The Mixup: When a step back from D&D leads to too many ideas

Hello everyone!

A gauntleteer pointed me in your direction to get some insight and maybe advice on my undertaking of making my own homebrew of the PbtA rules.

First some backstory for this:
I’ve run D&D 5e for several years, ever since it came out in what then was “D&D Next”. Over time I’ve come to develop my own world and continent that I’ve run a few campaigns in, but in a decision to expand the world I realized that D&D doesn’t really fit the exploratory ideas I have with expanding my world into an unknown continent.
Realizing this, I started thinking about what I could use to represent what I want to achieve best. Having quite a bit of experience with Cypher System, I come to think about that, but there are things about it that I don’t like, system wise.
So fast forward to last autumn, where a friend introduced me to Dungeon World and PbtA, a system and setting that I’ve only heard podcasts about. I loved the way it deals with partial successes, and a cost to your action. It’s also very player driven which really interest me.
Unfortunatelly, I also found that DW might not be doing what I want from it either, so I did what made most sense (mostly thanks to my own hubris) and I went to work to change the system to fit my wants.
Because of this, I’ve made “Cypher World”, taking inspiration from many sources and changing up how they work to blend them together.

Unfortunately I do not have a lot of experience with PbtA, so I’ve looked for somewhere to get some advice, hence me being pointed here.
Would any of you take the time out of your day to look through an early draft of the system, and give your insight into if something doesn’t make sense, is downright wrong compared to how the PbtA system works, won’t work at all, or will be hoplesly broken?

Provided is the link to the Google doc that I use to write this up, for all to read.


I am reading the rules right now and stopped at the first page.

Why not begin by reading a PbtA game? PbtA resolution system is originally not about “failure / success / critical”, but is based on GM Moves and Principles. Did you alter the system on purpose? If so, how does it serve the purpose of fantasy exploration?

It looks like you took a probability curve (2D6+stat) for a whole resolution system. Also, a resolution mechanic does not make a game system.


That is more of a “gameplay” trope.
I have thought of changing it to “full success” and/or adding a 12+ as a “critical success”. This is all down to flavoring, + most players get more excited when they roll max, or get a really high result.

You’re not hearing me. You’re thinking in terms of failure / success.
This has nothing to do with the PbtA I know.

I think you need to read PbtA game rules before talking about them, (or thinking of changing them!) I think you should present your game as it this: simply your game, until you really build a link with the PbtA tradition. that would be clearer, and we could talk about it for what it is, rather than what it is not.

It’s perfectly alright to create a game without knowing all about PbtA, you don’t need anyone’s approval or anything, and everyone will gladly help you with it. But I find your references to PbtA are not helping at all. They’re simply erroneous - I don’t want to be adversarial, but on this point I want to be firm - and somewhat presomptuous.

Now, PbtA have afaik never named the system or the rolls, but in truth, it’s always been split into:
1-6 - you fail what you wish to achieve, in the original AW this is called a Miss, I call it a Failure.
7 - 9 - you partially succeed in what you hope for, I call it a Partial success.
10+ - you achieve what you wish, and often gain something extra from it, that I call a critical success (for the moment)

Giving it defined names makes it easier to work with, with how I’ve changed it. Names are just names in that regard, and makes it simpler to reference for players.

In regards to what makes it a PbtA game more than just a 2d6+stat game?
Player agency, player choices that comes with a cost (yes, but/no, however) etc.
Moves that are selfcontained and a distinct mechanic, both for players and for the GM, which makes it easy to pay attention to it.

It’s clear that you’ve hung yourself up on the first page, as you stated, so I want to ask you; what is it about naming the results that causes such an issue with me saying I’ve based in on PbtA? This is still in early developement, but you treat is as though it is a finished product, and without looking through the rest of it, have judged it as a “non-PbtA” game already, which I find odd.

Imo, a game system is both based on it’s probability curve as you called it, as well as how it is built up to function. And from my standpoint, PbtA is built up to function around its moves as well as the resolution of those claiming some form of cost from the characters.
For my part, calling it a PbtA based game is to give players that are familiar with it and expectation as to how it generally functions. It’s like telling someone that you’re running a nWoD system, but not mentioning which subsystem you’re using. Everyone familiar knows what to expect by the time they sit down by the table.

