Advancement: Directives and Personal Directives

As is often the case in AW hacks, straight stat highlighting often doesn’t work when you fiddle with the stats and the moves. I’ve found that to be the case in The Sprawl. Accordingly, I’ve been talking about changing the advancement system for a while; several months ago I had the idea to use the concept of Keys from Clinton R. Nixon’s excellent The Shadow of  Yesterday. The following is still a work in progress, especially as regards the specific Personal directives listed, the wording of those that are listed, and the number of experience per advance. Comments welcome, as always.


When you create a character in The Sprawl, you’ll select two Personal Directives that they follow. Choosing a Directive tells the MC that you want to see elements that play on, towards and against that Directive. For example, if I choose the Compassionate Directive, I’m saying that I want the game to include people in trouble so that I can choose to find out in which situations my character will choose to help them and in which situations he will not. In addition to these Personal Directives, every mission will include a Mission Directive. These give you signposts for the actions the mission requires, and reward you for taking concrete action towards the Mission. As you act towards completing the mission, you will mark experience. Each time you mark five experience, you’ll choose a new advance for your character. After you’ve gained five advances, you’ll be able to choose advances from an additional list. Some of these additional options have additional requirements or costs that must be met before they can be selected.

It’s important to remember that in The Sprawl, planning doesn’t advance your character or the story. Be bold! Take action!

Personal Directives

If life was just the mission, it would be pretty easy. But in The Sprawl, there’s always life beyond the mission. Directives are the motivations, problems, connections, duties, and loyalties that throw you curve balls, pull your focus off the task at hand, and generally complicate your shadowy, illegal career.

Here are some examples:

Behavioural Directive: You have some kind of personal behavioural restriction or code: a religious, moral, professional or the like. When following that code inconveniences you, mark experience.

Compassionate Directive: You have a soft spot for the weak and powerless. When you helps someone who cannot help themselves, mark experience.

Deceptive Directive: Sometimes your entire life is a lie. When you pass yourself off as someone or something you’re not, mark experience.

Filial Directive: You have a mentor who gives you advice. When you follow that advice, mark experience.

Financial Directive: You loves wealth. When you come out of a deal richer than you expected, mark experience.

Hierarchic Directive: You want power. That’s all. When you improve your standing in a society or organisation by improving your own position or impairing someone else’s, mark experience.

Ideological Directive: You have a strong belief that guides her. When you act, or persuade others to act, primarily according to your belief, mark experience.

Illustrious Directive: You’re in it for the bright lights. When you publicise your activities unnecessarily, mark experience.

Interlinked Directive: You are part of an organisation that makes occasional demands of you. When the organisation’s demands are a primary influence on a decision, mark experience.

Intimate Directive: You have a close friend who is more important than anyone else. When you make a decision influenced by that friend or the friendship, mark experience.

Masochistic Directive: You thrives on personal pain and suffering. When you are hurt or wounded, mark experience.

Protective Directive: You have a ward who depends on you for security and protection. When you protect or make a decision influenced by that ward, mark experience.

Prudent Directive: You always seek non-violent solutions. When you avoid a potentially dangerous situation, mark experience.

Rejected Directive: You were part of an organization, but they kicked you out. When your former status influences your current activities, mark experience.

Revelation Directive: Something is being covered up and you intend to find out what. When you discover something about the conspiracy, mark experience.

Vengeful Directive: You hate a particular organisation or person. When you harm the subject of your hatred or their interests, mark experience.

Violent Directive: You enjoys overpowering others in combat. When you overcome a problem using direct physical violence, mark experience.


  1. Can we take a bit of a step back for a second? What is the purpose of an advancement system?

    In AD&D and its derivatives, advancement is about personal increases in power, so the experience system reflects that. You gain “levels” and the concomitant advantages of that.

    In Spirit of the Century, you are “iconic” characters, so there is no advancement system – your characters don’t need to change with time. But you could look at Aspect compelling as a close stand-in, where the GM rewards you for agreeing to complicate your character’s life.

    In Unisystem Buffy the game rewards you with increasing ability to affect story. You can choose to redirect the effects of the points rewards on your character, or you can stockpile drama points.

    Many of the advances in Apocalypse World are geared around improving the character – but a number are geared around deepening the gameworld and making it more complex.

    What is it that you want to change over time in this game?

    At the moment, I take the key statement to be “As you act towards completing the mission, you will mark experience.” Which ideologically implies to me that you gain experience for closing off and finishing off story arcs, which would imply a contracting story space very much at odds with the ideas of “Being Bold! Taking Action!” I haven’t yet played The Sprawl, and I haven’t got time right now to do all the detailed thinking about the structure you’re proposing – I just have that “big question” leaping out at me.

  2. That’s a good question. At the meta level, I like advancement systems because they add new mechanical options which keeps the character and the mechanics it uses to interact with the game world fresh and interesting. As you play well-designed Apocalypse-derived games the moves should open up new story opportunities and introduce new elements and complications (a concept usually referred to as “Moves Snowball”).

    It’s worth noting that in The Sprawl, “Mission” is a technical structural term denoting a fictional space temporally delimited by a countdown clock. A mission should generally only last for a session. It’s only a story arc in the smallest sense of that term. The real story arcs in The Sprawl are the Corporate Countdown Clocks (and now the Reporter’s Nose for a Story move).

    Each Mission provides new opportunities for the MC to introduce new elements to the game world through the mechanism of the Mission parameters itself, and gives the players the chance to introduce new elements to the game world through their creation of and interaction with NPCs generated for the mechanical purpose of aiding the completion of the mission (the various contact and obligation moves). Choices made in the course of the Mission change the Mission Clocks which, upon completion of the Mission, alter the Corporate Clocks.

    The Personal Directives are intended to give characters a dual focus and mechanically reinforced choices: completing the Mission earns experience, pursuing personal goals earns experience. The lure of the mechanical carrot of experience will sometimes cause these to align, and sometimes cause them to conflict. Both generate story.

    So what changes over time are 1) the way the character interacts with the story at a mechanical level and 2) the relationship between the characters and the world, especially the major corporate entities as established in character generation.

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