What do you think about Powered by the Apocalypse games?

Hex08

Adventurer
I've seen some discussion on these boards about PbtA games but I am not at all familiar with them. The discussions got me curious so I got my hands on the pdfs of Apocalypse World, Dungeon World and Ironsworn but haven't sat down to read them yet. It will be a while before I will have the chance to sit down with them but I am curious to see what other's think about them. For those of you that are familiar with the games and the PbtA system, what do you think? What's good about the games and system and what's not so good?
 
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hawkeyefan

Legend
As a group, the quality is a bit all over the place. Some versions are great. Some are not.

The ones you listed, including the one that started the whole subset, are among the ones widely considered great.

Opinions on the play procedures and rules will vary, of course. Generally speaking, the rules are far more player facing and players are more involved in driving the game. Characters have Playbooks, which is very much like class, but lists all the different special abilities and moves for the character. There are also basic moves available to all. These moves have outcomes that will drive play based on the results of a roll.

It is a bit of a change from D&D and similar games, although probably not as big a change as some folks may claim. The game is meant to eschew the prep heavy, GM-directed play associated with D&D and similar games, and is instead focused on finding out what happens during play. The mechanics are designed to promote this. The idea is to not have a pre-authored plot where the players simply have their characters proceed along the predetermined path to complete "the story".

I'm currently playing in a PbtA game of Stonetop, which is a take on Dungeon World, and so far it's been a lot of fun.
 

Yora

Legend
It's a great set of core mechanics.

It's not a good idea for every kind of adventures and settings. And executions can vary widely.

I think Apocalypse World is the best game of the bunch I've seen, as the mechanics were created for that specific vision of adventures. Which is very weird and quirky and meant to be irreverent chaos.
On the other end is Dungeon World, which I think was a really stupid idea from the start. Don't use mechanics designed to create an experience very different from D&D to recreate the experience of D&D.
 

timbannock

Adventurer
I'm really glad they are out there. Some of the best GMing advice ever written comes from those games.

But I don't enjoy running them. Moves and the high degree of player-driven setting creation are at odds with how I run games.
 

They are one of the few games you can play " wrong".

Needs lots player buy-in and being comfortable with opposing player agendas.
Players need to be happy with some agency loss on occasion.
Certainly certificate 15+ in most experiences I've seen.
No dice roll is wasted or unneccesary.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I ran a great campaign of Dungeon World back in the mid-2010's. I would say it hasn't aged well, and a lot of PbtA tech has improved since then. But it's not terrible and we had a blast. Light prep was definitely what happened.

The thing with PbtA that I've noticed is often moves can snowball quickly, because the 7-9 destabilizes the situation, and then that leads to more attempts at difficult things; which leads to more rolls that are both good and bad, and to solve the bad things more rolls are needed which leads to more attempts at difficult things etc etc etc.
 

I have found them a bit frustrating. The emphasis on not needing prep, and on making sure that something happens every roll, led to an experience where nothing can ever be simple; everything leads to more scenes and improv activities. My preference is for systems like FATE where you CAN do that, not where you are forced into it. Sometimes you just want to see if the guard can be bribed, not start a whole new guard-complication arc.

But, a lot of people like it, and it is absolutely solidly constructed and the versions I have played work well, so it’s definitely worth trying out and seeing if you like it.
 

Don't care for them. I prefer more crunch, and a full exercise of my Roll20 Pro settings. Is I pay $100 for a service, any campaign I run is going to fully use that service.
 


jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
The problem is, there is not really such a thing as standard "Apocalypse Engine" game anymore. There are tons of different permutations on the market - some for solo play, some with laser focused playbooks, some with only a list of moves, etc. I like the core of the system quite a bit but, for example, my love for playbooks depends heavily on how they're implemented in a given game (I've hated them in some games, been ambivalent to them in others, and even enjoyed a few). I've enjoyed Monster of the Week, for example. I hated Tremulus.
 

innerdude

Legend
I can speak to the two systems I've tried.

Dungeon World was . . . okay. Not great, but okay. The biggest problem it has is that it doesn't give you enough real, solid examples of how to really handle the way it's supposed to work. I also found the D&D trappings to distract from the intent of the system, rather than aid it.

Ironsworn, on the other hand, is AMAZING. Some of the most fun I've had in RPG play in the past six or seven years. Whatever faults Dungeon World has in explaining how PbtA is supposed to work, Ironsworn solves them. It's a brilliant introduction to "fiction first" / PbtA gaming.

The way the mechanics interact and tune to the story, characters, and setting are nothing short of brilliant.

For me, Ironsworn is a good litmus test to see if PbtA is for you. Try running a short 2 hour solo session of Ironsworn and see how you like it. If you "grok" it, it's a good bet you'll find PbtA to your taste (though as others have said, quality of implementation across the PbtA spectrum varies wildly).
 

