By Pete Kautz, 2014
I’ve been gaming since 1978 and in real life among the thing’s you’d note on my “character sheet” is that I’m a certified professional hypnotist (CPH) who regularly works with clients on various life issues. This article draws on both experiences and is my way of saying THANK YOU SIR to Vincent Baker for writing AW. I thought it better to try and contribute something others could use than simply say it’s awesome and we’re having a ton of fun playing it. So here goes…
The premise of this piece is that for every player who’s primed to barf forth apocalypticia alongside the MC, there are probably two others with a great story going on inside their heads but who are just not able to fully articulate it all at once.
The goal here is to give MCs a series of five linguistic diagnostic tools they can utilize to better understand what the hell the players are talking about. These tools work exactly the same at the gaming table as they do in my office, to enhance the quality of communication and put everyone involved on the same page in our imagined space.
Each tool gives the MC a simple way to draw out more information from the players and help them express their inner vision of Apocalypse World to everyone at the table.
Each of these is set up like a mathematical formula for ease of use. You simply take the player’s words and plug them into a version of the sample Challenge Question (CQ). In each case, the answer to the CQ will help add more depth of understanding to the fictional setting by providing greater clarity.
The MC should conversationally vary the CQ to avoid monotony or sounding like you’re performing an interrogation (unless, of course, you ARE performing an interrogation in the scene…)
* Whenever you hear an UNSPECIFIED NOUN, reply with a version of “Which NOUN, specifically?”
“What do you see across the marketplace?”
“A bunch of Thugs”
“Which Thugs, specifically?”
“Thugs from the nearby town of Shell”
* Whenever you hear an UNSPECIFIED VERB, reply with a version of “How VERB, specifically?”
“What are the Thugs from the town of Shell doing?”
“Following Little Lulu”
“How specifically are they following Little Lulu?”
“They are keeping a distance and trying to blend with the crowds but they’re moving too quickly which is why I spotted them.”
“Cool! What do you do about it?”
“Nothing, she’s a complete bitch!”
Fat Words are words that sound like Nouns but are NOT. The easy test is “If it sounds like a noun but you can’t put it in a box, it’s likely a Fat Word” For example “hammer, nails, sheep” are nouns we can all pretty much agree on the meaning of. “Joy, Excitement, Loyalty, Safety” are Fat Words that mean different things to different people.
For example, somone might say they want “More adventure in their life”, and to them “adventure” means going on a summer bus trip to a museum while to you “adventure” might mean having a MMA cage fight. Listen to TV advertising and politicians and you’ll hear Fat Words used in abundance.
* Whenever you hear a FAT WORD, reply with a version of “FAT WORD according to whom?” ”What does it mean to be FAT WORD?” “How would you know someone/thing is FAT WORD”
“Really! Little Lulu’s a complete bitch according to whom?”
“Everyone in the market place that I know at least. She throws around her weight every time she comes to buy things because she’s Sparkplug’s girl and the merchants are all really tired of her shit.”
“Oh, that’s very interesting. Anyhow, tell me some more about that Gang from Shell”
“They are very patriotic”
“How do you know they are very patriotic? What is it they do to show their patriotism?”
“They are totally loyal to the Mayor of Shell, a dude named Tooth. They wear a Shell patch on their right arm and follow his commands without question. He says shit and you’ll see a pile!”
“I see, so according to the Mayor of Shell if you wear a a patch and follow his commands without question then you’re very patriotic. How would you describe their behavior?”
“They’re more like his little lap dogs”
* Whenever you hear a GENERALIZATION ask “All GENERALIZATIONS?” or “Are there any GENERALIZATIONS that aren’t like that?” Listen for words like “all, always, everybody, never”
(Note that the MC already let two Generalizations slide by when the player said “everyone” thought Little Lulu was a bitch who threw her weight around “all the time” because the player tempered it by adding the details that this was the opinion of people “in the market place, that they know” implying there may be many other opinions of Little Lulu held by different people and groups around town.)
“I see, tell me more about what it means to be the mayor’s little lap dog”
“They’re all willing to perform tricks for the table scraps he doles out”
“Really, are that ALL willing to do tricks for the Mayor of Shell? Even Blue Bonnet and Sky who you’ve had dealings with before?”
(The MC is leading the player here, but let’s presume Blue Bonnet and Sky were existing NPCs in the fiction who have not acted in a lap dog like manner previously)
“Well, not those two but they go along with it. And I know Thumper hates the Mayor’s guts too after what he did to Calahan, but they put on the show in front of the others and do what they’re told because the mayor has so much muscle in town.”
* Whenever you hear a RULE ask “RULE according to whom?” or “What would happen if we didn’t follow RULE?”
“Nice. So, while I write down all those names, tell me about how the Gang from Shell is dressed.”
“They wear leather, furs, big boots and gas masks and are armed with crude hand weapons and bows.”
“They have gas masks on in the mid-day heat? Why is that?”
“Because they have to.”
“Who says they have to wear gas masks in this kind of heat?”
“Jujubee the Angel over in Resttop said they had to wear them all the time.”
“Fascinating! ALL the time, huh?
(The MC lets this Generalization slide because it’s an interesting detail and so they just make a note of it for now and will figure out the reason why later)
“So what do you think would happen if they stopped wearing them?”
Hopefully you already can imagine some of the different ways you can utilize these questions in your own AW games. They become quite reflexive after a short period of conscious use, and you may be surprised and delighted at all the other places in your life knowing how to ask these kinds of questions may come in handy…far from the sacred table we gather at to tell tales of glory and adventure!