Hardholders, Drivers and GunLuggers — Mad Max: Fury Road and the Apocalypse World RPG

11 Jun

The Apocalypse World RPG is a seminal game in recent, if not all of, roleplaying history. The game allows the GM and the players to create, and play in a world ravaged by an apocalypse whose nature is mysterious, somewhat lost to time, and has left a mess of a world for people to try and survive in. Written by D Vincent Baker, the game features relatively simple mechanics, niche protection by defining classes for player characters, and tons of tools for the GM to up the stakes, bring the pain, and make hard moves to get the players to make the ugly bargains and hard choices in a post-apocalyptic society.max-max-fury-road

While Mad Max: Fury Road is, in effect, a two-hour car chase, it is a movie about much more. It is about desperate characters in desperate straits, all trying to do what they need to do in order to survive. Games like Car Wars might be used to simulate the nuts and bolts of the actual chase itself, from desperate strategies in box canyons to amazeballs warriors on pole vaults trying to get onto the fleeing truck. However, if you want to capture the spirit of the world, and of the characters and their choices, Apocalypse World is the RPG that fits amazingly well.

Woman in a gas mask

Apocalypse World

A feature of Apocalypse World  is that no two players can start with the same character class. While there are lots of basic actions in common, and characters can try to do some of the things other do, or learn parts of the skills of others, for the most part, the classes have wide range and power within their own sphere. Too, in Mad Max Fury Road, we see many of the major characters who have distinct roles and responsibilities, that put them into concert and conflict with the other characters.

Let’s start with Max himself. Max is defined by all of the movies, even this one, by his ability to operate vehicles. He doesn’t get much time behind the wheel of his own beloved car in this film, but if there is anything that Max knows how to do, it’s Drive. The Apocalypse world character class of DRIVER, then, is our Max.

“Came the apocalypse, and the infrastructure of
the Golden Age tore apart. Roads heaved and
split. Lines of life and communication shattered.
Cities, cut off from one another, raged like
smashed anthills, then burned, then fell.
A few living still remember it: every horizon
scorching hot with civilization in flames, light
to put out the stars and moon, smoke to put out
the sun.
In Apocalypse World the horizons are dark, and
no roads go to them.”

Imperator Furiosa, next. She’s not a driver, even if she knows the secret trick to the Semi. That seems to be a secret shared by bunch of people (consider that Nux knows it too). What she is best at, again and again, we see in the movie, is when she is packing. A key scene in the movie is when Max, having uselessly fired all the ammo but one last round for the sniper rifle, hands it off to her because she is the better shot. No, our Furiosa is not a driver. She’s a GUNLUGGER.

Apocalypse World is a mean, ugly, violent place. Law and society
have broken down completely. What’s yours is yours only while
you can hold it in your hands. There’s no peace. There’s no
stability but what you carve, inch by inch, out of the concrete
and dirt, and then defend with murder and blood.
Sometimes the obvious move is the right one.

What about the warboy Nux? He starts off just as a persistent member of the gang that keeps managing not to die, but otherwise, to quote Joe, is “Mediocre”.  His class finally comes clear when Max asks if he is a “black thumb”, and gets him to fix the truck at a crucial moment to help save the day. The class in Apocalypse World that fixes stuff, and what Nux clearly is, is a SAVVYHEAD.  It makes sense that a tech-oriented savvyhead really isn’t as good as being a warboy as Joe wants, doesn’t it? It’s not his strong suit!

If there’s one thing you can count on in Apocalypse World, it’s: things break.

Splendid and the rest of the Wives are trickier than one might think. The movie is extremely well drawn in not making them sexual objects. “We are not things.” When pressed, the wives prove themselves to be canny and clever, and they occasionally use their charm, sometimes subtly, to drive things forward. It’s not a perfect fit, but it does make them SKINNERS.

Even in the filth of Apocalypse World, there’s food that isn’t
death on a spit, music that isn’t shrieking hyenas, thoughts that
aren’t afraid, bodies that aren’t used meat, sex that isn’t rutting,
dancing that’s real. There are moments that are more than
stench, smoke, rage and blood.
Anything beautiful left in this ugly ass world, skinners hold it.
Will they share it with you? What do you offer them?

