My normal Apocalypse World crew was down a player this week, so I ran Lady Blackbird for 'em. It was my first time running the game (and we all had a blast), but I got rather confused when playing the characters not chosen as NPC's, specifically in regards to having them do things that are contentious.

Here's a concrete example from last night:

Snargle wasn't chosen by any of the players, but he's the pilot. So when it came time to escape from the Hand of Sorrow in The Owl, the players were of course expecting Snargle to do it. This was tricky for me. I'm playing Snargle as an NPC in a situation where I would definitely be making the players roll to find out what happens and I wasn't quite sure how to handle that mechanically. The way I saw it I had three options:

  • Just decide, arbitrarily or via coin flip. I did this once and it felt thoroughly unsatisfying.
  • Have another player roll, and give him/her all the dice from the activated Traits/Tags. This is what I did most often.
  • I roll as if I'm a player. I actually hadn't considered doing this at the time, but in retrospect it probably makes the most sense.

In either case, I'm still guessing as to what I'm "supposed" to do. Anyone know?


When I run NPCs in any game, I keep in mind that it's about making it interesting and challening for the PCs. So, I tend to run the first option. The NPC doesn't "take" actions exactly, it's just an excuse to make things happen. Want to toss the PCs around the cabin? Suddenly the pilot shouts "Hang on!" Want the ship to have to set down? "We're hit!" It certainly CAN be unsatisfying, but embrace the narrative power it gives you and go to town

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, let's use the in-game situation I presented as a sandbox. The PC's have just rescued Snargle, gotten onboard The Owl, and are ready to try and make their escape. Snargle's the pilot. This is clearly and interesting and contentious moment and it's bullshit to come down on either side of "you get away" or "you don't get away." What would you do? Or, at the very least, what options would you consider? \$\endgroup\$ – Zelbinian Feb 18 '12 at 23:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have the PC's actions be important for getting away. Assume that Snargle can get them out of there, BUT only if they: shoot down the attack ships following them, repair the broken fuel line in the engine room, jam the enemy's communications, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Mike Riverso Feb 20 '12 at 19:40

I'd say none of the above. If no one is playing Snargle, he's just another game element, like Hollas or Uriah Flint or the sky squid, so I wouldn't roll for him. Whatever you want to have happen regarding him just happens.

But, of course, his actions should always lead to new and exciting danger for the player-characters, so anything you do with Snargle means a dice roll for the players is on its way.


In Lady Blackbird? Shoot him.

You know at the becoming of the session that nobody is playing him, and you're all captured anyway, right? Snargle is dead. Maybe he died when you all got captured, maybe he mouthed off to the antigoblin guards, maybe he made a seperate bid for freedom from the rest of the party and it didn't end well. If you just really love Snargle (and hey, who doesn't? Easily my favourite character) incapacitate him with a shot to the leg and a honk in the head instead. Either way, the regular pilot isn't available- someone does have some pool dice left over to fly anyway, right? Right?

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is precisely what we did in our play through of Lady Blackbird with three players - when they managed to get back onto the Owl, they found the captain and first mate dead. It pushed the other characters to pick up Traits, Tags, and Keys that helped the party onboard the Owl, which worked really well as a kind of trial by fire. \$\endgroup\$ – lowercasename Jun 3 '17 at 23:21

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