Tag Archives: Apocalypse World

Dragon World Hack (v0.1)

Dragon World is my Apocalypse World hack for stuff inspired by 90s comedy fantasy anime, and to a lesser extent the silly parts of a typical D&D campaign. I was most directly inspired by Dragon Half and Slayers, but quite a bit of other stuff crept in. This is a very silly game, and the MC (or rather the “Dragon Master”) section is in part a distillation of what I learned from running Toon and Maid RPG.

I decided to put a rough version of it up on the site for people to enjoy and hopefully play a bit. This is the “hack” version, which lacks explanations of some of the basic rules, such that you’ll need a copy of Apocalypse World (or at least to be well-versed in the basics of AW) in order to play. It’s had a little bit of playtesting, such that I refined the basic moves and the Pure Sacrifice, Dumb Fighter, and Conniving Thief character types a bit, but there’s also a lot of stuff I finished up in one big rush over the weekend.

Download Dragon World Hack v0.1 (PDF)
Dragon World Hack Playbooks and Basic Move Reference Sheet

Other Ideas
I’m pretty happy with the selection of character types here, but I literally have about 30 ideas for others, plus I’ve found that the game very frequently inspires people to suggest new ones as well. If I publish a proper book, there’s a very good chance I’ll end up doing some kind of compendium of character types as a supplement. I’m also going to be working more on a few other possible things for the rules, and a section with setting and NPC ideas.

“Story moves” are kind of a neat little thing I came up with the other day but haven’t implemented yet. I’ve been reading through the Discworld novels from the beginning (which is why stuff like Failed Wizard, Oblivious Tourist, and Octogenarian Barbarian crept into my list of possible character types), and in the first two books there’s the thing about how Rincewind has one of the eight great spells from the Octavo stuck in his head and all the trouble it causes. A story move is a thing like that, represented as a special move that at turns helps and hinders the character, and also has an end condition of some kind, after which you lose the move and get a free advance.

Steven Savage suggested adding a wealth system, which would basically be a special stat shared by the group that would fluctuate depending on when they bought major stuff or found treasure, and there would be treasure with associated custom moves to make their lives more interesting. It could fit in nicely with Temptations and make room for some kind of merchant character type, but I’m still thinking about it.

Design Journal: Dragon World

“Something is wrong with these people, and I don’t know what it is.”

I’ve said it before, but Apocalypse World provides a fascinating framework to work with. There have been certain big hit games that have thrived in part by encouraging hacks and customization. Fiasco’s playsets are an obvious example, and there are AW hacks, IaWA oracles, and Technoir‘s transmissions are poised to become the next example of this phenomenon. Technoir also joins AW in having a printable player reference book[1], an idea I think I’ll have to try for quite a few of the games I’m working on.

The more I work with moves, the more fun I have with them. Where AW has moves that play into desperate badassery, Dragon World moves reinforce a very different kind of fiction. I’ve ended up writing a lot of moves that say things like “You end up looking stupid in front of everyone.” Writing up moves for the different character types is proving a little harder, and I suspect that’s where a lot of the real challenge of this thing is going to come from. Here’s my first draft of the Explosive Mage character type, which is basically for players who want a character like Lina Inverse from Slayers. I’m not satisfied with the moves yet.

Writing the MC moves for Dragon World is really interesting too, since in a sense I’m trying to distill my own best practices for running silly games like Maid RPG. And when I think about it that way, it becomes incredibly awesome in my head, since it means I’m using ideas and techniques that go back to when I first got my copy of Toon back in middle school, literally something like 20 years ago[2]. I’m too intuitive a designer to make some grand point about how humorous RPGs should work, but I think I’m on the track with Principles like “Break your toys in the name of comedy.” Comedy is subjective and challenging and all that, but I think if an RPG can give players better tools for, say, horror, then the same is surely true of humor.

The thing that’s been sticking in my head for quite a while now is how slapstick characters react to physical punishment. Toon handles this by having Hit Points[3], except if you run out you Fall Down for three minutes and come back. A while back I dug out my Toon rulebook and ran a session. It was a lot of fun, but the whole time part of my brain was saying, “Cartoon characters don’t have hit points!” I’m still feeling out how to handle this kind of thing, but I think that cartoon physics work more on a scheme where characters are fine until they hit a certain threshold, whereupon they Fall Down, and then the scene changes shortly thereafter. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to implement that, and especially how to implement it gracefully within the framework of Apocalypse World’s rules. The big problem with a binary system like that is making it work appropriately for a genre where powerful evil overlords are pretty much a given. For that I think I’m going to have to sit down and really rigorously brainstorm.