Now, I know that the changes I want to do to the system makes it very different from the “back to basics” PbtA that you know, which is why I asked for feedback overall, but denying it any semblence sounds… wrong.

It’s hard to give feedback just by reading. Actually playing is what reveals the kinks, otherwise it’s like determine how fast a car is by looking at a picture of it. :slight_smile:

It seems on paper like a solid traditional game. I like the push mechanic, and how you can end up with a tagline for the character: “Sturdy Elf that Studies the Unknown”

There are some “go over the river to fetch the water” bits in the document, like the multiple of three that you throw around everywhere, where you went the D&D route of 7-16, instead of just having attributes at -1 to +2. So instead of having to spend 1 point for pushing or adding +1 point when leveling up, you need to spend 3 points for pushing or gain 3 points for leveling up.

In comparison to PbtA, where a brilliant design idea is the playbooks—where a player only needs to read the stuff for it’s “class”—you instead created a branched “class” system where there are endless combinations. The downside is that the players need to read through everything, making the game less pick up and play and therefor increasing it’s threshold.


I’m not going to repeat what I said, which already anwsers your question: it’s not a question of naming, it’s a different thing. “you treat it as though it is a finished product” is false. What I do is try to warn you about a difference between the system you seem used to and the one you want to derive your game from.

I can add that I scanned the document looking for GM Principles or Moves, finding none. Something like “On a Miss, make a Hard (GM) Move”. would be what I expect from a PbtA resolution. A case where the action succeeds and some unrelated bad things happens would be possible. (It happens in your game with Shapes of the Wild, but not with Normal Moves).

I think the word Race is very rooted in american culture. Seen from here, it sounds really bad. Biologically, Elves and Dwarves are probably two different species, but that’s probably unimportant.

Many of my concerns are covered by the “GM will judge” rule that I believe is the system you are in fact using. A lot relies on GM skill.

You’ve got a lot of cool moves, powers, and magic keywords.

My reaction is similar to the others:

This is clearly a work of passion, and has lots of great stuff in it. There are lots of good details here, and much of it is handled well. You might have a blast playing it, if that’s what you want out of gaming!

However, it’s also an awkward hybrid between Dungeon World and a traditional game like D&D.

That might work great for you, but can feel rather unfocused or ungainly as a game at the table. Rickard’s comments are good here - there is some unnecessary crunch (like the stat scores and derived attributes) and the lack of playbooks makes it a lot harder to navigate (not necessarily a terrible thing, but a player has to read the whole thing and then make the right choices, so the question is whether that’s worth the effort and truly adds to the game or not).

It’s got a lot of 1990’s design vibes. I didn’t check out the math or see any obvious problems, so assuming it works well, it probably does what it’s setting out to do. A very traditional approach, but some people are into that.

Aside from the moves taken from Dungeon World, it doesn’t really feel like a PbtA game to me. As DeReel wrote above, there are mechanics here but no game, no procedures, no Agenda, no Principles. I have no idea what we even do in this game. (Which sounds harsh, but is not uncommon for “home drafts” of games, where the writer already has some gameplay in mind, usually/probably “just like what we did with D&D/this other game”, so you’re not alone. It just doesn’t offer much to the reader aside from some ability descriptions and resolution mechanics.)

Generally, the level of detail and simulation in the rules feels out of whack with the simpler resolution mechanics, but, hey, some people might enjoy it. It’s just unconventional, like putting pineapple on a burger or something - if it’s done well, some people might really enjoy it, even if most people think it’s just weird.

It will come down a lot to the specifics of the rules, and, more importantly, how it’s actually meant to be played. What do we do with this game, what is it for, how do we get the most out of it?