FriendlyFiend

Explorer
Ironsworn, on the other hand, is AMAZING. Some of the most fun I've had in RPG play in the past six or seven years. Whatever faults Dungeon World has in explaining how PbtA is supposed to work, Ironsworn solves them. It's a brilliant introduction to "fiction first" / PbtA gaming.
I'll second the praise for Ironsworn. As a relative newcomer to PbtA games, it was the most welcoming incarnation of the system I've seen - explained well, easy to understand and to execute. Plus it works well for group, GM-less and solo play.
 

Aldarc

Legend
The problem is, there is not really such a thing as standard "Apocalypse Engine" game anymore.
There is Apocalypse World. 🤷‍♂️

There are tons of different permutations on the market - some for solo play, some with laser focused playbooks, some with only a list of moves, etc. I like the core of the system quite a bit but, for example, my love for playbooks depends heavily on how they're implemented in a given game (I've hated them in some games, been ambivalent to them in others, and even enjoyed a few). I've enjoyed Monster of the Week, for example. I hated Tremulus.
I agree with this. Like the d20 System, Fate, or any flavor of the month system, there is a lot of "meh" and lackluster PbtA products out there. However, there are also a number of high quality products that either use PbtA (cf. Magpie Games) or were heavily influenced by it and have since become their own thing (e.g., Ironsworn, Blades in the Dark, etc.).

Dungeon World was . . . okay. Not great, but okay. The biggest problem it has is that it doesn't give you enough real, solid examples of how to really handle the way it's supposed to work. I also found the D&D trappings to distract from the intent of the system, rather than aid it.
This is where, IMHO, Stonetop succeeds where Dungeon World fails. Jeremy Strandberg and Jason Lutes bring a tremendous wealth of experience with Dungeon World, both running and hacking it. The Stonetop playtest documents are filled to the brim with various examples of play. Stonetop is a pretty good patch for Dungeon World, with many changes addressing various issues that Jeremy and Jason have experienced as part of playing and hacking Dungeon World.

Ironsworn, on the other hand, is AMAZING. Some of the most fun I've had in RPG play in the past six or seven years. Whatever faults Dungeon World has in explaining how PbtA is supposed to work, Ironsworn solves them. It's a brilliant introduction to "fiction first" / PbtA gaming.

The way the mechanics interact and tune to the story, characters, and setting are nothing short of brilliant.

For me, Ironsworn is a good litmus test to see if PbtA is for you. Try running a short 2 hour solo session of Ironsworn and see how you like it. If you "grok" it, it's a good bet you'll find PbtA to your taste (though as others have said, quality of implementation across the PbtA spectrum varies wildly).
One of the things that I find incredibly new-player friendly about Ironsworn are all the flow charts in the book that help players (and/or GMs) understand not only what play is supposed to look like but how one play procedure should lead to the next.

The thing with PbtA that I've noticed is often moves can snowball quickly, because the 7-9 destabilizes the situation, and then that leads to more attempts at difficult things; which leads to more rolls that are both good and bad, and to solve the bad things more rolls are needed which leads to more attempts at difficult things etc etc etc.
That is an intentional part of the PbtA design. There is a certain love of "snowballing" dramatic situations among Vincent Baker and his designer peers. I recall someone else - possibly either @Manbearcat or @hawkeyefan - argue that PbtA was effectively designed around what happens on 7-9 dice results.
 

amethal

Adventurer
I find many of the PbtA games to be very intriguing. I'd love to try out something like Mountain Home (technically Forged in the Dark rather than PbtA, but I think that's close enough for the purpose of this discussion) which I could in theory play in Pathfinder, just to see how it went with a much different approach to what we normally use.

I also think the more inexperienced, less "rules obsessed" members of our group would probably love something like Urban Shadows and be much better at getting into it than the rest of us number crunchers. However, the number crunchers would probably hate it, and end up ruining the game (all the while blaming the system and not their failure to engage with it properly). I include myself in that (apart from the blame bit!)
 

I've got a pretty extensive experience running these games and their Forged in the Dark offshoots. I've run:

Apocalypse World
Dungeon World
Masks
Monsterhearts
Streets of Mos Eisley
The Between
Stonetop
Blades in the Dark
Scum and Villainy

Of those, I've run AW, DW, and BitD the most for probably ~ 1600ish hours worth of play.

I don't agree with the ENWorld consensus on Dungeon World (like not even close to agreement...as anti-agreement as there could possibly be). However, if you're looking to play Dungeon World in 2022, I would highly recommend using Strandberg's (he is one of the author's of Stonetop) Perilous Wilds supplement for Perilous Journeys and Followers/Cohorts (and his superior breakdown of Dangers and Discoveries). Further, I would suggest using Stonetop's iteration of the basic moves as several of them are updated/better versions.

Its difficult to talk about these things without knowing specific questions that someone might have. I don't know what you don't know (for instance) and I don't know how allergic you are to certain concepts and how amenable you are to trying something new.

