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Many of my friends who play or would like to play RPGs have too tight schedules for a single long campaign, but want more continuity than what a single one-shot game would allow. I've been thinking of running Apocalypse World as an "open party" game that would work as follows:

  • every session is short (2-3 hours) and self-contained, but there is continuity between sessions
  • players are not expected to participate every time, some may only participate once. PCs of absent players are assumed to be "living their normal lives"
  • new players are brought in when desired
  • PCs of absent players can't be encountered or directly harmed (things that harm them can be set in motion, but their full force will only hit when the player is present)
  • events of each session are logged to keep absent players on track of the state of the world

Apocalypse World seems like a good system for such gameplay, because the system is quick to learn and play with, and the power gap between seasoned and fresh characters is rather minor. It also assumes that PCs do non-adventuring stuff for sustenance, which provides a handy excuse for player absences. So that sounds like the mechanical side of things is well-covered!

However, having never done anything like this before, I'd like to know what exactly I'm getting involved in. What sort of storytelling, practical, social, or other table-level issues should I be on the lookout for when setting up an open party game like this?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Commenting because this doesn't really belong in the question, but if such schemes already have a generally used name, please edit it in the question or leave a comment for me to do it. Cheers! \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Apr 12 '16 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ The issues around an open-party game and the issues around using multiple MCs are quite different (and, I think, orthogonal to each other). The bit about multiple MCs also seems to be mostly ignored here except for one throw-away bullet point. I think you'll get much, much better answers if you split the question about swapping MCs in AW into its own question, where you can talk more about what/how/why you want to do that, and this can focus on the issue of open parties. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 12 '16 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Thanks for the input, will do. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Apr 12 '16 at 14:48
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The biggest problem I see with this setup is that the MC won't really be able to build triangles between PCs and NPCs, making it hard to tie the characters together.

I've not been playing AW personally, but I've gathered from friends playing it and from playing other Apocalypse Engine¹ games such as Dungeon World that games where the MC does not use the triangle mechanic or where he uses it scarcely feel disconnected. Triangles, together with Hx but to an ever larger effect, are the great motivator of the game. You are involved in the action because you know this guy Pepper who's in love with the Hardholder, or your daughter Skunk punched the Angel in the nose yesterday and now he's acting all jerky, what do you do?

Of course the MC can improvise more triangles on the spot, but without a recurring cast of characters it's easier to lose track of the NPCs (you introduce Gum, the Pilot's brother and the Hocus' pusher, and then you have this character that's not tied to both ends anymore. The world loses some consistency.

Hx might be even worse, for the same reasons. Characters end up losing their ties. The game might still work, it's made for adding people on the fly and for changing character when someone gets high level, but it will be harder to keep the group tight-knit as it should (not so much as a D&D party, but with intertwining relations).


¹PbtA means "inspired by AW". I've used "Apocalypse Engine" to mean other games with the same core mechanics.

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