Mass Effect: The Apocalypse World Hack (or at least one of them)

The following is an over-long post as part of this discussion on Story Games specifically regarding this Apocalypse World hack.

Ok! I keep putting off digging into this in favor of other things, but I finally found a moment that felt like a good time to catch up. This is going to be a fair number of words, so I hope you don’t mind if I end up doing more than one post. I like where this is going! I’m saying that now, because I have a tendency to come on a bit strong when I critique, but I really do like what you’re doing and it has me quite excited and my brain’s a-buzzing with ideas.

I’ll start with Loyalty


Can you give orders to a PC with no Loyalty? It seems odd that your ability to deny a position of authority is a limited resource.

I think the move works even though it’s complicated. If Apocalypse World can have two moves that are essentially the same just to provide different questions for reading people and reading situations, ME: TAWH can have one move with variable stats. That said, my temptation is always to simplify where possible. I’m also not sold on Dig In. I like the idea, but given the specific way Dig In works, I’m not sold. Act Under Fire has a much more universal 7-9 than Dig In does. I really like Dig In’s 7-9, but I’m not sure it’s very satisfying to fail to dig in, or partially succeed to Dig In in this circumstance–and that’s an important part of the *World system. Success at cost and Failure is always just as interesting.

As for the new ideas in your second post: Not liking this much at all. Giving XP provides much better incentive than giving loyalty . Effectively, loyalty is a currency you can use to resist orders. Which you get by following orders. Well, if I want to disobey orders, I’m not really being incentivize to obey by being told I can more effectively disobey in the future, am I? Or for that matter by being told I can more capably give orders to you in the future (if I’ve got it backwards)? The flow goes like this:

Sorry about the poor quality. Point being, its a bit complicated either way, but that complication is hopefully masked by satisfying payoff and a satisfying connection to the rest of the game. With loyalty generated by the move itself, though, it feels too self-contained for how complicated it is. I might be misreading exactly who can spend the loyalty gained this way (as I’ve alluded to), but just in case I’ve thought about it both ways and I still don’t like it.

Support Your Team

I love the move, but the name doesn’t quite make sense. You’re biting the bullet, trading their danger for your own. It’s a great move, and it belongs here–but it’s not really “Support Your Team.” Maybe “Draw Fire” or “Take the Hit” or “Bite the Bullet” or … any number of more accurate names.

As to the +1 forward, I’m iffy just as you say you are in the post. It’s based on the team not being hassled actively–but what exactly does that mean would happen if they were neither supported nor hassled actively? How does the relative benefit of this move play into other moves and deciding when a thing is a move versus something that just happens? I think if nothing else, this move needs a different initiation than “when you dedicate your efforts to aiding your team.” You can do that without being anywhere near them! To work otherwise as written, I feel it needs to clearly relate to taking attention off of the rest of the team, and possibly even be more specific than “your team.” What if various players/characters are doing various things against various threats in various places? I love the core theme and mechanic of the move, but I don’t see the larger picture–and this is a basic move so the larger picture is really important. This move needs to be triggered better.

One final word on this move: you say the “implication” is that you’re not trying to decimate the enemy or keep yourself safe. The later is clear to me from the move as written. The former is not. Something to consider.

Bold Aggression

Bold Aggression leaves me a bit confused. A 7-9 seems better for the enemy than it is for you, and that isn’t often appropriate in a Basic Move. Escalate their threat above and beyond? That sounds like a hard move!

The 10+ is also a bit odd. I like the idea, but “put yourself in a spot in the process” is a bit … narratively awkward? If you completely put your foes in their place, what ways can you be put in a spot? I can think of quite a few, but it’s tricky to think of things that are a) directly relevant to the move being made and b) just as threatening while enemies are completely in their place and c) tweakable to different kinds of situations. There’s getting trapped … but that won’t always make sense without feeling a little too contrived.

Last, a question: if the assumption is that you’re plinking away at each other, that means the default shooting action is simply harm-for-harm as established, right? I’m trying to get a feel for the balance of power here. Clearly, you can make foes as tough or weak as you like so it’s quite adjustable. Conceptually, though, harm-for-harm is very lethal. In AW, you have a lot of ways to inflict harm that aren’t harm-for-harm, as well as to avoid harm.  Even “look through crosshairs” and harm-for-npcs guidelines aside, AW characters are tough as nails; add those two elements in and you’re all badass forces of nature. Harm-for-harm, alone, is quite lethal though. Is this move supposed to preserve that relative lethality, give players an equalizer to reduce that lethality, or what? As a player, I think I’d hesitate to take this over harm-for-harm or Support Your Team (letting the team attack while I lay down cover fire, for example). It sounds scary.