What you may want to do is check out the thread for the Stonetop game that @hawkeyefan mentioned above. He is playing the Judge (a chronicler/paladin archetype) so he is taking significant notes on sessions and uploading them to the thread. I'm then breaking out/mapping the framing/soft moves I make > the moves that are triggered as conversation proceeds > their results/consequences. The Stonetop thread is here. Feel free to drop into that thread, give it a look-over, and ask any questions that you have. The players or myself will gladly answer them for you. I've also got tons of Dungeon World posts with broken down play excerpts and conversation around here so just search my name with keyword "DW" or "Dungeon World" or "Spout Lore" or "Discern Realities" (or some other relevant phrase).

If you're quite interested in running one of these games, you would do well to watch someone who is proficient at both running and playing these games. They require proficiency and aggressiveness in both GMing and in playing. You have to advocate and push hard and constantly observe play principles and best practices. If you're interested in that, I can check with my Stonetop group and see if they are ok with you watching play. Or, you can go on youtube and watch some of Strandberg's running of his game Stonetop (I haven't watched any of it, but I assume he's rather proficient!).

Presently, I would recommend either Apocalypse World or Dungeon World with Perilous Wilds supplement/Stonetop updates or Stonetop itself if you can get your hands on the playtest docs. Or Blades in the Dark.

EDIT for Aldarc's mention:

That is an intentional part of the PbtA design. There is a certain love of "snowballing" dramatic situations among Vincent Baker and his designer peers. I recall someone else - possibly either @Manbearcat or @hawkeyefan - argue that PbtA was effectively designed around what happens on 7-9 dice results.

Yup. These games are designed to produce (roughly) a bell curve distribution of results with 2/3-ish falling into that Success With Complication result. This means that the bulk of play will produce a snowballing resolution paradigm (or a game of "spinning plates") whereby thematic conflict (escalating the present situation, or new dangers, or new potentially spiraling situations, or new omens of ill portent, or new opportunities with cost) continuously emerges merely as a byproduct of just playing the game.
 
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Retreater

Legend
I've run one short Monster of the Week campaign and two short Dungeon World campaigns. I think they're fun systems in limited doses. In fact, I'd recommend any DM/GM of D&D or PF read through a book and try running a couple sessions for the experience.
The system doesn't seem to be set up for longer play. After about 4 sessions, your characters get too good to be challenged by much.
 

nyvinter

Explorer
Longer play depends on the implementation as always. Noir World is geared towards oneshots and being GMless, whereas I've found that both Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and City of Mist are amazing in long term. In fact, a two-year Legacy camapign is at the top of the campaigns I've played in.

XP on failure seems to be one of those things that look great on paper, but in play speed advancement up far too much. This means PbtA's that have adopted that mechanic will lean towards shorter campaigns even if they in theory could go on for far longer.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
What you may want to do is check out the thread for the Stonetop game that @hawkeyefan mentioned above. He is playing the Judge (a chronicler/paladin archetype) so he is taking significant notes on sessions and uploading them to the thread. I'm then breaking out/mapping the framing/soft moves I make > the moves that are triggered as conversation proceeds > their results/consequences. The Stonetop thread is here.

Thanks for the reminder that I need to get the notes from last session up. I’ll try and do that today!
 

payn

Legend
I wouldn't run a fantasy game with it, I'd just prefer classic D&D/PF. I do enjoy using PbtA to emulate Television experiences. I was in a game run by Retreater that was Monster of the Week. One player seemed to really want to make the game like Super Natural. Another seemed to want maybe something like X-Files. I took a riff off a few GM jokes and went in a Fargo direction (complete with accent). It all boiled together to make a mix of all those things and was a real fun time.

I also was in a few Masks one shots. I did this as a favor for a friend as I don't really like the supers genre. Though, I think PbtA does Supers really well actually. The character playbook "moves" seems ideal for supers. You get a few strengths and a few weaknesses to play off. Its very pulpy and well suited for that style of play.

Mechanically, I do like the level up system. You have a number of choices to increase stats, add moves, etc.. The damage system is more abstract, but has enough mechanical heft to make sense. It's easy to grok and most folks should get it by the end of the first session in my experience.

For role play, this is a good stepping stone system if players are stuck playing stone avatars in mechanical heavy games like D&D. I do find that the simple character sheet can at times seem a bit limiting to the imagination, but it can also hyper focus you on staying in character. Which is why it makes me think of TV/comic characters so much. Often, these characters dont get a lot of diverse development, and have a strong singular focus on their personality and relationships. Which is why if I wanted to do The Orville at the game table this would work, but probably wouldn't for The Expanse.

The skinny: I enjoy PbtA, it's mechanics are easy to grasp and do what you need them to. My desire to join up a game or not would likely be based on theme. This can do pulpy adventure in a wide variety of subjects, but might not have the mechanical heft that is required in some instances.
 

I have played it quite a lot. I game with some friends who really like it
It's not quite my thing. The whole shoe horning everything into a move bugs me no end
I'm not in anyway a fan of Post Apocalypse films, books, etc. Didn't enjoy DW.
I really enjoyed Masks the few times I played it. Cartel one off was great, but the players were top notch.

I do like BITD which is different enough to PBTA for me to enjoy.
 

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