Vehicles show up in a lot of places in Apocalypse World. The Driver. The Chopper and their gang. The Hardholder's garage. Several playbooks' advances. The road war moves. Heck, optionally, everyone can start with a base-level vehicle for free.

Most of these are described as somewhat similar to motor vehicles: bikes, cars, buggies, 4x4s, trucks, maybe a bus — and the rules are definitely built around that.

But what happens if the group's apocalyptic world isn't quite the gas-and-bullet Mad Max apocalypse? For example, let's say you want to constrain your game to the overgrown ruins of a single city. Or the apocalypse is a struggle against endless winter and you just can't fit quick travel and a powerful fuel source (gas/biodiesel/solar/whatever) into that setting.

(Tweaking the "and bullets" part is easy: the 2nd Edition book offers an example custom move that forces you to scrounge for ammo; you can change the weapon lists without breaking too much if you preserve some basic relationships.)

So, how do you play Apocalypse World without cars?
In particular:

  • If you remove vehicles, what do you need to do to fill the gaps that leaves in some playbooks (like the Chopper and Hardholder)?
  • If you "reskin" the vehicle mechanics into something else, e.g. animals, what mechanical changes do you need to make to reflect the changed theme? (New player-facing moves, tweaked road-war moves, different threat moves, &c.?)

Criteria for a good answer:

  1. Experience-based answers, ideally with rules-hack examples if you hacked the rules.

  2. Do not answer with "system-agnostic" advice from people who've never touched AW.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Alex, good, looking forward to some good answers. It's an interesting question, along the lines of "During the movie(s) with Mad Max, what if they finally ran out of gas?" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 19:37
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast The back of the (2nd Edition) book jokes about this a bit: i.imgur.com/tPBrZ2g.png \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 23:53

3 Answers 3


Cut playbooks that don't fit

As a general rule for all such cases, I would recommend removing playbooks that rely heavily on features that conflict with your own version of the Apocalypse World. Let your players know in advance that the Driver and Chopper won't be available, and no moves granting cars should be picked. For other playbooks, the vehicles are minor enough to ignore completely. For instance the Hardholder's holding didn't have vehicles in the first edition and worked fine regardless. This is the level of rules hacking I've personally engaged in, particularly with one-off scenarios, and have had no complaints - the action will be more geographically constrained but usually finding trouble nearby isn't hard in Apocalypse World.

A note based on my experience; when barring car-related moves, there is one exception I recommend you to make: if someone's character is a Savvyhead, and they want to build a vehicle, you mustn't decline. A large part of the Savvyhead's appeal comes from being able to build anything. Something as mundane as a car, boat or so should only be challenging, not impossible.

Reskins tend to work with normal rules

About reskins: I've MC'd a "nuclear winter Finland" setting several times by reskinning vehicles as follows.

  • Bikes become snowmobiles (and choppers become snowmobile gang leaders!)
  • Compacts/buggies become snowcats (enclosed tracked snowmobiles)
  • Jeeps and similarly large cars are tracked snow coaches
  • Anything larger than that is either a hovercraft or a screw-propelled all-terrain vehicle

The road war moves are actually quite malleable despite having a clear Mad Max influence - these worked well without direct mechanical rule changes. The important part is to weave the new skin into the narrative - if you do that well, the reskin will work. For example, a hovercraft lacks traction, which means more Acting under fire may be required to compensate for recoil when firing big guns on board, but on the brighter side it won't have problems with Bad terrain as long as it's smooth enough to not let the lifting pressure escape through cracks.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ That last paragraph is soooooo good, kviiri! \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 20:29

I've never played AW but I sure have been reading the book, discussing actual plays of the game with people who were playing it and know enough of it to tell you that it's the MC who chooses which playbooks to bring to the table in order to define the kind of setting you want to be in.

Do not bring the Chopper and the Pilot to the table or, if the vehicleless setting is something the players came up with (remember, you're mostly there to see the world come alive in front of your eyes and their contribution is king), hopefully they won't take those roles.

Of course the rules tell you about vehicles, and how easy it is to damage them for the Gunlugger or for anybody else. Vehicles are often part of the setting. This does not mean your group's apocalypse needs them if it plays on a smaller spatial scale or on a larger temporal one.


what about another PbtA (Powered By the Apocalypse) Games?

AW is heavely based, and kinda married to the Mad-Max and Dieselpunk. So sooner or later you will find more and more problems with using AW on the new style of play (What will the hardholder town will be if there is only a ruined city? how does the Savvyhead workshop works? )

There are plenty of games out there, and maybe some will fit your bill on what you're looking. I remember one that was about the struggling civilization in a ruined world (After the war? Something like that). Pick one that fits the theme. PbtA games relly on a tone, and the moves supports that tone. In Apocalypse World, that tone is Dieselpunk-inspired. but there are plenty more games in the web


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