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%

Re: The3 result system (miss, weak hit, strong hit):
This sounds like it would be a lot of fun in my group. Especially for light-hearted comedy games, or creepy horror games, both which would rely more on narrative tone and timing and less on random number generation.
As a general thing, PbtA (AW) was designed to be a 'pressure cooker', something is going to blow because there are always these consequences stacking up, creating more pressure, pushing the situation from status quo to some kind of explosion. You cook dinner for the boys and there's no more meat. They start to make trouble, the boss got meat, by gosh we're going to get some too! Your perfectly fine little hard hold is now a powder keg (I rolled an 8 on a hold event resolution move).

This design can also be refined to razor sharpness by a good designer. There are potentially 'special moves' and in any case the standard "something goes slightly wrong" 7-9 result can be tweaked for any given move to have specific repercussions in a given milieu. If you Volley in DW and get a 7, well, maybe you break your weapon, or run out of ammo, or find yourself in a bad tactical spot. You hit, but the sense of combat as chaos and sucking you into its inherent uncertainty is a feature of the way these moves work.

I haven't done a 'light hearted' PbtA game, so I'm not sure how this sort of design works out there, but I heavily suspect that absent some heavy tweaking, these games are going to 'snowball' pretty easily. PbtA games are not aimed at depicting mundane situations and a kind of equilibrium state of affairs. Instead the core system is engineered to make all hell break loose reliably and soon, so you can stop fiddling around in the market place and get to the 'dungeon', or else!
 

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Monster of the Week is one of those PbtA games that I loooooooooove. :)
Interestingly it is one of the most widely panned as straying from story now narrativist to a more 'neo-trad' kind of play by the AW cognoscenti. I haven't played it or even read it, so I don't have an opinion myself. It seems however to be almost a litmus test of where you fall in the PbtA-verse, lol.
 

Alot of class specific actions feel like everyone should be able to do them. Might be less of an issue in higher fantasy games, but when fairly mundane actions are limited to a particular playbook (class), it feels weirdly constraining.
Again, I haven't read Root, but in a general sense I don't really 'get' this. That is, if I do something (IE I as a player describe my PC fictionally carrying out a certain course of action within the context of the current scene frame) then my PC DOES IT. The GM can say "huh, there's no move to trigger here" and that's fine. There aren't moves for things like 'walk' and 'breath air'. Moves are SPECIAL RULES but there are also GENERAL RULES, which is basically "if you do it, you do it." The GM can say something like "that's impossible" (In DW that would be subject to table discussion, the GM is not absolute). The GM can say "OK, thus-and-such happens" (could be a GM hard or soft move based on either "golden opportunity" or simply a following soft move in response).

So, for instance if my bard decides to start a camp fire. Well, he's not specifically skilled at this, maybe the ranger has a 'start a fire in any situation' move. That doesn't exclude the possibility that my bard, in the given situation, might start a fire. The GM can judge the situation, decide if there's anything that could logically follow as a consequence of trying to light a fire. If so, and it might fit with the GM agenda for this game, then maybe it happens. "You start a fire, but being a foolish bard you make a fire which emits a lot of smoke, and someone noticed it!" Yeah, the Ranger gets to roll dice and maybe avoid that mishap, but I don't 'cause I'm a glorified lute player.
 

Ill quote myself from another thread to give a more specific answer:



Ill also link it directly as there's some quotes missing for context:

Post in thread 'Unpopular opinions go here' https://www.enworld.org/threads/unpopular-opinions-go-here.698817/post-9135338
Sorry, but this all reminds me heavily of the way 19th Century Pastoralist/Naturalist painters admonished the shibboleth of the impressionists with their emphasis on conveying the idea of their imagery as opposed to the minute details. Every medium evolves away from its roots, and there will always be that old geezer shouting from the corner about how the new way is a 'misuse' or how it degrades/perverts the 'one true way'. lol. Its fine to like or dislike whatever, but when you start using phrases like 'misuse of the medium', you have definitely gone over the edge...
 

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.

There has been a great many number of threads on breaking down these games and a few with intense focus on AW specifically. Plenty of intricate posts. Plenty of intricate post-mortems of play reports.

You can find them without too much trouble. Anyone in here with questions or misconceptions can find them pretty easy.

I’ll be honest though. I’ve got serious ENW culture war, s-posting, and drive-by threadcrapping or just general whining or weaponized offense-taking fatigue. So I’m not putting in the effort to write up play reports or do post-mortems or put forth the time and the mental effort to engage faithfully on these kinds of topics.

Its pretty frustrating to read someone write how (a) we need more threads that break down games when (b) there are loads and they’re either (c) not engaged with or (d) they turn into train-wrecks.

But if you want to search for some old threads discussing the actual machinery of AW or DW or Stonetop or Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard/Torchbearer, Blades in the Dark, Dogs in the Vineyard or whatever and post something in there, go ahead and do so and tag me or whomever and you’ll get a sincere question sincerely answered if you have one.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
Interestingly it is one of the most widely panned as straying from story now narrativist to a more 'neo-trad' kind of play by the AW cognoscenti. I haven't played it or even read it, so I don't have an opinion myself. It seems however to be almost a litmus test of where you fall in the PbtA-verse, lol.

