Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Powered by the Apocalypse?

Maybe you already know it, maybe not. I'm in the process of writing a Powered by the Apocalypse role-playing game: Nahual. I'm Mexican, so this is a Mexican game, based in the universe and works of (also Mexican) artist and graphic novelist +Edgar Clement.

Just recently I had to ask myself (for reasons not important to this post), why I'm powering my game by the Apocalypse? The answer I picked was straight and short, so now I'm trying to expand it here.

First I'll say that I've been wanting to write this game since around 2005 or so. My first idea was to use the d20 Open Gaming License, but back then it was just an idea, no words where put together at all.

I guess the reason I never sit down myself to start writing the game was that it felt odd. I thought about the classes for the game, of course I had to. And what about races or something similar? Then the levels, how skills and feats and all that crunch will help represent the universe of nahuals and angels and devils that Clément is (still) developing. As I said, it just felt odd.

Then I moved to another town, new job, things changed. The idea was left on the pipeline for a while. Then again I decided to continue. It was around 2012. I had found some of the material from The Forge forum. Theory about role-playing games, how system matters, etc. So I decided to create my own brand new system. Except that, despite all the theory and stuff I had read, my main gaming experience was D&D 2E and 3E, Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu and the old World of Darkness games. So my "brand new system" was just a mirror/shadow of some of the concepts/rules presented by those games, specially the WofD.

Then, I don't remember exactly how, I found out about this indie game called Apocalypse World, by this author named +Vincent Baker, and the comments I'm reading on the internet are quite interesting, and then I saw Mr. Baker talking about game design in a convention in Finland! (via Youtube of course, I've never been to Finland) And I was like OMG!

And then I got my PDF version of the Apocalypse World game, and THEN is when I knew this is how I wanted to make my Nahual role-playing game based on Cléments works. But why?

It's all about the fiction

Let me tell you about something that happened to me while DMing D&D 5th edition a few months ago. The brave adventurers were in a town by night (in Ravenloft), and they spot a vampire spawn sneaking into a villager house. So they decide to save the pour victim. They all get into the house thru the same window the spawn did and fight the fiendish creature. Five against one wasn't a fair fight, so the party easily reduces the creature to less than a quarter of it's hp. The creature then decides to run and live to fight another night. He had won the initiative at the beginning of combat, so goes first and makes a dash, but its movement rate it's just enough to get out of the room thru the window, and climb to the rooftop of the house trying to leave the party behind. Next goes the party, and one by one (in their initiative order) they come out and shoot their arrows and bolts to the spawn, while he stands there in the rooftop "motionless". The first one misses but the other four hit the target, effectively killing the spawn.

That's it. And it's OK, that's how D&D works, it's an "abstraction". Everyone was supposed to run in pursue of the spawn at the same time, or close enough because, after all, only one person fits thru the window, so they had to go out one by one. As I said, it's OK. However, I couldn't help it but think how the same scenario would had turn out in Dungeon World (a hack of the Apocalypse World system). First the spawn flees the house thru the window and I ask the players "what do you do?" So one player responds "I go after him with my bow and arrow ready", the character goes out, sees the spawn on the rooftop trying to flee, and shoots an arrow, rolling 6- missing it's target. Then, I just say the player "you shoot the arrow and it flies past the spawn, who turns towards you with an evil grin and then banishes in the shadows of the night". After that, the other characters come out and stare with woe into the empty night-sky beyond the rooftop.

This seems a more plausible outcome, at least for me it does. And I don't give a damn about the spawn escaping or not, it just feels more real, more natural. But why this was (in my hypothetical session) possible? The mechanics of the Apocalypse World system are pointed towards the fiction, first and foremost. At the beginning of the book Vincent says:
You probably know this already: roleplaying is a conversation. You and the other players go back and forth, talking about these fictional characters in their fictional circumstances doing whatever it is that they do.
Thus the rules main intention is to make the players say something about the fiction. They're not just mathematical operations, they push the story forward. And in the same spirit, the characters are not just a bunch of stats, they have this special moves that make them unique, and also help move the fiction forward.

Moves that move the fiction forward

When I decided to power Nahual by the Apocalypse, I did it because I realized this is what I wanted (and what I needed) for the game, since Edgar's concepts for his universe are so free and creative-driven. The powers of the brujos nahual are so broad and undefined. For Clément the power of the Nahual allows you to break the laws of physics and the shackles of the material world. So, there's no defined list of powers, skills or spells, it's just a concept saying "you can do amazing things". That's why I thought the AW engine was the way to go. Because the moves mechanic is flexible and customizable. You can just write a move for anything you need, following the general structure of "When you want to do X, roll Y, in a good roll this happens, in a regular roll this happens but with a cost and in a fail, you're not gonna like it." In any case, the fiction moves forward, for good or for worse. So when a player rolls dice, even if she misses, something happens. It's not like "you missed so nothing happens, who goes next? You missed too, next!" And so on. 

I believe is time to wrap this up. In conclusion, the main two reasons for me choosing the AW engine for my game are: its focus on the fiction, and the anatomy and flexibility of the moves mechanic. Remember, I'm not saying D&D and other games are wrong, they are just different and good for a particular style of play. I just feel that AW has what I want for my game with angels, diablos and nahuales!

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