Powered by the Apocalypse, or PbtA, is one of the most popular RPG rulesets in the indie gaming sphere. After getting its start with Apocalypse World and the Bakers’ permissive license, PbtA blew up first among single designers and small groups and then in the wider gaming sphere. While Apocalypse World was modestly successful in its own right, many of the games it spawned, including Monster of the Week, Dungeon World, and Blades in the Dark, multiplied its success many times over.
Mainstream PbtA success continues to this day, fed mostly by two mid-sized publishers: Evil Hat Productions and Magpie Games. Magpie Games, arguably the largest and most successful company to design primarily PbtA games, first saw success with titles like Urban Shadows, Bluebeard’s Bride, and Masks, and has gone on to rake in millions of dollars from some of the first licensed PbtA games, Root and Avatar Legends. Evil Hat Productions, more known as the company behind Fate, doesn’t design PbtA games in house, but publishes several of significance. Evil Hat publishes Monster of the Week, Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and Blades in the Dark, and they’re about to add another PbtA game to their library.
Continue reading Apocalypse Keys Review →
You are small people who walked into a big war. The Doomslord’s forces were gathered in the Broken Land, and your fellowship unexpectedly played a key role in the Doomslord’s fall. Now, laden with stories to tell and burdens to bear, you set off on the journey home. But the Doomslord’s Hunters are still out there, and it’s a long way to walk. Let’s see if you can make it Back Again from the Broken Land with a storytelling game of small adventurers and a journey home from Cloven Pine Games!
Continue reading Back Again from the Broken Land Review – Small Heroes, Heavy Burdens, and Stories →
Ten years ago, Dungeon World kicked Powered by the Apocalypse into the mainstream by tying the system back to Dungeons and Dragons, the hobby’s most popular game. Now, Powered by the Apocalypse (or PbtA) is the newest rules system entrant into the world of licensed RPGs, thanks to Magpie Games,. While Root: The Roleplaying Game might not be the very first licensed PbtA game it is certainly the biggest one to date, using the look, feel, and logo of Leder Games’ critically acclaimed board game to catapult it to a $600,000 Kickstarter success. It also quite likely opened the gate for Magpie’s upcoming Avatar game, which leapfrogged the Kickstarter success of Root more than tenfold.
So now that Root is available not only to backers but to the world at large, what does a game by the largest PbtA publisher look like these days? Magpie Games has built their business on PbtA, scoring hits with the innovative Urban Shadows, Masks, and Bluebeard’s Bride, among others. Given their long track record it’s no surprise that the company has sought out opportunities for licensing like they found with Root. From the outside, though, there are questions about Magpie’s product strategy. Root’s final PDF was delivered to backers over a year late, and Urban Shadows second edition, currently in process, will likely be almost as late as that (original ETA for delivery was September of 2021 for PDFs). While the pandemic and other exogenous factors are clearly part of this, having multiple high-profile Kickstarters in fulfillment at once (Urban Shadows, Root, and Avatar: The Last Airbender were all concurrent prior to Root’s fulfillment) seems to be stretching the team thin.
Continue reading Root: The Roleplaying Game Review →
All things considered, the Night Nurse had been pretty kind. There really shouldn’t be anyone in the waiting room at this hour of the morning, but CryptoHertz – Gil – found himself there, a forgotten cup of coffee on the table next to him, just… staring. For a while he’d been staring at the wall, but at some point he’d noticed that there was still some blood between his fingers. Gil shuddered, trying to shake the memory of how it had felt when Plague Hack had forced him to run Arasaka Saburo through, and in doing so looked up at the television that had been droning on in the background. The twenty-four-hour news channel had a breaking news update:
High Impact BioMedical and Arasaka Corp were signing a new contract agreement to work together.
Continue reading Adventure Log: Masks: High Impact Heroics Pt. 8 →
Water… Earth… Fire… Air. Long ago, Avatar: The Last Airbender told the story of a nascent master of all four elements and the group of young heroes that helped him save the world. Then everything changed when the Legend of Korra brought us the tale of his successor and her many trials and tribulations. But then, as these things go, that journey ended and that world vanished from the screen. Seven years passed, with the story continuing in novels and comics, but now we’ve discovered a new window into the Avatar world. Magpie Games is telling the story this time, and the prologue is the Quickstart for their newest roleplaying game: Avatar Legends!
Continue reading Avatar Legends Quickstart Review →
A couple hundred years ago, an event called The Fold sent every living being across every dimension into a sort of nightmare reality. Very Powerful Beings were able to reconstitute themselves eventually, but the world was utterly trashed. Using magic and strange technology, lichs, dragons, demons, angels, capitalists, and other monsters built the sprawling megacity of Neo-Francisco. In one of those lost realities, you might have been the heroes destined to save it. In the neon-sick car crash of technological majesty, fantasy weirdness, dimensional rifts, and incredibly funky music that is NF, however, you’re gig workers working for the delivery app Disposable Heroes. It’s deadly work, but it pays! Sorta. This is the deck-based roleplaying game of long hours, high mortality rates, and blazing neon from Sandy Pug Games!
