I was thinking recently: someone could totally run an Apocalypse World game in which all the player characters were based on the Avengers.
I don’t mean a hack to tell Avengers-style superhero stories. There are already plenty of Powered by the Apocalypse superhero games that do that (Masks and Worlds in Peril, for example). Instead, this would use Apocalypse World‘s rules as written to tell a sort of What If…? story.
What if the Avengers were formed 50 years after the end of the world?
What do the Avengers (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.) look like in the blasted, lethal, psychic-powered Apocalypse World?
Does it work? Is it a good idea to even try? I don’t know, but I’d better get the idea out there quick before Avengers: Infinity War comes out and transforms the general population’s understanding of who the Avengers are! Especially now that the superheroically talented Melissa Trender has provided some fantastic illustrations! Read on for that if nothing else!
What does this apocalypse look like?
There are plenty of Marvel villains who might plausibly have conquered or destroyed the world as we know it. Heck, there’s a character whose actual name is Apocalypse, who actually succeeded in conquering America in an alternate timeline. Maybe that’s too on-the-nose.
But for this let’s focus on Avengers villains. And among those, let’s narrow the field down to villains from the movies, since nowadays even comics readers like me are more familiar with those versions.
That basically leaves us with Ultron. Cool, I can work with Ultron. This won’t be the same Ultron from the comics or the movies, though. Those Ultrons were built by active superheroes, whereas in our version many of those superheroes won’t exist until Ultron has taken over.
In essence, then, the world after the apocalypse is ruled by killer robots, at least some of which are humanoid. On top of that, we add the usual apocalyptic signifiers: cities ruined, environmental collapse, bleak grey wastelands, and small pockets of human survivors.
Now that’s a setting! Let’s fill it with some characters.
Having worked out our setting, the next choice to make in a game of Apocalypse World is which character playbooks you’re going to use. (Playbooks are the archetypes or classes of the characters you play. You can download them for free at apocalypse-world.com. I’m using both the basic and extended playbooks.)
Some of these choices are very easy, and some require a bit more creativity. Here’s what I’ve gone for:
- Captain America: The Quarantine – This one’s clear. A man out of time, a soldier from a different age and with different values.
- Hulk: The Battlebabe – Somewhat counter-intuitive, since the Hulk is about rage and the Battlebabe is about cold, emotionless detachment. But the ability to rip off your clothes to become a better fighter locks this one in.
- Iron Man: The Faceless – This could have gone several ways, really. His super science suggests the Savvyhead, and his bombastic personality suggests the Show. But I still think the Faceless is the right choice. When he’s wearing the suit, with its iconic faceplate, he’s powerful; outside it, not so much.
- Black Widow: The News – Black Widow was really difficult to place. In first edition Apocalypse World she’d have been the Operator, but that playbook doesn’t exist anymore. She’d make a fine Skinner, I guess, but I’m saving that one for last (see below). Fortunately, the News also makes a really good superspy: great at keeping tabs on people, seeing through lies, and connecting with other people. I guess she also has a radio studio, though, so ok.
- Nick Fury: The Hardholder – An obvious choice. Nick’s in charge.
- Thor: The Hocus – Another tricky one. None of the playbooks really capture the feel of Thor’s character. You could maybe model Mjolnir as a gun and make Thor a Gunlugger, but I’ve instead gone with his activist cult-leader incarnation from the Ultimate Marvel universe.
- Scarlet Witch: The Brainer – A reasonably easy choice based on her powers and role in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
- Hawkeye: The Skinner – I mean, sure, here’s another character who could have been a Gunlugger (but for arrows instead of guns). But, no, thanks to The Hawkeye Initiative, he is now a Skinner forever. I’m not sorry.
Some ground rules before I create characters
Use the rules as written for Apocalypse World. The following changes are acceptable, but to be used as little as possible:
- renaming things (characters, moves, gear, etc.),
- picking different descriptions (particularly look),
- using different tags for weapons (the returning tag means that weapons can be thrown and will return to the user’s hand).
Any other changes will be explicitly highlighted.
I’m not going to pick stats or Hx. Both are an opportunity for players to put their own stamps on the characters I’m presenting here and, in general, any options of stats and Hx are going to be about as applicable as any other options.
Name: Captain Rogers, Steve G.
Look: Man, ancient fatigues, young face, clear eyes, athletic body
Moves: All basic moves and the following 3 quarantine moves:
- Disciplined engagement: when you inflict harm, you can choose to inflict any amount of harm you like, less than or up to your harm as established, including s-harm. Decide at the moment you inflict the harm; you need not tell anyone in advance how much harm you intend to inflict.
- Leave no one behind: in battle, when you help someone who’s rolling, don’t roll+Hx. You help them as though you’d hit the roll with a 10+.
- Inspiring: when another player’s character rolls+Hx to help you, they mark experience.