Dig In

I like Dig In and it partially answers my questions about Lethality. Combat IS lethal, but you can keep your head down very effectively meaning it’s only as lethal as you are impatient/inExperienced. I have a tactics question though: obviously poking your head up to take potshots at the enemy isn’t staying focused on your own safety. But assuming you aren’t under a veritable hail of gunfire it might be focusing on your own safety to take a shot at the guy coming around the corner you’re tucked behind or similar. How do you imagine that sort of thing working? What happens when an enemy advances without advantage on your entrenched position, and you’re focused on personal safety? I like Dig In just fine, and my questions about it come more from it’s surroundings in than from the move out.

Enact a Crazy Plan

I like the list idea less than the Savyhead-like “you’re there with what you need” thing. In some ways Q&A feels more like planning, but at the same time, being given information doesn’t feel as much like planning as just straight-up establishing. On the third hand, neither evokes the feeling of quad-to-the-wall bravery and hijinks the name implies. This is the problem I ran into while trying to write a similar move from my Sprawl hack I was working on until I found the lovely The Sprawl–it’s hard to capture the spirit of coming up with a Crazy Ivan in a move. It’s usually just better to let the players try to pull off a crazy plan more naturally. Here’s what the Sprawl does instead:

Basic Move:

Manoeuvre (Mind)
When you attempt to gain a tactical advantage over an opponent, through advanced planning, careful positioning, or clever manoeuvring, roll+Mind. On a 10+ hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1. You may spend 1hold per roll for:
• Inflict +1 harm.
• Take -1 harm.
• Receive +1 forward.
• Receive +AP forward (see Weapon Tags in Chapter 7: Assets).

Having a plan gives you a bonus! Is it a crazy plan? Maybe! Does it work? Maybe not! But just by having an attempt to gain tactical advantage in a way the MC deems appropriately attempty, they get a bonus. This increases both the number of cool tactical things players do and stupid, nutty “so crazy it’s gotta work” things they do. Either way it’s a win for the table and the players.

Playbook moves for the Soldier:

Here’s the plan: When you plan a Mission, everyone to whom you assign a task takes +1 ongoing while they act on that task according to the plan. Anyone who rolls a miss or goes off the plan loses their bonus for that mission. If you get paid, mark experience.

I love it when a plan comes together: At the start of a mission, roll+Edge. 10+ hold 3, 7-9 hold 1. During the mission, spend hold 1 for 1 for the following effects:
• You have that piece of gear that you need, right now.
• You appear in a scene where you are needed, right now.

On a miss, hold 1 anyway, but your opponent has predicted your every move. The MC will hold this over your head until the worst possible moment.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together is a lot like your sketch of Enact A Crazy Plan, but nicely limited. It doesn’t let you prepare too generically. It sets  guidelines. Whatever such guidelines make sense for your move, make sure to have them. This makes the move less paralyzing, makes it feel less overpowered, and makes players feel more “clever” when they use it. All of these are important.

“Here’s The Plan” is a rock solid leadership move that worked out beautifully in play. It created this lovely tension between getting a string of +1s by following the plan and doing what you really wanted to do given changing circumstances. It also had this lovely psychological effect whereby losing the +1 by failing a roll in the execution of the plan usually caused players to decide that the plan had gone to shit and it was time to just wing it and to crazy stuff or bail. Lys and her player would be annoyed, of course, but the easy response was “it’s not like I get +1 anymore.” Also that Xanatos Gambit on-a-miss clause? Sexy stuff. Love it.


Survey a New Planet

I like the Survey a New Planet move. Simple in play, but with a cool switcheroo on a miss. Giving players constrained control over the setting is always nice, because it’s not as intimidating as the MC’s job but it’s just as rewarding and produces nice results because players are often a lot better at this sort of thing than they realize.


Not a lot to say, since these are very rough sketches, but I like them for what they are. An idea for Turians, though:

Turians are Disciplined, Hierarchical/United and Imposing.  Everyone knows what they’re capable of. They’re respected. They have one of the more powerful militaries in the galaxy, they’re physically imposing, and they tend to stick together–Turians are expected to fall in line but in turn, they protect their own. Especially since they’re also one of three/four council races, all of that means badassery of the individual aside you want to be extra careful when you fuck with a Turian.

Whew!  Hope that’s helpful. 🙂


About Gwathdring

Lives for music. Longs for sturdy sails and a stiff sea-breeze. Devourers information. Loves curling up with a good book, a good video game, or photographs of Earth's fuzzier creatures. Is quickly becoming obsessed with board games. That'll do for now.

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