Thursday, October 23, 2014

HX, Bonds & Alignment

First up, HX. Or History.
There's nothing inherently wrong with the HX system in Apocalypse World, but it's confusing. Even when players understand it, they can mess it up. Last week I was telling a player eye-to-eye "You write down either 0 or -2 based on what the other players say" and they still managed to mess that up because they were reading the playbook and switching up the instructions between what you write down and what you tell other players. I've played or MCed Apocalypse World nine times, with eight different groups of players, and every time calculating HX is confusing and stops everybody's momentum.

It would be easier if it were sped along and simpler. Either you tell other players what to write for their HX with you and they don't modify it, or everybody starts with the same numbers and it gets modified by yourself (secretly).

Secondly, alignment.

In Dungeon World, each class has a certain number of alignments that give them class-specific XP bonuses when they act upon that alignment. For example, if you're playing a Good Wizard then you get 1 XP whenever you "use magic to directly aid another." That's pretty open-ended. If I use a cantrip to light another character's torch then technically I've used magic to aid another, right? Some people might read that as you need to apply a more valuable level of magic to aid somebody, but that's not what the alignment says or how it reads. An Evil Wizard needs to "use magic to cause terror and fear" which is a pretty specific kind of use in comparison and maybe an easy way to do this might be to use a few cantrips to freak out some local villagers and maybe you'll get your XP to pop, but it seems like one of these can fit within your usual state of play easily and the other requires you to go out of your way to be a dick to NPCs.

"Well, yeah, he's evil."

Uh, no. Being evil doesn't mean you're a dick to random strangers for no good reason. Being evil means you serve none but yourself. Your actions must be immoral, wicked, or depraved, but not needless or without motivation. Withholding aid or information so that you can profit before somebody else or have an advantage over them, providing misleading information for the same reasons, insisting on receiving a higher share of the treasure or just taking more of it openly or secretly, going out of your way to hinder a potential rival in a demeaning or humiliating way, actively sabotaging somebody just to make them look bad or to embarrass them. These are evil acts. I don't even think my description here can suitably be called evil (maybe Vanilla Evil?) because truly reprehensible acts could also fall under evil, but I'm assuming most players don't want to play rapists, murderers, and pedophiles.

When I think back on the arguments I had around gaming tables during my teenage AD&D years the only thing that ever comes to mind are debates that surrounded role-playing alignment properly. "But I'm chaotic!" was a pretty common refrain I heard from people who did things that seemed out of character, and when I once attempted to play a lawful character my GM hounded me about how I wasn't living up to his expectations of the alignment.

Alignment has always been, in my opinion, a poor method for guiding a character's growth or goals.

So why not just have a goal? Your character should always have a long-term goal once they've developed, but short-term goals work too.

Third, bonds.

Bonds are a clever little way of pushing the players into having their characters explore relationships with the other players' characters. They're one sentence descriptive qualifiers for the relationship your character has with another character. At the end of every session you can resolve one Bond and receive 1 XP for it, as long as both you and the other player agree that the Bond is resolved. But they're also one-sided, and arbitrary.

If I write that my wizard "Thinks Grold the dwarf would make a good bodyguard" then I am motivated to either explore this idea or follow through with the idea if I want to resolve this bond, but the player of Grold might have "I would never work for Thorp the wizard" and I might never learn this through play. Eventually I might give up my plan of having Thorp try to hire Grold and resolve the bond because I just think he won't ever work for me. So I resolve that Bond and the player of Grond says "Oh really? I guess that would resolve my Bond too because if you stop offering employment I'll stop denying to work for you." We have a good chuckle about how our Bonds were set up, each mark 1 XP, and move on, writing new Bonds perhaps for each other again or perhaps for other PCs. Now here's the weird part, Grond can work for Thorp now and it would seemingly fly in the face of the previously written Bonds.

I don't know if that's why they were designed that way, that your characters' relationships would be allowed to change so drastically, but while playing characters I have found the system discordant and it pushes me to contrive relationships when I don't normally want to. Sometimes I really like the Bond I have too, and constantly shifting relationships means I am less likely to keep that one-sentence qualifier. There have been times when another player changes their character's Bond with my character and then my Bond feels irrelevant and then I feel forced to change it. The rules also state you can only resolve one Bond per session, and I know I've played in two sessions where it felt like more than one Bond resolved by the end.

Overall, I think it's an improvement over the confusing nature of Apocalypse World's HX system and I like the concept, but I don't like the execution of the idea or the restrictions placed upon resolution.

So why not improve HX by making it simpler to calculate? Then add Bonds that connect the two characters but won't resolve unless HX resets?

Goals
Each character has two Goals, it's implied that one should be short-term and the other long-term but that's not required. During the first session, nobody has to have a goal unless they want one, but by the end of the first session the character should have at least one goal. By the end of the third session, they should have a long-term goal.

Alternate HX+Bonds #1
Each character also has History with every other character. This starts at 0 but might be added to or subtracted from based on the other characters, there is no "others' turn" in this new system. For each History you also have a Bond which is written by the other player, with your approval, and when your History resets with them they re-write a new Bond for you, with your approval. You both work together to figure out how your characters are Bonded.

Let's take an Angel, Battlebabe, Brainer, Chopper, and Gunlugger, the first five playbooks and line them up as PCs. They all have 0 History with one another.
The Angel tells the Battlebabe "You helped me save a life, so add +2 History." and the Battlebabe says "Everybody gets +1 with me, so Angel, take +1 History." and then they determine their Bonds. The Angel says "I think I can rely on you to do the right thing." and writes that next to the +1. The Battlebabe says "I think you need to protect yourself and stay out of trouble." and writes that next to the +2. The Angel then goes around the table until his History box looks like this
Battlebabe +1, I can rely on her to do the right thing
Brainer -1, I won't let her near me
Choppper +1, We're friendly but not close enough
Gunlugger -2, I'm scared she'll turn on me

Alternate HX+Bonds #2
In this version there is no "your turn" for distributing numbers. Everybody starts at 0 and you secretly (or not-so-secretly) modify it on your own playbook.
This version means the Angel has 0 written for everybody, except those he personally modifies. Keeping the Bonds the same, this looks like this...
Battlebabe -1, I can rely on her to do the right thing
Brainer -1, I won't let her near me
Choppper -1, We're friendly but not close enough
Gunlugger -1, I'm scared she'll turn on me

Less interesting. HX+Bonds version #1 it is!

Addendum
At the end of a session you still go around the table and players declare which character knows theirs better, but if History ever resets then the Bond resets as well.