On top of that, it doesn’t even tell you how to do the PbtA parts of it. A 6- doesn’t have to be “the task fails”. A 10+ doesn’t need to be a “critical success”. That’s part of the fun of PbtA design - to mess around with this. What if a move’s outcomes are all good? Or all bad? What if the GM’s job, on a 6-, is to give you exactly what you asked for, but then cause trouble for someone else? What if a 7-9 is really good, but a 10+ is terrible? What are the players and GM trying to do as they play? What separates good play from bad play? And so on.

It’s kind of like a steering wheel and pedals without the car to go along with it, you know? What’s the actual process of play, why do we play, what do we get out of it?

Again, that’s very common when someone makes a draft of a ruleset, because they usually already have something in mind (once more, usually “just like that other game we played, but with these different die rules…”). So you definitely shouldn’t feel bad about it - you’re in good company, and I’ve written many such drafts myself. :slight_smile:

Perhaps the thing to do, if you still like the rules after this commentary, is to play it a bunch and start writing down what you actually do with it, what works, what doesn’t, and turn that into the next draft. Did you prepare a mystery, and have the players solve it? Did the players all create characters that are part of a team? Did they then notice personality flaws in each other, and challenge each other to be better people? Was the GM’s job to help that along, or get in their way? And so on.

I also quite like the Push rules; there are a variety of things you can do which are nicely framed, and if there are fun ways to earn that resource currency, gives players a lot of flexibility.

Good luck!


To add to the above:

If you’re like me, you were maybe hoping that you’d more comments on the specifics. Maybe you’re really proud of a particular character creation option, or the way you formulated the magic rules, or something else.

Well, don’t worry!

Once you get a clearer sense of what the game is, then people will start looking at that, too. What are the themes of the game? How do the participants interact? What’s it about? Why do we play?

Once that is solidified, readers like us can look and say, “Hey, wow, actually these magic rules (or whatever) support the theme really nicely, I can see that!”

So that will come!

Game design is hard. This is an excellent starting point! I hope you keep developing it :slight_smile:


Which is also why you should also only create a core mechanic and playtest that, and then add more and more stuff (like the push mechanic, or classes) to see how the game changes.

Otherwise it’s really hard to understand why a game fails during playtest. Is it because of the push mechanic, of a combination between push and hit points, or is it actually the core mechanic that doesn’t work? All these elements combined can cloud your impression of your own game,

Playtesting just the core mechanic also helps when it comes to understand what you - as a game master - adds to the game. Everything that the core mechanic doesn’t do, you add. These are the things that needs to be described as well, either through a process of play or just general game master advice (I prefer the former - using fronts in Apocalypse World, for example).


So, there’s been a lot of good responses since I posted last, and I’ve read my way through them, noting down what I see raises the most questions.
I’ll try to get it focused on System first, then Characters, then the GM stuff.

System stuff

Theme of the system:
The idea of the game overall is to represent a fantasy setting in which a new and unknown continent has been discovered, and the players are among the first people to explore it. As such it is focused on unraveling mysteries of its history and present little by little. The world and the areas and mysteries that the players explore has to be made by the GM, making it less cooperative than what DW is, but also more open to longer campaigns.

Derived stats and the “rule of 3” - this was one of the ideas that I took from Cypher, where you have a limited resource of an attribute that you spend to push yourself outside your “normal” limits. As such I wanted the numbers that this resource was taken from to be on the higher side, to allow them to push more than a few times each day.
After reading the responses you guys have come up with, it would be possible to move the base of these stats over to the “Type” of a character, but then feels less tied into physical and mental capabilities.

The “success chart”:
As mentioned, I’ve only had experience playing DW before getting inspired into adjusting it myself. Because of that, my experience was that 6- was a fail etc. so the idea was to “mainstream” the rolls, which works well with at least 1 of the Push effects, but it might be easier to rewrite that into something that works better with how you veterans know the system.

Character section:

Still something I’m working on. Haven’t gotten my head around it fully as to how I want this to be represented ingame and is probably one of the hardest thing for me personally to figure out in a good way.

