Grade the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) System

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

  • I love it.

    Votes: 33 24.1%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 29 21.2%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 21 15.3%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 7 5.1%
  • I hate it.

    Votes: 8 5.8%
  • I've never played it.

    Votes: 39 28.5%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

pemerton

Legend
II am also not sure shorter statblocks are an improvement to me.... Here is an Ironsworn one, as far as I am concerned it has the same issues, if anything they are worse

View attachment 296757

Guess this just is not a game / system for me
On pp 133 and 135 of the Ironsworn rulebook are these general rules for NPCs (p 134 links NPC combat stats to the game's general combat rules):

An NPC (non-player character/creature) is anyone who inhabits your version of the Ironlands other than your character and those portrayed by your fellow players. They can be a person, being or creature. . . .

NPCs are primarily represented through your fiction rather than mechanics. They don’t have stats, assets, or tracks. Instead, the sample NPCs in this chapter include some broad details to help guide their actions and the threat they pose in combat. . . .

Tactics provide a reference for how an NPC might act in combat. These give you a sense of typical maneuvers, but do not represent the possibilities of a complex and dramatic combat scene. You should let NPC actions flow out of the fiction. What is the situation? What is their goal? What will add to the excitement and danger of this moment? Make it happen. . . .

Your foes should do more than simply try to inflict harm. A fearsome roar or demoralizing boast might cause you to Endure Stress. Tactical maneuvers reduce your momentum. Fictional complications - the appearance of new foes, putting companions or allies at risk, or a realization that undermines your quest - will heighten the drama of the scene.​

I'm not all that familiar with Ironsworn, but I think paying the price is the most obvious way whereby a NPC's tactics would come into play. Eg if you enter the fray with a basilisk, and miss, then it catches you with its mesmerising gaze, and you have to endure stress because you are "fac[ing] mental shock or despair" (p 95).
 

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mamba

Legend
Another way to look at these games is that they generate stories in the third person, and do so by deliberately dissociating mechanics from how those stories proceed.
pretty much

And that design stems from the original arguments the Forge came up with as far as what was wrong with trad games. Rather than get bogged down in bad mechanics, just skip to making up the story they're getting in the way of.
I am not sure I consider no mechanics an improvement over bad mechanics... ultimately I see how whatever is left cannot get in the way of whatever story you want to tell, but to me that is throwing out the baby with the bathwater
 

mamba

Legend
That Basilisk is much better, because everything on it is on the same level of abstract.
I cannot argue with it having the same level of abstraction throughout I guess, it just is not a level of abstraction I find at all useful. If all it did were to give me 'Basilisk: rank 3', I would know just as much

That is a very possibly right answer, too. Not everything works for everyone, and PbtA just has many things that can rub people the wrong way.
I assume so, for what it is worth I did not vote in this ;)
 

pemerton

Legend
That is basically what you did in your example, but what the move did was completely made up by you. I also see no moves in its description that describe its behavior, if anything I see a description of its behavior that I then need to figure out how to turn into moves.
The moves are to burst from the earth (typically this would be showing signs of an impending threat or revealing an unwelcome truth), to undermine the ground (depending on context, this might deal damage, use up their resources, separate them, or put someone in a spot) and to spray forth acid (which I've already talked about upthread).

The list of GM moves also includes "Use a Monster, Danger or Location Move", which includes this explanation (p 167):

A monster or location move is just a description of what that location or monster does, maybe “hurl someone away” or “bridge the planes.” If a player move (like hack and slash) says that a monster gets to make an attack, make an aggressive move with that monster.​

Spraying acid and thereby eating away metal or fresh seems pretty aggressive! The rules (that I quoted upthread) will tell you whether to make it harder or softer.

Same with the Ironswon Basilisk, that description is completely useless to me in game terms, could have just given me the rank for all it is worth... I might as well read a wiki page on basilisks. With 5e I know what the basilisk can do, here however
Well, you know that in the Ironsworn universe basilisks are great serpents with a mesmerising gaze. That seems helpful to me.

because otherwise I am just making stuff up, not playing a game
But making stuff up is of the essence of RPGing! They're games of shared imagination.

D&D has no mechanic to tell you who a basilisk attacks, who a sly NPC tries to trick, whether an angry Orc slinks off or makes an attack. The GM has to imagine things, based on the unfolding logic of the fiction. Dungeon World or Ironsworn establish a particular structure around that imagining - in the case of DW, the sequence of soft and hard moves, and crisis => resolution, that I described above; in the case of Ironsworn I'm less clear on the exact structure, which seems to have more fiddly pieces, but I suspect it's at least broadly similar.
 

pretty much


I am not sure I consider no mechanics an improvement over bad mechanics... ultimately I see how whatever is left cannot get in the way of whatever story you want to tell, but to me that is throwing out the baby with the bathwater

Indeed that is pretty much my contention. I think the root problem they were trying to resolve re: trad games is that a lot of the games of the time, and frankly most of the ones now, are far too cagey with letting players (including the GM) actually do things and just act.