Also, it occurs to me that if I finish this and try to publish it, finding someone who can do the right style of art is going to be a challenge.

[1]Though AW’s ludography mentions that Vincent got the idea from XXXXtreme Street Luge.

[2]The fact that there are notable things in my life that were 20 years ago makes me feel old, though my grandma would tell me that I’m nowhere near old yet.

[3]Specifically, a Toon character gets 1d6+6 HP, and things typically do 1d6 damage. Also, I’m trying to not think about rewriting Toon to use AW moves.

Yet Another Project: Dragon World

I may need to come up with a better name, but I ended up starting up yet another RPG project. I’ve been reading an obscure and in my opinion tragically overlooked manga called Dragon Half. When the renowned warrior Rouce went to slay a dangerous red dragon, he ended up marrying her instead, and the result of their union was Mink, a “dragon half.” She’s ridiculously strong, but all she really wants is to meet the handsome monster hunter/pop idol Dick Saucer. The magna got a 2-episode OAV series, which barely touches on Mink’s grand adventures. (There are, however, scanlations out there…) Webcomic artist Josh Lesnick also cites Dragon Half creator Ryusuke Mita as one of his major influences, and having finally read the manga I can definitely see why.

It occurred to me that Dragon Half is part of a genre of anime/manga, along with titles like Slayers, Maze, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves, and that I really enjoy that genre. I don’t really go in for the nostalgic lamenting of the current state of the anime industry that’s become so trendy these days, but there is something I miss about the style of anime that made me such a fan back in the 90s. Since I’ve had Apocalypse World on the brain after it helped me get over a major design block with Magical Burst, it occurred to me that I could probably rejigger the basic rules of AW to make a game for that genre. AW’s moves–both player and MC moves–really reinforce the genre, and changing them is a very powerful tool to make a game that does what you want it to. I’ve tentatively titled it “Dragon World.” Thanks to Dragon Quest, in Japan “dragon” strongly evokes Japanese-style Western fantasy, but I already get it mixed up with Dungeon World in my head, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a different title.

Rules-wise I’m probably going to drop the concepts of harm, gear, and barter (i.e., a lot of the stuff that puts the apocalypse-y stuff in AW). I need to explore the idea more, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that rather than having “hit points” or whatever, characters in a very comedic world (whether wacky anime or Looney Tunes) should have more of a threshold before they fall down, after which the scene ends and the action jump-cuts to whatever consequences there are. (Though in Dragon Half if the foe is a disposable monster they’ll often jump cut to Mink and company eating its roasted carcass.) Likewise, gear tends to be part of characters’ overall shtick (like Gourry and his Sword of Light) and money will tend to be ephemeral one way or another (food bills, thievery, etc.).

My tentative list of character types goes:

  • Adorable Mascot (Mappy from Dragon Half)
  • Conniving Thief
  • Dodgy Alchemist
  • Dumb Fighter (Gourry from Slayers)
  • Explosive Mage (Lina Inverse)
  • Half Dragon (Mink)
  • Nutjob Cleric (Amelia from Slayers)
  • Tweaky Shaman (a nuttier version of Fam from Ruin Explorers)
  • Useless Bard (pre-4e stereotypes of D&D bards, and a bit of Lufa from Dragon Half)

The MC moves are especially interesting to work on, since they very directly relate to the flow of the fiction (and I’m going to have to start watching relevant titles with an eye towards how stuff works in terms of moves), so there’s stuff like add silliness and introduce a new version of an old nuisance.

The other thing about AW that’s striking is the sheer economy of it. The rulebook feels like it’s written as though the book is a necessary evil for conveying the game, and it’s very clear that this is the right way to play/run the game. Moves often take up one to three sentences where other games would write them as a paragraph; AW gives an evocative name and the minimum text to tell you what a move does, and continues to the next one. Given my penchant for overwriting my games, the game’s economy of prose may turn out to be a good influence, but time will tell.

