Grade the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) System

How do you feel about the PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) system?

  • I love it.

    Votes: 35 24.6%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 29 20.4%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 22 15.5%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 8 5.6%
  • I hate it.

    Votes: 8 5.6%
  • I've never played it.

    Votes: 40 28.2%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

mamba

Legend
But at least on these boards, most of those whom I see criticising Apocalypse World also assert that their games are not railroads!
There is some middle ground between basically everything being improvised and a full on railroad.

I hope the below demonstrates what I mean both by the required improvisation and unclear rules. Let's compare e.g. the 5e Ankheg to the DungeonWorld one...

1696116043527.png


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The are more or less functionally the same, but looking at their description, I have no idea what to do with the acid spray of the DW one. Clearly it can do so, but the consequences of it are not at all clear.
 

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Sure.

But at least on these boards, most of those whom I see criticising Apocalypse World also assert that their games are not railroads!

Prompted by this and some of the replies, I thought I'd just mention a few things, and leave it at that:

From p 288 of the AW rulebook:​
The entire game design follows from “Narrativism: Story Now” by Ron Edwards.​

From the essay "Narrativism: Story Now":​
Story Now requires that at least one engaging issue or problematic feature of human existence be addressed in the process of role-playing. . . .​
There cannot be any "the story" during Narrativist play, because to have such a thing (fixed plot or pre-agreed theme) is to remove the whole point: the creative moments of addressing the issue(s). . . .​
It all comes down to this: a "player" in a Narrativist role-playing context necessarily makes the thematic choices for a given player-character. . . .​
in playing in (say) a Werewolf game following the published metaplot, the players are intended to be ignorant of the changes in the setting, and to encounter them only through play. The more they participate in these changes (e.g. ferrying a crucial message from one NPC to another), the less they provide theme-based resolution to Premise, not more. . . . In designing a Setting-heavy Narrativist rules-set, I strongly suggest . . . full-disclosure . . . and abandoning the metaplot "revelation" approach immediately.​


So Apocalypse World is intended to produce RPGing in which the players, in the play of their PCs, are obliged to make thematically-laden choices. Although there's a lot of subtlety in its design (see eg Baker's discussion of the structure of the Seduce/Manipulate player-side move on p 284 of the rulebook), the core of the system is straightforward:

*The GM makes a soft move. These all take their orientation from what the players want for their PCs, because they are about badness, opportunities, being put in a spot, etc;​
*The players respond by declaring actions for their PCs - if no player-side move is triggered, the GM continues with another move;​
*Eventually, a player-side move will be triggered, and either (i) the player will get what they want for their PC (success on Seize By Force or Seduce/Manipulate; success plus the appropriate GM decision on Go Aggro), or (ii) the GM makes another soft move, or (iii) the GM makes a move that is as hard and direct as they like, such that the player irrevocably loses something they wanted for their PC.​

So the system pushes the players towards either violence or seduction/manipulation to get what they want for their PCs, at which point either the action continues to rise, or some sort of crisis or resolution occurs. By choosing when, against whom, and for what they force the issue, the players express their thematic choices. The game doesn't ask or require the GM to judge those choices; it just requires the GM to follow through with a move that makes sense, and to withhold irrevocability unless entitled to make as hard and direct a move as they like.

No storytelling is required: the players play their PCs, the GM plays "the world". But a story that has something to say about the brutality of the post-apocalyptic world will result. (@Neonchameleon gave some nice examples upthread.)

See the previous post where I clarify what is meant by storytelling.

You, like the others, are asserting a definition I am not using.
 

pemerton

Legend
There is some middle ground between basically everything being improvised and a full on railroad.

I hope the below demonstrates what I mean both by the required improvisation and unclear rules. Let's compare e.g. the 5e Ankheg to the DungeonWorld one...

View attachment 296728

View attachment 296730

The are more or less functionally the same, but looking at their description, I have no idea what to do with the acid spray of the DW one. Clearly it can do so, but the consequences of it are not at all clear.
I'm not seeing the problem. When the GM is entitled to make a move, then if the fiction includes an ankheg it includes a voracious giant arthropod with an acid spray that eats away metal and flesh. This could inform a a soft move - "The ankheg sprays acid on your armour, which starts to fume and bubble - what do you do?" - or a hard move "The ankheg sprays acid at you, and your sword dissolves away in your hands - what do you do?"

Whether and what sort of move the GM is entitled to make is determined by the general rules of the game.
 


There is some middle ground between basically everything being improvised and a full on railroad.

I hope the below demonstrates what I mean both by the required improvisation and unclear rules. Let's compare e.g. the 5e Ankheg to the DungeonWorld one...

View attachment 296728

View attachment 296730

The are more or less functionally the same, but looking at their description, I have no idea what to do with the acid spray of the DW one. Clearly it can do so, but the consequences of it are not at all clear.
This of course overlaps with but is far from all of why Dungeon World is considered at best a mediocre PbtA game - but @pemerton has the right approach. Good PbtA games are much clearer (and generally have much more minimal NPC statblocks)
 

I hope the below demonstrates what I mean both by the required improvisation and unclear rules. Let's compare e.g. the 5e Ankheg to the DungeonWorld one...
FWIW, Dungeon World is not the best example of PbtA.

That said, I don't find the DW Ankheg's open-ended abilities the worst offenders.
 
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Arilyn

Hero
I've had a lot of fun with Dungeon World. I don't think it's a horrible version of PbTA at all. Masks is a fantastic game for running a "Young" Justice" style game. It's pretty upfront about its themes, so I never got the criticism that it can't do traditional superheros well. It's not supposed to.

Monster of the Week is great fun. Stonetop looks fantastic and I have a suspicion could be my favourite when I run or play it.
 




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