BEYOND D&D: THE POWERED BY THE APOCALYPSE SYSTEM
Updated: Jun 28, 2023
Written by: ShrimpFriedDice
Opening up your tabletop world: we start our journey beyond D&D with our first alternative RPG guide. Introducing: Powered By The Apocalypse.
Dungeons & Dragons prides itself on being the world's greatest roleplaying game, and whilst it is certainly up there for popularity, it definitely has a lot of competition among both well-known TTRPGs and the Indie RPG scene that can often get overlooked due to many factors.
This article hopes to be the start of many Beyond D&D out to introduce you to alternative RPG systems, recommend some games, and compile some resources in case you’re interested in looking into some of the systems and games! We are here to tell you that it's ok to try a new system, most games aren't as much of a financial or time commitment as learning D&D typically is, and there are amazing stories to be told while still rolling your click clacks.
Beyond D&D begins with a deep dive into Powered by the Apocalypse
Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA for short), which is a game system that began with Apocalypse World designed by Vincent and Meguey Baker, is a gritty post-apocalyptic game with a setting designed to be built upon with the gaming group. Interestingly, within Apocalypse World, the Master of Ceremonies (The Gamemaster) is meant to go into the first session with minimal prep, to encourage all players to shape the world collectively. It is philosophies like this that are core to PbtA.
PbtA focuses more on group storytelling than heavy mechanics, which sets it apart from the realities of pausing gameplay to flip through rulebooks. In PbtA games, the Gamemaster (which goes by various names depending on the game), is considered more of a player than some all-knowing god and the system itself encourages a healthy amount of idea generation and ‘Yes, And” -ing to tell stories. The gameplay uses 2 six-sided dice to determine whether or not you fail, partially succeed or completely succeed at the action you’re taking which are known as Moves. Moves are basically what your characters can do, there are generally moves that every character can do, but then the move selection is expanded upon depending on the class you play as.
Powered by the Apocalypse proves itself as a highly adaptable system, crossing many genres and opening avenues of play across many worlds. This, and the Baker’s have been very vocal about using the ruleset and system openly, designing games to tell more stories, and this is where we have so many games to choose from.
Some choice games that are Powered by the Apocalypse include:
Monster of the Week: Grab the fireplace poker and get your spell book. That monster’s going down!
Monster of The Week (Designed by Michale Sands and published by Evil Hat Productions) is probably the most notorious PbtA game. With inspirations like The X-Files, Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Monster of the Week comes pre-packaged with the narrative format at its core to create an action/horror RPG.
City of Mist: This is your City: gritty, corrupt, and rife with magic and mystery.
City of Mist (designed by Amít Moshe and published by Son of Oak Game Studio) Is a game that is something between a Cinematic Film Noir and a Superhero Epic. You play as heroes derivative of certain gods/tropes/Mythical Concepts and fight crime in a city that contains ordinary people and people with access to legendary powers.
Monsterhearts: The messy lives of teenage monsters...
Monsterhearts, designed by Avery Alder, is your teen drama RPG where you all play as monsters dealing with the highs and lows of romance, school, teen angst and the difficulties of constantly changing bodies. It is most well known for being a very LGBTQ+ game through many aspects including a core mechanic that essentially dictates your current crush, which can constantly change.
Avatar Legends: Adventure across the four nations!
Avatar Legends (Published by Magpie Games and Designed by Brendan Conway and James Mendez Hodes) is the last game on the list and a fun call out to fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra! This TTRPG is an officially licensed game set in the world of Avatar and uses a slightly adapted version of PbtA for its ruleset.
Here are some Actual Play podcasts too,
if you're into hearing others' stories or perhaps want
to learn by listening to some games being played:
The CritShow - Monster of the Week
SuperIdols RPG - Masks: A New Generation
Spout Lore - Dungeon World
These games are, by no means, the only ones that exist. There is a whole world of PbtA games, communities constantly sharing stories and homebrew to expand upon the rulesets for all these games and many more. The Designers of Apocalypse World even have a section of their website dedicated to collating places that host games designed with the PbtA system!
If you look at some of the links supplied, many of these websites have free reference sheets or example downloadable character sheets for you to look at!
I hope that some of these descriptions and games have taken your interest, and this only scratches the surface of games out there beyond D&D.