Agendas of Powered by the Apocalypse Games

I decided to jot down the MC Agendas (or equivalents) of all the PbtA games I could get my hands on easily. Here they are.

Apocalypse World
Make Apocalypse World seem real
Make the players' characters' lives not boring
Play to find out what happens

Dungeon World
Portray a fantastic world
Fill the characters' lives with adventure
Play to find out what happens

Make each main character's life not boring
Keep the story feral
Say what the rules demand
Say what honesty demands

Monster of the Week
Make the world seem real
Play to find out what happens
Make the hunters' lives dangerous and scary

Make tremulus real
Make the characters' lives interesting
Play to find out what happens

Saga of the Icelanders
Paint a believable picture of saga-period Iceland
Make the player characters' circumstances worthy of a saga
Play to find out what happens

Night Witches
Bring the war to life
Put them in the middle of the grind
Seek out their stories
Play to find out what happens

The Warren
Portray a naturalistic world
Ensure the characters live in exciting times
Play to find out

Urban Shadows
Make the city feel political and dark
Keep the characters' lives out of control and evolving
Play to find out what happens

Worlds in Peril
Portray a comic book world
Fill the characters' lives with action & adventure
Play to find out what happens
Push the players to tell their stories too

Make Halcyon City feel like a comic book
Make the player characters' lives superheroic
Play to find out what happens

Uncharted Worlds
Embrace the deadly beauty of the galaxy
Paint in primary colors
Speak the truth
Address the characters directly
Be a fan of the characters
Prompt the characters to shape reality
Follow the Rule of Cool

Follow the PCs' lead
Provide external pressures
Provide continuity
Ask insightful questions
Provide colorful descriptions

Create opportunities to do good
Play to find out what happens
Further agenda (Ultimate Power, Watch the World Burn, or World is Mine)

Tear the illusion and reveal the true reality behind
Keep the player characters on edge: allow them a few moments of respite
Let the player characters' actions make an impact, regardless of consequences

World Wide Wrestling
Challenge and celebrate the wrestlers
Make it look like you had it planned that way all along
Entertain the imaginary viewing audience

Titan World
Show the best and worst of the world
Raise the stakes constantly
Play to find out what happens

City of Judas
Make the world cold and sharp
Make the characters important
Follow the story, don't drive it
Stick to your principles. Remember to say:
*What the Iron Principles demand
*What the rules demand
*What the fiction demands
*What honesty demands
Catch your breath

The Sprawl
Make The Sprawl dirty, high-tech, and excessive
Fill the characters' lives with action, intrigue, and complication
Entangle the characters in the Sprawl
Play to find out what happens

A few thoughts:
1. I was surprised, actually, by the uniformity of the list. The community has not decided to diverge terribly wildly from Vincent's original set. Partially, perhaps, it's because the reason they're drawn to make a PbtA game is because Apocalypse World's ruleset worked well for them? Or maybe the AW agenda is just pretty basic "best practices" for MCs, GMs, and Refs?

2. tremulus just isn't trying at all. "Make the characters' lives interesting"?  That's the ultimate strategy for your lovecraftian horror game? Compare with Kult's "Keep the players' characters on edge; allow them a few moments of respite"

3. Titan World, on the other hand, for a small noncommercial hack (based on Attack on Titan), is doing some interesting stuff. I really like "Raise the stakes constantly", and it's a great match for the anime.

4. Uncharted Worlds has "principles", which sort of mix the AW agenda and principles together. UW has often struck me as a bit too broad and unfocused, and I wonder if this lack of separation is related -- symptomatic of that lack of focus, perhaps.

5. Some of the other PbtA games (such as Murderous Ghosts, The Sundered Lands, and Wolfspell) didn't really have Agendas listed at all. Murderous Ghosts and The Sundered Lands in particular are really quite weird; if they weren't written by Vincent, I wonder how many people would agree with the PbtA label? 