Gear: In addition to your stasis, you get:
- a discus shield (3-harm close/far returning, 2-armor valuable hi-tech)
- a 9mm sidearm (2-harm close loud)
- your fatigues and scrounge but no jingle
[I have combined the quarantine’s assault rifle and military body armor into the shield, because obviously. Not sure how it’ll work in play having a combined weapon and armor.]
Past: To be determined in play.
- You emerged from stasis a few weeks ago.
- Remaining in stasis are the rest of your unit and your colleagues.
- Stasis has remained untouched by outsiders because it’s securely hidden.
- When you emerged from stasis, Sergeant Barnes, James B. emerged with you. You haven’t seen or heard from him since.
Look: Man, casual wear, striking face, merciless eyes, muscular body
Moves: All basic moves and the following 2 battlebabe moves:
- Hulk out: the way you move unencumbered counts as armor. If you’re naked or nearly naked, 2-armor; if you’re wearing non-armor fashion, 1-armor. If you’re wearing armor, use it instead.
- Merciless: when you inflict harm, inflict +1harm.
- fists (3-harm hand)
- oddments worth 4-barter
- casual wear
Look: Concealed, showy armor, blank eyes, wiry body
Moves: All the basic moves and the following 3 faceless moves:
- Jarvis: you seek the advice of your mask. Roll+weird to see what it directs you to do. On a 10+ mark experience and take +1forward if you do as your mask wishes. On a 7–9, take a +1 if you do what it wants and act under fire if you don’t. On a miss, it has its own agenda. Act under fire if you don’t follow it.
- Oh yeah!: roll+hard to smash your way through scenery to get to or away from something. On a 10+, the scenery is moved or smashed and you get what you want. On a 7–9 you get what you want and smash or move the scenery, but you take 1-harm (ap), and are disoriented and under fire in follow-up actions, leave something behind, or take something with you. Think smashing through walls or pushing through burned out husks of cars. On a miss, your foot gets pinned under something mid-smash.
- Juggernaut: take -2 on all “when you suffer harm” rolls.
Gear: In addition to your mask, you get:
- hand blasters (3-harm close loud messy)
- titanium-gold alloy armor (2-armor)
- oddments worth 2-barter
Mask: Painted combat helmet
- The Unexpected: when someone sees you unmasked for the first time, they take s-harm, in addition to anything else that happens.
- Unmasked, you are:
- Vulnerable. Whenever you suffer harm, you suffer +1harm.
- Powerless. You lose access to all of your character moves. You can still make basic moves.
Look: Woman, lux wear, pretty face, mischievous eyes, slim body, soothing voice
Moves: All the basic moves and the following 2 news moves:
- Breaking now: at the beginning of the session, roll+sharp and ask the MC questions. On a 10+, ask 3 times. On a 7–9, ask twice. On a miss, ask once: “Where is ___ and what are they up to?” Whatever the answer, that’s what you put out over the air. Now everybody knows.
- Unflappable persona: when you act under fire, you can roll+hot instead of roll+cool.
Studio: Your radio studio is a makeshift building which can comfortably house 2–4 people, with broadcast equipment, hidden weapons (you detail), and strong walls (1-armor).
Your station’s attractions are:
- Music salvaged from the golden age.
- Expert advice.
Players to choose some people with connections to the station:
- 3 informants
- your biggest fan
- 2 people you’ve pissed off
Gear: In addition to your studio, you get:
- 1 weapon of last resort: wrist-mounted stun gun (s-harm hand reload)
- predominantly black clothing, with hidden armored lining (1-armor)
- oddments worth 1-barter
Look: Man, junta wear, strong face, cool eye, tall spare body
Moves: All the basic moves and both hardholder moves:
- Leadership: when you have to order your gang to advance, regroup, hold position, hold discipline, or put their damn backs into it, roll+hard. On a hit, they do it. On a 10+, they snap to; take +1forward. On a miss, they do it, but you’ll hear about it later.
- Wealth: If your hold is secure and your rule unchallenged, at the beginning of the session, roll+hard. On a 10+, you have surplus at hand and available for the needs of the session. On a 7–9, you have surplus, but choose 1 want. On a miss, or if your hold is compromised or your rule contested, your hold is in want. The precise values of your surplus and want depend on your holding, as follows.
Holding: Your holding has:
- 75-150 souls, decadent and perverse (-1barter, want: +savagery).
- for gigs, a mix of hunting, crude farming, scavenging, and protection tribute (surplus: 2-barter, want: hungry, want: obligation).
- a compound of stone and iron: tall, deep and mighty. Your gang gets +2armor when fighting in its defense.
- a sophisticated and extensive armory of weapons.
- a garage of 4 utility vehicles and 4 specialized battle vehicles (detail with the MC).
- a gang of 10-20 violent, well-disciplined bastards (3-harm gang small 1-armor).
Look: Man, tech vestments, open face, clear eyes, fit body
Moves: All the basic moves and the following 3 hocus moves:
- Fortunes: fortune, surplus and want all depend on your followers. At the beginning of the session, roll+fortune. On a 10+, your followers have surplus. On a 7–9, they have surplus, but choose 1 want. On a miss, they are in want. If their surplus lists barter, like 1-barter or 2-barter, that’s your personal share, to spend for your lifestyle or for what you will.
