d. vincent baker’s apocalypse world is a role-playing game of the sit in a circle with your friends with some paper and pencils kind. it is in fact one of the games of that type that has most resonated with me.
i’ve played in two campaigns, both emceed by porpentine (who was basically vat-bred for the role), both with different tones. the first was a violence-heavy campaign where i played a gunlugger named hellen killer (gunluggers are good at violence). the second centered a brothel and its attempt to avoid getting mixed up in the local drug trade (“surge” being the drug in question). in that campaign i played a battlebabe named murder slutfuck who was really good at getting herself and the business into trouble.
here are some reasons i like apocalypse world: first, obviously, is the setting. as a queer person, i feel more at home in the future than the past, making my campfire in the hollowed-out ruins of the institutions that oppress me in the here and now. but more important than the setting is how the game uses it: it’s pulp. in a conversation with my friend andrew recently, i explained one of the reasons i so often reach for pulp settings for my games & writing: because exposition is unnecessary, a hole in the plot can be filled with a hasty invention, snags can be smoothed over with tone and style. you can tell a story without getting hung up on the numbers. a lot of role-playing games get hung up on numbers. why do we have to go after the jackabacka cult? what’s on the other side of the pleasure labyrinth? just make it up.
in fact, as andrew wrote in his own post on apocalypse world, every action, successful or not, moves the story forward. mattie brice’s character, “always” (a psychic sex cult leader) was trying to reach into the psychic maelstrom and touch one person, the surge kingpin, and plant an impulse in her mind. opening yourself to the psychic maelstrom requires a die roll against your “weird” rating – mattie failed (the number on the die was higher than her weird rating). instead of touching this one person, she accidentally planted an impulse in all of her cult members: the impulse to immediately storm the kingpin’s brothel-fortress in a mob.
apocalypse world is always asking questions – the emcee (the master of ceremonies, the overseer, the dream operator) as much as anyone else. what does the psychic maelstrom look like to you? what have you heard about that part of town? what’s the shop owner’s name? the players are as involved in world-building as the emcee is. that kind of rapport wouldn’t be possible in a game where every new character has to come with a stack of numbers a mile high, but in apocalypse world’s pulp setting a few words is all it needs. it all sticks, adds to the mess on the wall, fits into the frankenstein patchwork that is the post-apocalypse.