What do you think about Powered by the Apocalypse games?

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Possibly?

Im assuming your phone autocorrected “conscientious” to “contentious?”

My point was two-fold:

1) There is an idea that, contrasted with say high prep Trad GMing, these games are somehow less GMing intensive rather than a different kind of intensivty. That needs correction.

2) The deftness and conscientiousness comes in the following way. At every moment of play:

  • Always hew to the games agenda.
  • Always constrain your GMing by the principles of the game.
  • Know the rules and follow them ruthlessly.
  • Know the game’s premise (in PBtA games that includes the End of Session reward relationship) and stay on top of it with each moment of framing and consequence.
  • Know the players’ playbook themes, the players’ interests as the relate to that, and PC dramatic needs. At every soft move and hard move you should be engaging with the first two and putting pressure on/providing opposition to the last one…all while you’re doing all of the stuff above…and also working hard to not recycle content/tropes.
  • Lead an interesting conversation which involves asking provocative questions (which you need to have a corpus of developed thought to even know what those might be), listen and absorb the answers, and incorporate them deftly.
  • Create decision-points that are stimulating from a gameplay perspective and provocative from a premise/dramatic need perspective.
  • Continuously update in your mind the ever-accreting setting that is, in large part, being procedurally generated in-situ. You have to stay on top of this in subsequent framing and consequences.
  • Play true to your NPC/hazard/obstacles instincts/tags/moves while you do all of the above.

So yeah. Extremely deft and conscientious GMing at each moment of play. Play won’t come close to falling apart (the systems are too nimble and sufficiently resilient to average GMing…I know this because even on my off-nights GMing, the games are still quite enjoyable), but it will elevate in proportion to increased deftness and conscientiousness in GMing. When I’m “my best self” the games are dramatically better than when I’m just “meh.”

EDIT - I hope that last bit heartens @Hex08 . Even if your first foray into running one of these games feels like a forgettable performance by your standards, these games have a “high floor.” It’s almost a sure thing your “meh” effort was at or above that floor and therefore enjoyable enough (assuming you’re running the games correctly - eg doing what I’ve outlined above).
See, I’d have lead with the last (pre-edit) paragraph, and then gone into what especially good GMing requires in these systems.

Because yeah, it seemed odd to me to see someone claim that they require the very high bar you seemed to be describing.

It reads more like you see these games as benefit more from those traits and skills than tradition games do, and that lacking them or refusing to develop them will make it difficult to go beyond a fairly casual experience with these games?

Anyway excellent explanation, thank you.

I think I really need to spend more time with some pbta and fitd games, but I also think that I’m on the right track for my game by staying semi-adjacent to both the pbtafitd (seriously there has to be a good umbrella term for games with the general feel, priorities, etc) and more traditional games.

Just gotta find one to dive into that interests my group and I, but it’s thematically similar to D&D, or to “real world modern day but supernatural stuff secretly exists” (bc that’s what my game is, and it’s easier for me to be productive on it if I’m not steeped in someone else’s vision of it).

Isn’t there a “totally not Star Wars” pbta game?
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So I have a longtime player (we started gaming together in the late 1990s) who is a big fan of OSR systems. He has taken the lessons from our PbtA to change his DMing style in his home OSR game. He's gone from "the method of DMing from Gary Gygax's 1st edition AD&D DMG is the only proper way to run a game" to "I'm going to incorporate moves, complications, etc from Dungeon World into my OSR game."
I think that there is something to learn from every game system, and it's well worth trying out what you can to see what lessons you can apply.
Hell yeah.

I love complications, but prefer skills as portal gun engines to moves. I can def see how moves would benefit OSR style gaming, though.
 

Aldarc

Legend
And I guess this is why it doesn't work for me. It says that the focus is "see what your characters do" but in practice, because much of the time any action results in success with a complication, it seems more like the focus is "see what the world does to your character". When I play Fate, if I fail to interrogate a suspect, I can choose simply to fail and then try something else, or I might decide to use one of my character aspects, or I might succeed with a complication -- but the focus is on my character and what they do. When I play a PbtA game, that has not been the case. Very often my dice roll results not in a choice over what I do (accept failure, put in more effort, accept a consequence) but in the world taking over focus and doing something.

