How to Hack Apocalypse World with the AW Hacker All-Stars hosted by Pete Figtree

Pete Figtree facilitated a Google Hangouts on the Air round table discussion on hacking Apocalypse World. His guests were Adam Koebel, John Harper, Sage LaTorra, Gregor Vuga, and Johnathan Walton. Below are my notes from the round-table.

Take a look at Kevin Crawford’s Small Publisher Guide Portable Document Format (PDF) and resources.

Sage Latorra: Every design starts as an adaptation or response to something else.

Notes -> Hack -> Complete Game

You need to provide more support as you approach more people.

Sage Latorra: Analyze the basic moves to decide what you need. Don’t assume they are the ones from your foundation.

Why does it attract so many hacks?

John Harper:

  • Vincent devotes a whole chapter to his game for hacking Apocalypse World.
  • Apocalypse World (AW 📖) gives you a skeleton, names, tags, and labels to all of the pieces. The hackers have an entology in which to share ideas. It is not exhaustive for all the possible Role Playing Games (RPGs 📖) one might write.
  • Hacking no longer becomes a long prospect.

Adam Koebel: Playing the game is hacking it. Make up custom moves.

Sage Latorra: It becomes an easy way to talk about other games.

Gregor Vuga: All gaming thoughts were in the framework of Apocalypse World. All components are laid bare.

Adam Koebel: Joe McDonald wrote Simple World, a generic core hacked for Apocalypse World.

John Harper: Monsterhearts is probably a better system for playing your first Apocalypse World game. It is a better distilation of the platonic form of Apocalypse World.

Gregor Vuga: Apocalypse World is not just 2d6, 6-, 7 to 9, 10+; Its a full framework.

Johnathan Walton: You must focus the hack on the fiction. Otherwise, you are not cooking with gas. Simple World does not have an implicit fiction.

Sage Latorra: System Reference doesn’t work for Dungeon World; You need the full tone.

John Harper: World of Dungeons is a “joke about Dungeon World and D&D”; You have to start from somewhere…Dungeon World gives you everything. World of Dungeons gives you the absolute minimum you need to build the game up.

John Harper: “Dungeon World is a great supplement for World of Dungeons.”

The original D&D had precious few rules, as a result, all of the players became game designers; Hacking on D&D.


What do you guys think is the biggest problem when some player comes from pre-conceptions from another hack and plays your hack?

Adam Koebel: Talk about it.

Sage Latorra: There is a tone setting.

Gregor Vuga: Set the expectations.

Question from Adrian Theon

Do you think that if you have a “generic” system, that custom playsets similar to fiasco is a space worth exploring?

Johnathan Walton: It is possible, but we haven’t really seen it.

Adam Koebel: Dungeon Planet and Inverse World are hacks that expand the generic dungeon crawl.

Question from Kyle Simons

What stories should you not use the AW engine to tell (can people hack it to tell any story they want?)

Undying broke the roll dice component of AW, but is clearly an AW hack.

Ghost Echo - John Harper’s game

Try to make the game you want to make. Making it a hack shouldn’t be your goal. If its fighting you…abandon it. Though there is a marketing aspect to AW. Make your game! Don’t try to end up making an AW hack.

Johnathan: AW is a body of work. There are ample hacks. You can start anywhere in the opus. If you’ve internalized the games, you may accidentally create an AW hack. Write the game you want to write.

Fiction triggers moves (i.e. triggers interaction with rules)

What steps do you take?

Johnathan: Play a lot of AW to be able to express your game. Study your medium. Study AW hacks.

What is out there:

  • tremulus
  • Monster of the Week
  • Monsterhearts
  • Saga of the Icelander
  • Muderous Ghosts
  • The Sundered Land
  • Ghostlines
  • World of Dungeons
  • The Regiment
  • Inverse World
  • Apocalyse Galactica
  • there are lots more…how is this creative captures

John: Around about session #1, I wish “something” and that will start your hack. Game designer motivation, “Nothing is better than playing a game you don’t like”

Sage Latorra: tremulus is a good AW hack, but he tweaked and made a 4 page hack for his own Cthulhu AW hack

Adam Koebel: Don’t make the playbooks first. They are the most complicated things. They are the only player facing rules. There are layers of narrative economy and interaction.