Branching class system:
The playbooks missing is more of a effect of the early stage of the development, than intention. As with a lot of the missing upgrades in the classes overall it’s a WIP that needs a lot of work before it’s ready. In addition, this will require me to “finish” some semblence of a character sheet that contains space for all the information I want to have on it.
The idea is that very few abilities are going to be universal, with Magical training being the main one as I want it be available to everyone, similar to how wielding a sword is a universal thing.

Think this is just a pure D&D hangaround, but you’re completely correct, changing it to “Species” would sound more correct for it, or as an alternative “Heritage”.

GM Stuff:

GM Principles and moves:
This isn’t something I’ve worked on too much yet, mostly because I’ve in the first place made this for my self, and given very little thought to how other people run their games.
It will probably also be one of the final things I would work on, as it encompasses a lot more than what the rest of the sections does.
I’m also afraid that writing up this section before everything else is “playtest ready” will cause me to forget to include a lot of thoughts and ideas.

Overall, your replies have been good, there are a lot of things that my limited experience have missed out on, or not completely understood the depth of. Gonna have to work on this very structured going forward, to find out how to get this more in line with the PbtA ideals and way of doing things, while still keeping what I want it to do. Lot of work with moves and general character stuff.


that’s the real misconception here

the GM stuff literally is a huge part of what makes a pbta game hit. because it is through the gm move that you know what the game is actually about. take any game by its gm principles, agenda and moves and you’ll get a much better understanding of what kind of story that game wants to tell.

pbta is not about the system mechanics, friend. to be fair, the only real two things that really tie into pbta by default are tiered resolution (different levels of result out of rolls instead of success or failure) and moves, regardless of being big chunky blocks of text with many moving parts or a single one liner.

in a certain way, the pbta design starts always with the gm sections, even if not officially (by writing them down first), because when you set out to make a game there is a specific type of story you hope the game will be a proxy of, which means, in pbta terms, how the world, the system and the narrative will dialogue and respond to player actions.

you could literally write a one-move game like:

When you try, roll 2d6. on a 10+, your move forward with your try. on a 7-9 you can move forward, but things are more complicated, or you learn something useful to move forward. on a 6-, whether you move forward or not, there is trouble. the gm will hit you with a move.

here’s the fun part:
gm moves list 1

  • you are badly hurt and your life is in peril
  • you get away scot-free, but one of your companions is on crosshairs
  • you learn a terrible truth that chips at your hopes
  • you learn is no way forward. despair

gm moves list 2

  • you give up away an embarrassing secret or revelation;
  • your lash out at someone who cares for you
  • if you don’t say something truthful quickly, you risk your relationship with a companion
  • a heart is broken. whose?

I have absolutely zero need to write a new move for each list for them to work. the gm moves there are telling a story already and informing everyone what kind of game it’s expected when they pick it up. Now I can double down and write more moves that zero in on specific beats that enhance the stories implied and make the game richer.


I’m afraid this section leaves me feeling you are designing something to deliver the experience you want but it’s not really PbtA.
The world and the areas and mysteries that the players explore has to be made by the GM, making it less cooperative than what DW is, but also more open to longer campaigns.’
That runs counter to one of the key features of PbtA … collaboration.
There have been several comments about how to interpret/ label the 10+/7-9/6- outcomes.
The way I like to think of them when playing is that:

  • on 10+, the player gains significant controls of the fiction.
  • on 6-, the GM gains significant control of the fiction.
  • on 7-9, there is shared control of the fiction.
    Using a genuine PbtA game to run through a series of designed adventures/mysteries seems to miss this core benefit of the PbtA system.

I wish you well in designing the system you want to run the games you want to play. However, my strong advice if you want to create a PbtA game is to get into as many PbtA games as you can to get a first hand feel for what they do well and what they aren’t designed to do. Then run some sessions and use that experience to decide if this is the system you need for the game you have in mind.


If it’s all the same to everyone here, let’s try to avoid coming off as gatekeepers of the sacred PbtA.

