It’s tough being the first. Back in 2010, before Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition (and before Fourth Edition Essentials too), Vincent Baker released the first edition of Apocalypse World. While the praise was immediate, the snowball effect of the game had just started. By the time Baker released the second edition, now (and from this point forward) sharing the byline with his wife Meguey Baker, Powered by the Apocalypse had become a force in the indie game world. After another five years, the Baker family revisited Apocalypse World again, with Vincent and Meguey working with their children to produce Burned Over.
There are two things about Burned Over which caused me to overlook it initially. The first was a misunderstanding, though also a reflection of how many indie games are made these days. Burned Over is a hackbook, and having not heard this phrase before I confused it in intent with an ashcan. An ashcan is essentially the game equivalent of a minimum viable product or Early Access; it contains the rules to play and a first draft of the written game while being otherwise incomplete. Burned Over is not incomplete; though some of the initial rules were released on Vincent Baker’s Patreon (of which I am a subscriber, full disclosure) in ashcan form, the hackbook as it stands is complete, laid out, and 100% playable. What hackbook means is that Burned Over is a hack of Apocalypse World released as a book; Burned Over requires Apocalypse World to play though this belies the differences made somewhat.
The second element which caused me to overlook Burned Over at first came from the description of what it was. When the Baker family undertook Burned Over as a project, it was described as a version of Apocalypse World which toned down the sex and violence of the original. My initial reaction was that this would be a bowdlerized Apocalypse World, and I didn’t really like that. Needless to say I was wrong, but it meant that I didn’t actually read Burned Over until I had seen praise of it elsewhere. Burned Over strongly recenters many elements of Apocalypse World without changing the core mechanics of the game or its core gameplay loop; this recentering both revises and strengthens the rules as well as shifts the game’s relationship towards its own setting. While this is perhaps too informed by recent discourse, I think Burned Over shifts Apocalypse World from genre emulation of post-apocalyptic film and games to being a post-apocalyptic work in its own right with its own setting.
Continue reading System Split: Apocalypse World and the Burned Over Hackbook
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
How much changes in a decade? A couple years ago I went to my tenth college reunion. I was struck by how different things were; how my old fraternity was simply not familiar any more, and how my favorite late night food spots gave me significantly more indigestion. I couldn’t help but notice, also, how much was exactly the same. The city of Pittsburgh was still the same idiosyncratic mix of rust belt and academic, and the campus very much elicited all the memories I had from being in that place. Ten years seems like both enough time for something to change completely and yet not change at all. And so it is with Powered by the Apocalypse.
It hasn’t been exactly ten years since the start of Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), Apocalypse World was released in 2010. That said, as the game scooped up awards through 2010 and 2011, we could say that it’s roughly the 10th anniversary of PbtA as a phenomenon. By the end of the 2011 awards season the momentum had built, and Dungeon World, the game that arguably sent PbtA into the next tier of indie phenomena, came out in 2012. No matter your exact accounting, though, 2021 is the perfect time to reflect on a decade of PbtA because the Bakers have released a new PbtA game.
Continue reading Under Hollow Hills 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
Role-playing games can be a perfect venue for the surreal. Exploring a strange world that has its own incomprehensible rules is often better done in games, where players have the opportunity to poke, prod, and learn, rather than being stuck in an author’s or director’s interpretation. That said, most games that embrace surreality these days embrace a designer’s vision, and are still one possible experience in a world that could be a whole lot weirder. Enter Dreampunk, a game currently being funded on Kickstarter. Dreampunk is a game that borrows heavily from the mechanics of Belonging Outside Belonging and, by extension, Powered by the Apocalypse. What makes Dreampunk unique, though, is the use of card drawing mechanics not only to pace the game, but to develop the very reality of the setting.
Continue reading The Independents: Dreampunk
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
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
There are many phenomenal tabletop roleplaying game kickstarters occurring presently, as can be seen in the latest Kickstarter Wonk article, but one that particularly stood out to me was one that centered around a very specific and intriguing concept.
Preparing For Paris is a game where you play discontinued Olympic Sports, personified as high school students, training to become once more an Olympic Sport. They will also do, as teenagers in high school are likely to do, all the humdrum of adolescence that comes with it.
I sat down with PfP’s creator, Logan, to discuss his new (and fully funded) game.
Continue reading Preparing for Paris: Interview with the Creator