Different genres of role-playing game have different implied stories. Thanks to D&D the most common implied story of a fantasy game is one of adventurers growing into heroes as they make their way across a treacherous land of monsters and dungeons. Thanks to Cyberpunk 2020, the implied story of a Cyberpunk game is one of operators from the fringes of society alternating between struggling to survive and pushing back against the forces which control them. What if you took the story mode of Cyberpunk and placed it, whole-cloth, into a fantasy setting? Then you’d have Spire, a game which takes setting notes from D&D and Steampunk, story notes from Cyberpunk, and mechanical notes from Apocalypse World and blends them all into something wholly unique.
Dark Fantasy is more than just dying messily. While the genre does stand in contrast to “High Fantasy” in that way, there is more going on than just added mud and blood. High Fantasy and Swords and Sorcery are typified by great power, heroic character arcs, and the grand struggle between good and evil. Dark fantasy does highlight the violent aspects of pre-industrial society, but also contrasts itself from other fantasy genres by making sure that morality is represented by shades of grey, and that any quest for power comes with a price attached. The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power brings forth a dark fantasy world of the players’ creation. What makes it pop for me is not just the violence and the superstition, but the intrigue and mechanics behind it. The game sets character against character with ease but also puts these characters into positions of power over one another, encouraging jockeying and scheming right out of the gate. This Powered by the Apocalypse game turns Apocalypse World into Apocalypse Westeros, where otherworldly threats sit right alongside petty vendettas and power-grabs.
“Welcome to the Halcyon City MegaMall. We are currently experiencing a metahuman event. Please evacuate. Welcome to Halcyon City MegaMall . . .” The standard prerecorded warning announcement echoed through the wide corridors and plazas of the MegaMall, abandoned packages here and there on the floor. The only person in sight was a single extremely bored-looking security guard sitting at an information kiosk, idly flipping through a magazine, apparently heedless of the warning announcement. Aside from the lack of shoppers and scattered goods there was no sign of what sort of event might be going on – until the glass storefront of a shop exploded outwards as CryptoHertz and Spitfire were sent flying backwards through it.
It was a normal enough day at Arasaka Base, a hobby and game store located in one of the suburban areas of Halcyon City. Prospective buyers walked the aisles, a few gamers were trying out a new card game, and proprietor Chase was manning the front counter and reading a magazine. A breaking news report on the counter’s television caught his eye, though: the Vespamancer was apparently attacking the Halcyon City Eastern Bank. Somewhat half-heartedly looking around to see if anyone would be able to hear, he reached over and picked up a landline phone: “Hey, guys, think you’ve got some work to do.”
Halcyon City has seen many generations of superheroes over its long history. The Golden Age got it all started, the Silver Age rose to new heights of power, and the Bronze Age saw heroes turn introspective (and a little cynical). Now a New Generation is rising to take their place in the city’s history, and everyone is watching them to see what they’ll become. Before we can start following their current story, however, we need to know who they are, how they came together, and what sort of troubles might be on the way.
Welcome to System Split! Here we’ll examine two very similar systems to see what sets them apart. When the genre, complexity, and even rules system are exactly the same, what makes a game unique? Let’s kick this off by looking at Cyberpunk in the Powered by the Apocalypse system with The Sprawl and The Veil!
Brought on the scene with Apocalypse World in 2010, Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) is an indie darling. Apocalypse World itself is a wonderful and incredibly atmospheric game, and the underlying framework has further cemented the game’s popularity and helped propel an entire subgenre of new games. With so many designers embracing the PbtA system, it’s no surprise that Apocalypse World has spawned multiple approaches to popular genres like Cyberpunk.