After all, as Vincent and Meg have stated:

“Powered by the Apocalypse” isn’t the name of a kind of game, set of game elements, or even the core design thrust of a coherent movement. (Ha! This last, the least so.) Its use in a game’s trade dress signifies ONLY that the game was inspired by Apocalypse World in a way that the designer considers significant, and that it follows our policy wrt others’ use of our creative work. Meg and I are happy as always to answer questions about this, but aren’t likely to entertain any arguments contradicting it. As far as we’re concerned, this statement is definitive.

And again:

I understand at second- and third-hand that there are people out there who make it their business to shoulder in on other game creators’ decisions about whether to use Meg’s and my PbtA logo, or even to try to lead their judgments about whether their PbtA games are “really” PbtA. I can only see this as an illegitimate effort to manage and incorrectly enforce Meg’s and my policy, in a manner materially hostile to Meg’s and my interests. I am its enemy. Those people can please reign themselves in and knock it the heck off. Love, truly, Vincent

@MadsVg, you’re rocking it. Take the constructive feedback (and to be clear, there has been a lot of good feedback), ignore the rest. I’m looking forward to seeing how this project evolves :+1:t2:


Thank you for the information.I thought I knew more therefore just didn’t know enough. I apologize for involuntary gatekeeping.


Right, but I still would like to see the game growing!

Nice work! A lot of evocative bits in there. But I, too, would like to see the GM’s agenda to get a better feel for the game’s purpose. From the intro blurb I take it is about exploration of a new continent, but that’s about all. Is it supposed to be like sunken treasures a la Indiana Jones? Or like the lost continents and hollow earths of Verne, or maybe even Haggard? Is it more like the Spanish conquest of South America? Or the conquest of North America? Is it like Settlers of Catan? You see, there are many ideas to draw from.

More concrete feedback:
The primary attributes are on a weird range – 7 to 16? Then you have some convoluted calculations to derive boni – btw, how do you round fractions? – and more convoluted calculations to pay for pushs (which I don’t fully get to be honest). So, why are the high primary attribute values how they are?

That’s all for now.

Haven’t been able to access the site propperly for the last week or so, so for all of those that have commented in my absense, thank you for all your insights and comments. :smiley:

@BattleDrumz I wholly agree, there have been a LOT of great feedback from people. I’ve gotten a lot of the real constructive criticism and questions that I hoped for when I posted it here in the first place, which helps me understand what would and wouldn’t work well, as well as what needs to be clarified and ideas to what could be changed to make it better.

@Alun_R This was how I had interpreted the dice system as well, with somewhat set difficulties and target numbers, but it’s clear that it has been a interpretation that my limited play of the game system has imprinted on me, and not necessarily how it actually is intended to work, as elaborated on by @Paul_T

@Twonk I do have a distinct setting in mind when it comes to my own leading, but I’ve yet to add it to the document, as I don’t feel done with it yet.

But the overall idea is that it is about exploration of a new region/continent etc. Areas where the players themselves have very little knowledge about the area. This kinda breaks with how cooperative the creation of the world is, compared to DW for instance, as the goal is to entice the players into exploring the unknown world and revealing something about its past, present, future etc.

As for the attribute range, the basic idea was to enable the derived stats. These are currently directly taken from attributes, and I wanted them to be on the high end, to allow characters to take a hit and spend their resources on Pushing, while having the pool be large enough to be able to adjust Pushing cost if needed.

As for pushing, there is a certain amount of math that goes into it currently. With it costing 3 x Pushing level resources for each use. E.g. 2 Levels of Pushing costs 6 of the relevant resource.
Each level of Rote reduces the level of Pushing by 1. If you have a Rote 1 skill, Pushing that skill once costs you no resources, while Pushing 2 levels costs you 3 resources etc.

@Rickard did mention the crunch with the numbers, and it’s one of the things I’m actively thinking about changing, to make it less crunchy when it comes to numbers, and reducing the need for 7-16 numbers, and instead focus on the Type you play, to make that more important for the resources. Doing that could also mean that I would remake the cost of Pushing to make it less maths heavy.

