So a little AW love letter here. And I’m not even using AW as my primary game right now (that’d be Fate Core).
I was thinking today about the common RPG meme of “don’t tell me the ‘right’ way to play!” Personally, I think that’s a load of crap. An RPG is an instruction book for a game, and isn’t fundamentally any different than baseball, or chess, or Monopoly. In any of those games, you can play your variant, or with your house rules, but there is a defined ‘correct’ way to play, and everybody knows what it is. That’s why two people can play chess with each other that have never met and don’t speak the same language.
RPGs often have rules, but no way of putting them together. A guy I played with (+Jacob Poss, I think) told me about playing some Palladium game at some point and how it didn’t occur to him until afterwards that the game never told him exactly how to run it. He just kind of made a bunch of assumptions and ran with it.
Even more so, most RPGs leave the GM role incredibly undefined. There’s a lot of “physics” types rules, and usually some rules for players. But what does the GM do? “Run the game.” That’s usually the directions. Sure, there’s advice, but that’s about it.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that AW and its hacks/derivatives are pretty traditional games in play. And I agree with this. What they bring in this area isn’t some fantastic new gaming methodology or technique. What they do is provide GM instructions.
More so than any game I’m aware of, AW tells the GM how to GM. It tells the GM how to respond to things. It tells the GM when it’s allowable – and actually good! – to be nasty to the players. It gives the GM a toolbox of things to do to keep the game flowing, as well as when to use those. Player fails? Make a GM move. There’s a list of them. Knock yourself out. Those are the options you get, and that’s when you get to use them. Pick one.
Heck, a lot of rules in the game outright forbid bad habits in GMing. Railroading? “Play to find out what happens.” If you’re railroading, you know what happens, and you’re thus breaking the rules. You’re not playing AW any more.
If there’s every been a system to teach you how to GM (at least a particular style!), it’s AW. It drills straight into the heart of what it means to be a GM, and even offloads the tedious bookkeeping to let the GM actually focus on the core competencies of GMing, rather than getting bogged down in minutae better handled by a spreadsheet.
And that’s why AW is awesome, and why everyone, and especially every GM, should play it at least once.