Powered by the Apocalypse

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Powered by the Apocalypse
Designer(s) Vincent Baker
Publisher(s) Lumpley Games and others
Publication date 2010
Genre(s) Role-playing game

Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) is a role-playing game system developed for the 2010 game Apocalypse World and also used for Dungeon World, Monsterhearts and numerous other RPGs. Apocalypse World won the 2010 Indie RPG Awards for Most Innovative Game[1] and Dungeon World won the 2013 ENnie award for Best Rules.[2]


Powered by the Apocalypse games are all centered around resolving what characters do as Moves. All characters have access to a default selection of moves focused on the main subjects of the game. For instance, there is a default attack move in Dungeon World called hack and slash as this is core of the dungeoneering experience, but in Apocalypse World you can only find a move like seize by force as the game focuses on what one would extract from others in a world made of scarcities.

Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, and most other PbtA games are class based with the class selected for the given character giving them access to a number of moves beyond the default. These moves can allow them abilities above and beyond the normal, like the Hypnosis ability of the Monsterhearts Vampire, can give them additional resources, such as the Apocalypse World Driver's "My other car is a Tank," or may simply make them better at moves everyone has access to, like the Apocalypse World Gunlugger's "Insano like Drano."

Some moves resolve automatically, but most involve an element of randomness. A player whose character makes a move rolls two six-sided dice and adds the relevant modifier, which varies by move and game. A result of 10+ is a total success, and the character achieves their goal. On a result of 7-9, the character achieves a partial success, in which they mostly get what they want but also face some consequences or have to make do with a lesser version of their goal. A roll of 6 or less results in a "miss," and the Master of Ceremonies or Game Master makes a move of their own, with negative consequences for the acting character.

Published games using the Powered by the Apocalypse system[edit]

Because of the simplicity and the flexibility of the Powered by the Apocalypse engine, and Vincent Baker's encouragement of publishing hacks,[3] there are at least four dozen fan-made hacks that have reached the point of public playtesting.[4] This list only covers the ones actually published.

Apocalypse World[edit]

Apocalypse World is the post-apocalyptic game the system was created for and is set after an unspecified apocalypse (which may be specified either in the course of play or left a mystery) that created a psychic maelstrom.

Dungeon World[edit]

Dungeon World is a fantasy game, created by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel. The game is advertised as having old-school style with modern rules.[5] The text of the game was released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.[6] The setting for Dungeon World is Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy. Rather than present a pre-written setting, the game master is instructed to "Draw maps and leave blanks", meaning to not put too much detail in the setting but allow it to emerge in play.


Epyllion is a game where you play dragons in a dragon-centric world, published by Magpie Games.

Legacy: Life Among the Ruins[edit]

Legacy is a game of survival and rebuilding in a world ravaged and altered by incomprehensible calamity. Its biggest feature is gameplay at multiple levels: each player builds a Family of survivors and a Character from that family. Stories take place across multiple generations, with each generation creating new characters and altering the families. Family stats are Reach, Grasp, Tech and Mood, with playbooks including The Enclave of Bygone Lore, The Brotherhood of Gilded Merchants, The Tyrant Kings, The Servants of the One True Faith, and The Lawgivers of the Wasteland. Character stats are Steel, Sway, Force and Lore, with playbooks including the Hunter, the Envoy, the Seeker and the Sentinel. Designed by James Iles and successfully kickstarted [7] in December, 2014.


MASHED explores life in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War. Default statistics are Luck, Nerve, Skill, and Tough. The character playbooks are the Angel (nurse), Corpsman, Cowboy (pilot or mechanic), Cutter (surgeon), Doc (physician), Grunt (aka pogue), and Padre (chaplain). Designed by Mark Plemmons, MASHED was Kickstarted[8] in October 2016 and published by Brabblemark Press in January 2017.[9]


Masks focuses on the lives of a team of teenage superheroes, inspired by the Young Avengers, Teen Titans, and Marvel's Runaways. The playbooks include the Beacon, the Bull, the Doomed, the Legacy, the Janus, the Transformed, the Protégé, the Delinquent, the Nova, and the Outsider. It was successfully funded on Kickstarter in fall of 2015 and subsequently published by Magpie Games.


