Tales of the Apocalypse Part 2, Reprisal at Ambush Hill

Warning: This play report covers some hard subject matter, including a reference to rape and player characters having (consensual) sex , please skip if you are offended by that kind of content, I have no intention of discussing the relative morals of that here.

See part 1 for character creation.

Apocalypse World has a name fetish in regards to PCs and NPCs. One of the many principles the Game Master are asked to abide by is “name everyone”‘. That’s why I’m going to share the PCs names again, for the sake of reference:

  • Colonel Allison, female Hardholder, played by Yan
  • Raven, female Faceless, played by Franky
  • Eternity, female Battlebabe, played by Math
  • Thunder, male Chopper, played by Eric
  • Smith, male Brainer, played by Mike.

The initial situation

As things stood, the social ties of the group was such that Allison was Thunder’s boss.  He was the leader of the biker gang she sent out on her most daring and lucrative raids.  Smith was also working for Allison, although Mike clearly indicated that  he was going for a Lone Wolf character, he was going to play his cards close .  Early play also led to Eternity getting hired by Allison as her bodyguard.

That left Raven standing out from the group, not yet integrated into any formal social dynamic other than having met Smith at least once and having stolen something from Allison (something she already knew about).

Apocalypse World instructs the Master of Ceremonies (the GM) to start the first session as “let’s follow the PC through a normal day and see what happens”.  This was made easier by Allison having to check if Shanty Town (the settlement she owned) produced surplus wealth at the session’s beginning.

Yan rolled and achieved a “soft-hit”, a success that’s usually attached to a player/master-invoked complication.  In Shanty Town’s case, the town managed to produce it’s surplus wealth, but at the price of “retaliation”, a concept I assumed I was free to interpret as I saw fit.

Pinned down at Ambush Hill

Apocalypse World is VERY improv-driven, thus the MC must use the tools at his disposal (GMing principles and a series of “moves”) to get the characters in trouble and react to their own moves.  The story gets created as the byproduct of  the back and forth between characters and MC.

I invoked the game’s 1st MC principle: Barf forth Apocalyptica.  I focused the first scene on Thunder and Raven, describing how Thunder’s biker gang were returning from another triumphant raid on the resource-rich but very inaptly named Fortress-City settlement, bike bags brimming with metal loot to be recycled in the Shaty Town’s weapons factory.

As Thunder was entering the town and Raven sitting on the hill, doing her daily inventory of the knick-knacks she scrounged to survive another day, they both saw the red dot of a targeting laser zig zag chaotically all over down the hillside, passing over Raven and more or less vectoring in on Thunder’s slow moving, big ass chopper.

(That’s an example of a MC move called “Announce Future Badness” ).

Play proceeded more or less coherently as I tried to wrestle handling all the play principles, MC moves and keeping proper pacing.  I often found myself asking for the PC to tell me what would happen next through the traditional “I describe something vague, you the PC tell me what you want to do”.


A bit later, after Thunder’s cycle got punctured by a high-powered hunting rifle and Raven had a quick, silent discussion with its Mask for guidance, I switched the action to Allison, Smith and Eternity who were standing near the factory. Initially, I more or less asked them to react to the sounds of the gunfire they could hear from Ambush Hill, but I realized that I wasn’t making any of my MC’s moves. That’s when I went back to my playbook and pulled another one: “Announce Off Screen Badness”

Phil: Allison, as you are instructing your settlement’s goons to go and support Thunder’s pinned crew, you hear a huge blast coming from the factory.

Allison: Oh Shit… I guess the ambush was a diversion.

So Allison and Eternity went back in the factory and confronted one of Fortress-City’s raiders (Oni-Wise) who had somehow obtained the cooperation of 2 factory workers (Parcher and Bar).  That ended with a very dead Oni-Wise and 2 jobless Shanty-Towners.

Allison (To Parcher and BAr): Leave this factory and never come inside it again!

Eternity: But isn’t the factory the only real job here?

Allison: Not my problem…

Mr Smith goes on a stroll

Smith decided to let Allison deal with her factory troubles so he could move closer to all the fun going on over at Ambush Hill.  I pulled another MC move called “Put them on the Spot” and had a pair of Shanty Towners (Tom Tom and Joe’s Girl) confront Smith with a Baseball bat and a piece of blade taped to a haft.

Tom Tom: You Mindfucker! I’ll make you pay for what you did to my brother!

I had no idea what Smith did to O’ Tory’s (Tom Tom’s bro).  So I applied another MCing principle and asked… Smith.

Phil: So why are Tom Tom and Joe’s Girl so mad that they’d overcome their fear of you and threaten you like that?

Smith: I recently scrambled O’Tory’s mind back into early childhood for breaking Allison’s Law.  Now he spends all his days playing with Lego bricks (O’Torys now rechristened “Legoman”). That’s why Tom Tom’s so mad.

Phil: Cool!

As the pair was about to attack, Smith used “direct brain projection’ to go aggro on Tom Tom (i.e. use the threat of force to get character to do something, in our case, back the hell down). Tom Tom, being so angry, forced Smith’s hand and got half of his brains turned to mush. Joe’s girl, having lost her 2 lovers in a matter of days, ran off crying.

