The Powered by the Apocalypse system, Vince Baker’s revolutionary game design paradigm originally showcased in Apocalypse World, has become a big of a mixed blessing: while it inspired games like Monsterhearts (which is incredibly important to me as it massively changed how I play and think about roleplaying games), it seems like lots of people are trying to make PbtA games without really thinking about what that means. The virtue of PbtA is that is can emulate a specific combination of genre, emotional intensity and surprising twists like no other system that currently exists. At the same time, it just doesn’t work for everything. It shouldn’t – it’s not a generic system. It’s pretty much the opposite of that. There are some great places to look for systems that can be hacked into whatever shape you like: Fate if you want high-action, minimal changes; Cortex for something more tailored to genre emulation; Hillfolk for high-drama big-picture plots.
So when I hear ‘it’s x done in PbtA’, my heart sinks a little. Will it disappoint me? My ears prick up. Will it have mechanics I really want to get my teeth into?
The Secrets of Cats by Richard Bellingham is an excellent setting for Fate, part of their Worlds of Fate series (which, by the way, is generally wonderful, as they’re really committing to their Open Gaming Licence and promoting lesser-known designers with innovative uses for the system). The characters are all cats who belong to a secret cat society that guards and watches over humans, their ‘Burdens’, using sacrificial magic, territory and occult know-how. If that didn’t already make you excited about this game, you’re probably a lost cause for this review, because this game fully embraces the concept. Less horrifying than Bunnies and Burrows, more heroic than Another Fine Mess, it’s a sweet and occasionally brutal game of animals who are willing to risk anything to save those they love. Continue reading
Roleplaying and Shakespeare? The Play’s the Thing was always going to catch my attention, but I didn’t expect for it to be quite as strange and cool as it is. The players, guided by the Playwright, are actors in a theatre troupe trying to act out a play – however, when anyone can suggest weird and wonderful edits, who knows where things will end up? The Play’s the Thing is a fantastic way of acting out your favourite Shakespearean dramas – just be ready for everything to change at the whim of the players, or sometimes the pettiness of the actors!
Monsterhearts is one of those games that’s acquired a sort of mythic status (certainly where I live). It’s known for being emotionally powerful, excellent for genre emulation and potentially hugely variable depending on the campaign. Maybe that’s just in my friends’ circle, but there are good reasons for this reputation. Continue reading