As an example, from AW p137 "Act Under Fire" the suggestion is that if you roll 7-9 on dragging a friend to cover, you offer the player a choice between one of the two of you getting shot. That sort of thing I found frustrating. There's no option to say "this is important to my character, I'm willing to burn something just to make it work", there's no option to say "I'd prefer to simply fail and try a different approach". There isn't even the suggestion that a player could choose a complication (although I'm guessing most GMs would allow that).
So in Stonetop you can (sorta)! There is a move called "Burn Brightly." If you have enough XP to level-up your PC - who can't technically level-up while on expedition - you can spend 2 XP to provide an additional +1 bonus to a roll. The game also uses Advantage (3d6, discard lowest) and Disadvantage (3d6, discard highest). I personally would not be opposed to making FitD-style Devil's Bargains with players for Advantage or even to turn a Failure into a Complicated Success.

I have often seen complications negotiated at the table with players. "Okay, you were jumping across the ravine. You barely made it after some scrambling, but what did you lose or sacrificeto make it across? Health, Resources, an Item? Or have you gained a Condition?"
 

Aldarc

Legend
Just gotta find one to dive into that interests my group and I, but it’s thematically similar to D&D, or to “real world modern day but supernatural stuff secretly exists” (bc that’s what my game is, and it’s easier for me to be productive on it if I’m not steeped in someone else’s vision of it).

Fantasy Adventure
  • Dungeon World & Spin-Offs
    • World of Dungeons: what if DW was based on OD&D?
    • Freebooters on the Frontier
    • Homebrew World
    • Stonetop: 4E D&D -> Dungeon World -> Iron Age "Hearth Fantasy"
  • Fantasy World: a less D&D-derived PbtA fantasy
  • Fellowship: Good Guys Save the World (players) vs. the Overlord (one player)
  • Fallen Empires: Vincent Baker's fantasy hack of Apocalypse World

Urban Fantasy
  • Urban Modern Fantasy: Dungeon World + d20 Modern.
  • Monster of the Week: Supernatural, Scooby Doo, and X-Files.
  • Urban Shadows: PbtA Vampire / Werewolf / Mage / etc. focused on supernatural politics
  • City of Mists: ordinary people who are reincarnations of myths, legends, etc.
  • Monsterhearts: supernatural horny teenagers in high school (e.g., Twilight, Teen Wolf, Vampire Diaries, Buffy, etc.)

Isn’t there a “totally not Star Wars” pbta game?
There is a "totally not Star Wars / Firefly / Cowboy Bebop" FitD game: i.e., Scum and Villany.

If I were to do a "totally not Star Wars" pbta game, I would probably look at how Magpie Games does Avatar Legends or Masks, where the point is less about the powers and more about the character arcs and dramatic beats.

So if I wanted to play Luke, I would not be picking "Jedi Knight" as a playbook, but possibly a playbook more akin to "The Successor" (tradition vs. progress) or "The Icon" (role vs. freedom) from Avatar Legends depending on the story beats that I want to emphasize for the character. Whereas I might pick "The Pillar" (support vs. leadership) for Leia and "The Rogue" (friendship vs. survival) for Han Solo.
 

So I have a longtime player (we started gaming together in the late 1990s) who is a big fan of OSR systems. He has taken the lessons from our PbtA to change his DMing style in his home OSR game. He's gone from "the method of DMing from Gary Gygax's 1st edition AD&D DMG is the only proper way to run a game" to "I'm going to incorporate moves, complications, etc from Dungeon World into my OSR game."
I think that there is something to learn from every game system, and it's well worth trying out what you can to see what lessons you can apply.
The always excellent and talented designer Jason Cordova does a podcast (Fear of a Black Dragon) that's sort of unofficially about the intersection of story game and OSR play styles. He mentions pretty frequently that he thinks the two communities have more in common than they might realize, compared to trad gamers/play styles. I think that makes a lot of sense--the emphasis on emergent narratives, the notion of letting it ride (leaning into the dice rolls and random factors), and even the fact that both play styles are often openly, unapologetically "hard" on PCs. For all the talk of story games being hippy games or whatever, a typical PbtA campaign tears its PCs up in relatively short order. Sometimes that means lots of deaths by the end, or maybe it means personal tragedies and defeats, vulnerabilities constantly exploited by the GM, not to mention playbooks that say you're doomed, and they mean it, since the GM really is supposed to doom you. OSR and story games really require PCs to not be overly precious about their characters, and definitely not to assume success or survival.

