If you like the popular tabletop roleplaying game Apocalypse World, you’ll love these spin-off games that use its open source “Fiction-first” ruleset to tell fun stories in a wide range of different genres. Among the many games “Powered by the Apocalypse,” the following stand out not only for their great design, but for how they use Apocalypse World mechanics to help players come up with new, unique stories.
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This is why Apocalypse World, a tabletop roleplaying game that came out in 2010, took the roleplaying world by storm. The game’s mechanics focused on narrative storytelling over complexity, as well as colloquial rulebook language that matched the grimy, desperate, surreal aesthetic of post-apocalyptic stories like Fallout or Mad Max. It’s hard to tell what happened in this world, but it was ravaged by an apocalypse that was both vague and terrifying. Players of Apocalypse World play bandits, warlords, medics and psychics as they try to stay alive and make new friends despite the chaos.
If you want to make your own tabletop roleplaying games based on Apocalypse World rules, Vincent Baker, the person who came up with them, says that you can. People can legally say that their game is “Powered by the Apocalypse” by adding a logo to their game that says that. A “PBTA” game is usually made up of the following variables: There are rules called “Moves” that help players decide how to deal with in-game challenges. Players roll two six-sided dice and get a bonus to see if their characters succeed, fail, or succeed at a cost. For another thing, most “PBTA” games have “Playbooks,” which are character sheets with a list of attributes and custom moves that are based on certain types of people. Among the Playbooks in Apocalypse World is one called “The Angel.” Another is called “The Battlebabe,” and a third is called “The Brainer.” It’s also common for the Game Master to ask players to “make a move” when a character’s choices would get them in trouble. Players describe what their characters do, and the Game Master asks them to “make a move.” Even though these gameplay principles were meant to be used in a post-apocalyptic setting, creative game developers have been able to use them to make games in a wide range of genres.
Tabletop Apocalypse RPG: Dungeon World
As in D&D and other early fantasy games, Dungeon World is a violent and dangerous place where gold and glory come to those who are willing to risk it all. The Playbooks have well-known archetypes like “The Fighter,” “The Cleric,” and “The Wizard,” but they also have some new ones, too. Players in the party of adventurers use moves like “Hack & Slash,” “Parley,” “Spout Lore,” or “Make Camp” to solve problems when they get into trouble in Dungeons.
Tabletop Apocalypse RPG: Monsterhearts
You play “The Fae,” “The Ghost,” “The Vampire,” “The Werewolf” and other spooky supernatural creatures in the Monsterhearts RPG. You also play angsty, awkward teens who attend high school in the style of The Breakfast Club. It’s possible to use moves like “Turn Someone On,” “Gaze Into the Abyss,” or “Lash Out Physically” to make stories about adolescence and love triangles, and stories about people trying to figure out how to live in a world where they aren’t like the rest of us.
Tabletop Apocalypse RPG: Monster Of The Week
As with Monsterhearts, Monster of the Week is a game that lets gamers tell stories like The Vampire Diaries. Playbooks like “The Chosen,” “The Spooky,” and “The Flake” are used to show a group of monster-hunters and paranormal investigators. They have to take down different creatures that go bump in the night.
They have special rules for making monsters, not just their abilities and weaknesses, but also their inhuman hungers and what they’ll do if they’re not stopped. This is because the game master who runs “Monster of the Week” has these rules.
Tabletop Apocalypse RPG: Night Witches
This is a PBTA game about the real-life “Night Witches,” women aviators from the Soviet Union who flew old biplanes against the Nazis during World War 2. A special ability and a list of medals for “valiant defence of the motherland” are found in each playbook in the game Night Witches. It’s all about avoiding the NKVD secret police by making moves like “Attack Run,” “Tempt Fate,” “Scrounge,” and “An Informal Interview.”
Tabletop Apocalypse RPG: Flying Circus
Flying Circus is a more lighthearted take on the aviation genre. It’s a love letter to both the open-cockpit planes of World War I and the Studio Ghibli films Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It’s been a long time since the Flying Circus has been in the air. The brave pilots of the mercenary group fight to protect their homes and fight off dragons with their whirring biplanes.
Powered by the Apocalypse: Flying Circus has more complicated combat mechanic than most of the other games in the series. The Playbooks are based on the instruments in a biplane cockpit, and the altitude adjustments and manoeuvres real-life ace pilots used in World War I are very well thought out.
Tabletop Apocalypse RPG: The Warren
One of the best-known books, movies, and TV shows in the world is called Watership Down. It tells the story of a group of rabbits who go on a search for a new home in the English countryside. As opposed to other “Powered By the Apocalypse” games that have humans as the main characters, players take on the roles and struggles of rabbits. They can use moves like “Dig,” “Bolt,” “Birth A Litter,” and “Resist Panic.” Rabbit protagonists have to fight and run from things like dogs, foxes, and humans instead of slimes, dragons, and robots like in other stories.
Apocalypse World makes it clear early on that the game master (GM), or “master of ceremonies” (MC), isn’t in charge of the story. They’re called that in the game’s rule book.
“It’s not your goal to make the players lose, or to keep them from getting what they want.”
Instead, the point of being an MC is to respond to what the other players do. Preparation and worldbuilding are good, but the MC isn’t going to know how the session is going to end when he or she starts it.
What do you do when the MC interacts with you? Player responses to that question must help to shape the story. away from the smoke No, they go right back into the fight. What they do next in the story is up to them.
As someone who likes to roll dice, I don’t think many TTRPGs, like D&D, make things too hard. A 20-sided die will be used to swing your sword, and you’ll be adding up bonuses and damage types. You’ll check your character sheet four times to make sure you’re doing the math right.
As a game designer, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple, especially when you’re trying to keep your players’ attention on the story. All of the moves in Apocalypse World work the same way in this game. Is it possible to sneak into a camping site? The bad guy getting hit? Manipulating a friend? No matter what the player does, they roll two 6-sided dice and add one of a few modifiers, no matter how the move goes. When they did that, they looked at the results: One is a fail, two is good, and three or more is great. Great for new GMs: When you roll, you don’t need to set difficulty levels, look at the section on fall damage, or decide right away what the outcome should be. There’s no need for this. Each time a die comes down on the table, it’s either going to be a success or not.
It’s also good for people who play. There are only five modifiers to remember: cool, hard, hot, sharp, and weird. Everyone at the table knows what a roll means for the story.