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%

The game design - the list of GM principles, the list of GM moves, the list and the details of player-side moves - will take care of that.

The game shouldn't be the one telling a story, and if it must, theres better ways to do it than the convoluted means these games take. (See: visual novels)

What a game should do is systemically support storytelling by providing the emergence of narrative details that follow logically from the agency of all players. Forcing drama on 90% of results doesn't qualify on its own, and that can only be masked if its positioned well and has at least some means of generating a better ratio (as in Ironsworn).

But even then.

Another big problem with these games is that there is, factually, a wrong way to play them, which is not really the best way to design games that are still functionally sandboxy.

If you roll the dice too much in these games, the issues I highlight only get worse and worse, and thus far not a single game in this family has ever designed that problem away, and they should, as that'll increase their appeal and stop so many people from bouncing off them like frogs.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

pemerton

Legend
The game shouldn't be the one telling a story
I said that the GM doesn't need to worry about "story" because the game design will take care of it - that is, will ensure that the action rises and then reaches a climax and some sort of resolution. The elements and events are provided by the game participants.

I don't know if that is what you mean by "the game being the one to tell a story", but if it is, I don't know why a game shouldn't be doing that.

What a game should do is systemically support storytelling by providing the emergence of narrative details that follow logically from the agency of all players.
I don't know what you have in mind: I just quoted the rules from AW that state that the GM's move must be something that follows logically from the established fiction, so I don't know what sort of contrast you are intending to draw.

I also don't know what you mean by "should": I mean, the whole point of AW is to avoid storytelling, so I don't know what you think it should support storytelling.

Another big problem with these games is that there is, factually, a wrong way to play them, which is not really the best way to design games that are still functionally sandboxy.

If you roll the dice too much in these games, the issues I highlight only get worse and worse, and thus far not a single game in this family has ever designed that problem away, and they should, as that'll increase their appeal and stop so many people from bouncing off them like frogs.
All I see here is that you don't particularly enjoy Apocalypse World.
 

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
I don't think that your activities are pidgeonholed into these things; instead, these are the particular activities that trigger moves.
QFT. Approaching playbooks and playbook moves as classes with a list of abilities is not the intention in PbtA, and that approach accounts for a lot of the apparent lack of options people sometimes feel with the design philosophy
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
The game shouldn't be the one telling a story

Who should be the one telling the story?

Another big problem with these games is that there is, factually, a wrong way to play them, which is not really the best way to design games that are still functionally sandboxy.

So you’re saying Apocalypse World approaches sandbox play wrong?

Which game does it right, then? And why would you not criticize that game for having a wrong way to play?
 

PbtA isn't about storytelling or telling stories. If you are using PbtA for storytelling, then you are better off with a different game. That's not what they are designed to do.

What do you think I mean by storytelling?

Screenshot_20230930_145250_Wikipedia.jpg


These games are about storytelling and your attempts to say otherwise tell me you don't get what Im actually saying.

When I say storytelling, I am not talking about telling prewritten stories, and if given that you still want to claim thats not what these games are, then sorry but you're wrong and no one anywhere that understands these games agrees with you.

PbtA was developed partially as a reaction against the GM trying to tell stories with their games.

That is a significant distortion of history. Practically revisitionist to be frank. Apocalypse World spawned out of the Forge, which as a community had attempted to break down RPGs so they could be rebuilt to support what they believed was desirable out of them. Thats where the whole GNS malarkey came from and its why PBTA/FITD are all distinguishable from every other kind of RPG.

The issues they took up with other games had nothing to do with GMs telling stories and everything to do with them not liking how the systems in those other games worked and how they influenced what actually happened at a table.

But as noted, they didn't address this problem by going in and fixing the bad parts, they just threw them out. Which, to be fair, can be a valid design practice, but it isn't the only way it could have gone, and had the proverbial poster child of that movement not turned out to be a narcissistic moron accusing people of being brain damaged, perhaps it could have had more steam and lead to more developments.

But as it stands, PBTA is in more or less the same rut as the rest of the hobby is.
 

Who should be the one telling the story?

The players when they reminisce or otherwise recount or recall what happened. I haven't been referencing the concept of emergence because I think it makes me sound smart; emergence is vital for games that intend to support freeform playspaces, and you're not going to foster emergence by telling fixed stories. Stories need to emerge from play.

Which game does it right, then?

Most of them don't. I would say all, but I can't claim to have actually read and played every single game out there. But I have read most of the ones people actually play, and Ive played and run most of those too.

Most RPGs are good at being open world, as it tends to come with the territory, but sandboxes are a different thing entirely (yes, they are not synonyms and are in fact two different types of gameworlds) and they require pretty deliberate design to get right.
 

mamba

Legend
So I think it's just not accurate to say that "in the absence of mechanics, all that's left is storytelling".
well, the statement is not wrong, but I did not mean it to imply that PbtA has no mechanics whatsoever, only that it has fewer / vaguer ones.

Someone who can't think of something that might follow from what's already going on will struggle to GM Apocalypse World. Personally I would have thought they might find any GMing a challenge.
they would generally have an easier time if they were better at improvising, but following a prepared story certainly makes it easier for those that struggle with it
 



Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I was also thinking that improvising is a core skill for DMing - and math crunching isn't. D&D has far bigger issues here than AW, prepared stories or not.
The popularity of DnD and the number of professional nerds (IT, Sciences, Maths) playing the game would seem to challenge that notion
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top