6. "Play to find out what happens" is almost ubiquitous. How integral is it to the PbtA experience? How best to experiment with this part of the agenda? What alternatives could be used instead that would still allow for a successful game?

7. World Wide Wrestling's may be my favorite agenda list. While it's certainly based on the AW list, it changes and plays with it and adapts it perfectly to WWW's genre and goals. 

8. Obviously, the above is not an exhaustive list. Feel free and list agendas from other PbtA games below! I'd like to see other ways that people are playing with the formet.

Pacific Rim: Iron & Blood (Prime Time Adventures) - Episode 1, Part 1

Last night we started the first Pacific Rim episode, after finishing up the basic concepts for everyone's Jaegers.

Spectre Echo (piloted by Ajay Achara and Zahir Jarral) - A stealth Jaeger designed to sneak up on Kaiju and take them out in one quick blast.

Hatsune Nova (piloted by Amanda and Mary Barron) - A blue, boxy Jaeger with energy crackling among what appear to be dreadlocks.

Crimson Prophet (piloted by Jebidiah Yoder and Killian Claymore) - A mech whose limbs can split apart, forming other weapon combinations.

And a couple NPC jaegers:

Banshee Zero (piloted by Ngam and Ramphoie Chanmook) - A light mech that can quickly transform into a gigantic fighter-jet, Macross-style.

Fiasco Cortex (piloted by Yangchen Lhamu, Rinzen Choden, Sangmu Pemba, and Nima Calden) - A quadropedal heavy battleship Jaeger, piloted by the members of a group marriage.

We were able to play through three scenes:

Scene 1 (created by me) - Grand Marshal Mako Mori arrives at the Shatterdome, with a red envelope that she implies has come from X-Source. (X-source is an unknown informant that seems to be able to predict coming Kaiju attacks with high accuracy). She needs to send a Jaeger team to guard the city. Who should she choose?

Mandy tries her best not to be noticed. Ajay and Killian compete to volunteer, arguing as to why they should be the ones to go. 

The Cards: Mandy wins everything she wants, and thus does not have to go. Ajay loses the draw and also loses his cool, shouting and storming out of LOCCENT. Killian gets the mission, without even giving in to his impulse. A quick suit-up montage, and Crimson Prophet enters the Breach.

Scene 2 (created by Joe) - Mandy and Mary are undergoing Neural Bridge training, as their drift connection has been unstable lately. However, both of them are trying to compartmentalize and close off parts of their emotional and mental state, holding back thoughts and memories, which makes the connection more difficult to maintain. Mandy is searching for a way to get back at her sister for dragging her into the Jaeger program.

The Cards: A split. In the end, a stalemate: they both offer so little to each other that the neural bridge dissolves. Mourning the lack of connection, Mary claims that she hoped that bringing them here to fight together would help them to regain the connection they used to have as children. This gives Mandy pause, but she can't tell if Mary is sincere or not.

Scene 3 (created by Bekka) - Ajay, fuming from his argument in LOCCENT, takes out his stress in the Kwoon Fight Room with Zahir, fighting hand to hand. Is there an underlying attraction between the two of them? It's hard to tell, but what's really at stake for the moment is Ajay's feelings about skipped over for the mission. In the background, Mandy takes a beating from the Fightmaster.

The Cards: Another split. The effort does finally calm Ajay down, but leaves him feeling empty, embarrassed, and ashamed of himself. Mandy comes over and strikes up a conversation; Ajay agrees to teach her how to fight better.

We had to stop there. Next session: June 5.

Current Campaign 2 - "Dungeons & Dragons"

My second current RPG campaign is an old-school Dungeons & Dragons game. It meets fortnightly at a local Irish pub, and most of the players are coworkers from my job that I've recruited. Perhaps as a result, the turnover is fairly high: we have a couple pretty faithful regulars, and then a rotating cast of folks who show up three times and then stop, or folks who show up once a month, or folks who try it once and then decide it's not for them. 