I think what you're describing here sounds great, and something like it happened to me, too. I've been pulling elements from Blades and Stonetop into my long-running trad game, dropping more and more mechanics that share narrative control, and my players are diving into those elements. I've also started leaning hard on something like a PbtA-style Die of Fate or FitD-style Fortune roll to let a dice roll determine the overall goodness or badness of a new situation, forcing myself to improvise as much as possible, but letting the game surprise me more.

So I definitely agree about applying lessons. The only thing I'd add is something I yammered about upthread, which is that I think it takes some serious work for an experienced trad-game GM to rewire their brain to the PbtA/FitD approach, before they can start cutting and pasting those ideas. But I obviously think it's worth it!

(Kind of a tangent here, but One Night Strahd is, to me, an example of what happens when 5e gets infected by PbtA ideas and mechanics. In a good way!)
 

Sounds a lot like Sons of Anarchy the board game. (Not a bad thing in my opinion)
Very accurate, and as @Fenris-77 mentioned there are hacks that do that pretty explicitly (I only know of Copperhead County, but there have to be others).

But that Heat and Crew-based approach is more flexible than that, too. In Scum and Villainy you aren't creating a true criminal organization, you're just sci-fi scoundrels pulling illegal jobs, so the mechanics help model your relationship with the authorities, as well as the various syndicates you're inevitably going to ally with, piss off, play against each other, etc. To me the biggest benefit is providing very clear stakes to the PCs, and to yourself. So instead of basically saying you're either completely off the police's radar or you're public enemy number one, it lets you show your group's movement along that spectrum.

But it also encourages really cool, genre-appropriate behaviors and pacing. If your Heat goes way up, maybe you spend downtime laying low, dropping Heat over time. That breaks up the traditional and usually kinda dumb pacing in a lot of RPGs, where you're tracking every hour of the PCs' lives, and they're barreling through a lifetime of conflicts and traumatic events in the space of two weeks. Heat slows things down (without making you play out every moment of those downtime stretches) and helps you establish the characters' lives. And it also makes it more interesting and dramatic, imo, when the players decide, to hell with it, this is worth massive amounts of Heat.

In theory, that sort of mechanic could work in a fantasy game where some faction is trying to impose law and order. It can work beautifully in a rebellion narrative (Brinkwood: The Blood of Tyrants might use it that way), or a cyberpunk game, etc. Players aren't necessarily the villains in most RPGs, but they're rarely the cops, and even if they are they're rarely doing much of anything by the book. Heat and all of its mechanical ramifications and story hooks meet PCs where they are, while also sort of holding the larger narrative together.

At least until the end of the campaign looms, and they go full GTA mode.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Just gotta find one to dive into that interests my group and I, but it’s thematically similar to D&D, or to “real world modern day but supernatural stuff secretly exists” (bc that’s what my game is, and it’s easier for me to be productive on it if I’m not steeped in someone else’s vision of it).

Isn’t there a “totally not Star Wars” pbta game?
You're probably thinking of Scum and Villainy, which is indeed a "totally not Star Wars" game, but it's Forged in the Dark rather than PbtA. It is really awesome though. I know that there are a couple of PbtA "Totally not Star Trek" games, but I don't know if there's a good PbtA space opera game. There probably is, I'm just not familiar with it.
 
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payn

Legend
Very accurate, and as @Fenris-77 mentioned there are hacks that do that pretty explicitly (I only know of Copperhead County, but there have to be others).

But that Heat and Crew-based approach is more flexible than that, too. In Scum and Villainy you aren't creating a true criminal organization, you're just sci-fi scoundrels pulling illegal jobs, so the mechanics help model your relationship with the authorities, as well as the various syndicates you're inevitably going to ally with, piss off, play against each other, etc. To me the biggest benefit is providing very clear stakes to the PCs, and to yourself. So instead of basically saying you're either completely off the police's radar or you're public enemy number one, it lets you show your group's movement along that spectrum.

But it also encourages really cool, genre-appropriate behaviors and pacing. If your Heat goes way up, maybe you spend downtime laying low, dropping Heat over time. That breaks up the traditional and usually kinda dumb pacing in a lot of RPGs, where you're tracking every hour of the PCs' lives, and they're barreling through a lifetime of conflicts and traumatic events in the space of two weeks. Heat slows things down (without making you play out every moment of those downtime stretches) and helps you establish the characters' lives. And it also makes it more interesting and dramatic, imo, when the players decide, to hell with it, this is worth massive amounts of Heat.

