Games that are Powered by the Apocalypse are a big thing. Such a big thing, that in my personal Rushmore of game designers, D. Vincent Baker might have a spot alongside Gary Gygax and Mark Rein-Hagen. I was speaking with a friend about PbtA from a design standpoint, and explained that I really liked a well-executed PbtA game, one that has really compelling traits and dice rolls, one that focuses on all the Traits evenly, not allowing for dump stats and the like, but also that I struggled with some of the inherent decisions of PbtA games, primarily that challenges are all the same. facing off against a vampiric minion or Dracula are likely the same. It is a player-facing game, players make the choices and the dice rolls, which is very cool, but, in-practice, the non-scalability of challenges does not allow for a variety of storytelling challenges.
For some genres this is totally appropriate, but for others, the degree of challenge should vary.
I played in a game of MASKS at GenCon this year and had a fun time, but the combat did not feel as satisfying as it might have. Additionally, the distribution and use of Traits did not feel balanced. I had enjoyed reading through the game, and wanted to see it in action, and will likely run and/ or play it again.
NPCs are stolen cars, treat them as such, is an idea I can get behind, but, some stolen cars are more significant than others. Just ask Nic Cage.
As a designer, I did a variation of PbtA, “Inspired by the Apocalypse” and utilized adding and subtracting benefit and detriment dice to the number of dice rolled.
Spirit of ’77 resolves this in a similar way, but is most definitely PbtA, but some rolls might get an extra die keep the best 2d6, or an extra die and keep the worst 2d6.
What I have also found is that when I run PbtA games, I enjoy having more than the recommended number of players, often way more. I ran a game for a group of con-organizers at a con I went to, it was a late night game, it was my way of saying thanks to the con, and it was a ton of fun, but we probably had 12 players, maybe more. I ran another game at a con that had 15 or so, with about 5 just watching.
The real drama can come from the interpersonal stuff, if you make the game, both mechanically, and setting/ adventure-wise, about this. Does this work for every genre? No. Teen supers could spend all day squabbling, but the genre is also designed to be about stopping bad guys.
Back to the discussion I was having with my friend, he acknowledged what I said and thought about it, having not thought about it before.
Keep pushing designers. d20 produced some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. Innovate.
Will I ever do a PbtA game? It is one of the ideas I have bubbling on my stove of game ideas.