Actual Play – The Garden: Second Course (7/2/2017)

MC: Karen Twelves
Players: Dale Horstman, Matt Klein, and Sean Nittner
System: Apocalypse World, 2nd Edition

Just before Go Play, Karen, Dale, Matt and I have a tradition of finally getting together to play a game… knowing we’ll probably play a bunch of games together at Go Play as well, and then forget to hangout for the rest of the year. In this case I’m glad we did because we hardly saw each during the con.

In honor of AW 2nd Edition, Karen decided to make a second playset for the Garden game. Olive Garden: Second Course. Since so many of the original game end in the Garden being trashed by roving warlords, the premise for Second Course is that the Garden has fallen and now the people who once lived there are out on their own, looking for a home.

It’s filled with biblical overtones (just like the first Garden was) as well as plenty of opportunities to define things like home, family, and faith in a world where the status quo change more often than the blue plate special.

Apocalypse World, 2nd Edition

This was my first time playing 2E, so I think it’s worth noting the changes I saw and how they affected game play.

Hx changed for the good. Instead of the confusing rounds of On My Turn and then On everyone elses’ turn, the Hx interactions are resolved by the active player asking other players questions and setting their Hx accordingly.  Questions like One of you. I’ve seen your soul? Which one? I know the reasons for Hx being so challenging in the first edition, but as a player I did appreciate how smoothly this went, and the great conversations that the questions triggered.

Seduce or Manipulate someone got a real stick when used against PCs. In first edition, the “stick” was if they don’t do it they act under fire. Not only was that rarely a challenge, it was sometimes hard to bring into the fiction. What was the fire? The seducer being angry or disappointed? What does that mean in Apocalypse World? I mean, who the fuck cares in a place like this?  Maybe it could mean that a lot of people got angry, and you had to convince they that what you were doing (or failing to do) was cool, and maybe if you didn’t act under fire to do that, they would clobber you or take your working watch, or speak your true name to the mind controlling satellite in the sky, but that’s work on everyone to figure out. Also, if you couldn’t thing of a way to represent that fire, then it meant you were jumping straight from mechanic to linked mechanic without the connective fictional tissue to make those mechanics meaningful.

Now the stick is that you lose a highlighted stat for the game, which has the advantage of not needing fictional justification to be created, but I think this move could go further by specifying that somewhere in the move you determine what kind of fictional leverage you have, so when it’s time to apply the stick (with mechanical effects or not) we know what that stick looks like.

Barter has become part of the scarcity model. You start with more of it, but it costs 1-2 barter per session to maintain a normal lifestyle. This causes some upkeep, but I like that on top of everything else, people still need to figure out how to eat and put a roof over their head. Also, the Operator got removed as a playbook, because everyone can do gigs now, which is very clever.

Apocalypse World is now in the fiction. This might have been there before but I didn’t notice it. The playbooks speak to the characters directly and the speak specifically about Apocalypse World. That’s the place we live in and what we know it by. I think that’s a good branding decision. It’s not like AW needs any more distinction, but long term I think it makes a lot of sense to codify the game itself into the play of the game!

There are a ton of other changes but those are the one we ran into during play so. All for the better.

By the light of the sign

In our mythos the reason the Garden was taken was because the sign went out. Without the protective light of the sign the Brutalitarians, led by Parcher and the Palisades, led by Axle, were able to breach it’s defenses and destroy the place. We made off with a van that we converted into a food truck, the sign strapped to a trailer towed behind it, and more mouths to feed than we could imagine.

As mentioned above, the biblical references sprang up immediately. We were persecuted people, hunted down (still!) by rival gangs who wanted the idea of the Garden to be no more (they were after the sign) and we traveled hungry through the desert to find a new home.

The internal friction started off the bat between Pajamas and Sticks.

Pajamas, was the busser and dedicated to the Garden. When the building was on fire he prayed to the gods Corporate and went into the fire to get the red phone they communicated to us with. He walked out of the fire unscathed [Divine Protection] carrying both the phone and the last of the breadsticks. He said that management had given him a message to go west and that is where he would lead the people. After that, he was believed to be the vessel that corporate spoke through. He was the listener of the phone and the keeper of the breadsticks, dispensing one crumb at a time before our evening meals. Pajamas wanted to find a new garden, a paradise on earth that would be our new home.

