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Apocalypse World

Second Edition

An Extremely Popular Narrative-Focused Post-Apocalyptic RPG

Publisher Description

Something’s wrong with the world and I don’t know what it is.

It used to be better, of course it did. In the golden age of legend, when there was enough to eat and enough hope, when there was one nation under god and people could lift their eyes and see beyond the horizon, beyond the day. Children were born happy and grew up rich.


The Opposite of Many Post-Apocalyptic Games [ edit ]

In many ways, Apocalypse World is the diametric opposite of games like Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, GURPS, or Savage Worlds.  While those games have detailed "crunchy" rules, with a strong focus on combat, Apocalypse World instead focuses far more heavily on story-building, bringing a much lighter take on the rules themselves.  As a simple example, instead of requiring special dice Apocalypse World relies on just 2d6 to resolve everything in the game.

Of course there's one other crucial difference: many other games bring you to a specific world (eg. the Fallout world for Wasteland Warrior), Apocalypse World is meant to simulate any sort of apocalypse your group can imagine.

Can Do Any Setting, But is Best With None [ edit ]

Apocalypse World is designed with only two fixed details about the setting: that an apocalypse of some sort happened fifty years ago, and that the apocalypse unleashed a psychic maelstrom.  Beyond that, everything else is left up to the group.

In other words, this isn't a great game for a GM ("Master of Ceremonies") who has an exact setting in mind.  Instead, the game has the entire group collectively answers questions during character creation, and those answers decide the world.  Of course, if the group wants to play in a certain post-apocalyptic genre, the process allows them to do so, but the resulting setting will still be the group's own unique take on that genre.

Apocalypse World, Second Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

Unlike most games you can't create a character on your own in Apocalypse World: character creation is a group process. To begin you first select a "playbook", and then decide on your character's name, look, etc.


Playbooks are essentially what would be called a "class" in other RPGs, but crossed with a character sheet.  Each playbook includes all of the character's powers (ie. "moves") and their advancement options, as well as more traditional character sheet bits (like a place to write your stats, or the damage you've taken).

Apocalypse World offers a wide variety of interesting choices, such as the Brainer ("weird psycho psychic mindfucks"), the Driver (think Mad Max) or the Skinner (an attractive artist/entertainer).  Each one is unique: no player can choose the same playbook.

History (Hx)

Next everyone goes around the table and decides which other characters they have the most history with (ie. which characters their character knows well).  Different playbooks offer different ways of doing this.  For instance, the Driver picks one character that spent time with them on the road, and one character who helped get them out of trouble, while the Skinner instead picks a friend, a lover, and someone who is in love with them.  Meanwhile the Brainer has a more unique (and secret) process for determining history.

History can be positive or negative, and when a character reaches either 4 or -4 Hx with a character they gain a point of experience and reset their Hx back to 1/-1.  History can change at the end of an adventure (each player selects the character they learned the most about), or when two characters sleep together in-game.


Next the player has to decide on their character's stats.  There are five stats in AW: Cool (how composed they are), Hard (ie. how violent they are), Hot (their physical attractiveness), Sharp (their intelligence/wits), and Weird (their luck/psychic connection).

Each playbook provides different options for picking stats.  For instance, the Skinner has the following stat choices:

• Cool+1 Hard-1 Hot+2 Sharp+1 Weird=0
• Cool=0 Hard=0 Hot+2 Sharp=0 Weird+1
• Cool-1 Hard=0 Hot+2 Sharp+2 Weird-1
• Cool+1 Hard+1 Hot+2 Sharp+1 Weird-2

Highlighting Stats

As part of character creation the character will have two of their stats "highlighted".  If a sta is highlighted, and the character make a roll with that stat, they earn an experience point.

To decide which stats are highlighted the player whose character has the highest Hx score with the first character gets to highlight one of that character's stats.  Next, the MC ("Master of Ceremonies", ie. game master) highlights another stat.

At the start or end of each game session the players can opt to highlight stats again, following the same process.


Each playbook has a set of unique "moves" that character can learn.  Some playbooks (eg. Driver) get one fixed Move and the choice of a second, while others (eg. Skinner) get the choice of two moves.

For instance the Skinner can select the "An arresting skinner" move, which let's them remove an article of clothing to distract everyone in the room. The Driver can instead select the "Daredevil" move, which lets them get a point of armor for them and any convoy they lead ... if they are driving straight into danger.

Most moves are actions the character can take, but some simply provide in-game benefits.  For instance, the Driver can select the "Collector" move, which provides them with two extra vehicles.