In theory, that sort of mechanic could work in a fantasy game where some faction is trying to impose law and order. It can work beautifully in a rebellion narrative (Brinkwood: The Blood of Tyrants might use it that way), or a cyberpunk game, etc. Players aren't necessarily the villains in most RPGs, but they're rarely the cops, and even if they are they're rarely doing much of anything by the book. Heat and all of its mechanical ramifications and story hooks meet PCs where they are, while also sort of holding the larger narrative together.

At least until the end of the campaign looms, and they go full GTA mode.
Reading thru this I can see how this system would work really well for a friend of mine. He likes all these genre's, but gets bogged down in mechanics of D&D systems. Last Cyberpunk game he ran was a reskin of 5E and turned into a murder sim. Thats pretty typical for him hes a John Wick super fan and lately all his games turn into "...just kill all of them already" type stories. I can see FitD working better for him. (This is also a guy I have played Masks with...One of few games not a murder sim lol)
 

Isn’t there a “totally not Star Wars” pbta game?

Bounty of the Week is a Star Wars hack of Monster of the Week. I haven't played it, but it sounds great (and Gauntlet folks have been running it for years, I believe). Much easier to use this for a more general space opera setting, I think than some of the PbtA SW hacks that lean into Force points and such. FYI the link below is a download link for a zip file of what I believe is the most recent version, but I could be wrong:



There's also Starscape, which looks interesting, designed by the new head of the Happy Jack's RPG podcast network.



EDIT: Big-time personal opinion here, but I think PbtA, like FitD, works best when the premise is as specific and contained as possible. So not "space opera" but "the final mission of the last living Lensmen" or the bounty hunter focus of Bounty of the Week. FitD sort of requires more mechanical constraints than PbtA, but even PbtA's playbooks and overall play loops seem to be more fun and manageable with greater specificity.

Or maybe you can go more generic in premise, but lean into the shorter campaign length? At any rate, I guess I'm saying an open-ended Lensman game might be unwieldy in PbtA, but one where you're all running from the Lensmen for some specific reason, or fighting against them once they inevitably go full fascist, could be easier to pull off.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
There's also Starscape, which looks interesting, designed by the new head of the Happy Jack's RPG podcast network.



EDIT: Big-time personal opinion here, but I think PbtA, like FitD, works best when the premise is as specific and contained as possible. So not "space opera" but "the final mission of the last living Lensmen" or the bounty hunter focus of Bounty of the Week. FitD sort of requires more mechanical constraints than PbtA, but even PbtA's playbooks and overall play loops seem to be more fun and manageable with greater specificity.
Farscape as a PbtA RPG?! :eek::eek::eek: I think I love you for finding this. :love:
 

@Hex08 One more suggestion/observation, that others might not agree with.

I didn't find Apocalypse World to be a great introduction to PbtA, at least for my trad brain. The tone bugged me, and I wasn't interested enough in the specific version of that setting/genre that it's interested in to really follow along. I get its towering impact in the hobby, and I respect it more and more, but it's not my thing.

On the other hand, the PDF of the Avatar RPG that Magpie sent to Kickstarter backers pretty recently is much clearer to me. It's exponentially wordier than AW, and tuned to Avatar's lighter setting and tone, but I think it might be the best intro-to-PbtA I've seen so far, at least if you're trying to imagine using PbtA for a kind of default adventuring play style. Masks is also great, but, imo, a little more streamlined and specific (not just supers, but teen supers, to put the emphasis on emotional stakes). And then something like The Between is even more streamlined and specific, which is great, but I think the trad-to-PbtA transition requires a little (or a lot) more handholding.

So I'm not sure if this is a hot take or not, but I'm basically recommending not starting with AW, but at some point circling back to it to really nail down what the approach is really about (and to appreciate just how brutal PbtA can and sometimes should be).
 

Isn’t there a “totally not Star Wars” pbta game?

I'm really spamming this thread now, but I wanted to add that some of the optional rules in Scum and Villainy are intended to let you lean into a less-gritty, more pulpy space opera feel. For example, I'm still doing long-term prep for using SaV for a Star Wars game, and I definitely plan on using one of the suggested changes, which is to significantly reduce or totally avoid consequences when you resist them.

Specifically, when a PC gets hit with a blaster bolt, giving them a serious injury, but they resist it (taking some Stress in the process) the default system guidance is that they might take a lighter wound, but they're still hit. But since characters in Star Wars are rarely getting winged or kinda-sorta hit by blasters, I'm planning on making that kind of resist roll more of an all-or-nothing situation--the PC takes the hit, or they resist and duck behind cover. There's still flexibility there--if there's no cover to speak of, and the PC has no trick up their sleeve, and just tries to Matrix-dodge a blaster at close range, resting the consequence might still just reduce it.

