Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Looking at the increasingly large shadow of Apocalypse World

Over the course of a couple days, I found out that a second rdition of Apocalypse World is getting Kickstarted and I read the short form RPG Crossroads, which uses a streamlined Apocalypse World Engine. 

Crossroads isn't the first game that I have seen that is Powered by Apocalypse and it is far from the most out there. Dream Askew or Murderous Ghosts both do far more experimental things with the system. But reading through it in conjunction with the Kickstarter got me thinking about why the system is just so nifty.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes it's so good. There are elements like characters being made up of qualities, as opposed to statistics. It isn't what you do but why you were doing it that helps determine what stat you use. There is the fact that the only person who ever rolls the dice is the player, never the GM. This all makes the game both narrative driven and player driven.

Oh, in theory, any game can be narrative driven and player driven. But I have seen games that ended up being just about the dice rolls or being controlled by the GM. But the Apocalypse Engine not just encourages it, it makes doing streamlined and easy.

Players can be creative about what they do and one die roll resolves it all.

Crossroads strips away most of the mechanics. It leaves the player making the die rolls and the failure, success and success with a price outcomes.

That last one it's actually something else that makes the engine special. You don't get partial success. You get what you want. You just get a nasty little bonus. It's actually a very important way of doing things. The story keeps on going but things just got a little more complicated. Which actually makes the story better.

Crossroads is based on a web series which I had never heard of called the Booth at the End. There is a man who sits in the last booth in a diner. He can make any wish come true but there's a price. You basically have to do something horrible to get that wish. How far are you willing to go to get what you want? Will you kill someone? Will you plant a bomb in the hospital? What price can you handle? How important is your wish?

As near as I can tell, the only set in the show is the diner. People sit down with the guy and tell them what they want. And later scenes, they come back and give him progress reports. It's all just conversations and flashbacks and decisions.

Which makes it a pretty decent form for a short RPG that should be completed in two hours.

Crossroads comes as a preset scenario with pregenerated characters with pregenerated desires and horrible tasks you can mix-and-match with them. Even under those circumstances, there's a lot of flexibility about how the story will develop.

But, I realized that it wouldn't be hard to come up with new characters with different desires and new horrible tasks. As long as you are willing to stick with the whole premise of the man in the last booth, there's actually some decent replay value here.

Apocalypse World is one of the most impressive RPG systems that I've come across in recent years. I am very impressed with Dungeon World and Monsterhearts, two well thought out uses of the engine. Crossroads, in comparison, is a pretty dinky little application of the engine. And I still think that it has real potential. That says something about the Apocalypse Engine.

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