Based on the system engineered for Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker, Powered by the Apocalypse systems are typically a narrative-focused, high-stakes adventure system that easily allows for genre emulation and evocative, character-driven storytelling. It has no SRD (although the Bakers are working on one), but it does have an open use policy, detailed on their site. Because of this, there is no set definition of a PbtA game, as the Bakers have stated that “[Powered by the Apocalypse] signifies ONLY that the game was inspired by Apocalypse World in a way that the designer considers significant, and that it follows our policy [with regard to] others’ use of our creative work.”
Most PbtA games do have some familiar elements: archetypal chargen using playbooks, “moves” rather than skill checks, an item system that utilizes tags, and combat that goes for a vibe check more than a protracted, hours-long whittling down of a BBEG’s hit points. This system typically uses 2D6 and ensures that every single roll will have narrative consequences. With a lightweight framework and the possibility of high-impact narratives PbtA games are incredibly popular and learning this system opens the door to hundreds of other games. One of my personal favorite systems, I will always default to a PbtA game when offered a choice of games.
Additionally, the RPG company Magpie Games almost exclusively uses the PbtA system, and it has produced work like Masks, Urban Shadows, Pasion de las Pasiones, Cartel, Bluebeard’s Bride, and more—all written by different authors who work with Magpie as a publisher/producer.
I’ve left out quite a few notable systems, and I know it! However, I hope to update this slideshow to feature as many systems and SRDs as possible, including favorites like Lasers & Feelings, Cairn, Troika, and many, many more! That said—anyone who comes into the comments to say GURPS or THAC0 will be sprayed with a water bottle.
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