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In Apocalypse World, the social and beauty oriented class Skinner has a move called "An arresting skinner" which does pretty much what it promises:

An arresting skinner: when you remove clothing, your own or someone else's, no one who can see you can do anything but watch. You command their absolute attention. If you choose, you can exempt individual people, by name.

We've had our share of laughs with this, but I find this move often develops into something of a risk-free exit move for characters trapped in sticky situations... or worse, something they rely 100% on to carry out their mischief. I'm a bit conflicted on how to handle it as a GM.

The text is pretty clear: "no one who can see you can do anything but watch" means it effectively ends tense combat or escape situations - any enemies that see the Skinner strip will simply freeze to ogle. Since the Skinner can exempt their friends, they can go around bashing in the skulls of their incapacitated enemies while the Skinner slooooowly removes their garterbelt. The effect is unconditional, 100% reliable - against anything that can see, at least, although I interpret the effect to mean only creatures capable of appreciating beauty in human terms.

Now, I am a fan of my PCs, but I also want to make the PCs lives not boring. Being able to disarm almost any conflict with a quick striptease gets boring quite fast, and a completely reliable enemy-freezer also makes Apocalypse World not seem very real. The move has no obvious downside I could activate. The worst that I can see happening is that the Skinner is already naked or restrained to prevent further teasing, but making those situations very common would hurt immersion. Or the Skinner might be wearing a diving suit, but that's a different kind of immersion. One time I surprised my players by having an enemy sniper not see the Skinner because of aiming at another character through a narrow scope, but I can only use the same trick so many times before it gets boring.

As the GM, what sort of moves and narration could I use to make the move work as a cool mechanic, without ruining tension or sense of realism, or taking away the appeal of the Skinner class?

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You are not the first GM thinking about this, and there has been quite some discussion about it on Barf Forth Apocalyptica, the forum run by Vincent Baker. All quotes below are taken from posts there. There is one thread discussing specific examples of how this move can be made real, which is where most of this insight is from.

Most MCs there play the move as written and give descriptions how to do that consistently with Agenda and Principles, and the fact that it has not changed between the first and the second edition of the game is a strong indication that it's not broken if you use it right. But given the discussions around it, I expect the 2E rulebook will contain some more insight on it, too, once it is out.

The advice given for running with “An arresting skinner” as written are

  • Player's stylistic choice putting a natural limit on when it will be used,
  • Movie-like spotlighting makes this seem far more real than straight narration,
  • There are obvious choices for consequences of over-using the move in the real Apocalypse World.

Player's Stylistic Choice

The first thing to note is that it doesn't need to be abused like that.

The way I have seen the move limited in play: the player taking it agrees not to use it to shit all over the fun of the other players by constantly mind-controlling their characters with it. That seems to work fine.

The player does have the stylistic choice over when to use it, and they can decide to use it just in situations where they think it fits. And if you do that, you can nicely use it even for a skinner who is not a stripper.

Picture a dapper violin-cello player whipping his battered top-hat off with a flourish; the last lounge singer removing and hanging up her shawl with an "I own this place" attitude; the skinner whipping off his trademark ankle-length leather coat and flinging it over the back of the chair as he enters/interrupts the meeting. Consider that such non-sexy uses of the move might be the only way these skinners ever invoke it.

Guiding the Narration

[F]or me, this is another example of how AW mimics movie reality, not "real" reality. I don't find it necessary to consider the Skinner's power supernatural, because my group and I are creating something that flows rather like a movie. When that moment comes, and that sexy leading character is hit by those perfect blue lights and the soundtrack is awesome and the perfect body is being revealed, the plot may be in the middle of a fire or a fight scene, but for ten to thirty seconds all the camera sees - and therefore all we are looking at - is the Skinner.

In a moment we may find out that while that scene was going on, some of the other characters were doing things. So the next few player moves are like tiny "flashbacks" just going back a few seconds or minutes. That's cool, because those other characters weren't watching the Skinner scene. They were busy.

We see things like this in movies all the time. The smokin' hot protagonist drops the shoulder of their blouse, and everyone's eyes are pinned to that little patch of bare skin. The camera is pinned to it. Our shot goes medium-close, and all we see is the curve of their neck, the shadow of the clavicle. Reverse shot to the antagonist, nostrils flared, pupils dilated, lip glistening with just the smallest dot of unrestrained saliva. Shot retreats to medium distance, and we're suddenly surprised that one of the protagonist's teammates has somehow been next to the antagonist the whole time, and slits their throat!

These are the core narration options, and for these the MC needs the collaboration of the players. Personally, I did not need to go any further then this in the only game I saw use of this move.

If they are enough, that's cool – but if you still get the feeling that you need more tangible or unilateral ways of making Apocalypse World Seem Real, there are options for that, too, without sacrificing how the move works.

The Move happens in the World.