As a result it's been a bit difficult to keep a coherent player-led narrative going: the folks who decide what to do next one session may not be the ones who pick up the game for the next session, and there's little to no continuity of group goals from one session to the next. There has been a progression of plot, sort of, but I think I'm the only one who knows exactly what is going on and why. That's been a first for me.

Actually, come to that, the whole campaign has involved a bunch of firsts. It's also the first time I've used minis extensively -- paper minis, really, with a lot of help from the good folks at Printable Heroes and Fat Dragon Games (among others). The minis and scenery have been a enormous hit, and I think a very good addition to the game.

It's also the first time I've relied on prewritten modules. We started out with "The Tomb-Complex of Y'mu M'Kursa" from the first issue of Fight On!, then transitioned to Forgive Us, and are now making our way through The God that Crawls. 

The common thread has been: During the exploration of the tomb-complex, the characters recovered one of the slimy frog-egg cells from the body of Otogoster, Disciple of Yol. Deciding that they were indeed frog eggs, and that Yol was a frog god of some sort, on their next rest in town I had Yol send his servant, the Green Prince, to show the party his displeasure at their stealing his egg. (The Green Prince's paper mini looked suspiciously like a picture of Kermit the Frog with a crown of flames colored in over his head.) The party gave up the egg without a fight and agreed to go on a quest for Yol as penance. The Green Prince assigned them the task of retrieving a forbidden tome, The Infernal Practices, from the Library of the Demogorgon. He ordered them to travel to the nearest city where Mr. Bildegulp, a servant of Yol, would give them further instructions. Mr. Bildegulp had the party infiltrate a street gang known as The West Siders to steal an artifact known as the Bibliographic Configuration, which would open a gate to the Demogorgon's library. Unfortunately the gang double-crossed the party and forced them through the gateway, closing it behind them. The gang then retreated to their hideout in a complex on the east side of the city, and were not heard from for several days. Mr. Bildegulp hired another party of adventurers to sneak into the gang's hideout and steal the artifact. (Initiating the Forgive Us module.) The gang had been wiped out by mutation-causing demons that had ushered forth from the Bibliographic Configuration. 

 Above: The Biblographic Configuration, solved.

Above: The Biblographic Configuration, solved.

Exploring the hideout complex, the group joined uneasy forces with a second outfit who were also picking over the remains of the gang and had heard rumors of a powerful artifact being held in the complex. Eventually the two groups found the Configuration and were able to solve it, transporting to the Library of the Demogorgon (and taking us to a library-reskinned version of The God that Crawls). In the library, the remaining members of the first group of adventurers joined up with the second group of adventurers, and set about exploring the library and searching for the Infernal Practices (and a way out).

With a rotating cast, it'd be impractical to list all the PCs, but the current line-up includes:

  • Mark, playing a Thief
  • (Another) Mark, playing a Fighter
  • Rachel, playing an Assassin
  • Adam, playing an Elf Magic-User
  • Lucas, whose Fighter was killed by the Librarian last session
  • Ryan, who just made his Elf Assassin character yesterday

Finally, I should probably note that we've been through a couple of rulesets for the game. We started with Crypts & Things 2e, (and in fact all the character sheets still have that title at the top), but it proved a bit too crunchy for the casual come-and-go of the campaign. So we cut away all the bits that we weren't using, and have now reverted to a simplified cross between Swords & Wizardry and Into the Odd, which I'll have to talk about sometime. I'll leave you with the current character sheet:

Current Campaign 1 - Pacific Rim: Iron & Blood (via Primetime Adventures)

I'm currently running two RPG campaigns, and today I'd like to talk about the first and most recent, a Pacific Rim game using Primetime Adventures. This is being run as an online game, over on Roll20

My short list for the game to use included Bliss Stage, Cortex Plus, Fate Accelerated, and Steve D's There Is No Apocalypse. Ultimately, Bliss Stage is something I'd want to run on its own terms, Cortex Plus would involve too much hacking, and TINA would be great for a one-shot but I had more of a short campaign in mind. As several of my players are relatively new to RPGs and especially to online RPGs, I felt a fairly rules light story game with some staying power would be appropriate, and thus PTA became the top choice.

