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Old Dec 6th, 2020, 09:23 PM
Roekahs Roekahs is offline
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The future of Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games on RPGX

In cognizance of a long running and, for all intents and purposes, resoundingly successful campaign here in General Discussion to bring Shadowrun to the forefront of gaming on RPGX, I have decided to copy copy Imveros and climb up on my own soap box (it is the newer model version with an extra centimeter height) and discuss Powered by the Apocalypse systems. Anything that appears to be copied directly from Imveros effort … well, it was. Come on in and join the discussion!

First, a couple observations from my time on RPGX. (1) PbtA game mechanics are pretty simple and player resources are totally free, but games do not appear frequently; (2) despite the relative scarcity, there always seem to be enough players to get any new PbtA game off the ground.

So this brings me to questions aimed at two groups. The third group – players who haven’t heard of PbtA – can skip these questions and get me take on the engine.

Group 1) Players that have heard of the Powered by the Apocalypse Engine.
What would it take to get you to give PbtA a shot?

Group 2) Experienced players
What would it take to get you to run PbtA on site?

A brief primer for Group 3 – PbtA systems use 2d6 for everything. Then you add the relevant modifier from your character (stat is specific to the move being used and ranges from -3 to +3). If your total is 7 or more, you succeed at what you were trying to do. The 7-9 range usually involves a minor complication, while 10+ is pretty much a resounding success. On a 6-, however, you don’t necessarily fail. PbtA games typically use the “fail forward” idea, so you may not get exactly what you wanted or you may get what you wanted plus, oh, so much more .

In addition, zev asked the following:
Quote:
Originally Posted by zevonian View Post
Questions for everyone in the thread regarding games.

1. How many PbtA games are you in currently?
2. How many have you been in total, even short lived ones, on site?
3. How many do you think are currently active on site?
Unlike Imveros, I don’t have great solutions for the questions I asked, at least for the first, possibly for either. I am hoping that maybe discussion can help raise interest/awareness, or help me figure out what we are missing to have a stronger presence on site for this amazing engine.

I have spearheaded the Fate new player solo gameNPSG to help get a little different flavor on site than D&D edition # + Pathfinder edition #, and I would love to figure out how to do an introductory game for PbtA. The system itself, unfortunately, would kill me trying to do that. In case you don’t know, the motto of PbtA is “play to find out what happens.” The NPSG is quite linear for a reason. Giving a newby complete control over the narrative would tax the limited time that a volunteer (like all of our great NPSG GMs) has to get someone acclimated to a system, the site, and then send them on their way to rinse and repeat with the next newbie. (frankly, if anyone has suggestions on how to run a PbtA NPSG, PM me )

So RPGX, what can I do to make PbtA a bigger draw, or more accessible, or just raise awareness to how awesome of an engine* it really is?

*Apocalypse World was the first game to use the “2d6 and the GM reacts to the players” style. Powered by the Apocalypse refers to the use of the mechanics (for Apocalypse World) applied to a different setting/theme/genre. There are dozens of ‘hacks’ for so many settings built around the ‘engine’ that was created to drive Apocalypse World.
Hacks of particular interest ...Epyllion - play as young dragons trying to find their place in dragon society
MASKS - play as young super heroes dealing with your powers and your mundane teenage responsibilities
Legacy - cover generations as you shape the world through your family (potentially high fantasy/high sci-fi)
Urban Shadows - a game about cities and the (supernatural) people who live in them. Politics and mystery. Can you shape the city to your benefit?
Monsterhearts 2 - the drama of the messy lives of teenage monsters


PbtA-adjacent
City of Mist - play as an ordinary person with the powers of myths, legends, and fairy-tales searching for the truth in a mysterious metropolis

Finally, for ease of discovery (or rediscovery):
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wynamoinen View Post
There's a lot of information in this thread. After a few game deaths, I've been musing on my next games on site, and I wanted to help myself and others to easily know where the demand is, and who is doing the demanding.

Click here for a poll about which PbtA systems you're interested in playing on RPGX!

That doesn't mean you're willing and able to play right this second, of course. Just in general: what systems would you want to hop into, if the opportunity was right? I think I've got it set up so that you can select as many options as you want, and it will show which options you selected. This is meant to be an easy-to-reference database.