My point is, that's not a house-rule or hack, but a specific optional rule they provide. The system gives you a lot of neat dials and levers to manipulate, especially if everyone has a decent sense of the tech level, tone, lore, etc. (which is why I also think SaV is maybe easier to run when you play in a setting like Star Wars rather than, say, Firefly, but YMMV)
 

Hex08

Adventurer
I just wanted to say, this has been the most helpful discussion I've been a part of on theses boards. I'm intrigued by both PbtA and FitD games and while I hope to eventually run both types of games I think I am leaning more towards Blades in the Dark as my next campaign (That's still a ways off, I'm currently running a Savage Worlds/East Texas University game and they are just into their junior year then the other GM in the group will probably run a short series of Pathfinder 1E adventures when I am done).
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I'm really spamming this thread now, but I wanted to add that some of the optional rules in Scum and Villainy are intended to let you lean into a less-gritty, more pulpy space opera feel. For example, I'm still doing long-term prep for using SaV for a Star Wars game, and I definitely plan on using one of the suggested changes, which is to significantly reduce or totally avoid consequences when you resist them.

Specifically, when a PC gets hit with a blaster bolt, giving them a serious injury, but they resist it (taking some Stress in the process) the default system guidance is that they might take a lighter wound, but they're still hit. But since characters in Star Wars are rarely getting winged or kinda-sorta hit by blasters, I'm planning on making that kind of resist roll more of an all-or-nothing situation--the PC takes the hit, or they resist and duck behind cover. There's still flexibility there--if there's no cover to speak of, and the PC has no trick up their sleeve, and just tries to Matrix-dodge a blaster at close range, resting the consequence might still just reduce it.

My point is, that's not a house-rule or hack, but a specific optional rule they provide. The system gives you a lot of neat dials and levers to manipulate, especially if everyone has a decent sense of the tech level, tone, lore, etc. (which is why I also think SaV is maybe easier to run when you play in a setting like Star Wars rather than, say, Firefly, but YMMV)
Ok, so, on the game design end of things, I get that you're trying to emulate the PCs not getting hit like the characters in the movies. But, you need to consider what happens when they don't resist. If they're low on stress, they may choose to eat the hit (I've done this in Blades) so you've building a situation where they don't get hit until low on stress and then take serious wounds from hits. It kicks the can down the road a bit and creates a situation where you don't have many light wounds, but toggle between no and serious wounds. Not trying to dissuade you, just pointing out from experience how this works out in play.

On a different note, I can't square "long term planning" with "using SaV." That seems entirely counterproductive or signaling the intent to push the system into Trad play, which it will fight and lead to more work rather than less.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I just wanted to say, this has been the most helpful discussion I've been a part of on theses boards. I'm intrigued by both PbtA and FitD games and while I hope to eventually run both types of games I think I am leaning more towards Blades in the Dark as my next campaign (That's still a ways off, I'm currently running a Savage Worlds/East Texas University game and they are just into their junior year then the other GM in the group will probably run a short series of Pathfinder 1E adventures when I am done).
FitD is in some ways more demanding a system than PbtA. It's also going to be more focused. The integrated designs of FitD games mean that it can be hard to drift them into even adjacent genres because of that laser focus that the entire package (play+faction game+crew game) creates. Don't get me wrong, though, Blades in the Dark is my favorite game because of this tight integration and how easily the game creates it's own dynamic stresses on the PCs. I recommend it, but I do so also recommending eyes wide open.
 




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?
I imagine you have already got a lot more input than you needed, lol. I just want to say that there are some really interesting and fun PbtAs. I've mostly played Dungeon World, but Ironsworn looked interesting, though I have only read through it. I suspect that if you want to really get the best feel for this type of game, start with Apocalypse World itself.

These games are really designed to be PRESSURE COOKERS, the GM needs to really step up and push, but do so with careful consideration of the game's agenda. Read carefully, try it like its written. You may, coming from D&D and such, think that some parts of PbtA games don't make sense or are contrary to 'common sense' or 'what is true' about RPGs, but they work! I mean, AW itself works, some people have some quibbles with DW, and I don't know what the consensus is on other PbtAs, though some are obviously better than others. Still, this why starting with AW is good, and running it stock! You can always tinker later.
 

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