The campaign is set 25 years after the first film, in the year 2050. The Kaiju returned in 2040, and this time instead of opening one big rift in the Pacific Ocean they are able to open small temporary rifts anywhere they want in our world -- putting every population center on Earth at potential risk. In order to meet this challenge, humanity has developed its own breach technology, allowing Jaegers to be deployed anywhere at a moment's notice. The Pan-Pacific Defense Corp is thus newly cast as the Pan-Planetary Defense Corp, and our story is set at their top branch, the Hong Kong Shatterdome. (We have a Google Doc timeline with a full overview of the history after the first film, if you're interested in reading more.)

As the war drags on, the PPDC becomes more desperate for good jaeger pilots, and many nations implement mandatory drift compatibility testing to find them. Thus, several of the pilots who comprise our main characters are there because they were "drafted", and not because they chose to fight the Kaiju.

The Protagonists:

  • Amanda "Mandy" Barron (played by Joe) - A former US popstar / actress, career in decline. Pilots with her sister Mary, an army lieutenant who was determined to have high drift potential. This led to Amanda being tested for drift compatibility. She was, and was thus drafted. She resents being in the military, resents her sister, but thinks this may be a way to get back in the limelight.
    Concept: Pop star on the decline, pilots w/ sister. Issue: Fame hungry. Impulse: Throw a fit.
    Edges: I'm a Star!, Rookie Pilot. Connections: Kid Sister - Lt. Mary Barron
    Screen Presence: 2 / 2 / 3 / 1 / 1
    Personal Set: Shatterdome bar, "Chuck's"
  • Ajay Acharya (played by Bekka) - A veteran of the Interim war, fought between India and Pakistan with Jaegertech between the two Kaiju wars. Chosen to be a part of a joint nation Jaeger. This team was created as a sign of peace and unity between the warring nations.
    Concept: Veteran of Interim War. Issue: Will I ever be at peace? Do I want it? Impulse: Lash Out
    Edges: Veteran, Reckless. Connections: Co-pilot.
    Screen Presence: 2/ 1 / 1 / 2 / 3
    Personal Set: Kwoon Combat Room
  • Jebediah Yoder (played by Mark) -  An Amish teenage youth, Jeb was drafted into Pan Planetary Defense Corp whilst partying with Godless heathens on Rumspringa.
    Concept: Amish draftee. Issue: Questioning his faith in the Almighty. Impulse: Self flagellation
    Edges: Second windIndomitable Will. Connections: (Pending)
    Screen Presence: 2/ 2 / 1 / 3 / 1
    Personal Set: Shatterdome Nondenominational Chapel
  • Killian Claymore (played by Phil) -
    Concept: Arrogant tech genius w/ a good heart deeply hidden. Issue: Forward. Impulse: Egotistical & impulsive
    Edges: Tech Genius, Doubts. Connections: (Pending)
    Screen Presence: 2/ 1 / 2 / 1 / 3
    Personal Set: Lab

We are still working out the details about the Jaegers and the supporting cast. Next session: May 22.



A Beginning is a Very Delicate Thing

Hi, I'm Michael and this is my blog about roleplaying games. You may know me already from Google Plus, the RPGTalk slack group, or my old tumblr. If you don't, here's what you can expect to find going forward:

  • Posts about RPGs, mostly Story Games and OSR games
  • Actual Play Reports from my games
  • Discussion about design, development, and (self-) publishing of RPGs
  • Links to and thoughts on other folks' posts
  • Notices about interesting Kickstarters and other new releases
  • Reviews every now and anon 
  • Heads up on enticing deals and/or bundles
  • Occasional invitations to online games
  • Perhaps an interview or two
  • RPG content that I create, once in a great George R. R. Martinesque while
  • Positivity, optimism, and inclusivity

Hope you enjoy, and hope to see you around!