I tried to include all systems that were mentioned multiple times in this thread. I can add other options easily enough, if you notice a system that a) I missed, and b) is likely to have more than 2 players willing to participate. Just drop a note in the poll's thread.

In semi-related questions: has anyone played either Glitter Hearts or Night Witches?
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Last edited by Roekahs; Apr 19th, 2021 at 08:09 PM.
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Old Dec 6th, 2020, 11:19 PM
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How many books are there in PbtA now? How many genres do they cover?

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Old Dec 6th, 2020, 11:53 PM
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Falling into group 1, I would definitely be open to trying a game using PbtA. Would just need an invite.
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Old Dec 6th, 2020, 11:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zevonian View Post
How many books are there in PbtA now? How many genres do they cover?
It's a little like asking "how many d20 SRD games are there?" The makers of Apocalypse World have been attempting to keep a running list, but it's far from comprehensive. Especially if you count Forged in the Dark games.

They run a pretty big range of genre, such as the reformed emulation of Dungeon World, the TV adaptation of Monster of the Week, or experientially unique Bluebeard's Bride.

I will say that PbtA games are usually less of a "genre" coverage, and more of a specific idea exploration. You wouldn't make a general sci-fi, you'd make one that specifically supports a niche, such as Star Trek, 90s scifi-channel space operas, or generational novels like The Martian Chronicles and Foundation. Example: Masks, a New Generation is a superheroes game, but specifically a game of a team of young, non-famous superheroes trying to defend citizens, each other, and their own self-esteem.
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Old Dec 6th, 2020, 11:59 PM
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Both of your questions, about playing and running, all revolve around creativity. To get me to consider running or playing it would have to be something I can't get somewhere else. Having to reinvent the wheel takes time and energy and I want a unique payoff for that.

In my time here at the crossing, it always seems like the more interesting hacks are the ones getting played as well. You almost never see dungeon world. Why would you? D&D and Pathfinder already have that genre on lock, but stuff like monster of the week and Monster Hearts have small dedicated followings because they are unique. A while back they were talking about a WW1 dogfighting game on the Discord server. Where else but PbtA will you ever find such a thing?

There is an excellent Shadowrun hack as well. I even shared it to the Shadowrun community thread, but my good friend, the sunken cost fallacy, prevents me from playing Shadowrun the easy way

Circling back, if I could find a game of epyllion with the right hooks, run by the right person, I'd jump at the chance. Funny enough, I got the PDF from my first charity drive here XD

Its greatest strength is its adaptability and its modding community!

Here's an article with people talking about why they love PbtA games so much.

As for where to go next, it's time to hit the streets and do some leg work. The first thing I did to get the ball rolling on my community page was to message all the Shadowrun GMs for permission to post in their OOC threads, and then inviting their players to the conversation. Gain enough momentum and people will wander by to see what all the fuss is about. A shameless plug on the Discord server couldn't hurt either.

Keeping that ball rolling is the next hurdle, but one step at a time!
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 12:30 AM
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When I tried to start a conversation on revising the categories for system game folders a while back, I mentioned that I believe PbtA will only grow on this site and could be considered for a folder of its own for all its permutations. It's already got presence here, even outside of the games Roe has started. And this year has seen a fair few [other] games gain traction.

Threads like this will help too, obviously. More than anything we have to get the conversations going so that the term 'PbtA' no longer feels as foreign, so that when it pops up in an ad there's a greater chance of interested applicants making that association.

(Are there many readers of Explosive Runes here? It's been doing RPG Spotlight reviews in recent issues, so sounds like the next one should be for a PbtA system to act as a discussion piece on the engine's merits.)

To give my own take on what orcbane and Imveros have already said, I think a big draw of PbtA games is that they have so many instances where the mechanics gets out of the way of the narrative, and this not only opens up the potential of players to feel like they're driving the story, but it seems to go hand in hand with more interesting, diverse settings. Or, at the very least, settings that brim with possibility. Where in something like Pathfinder you need to grind through the Archives of Nethys or Pathbuilder menus to find a way to contexutalise the character you want to play, in PbtA you just find an appropriate playbook within your system/setting of choice and add the flavour yourself.

