Grade the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) System

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

  • I love it.

    Votes: 34 24.5%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 29 20.9%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 22 15.8%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 7 5.0%
  • I hate it.

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

    Votes: 39 28.1%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

hawkeyefan

Legend
Apocalypse World, at its most basic, is like any other RPG: the GM describes a situation, the players declare actions for their PCs, and the rules are applied to work out what happens as a result.

The game's particular structure, that I described upthread, means that play will generate a story of somewhat brutal conflict in a post-apocalyptic world. But no one has to write that story - the rules take care of that. There is no "writers' room" to it - that is, no people sitting around collectively deciding on a sequence of events that will constitute a satisfying story. Nor is there any particular third personality to it - the most canonical GM refrain is second person, namely, "What do you do?"

TL;DR: I agree with the quoted post.

And here I was thinking I disagreed with everyone who’s ever discussed PbtA games!
 

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pemerton

Legend
I agree that there are people out there who describe PbtA and similar games along those lines. But I don’t think those people are correct. I think they’re either under informed, or they have a bias. Or more charitably, they may not know how to more accurately articulate the differences between PbtA style play and more traditional play.
I think your last sentence is fairly accurate: the vocabulary for describing play is often a bit underdone.
 

Aldarc

Legend
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.
My own minor criticism of Dungeon World, which is really more a matter of preference, is that the game leans into an "Old School" aesthetic of D&D, when I think it would have been better if it had leaned into more of the "New School" aesthetic of D&D for its classes, race options, and a few other design choices. When I consider the people who seem to enjoy Dungeon World (for whatever reason), the fact that it includes a fair number of people who had enjoyed 4e D&D, quite possibly the most "New School" of D&D games, I can't help but wonder what the Dungeon World community would have been like had the designers chosen to lean more into a game world inspired by 4e D&D instead.
 

I agree that there are people out there

Incredible, unfathomable understatement. This topic is literally the first time Ive seen anyone ever try to argue that these aren't accurate.

And I can't imagine its a coincidence it comes on the heels of these terms being used as a negative, because for most people that talk about PBTA games they use these terms as a good thing to emphasize what these systems do and why they're enjoyable.

Frankly I don't think you or anyone else whose come defending these games actually cares about any of this hair splitting; ya'll don't like that Im not singing these systems praises and you'll say whatever you have to to dispute and disagree.

And it can't be understated that this is just illustrative of the toxic in-group cultures that spawn from these games. You're responding to criticism by trying to accuse the ones criticising of not understanding the games and not "getting it", and its as abrasive as it is incredibly presumptive.

But anyways, off to block land with the contrarians.
 


mamba

Legend
Yeah, that's kinda the point. It's a feature, not a bug.
I was not expressing surprise here ;)

For you it may be a feature, for me it isn’t

This discussion shows me that going by x% of people liked the game is entirely useless in determining whether someone would like a game. I like these threads, but I think if they focused more on how these games work, they would provide better information for this determination than the rating is.

I have the same issue with Amazon ratings, every band that sells CDs has people that like them and rate them high, so the CD having 4.5 stars is entirely meaningless in determining whether I would like a band I never heard of. Descriptions of their type of music etc. in the reviews are much more helpful for that.

For an example closer to this forum, take the 5e adventure ratings, they are all between 4.6 and 4.8, so basically the same except for statistical noise, yet people in the forum rate some very high and some very low.
 
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The PbtA-adjacent that I really wanted to love was City of Mist. I still like its core idea (instead of a single stat with plusses, you list which of your tags apply, getting +1 for each), but in actual play, things just didn't work out that well. I still really like its character sheet approach...

Cx8lQOpWIAAF-2L.jpg


But, as we can already see from this sample character, you run into issues like... Daredevil should be good at dodging, right? But if he's getting run over by a car, only his Outstanding Agility would help him, for a piddly +1. So when creating Daredevil, the player would have to know to stack up on multiple tags saying basically the same thing for what he wants to be good at.