Core Mechanics [ edit ]


As with most RPGs, a player can have their character take many actions simply by describing them.  However, for everything else they have to make a "move".

As mentioned previously each playbook has a set of unique moves, but there are also generic moves that every character can take.  For instance, the Act Under Fire let's a character do something while under pressure, while the Seize With Force, Seduce/Manipulate, or Read a Person moves are fairly self-explanatory.

Making Moves

To make a move a player needs to make a 2d6 roll, adding the appropriate stat score to the roll.  A roll of 6 or less is considered a failure (and the MC typically gets to make a move), a 7-9 is considered a partial success (the action succeeds, but some detrimental side effect happens), and a 10+ is a complete success.

Helping (or Hurting)

If a character wants to assist another character they can make a roll using their History (Hx) score with that character.  If it succeeds they get to add +1 to the roll ... or subtract 2, if they are trying to stop them.

Master of Ceremonies Moves

The MC can also make moves, either in response to a failed player move, or simply whenever the game stalls.  The MC has a wide variety of moves that they can make, and they don't have to roll to make them (they automatically succeed).

For instance, the MC can separate the party, take away their stuff, offer them an opportunity (with or without a cost), inflict harm, or announce off-screen badness (among many others).

Also after every move the MC gets a "what do you do" move.  This is intended to focus the player on the story, and describing what their character actually does, rather than simply making abstract moves.

Combat [ edit ]

Because Apocalypse World is highly narrative-focused, there are no separate combat rules, such as rules for determining initiative.  Instead players generally go first, but ultimately the MC decides who acts first in any situation.

Then, once combat starts, everyone involve can choose to make moves, and those moves are handled the same way as moves outside of combat.


Characters can takes "harm" (ie. damage) either as a result of others' actions, or their own (eg. a character who takes an Act Under Fire move and rolls a 7-9 may take harm as a result).  The amount of harm taken is equal to the weapon's harm rating, minus the defender's armor rating (unless the weapon was an armor piercing one).

Harm Clocks

Each character has a "harm clock" (somewhat akin to hit points).  When a player takes a point of harm they mark off a section (eg. 12:00 - 3:00, or 3:00 - 6:00) of the clock.  There are three normal sections, and then the final (9:00-12:00) section is divided into three sub-sections.

Harm gets progressively worse.  Harm up to 6:00 heals on its own over time, while harm from 6:00-9:00 won't improve over time, but won't get worse either.  Harm in the final (9:00-12:00) section requires medical attention to heal, and a character who takes the 11:00-12:00 section is in fact dead (although they can still be revived).


When a character receives harm beyond 9:00 they can op to take a permanent injury known as a debility instead of taking any damage past 9:00.  There is one debility for each stat, and each lowers that stat by one.

At the time of writing (January 2022) Apocalypse World was ranked a the 3rd most popular RPG on RPG Geek ... in a database containing more than 10,000 RPGs!  Being in the top ten not only places it with some of the biggest names in the industry (eg. Call of Cthulhu and Dungeons and Dragons) ... it actually puts the game above many better-established competitors.  In short, Apocalypse World has impacted the RPG scene in a way no other game in recent memory has.

But the game's industry impact goes even further.  Both because of its popularity, and because the game's creator has explicitly encouraged fans to re-use his ideas, Apocalypse World has spawned a number of "sister games", collectively referred to as the "powered by the apocalypse" (PbtA) systems.  These range from the popular fantasy game Dungeon World, to the anime-esque Fellowship, to the action-horror game Monster of the Week (with dozens more to choose from).

Not For Everyone [ edit ]

Of course, no RPG can be for everyone, and if you're looking for crunchy combat rules Apocalypse World won't be the system for you.  As a narrative-focused game Apocalypse World is much more about coming up with interesting stories and interactions, and far less on strategy and tactics.

One other reason to Apocalypse World may scare away some is its adult content.  For example, relationships between characters are not only not limited to "PG": there are actually in-game benefits that result from having sex, and role-playing such interactions might not be comfortable for everyone (although some have reportedly left the sex rules out and still enjoyed the game just fine).

Now In Its Second Edition, a Great Choice [ edit ]

Ultimately Apocalypse World offers a very unique approach for any role-playing game, especially a post-apocalyptic one.  While it won't appeal to everyone, countless gamers have become huge fans of both the game itself, and the many "Powered by the Apocalypse" games based off it's core system.

If you're looking for a low-crunch, collaborative and "sand-boxed" (ie. more impromptu and less pre-planned) way to explore any post-apocalypse your group can imagine, Apocalypse World you're going to love exploring your group's own unique Apocalypse World.