PbtA Games: Sell One Well +

Apocalypse World - the original. Passionately and intelligently written, it's got a compelling vision of who its protagonists are, clear instructions on how to ensure player characters decisions are the beating heart of events, and GM advice which distills decades of good practice into clear and digestible principles.

The playbooks are wonderful - every character starts scary and capable. And while they're not all instantly recognisable archetypes, there's artistry in them - from the can't-take-your-eyes-off-them compulsion of the Skinner to the charismatic high-wire act of the cult-leader Hocus.

The call and answer of fictional action and move resolution gives the game a deceptively simple rhythm which everyone can grasp. But the fact the characters are each independently capable allows every player to do their own thing without needing to find artificial ways to co-operate for every minute of every day. And, as the game develops, it will become clear that there are uneasy alliances between characters, or marriages of convenience threatening to fracture and split and then be healed in the face of the ever greater scarcity that the game uses to create pressure.

The only controversy I can think of is the inclusion of sex as a move. It's a game for grown-ups, which includes the idea that in a post apocalyptic landscape companionship and intimacy will be scarce and valuable. The game represents that mechanically. I've run more than one campaign where they've not been used by anyone and it doesn't affect the game one bit. They stay exactly like any other move that doesn't get used - a non-event which doesn't affect play.

I have several of the PbtA titles, including Vincent Baker's latest Under Hollow Hills, but AW remains the reference point for me. I've run a lot of games of it, probably more than anything else since its release, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone of an open mind.
 
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It's wildly controversial for four reasons.

1) It's trying to be basically "compatible" with material from another game system, so makes some very intentional and considered design choices to do so, which offend some PtbA purists (HP, for example). It also encourages people to use existing D&D materials, which again, massively offends certain purists (including DW purists), who feel the entire world/setting should flow from the players and the system - which DW is quite capable of doing, but doesn't require in the same way some PtbA games do.

2) One of the systems it introduces is basically just a worse version of an extant PbtA system - Fronts are basically just PtbA clocks done in a messed-up way, and I don't think they're very helpful or worth the space the rulebook spends on them. Personally I'd suggest people playing DW just totally ignore Fronts.

3) I'm not sure how to put this perfectly kindly but it upsets the most gentle lambs of the world, a lot of whom seem to play certain other PtbA games, because it intentionally emulates D&D, which they see as inherently pro-colonizer, pro-violence (perhaps even pro-genocide), pro-raiding and so on. I'm not kidding nor overstating here, to be clear. And they are, on a level, correct. D&D has always been quite about those things - "Kill monsters and take their stuff" - and you can see this reflected in a lot of Gygax's own comments (including his "nits make lice" approving reference, or his description in the '00s of how a Paladin should operate). But for the vast majority of D&D players, that's either not an issue, or just not how they see it, which is imho also totally valid and possibly more reasonable.

I can even link (if I look hard enough) a thread from the non-controversial co-designer where he talks about what he'd change for a DW 2nd edition, and it's like, basically everything that makes it D&D-like and focuses on violent conflict.

4) One of the two co-designers got in a lot of controversy for a genuinely creepy incident from his home game and sort of did a Mike Mearls and vanished from public. Like Mearls being an eejit and friends with people who aren't great, I don't think this has any real bearing on the game but it certainly influences some attitudes about it, esp. from the sort of people who also think maybe "Killing monsters and taking their stuff" isn't cool.

TLDR - Only reason 1 really matters if you care about PtbA, and I don't think it matters a whole lot - indeed if anything I think it DW makes a more gentle introduction to PtbA. You're jumping a 5' gap instead of a 10' one.
Not to turn this into a DW debate thread but fronts were not invented by DW, they're from AW. I would also contend that DW is no more compatible with D&D than any other random RPG! It emulates the genre of D&D, but that too is hardly unique...

I would also point out it's a lot less likely to turn into a murderhobo fest than most any OSR. There are really solid mechanisms to build other paradigms off of, as Stonetop illustrates. Maybe there could be some better playbooks (ST again) to facilitate that but as is the players can easily go in that direction.
 




I'm terrible at selling things, but I find Sagas of the Icelanders one of the most unique PbtA in the sense that it does (norse settlers) family drama in a way that's nuanced and deliberate, while also having it's share of explosive moments. Its almost like the anti-Monsterhearts in this sense.

Oh, and it also has the best move I've seen, from The Matriarch, where on a success she may order someone younger to shut the naughty word up. And the other player must obey (or lose precious Bonds).
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Is there a non-Masks supers PbtA game? I don't care for teen drama as a genre, superheroic or otherwise.
There’s Worlds in Peril and the more BitD sequel Galaxies in Peril. I’ve skimmed but neither read nor played either so cannot give a review or rec either way.

As a note: I’ve used Masks to run an adult-characters Suicide Squad game. Switch the “teenager” to “criminal” and it works almost just as well.
 


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