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%

Never heard of them—tell us more!

(My first Blades in the Dark Crew was named Magpies. Alas, the GM got busy and abandoned our campaign.)
Here is the link to the Discord:


Magpie Games are behind Masks, Urban Shadows, Cartel, Avatar Legends and my favorite PbtA Root: The RPG. I think they do a great job on making mechanics drive player motivations while letting you (IMO) stay in the Actor Stance, very much like Apocalypse World. The classic example of Clearing Conditions in Masks by doing classic teenager drama things - lashing out when you are Angry, is just perfect.

Super friendly (albeit firmly modded) community. They do 2 monthly events (most of the time) a Community Play Day where anyone can sign up to run games and get a sweet $10 gift card for their store, which you can use as a discount for their games or play with some Professional GMs on Magpie's games site called Curated Play Program. Its a cool way to learn some more GM styles and learn one of their games though I found they can fill up fast.

The other event is the one I mentioned. Its the Designer Day where designers can get playtesters for their systems. Its a great resource I hope that I hope to make use of someday.

Generally they offer sign ups about 3-4 weeks ahead for those GMing and 2-3 weeks ahead for Playing, so its easiest to get a spot if you are proactive and know your schedule. But you often see slots open the day of, so if you find yourself free, you are likely to grab a spot if you are fast and keeping an eye on discord.
 

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niklinna

učim hrvatski
Here is the link to the Discord:


Magpie Games are behind Masks, Urban Shadows, Cartel, Avatar Legends and my favorite PbtA Root: The RPG. I think they do a great job on making mechanics drive player motivations while letting you (IMO) stay in the Actor Stance, very much like Apocalypse World. The classic example of Clearing Conditions in Masks by doing classic teenager drama things - lashing out when you are Angry, is just perfect.

Super friendly (albeit firmly modded) community. They do 2 monthly events (most of the time) a Community Play Day where anyone can sign up to run games and get a sweet $10 gift card for their store, which you can use as a discount for their games or play with some Professional GMs on Magpie's games site called Curated Play Program. Its a cool way to learn some more GM styles and learn one of their games though I found they can fill up fast.

The other event is the one I mentioned. Its the Designer Day where designers can get playtesters for their systems. Its a great resource I hope that I hope to make use of someday.

Generally they offer sign ups about 3-4 weeks ahead for those GMing and 2-3 weeks ahead for Playing, so its easiest to get a spot if you are proactive and know your schedule. But you often see slots open the day of, so if you find yourself free, you are likely to grab a spot if you are fast and keeping an eye on discord.
Cool thanks!

A moment later: omg so many channels 😬

🤣
 

Im sure you have enforced that at your table given how super seriously you take your storygaming.

Most people in the hobby recognize though that GMs have an outset means of overriding the game by being facilitators, and PBTAs tendency to share more of that same control with players means its more likely for rules to get dropped when they don't work.

And it must be reiterated that there being a wrong way to play the game is not good design in games you're trying to assert are all about agency and being able to act freely.

This is one of those brain worms I had to get over with my own game, fwiw. As much as Im consciously working to weave many concurrent gameplay loops together in a way thats seamless and non-abrasive, so that the experience I want to convey is fully achievable, I'm also consciously designing the game to not break down if some group decides some aspect of it isn't for them; which is going to happen given the sheer scope of the game now.

I'm not going to be able to rely on telling people they're playing the game wrong, because I'm fundamentally not designing a game that requires a specific experience. PBTA games do require it however, and while Im sure you'll disagree, just remember what I just said about there being a wrong way to play.



I think if I hadn't used that description as a negative (which as repeated, is not how its commonly invoked) that the people you refer to wouldn't have had anything to dispute.

That is where the doubt comes from, as it seems driven more by the fact that I'm not praising the game for what it is and much less about the specific term I used.

And given the discourse from them has invariably focused on disputing that term, when I personally am clearly much more interested in a direct design discussion, reinforces that doubt about what they actually care about.

And as for what you linked, its pretty critical to note that actors stance isn't exclusive to storygames, and I would argue in particular that its implied opposite is far less a part of trad and other games than is assumed, and where it exists is rooted in the same thing Im essentially talking about when I talk about certain designs just being bad and needing to be fixed. (Of which I consider deleting the design to be a lesser solution)



Acknowledging I was rude is meant to convey that I'm not just kneejerk reacting, but did not appreciate having to reread a post multiple times and eventually shove it in an LLM just so I could understand what could have been conveyed much more simply.



Here's the thing about communication: anyone who knows what the words parse and inundated mean will understand what I said. They aren't uncommon words and they're easily understood contextually.

I did not understand what you meant by saying coalitional, because the more common word for what you were trying to say is "collaborative", a word choice that would have been much more straightforward and made more immediate sense, even in the context of a big word salad.