And if you have tags that maybe apply, you start running into negotiations with the GM over the exact phrasing... 'hey, surely my Short-Range Targeting helps here, I meant it like Knows What's Around Him At All Times but that was too long of a phrase to write down, and oh hey, if I can Hear Distress Call, surely that means I could hear the car getting closer?'

And, turns out, listing 5+ phrases for every action you take can get a bit tiresome. You also need a big enough list to be capable enough, but then you can learn more, which can double their amount, and then that is a lot of text. And all this was just about the thing that got me interested in the first place, the list of aspects making up the character. The rest of the system around it also felt fiddlier than it needed to be, so...
 
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The PbtA-adjacent that I really wanted to love was City of Mist. I still like its core idea (instead of a single stat with plusses, you list which of your tags apply, getting +1 for each), but in actual play, things just didn't work out that well. I still really like its character sheet approach...

View attachment 296866

But, as we can already see from this sample character, you run into issues like... Daredevil should be good at dodging, right? But if he's getting run over by a car, only his Outstanding Agility would help him, for a piddly +1. So when creating Daredevil, the player would have to know to stack up on multiple tags saying basically the same thing for what he wants to be good at.

And if you have tags that maybe apply, you start running into negotiations with the GM over the exact phrasing... 'hey, surely my Short-Range Targeting helps here, I meant it like Knows What's Around Him At All Times but that was too long of a phrase to write down, and oh hey, if I can Hear Distress Call, surely that means I could hear the car getting closer?'

And, turns out, listing 5+ phrases for every action you take can get a bit tiresome. You also need a big enough list to be capable enough, but then you can learn more, which can double their amount, and then that is a lot of text. And all this was just about the thing that got me interested in the first place, the list of aspects making up the character. The rest of the system around it also felt fiddlier than it needed to be, so...

Yeah this sort of thing is what I was getting at about games being too cagey with letting people just, do things, especially when they should be able to.
 

Yeah this sort of thing is what I was getting at about games being too cagey with letting people just, do things, especially when they should be able to.
The problem is more that City of Mist doesn't acknowledge what the 'right way' to build capable characters is, and it's not just in the character creation, it extends to their own pregen characters, where an investigator doesn't know how to investigate, etc.

While, at the same time, the system kind of breaks if you do stack 5 tags to get a pretty certain full success on anything it applies to. Being looser with what tags are applicable would only make this part even worse.
 

I really don't have any excuses for having not played this system yet. I backed the Avatar Legends Kickstarter, and the books arrived months ago. I got a copy of Thirsty Sword Lesbians as a gift. I've gotten several other PbtA games in PDF format, from a couple of different Humble Bundles over the years. I have plenty of motive, plenty of means, and plenty of opportunity...I just haven't yet.

But from what I've read, it sounds like it puts more emphasis on storytelling and less on combat. And I find that idea very appealing. Don't get me wrong, I love me some D&D...but the combat scenes can get really stale sometimes. I'll have to give it a shot and let y'all know what I think.
PbtA games COULD put as much or little emphasis on combat as desired. In other words there could be, potentially, a game with dozens of moves dedicated to various nuances of combat (of whatever type the game focuses on, melee, firearms, MA, whatever). In AW (and DW, which is also very influential) 'combat' is not really an explicit topic. There's definitely some conventions about it, and each game includes a couple of elementary moves, but there isn't a 'combat procedure' in either of these games, you simply narrate doing 'combat stuff' and the GM will presumably trigger these elementary moves as appropriate, and the appropriate kind of fiction will result. So, you are correct, there's not a 'focus' on combat, but even in DW it can definitely be a significant aspect of play.

That being said, unlike D&D or any of its derivatives, its pretty easy to make a PbtA in which combat is either non-existent, or occupies a very limited and maybe even fairly abstract place. Certainly in AW the milieu itself is fairly violent, but the degree to which downright fights to the death need to happen could vary a lot, and the game is focused more on 'social anomie' than combat per se.
 

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