Continue reading Disposable Heroes Review – Gig Economy Heroes Dying for a 5-Star Rating →
Many play fantasy RPGs for escapism. Could even call it power fantasies. A world where things that we could never imagine seeing in reality are as commonplace as rain falling from the sky. Dragons breathing flames. Gods that walk the land as if they were anything else of the world. Relics of grand, divine power. But it’s not just that. In these worlds, the characters we create are important. They’re important in shaping, travelling and influencing the fantastical world around them. It’s not only that they are powerful figures and beings. It’s that what they do matters. That creates an issue, however. What does “actions that matter” mean? Sure, you could slay some grand old Lich and raid their tomb/lair. But what does that mean when you’ve done it a thousand times. Sure, you forge the dragon’s scales into a set of armor. But when you can take an arrow straight through your bare chest and laugh, why do you need the armor other than as a rather intricate piece of jewelry?
This is the issue of fantasy games. Your characters are strong, yes. They can make big changes, yes. But what does it matter if the world will always have more dragons. Always have more giants. Always have something else for you to fight. Does it really matter if the rules simply don’t account for this rise to prominence within the world itself. This feeling resulted in me feeling a tad burnt out on fantasy RPGs. It began to feel hollow to slay yet another walking skeleton, despite reassuring myself it mattered. I moved towards superhero games such as Masks or more relationship and character based fantasy games, such as Thirsty Sword Lesbians.
However, recently I picked up a new RPG. And reading through it, I discovered something that I had been searching so long for but never found. I discovered a fantasy world where you are powerful, but not for the sake of power. You are powerful to unseat the corrupt and decadent rulers of the world within it. It’s a game where the Bards of the system can sway the masses with rules to accompany it. A game where you can stare down beasts of heaven and hell without blinking, because you know blinking would lead to your own downfall. It’s a game where you’re powerful to make change.
This is Karanduun. And with it, you will make Gods bleed.
Continue reading Karanduun: Make Gods Bleed Review →
Oftentimes in combat within tabletop roleplaying games, the dealing of damage and conservation of health points seems to be all that matters. The concept of getting in your hits and hoping to all hope that it’s more harm than the opponent gets in. It often treats opponents in the game as a roadblock, similar to video games. “You must get past me to receive more story.”
And there’s no harm in that, on the surface at least. A challenge can be enough of a motivation for fun. Strategizing and planning to surpass the foe in front of you so you can get what you want. Video games wouldn’t have made an entire industry and genre on the concept if it didn’t work. But, sometimes you don’t want a compilation of stats and HP. Sometimes you want an enemy you can empathize with. An enemy who has motivations, internal strife/virtues and a personality that makes you feel so many conflicting emotions about them. Above all, that’s it. You want a foe you can feel for. People in real life, no matter how detestable and wretched, are rarely as binary in “100% good or bad”. Like the saying goes: People contain multitudes.
While nearly every RPG can be used to achieve this goal of a complex and nuanced villain, I’ve yet to meet one that incentives it. A game that makes it an imperative of the message within. A game that damn near bakes it into every mechanic.
Until I played this game. When I joined the playtest for this RPG, I had such fun even in it’s beta stage. It was what I had been searching for in a fantasy RPG: a game where it’s not about how big your numbers are or the modifiers on your special sword. But about how your character feels about the world around them and people within.
This game is Thirsty Sword Lesbians.
Continue reading Thirsty Sword Lesbians – Kickstarter Review →
Every creative endeavor has a ‘how’ and a ‘why’. Even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, your project will have something you’re trying to do or say, and then a method by which you do or say it. A couple weeks ago, I meditated on the prevalence and necessity of advancement in RPGs, coming to the conclusion that advancement as a story concept in games is a truism, a trope, and not necessarily a requirement. That article provided me with a ‘why’; today we’re going to talk about one potential ‘how’.
Continue reading System Hack: A Not-Advancement System for PbtA →
I’ve recommended a few Masks: A New Generation actual plays at this point. From the amazing school days of Unlabelled. To the always entertaining and oft-times bizarre Critical Bits. And these stories, for all their hilarity, are no strangers to dark moments. However, today we are going to be talking about an actual play that began as something quite light only to transition to a very real dark side. And did it oh-so-well.
Today, we are going to be talking about Rollout Podcast. In particular, we are going to be talking about their longest running and, in my opinion, the most beautifully painful series: The Young Vanguard.
Continue reading The Kids Aren’t All Right: Why You Should Listen To Rollout →