Sticks was the cook. He had converted the van into a food truck and he was the one who fed everyone that followed us. He had to deal with the practical issues of keeping everyone fed and safe, and he just wanted to find a place. Really any place would do so long as it was good enough. The sign was a burden to carry, and there was nothing be endless desert to the west, or whatever direction we were going. He didn’t want to be a leader, but he didn’t want to follow Pajamas on his mad quest.

And to ping pong between them, was AC⚡️DC, the janitor that let the sign go out and would never forgive himself for it (he was captured by Parcher and tortured when it went out). AC⚡️DC now was in charge of the work crew that pedaled all night long to power the sign and if it ever dimmed, he would make sure the pedaled harder. If it ever sparked, he used all the understanding to repair it, including cannibalizing from the food truck. That said, he also wanted a home and thought that Sticks was far more likely to find one that Pajamas ever was!

The Journey West

Was halted almost immediately. The caravan spread out over miles but when we stopped and the sign was lit, people hurried to catch up to enjoy the blessings of Pajamas and the food from Sticks. Layla, however, who normally stays an the end to make sure people keep moving, did not make her way into camp.

We had a lot of internal debate but finally agreed that we would go find her. The people were rallied into a mob an we were set to face any Brutalitarian or Palisade that might have her. Then Pajamas picked up the phone, holding the melted plastic to his ear and asked Corporate where they could find Layla. And what he was told was “you are not worth of the breadsticks. You are not fit to be management. You are a lowely busser and nothing more.”

The mob was riled up and ready to go, but Pajamas just fell apart in front of them. Sticks quickly took over to remind everyone that we need to keep the sign lit and we should probably all just forget about Layla and tend to our own needs. In that moment Pajamas lost his faith and the esteem of the others.

Sticks soon found a place that was good enough. An old Applebees. We cut to the Brutalitarians who did have Layla following up and seeing the “Olive” part of the sign sticking out of the sand. They destroyed it with crowbars and chains and pipes and believed the had finally defeated the Garden, and in a sense they had. When we flash back to the new holding it show two signs mashed together, both glowing in the night.

Apple Garden.

What Rocked

Oh it was so much fun to play with these folks. Apocalypse World 2 was great. The Garden was great. Karen’s threats on all sides and harsh truths were great. So much fun.

This game had a much more somber tone that the first. It wasn’t about restaurant tropes, it was about finding a home in the place that you live. “When you’re here, your family” was a phrase we examined often through the game, and for all the silly tropes in the game, the character’s emotions felt real.

I’m a fan of burning characters to the ground in one shot games (and sometimes in other games too… Stacy Mulligan!) but I don’t usually see them change so much in their motivation and their status. Pajamas went from a leader who thought he knew everything, to a lost soul, wasting away. Just another mouth for Sticks to feed. It was a huge pivot for the character, and a huge pivot for the game. An entire front became moot, because we just stopped caring about the thing our enemies wanted to destroy. This was a great point in the game and it’s a great reminder to me to be open to letting things go in completely different directions than I expect, and see where that takes us!

Ah Bingo, the bouncer who had feelings too. He left the Brutalitarians to join us (part of why Parcher wanted to destroy us so badly, because we took from her), and because of that was mistrusted by AC⚡️DC, which hurt him deeply. Bingo was clearly the POV character for our game, exposing all of our terribleness.

Karen is a great MC. Not only does she barf forth the apocalyptica, but she also makes people human. She gives everyone a name and a desire and makes us think a bit from their perspective. From the sensitive Bingo, to the talkative Bin, to the trying to help Pitchfork. All people with their own deals, and their own spark.

Something we realized mid way through the game was that in our version of the story, when we had the Garden, that WAS the golden age. I mean, yeah, it was still Apocalypse World, but infinite breadsticks! And walls! and a kitchen! We kept referring to “before” and realized that we had made our own second (albeit very small) apocalypse in our own setting. It was great reflecting on the fact that things can always get worse!

Each character had a motto:

  • Pajamas – Go west!
  • AC⚡️DC – Light it up or else!
  • Sticks – It’s good enough

What could have improved

There was a rose that Parcher gave Bin (one of the people walking with us) to give to the “person in charge”. It was meant to signify that they had Layla (who had a tattoo of a rose on her leg) but the only person who knew about the tattoo was AC⚡️DC (they were lovers) and because we fought a lot about “who was in charge”, it meant the existence of the rose and it’s significance took a while to unfold. In a longer game I would have loved this, but as a one shot, I was sad that we kept not being able to make the connection, even though everyone at the table really wanted to. That was really on the players though, we were being cagey!