But individual word choice simply isn't the problem. Its masking a substantial paragraph with every other word being either non-standard, contextually incoherenr, or both.



Ill let the robit take this one, as at this point Im tired of this contrived debate



Pretty important to clarify as well that when I position the writers room style as being a negative, its from the perspective of valuing systemic interaction and systemic emergence, which these games fundamentally aren't capable of providing for (as they're explicitly designed in a way that minimizes that possibility).

Hence, why the bulk of what Ive been trying to talk about is not this continued naughty word over a common phrase, but actual game design and to what degree the design of these games actually contributes to their stated goals.

I've already related that I don't think these games are good at doing what they set out to do on their own terms; they aren't good examples of what they try to be. My own preferences, philosophy, and thoughts on game design are meant to contextualize why Ive come to that conclusion.

But, its gone ignored because apparently people really don't want to talk about any of that. But who boy do they want to drone on and on and on about nothing.
EDIT: OK, the flamewar is done. Hopefully a more productive version can happen at some point.
 
Last edited:


aramis erak

Legend
The issues with AW itself in wording, @pemerton ... it's one of those things that for many is utterly meaningless as written, and not explicated well. Being the fundamental core element of the intended playstyles... for those for whom it is not clear, that it was clear to you is totally immaterial. A significant fraction of people did not grasp it, at least not from 1E. Which is why there's a second ed.

As for the players who can't cope with it? I've a number of players who never go 1st person, and never get into narrator mode, either. Even in Sentinel Comics, one of them, it was like pulling molars with widemouth sidecutting pliers... painful, awkward, and prone to being a bloody mess.

Much as I'd love to see that one do a storygame, they are, due to psychopathology/neuropathology, almost incapable of narration mode. (Them GMing D&D was slow, due to same psychopathology - it turned into Q&A more than character response to narration.)

Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, Bipolar, and more. I love my groups, but man, we are all broken toys.
 

pemerton

Legend
The issues with AW itself in wording, @pemerton ... it's one of those things that for many is utterly meaningless as written, and not explicated well. Being the fundamental core element of the intended playstyles... for those for whom it is not clear, that it was clear to you is totally immaterial. A significant fraction of people did not grasp it, at least not from 1E.
What can I say? Here are the rules (pp 12, 109, 116):

MOVES AND DICE
The particular things that make these rules kick in are called moves. . . When a player says that her character does something listed as a move, that’s when she rolls, and that’s the only time she does.

The rule for moves is to do it, do it. In order for it to be a move and for the player to roll dice, the character has to do something that counts as that move; and whenever the character does something that counts as a move, it’s the move and the player rolls dice.

Usually it’s unambiguous . . . But . . . they sometimes don’t line up, and it’s your job as MC to deal with them. . . .

[One such case] is when a player has her character take action that counts as a move, but doesn’t realize it, or doesn’t intend it to be a move. For instance: “I shove him out of my way.” Your answer then should be “cool, you’re going aggro?” “I pout. ‘Well if you really don’t like me…’” “Cool, you’re trying to manipulate him?” “I squeeze way back between the tractor and the wall so they don’t see me.” “Cool, you’re acting under fire?”

You don’t ask in order to give the player a chance to decline to roll, you ask in order to give the player a chance to revise her character’s action if she really didn’t mean to make the move. “Cool, you’re going aggro?” Legit: “oh! No, no, if he’s really blocking the door, whatever, I’ll go the other way.” Not legit: “well no, I’m just shoving him out of my way, I don’t want to roll for it.” The rule for moves is if you do it, you do it, so make with the dice. . . .

THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES . . .

Apocalypse World divvies the conversation up in a strict and pretty traditional way. The players’ job is to say what their characters say and undertake to do, first and exclusively; to say what their characters think, feel and remember, also exclusively; and to answer your questions about their characters’ lives and surroundings. Your job as MC is to say everything else: everything about the world, and what everyone in the whole damned world says and does except the players’ characters. . . .

Whenever someone turns and looks to you to say something, always say what the principles demand. . . . Whenever there’s a pause in the conversation and everyone looks to you to say something, choose one of these things [ie MC moves] and say it. . . .​

This tells us what the players say: namely, what their PCs say, try and do, think, feel and remember (including by answering the GM's questions). It tells us what the GM says: everything else. It tells us when the GM should say something - namely, when the players look to them to say something. And it tells us when dice are rolled: if a player declares an action for their PC that is listed as a move, then the dice have to be rolled - and the outcome of that roll then tells everyone who has to say what next.

