The Future Of PbtA Games

What do you think the next generation of PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) games will look like? Personally, I think the drifts in the structure of the designs are the most interesting and where it seems to be trending, rather than different dice being used or rethinking playbook design (though that’s happening too).

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In general I think I’m seeing a pivot of viewing PbtA as a system or framework and more of an approach to design. There are now games that are certainly rooted in this approach, even if the playbook and resolution mechanics are wildly different (I’m thinking of Forged in the Dark).

Another trend I’m seeing is to use the playbook model on things other than characters, such as locations or objects, that in a way turn that “thing” into a character of sorts.

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I’m not sure what you mean by this? Can you expand?

I’ll say I hope to see more games that veer away from AW’s structure (if I see one more “use leverage” social move I swear to god) and to move the crunch away from the basic moves and into the playbooks.

I looked at a draft of PbtA game I made a year ago and now I want to change everything about it. I think what really makes PbtA shine (after the 7-9 engine, which I believe to be fine for 80% of the cases) is how much personality the playbooks have and how they help introduce players to a new setting and to give them their cues about their place in the story. I wanna see more of that.

(Also the removal of most of the MC part of the rules)

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I think The Between by @jasoncordova is going to be the crest of a new wave of PbtA design, featuring a distilled move pool and a more narrow corner of genre emulation.

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I definitely see it as an approach to design. Vincent said that explicitly in his talk at Metatopia 2016.

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So here are some ideas that I want to see more of… not sure if they will exactly will be the next generation of PbtA, but maybe.

  • Games designed for online play. Having mechanics and text which not only acknowledges online play, but specifically leverages affordances of being online.
  • Games designed for one-shots specifically. I know lots of people love their long campaigns, but to me that’s the majority of sessions being played. I’d love to have more games that are narrowly focused and meant for single session play. A lot exist, but I still think there is a lot of room to grow here.
  • Games with no basic moves, all the moves for each playbook are in that playbook. Some playbooks have access to what would normally be considered basic moves, others don’t. The fact that you can’t “read a person” tells us something about that playbook. It also means each playbook could have slightly different versions of the move, or different stats. I’m blatantly inspired by the Space Wurm v. Moonicorn quick start.
  • More GM-full games, where the typical “GM duties” are distributed among all the players.
  • More games with safety, diversity, and empathy built into the game itself.
  • More games where the default mechanism to solve a conflict is NOT violence.
  • More games that branch out into stranger and weirder settings.
  • More games that show extremely mundane settings… and just how strange and weird “normal” life is.

There’s probably more…but I can always come back and post another response.

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I’m very interested in this! I have a few things I’m interested in pursuing at the moment:

  • Specifically designing game variants for one shots/short runs/long campaigns.
  • Playing with playbook format. A game where your playbook is a deck of cards, or where you flip over or unfold the playbook at certain points in the fiction, that sort of thing.
  • Playing with the GM/MC role. Fellowship did some really cool things with this, and I like the idea of slapping down a GM playbook (for a campaign, or for a session, or whatever) that changes up the GM’s agenda and the options available to players.
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Here and there you see game texts with appendices about how to run the game as a oneshot. The Watch does that IIRC.

Zombie World somewhat does the card-based playbook thing…

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True, I would love to see more of it.

So, one thing I remember from a board game many folks love to hate, Settlers of Catan, is that the game came with separate sets of instructions. There was:

  1. Full set of comprehensive rules, designed to be read through.
  2. Set of rules to be referenced in play.
  3. Quick start / first game rules which were designed to set the game up quickly for new players.

This last bit is what I want to talk about. It intentionally trimmed out rules and setup that are necessary to keep the game (more) replayable for experienced players. The quick start rules had EVERYTHING you needed to play the first time, and it was geared for those new players. It was the only document you needed to look at. Many RPGs do have a “Quickstart”, but mostly this is geared at a sample preview of the “full rules”. It might or might not have all the rules for advancement or campaign play, but they usually don’t remove those references either. For PbtA games, you’ll often find some of the playbooks as they would appear in the final game, with character creation still part of the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I love RPG quickstarts, but for me, they aren’t actually quick to start. They still take work to setup and get to the table. There are pieces that the players still have to fill out and generate. There are components and mechanics you have to ignore because you don’t have the full rules. They are a preview of the full game and give you a glimpse of what is possible, but don’t feel like a complete quick start experience, to me.

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Have you checked out the quickstarts we put together for Legacy? (i.e. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/217102/Titanomachy-Legacy-2nd-Edition-Quickstart)
We very much slimmed down playbook creation to just a few remaining choices and outright removed some mechanics. Would be interesting to hear how much they approach what you’re aiming for!

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Oooh… I should look at this. I’ve wanted to look into Legacy but have been a bit uncertain of time and energy I have to dig into it…

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I could imagine seeing PbtAs with / about / tackling:

  • the come-back of the moves-snowball but in a totally different and more elegant form
  • games with uncertainty but without randomness
  • new ideas how to create artifacts from play
  • as Yoshi said, games created specifically for online play
  • super short forms, less than two hours including everything
  • PbtA / laog (live action online game) hybrids
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I’ve only been playing online games for about 2 months now, maybe 3. Yall are talking about games that are designed for online play. I get that, but I can’t conceptualize what that would look like. Can anyone give examples of things that games might already doing to support it?

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Games that have character sheets pre-made in Roll20 would be one example. From Gauntlet influence, I think some newer designers are also copying the Gauntlet Character Keeper and using those to create character sheets that everyone can see at once: these types of sheets really help players ‘play into’ each other’s characters, since they can see the each other’s moves, drives, flags, bonds, etc. To an extreme, View Scream is a game that was designed specifically to be played online, and only online: it plays off of the idea that you’re on a space ship and your monitor/webcam are the interface you are using to communicate to the other characters on the ship as you try to get through the scenario.

As a counter example, 10 Candles is a game that can be played online, but is a bit of a struggle to reproduce the physical effect of candles on a table amidst the players. Games that use cards but don’t provide images to use online as cards are another example. Again, this obstacles can be overcome with effort and creativity, but are not provided ‘out of the box’ by the designer

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I’d echo most of what @Christo said… I think there are a number of things that aren’t really made use of by any games because they are meant to be played IRL.

So for example: text chat. You can use that for both in and out of character discussion. Mechanizing that somehow could be interesting. Another would be the fact that using character keepers you can constantly see the info on other character’s sheets - so things like Flags are constantly available and in view for players to make use of. Doing something like @Gerrit has done in his LAOG sessions is mechanizing the turning off of cameras and/or mics and specific times in the game. With something like RFYP you can use arbitrary dice sizes and amounts.

There are tons of possibilities out there.

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Do you have an example of this I can look to? This sounds incredibly interesting and not something I’ve encountered.

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Here is a blog article I wrote about my experiences with laogs:

It also contains a list to my Youtube playlist with APs. I find the two-rooms game End Game especially interesting to watch. The actual play time is only one hour (and you as the viewer can decide which story to follow while players are shuffled every ten minutes from room to room).

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  • More games with safety, diversity, and empathy built into the game itself.

Does anyone have any examples of games that do this? I’ve seen games that have sections on safety tools and/or diversity, and I’m seeing more games about the experience of marginalized people. But are there games that tackle safety and diversity procedurally?

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