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Hi @MadsVg :slight_smile:


…can be done both with a Traditional approach (everything written down somewhere, with the GM presenting it) or with a multitude of different approaches, including a few very collaborative ones.
And actually, if…

…then a cooperative approach is often more engaging to the Players (and their Characters) than the traditional alternative, especially in the exploration/discovery part of gameplay! :smiley:

Obviously, how a specific game handles the creative contributions of its Players makes a lot of difference. But in most PbtA games I have played:

  1. what a Player creates thanks to the game procedures can be unexpected and surprising for that same Player too
  2. what a Player creates thanks to the game procedures is often unexpected and surprising for all other Players (GM included, if present)
  3. what a Player creates thanks to the game procedures can be easily treated as complete news, or even still unknown, to the characters

If you structure your setting with this kind of mechanics in mind, the exploration can and will be very engaging and surprising (for you too!).
SILIKA is a (free) setting created with this in mind. Each group of users will create their own version of it, but all versions will share the same core elements, thematics and overall flavour.
Also, it is endlessly explorable by the same Players, as each playthrough will either build on previous ones and expand on them, or go in completely different directions. All without the need for the GM to “work more, write more, produce content”. Simply playing a different Character can result in exploring different things, or revealing the same stuff in a completely different light.

That said, if you don’t want the game to explore your setting but rather to have the GM present your setting to the Players while their characters do whatever, this can be arranged too.
You can easily take the Trad approach by writing all the specifics of the world you have in mind. This is very work intensive for you, and very cost-ineffective as most of the prep content is never experienced by the Players unless, like some old school D&D GMs do, you only ever prepare the content of the next one or two sessions… a less labour intensive but functional technique, but that I fear runs counter to your intention of writing down the whole setting beforehand?
Anyway… even with a fixed setting you can still use the rest of the PbtA framework just by shaping its various bits and pieces so that they don’t touch the setting.
So maybe a Players can answer freely and creatively about the nation from which their PC comes from, its culture, its traditions, etc… but can say nothing about the “new continent” they came to explore.
Or they can say stuff about the game reality (how their magic works, which animals do they know, etc) but never be sure if those things are the same as in the “new continent”.

The new PbtA version of KULT (the one named Divinity Lost) goes in that direction, if I’m not mistaken.

But please trust me if I tell you that…

has little to do with

and that it all has really nothing to do with

Being practical, campaign longevity comes from Player interest and engagement.

Disregarding that, there is something to be said about the fact that an engine that procedurally generates infinite content offers much more longevity that whatever anyone could cram in a book :stuck_out_tongue:

Not to mention that the content in the book is only as good as the writing skills of the author, and that even the best of content might not to the liking of all possible Players. On the other hand, procedurally generated content stemming from concrete and current Player input and interest is inherently interesting and engaging.
It’s what I call the ninja trick of modern design 🥷

You might get much more mileage from using your ideas as “seeds” or as a “light structure” used to inspire and guide the game procedures.
Even if Players have no part in them, you could benefit from using the same approach, but to make the GM’s life easier: a structure to effortlessly create setting content on the fly, tailored to the Player’s input and interests, but still 100% GM produced.
This way you work less, ALL your content is experienced by the Players (nothing exists except what actually ends up on the table) and you still retain creative control over it all, but with the improvement factor of being based on real Player interaction and expectation.

Again, just some thoughts to inspire your game design journey :slight_smile:


Beware… written like this it is extremely confusing. I understand that Rotes will reduce the cost of a Push, so instead of 3 resources you would need to spend 2 or just 1 or even 0.
I have a Skill at rote level 0.
To push it I need to spend 3 resources.
Then I improve, and my skill is now at rote level 1.
Now to push it I only need to spend 2 resources.

What you described later instead is “free pushes”.
So just remove the math and say:
Every level of Rote grants one free Push on that skill.

Also, unless you have game effects that cost 1 or 2 resources, consider flattening the math.
1 Push costs 1 Resource
but you have a lower total of resources to begin with :stuck_out_tongue:

Remember: math = complexity = bad
Usually :sweat_smile:
Sometimes more math is necessary, or even beneficial, but if Players need math to do very common game activities, you are probably making the game unnecessarily less accessible.