PbtA Games: Sell One Well +

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
There are a lot of PbtA and adjacent games. I would like folks familiar with different PbtA games to "sell" one game based on its particular merits, who it is aimed at, what it's play loop or goal is, etc... in other words, explain a specific PbtA game thoroughly in a way to get folks to say "Oh, yeah, that's the one for me!"

Note that this is a + thread, so while discussions and debates are fine, I would prefer if we did not argue about the merits of PbtA games in general or comparison to other types of games. Let's assume anyone reading this thread is already "in" to try a PbtA game.
 

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Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
Masks: A New Generation is, and I feel comfortable saying that this is with no hyperbole, the absolute best designed TTRPG when it comes to translating design intent to design execution. It's not the most open-ended PbtA genre in the world (teen/YA superheroes), but it's not the narrowest, and way it marries coming-of-age narratives and self-identification vs other people's expectations in a mechanically satisfying way is damn near miraculous.

Monster of the Week is a solid B+ game that can work well telling a pretty broad range of stories, but for the types of stories it's designed to tell, Masks is absolutely an A+
 

I've played Brindlewood Bay with multiple groups and each has been totally charmed by it. The most appealing thing about it is the theme: Murder She Wrote and Golden Girls meets Lovecraft mythos. The most innovative thing about it is that there is no canonical "solution" to the mystery; players have to work in as many clues into a sensible narrative and then they roll to see if they are correct (or, correct with complications). Oh and also it has player-narrated commercials, which are fun. Otherwise it's pretty stripped down in terms of "moves." The thing I find most frustrating about it is distinguishing between what a success with complication vs a failure looks like, since the advice is to make a "hard move" (eg. character death) on the former, with the idea that the player can resist it. Also I think a longer mini-campaign might get a bit cloying with the theme. I do want to try The Between sometime this year, a game with related mechanics but more serious tone.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Masks: A New Generation is, and I feel comfortable saying that this is with no hyperbole, the absolute best designed TTRPG when it comes to translating design intent to design execution. It's not the most open-ended PbtA genre in the world (teen/YA superheroes), but it's not the narrowest, and way it marries coming-of-age narratives and self-identification vs other people's expectations in a mechanically satisfying way is damn near miraculous.

Monster of the Week is a solid B+ game that can work well telling a pretty broad range of stories, but for the types of stories it's designed to tell, Masks is absolutely an A+
I was going to mention Masks, but this is a much better post than I would have written. I am a life-long fan of superheroes and RPGs. Masks is easily in my top two favorite superhero RPGs of all time.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I've played Brindlewood Bay with multiple groups and each has been totally charmed by it. The most appealing thing about it is the theme: Murder She Wrote and Golden Girls meets Lovecraft mythos. The most innovative thing about it is that there is no canonical "solution" to the mystery; players have to work in as many clues into a sensible narrative and then they roll to see if they are correct (or, correct with complications). Oh and also it has player-narrated commercials, which are fun. Otherwise it's pretty stripped down in terms of "moves." The thing I find most frustrating about it is distinguishing between what a success with complication vs a failure looks like, since the advice is to make a "hard move" (eg. character death) on the former, with the idea that the player can resist it. Also I think a longer mini-campaign might get a bit cloying with the theme. I do want to try The Between sometime this year, a game with related mechanics but more serious tone.
Are BB and Between pbtA games? Fully agree and recommend, just not sure if they are PbtA...
 


Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
A bit more on Monster of the Week: It is a sleekly designed machine to tell one kind of story, the "monster of the week" episodes of Supernatural, Buffy, X-Files, Kolchak and so on. (I think I remember that the game was originally designed as a homebrew system to run a Supernatural campaign.)

The playbooks create pretty much every character from those series -- sometimes pretty blatantly -- but with enough flexibility to make things your own. (When I run it, I intend to have the Chosen One be chosen by a UFO cult, rather than a bunch of upper class English twits, for instance.)

The player-side mechanics help drive the plot forward, with every playbook having some sort of related plot hook (maybe you're working against a conspiracy that attempts to foil your monster hunting, maybe you are fated to die saving the world, etc.) that ticks forward when you accomplish certain things or spend XP.