I don't doubt that you couldn't work it out. But I struggle to see where the ambiguity or uncertainty is located. Speaking purely for myself, the only way I could see this as uncertain is if the read brings in an assumption that the GM is permitted to suspend the need to roll dice even if a move is triggered.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The issues with AW itself in wording, @pemerton ... it's one of those things that for many is utterly meaningless as written, and not explicated well. Being the fundamental core element of the intended playstyles... for those for whom it is not clear, that it was clear to you is totally immaterial. A significant fraction of people did not grasp it, at least not from 1E. Which is why there's a second ed.

As for the players who can't cope with it? I've a number of players who never go 1st person, and never get into narrator mode, either. Even in Sentinel Comics, one of them, it was like pulling molars with widemouth sidecutting pliers... painful, awkward, and prone to being a bloody mess.

Much as I'd love to see that one do a storygame, they are, due to psychopathology/neuropathology, almost incapable of narration mode. (Them GMing D&D was slow, due to same psychopathology - it turned into Q&A more than character response to narration.)

Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, Bipolar, and more. I love my groups, but man, we are all broken toys.

I did not particularly want to comment on this thread. As Mama Snarf always told me, "If you got nothin' nice to say 'bout someone, say nothin' and shiv 'em in the back. Remember, if you're old enough to whine, you're old enough to drink wine until you shut yer piehole."

That said, I think you raise an excellent point, PbTA is both a good game and, inherently, a critique of certain other modes of gaming in that it was born out of a reaction to certain dominant modes of gaming at the time. That said, it is also not for everyone. There is, for lack of a better phrase, a lack of empathy (understanding of other people) by people when it comes to the game. I am often reminded of the skit from That Mitchell and Webb Look parodying Kitchen Nightmares when the beleaguered Chef is talking to the Gordon Ramsay stand in-

Chef: I can't cook that! And-and there's loads of things in there you didn't even mention, like the thing with the potato that might as well be magic as far as I'm concerned.
Gordon Ramsay: It's just local ingredients simply cooked.
Chef: By you! King Lear is just English words put in order! The only way any of this will help my restaurant is if you stay forever.

As you note, there are people that, for reasons of psychopatholoy or neuropathology, simply are unable to play this type of game. There are also people that are capable of playing in this style, but do not want to for various reasons; some because it's not "game-y" enough, some because they don't enjoy "bringing it" on a constant basis, and some because the play loop feels artificial to them.

That doesn't make it a bad game, at all. PbTA (meaning its various derived games) is a great game for what it's trying to do; although, in fairness, I think that FiTD (and its derived games) are better. But that's my opinion. I am happy that there are groups that PbTA works perfectly for. I do find it disturbing that there are people that seem to believe that any issues people have with the game, or with the rules of the game, or with the style of the game, are necessarily due to some inherent fault on the part of the person playing it.

It's a good alternative for some groups. But not liking it does not mean that there is something wrong with the person who doesn't like it.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Much as I'd love to see that one do a storygame, they are, due to psychopathology/neuropathology, almost incapable of narration mode. (Them GMing D&D was slow, due to same psychopathology - it turned into Q&A more than character response to narration.)

Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, Bipolar, and more. I love my groups, but man, we are all broken toys.
I love this story. Everyone coming to the table to play, playing their way, and enjoying the game, I bet.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
The issues with AW itself in wording, @pemerton ... it's one of those things that for many is utterly meaningless as written, and not explicated well. Being the fundamental core element of the intended playstyles... for those for whom it is not clear, that it was clear to you is totally immaterial. A significant fraction of people did not grasp it, at least not from 1E. Which is why there's a second ed.

As for the players who can't cope with it? I've a number of players who never go 1st person, and never get into narrator mode, either. Even in Sentinel Comics, one of them, it was like pulling molars with widemouth sidecutting pliers... painful, awkward, and prone to being a bloody mess.

Much as I'd love to see that one do a storygame, they are, due to psychopathology/neuropathology, almost incapable of narration mode. (Them GMing D&D was slow, due to same psychopathology - it turned into Q&A more than character response to narration.)

Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, Bipolar, and more. I love my groups, but man, we are all broken toys.
I will admit I bounced hard off meaning-free wording like "To do it, do it" and "if you do it, you do it". I mean, it was explained in the surrounding text, but I still roll my eyes every time I see those empty statements that were clearly trying to be edgy rather than explain anything. A lot of the other edgy text really worked for me though: Apocalypse World was there to present an edgy and harsh world, and the textual tone was integral to that.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I will admit I bounced hard off meaning-free wording like "To do it, do it" and "if you do it, you do it". I mean, it was explained in the surrounding text, but I still roll my eyes every time I see those empty statements that were clearly trying to be edgy rather than explain anything. A lot of the other edgy text really worked for me though: Apocalypse World was there to present an edgy and harsh world, and the textual tone was integral to that.
Shia LaBeouf GMing a game of Apocalypse World:
 

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