The People Eater and the Bullet Farmer, the major gang leaders under Joe chasing our protagonists: They are defined by the fact they have a bunch of heavily armed men following them into battle, and they seem to be under the leadership of Joe, so they aren’t leaders over all. They are instead gang-leading CHOPPERS.

Apocalypse World is all scarcity, of course it is. ere’s not
enough wholesome food, not enough untainted water, not
enough security, not enough light, not enough electricity, not
enough children, not enough hope.
However, the Golden Age Past did leave us two things: enough
gasoline, enough bullets. Come the end, I guess they didn’t
need them like they thought they would.
So chopper, there you are. Enough for you.


And then there is Immortan Joe himself. He’s clearly the leader of a outpost of what they call civilization in this benighted age. Is he a HARDHOLDER, then? Perhaps, but apocalypse world offers another option. Immortan Joe is the leader of an outpost, but he has also developed an extremely toxic form of religion with his cult of sending warboys shinily to Valhalla. While Immortan Joe has a holding, what he really is is a cult leader.  Joe is a cult leader HOCUS who has made really good. (There is even an advancement on the Hocus character sheet that allows them to *get* a Holding, and wealth. Clearly Joe did this)

Now it should be crystal obvious that the gods have
abandoned Apocalypse World. Maybe in the golden age, with its
one nation under god and its in god we trust, maybe then the
gods were real. Damned if I know. All I know is that now they’re
gone daddy gone.
My theory is that these weird hocuses, when they say “the
gods,” what they really mean is the miasma left over from the
explosion of psychic hate and desperation that gave Apocalypse
World its birth. Friends, that’s our creator now.

The plot of the movie, too, and much of the things we see in the movie, map extremely well to Apocalypse world mechanics. Characters have stats, Cool, Hard, Hot, Sharp and Weird, which are used to make moves — like shooting a gun at one of Joe’s followers, or making that leap onto the truck, or driving into a mother of all dust storms. Players roll two six-sided dice, add their stat. A 10 or more, and success. A 6 or less, and failure. A 7-9, and interesting and complicated things can happen.

Another stat is more variable, and more interesting, and that’s Hx.  Hx is a stat that represents the connection characters have with each other. The key here is that conflicts between player characters can use that connection for AND against each other instead of a particular stat. In the movie verse, Max and Furiosa start off with a zero HX to each other, but slowly build that number, so that they really become a team and can work with each other effectively. Similarly, Furiosa and Joe’s negative relationship is still a large HX number, given how much history they have with each other.

The GMing tools in Apocalypse world, like hard moves (to really shake up events) and the doom clock (which ticks down as bad things have the potential to happen) are shown on the screen. The entire chase and trying to elude Joe and his gangs are a long extended sequence of events, ramping up the pressure. There are breathers, but those breathers never last, and only serve to tick down the clock before trouble comes again.

The character sheets also allow for characters to become permanently damaged short of death. Clearly, mentally (Max), and physically (Furiosa and Joe both), these three characters have had to take these permanent hits. Apocalypse World is often about broken characters just finding ways to carry on.

Finally, there is the end game. In Apocalypse world, characters can die, it’s a violent place. There are also two other ways characters can fundamentally change: They can “retire to safety”, and exit the game, or become a new and different class altogether, giving up their old class for a new callling.   At the beginning of the movie and for much of the movie, Furiosa is trying to take the wives to the green place, as a way of redeeming herself, getting out of the game, and doing them a good turn. It’s a clear attempt at “Retiring to safety”.  When that proves impossible, and Max convinces them to turn and overthrow Joe at his hold, and succeed, what we see at the end is that Furiosa gives up her GUNLUGGER mercenary ways and becomes a HARDHOLDER. The wives can retire to safety in the place where they began, under Furiosa’s leadership. As for Max, he doesn’t want to change, save that he has reclaimed his sanity lost at the start of the movie. He clearly could retire to safety at Furiosa’s holding, too,  if he wanted. But Max is in his heart a DRIVER, and he slips away at the end, to seek the road, and his next adventure.

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One Response to “Hardholders, Drivers and GunLuggers — Mad Max: Fury Road and the Apocalypse World RPG”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Podcast and Blog Stats for 2016: Most Popular, Most Downloaded, and Other Oddities | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - February 24, 2017

    […] Hardholders, Drives, and GunLuggers — Mad Max: Fury Road and the Apocalypse World RPG by Paul Weimer […]

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