PBTA Games

I’ve heard you guys briefly mention Dungeon World a few times and I gather neither of you is a big fan. I’m sure you’ve mentioned why, but I don’t recall you ever dwelling on it too much. I’d be interested to hear a discussion about the game and PBTA games in general.

My own take, fwiw: I really like the rules-light feel of it and the way the player-facing roles tend to speed up combat. I think the list of basic moves pretty much covers everything the players might want to do. The only one that gets a little clunky for me is “discern realities.” I prefer to treat that more like a traditional perception check because I have found that the players sometimes have specific things they are looking for and asking a general question doesn’t seem to fit the situation.

I also own Zombie World and Masks: A New Generation. I got to play Zombie World at a convention and thought the card mechanic was refreshingly fun. Unfortunately, I have only had one brief opportunity to run it. As for Masks, I really don’t like it. It seems like they just added to much to the core PBTA mechanics and it left me feeling uninspired.



I really enjoy pbta games, once you get then hang of them they are super fun.

Currently played/ran around 50 Dungeon World, 50 Monster of the Week, 50 Don’t pay the Ferryman, 20 Season of Dreams, 10 Urban Shadows and 10 Eotenweard.

Regarding Discern Realities, ‘What should I be on the lookout for’ or 'What is useful or valuable to me 'can be swopped out for more specific questions such as Do I recognise where this come from or How old is this item.

I haven’t played Masks but I know many people who enjoy it.

Monster of the Week is my go-to game for getting folks new to PBTA to play, if they’ve seen an episode of Buffy or Supernatural they’ll get the feel of it very quickly.

Things do go quicker if people don’t want to dwell in the scene, so you can get alot done in a 3 hour session. I’ve also found because the core of the games is a conversation, sourcing the table can help flesh out things.

I’ve done a short vid here about it - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR0JjKogABE

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To be honest, my opinion of the system isn’t flattering and I’m not sure it would be of much use for you or anyone else. @Sean - you have any thoughts/help here?


Ah, yes. I forgot that I have Monster of the Week, too!

Agreed about Discern Realities.

I’d be interested in your perspective, even if it isn’t flattering, but I get that you guys try to keep the show positive!

You could always ask someone who has played tons of it and maybe even written some Dungeon World zines to come on the show. LOL. I don’t know who that would be though.

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In case it is not known, Brett is not a fan of PBTA.

I own…

The Veil
The Sprawl
Apocalypse World

I did own MASH, but unloaded it.

I have an appreciation of the engine and the mantra of the rules. Discuss what you’re going to do through narration, tie it to a move, roll dice, and follow the 7-8/9-10/11-12…I think it is, results. Everyone has a name, etc. It’s simple and oddly elegant. The playbooks are a strength and every rpg could take note on their awesomeness.

I get the appeal and probably should play more.

One of the things about our show, that lingers in the back of my mind, is familiarity. We talk about what we know and enjoy. We don’t have all the answers, but our community helps fill the gaps. I’m going off on a tangent here, shocker, but it’s easy to lean on old faithful. I’m tired of talking about 5e or referencing D&D just because it’s ‘default’. This is one main reason I want to play other games to have different experiences to include other mechanics. Seriously, I’m tired of 5e because there are so many more games that deserve more attention.

So yeah, I’m good with talking about pbta. I have only played Monster Hearts with @Kevthulhu at cons. I have run DW but it’s been a lonnnngggg time. So my pbta depth is not deep. We could certainly put a call out, but…

One thing I cannot stand is shitty audio quality. We’ve had some guests with some doozie audio. AAMF, we never launched a show with one guest because their audio was a mess. We are also not an interview show. Yes, we’ve had guests on to discuss a game or topic, and they have been great. Only a couple of them had atrocious audio. Having said that…I guess the goal would be to get someone that has solid knowledge of pbta and does not have shitt audio. I almost say, "unless they podcast, and their podcast does not sound like ass, then I’d consider having them on the show.


Caveat: I’ve only experienced PbtA games as a player, not run any games myself. Mostly one-shots, with a few mini campaigns.

I agree with Sean’s take on the engine. Playbooks are fantastic, and I feel a lot of other games (such as Blades in the Dark or more recent Fate games like DFA) have taken heavy inspiration from these. They do a great job at conveying an archetype and letting you jump right in. The 2d6 resolution mechanic with its partial successes is simple and elegant as well.

I’ve played in some fun Dungeon World con games, although I think it was more the GM than the system itself that made these games fun. I feel that Dungeon World tries a bit too hard to emulate D&D (e.g. with its six attributes), rather than more fully embracing the PbtA philosophy. So I’ve never really been all that interested in running it myself.

My other challenge is that many (though certainly not all) PbtA games seem to be designed around heavy emotional drama. I’m thinking Monsterhearts, Cartel, or even Apocalypse World. I think the system is actually really good for this, too - but it’s not generally something I personally enjoy in my RPGs. So I tend to prefer the somewhat more lighthearted variants. I’ve really enjoyed Monster of the Week, for example.

