[Watch the World Die] Optional Rules

Tod's picture

This thread is about possible rules modifications and alternate ways of playing Watch the World Die.

Tod's picture

The first application that presents itself, perhaps obviously, is to run WTWD as a prelude to a post-apoc RPG like Apocalypse World or etc. The game was in fact designed to function as a collaborative campaign generator in that sense. It can be played solo, or with any number of players. Depending on the players' approaches, methodological preferences and in-play ideas, it can be seen as anything from a silly one-shot game to a structured brainstorming device to a collaborative system for generating entire post-apocalyptic pre-game histories.

When played as a preface to an AW campaign, WTWD assumes the position of "Session Zero". You do it with the same people who are going to be players in the campaign. It provides an interesting mood-setter or intro/exposition piece and personally I found it is a great icebreaker for RPG newbies. But more importantly it leaves behind a physical artifact - the timeline of the fall - which exists outside of game space, but can be used as a practical tool by both players and MCs. This timeline assists in the spontaneous fabrication of character details which are a-priori faithful to the fictional world the group has collaboratively created, and it provides prompts and "common knowledge" for both players and MCs as regarding "what's possible to find out there". (The existence of casualwear body armor and survivalist caches in the game's sample apocalypse are good examples of this.)

On an AW-hack level, WTWD is an attempt to address some ramp-up problems I've sometimes seen in first sessions, especially when dealing with newer players or players who are accustomed to more structured CharGen procedures. The timeline will jar ideas on many levels as Session 1 is beginning: What destroyed the old world? What character class do I want to play? Which playbooks wouldn't really make sense in this world? What sorts of accoutrements might I have? What part of the world do we want to set the campaign in? What do the ruins of the destroyed world look like? What type of hazards have people learned to avoid? What do the old codgers sit around talking about? What did my father teach me? What sorts of things do I know are out there, perhaps numerous, perhaps rare, but nevertheless fairly common knowledge to anyone who's spent a decade or two growing up on this planet? As always, it is up to each gaming group to decide for themselves what sort of knowledge is known by the PCs and what's strictly "behind the scenes".

Technically some might say that this breaks the rule of "No Prep" but since the generation of broad planetary/environmental/historical details is already a collaborative experience belonging to Session 1, and since WTWD is equally collaborative and typically would involve all the same players, all it really does is (a) portion out a particular set of those questions to occur ahead of the more direct questions about character definition, and (b) provide an amusing brainstorming device to help you answer them together.

Tod's picture

An alternative to this approach was suggested by @Paul_T over at story-games.com, who pointed out that the WTWD group and the RPG group don't actually have to consist of the same people. This might make it particularly useful as part of a simulationist post-apoc approach in which the world is generated ahead of time by the GM and kept mostly secret from the players. You could play WTWD as a one-shot anywhere with anyone, and then take the generated timeline home and use it with your regular gaming group.

Tod's picture

This led me to a rather loopy idea - technically challenging but fun to imagine - in which you have four tables of four players. Each table plays a simultaneous game of WTWD. Break for lunch. Come back. Each table takes the timeline from the table on their left, and now you have four groups ready to roll in four original post-apoc worlds.

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Also, as suggested by @Dreamofpeace on story-games.com, WTWD can also be a good prequel to a game of The Quiet Year.

Tod's picture

You know what a live map would be good for? Keeping track of which parts of the world you haven't affected yet. A little context, where to strike, etc. Maybe even a RISK board!

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- Whole globe should be divided up, no empty Regions
- Everyone has their own Pressure score, and starts with 0 Pressure in their Region
- Everyone gets 2 turns per year: a Pressure Turn and a Relief Turn

- Pressure Turns: Go around the table, everyone puts Events in other peoples' Regions, increasing their opponents' Pressure Totals
Note: If the Great Dying is already occurring somewhere and you roll an Event Type 6 (Special), you can spread it to another Region. It can spread to any adjacent Region (shared border). If reason (or a majority vote) dictates that international airflights or overseas transports are still running, it can also spread across oceans.

- Relief Turns: Now we go around the table again, but here are the mod rules:
1. You MUST spend ALL your Relief Points every year
2. Roll 2d6 and add to your Pressure to determine RP as usual BUT...
3. If the result of that roll is lower than the NUMBER of Events you suffered this year, you don't get to choose your Societal Responses. Instead, you must spend all your RP on the highest response you can buy.

- End of Year: Once everyone has had both their turns, everyone does an End of Year roll for their own Region. If The Great Dying begins in your Region, you will no longer be permitted any Relief Turns. However you will still perform Pressure Turns and throw Events at the other players.


1. The last player left with a Pressure Turn is the winner. Their Region now lays claim to the ruined, diseased, devastated remains of the planet Earth. Get that person a beer.

2. Victory is fleeting. The game ends when the last Region succumbs to The Great Dying, which follows immediately after that Region's player becomes the last one with a Pressure Turn. Players may or may not wish to celebrate for a moment. Some may gloat, but only briefly. Nobody wins. Everybody loses.

Example of a Relief Turn:
Abby, Bob and Carla have all played their Pressure Turns; now it's Abby's Relief Turn. Her Pressure Score is 12 and her Region has suffered 5 Events this year. She rolls 2d6 and gets 4. This means she has 16 Response Points, but because 4 is less than 5 she MUST spend them all at once on "16 - Market/Currency Collapse"

Tod's picture

If you want, you can roll to see which continent was affected by a turn, rather than simply deciding:
1 - North America, 2 - South America, 3 - Europe, 4 - Africa, 5 - Asia, 6 - Australia.

Tod's picture

Ok, if I can get some input on this, I'd like to have it. It's about the "War" variant.

Since the year ends each time you go around the table twice (once for pressure and once for relief), it's pretty unlikely that one player will have enough events occur in their region inside of a year to trigger the Great Dying - UNLESS multiple people "gang up" on them. This may be seen as a feature or a bug.

It simulates a slow succession of bad but not world-destroying events over a long period of years, which suddenly (a) slides into an unforeseeable stochastic funnel (when the dice happen by chance to pile a long event chain in one region), or (b) becomes a game of shifting alliances and betrayals (when a number of regions collude to gang up on another region).

(a) That takes too long. We're playing "War" not "Long gradual decay".
(b) I don't like games where everybody gangs up on one person.

If it's a bug, it wants fixin'. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Go around the table twice for pressure turns, then once for relief turns.
  2. Roll 2 dice on your turn (different colors would be best). They BOTH create Events (and possible chains). These two events (and their chains) may be directed against the same region or two different regions. NOTE: This is statistically similar to the above, but without having to remember which round of pressure you're (i.e. your first, or your second).
  3. After each round of Relief Turns, the group decides by consensus (or majority vote, depending on your group's style) whether they think the year has ended. If yes, then everyone does end-of-year rolls.

For a more aggressive/competitive group I'd say #2.
For a more cooperative/collaborative group I'd say #3.

Although of course, a cooperative/collaborative group probably doesn't play "against" each other in the first place - more likely they place their events based on the logic of the fiction rather than "gamist" concerns like "winning". But anyway... I think I'm looking at different two mods for this mod, based on playstyle and social dynamics.

What do you think?

Tod's picture

Version 1.3 of WTWD is now available on drivethrurpg. It includes the variant rules and pre-campaign approaches I described above, as well as the variants suggested by friends at story-games.com. For the WAR variant I decided this is "war" after all, so I went with #2 (see above).

Paul T.'s picture


I'm glad to see this game is still kicking around, and thank you for dropping my name in there. I'm thrilled that you got some use out of that idea, as well as my Apocalypse: Emergence booklet!