Johnathan: When writing your AW hack, don’t write custom playbooks. It is easier to get started.

Gregor: Static vision for setting. Envision your interaction with players, then think about your Agenda, Principles, and Moves.

John: As a game design principle, start way earlier. Unleash your notes early on your game group. It will help shine a light on it. Play first, design as support.

What is the bare minimum?

John Harper: Character creation is all you need. It is how the rules point the players at the desired fiction. If you can’t have characters, what do you do?

Gregor: Help the players make characters. Position them in the fiction. For the Master of Ceremonies (MoC 📖), tell them what their jobs are.

Sage: Rough outline of the first session. Revision is a constant.

Johnathan: Apocalypse World is an onion. The core of the game is a conversation. Above that there are two things: the Game Master (GM 📖) and players have different rules. GM: Principles, moves, agenda. Players: Moves and playbooks.

Sage Latorra: AW is a framework for game design.

Gregor: Look at Murderous Ghosts and the Sundered Lands. Those are Apocalypse World hacks unlike other games.

John Harper: The last page of the Sundered Land tells you how to make an RPG.

Question from Ben Wray

It seems a lot of hacks focus on new playbooks/basic moves, but often use many of the same GM principles/agenda. Any thoughts on hacking the GM-facing side of the system?

Group: Its really important to hack the GM side of the game.

Adam: The point of the rules is to guide play. Creating the narrative in play by the rules. Think about what kind of behavior things are behaving.

Sage: A viable hack can be made, but you are living by the same GM expectations.

Johnathan: A weakness of the design is the perception that as a GM you aren’t rolling dice and thus things are very hand wavy. Go back and read the agenda, principles, and moves. Aspire to do the things on those lists. Review them, they are your score card.

Adam: Record yourself GMing the game. Codify the decisions you are making.

John: The Sundered Land, the GM role is extremely small in scope. It is easier to deconstruct and perhaps easier to keep in memory.

How far could you push the GM facing system before it broke?

John Harper: Nightwitches, by Jason Morningstar, is about Russian pilots in World War Two (WWII 📖) and is inspired by Sagas. There are numerous roles to assume. When your character’s fictional role isn’t being fulfilled, you are the GM. Someone has to do the GM jobs, because conflict is required for rich stories.

Words of Wisdom?

Pete: Is AW a good game to hack?

Adam: Any game you love enough is a good game to hack.

Sage: If you want to hack it, you probably have enough experience.

Pete: Its not particularly harder?

Gregor: It may be a bit easier, as there is a chapter on hacking.

Sage: The explicitness of the game may give a good head start.

Pete: What are your words of wisdom?

Adam: Once you have enough stuff, play it until your eyes bleed and you wish you were dead. You know last week, this is different. Put it away, then pull it out again. You’ll love it and hate it.

Sage: We needed some distance to begin our first supplement. Give it time, and things could be fun again. Be open about your game. Designers are hurt most by being protective or pushing it too hard. Just be excited, put it out there, make it free for everyone. Maybe someone else has made the game.

John: Do not have one game. Have several things kicking around. We all have made lots of discarded carcasses of things and games. The things you’ve seen is all that we’ve “barely been able to finish.” Don’t feel bad if its frustration, abandonment, and failure. Having lots going on is helpful for keeping the creative energies going.

Sage: John and Sage have discarded so many games without even writing docs. Then those that are docs rarely turn into games worth sharing.

Johnathan: Game design can be onerous. Especially AW, the exact wording of moves matters so much. AW is like writing poetry not like writing fiction. Word order matters, choices matter, which move structure matters. The moves interact directly with the fiction. Again look at Sundered Lands. Start really small. Be a part of a design community. It must be supportive and brutally honest. “Man that game was terrible. Lets go get a beer and talk about it.”

Gregor: Its like scripting. If you don’t get the order right you get a compile error. In terms of the community: its about your audience. Failure is discouraging. You must love the process.

Pete: This community is fueled by passion.