Why Do They Gotta Front?

We played our second session of our Apocalypse World game recently. This is probably the first time I’ve run a second session for any of the AW hacks. This session got me involved in the use of the Fronts and threats for the game. This is the mechanical tracking of plot threads that impact the characters. Normally I run generally off the cuff, with only a vague notion of where things are going and leaving myself open to letting the magic happen. But I figured I wanted to get the full AW experience, so I pulled out the little booklets that I’d printed out with all the other playsheets and started filling them in with guidance from the book.

The idea with the Fronts is that they establish the nature of the threats tied to them, they have a countdown clock for how easily players can avoid it, and they have actions that they can take. If you look at the PDF of the playsheets, you can see the layout of the thing at least. ¬†You’ll want to scroll down to about page 29 to see the first playsheet for Fronts. Basically, it’s broken down into types of threats (Warlords, Grotesques, Landscapes, Afflictions, Brutes). Each type of threat has moves associated with it that the MC is advised to use. They are also broken down into subtypes of threats. So a Warlord related threat could be a Slaver, a Hive Queen, a Prophet, a Dictator, a Collector or an Alpha Wolf. Each of those has different nuances to play.

Ultimately, all of this is intended to codify and structure the game prep a GM might do.

It was a little weird trying to translate what I knew to the structure provided. In the first session, we had established some pretty basic factions that were obvious story arcs. But then trying to shove that square peg into the round hole of the Fronts was difficult. The way I thought of them didn’t match up with what was in the book.

To start with, the difference between the Front and the Threats under it took me a little bit to get my head around. At first I thought one of the weaker warlords was a Front unto himself, but I lumped him with some other forces for a general Front of “Control of Beacon Island.” So each of the major warlords were listed as a threat on my little sheet.

I’d figured that the Cthulhian cult would be a warlord type of threat, but none of the options under there seemed to fit. Some seemed like they might apply, but the “Impulse” that was listed for them didn’t quite fit. It was often too narrow. Then I find out that there’s a Cult sub-group under “Brutes.” Which would never have occurred to me. Even then, I didn’t like the Impulse there, either. Their motivations have a lot of hands in the pies, and they’re pushed in a few different directions. Trying to codify them by what the book suggested they be codified as was just frustrating.

Still, there are a lot of neat tools in there for establishing the course of the threats: What are the consequences if the players wait too long to deal with a problem? What can players do to stop it? It seems like this can be a potent tool if I can just get my head around it.

3 thoughts on “Why Do They Gotta Front?

  1. Andi

    It’s a potent tool, yep, and it can get to feel strange coming from more traditional gaming versus a *W game. Here’s the thing I realized after running a full MH campaign: it’s your job to merely set it up, and have the world make some moves. It’s their job to do something about it.

    If the countdown gets to zero, what happens? Well, things go bad. It’s an AW game… sometimes, things are going to get bad, REALLY bad. As long as you are correctly communicating by Announcing Future and Off-Screen Badness, they will take note and do something about it. Then, we’ve got a game rolling!

    The thing I eventually learned from running was to pull back and not prepare too much. I’d basically spend an hour or so thinking over the material, getting myself pumped, and think of a few choice morsels I wanted to throw in. I will say, the biggest amount of heavy lifting happens between the first and second session. If you’ve done your homework, it’ll be an easy lift from here on out. Now after session two is a chance to review everything you go and check to make sure you’re on the right track.

    On your thing on impulses… My thought is, if you’re feeling the impulse doesn’t fit or sit right, it actually may be an impulse that’s too big or complicated. Or maybe just could use some rewording? hard to judge without knowing the exact context. That said, if you ever want to grab a beverage together and kibbutz over *W MC stuff, I’d be for it. I lost my main soundboard for my DW game (because he became a player) and could go for some shop talk.

  2. Seth

    Yeah, when I ran AW I had a tricky time with Fronts too. Next time I’ll hopefully have more of a grip on them.

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