History, or Hx, remains a little perplexing to me. Can you explain how it works, both mechanically and fictionally, in a way that makes sense? I am especially hung up on integrating History changes into the fiction, because I don't understand how to rationalize a shift from +4 to +1, for example.



History (Hx) is a measure of how well you know someone. Fictionally this might be knowing secrets about them, understanding how they think, knowing their history of violence and being able to predict what they might do, knowing how to work smoothly with them, and/or knowing how to push their buttons or poke their raw emotional wounds and thereby manipulate them. The game doesn't require that you detail this, but you'll probably start with a vague idea anyway.

All together, those kinds of fictional foundations for "how well do I know them?" gives you a certain amount of hold over them, represented mechanically by the Hx rules. When they are trying to do something, you can describe how you help them or interfere with them. If it's fictionally sensible, then you roll+Hx to apply the +1 (for help) or -2 (for hindering) to their roll. The rules recommend rolling at the same time, but it's not strictly necessary.

History changes in three ways. With the end of session move, each player picks a PC who they think knows their character better than before. Usually it will be obvious, but occasionally they'll have to think about it. Either way, once they choose it will probably be obvious how the fiction is related to this change. This won't require any special handling to represent in the fiction.

The other way is the rollover when your character's Hx hits +4 with another PC and has to reset to +1 (while getting to mark experience). The rollover from Hx+4 to Hx+1 can be thought of as a new "level" of understanding of someone. You've had a small epiphany about how they tick, but now you're in slightly uncertain territory with them while you integrate this new understanding. Mechanically, your enhanced knowledge of them turns into marking for improvement (which generally makes you more competent, including when dealing with that PC), and allows you the chance to build up your understanding of them again.

The third way Hx can change is due to a classe's special move triggered by sex, but those are self-explanatory when it comes to the fiction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, that's a very clear explanation. The "New plateau of uncertainty" may be what I need to swallow this otherwise unlikely circumstance. \$\endgroup\$ – Jmstar Sep 8 '10 at 19:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I really dig the epiphany; it's probably a more useful contextualization than what I suggested. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Sep 8 '10 at 19:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I look at it as the game encouraging the characters to either Love and Hate each other. Love and Hate make us better people. Apathy gives us nothing in AW. Not sure if that helps with anyone's thoughts on realism and Hx. \$\endgroup\$ – Judd Mar 23 '11 at 4:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Judd I can't agree. Negative Hx doesn't represent apathy, it represents inscrutability of the other character to the one who has negative Hx with them. Positive Hx can be good feelings, or bad feelings, yes, but it can also represent neutral feelings + excellent knowledge of someone's thought processes and typical methods. Mostly, I'd say AW encourages charged situations – and two character who have high Hx with each other makes for the unpredictability and excitement of wondering whether they're going to help, hinder, or stand out of the way. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 23 '11 at 15:57

SevenSidedDie is absolutely correct, but since the OP also mentioned "how to rationalize a shift from +4 to +1" I thought I'd share a technique which is used by many MCs, and goes further than the simple (but anticlimactic) rationalization of a "new level of understanding":

When your Hx with a character goes to +4 and you reset it to +1, have that character's player tell you a secret about their character.

When you tell a secret about your character, tell the other player something their character did not already know, either some weakness or habit, or some psychology they manage to puzzle out. This should be something more than trivial; if it can be used against your character in some way, if it's something the MC didn't know, or if it paints your character in a radically different light all of a sudden, all the better.

If you're using Hx (or bonds or the equivalent) with NPCs, and you reset from +4 to +1, the MC will tell you a secret about that character.

AW creator D. Vincent Baker said he wishes he had included this idea in the book.

Original post on the AW forum: http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/index.php?topic=1883.0


I think History is sort of a confusing term for this stat, because -- as you note -- it can go down, and how do you get less history with someone? What it really means, as per page 103, is how well you know someone. So maybe I met you yesterday, but it was the most important life-changing day you've ever had and I spent the whole thing with you. I could easily know you very well, and accordingly have a high History. Or I could have known you my whole life, but you're just that guy who lives in the next shack over, and I never knew you were an axe murderer. Low History.

So if I change a lot, you don't know me as well.

This doesn't entirely satisfy me as an explanation, given that my History stat with someone can go from +4 to +1 at the end of a session, and there are mechanical incentives to make that happen. On the one hand, I can decide that I don't want to make that move because I don't know how to play it out in the fiction. On the other hand, then I'm passing up advancement.

In play, I'd want to link that change to whatever advancement I was thinking about. I know when I change in real life, my opinions on people change, and sometimes I look at them in ways that make it harder to empathize. Hey, I just got a gang -- now I'm thinking about them more than I'm thinking about you, and I've kind of lost touch with you. I've lost my knowledge of you, because I'm not exercising it.

Short form: "It's not you, it's me." Which is a cliche but there's something in it.

All that said, +4 to +1 isn't always directly linked to an advancement, since it doesn't always generate the fifth circle of experience. I think this still works as a method of foreshadowing your expected changes, though.

  • \$\begingroup\$ We're on the same wavelength about History. Thanks for your thoughts. \$\endgroup\$ – Jmstar Sep 8 '10 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for asking! It helped me crystallize what I'd been ruminating over. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Sep 8 '10 at 19:47

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