All I know is that I had a lot of fun playing it, which is the best metric for me, personally, when it comes to judging RPGs.
 

Carnun

Explorer
I haven't done a 'light hearted' PbtA game, so I'm not sure how this sort of design works out there, but I heavily suspect that absent some heavy tweaking, these games are going to 'snowball' pretty easily. PbtA games are not aimed at depicting mundane situations and a kind of equilibrium state of affairs. Instead the core system is engineered to make all hell break loose reliably and soon, so you can stop fiddling around in the market place and get to the 'dungeon', or else!

I created the Hyborian Saga re-skin of AW and told some pretty good Conan stories (Tower of the Elephant & Rogues in the House) with my group. It was the best Conan rpg experience I've ever had, but of course, it was my game, lol. The AW session 0 thing, creating factions and wants, naming resources, etc --worked really well for the Hyborian Age when I just plopped my players' characters into a city.

Also, the best Shadowrun game I ever played was a super-lite PbtA hack. We just took the SR Attributes and rated them +2, +1, +1, -1, and the rest 0. Then we just listed metatype, gear, and special abilities we all agreed was fair, and then just played. That's seriously it. Our 'abilities' didn't need special moves or ratings, they were just narrative ques. Granted, that type of play requires everyone at the table to be familiar with the source material and tone of the setting, etc.
 
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While accepting it was basic and off the cuff, I'm not sure that your example holds up too well. In Fate we'd have already established the scene "theres an alert guard standing in the brightly lit yard, theres some crates stacked behind him and more to the sides ...." (Aspect1: Alert guard, Aspect2: brightly lit yard) the player then declares "I want to sneak behind the guard" (fiction first) - GM: you sure? its an opposed overcome roll, guard is alert and the scene is brightly lit so he gets +4

I think thats also fiction first and much more straight forward as I'm not trying to pigeon whole it to the "Sneak in Shadows" move. The player wants to sneak, the player can try to sneak, or they can try throwing a stone to distract the guard (create an advantage: guard distracted). I dont need to start looking to see if their playbook has a "cause a distraction" move). They might even try “I use the crates as cover as I try to sneak behind the guard” then spend a point to invoke the Stacked Crates
I don't think this analysis is very weighty, mostly for the reason that there ARE 'general moves'. For example in Dungeon World (and AW too) there is a Defy Danger move which can be applied in practically any situation as a fallback where "there is some risk but no specific move applies" such that the GM is not left simply trying to become judge of the action and invoke some GM-side move that effectively determines success or failure. Thus in the situation in DW where my fighter decides to sneak around behind the alert guard and tosses a stone to distract him, I can simply use DD, either the stone really distracts the guard (10+), or it distracts him enough to let me try a risky stealth action, or it fails utterly and I have an alerted guard doing whatever. I can call this a +DEX, or +WIS, or whatever move, its a bit open, but I have a clear path forward to resolving the situation. 99.99% of all situations in PbtA games end up like this, you can fall back to something, or the game as some other specific mechanism to handle the situation, or it is simply obvious from the agenda how it should go.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
I notice you didn't answer the question and instead ducked by talking about "these kinds of games".

As I say two of the things you said ("They try way too hard to tell stories and get in their own way." and "they lean on the same things its evangelizers criticize 5e for doing") are straight up unequivocally false when we are talking about Apocalypse World and the better PbtA hacks in specific. If you're talking about 90s and 00s attempts at narrative games you are probably correct - which is why I asked whether you had played or even read Apocalypse World.

As your response is a hyper-defensive refusal to answer the question and simply lashing out I can only assume that the answer is no.
I'm a bit late here, but I'm going to say that PbtA games do a lot of the things that D&D does. They just codify them as MC moves and many players hold this up as an example of why PbtA is so much better than other games.

I mean, I've been running Monster of the Week for a while--currently on hiatus as we cycle through our games, but I'm next in the rotation, so I gotta work on my adventure; also, we just finished a round of Masks--but almost nearly every one of MotW's Keeper Moves is a pretty standard thing for GMs to do. The only possible exception I can think of "inflict harm as established" because most other games consider it bad form to damage a PC without rolling to hit or giving them a saving throw. But in my experience, if you mention that, the PbtA enthusiasts get super angry because other games just don't allow such things.

I have never had a problem with a PbtA game getting in the way of telling the story, however.
 

I'm a bit late here, but I'm going to say that PbtA games do a lot of the things that D&D does. They just codify them as MC moves and many players hold this up as an example of why PbtA is so much better than other games.
As I've been pointing out in the "Narrative Mechanics" thread what is being called "Narrative Mechanics" are almost entirely absent from Apocalypse World. The codification is largely on when and how much the GM should act. Meanwhile there isn't much DM guidance at all in 5e or too much support of any playstyle.
The only possible exception I can think of "inflict harm as established" because most other games consider it bad form to damage a PC without rolling to hit or giving them a saving throw. But in my experience, if you mention that, the PbtA enthusiasts get super angry because other games just don't allow such things.
The PCs already either had the roll or "gave the MC a golden opportunity" or there wouldn't be a hard move.
I have never had a problem with a PbtA game getting in the way of telling the story, however.
It depends what you mean by "telling the story". PbtA games are spiralling nests of consequences. If you tried to write the story in advance it's going to fight you.
 

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