I really, really want to understand Powered By The Apocalypse (PbtA) games, but I just don’t. I’m starting to think I’m either really dumb or so old that this New Fangled Way is beyond my old grognard/neckbeard skills.
Now, to be clear: the basic premise is easy to grasp. In “old school” RPGs, you are presented with a challenge: say, an orc guarding a door. The players and GM then shift into a semi-simulation of the fight. In the classic method, each side (in PbtA parlance) “makes moves”, or executes various rules systems, with the roll of the dice standing in for the randomness and chaos of the real world. GM rolls well, you get hit and take damage; you roll well, the orc dies (or you sneak by him or you con him into opening the door, or whatever).
In my day (rattles cane) if you – the GM – got a roll you didn’t like, well, you were probably rolling behind a screen, so you’d just fudge it. Maybe killing a PC right now was the wrong thing to do, or maybe the player did a really funny or interesting job pretending to fast-talk the orc; whatever. The point is, you made the call and went on with the game.
In PbtA, all that is … simplified? Streamlined? Systematized? All of the above? I get it: the PCs have moves that are analogous to the volume upon volume of rules in classic systems. “We are going to sneak past the orc”, they say, and they roll their “Sneak Past Stuff” move. If they succeed, they succeed; and if they fail, or partially succeed, then something appropriate happens.
This bit, I get. This is nearly exactly identical to the old-school way, just clarified and formalized. It works. I get it.
What I don’t get are the constant series of meta games that PbtA systems seem to want to introduce, to the point of having hundreds of pages of rules for … frankly, I don’t even know.
Consider ‘Blades in the Dark’. It consists of a “free play” mode and a “score” mode and a “downtime” mode. Uh, ok? It has “flashback scenes” and all sorts of other, strange modes of interacting that involve different types of rolls and systems.
[Sidebar: I’m told that Blades in the Dark is a pretty “advanced” hack of PbtA, and possibly not ideal for a first play-through. “Just play DW”, they say. To which I say, I should not have to have a fundamental grounding in “Chutes and Ladders” before taking on Advanced Squad Leader.]
As I understand it, the modes of play are roughly like this:
- Free play: “We go talk to a dude about a door we heard we want to open.”
- Score: OK, roll to open the door. Roll to get what is behind the door. Roll to carry off things. Roll to escape.
- Downtime: roll to fence the goods. Roll to heal. Role play all of this.
That needs … systems? And I’m leaving out flashbacks and numerous other pieces of minutiae I can’t even remember.
The list goes on, and on. There’s a bunch of abstractions I can’t wrap my head around. Combat in PbtA has a strange set of moving parts I can’t get. I get not detailing each swing of a sword or pull of a trigger, but at times it feels like a flip of a 3-sided coin (you take a hit! you don’t take a hit! you sort of do or don’t!).
I could keep rambling on, but I think you get the idea. Am I just over-thinking this? Am I too grounded in old-school D&D?