Transcription courtesy of Michael X. Heiligenstein, Keeper of the Child Who Repeats the Numbers
Kate: Our first question is "In Powered by the Apocalypse, How can we use a hard move to be fans of the characters?"
Jason: Really, really good question.
Kate: So the thing I've learned the most in the last year and a half was from that episode we did with Avery. Avery was like, yeah, hard move. But sometimes, that means giving them good things. And I was like, “Oh, shit, you're right.” Good things can be complicated. If suddenly the world wants to be your boyfriend, that comes with a whole pack of baggage. So sometimes I'll just give them what they want. And make sure it comes with every string possible.
My favorite example of this lately I've been watching Ozark which is new Jason Bateman drug money laundering series. It's not great. But he's trying to launder money for a drug cartel. And it's like a challenge for him. Otherwise, you're going to come kill him. And he finally does it. And the next day, a truckload of $500 million shows up instead of $8 million. You totally succeed and everyone has new confidence in you. And here's all these new problems from that confidence. That's how you be a fan of the characters there.
Jason: That's a great kind of family character hard move. There’s something to be said about giving the player characters a chance to do their thing. Playbooks in PBTA games really goalpost the kind of experience that the players want to have. It’s a huge, huge signal. Just the player choosing the playbook tells the GM a lot about what kind of experience they want to have.
Kate: Well, also encouraged by what moves they choose.
Jason: Oh yeah, absolutely. The selection of the playbook, the selection of the moves, they're huge goal post for what the player wants to do. And I think whenever your moves dovetail with that, it doesn't matter how hard you go, right? Because you are being a fan of the character.
Kate: So the example I use comes from Urban Shadows. The Aware facing off against a werewolf is super scary, but not the Aware's strong point. It's more interesting if you stick the Aware somewhere, and now they have to call in a debt to bring their friends into fight for them, because they're good at that. So maybe the werewolf doesn't bite them. Maybe the werewolf forces them to slam the bathroom door closed, and they have five minutes before bad shit happens. Those hard moves that set up the player and the playbook to be able to shine: that's being a fan.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely. I love that example. And I think that's exactly right.
Another thing I would add is that there’s a lot of power in disclaiming decision making as the GM. The PBTA player tends to want to do the hard thing. They tend to want to do the thing that is complicating and difficult. Whenever I've got a 6- on the table, and the situation is really, really hot, and I have an idea about going really hard, I’ll sometimes say, “I think we need to really fuck this character up right now. You guys, this feels like a moment for some really hard shit. This is what I'm thinking, what do you guys think?”
And they will get you to the place that is harder than what you had in mind. And they love it more because they naturally do it in a way that makes them be badasses. So the hard thing is happening, but they're getting to see their group or the character be really cool. It's a thing that I have not witnessed much in a lot of PbtA GMing ,but I think it's something worth exploring. The game is a conversation. And sometimes the game being a conversation means turning over decision making responsibility to the players: letting them have input on that. They'll get you there.
Kate: That's interesting, because I've never really gotten the disclaim decision making. I've read the notes on it so many times and everything I run, I’m like, I don't get this. But I am the first person who will stall for maybe a minute and a half trying to think of a good hard move before I'll just look at everybody like, “So what do you guys think should happen?”
Jason: Yeah, exactly. It works also in the context of like, you're just kind of spent and you don't know what else to do. But I think it's particularly powerful in the context of “Oh, man, he did. He pushed his luck. This situation is hot. I think we need to hit him hard. What do you guys think?” And it all just goes from there.
Kate: The other way I've seen that work is where someone will turn to the person who failed, and ask “What is the worst thing that could happen right now?” And the player’s like “This!” And that's what happens.
Jason: Yeah, it's shocking how much players will tell you the thing that’s gonna get the most emotional reaction out of them. They'll tell you in different ways, and paying attention to that is the really important thing.
Kate: Anything else you want to add to being a fan of the play?
Jason: I don't think so. No, I think we covered it pretty well.