Tales of the Apocalypse, Part 3: Prepping the Game

Last Friday was our second Apocalypse World game.  I could see from the email chatter that the players were getting excited about it.  This time, Yan was not going to join us so Colonel Allison wasn’t going to be part of the action.

Before I get into the actual game report, I wanted to share some of my prep for that session.

While Apocalypse World is a low prep RPG, it is by no means a no prep one.  The game/author reminds us in no light terms to refrain from plotting out a story.  Instead, the book provides a series of structured tools to build what’s called Fronts, templates of linked threats that loom around the PCs, trying to forward specific dark agendas the PCs may decide (or have no choice) to go against.

The game offers 2 sets of tools to create a front:

The First Session Worksheet

This sheet is a legal-sized of paper available as  free downloads here (I got a full set of those sheets as a Gen Con bonus). You write down the name of each and every (living) NPC or places that interact with the PCs.  Each named NPC or significant emplacement is placed on some kind of 2 dimensional matrix that list various threats categories they can represent toward the PCs.  Examples of threats are ambition, hunger , ignorance, fear and decay, all of those can be either literal or figurative.

To that list, you add resources that each NPCs (or group/emplacement) has that the PCs might not have direct access to. This creates opportunities for some interesting conflicts and PC-NPC-PC triangles.

For example, in our game, I put Forteress-City (a place) between the “envy” and “ambition” threat as either the party or Fortress-City itself expresses those feeling toward the other entity.  The Fortress has a bunch of resources like walls (defence), Living space, strategic position and (why not) books.

Finally, there’s a space on the worksheet for unanswered questions you have asked yourself during the 1st session.  In my case, I had the following questions:

  • Why is there a rebellion theme developing in Shanty Town
  • Does the reprisal from Shanty Town’s raid a normal occurrence or is this one special?
  • Can the Factory fall?

Those questions are the fuel on which the fronts can be built.

The Fronts Worksheet

A Front is where you create new NPCS and places or pick them from the 1st session sheet and bring them together in 3 to 4 organized threats from a list of Apocalyptic-themed templates.

For instance, I created a “dictator” leader for Fortress-City called Sun who’s some sort of psycho-paranoid Louis XIV warlord raving about any affront to his rule over the desert.  I created an agenda for him focused on wiping out Shanty Town and broke down, as instructed, his plan in steps that I’d cross out as completed or thwarted depending on how the PCs reacted to their changing environments.

Then I I brought together 2 members of Allison’s gang and 2 more from Thunder’s and called them “The Traitors” whose goal was to bring down Thunder.  I also created a new NPC called “Frankie” who was a skin collector that wore suits of patches of  sewn-up human flesh who was fixated upon the female PCs of the group.

I also created the actual Fortress-City, based on the image you can see in the post’s heading (click to enlarge) and gave it a clear agenda to start shelling Shanty Town with the ship’s guns if the PCs didn’t stop it in time.

So these 4 threats came together in a Front I called “Sun’s Rise” which explained Sun’s intent to crush Shanty Town once and for all using all his resources.  You’ll see how it started panning out in part 4.  What I really liked about the approach was that I had no scenes prepared and I had no idea what threats the PCs would face and which they’d ignore… because they can’t deal with everything at once.

But they sure tried!

Image taken from the excellent and funny Post-Apocalyptic webcomic Romantic Apocalyptic.


  1. Dixon Trimline says:

    This really is an incredible way of developing a… well, the terms adventure and module both seem too small. Interaction system? That seems pretentious. But I love the idea of populating the world with threats and legitimately motivated NPCs and then allowing the PCs to act as they will. It’s courageous and terrifying.

  2. Pretentious is a moniker that Indie designers have grown to live with while the hobby catches up with their tech and invent the proper words for the advances they do.

    As I mused your comment, it just dawned on me how this “Microcosm process” would be ansolutely perfect for a Lost: The Game type of RPG.

    The next part should be up by tomorrow morning, I’m more than halfway done already.

  3. I like the idea of Fronts. I found your reference in your “Re-examining the Dungeon” but I wanted to know more about creating and using Fronts. I would say I’ve been unconsciously making Fronts as you described, but now with your sheets and tools, I can more adequately give my NPCs and world legitimate agendas based nuanced abstractions. Do you happen to have an empty First Session Sheet without any of the lists filled in? I’d appreciate that.

    Seems to me using Fronts is the perfect way to create delicious shades of gray. If NPCs have legitimate aims (legitimate meaning good, healthy, or normal desires guiding actions) then they have no need of alignment. That is to say they may or may not be evil, (or percieved by the PCs as evil) based on what actions their legitimate aims lead them to carry out. Then you’d have a good reason for a sadistic, Machiavellian to cooperate with the PCs if it meets his needs, or for a well-meaning paladin to oppose the actions and decisions of the party. The PCs will be greatly benefited to find out the motivations and desires driving their opposition to wind up as threats. Yet at that point, PCs will need to know whether what they value (and which the threats threaten) is more valuable or good than other groups’ agendas.


  1. […] my prep done, I was ready to start this week’s game, not knowing how it would turn […]

  2. […] We could make the whole dungeon (and it’s underlying plot) into a Front. […]