Don't make the "frozen" people be in love with the skinner; that's not the move. It's not a seduce and it's not a hypnotize. No, they KNOW that what they're doing isn't natural and the MC should tell her about how she can see that in their eyes.

In our game, the male skinner used this on a noble woman (our setting was drifted) to distract her. But she KNOWS what's going on, the way we play it. She knows she should have looked away and she knows she's being held there by how supernaturally hot he was, but she can't look away. How does that make her feel, after? She HATED him before. The MC talked at length about how she felt the need to shower. And her threat type jumped to 11, I'm sure.

And if the Move takes time and happens in a somewhat public place, Announce Future Badness:

[…] more people show up. And then more people. Dozens of people stop what they're doing and go nuts when a) the Skinner stops short or b) hits the naked zone and tries to get dressed and bug out.

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I never played Apocalypse World, so I may miss the attended ambiance of the universe. I supposed it was a fallout-like ambiance with a humourous tone over a dark setting.

Several solutions are possible, some could be better than others depending on you, your players, and everything.

  1. The gentlemen agreement.

As a player sometimes I happen to be in control of a completely overpowered move that makes it possible to break over every problem by using it. I try to use it the less often possible and only whether:

  • there is absolutely no other choice (there will be a tpk if I don't)
  • to make something not important for the plot (it will get me a free drink)
  • the plot encourages me to do it (a cop arrests me and ask for me to remove my clothes so he can be sure I don't carry any weapon, it would be just too dumb not to use this skinner ability to make my friends pass with the weapon cargo)
  • the GM uses dirty unfair tricks himself

Usually if the guy in position to use the OP move follows this code there will be no problem. Explain to him your concern and you may agree on a gentleman code.

  1. The rule patch.

As the GM you have priority over rules. You can simply modify the skinner's move so it has limitations. I can think about:

  • Only a small number of people can be targeted at the same time (the skinner having to sustain there looks to keep their attention)

  • The dance has a limited duration (after a minute of surprise the spectators will remember they didn't come for a strip show but to kill you.)

  • The dance doesn't work twice on the same person

  • The dance can't be performed more than X times a day

  • The dance only have a (high) percentage of chance to succeed: make the PC do a perform roll with stress maluses as his spectators are hostile.

Of course you can combinate some of these nerfs, and/or give the PC some compensation somewhere else.

  1. The Mirror.

This one can help the PC to understand the problem, but it won't solve it by itself (you will have to use 1 or 2 then).

All you have to do is making an opponent of the PCs use the same move. At some point it will probably upset them, at that moment let them win over the bad guy and discuss the problem of the OPness of the move.

  1. The Shift to Comedy.

You can simply let them use and abuse with this move, to the point the Universe will become absurd. Make them fight entire armies of thousands soldiers than are at the same time fascinated by the legendary stripper while the other PC kill them one-by-one with a teaspoon, make God himself ask the PC to stop and make them able to fascinate Him too. Yes, it will be stupid, but whatever if you get fun. Just be careful that the other PCs are getting as much fun as the stripper.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I know many rpg systems, and in none of them the game master can't break the rules if he needs it. Maybe AW is one of these but it would surprise me a lot. The Mirror can be used even if there is not a real symmetry between PCs and NPCs, I don't see how it is a problem here. The Shift to Comedy consist in forgetting to making it seems real, so of course it contradicts making it seems real, and of course the examples here feel odd. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Apr 27 '16 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer explicitly states you have no experience with Apocalypse World, and it shows in your answer. AW is a very different game than most table-top RPGs in how it is played. Much of your answer doesn't apply, such as "the rule patch" section, because of how different AW (and other PBTA games) is from other types of games \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Apr 27 '16 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer, I appreciate the effort, but Apocalypse World works rather differently from the archetypal rules-heavy tabletop RPG like DnD. While there aren't too many literal "rules" to bend, the GM (or "MC") is expected to follow a certain agenda: it includes making the world "real", being a fan of Player Characters (I mean, really adoring the stuff they do!) and filling their lives with adventure. One of the chief ways to make the PC's lives interesting is coming up with down sides for whatever they do - which is why I asked for GM moves and narrative ways to alleviate this issue. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Apr 27 '16 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Making a rule patch is not especially against making the world "real" nor any of the things you listed... I played many games with a large scope or rules heaviness and I don't get what it changes here. However as you seem to all agree on something I don't understand I have nothing more to add. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Apr 27 '16 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is tripping over not knowing important parts of how AW's rules work and what the MC is allowed and required to (not) do, and sadly I have to downvote it. (Some background: The role of the Master of Ceremonies (MC) in Apocalypse World is a coordinator and collaborator, which is why they're not called the GM (they're not master over the game). Creating new moves is one of the things the MC is allowed to do, but altering a PC's move is not, and even creating new moves is not allowed if the purpose is to nerf a PC.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 27 '16 at 15:34

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