If you are interested in designing a Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) tabletop roleplaying game:

  1. First, buy a copy of Apocalypse World. After all, that’s where this all started.
  2. Second, buy and read a few systems from different branches of the PbtA family tree, to get a glimpse of the range of possibilities. Sam Sorensen has a great taxonomy of PbtA games (shown below).
  3. Third, decide whether you are going to use 2d6, dice pools, or an alternative system (yes, you don’t have to use 2d6 to be PbtA).
  4. Fourth, download @lackingceremony‘s Simple World. As she wrote, “I created Simple World in order to showcase that an Apocalypse World hack didn’t need to be a monumental undertaking, and that a ‘get it on the table fast’ mentality was possible!”
  5. Fifth, read @lumpleygames‘ series of blog posts on “Using Apocalypse World to Outline and Draft Your Own RPG.” After doing so, go support Vincent Baker on Patreon.
  6. Sixth, think about conflict systems in PbtA games and what might work for you. “There are no wrong answers! Just design decisions! :-)”
  7. Seventh, you might find it helpful to review how many different game designers all approached the same core moves. Check out my Dungeon World Patch Kit or Uncommon World’s configuration tool.
  8. Eighth, join, lurk, then contribute to the PbtA subreddit.
  9. Ninth, don’t argue about whether a game is #PbtA or not. It’s PbtA if its designer says it is; otherwise it’s not.
  10. Ten, check out some of my posts: A Catch-All Move in PbtA Games, The Triggerspace and the Moveosphere, The PbtA Commons, and Quantum Gear from Schrödinger’s Catalog.

Happy designing!

a somewhat-exhaustive taxonomy of PbtA games, tracking ten different systemic mechanical elements in each, and a loose kind of succession between them

Originally published 03/21/21. Revised to remove a reference to an older version of Vincent Baker’s series of blog posts and to include a reference to the Dungeon World Patch Kit. Updated 10/22/2022 with links to 2d6 probabilities and Uncommon World. Updated 10/12/2023 with links to new posts here.

Photo by Ana Itonishvili on Unsplash.