(Maybe in the arms of another character?  One principle is called PC-NPC-PC triangles).

It always comes together in the end.

As is always the case when I’m GMing a completely new game, I grow mentally tired more easily, so I wanted to see the session through and I was running out of creative steam.  But that was greatly underestimating my 2 psychodramatists playing Raven and Thunder.

Shortly after Thunder’s crew and Allison’s cleaned up the remnants of Fortress-City’s retaliatory raid, Raven caught one of the straggling raiders raping Mill, a teenaged girl and one of Shanty Town’s “gentle souls”.  Seeing this, Raven calmly took her machete out and placed it strategically between the raider’s exposed buttocks to get the rapists’ attention.

A few minutes later, we had a young, Mill running back to safety and 2 half-raiders steaming on the ground.

Raven: I’m excited that I helped that young girl, but I’d be lying if I  wasn’t aroused a bit by all of this, where’s that big manly Biker?

Thunder: Right here baby! (See quote from yesterday’s Monday’s post)

And so we had 2 characters invoke their “gain short term buffs when you have sex with one another”.  I had both Thunder and Allison’s gang cheering them on during the act, the whole place erupting into an impromptu victory party.

During that time, playing off Raven’s suggestions that they should all go do a counter-counter raid after their little amorous interlude, I had Phil, Thunder’s lieutenant, start mobilizing Allison’s gang to join them.

Then tried to invoke that “create PC-NPC-PC triangles” principle I had had trouble with so far. I had Phil start plotting something with the other NPCs and had Smith notice it when he read the situation.  Something was afoot and Smith had the choice to tell someone or not…

During that time, both Thunder and Smith noticed that Rum, the raiders’ leader, was still missing, so I put Smith on the spot again…

Rum (cocking his .45 revolver and pressing it against Smith’s head): I’m right behind you fucker, I’m not leaving here without a hostage!

(I’m taking some artistic licence here)

Smith: I slowly grab his nuts with my Violation glove…

All players: Ewwwww!

Smith: And I do in-brain puppet string…( he rolled perfectly) and implant a command for him to shoot himself in the head.

R-rated splat…

Yeah, Smith’s going to be very scary soon.

Wrapping it up

The last scene of the evening was when Smith cryptically informed Allison that someone could maybe try to make an attempt at Thunder’s life during the upcoming counter-counter raid (I love saying that).

Allison left her HQ and went to Thunder. There they had another of what appears to be frequent spats. This time it was about the next raid’s timing.  Thunder wanted to leave now and Allison wanted everyone to wait a few hours to prepare a better raid.

That’s when we played our first PC on PC roll: Manipulation. Allison threatened not to pay Thunder for the previous raid… and Thunder was in dire need of bottle caps to repair his hog and get more fuel.  She won the roll and Thunder grudgingly agreed to wait out.

(Thunder got experience for accepting to be manipulated, a great little social mechanic just there)

That’s where we stopped for the night. We played for about 2 hours beyond character generation and I was exhausted. Now I have to distill what was created in the first session and start planning my fronts (meta-plots that will come thrash the PCs attempt at stabilizing their world) based on NPCs and places we created, both withing and outside of Shanty Town.

Post Game analysis:

What the players liked:

  • Much faster turnover between ‘turns’
  • The Badassness of the characters
  • The strength of the characters stories from the get go

What players liked less:

  • Incoherent time frames between ‘actions’
  • Time jumps or action by other PCs that invalidated their setups created by previous moves
  • Unequal experience “points” because some players rolled a lot less dice.  I assume it averages off after a few sessions.

Lessons Learned:

  • When in doubt, ask the players. It works.
  • I need to go back to my playbook of moves instead of relying on the traditional describe/explore paradigm I fall back on in improv-heavy games.
  • I’m allowed a few sessions to master the game’s intricacies.

Next Session: Counter raid in Fortress-City against the Cannibals!


  1. This is craziness! Maddening! I want to read the novel !

  2. Heh! Thanks man… think of it like a mini-series we’ll write every two weeks for the next 2 months or so. It sure was a lot of fun top play and in hindsight, the story is very cool.

  3. Feels like “Borderlands : the RPG” 🙂

  4. It’s very interesting to read how both the characters and the game play come together, so I look forward to reading the future play reports! I wasn’t that interested in Apocalypse World at first but it definitely tickles my sci-fi and post apocalyptic fancies so I may have to give it a try sometime soon.

  5. Interesting stuff. I like the idea about asking the players “what did you do to piss this guy off?” I might steal that for my upcoming Burning Wheel game.

  6. @Bart: Apocalypse World is quite a different experience. Given how you absolutely loved Mouseguard, I think you would love AW’s mechanics. But you might be more of a fan of the comic than the MG:RPG itself. I may show it to you guys when next we meet.

    @Paul: It works WONDERFULLY… funnily, I assumed it was one of the core assumptions of Burning Wheel… I know it’s one in Dresden Files where the GM always go “I don’t know, you tell me”