Monsterhearts is "A story game about the lives of teenage monsters"[10] by Avery Mcdaldno. Default statistics are Hot, Cold, Violent, and Dark, and the playbooks presented in the main rulebook are The Chosen, the Fae, the Ghoul, the Queen, the Witch, the Werewolf, the Infernal, and the Vampire. It was nominated for or runner up for five separate awards, although didn't win any.[11]

Monster of the Week[edit]

"An action-horror role playing game"[12] about a group of monster hunters, written by Michael Sands. Statistics are Charm, Cool, Sharp, Tough, and Weird and the default classes are the Chosen, the Expert, the Flake, the Initiate, the Monstrous, the Mundane, the Professional, the Sidekick, the Spooky, and the Wronged.

Sagas of the Icelanders[edit]

"The game is set sometime after the year 874, when the first Norse settlers set foot on Iceland. They were escaping war, poverty and the dissolution of their political freedoms on the mainland."[13] Statistics are Versed, Young, Gendered, and Wyrd. Default classes are The Child, the Woman, the Man, the Matriarch, the Godi, the Seidkona, the Wanderer, the Shield-Maiden, the Huscarl, the Thrall, and the Monster.

Spirit of 77[edit]

Spirit of 77 is an action RPG based on 1970s pop culture, including The Six Million Dollar Man, Shaft and the Dukes of Hazzard. Popular music of the time plays heavily into its gameplay, including the option for players to play 1970s "rockers", ala Fleetwood Mac and Kiss. The game includes multiple adventures packaged as "Double Features", including titles such as "Women's Prison of the Apes", "BEAST: Bound and Down" and "Jurassic Parking Lot". Published by Monkeyfun Studios.[14]

The Sprawl[edit]

The Sprawl is a cyberpunk RPG in which parties of underground criminals run missions for and/or against vast megacorporations while trying to avoid exposure and extermination. William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy is cited as a major inspiration. Graphics, editing, and supplemental fiction for the RPG were funded via Kickstarter. Game books began releasing in early 2016.[15]


A storytelling RPG in the style of the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Tremulus was Kickstarted and raised over $60,000.[16] Statistics are Reason, Passion, Might, Luck, and Affinity, and the default classes are The Alienist, The Antiquarian, The Author, The Devout, The Detective, The Dilettante, The Doctor, The Heir, The Journalist, The Professor, and The Salesman. There were plans for the kickstarter to produce a "The Congo" playset, allowing characters to explore "the Heart of Darkness" - this idea was dropped after a backlash.[17]

Uncharted Worlds[edit]

Successfully backed on KickStarter,[18] Uncharted Worlds is "A Space Opera pen-and-paper roleplaying game of exploration, combat, politics and commerce across the stars." Designed by Sean Gomes.[19]

Urban Shadows[edit]

An urban fantasy game set in "a dark urban environment drowning in supernatural politics",[20] with Archetypes including vampires, werewolves, wizards, ghosts and human monster hunters using the main stats of Blood, Heart, Mind and Spirit. Urban Shadows introduces systems to emphasize the political, tragic and horrific aspects of the genre: characters must interact with different Factions to advance, or mark Corruption to gain unique and powerful moves while drawing closer to being retired from play dead or to become antagonists.[20] Written by Andrew Medeiros and Mark Diaz Truman and published by Truman's Magpie Games as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign.[21]

2016 ENnie Award Nominee for Best Game[22]

The Warren[edit]

"The Warren is a tabletop role-playing game about intelligent rabbits trying to make the best of a world filled with hazards, predators and, worst of all, other rabbits. It is a game about survival and community."[23] Published in 2016, "This game takes inspiration from classic rabbit tales such as Watership Down, Fifteen Rabbits, and Peter Rabbit. It uses a heavily-modified version of the game mechanics from Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World."[23]

Worlds in Peril[edit]

Worlds in Peril is a tabletop roleplaying game designed to tell collaborative stories about superheroes taking on both the challenges faced as a superhero, with the villains and public image and fame (or perhaps infamy) that goes along with it, as well as the challenges they face in their personal lives when they take off the mask and have to deal with everyday problems and relationships like everybody else. Designed by Kyle Simons, Adam Bosarge, Jason Faulk.

Reception and analysis[edit]

In addition to other awards won, Apocalypse World won the 2010 Indie RPG Award for Most Innovative Game[1] and Dungeon World won the 2013 ENnie award for Best Rules.[2]

Multiple reviews, including Play Unplugged's review of Apocalypse World[24] and on the streamlining and focus on the fiction the system's reliance on moves produces.[25][26] Bitch magazine has commented on the messy interconnected relationships the system produces.[27]


External links[edit]