This marks the first of a 10-part series I’m doing on my favorite game systems. Game systems are a very personal choice and tastes will vary of course.
For me, I like efficient systems that resolve combat and skill checks in a reasonable amount of time and don’t require constant rules lookups or cause players to have analysis paralysis.
When evaluating a ‘game system’, I’m not just going to look at a game’s core mechanics, but also the game’s ecosystem of 3rd party tools, adventure settings, pre-written adventures or campaigns, and how active the game community is for that game system. You might say I’m talking about my favorite ‘game ecosystem.’
I’ve played hundreds of different game systems, and I’ve narrowed them down to these ten favorites. Let’s start with my 10th favorite game system: Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games.
There are dozens of robust PbtA games and hundreds of small hack rulesets. The core mechanic is rolling 2d6 and adding a small stat modifier. Only players roll dice and the outcome of 5- (failure), 6-9 (mixed result), and 10+ (success) gives the GM all they need to know to adjudicate the situation.
Dungeon World is a D&D inspired game and as such it adds in some D&D style mechanics. Some PbtA purists complain about that but these changes are all right by me. Dungeon World has some of the best GM advice of any game system I’ve seen, and their idea of using ‘Fronts’ to organize the GM’s enemies is masterful.
Masks is a teen superheroes game. If I were going to run a Smallville or Teen Titans-inspired game, Masks is the system I’d most like to use.
PbtA relies heavily on GM ‘moves’ and requires a lot of on-the-fly thinking. As such, the GM must be willing and comfortable to run an improv-heavy game.
One potential downside (depending on your GM style) is the lack of pre-planned adventures. PbtA assumes all story emerges at the table, so it will be on the GM to track factions, threats, fronts, and the like and to guide the group through GM moves to have an exciting story. Although I really love improv-style games, on nights when you are tired and the creative juices are low, I’ve found reaching for GM moves can become stressful, and having the fallback of a pre-planned adventure can sometimes relieve the stress of the GM always having to be ‘on’ to invent a story. So for any PbtA, I would want to make sure I as the GM have sufficient creative energy going into the game!