Traditional DMing versus "Playing to Find Out What Happens"

The following is a striking example of the difference between “traditional” GMing and something coming out of the indie stables.

The game is Apocalypse World.

The Colonel is the Hardholder, the guy who runs this little bastion of humanity in the mess that the world has become. it’s a big market built out of the remnants of a Walmart called Hatchet City. The market is a running free-for-all, but the single biggest trade is in drugs and alcohol, as people need some sort of escape. That part of the economy is handled by Brimful and his family, who are something of a power unto themselves. Brimful is an older man with a couple sons, who really believes that the best way to avoid trouble is to not seek it. He’s got a gang to back himself up, as well as a couple wives and a bevy of lovers and his kids.

So the scenes sets up something like this: There was a difference opinion among the Colonel’s bodyguards, as Absinthe (the recently appointed head of security, this crazy chick who came out of the wastes convinced that the voices are telling her to kill monsters. For those who know the game, a Battlebabe) was trying to figure out who among her crew was a spy for the encroaching warlord Ambergrease. To do so, she called the entire bodyguard detail away to one location, to deal with them en masse.

But while that was going down the Colonel took off to go talk to Rosette (another PC, the Skinner) with whom he ended up spending the night. So when Absinthe finally decided to go looking for him, he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Rumour got started that he had been murdered in his sleep, that Ambergrease was coming for them all, that there were spies and assassins everywhere, that he had taken off in the middle of the night leaving Hatchet City to fend for itself… you know, the kind of brouhaha that happens when the leader suddenly goes missing. By the time the Colonel is found, the entire hold is in an uproar.

Eventually Absinthe finds the Colonel just as he’s leaving Rosette’s rooms. As things are starting to calm down, Brimful comes storming over to where The Colonel is standing with his bodyguard detail, backed by his own gang, and starts a diatribe about how Hatchet City wouldn’t be in such a state if the Colonel wasn’t inviting chaos with his behaviour, that the Colonel shouldn’t be running around in the middle of the night without his bodyguards, how he’s running a loose ship, and if he can’t keep “his whore” in line (Rosette had slept with one of Brimful’s lovers Tip the day before, which Brimful was not happy about) then he might not be the right man to run the hardhold.

Calling Rosette a whore was probably a bad move as the Colonel proceeded to beat Brimful to death. Literally beat the old man with his knuckles, while Brimful’s entire entourage just stood there in shock and watched (the Colonel’s player rolled Seize by force and hit, choosing to do terrible harm, suffer little harm and Shock and Dismay his enemies).

We ended the game around there, but it was that one act of violence I wanted to highlight. See, in the way that I would usually run a traditional RP I would have invested quite a bit of prep and storyline in Brimful. The likelihood of me allowing him to die in such an abrupt way would be slim to none. I would have manipulated the rules, the dice rolls and the narrative control to make sure that Brimful came out of it alive.

But to GM Apocalypse World one must hold to the three points of the Agenda: Make Apocalypse world seem real, make the characters lives not boring, and play to find out what happens. I do not know ahead of time what is going to happen, and have no real vested interest one way or the other: really, I’m just curious to see what the characters are going to do to handle Brimful. Turns out that the Colonel is going to kill him over an insult.

Did that make his life easier? Hell no. Sure, he made a point about Brimful, But the old man had kids ready to step up and take his place, and a gang that can start making trouble, and a serious amount of clout in the holding itself. So now Brimful’s people have good reason to go running to Ambergrease, or to ally with Dustwich (The Colonel’s former lieutenant who is gunning for his job), or maybe to just take a shot at him themselves. Life just got a little more interesting, and it did it without me forcing the story to turn on my dime: it all follows naturally from what was there before.

To me, this is by far more interesting than whatever I would have come up with myself: interesting not only to the players, but to me, because I simply do not know what will happen until it does.

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