Player characters are heroic badasses to various degrees (even the sidekick types get to have their moments, as in BtVS's "The Zeppo"), with failures typically being partial successes or successes with a cost. But eventually, the fight against monsters will consume them all, leading to another monster hunter taking their place. (Player characters have a non-replenishing Luck score, and when a character's Luck runs out, you should start thinking seriously about your next character.)

Adventures have an open-ended design, typically featuring a monster with an unknown weakness that has to be discovered in order to defeat them. But there's a ticking clock: If the players dither, the monster's agenda keeps moving forward with some sort of horrible event happening when the clock has ticked down. So the player characters are spurred into action to get investigating and attempting to disrupt the activities of the unbeatable-at-the-moment monster in the meantime.

It's episodic in nature, but the player-side plot engines form campaign arcs through regular play. And if they're at all synched up, you can expect one hell of a season finale every dozen or so sessions.

There's a new crowdfunding campaign to introduce new settings and group playbooks via a supplement (play Locke & Key or Penny Dreadful in Monster of the Week!) and a new hardcover version of the game, with a bit of new material (including material from a prior supplement I suspect they want to let fall out of print) comes out on Feb. 27.

This is not Hunter: The Vigil, with hunters eventually becoming serial killers who justify their actions for the greater good, or even the upcoming Apocalypse Keys, which is more Hellboy trying to prevent the world (or becoming the thing that will cause the end of the world himself).

But if you ever wanted to play a government monster hunter having to look over their shoulder for the conspirators lurking in the shadows of their own agency, or the criminal who's seen too many things in the dark to look away any more, or even a vampire (or werewolf or angel or whatever) siding with humans against the supernatural -- and especially if you want all of these folks to team up -- this is the game for you.
 
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Reynard

Legend
Supporter
A bit more on Monster of the Week: It is a sleekly designed machine to tell one kind of story, the "monster of the week" episodes of Supernatural, Buffy, X-Files, Kolchak and so on. (I think I remember that the game was originally designed as a homebrew system to run a Supernatural campaign.)

The playbooks create pretty much every character from those series -- sometimes pretty blatantly -- but with enough flexibility to make things your own. (When I run it, I intend to have the Chosen One be chosen by a UFO cult, rather than a bunch of upper class English twits, for instance.)

The player-side mechanics help drive the plot forward, with every playbook having some sort of related plot hook (maybe you're working against a conspiracy that attempts to foil your monster hunting, maybe you are fated to die saving the world, etc.) that ticks forward when you accomplish certain things or spend XP.

Player characters are heroic and badasses to various degrees (even the sidekick types get to have their moments, as in BtVS's "The Zeppo"), with failures typically being partial successes or successes with a cost. But eventually, the fight against the monster will consume them all, leading to another monster hunter taking their place.

Adventures have an open-ended design, typically featuring a monster with an unknown weakness that has to be discovered in order to defeat them. But there's a ticking clock: If the players dither, the monster's agenda keeps moving forward with some sort of horrible event happening when the clock has ticked down. So the player characters are spurred into action to get investigating and attempting to disrupt the activities of the unbeatable-at-the-moment monster in the meantime.

It's episodic in nature, but the player-side plot engines form campaign arcs through regular play. And if they're at all synched up, you can expect one hell of a season finale every dozen or so sessions.

There's a new crowdfunding campaign to introduce new settings and group playbooks via a supplement (play Locke & Key or Penny Dreadful in Monster of the Week!) and a new hardcover version of the game, with a bit of new material (including material from a prior supplement I suspect they want to let fall out of print) comes out on Feb. 27.

This is not Hunter: The Vigil, with hunters eventually becoming serial killers who justify their actions for the greater good, or even the upcoming Apocalypse Keys, which is more Hellboy trying to prevent the world (or becoming the thing that will cause the end of the world himself).

But if you ever wanted to play a government monster hunter having to look over their shoulder for the conspirators lurking in the shadows of their own agency, or the criminal who's seen too many things in the dark to look away any more, or even a vampire (or werewolf or angel or whatever) siding with humans against the supernatural -- and especially if you want all of these folks to team up -- this is the game for you.
Now THIS ^^^ is a good sell. Bravo.
 

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