For your group 2 question, Roe, I already have plans to try an ad for City of Mist next year. (Which is more of a PbtA/Fate hybrid than pure PbtA, but it still counts!) It's only lack of time that's stopping me from branching out properly into other systems like Masks, but I'll happily spruik them when the opportunity arises.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 12:35 AM
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I love PBtA!

I don't run games, but I would play one at the drop of a hat.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 01:10 AM
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My only real problem with PBTA is that it creates a very half-hearted and artificial dependency on 'character' though for the most part, said 'character' isn't all that complex.

A majority of playbooks from almost every PBTA system I've seen are always locked into some kind of stereotype, clique, or cliché and make it hard to break out of those clichés, oftentimes due to design. I think the best & worst offender for this would be MASKS, for every rather interesting playbook such as the Nomad or Psion you two very tropey playbooks such as the Bull or Janus; the Nomad is generally a 'break the mould' type of playbook so most GM's rarely accept them on account of having a crazy passive/core ability and the Psion's just too easy to throw complications at.

I genuinely think the best PBTA system I've seen that tackles this issue head-on is the City of Mist, where characters are made up of multiple playbooks and you can reflect who they are as a person far better. Not only does this help make it feel like you're playing a character, not a trope, but it rewards you for invoking the mundane weaknesses of your character; Whereas (again, my most experienced system from PBTA) MASKS only rewards you an XP for failing a roll, which feels quite superficial, because the better you do the worse off you are in the long-run. It also impedes the evolution of your character becuase you rolled well.

Then you've got the "Mutant Year Zero +its expansionsYear Zero" engine, which IMO is really just the PBTA engine with a few combat stats & a Health system tacked on.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 10:33 AM
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@Marshmellow: You really hit the nail on the head of some big issues I have with the core conceit of these games. PbtA, starting with Apocalypse World, and all the games that follow in its footsteps - have these playbooks that are simultaneously fleshing our your characterlacking detail in places where it matters, and have Despite the setting being determined by you and your players at the start of the game, many of the playbooks have a 'canon' setting in mind that doesn't exist. Other playbooks like the battlebabe and maestro d’ also really push towards a particular character stereotype, as much as they say "do what you want, it's a free world, maaaaaaan". IIRC There's a similar thing in Dungeon World, where the base rules don't let you make a D&D-esque fighter without a weird magic semi-sentient weapon for whatever reason... And playbooks had specific races in them, so you couldn't be like a halfling fighter. Decisions were made, I guess.too much detail in others.

I really liked what I read in Blades in the Dark, but I recall thinking it wouldn't work in PbP much because of the way the party can help/hinder a roll - (iirc) there's a lot of group bargaining going on that doesn't jive so well in PbP the way it would in a live game.

I hadn't been that interested in City of Mists, but hearing that you make a character out of several playbooks piques my interest. I'm gonna have to check it out. o:

edit: Another thing I don't care for in some PbtA games is a relic of the origin - which is weirdly worded rule blurbs. Worse than using natural language in the rules, AW and some others that stick too close to the original use unnatural language in the rules. Flavor is cool, but several times reading the rules it's like... what is going on here?

Last edited by Inuvash255; Dec 7th, 2020 at 10:38 AM.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 10:40 AM
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That all said, I guess I'm in group 1 and 2, kinda? 1.5?

What would it take to get you to give PbtA a shot?

What would it take to get you to run PbtA on site?

The answer to both is a PbtA game that really catches me on both flavor and playbook mechanics... which are often very closely linked for Usually!better or Sometimes...worse.

Last edited by Inuvash255; Dec 7th, 2020 at 10:42 AM.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 11:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inuvash255 View Post
I hadn't been that interested in City of Mists, but hearing that you make a character out of several playbooks piques my interest. I'm gonna have to check it out. o:
Each playbook has fairly open-ended questions, it really gives you so much more control and customization power over your character than literally any other PBTA system; All it does is change the formula in a miniscule way and bang, open-ended character creation system that has depth. You can even choose how that power can evolve if you level up the playbook, or even get rid of a playbook entirely if it makes sense narratively.

