sure everything is under control, scaring the shit out of everyone, or reprogramming anyone who isn’t.

A Lone Wolf to the hilt, Smith’s idea of calling for backup is getting his knives out when his violation glove fails to do the job.

He has a secret desire to one day meet someone’s who’s worth his time instead of the rabble he has to keep in check.  It’s uncertain from Smith’s behaviour via Eternity if she’s a likely candidate or not.

Quote:

Don’t ever dream of stirring trouble up, I’ll brainwipe you so hard you’ll need diapers again.

Apocalypse History X

The last part of character creation is a somewhat convoluted roundtable where people set the value of their “History” stat (called Hx) with every other PC.  That stat, represent “how well a PC knows”/”how intense recent history was” vs each other PC.  It comes into play when characters interfere with one another and is one of the drivers of character improvement.

Beyond the mechanics though, some fundamental PC-to-PC relationships get created during that process.  Here’s what transpired in our case.

  • Raven appreciated that Smith was unafraid of her upon their first meeting.
  • Smith has secretly been observing Eternity but she does not trust him.
  • Eternity and Raven did something terrible once (jokingly refereed to as “very bad lesbian sex” which may stick as canon).
  • Smith observed Raven sleep once without Raven knowing about it.
  • Raven stole something from Allison’s settlement, and Allison knows about it.
  • Raven finds Allison pretty.
  • Allison and Thunder go way back, having worked together before all this.
  • Allison also once stood up to Thunder and his gang and Thunder isn’t sure what to think of that.
  • Although she hired him as her Director of Security, Allison quietly dislikes and distrusts Smith

I was highly satisfied with the results, Apocalypse World does not require the PCs to be friends, just start as allies.  The game very much revolves around loyalty and some players were already bonding with their characters and the outbound links they created.

I was curious to see how the story would unfold but was highly nervous that I would have a hard time mastering that game. Stay tuned for the play report of that first session.

Comments

  1. Albeit the clunky start with the history part. Character creation was a blast.

  2. Waiting to see how this turns out 🙂 got my book at home just waiting to run. But having problems getting my head around how to actually play it.

  3. Way cool characters!

  4. I’m intrigued by an rpg that actively discourages first person play

  5. @Michael — hm? I may be misunderstanding what you mean by “first person play,” but I think AW actively encourages it. The first fragmentary examples of play are on page 12, and in each one, the player is speaking in first person. “dammit, I guess I crawl out there. I try to keep my head down.” And so on.

    You’re maybe thinking it discourages third person play (i.e., “OK, Bob crawls out there and tries to keep his head down.”)?

  6. I may be thinking of the wrong game, but one of the recently released post apocalyptic games actively encourages a player/character divide.

  7. Apocalypse World does encourage such a divide in that the MC is strongly encourage never to talk to the players but rather to address the characters.

  8. I love seeing the Faceless in use. 🙂

  9. I think you’re definitely thinking of something else, yeah. The thing where the MC talks directly to the characters — s/he’s talking to the players but using the character names, right? That’s pushing first-person play, plus every example of play has the players talking in first person.

  10. I think that Micheal is talking of the same game. The thing about player/character division is that it can be interpreted both way… It could mean MC talking to character in game or also meant that player narrate action taken by the character. Both case still support the division one being first person the other third.

    It’s mostly a question of comfort. A post apocalyptic world can be gritty and visceral. The third person approach gives you more of a narrator feel, thus acting as buffer to the discomfort of some of the more hardcore scenes.

  11. Sure. But every single example of players saying what their characters do in the game is of the form “I do X.” Likewise, the character books are first-person: “Your angel kit has all kinds of crap in it,” not “Your character’s angel kit has all kinds of crap in it.” The rules are written as if the person who’s reading them is the character: “At the end of every session, choose a character who knows you better than they used to.”

    The game’s written to encourage immersion.

  12. @Byrant: It totally does, but Yan, nor any of my other players have read anything other than the playbooks. And I will not enforce any such playstyles unless the given players is comfortable.

    That’s why I didn’t bat an eye when some players chose books outside of the playbook choices.

    I will however play according to as much of the principles as I can handle at any given time though, which should help induce more immersion as players wrap their minds around the different play style this game pushes/encourages.

  13. Trying to play to the principles is super important, I think. Part of the genius of AW is that the Principles and MC Moves actually tell you how to play the game in really concrete terms, sometimes it can be worth dropping what you usually do to try the game as it is.

  14. Oh I agree… but as my next post will testify, juggling all the principles on the first session is quite a feat when you aren’t used to GMing like that. It’s not that any principle is alien or completely new, it’s just that there’s a lot of stuff to process on and off screen!

    But I know I’ll get better, for sure.

  15. Awesome, can’t wait to see it.

  16. “I live in a shanty, in a shanty town.. We ain’t got no money, we sleep on the ground.. Get so high we.. we can’t even see.. Then we kill the white people.. Ho-oh.. We gonna make em hurt.. Kill the white People.. But buy my record first…”– Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live

    First thing that came into my head when I read Yan’s description. 🙂

  17. @Wrath: I’m going to need that as a MP3 to play during the game! Awesome man!

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