And its a pretty noticeable problem, as even the best GMs can't really stop it without unravelling whatever system they're running.

Like, 5e is often called a power fantasy and all that but it really isn't as its a system thats way too scared about letting players really act, and the DM is no more empowered in that regard unless they start homebrewing solutions or just heavily lean into rulings.

This is a problem I think is better solved mechanically by focusing on synchronicity, and ensuring that game feel, game description, and game perception are all matching up. Whether ones character is suceeding or failing, suplexing a dragon or running in terror, it should be identical experiences whether one is looking at the game from the perspective of mechanics, narrative, or a person's individual experience of both together.

PBTA type games typically don't actually hit any of these points at all. When you make a move, it doesn't feel like you're doing whatever it is, it isn't being described by the game as what it is (because you as a player/GM are making up a description independently), and how its percieved fundamentally can't be an identical experience to either one, and at best will only seem identical to one.

The main issue though with approaching game design from this direction is that trad players aren't always going to be all that receptive to what itd eventually look like; the aversion to video games and such is still a really strong prejudice in the community, especially amongst game designers, and video game design (and to a lesser degree, board game design) is where those innovations have been happening.
 

mamba

Legend
The moves are to burst from the earth (typically this would be showing signs of an impending threat or revealing an unwelcome truth), to undermine the ground (depending on context, this might deal damage, use up their resources, separate them, or put someone in a spot) and to spray forth acid (which I've already talked about upthread).
we mean the same thing, a move without mechanics is just behavior, which is why you had to translate it into GM moves

Well, you know that in the Ironsworn universe basilisks are great serpents with a mesmerising gaze. That seems helpful to me.
it would be helpful if I had no concept of a basilisk beforehand, but they are basically the same as any basilisk anywhere. Wiki would have told me at least as much actionable information as this too
 
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pemerton

Legend
it would be helpful if I had no concept of a basilisk beforehand, but they are basically the same as any basilisk anywhere. Wiki would have told me at least as much actionable information as this too
Well, given that I downloaded the Ironsworn rulebook for free I have no complaints!

But anyway, all the AD&D MM description of a basilisk adds to "common knowledge" that I might get from a wiki is its AC, HD and bite damage - all of which, in Ironsworn, are captured by the creature Rank.

The 5e stat block adds a 30' petrification range to this.

I assume that this doesn't make AD&D or 5e not a game; so I'm missing what the issue is with Ironsworn.
 

mamba

Legend
Well, given that I downloaded the Ironsworn rulebook for free I have no complaints!
that was not so much a complaint about the price or even Ironsworn in particular, from what I have heard it is a good PbtA game

But anyway, all the AD&D MM description of a basilisk adds to "common knowledge" that I might get from a wiki is its AC, HD and bite damage - all of which, in Ironsworn, are captured by the creature Rank.

The 5e stat block adds a 30' petrification range to this.
which are all the things that tell me what it does in game...

I assume that this doesn't make AD&D or 5e not a game; so I'm missing what the issue is with Ironsworn.
clearly you do not have the issue, nothing wrong with that.

To me these statblocks are worthless. I can just say 'Ghost, rank 2' and go with what I imagine a ghost to be and am no worse off than with the official statblock. In D&D there is somewhat more value to a statblock (which doesn't mean I cannot make one up, just that there is more to making it up).

I guess there is a reason why D&D has so many 3pp monster books and DungeonWorld, etc. do not...
 

pemerton

Legend
which are all the things that tell me what it does in game...
If by "the game" you mean "the combat system" . . . but then the Rank in Ironsworn does much the same thing. Ironsworn and Dungeon World have rules for resolving combat too. They're just not variants on D&D's take turns, in initiative order, to roll to hit, roll for damage, ablate hp until one is at zero.
 

Personally I don't see the issues that others do with Dungeon World. Maybe it assumes a bit of familiarity with the AW rulebook?
That's a big part of it. It was one of the first major hacks and the guidance in it isn't good while it isn't quite as clean as AW or many of the better PbtA games. It's not bad enough to be actively on an avoid list, but it is very understandable why people have bad experiences with it, especially if it's the MC's first PbtA game.
 

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