As a GM, PbtA hasn’t really resonated with me, though. I’ve enjoyed other games that skew more towards narrative, such as Fate. I think it’s probably because I prefer a more open-ended structure, rather than PbtA’s fixed set of moves. I also like to roll dice as a GM, although I know not having to roll dice is very much a plus for other GMs. So it all comes down to personal preferences in the end.


Trouble is the only guy I know who does that is a stuck up artist type. :stuck_out_tongue:
(seriously though, not a bad idea).

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… Totally

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Next 3-4 topics are not D&D focused. In fact, two of them are focused on specific games. That should make you happy :grin:


My quick take on Dungeon World. But first - my credentials. Been gaming since 1977: rpgs of all genres. I played Dungeon World seriously for over five years, and ran or played in hundreds of sessions. I still play it some, including a several sessions in the last year. I wrote about 500 pages worth of zine material devoted to it (which you can get for free at https://rayotus.itch.io). And I have participated in deep level discussions on a revision as well.


  1. The GM advice is really good and has influenced MANY rpgs written since.

  2. The book has a great “voice,” but it is not well organized, fails to fully communicate what is different about the system (evidenced by the confusion I’ve seen in people approaching it and running it for the first time), and has a number of extra systems that don’t totally work or fit comfortably within the game. (Fronts, settlements, etc. are a little word or simply not needed.) The game needs a revision, but the creators have essentially treat it like an ex-wife.

  3. The play experience is just straight up FUN. (Your mileage may vary.) The fiction flows easily, always moves forward, and playing a character is exciting. Running it takes almost no prep and allows you, as the GM, to work freely. All the core rules work well at the table, starting with the most basic piece: the “move” structure. To be honest, that structure is the whole system in the way the d20 + mods vs difficulty is the core of D&D.

  4. The playbooks, while great for getting people started, are ultimately the downfall of the game in my opinion. They get boring after a while, since they play out roughly the same way each time. (Probably not so different from 5e character builds. Except that 5e is more packed with rules and option so it looks more varied. We can argue about whether it really is.) A few of the fan-made playbooks are good and fun. However, many of them are not written well and/or break the system.

  5. The system itself is really fragile to +1 modifiers. When they start stacking up, they quickly mean automatic success. When a character can consistently mount a +4 or even a +3 on common actions, they become a real superhero and it’s hard to challenge them. The way the game’s momentum works, it’s tough for the GM to even “take a swing” at a character that’s on a roll of success.

  6. Dungeon World really works well as a system you can use to play out old school modules. You just ignore all the stat-work in those modules. It’s very easy to build your monsters, traps, etc. on the fly, supplanting Dungeon World system ideas for D&D system ideas.

In a nutshell, it’s a great game if the GM understands the system. It lacks support and desperately needs a second edition but the creators have dropped it. Well known fans who have discussed doing a second edition don’t agree on the what or how, and many seem hellbent on making it more complicated and process oriented in the way of second wave PbtA games. (Which I really dislike.)


Oh, and @Fafhrd, when you want to sell that DW hardback, talk to me. :slight_smile:

Your comments make a lot of sense to me.

I also think it can become difficult, over time, to narrate all of the 7-9s that come up. I think I have felt like it becomes a little tedious at times and I enjoy being creative.

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That was given as a gift some years ago actually. Sorry :frowning_face:

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Wow, I really appreciate this! Totally agree about the playbooks. I find myself wishing there was some more depth to them. I have ended up picking up a bunch of 3rd party playbooks but that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.

I would love to have a system with a streamlined approach to mechanics like Dungeon World, but with an approach to adding abilities similar to something like Symbaroum.

I also agree that the organization is rough. I actually like the whole hirelings thing, for example, but they stuck that in before a bunch of other mechanics that are much more central to the game.

I’m not really familiar with what you mean by “second wave” PbtA games, but maybe that’s what I found distasteful about Masks? It just seemed like they tacked on a bunch of extra stuff that could have been handled by the core mechanics (if I’m remembering correctly).

Anyway, thanks for this!

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Fair point. I really on the list of GM moves and even made a randomizer to make me use some of the ones I don’t use as much. But yes, if I were writing a second edition, I would be tempted to narrow that mixed result spread. In fact, I have though about implementing the mixed result in OSE by using the roll “on” the target number as a kind of weak success. But … hey. Don’t fix shit that ain’t broken, right?

Scum and Villainy is a good example. Man I hate that game. Pretty much every PbtA game I’ve seen in the last 5 years feels like a process nightmare to me. Blades in the Dark may have started it. Every time you want to do something, the system has a process. S&V had subroutines for rolling to succeed, gearing up, advancing, downtime. Hell. You couldn’t go to the toilet without kicking off a process. And by process, I mean a specific, multi-step way to set up and complete the action/dice roll.

That’s fine. The only thing stopping me from printing my own hardback through Lulu is that I feel like I should fix the text/art by stripping out the shit that doesn’t work or that I don’t like before I do. And that sends me down the rabbit hole. (Before anyone’s hackles are raised, Dungeon World’s full text and even the design files were released under Creative Commons during the last Kickstarter, so it wouldn’t be illegal to print it through Lulu.)

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Wow…that sounds really bad. lol