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Avery (aka Joe) Mcdaldno's first Patreon release
of 2014 is a take on Apocalypse World that puts
gender issues front and center as it focuses in
on the theme of queer community building.



Dream Askew draws heavily from Apocalypse World for its setting, playbook classes and design but diverges sharply from the system - eschewing dice and a single Master of Ceremonies by divvying up parts of those duties. This places Dream Askew further out into storygame territory than many (if not all) of the other Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game constellation.

What survived?
Still present in this vision of the future are the enclaves of survivors, the Psychic Maelstrom howling in the minds of the perceptive, the threat of other groups and conflict within the holding. Players still choose from niche roles, distributed as playbooks full of choices about a Character’s Looks, Wardrobes, class advantages and options that paint broad-strokes pieces of backstory and conflicts. Sex Moves (not literally sex techniques, for those unfamiliar with AW or Monsterhearts, but mechanical moves that trigger if a player character gets intimate with another character or NPC) are preserved but now many provide ways to move Tokens of social currency around.

What’s been redefined, painted over, obliterated?
First off - Avery has already experimented with queering-it-up their previous PbtA game, Monsterhearts, calling it out in the rules. Mechanics in Monsterhearts could tell you that your Character is “turned on” by another, even if that runs counter to what you assumed your character’s orientation was. It’s explained there as adolescence being a time of discovery and suffering through all sorts of confusion about yourself and others.
Quote:
Dream Askew is a game about post-apocalyptic lives.
It’s a game that queers the post-apocalyptic genre,
exploring how the apocalyptic process could impact
our sexuality, genders, livelihoods, experiences of
marginalization, and experiences of liberation.
Dream Askew doesn’t just address queer content as an incidental consequence of mechanics, it puts it front and center in the premise. Bam. Take that.

Second - the MC (Master of Ceremonies) role has been hacked up and the pieces artfully repackaged as Situations. Each player draws a Situation to play in addition to their Character playbook; a key few are mandatory, those being the Queer Enclave itself, the Psychic Maelstrom and Scarcity. Each is personified - built on Principles to act on (“Show what tenderness and love look like in a queer enclave”), Craves (“Competition”), and Moves (“Give someone the very resources that a gang is hunting for. Now, what do you do?”), just like Characters. When their Situation Principles dictate that a player do something, they can use their Situation Moves like a gamemaster to shift the story in one direction or another.

Moves form the core of the mechanics and the Token economy that controls the ebb and flow of the story. Each of the three strengths of Move - Strong, Regular, Weak - contains a mix of common moves and class specific ones. “Take action, leaving yourself vulnerable.” appears on all the playbooks as a Regular move, for example, that handles both social and physical situations and gives the other Characters and Situations an opening to drive the story forward. Social currency (i.e. HX in Apocalypse World, Strings in Monsterhearts) doesn’t show up as such, but now transfers back and forth fluidly as Tokens. Some special moves generate or move Tokens, but for the most part is gained in exchange for taking a Weak move and expended to take the lead in a scene and perform a Strong move. This ebb & flow prevents players from running away with the story by chaining powerful actions - they burn out and have to sit back for a while, acquiescing to other character’s initiatives or accepting the tough choices and hard bargains that characterize partial hits in most PbtA implementations.

There are no dice. No familiar 2d6+whatever. No randomizer at all. Full storygame mode, as I mentioned before. You speak and if it makes sense, it happens. If it matches a Move, you move Tokens to or from the pool or between players and then it happens. If your Character’s Principles feel relevant to a situation, you should probably act at least partially on them; if your Situation’s Principles say you should do something because of what a Character is doing or where the story is going, you should add to the story in a way that fulfills that abstract role.

Makeup and the breakdown
As much as I’ve placed Dream Askew as part of the shared mindset of Apocalypse games, it’s much more than a simple hack or packet of playbooks. It’s thoughtfully built to stand on its own. The “What is this?” explanation covers the theme and then explains what players can expect to do in the game; the “Prepare” walks a group through printing, setting up a group and shared space to play, and then leads into a discussion of character generation - very little is left out, and aside from the initial “What have I gotten myself into?” jitters a first time player could read and start preparing to experience the game pretty painlessly. Helpful pages highlight the important parts of Character and Situation sheets and remind you how to use each section in play. If someone asked me which games manage to clearly present some pretty abstract rules, I’d point out pages 5-7 of Dream Askew as a type specimen.

Quote:
You've found others who you can
relate to, and you've banded together with them
to form a queer enclave.
...
We queers were always living in the margins
of a society that didn't want to see or validate
our existence.
Our very lives were creative resistance.
We found solidarity, love, and meaning in the
strangest of places. What lies in the rubble
of apocalypse? For this queer enclave,
could it be utopia?
Now… the question that lingered with me all the way through reading Dream Askew that gave me pause. It’s a queer game. It says it right there on the boiler plate. Queer. Enclave. A few roles ask you to talk about what love looks like here. But that's it - it could just as easily have said Marxist Co-opor Artistic Maker Union or ...

Shit. I get it. At least I think I get it. Some of it.

The apocalypse wiped out simple easily-sorted-and-labeled categories like straight or gay or girl. We characters found one another and saw reflections of the openness and acceptance we needed. Who you love and who you fuck and who you feel like inside is important, sure, but in a world where the default set-points for those spectra have been obliterated, those are just small parts of you as a whole person. So a game exploring this kind of community needs to say "Hey, yo, this is going to be queer" otherwise players would just project assumed norms onto it.

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I could be wrong, but probably not. I AM a Steve.
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Excellent review and fantastic presentation; I'm totally stealing going to use this sort of layout for my upcoming session reports.
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I love a good callout sidebar here and there in game layout and had the same thought. How could I better include information that helps context without actually breaking the flow of the review?

Answer: floatleft/floatright for the win.

Some games are so similar that it just makes sense to hold them up beside their peers (especially when one well known) and draw connections between the two, highlighting what makes the one in question unique.
I'd probably make use of the same comparison scheme for reviewing d20's and OSR/retroclones, if only I had anything coherent to say about those!
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Marshall Miller
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The Warren is a roleplaying game about intelligent rabbits trying to make the best of a world filled with hazards, predators and, worst of all, other rabbits.
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Great game, great review.
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Charles Picard
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Yes... this is a fantastic and fair review.

I just had a player ask this...
"Correct me if I'm wrong but is this game about post-apocalyptic gay sex?"

I did my best to explain that there are sex moves (optional) but that Dream Askew is much more about how all the easy sexual categories have been blown away by the apocalypse, etc., etc.

But he just didn't get it... or couldn't get comfortable with it if he did get it.

I'm sad that he won't be playing with us tonight, but I do appreciate the honesty.

I just don't know how you could actually read these rules and think they "... pretty heavily focus on that one aspect (ie gay sex)."

The queerness is woven into it with such a thoughtful touch. I think it's written in a way that lets each player play up to their comfort level with the whole idea of being queer... and allows a lot of latitude in deciding what that means for your character.

Ah, well.

Everything isn't for everyone.

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Quote:
"Correct me if I'm wrong but is this game about post-apocalyptic gay sex?"


That's the counterintuitive thing about referring to something as a sex move instead of a '[class] special move.' Finding a way to differentiate between George Costanza's bedroom techniques and "well, if you get intimate, this is something that also happens," is apparently tough to explain to some people.
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