Mostly, this is a project that seems like it’ll be really fun to work on and even more fun to play. I started a thread on the AW forums, though the response has been kind of anemic so far, not that I expect a huge overlap between Apocalypse World tinkerers and Slayers fans. Anyway, I just wanted to toss this out there.

Thoughts That Are Random

Pockylips Worldo
Apocalypse World has been generating a heck of a lot of discussion, and I think I’m going to have to join in, possibly in podcast form, especially once I finally get a copy of the actual book. I got to play it at the South Bay Story Games Day event at Game Kastle in Santa Clara, and was very impressed, though it’s worth noting that it was MCed by a gentleman named Carl who was very experienced with running it.


One particularly interesting thing about it–which somewhat ties in with what I talked about in the last podcast–is how the game very carefully and thoroughly delineates the GM’s job, to a degree that is basically unprecedented. (Which explains the change in terminology to “Master of Ceremonies.”) As Jonathan Walton put it, apart from explicitly encouraging hacks, “it makes no effort to offer flexibility to people with different tastes or desires.” On the one hand I don’t share Will Hindmarch‘s (apparent; I may be misreading him) discomfort with AW’s approach, but on the other hand I really like the idea of this development and the tools it implies existing, but on the third hand (I’m running Dark Sun this weekend; maybe it’s a hypothetical Thri-Kreen?) needless to say I wouldn’t want every game to work that way.

Over on Theory From the Closet’s interview, Vincent said he’s a game designer rather than a teacher, and in light of that it makes sense that he’s sending what he’s figured out about GM techniques out into the world in game form. While it goes without saying that he never meant it to be the end-all be-all of GMing techniques, the GM’s role is one of the single most ephemeral things in RPGs. There are definite advantages to that of course (another Theory From the Closet Episode has David Wesley explaining how using a human referee saved his wargaming hobby), but there’s also the problem that we don’t really have the vocabulary or techniques that we probably should for discussing (much less modifying) what exactly the GM does. There’s a lot of good advice out there, but it’s really hard to be concrete.

A Story of Slime

Of course, right now the thing with Apocalypse World that’s more immediately relevant to me is the Hx/History system (the one that gave Ryan Macklin a little trouble), since it’s pointed me to a way to improve Slime Story. Setting up connections between characters is currently one of those things that can easily become tedious because it asks for largely unguided creative input.[1] AW’s History mechanic the setup of the PCs’ relationships and shared history into kind of a minigame with different abilities per character type, which also serves to dump the players into having to work with mechanics and each other. While I’m not completely happy about stitching yet another piece onto this Frankenstein monster of a game, it looks like it has immense potential.

A while back I made the acquaintance of Steven Savage, who amongst other things does the Fan To Pro blog and the Seventh Sanctum name generator site. (And if we can ever get our schedules to coincide enough he’s going to be on the podcast.) When I told him about the game I was working on he, having recently seen the Scott Pilgrim movie, said Slime Story sounded like “magical realism.” While Slime Story doesn’t strive for a Jorge Luis Borges type of style or anything, it does juxtapose the real and fantastic, and I think that in terms of the setting that’s its real strength. There’s an inherent tension between the teenagers’ ordinary lives and the absurd monster hunting they do. I’m not sure what to do with this epiphany apart from including it in the text, but I think it’s very important to realizing the game I want to create.

Dice Within Dice
I was at Toys R Us the other day and wound up buying the “Pavilion Games Black Die Multi Game Set.” Pavilion Games is apparently a brand name TRU came up with for selling cheap and generic board game stuff. I’d seen this many times before and put off buying it because it was $19.99, but it was on sale for around $12. It’s a black faux-leather box like a black d6, about 6½ inches on a side. Inside are two decks of cards, four small dice, a doubling cube, a set of poker dice, a small game board for chess and backgammon (with pieces for both), a rather small set of double-6 dominoes, and a booklet of rules. I think I like it more for the novelty of the box than what’s inside, though I suppose even given that I’m not really into board games it’s not a bad idea to have those things around. (Someone was working on an RPG that uses dominoes, right?) Also, it has enough room to fit several of the other assorted game materials I’ve accumulated.

[1]I’ve heard such complaints about, for example, Prime Time Adventures’ pitch sessions. The results can be great sometimes, but I certainly don’t find that kind of thing terribly efficient with my friends.