- Divine protection: your divine origins give you 1-armor. If you wear armor, use that instead, they don’t add.
- Frenzy: When you speak the truth to a mob, roll+weird. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. On a miss, the mob turns on you. Spend your hold 1 for 1 to make the mob:
- Bring people forward and deliver them.
- Bring forward all their precious things.
- Unite and fight for you as a gang (2-harm 0-armor size appropriate).
- Fall into an orgy of uninhibited emotion: screwing, lamenting, fighting, sharing, celebrating, as you choose.
- Go quietly back to their lives.
Followers: By default you have around 20 followers, loyal to you but not fanatical. They have their own lives apart from you, integrated in the local population (fortune+1 surplus: 1-barter want: desertion). In addition:
- Characterize them: your people
- If you travel, decide whether they travel with you or congregate in their own
- Your followers, taken as a body, constitute a powerful psychic antenna. Surplus: +augury.
- Your followers are joyous and celebratory. Surplus: +party.
- Your followers aren’t really yours, more like you’re theirs. Want: judgment instead of want: desertion.
- Your followers rely entirely on you for their lives and needs. Want: +desperation.
Look: Woman, high formal wear, sweet face, deep eyes, slight body
Moves: All the basic moves and the following 2 brainer moves:
- Neuroelectric interfacing: when you read someone, roll+weird instead of roll+sharp. Your victim has to be able to see you, but you don’t have to interact.
- Mental manipulation: when you have time and physical intimacy with someone—mutual intimacy like holding them in your arms, or 1-sided intimacy like they’re restrained to a table—you can plant a command inside their mind. Roll+weird. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. On a miss, you inflict 1-harm (ap) upon your subject, to no benefit. If they fulfill your command, that counts for all your remaining hold. At your will, no matter the circumstances, you can spend your hold 1 for 1:
- Inflict 1-harm (ap).
- They take -1 right now.
- psychic knives (2-harm hand infinite)
- magic finger gestures (hand hi-tech)
For purposes of brainer moves, mere skin contact counts as time and intimacy.
- pain-wave projector (1-harm ap area loud reload hi-tech)
Goes off like a reusable grenade. Hits everyone but you.
- oddments worth 8-barter
- fashion suitable to your look
Look: Man, display wear, beautiful face, laughing eyes, quick hands, toned body
Moves: All the basic moves and the following 2 skinner moves:
- Artful & gracious: when you perform your chosen art—archery—or when you put its product before an audience, roll+hot. On a miss, you gain no benefit, but suffer no harm or lost opportunity; you simply perform very well. On a 7–9, spend 1. On a 10+, spend 3. Spend 1 to name an NPC member of your audience and choose one:
- this person must meet me.
- this person must have my services.
- this person loves me.
- this person must give me a gift.
- this person admires my patron.
- Breathtaking: you get +1hot (hot+3).
- a gracious bow, with arrows (2-harm far reload)
- hearing aid (worn valuable)
You use this for +1sharp when your hearing matters, but without it you get -1sharp when your hearing matters.
- skin & hair kit (applied valuable)
Soaps, ochres, paints, creams, salves. Using it lets you take +1hot forward.
- oddments worth 2-barter
- skin-tight, sleeveless costume
And the other playbooks
If you like this idea but feel like using one of the other playbooks, here are some suggestions for characters you could use. They’re all from Thor: Ragnarok, because that film is great and it’s the most recent Marvel film I’ve seen. (I know Black Panther is out; I’m gonna see it soon, I promise!)
- The Child-Thing – Loki, particularly using his shape-changing ability
- The Driver – Valkyrie, particularly in her hope of running away from her past as represented by her alcoholism. And she does pilot spaceships too, so that helps.
- The Chopper – Korg, with his revolutionaries
- The Gunlugger – Skurge, with his pet assault rifles Des and Troy
- The Maestro D’ – Grandmaster
- The Savvyhead – Doctor Strange, preferably without Cumberbatch’s fake American accent
- The Show – Hulk, leashed probably by the Grandmaster. (This frees up the Battlebabe to be used by someone else, probably Hela)
- The Waterbearer – Heimdall, where the “water” in this case is the protection of the caves and his control of the Bifrost sword
- The Angel – uh… nope. Even I can’t make this connection. Marvel heroes aren’t much for healing others. They’re more for the punching and the blasting. More’s the pity. [UPDATE 15/02/2018: No, I’m wrong. Melissa has just informed me who the MCU Angel is, and I couldn’t argue. Three words: “I am Groot!”]
[UPDATE 17/02/2018: Thanks to Simon for reminding me about Hawkeye’s hearing loss in the comics. I’ve changed the first item of luxe gear to a hearing aid, which is a much more appropriate item of luxe gear for our Skinner.]
All art on this page was drawn on commission by Melissa Trender (http://www.melissatrender.com/).