There are even rules set up for losing your mythological status and just becoming a mundane person again, it's genuinely the best thing to come out of PBTA, IMO.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 11:57 AM
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@Marshmellow: Yeah, that sounds awesome! I'm going to have to check that out.
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Old Dec 7th, 2020, 11:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roekahs
Group 1) Players that have heard of the Powered by the Apocalypse Engine.
What would it take to get you to give PbtA a shot?
Honestly, just time. I've been keeping an eye on my game load so I don't overburden myself and drop the ball.

I'm not super familiar with any of the PbtA games. But I am interested in both Monster of the Week and City of Mists. I listened to their play on the Adventure Zone podcast in Season 2. Amnesty, I think they called it? Granted, I stopped listening around then. But it did get me interested in the idea of the system, overall. Even if I didn't love the implementation.
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Old Dec 8th, 2020, 12:10 AM
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A lot of the downsides that have been mentioned are quite valid. I think one that is being discussed, but not explicitly, is the sheer number of hacks now. It is great! ... and a bit intimidating. One of the big weaknesses in my mind is simply that there is no CORE that you can read and see if you like PbtA. The core of PbtA is the mechanics. The playbooks are all different for every hack.

Maybe this is part of the effort here: what hacks are people interested in? This might help players focus in on what might be run on site and give one of the hacks a real chance. I want to respond to everything, but I think a couple quotes encompass a lot of what has been discussed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Imveros View Post
Both of your questions, about playing and running, all revolve around creativity. To get me to consider running or playing it would have to be something I can't get somewhere else. Having to reinvent the wheel takes time and energy and I want a unique payoff for that. {...}
I totally agree with everything Imveros said. In fact, couple that with Marshmallow and Inuvash and we take it a step farther: not only does it need to be creative but the setting/characters need to be right. For what it is worth, I want to love Apocalypse World, but I just struggle with it. I would try it, probably. I didn't have the same experience with Masks - I actually really enjoyed the characters there. I wrote the fiction of the character I wanted to play and figured out what playbook fit it. The moves were natural fits for the fiction I had already written. So, there is also some your mileage may varyYMMV it would seem. There is also the part where each hack is independent, so one less-than-well-done hack doesn't mean they are all bad. Or one bad experience doesn't mean a different hack would have the same problem. (or a different GM for that matter)

Maybe we can help compile a better experience table here to help players that might want to try out PbtA to get a better feel for each hack. We also seem to have a few games that are likely to be run in the future, with a couple "if I had time" responses, so maybe it will be helpful for the curious to see what may be coming in the future? If nothing else, maybe poking one's head in here and making a comment will get one a PM when those games kick off?

What if I add some titles to the first post to narrow down the list for those curious to take a look at? Perhaps we can even create a repository of requested games and then when GMs have to make a call on what to run next, maybe they see support for one hack over another. We have some pretty resounding excitement for City of Mist; I was actually debating on running Epyllion instead of Legacy, but Legacy won out, so there is some interest in that title as well; I am enjoying every bit of Urban Shadows and I think my players are as well; we have mixed feelings on Masks: A new generation (maybe it was just me that liked it ); Apocalypse World maybe doesn't have the best review; Monster of the Week has a few mentions (although I don't think any experiences have been shared; I do know it has been run on site at least a couple times so maybe we get a review later).

I have other experiences on site, but for now I am going to stick with what has been mentioned so far in this thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bhelogan View Post
Falling into group 1, I would definitely be open to trying a game using PbtA. Would just need an invite.
What genre excites you? Or what itch isn't currently being scratched on site? Teenage superheroes? Urban politics in a supernatural world? Post zombie apocalypse survival? Playing AS a dragon?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Menzo View Post
I am in Group 1. I have heard of Powered by the Apocalypse games, and thematically many of them seem pretty interesting to me. I quite like the idea behind Monster of the Week, and Sagas of the Icelanders looks fun. But I've just got to an age where I don't enjoy learning new systems, particularly using pdf files or other online resources.

Is there a core rulebook, that covers the principles of play applicable to all PbtA games? Also, are there any videos of actual games available to view?
So a question then: would you be open to learning from a pdf and then if you like it get a physical copy? I totally get not wanting to learn new systems, I only have the stomach for non-crunchy systems anymore. The beauty of PbtA (IMO) is that the game is driven by the fiction; you only use a mechanic if you do something with your character to trigger it. So there isn't much crunch. In fact the mechanic is always the same: roll 2d6+(-3 to +3) and if your result is greater than 7 you succeed! You could do very little learning of the system and just write a character that you want to play the first time. That is how I learned it.

Unfortunately there isn't exactly a core rulebook, and this is where the negative of the engine comes in. The quick rundown is that you get a "playbook" and choose options from a list to "customize" your character. To Inuvash/Marshmallow's point here: the customization is pretty limited usually; e.g., the playbook has 4 defined moves and you pick 2 to start with. There are only so many combinations.



I am putting this down here because it is an important, but possibly confusing piece of the discussion.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Inuvash255 View Post
I really liked what I read in Blades in the Dark, but I recall thinking it wouldn't work in PbP much because of the way the party can help/hinder a roll - (iirc) there's a lot of group bargaining going on that doesn't jive so well in PbP the way it would in a live game.
I played in a short-lived blades game on site and it actually worked pretty well. The flashback mechanic is, like, the best thing ever for PbP . We actually had enough players in that one where the GM ran 2 groups. I have heard chatter - source to remain nameless - of a possible Blades game coming in the future. There was also one a few months back that got enough players to get going until the GM left the site. So ... hold out hope! There is some traction on this PbtA-adjacent engine as well!
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Old Dec 8th, 2020, 10:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roekahs View Post
One of the big weaknesses in my mind is simply that there is no CORE that you can read and see if you like PbtA. The core of PbtA is the mechanics. The playbooks are all different for every hack.
I'd argue that the core of PbtA has more to do with a kind of meta-game perspective about how a PbtA game wants you view an RPG.

Every hack that I've seen does the AW-thing of featuring a page that you're supposed to read and share with your players about an Agenda and Principles or whatever, like this one for Dungeon World. This stuff isn't really mechanics, but I wouldn't call it fluff either. It should be universal, but PbtA games are the only ones where I see it laid out like this.

I can compare/contrast this to D&D (and similar games like Pathfinder) which doesn't care for ideas like...
  • Play to find out what happens; because the DM is incentivized to plot ahead and know what's coming; and only improvise the connective tissue. Pre-boxed campaigns only make sense if there's a plot in mind for the players to follow.
  • Draw maps, leave blanks; because DMs/GMs start getting nervous sweats when the players enter a cave and there's no map planned for it.
  • Make a move that follows; because D&D stat blocks aren't for problem solving, or presenting a real problem, so much as a goblin with 7HP, a scimitar, who wants to kill you for your money and die trying. Typically "the move that follows" is combat.
  • Name every person; every goblin may or may not be named Boblin, in sort of a Schodinger's cat way. I expect the players to fireball them - not Calm Person them.

You could also compare/contrast to OSR-styled games, [which also look at RPGs in a very different way,](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_School_Revival). I haven't played one - but from what I've read it comes off more like "The GM makes a puzzle for their players to solve" rather than modern D&D's "The GM makes a tactical combat encounter to clear" or PbtA's "The GM and the players take turns telling their part of a story and sometimes roll dice".

Maybe I'm thinking about it too hard; I just like trying to understand how the game is like... meant to work, or what the flow of the game is.

edit: here's another link talking about what makes OSR what it is

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roekahs View Post
I played in a short-lived blades game on site and it actually worked pretty well. The flashback mechanic is, like, the best thing ever for PbP . We actually had enough players in that one where the GM ran 2 groups. I have heard chatter - source to remain nameless - of a possible Blades game coming in the future. There was also one a few months back that got enough players to get going until the GM left the site. So ... hold out hope! There is some traction on this PbtA-adjacent engine as well!
That's interesting to hear! I'd be game to play in one of those, but apprehensive about running one.

Last edited by Inuvash255; Dec 8th, 2020 at 10:48 AM.
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