Playing to Find Out What Happens
February 6, 2020 3:19 PM   Subscribe

“There was a whole ruleset with a welcoming community, of an easy to learn system with gatekeeping kept to a minimum. It’s Powered By the Apocalypse. And it is my favourite system. And in my opinion, the gayest.” @ThatAceGal writes about her experiences exploring queer identity and seeing a queer community form through the Powered By the Apocalypse RPG system(s).
posted by Maecenas (15 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic writeup, PbtA has been some of my favorite design space in indie tabletop RPGs, and this puts a spotlight on an undersung aspect of the community around it.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:50 PM on February 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

A young person recently joined my friends' tabletop game, and their character uses different pronouns than they do in real life. They do not know yet how they identify gender-wise, and I think it's lovely to be able to explore that in a structured space that allows it.

Games are too complicated for me. But I like watching. I think they fulfill needs that are basically human, like being playful with your identity and participating in storytelling that's not passive/fixed like a film or book.
posted by Sterros at 4:39 PM on February 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m currently in a weekly Masks campaign. I’ve played Monsterhearts, City of Mists and Dungeon World, and I ran a one-shot of World Wide Wrestling that a friend of a friend had requested for his birthday (and turned that friend of a friend into a friend in the process).

The PbtA system is so damn good at what it does and once you get the basics of running it figured out you can run a really good game with basically zero prep time.

I would absolutely love to run Monsterhearts but unfortunately the players who I trust most to handle it well have tricky schedules.

If someone wants to organize a Los Angeles area MeFi IRL meetup to do so I would gladly run a group through a Monsterhearts one-shot.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:39 PM on February 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

For those interested, the writer/designer of Monsterhearts (Avery Alder) later made Dreams Askew , a PbtA game set in a post-apocalyptic world where queer folks are rebuilding a better society. It's pretty cool.
"Dream Askew began as a remix of the themes and world of Apocalypse World, telling the story of an apocalypse that was human, queer, and already here. "
Also of interest might be this powerpoint on Designing Queer Games. There was an accompanying talk, but there doesn't seem to be a recording of it. Here's the pitch:
Game designer Avery Alder opens this talk with a question: whose politics and experiences are we building our games around? After examining the importance of queer representation in games, the talk will take a critical look at why representation isn’t enough. From there Avery will point toward how game systems can be queered, reflecting the politics and lived experiences of queer lives. Examples will be drawn from the past ten years of game design.”
Lastly, here is a panel on queering games.

As you might have guessed, I am a big fan of Avery. Partly because I have enjoyed a lot of the games she has published over the years and partly because we're from the same town and I love that this niche game designer has been successful at reaching so many people. Aside from Monsterhearts and Dreams Askew, I can heartily recommend The Quiet Year and Ribbon Drive as being particularly interesting. Also, while not my thing, I think Variations On Your Body is a really interesting work in the RPG space and, for the right person, could be an incredible experience.

I can't even begin to communicate how much I love RPGs that fit into this kind of experiential art space. As awful as some things on the internet are, that it has allowed for this niche of players and designers to find each other is really fantastic.

PS: People should also check out the Romance Trilogy for something kind of similar, especially the third game Under The Skin.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 4:46 PM on February 6, 2020 [8 favorites]

Heh. Also, I had been planning to do an FPP on this topic at some point so I more less had the above ready to go.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 4:48 PM on February 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Dream Askew/Dream Apart is a really good system. Like, amazingly good. I’m running Masks right now, and it’s very fun.

One thing I really like about the PbtA games is the way you pick qualities — gender presentation, race, along with other descriptors. This can be done badly, of course, but I think there’s real power in having to choose to be a cis White man rather than it being the default.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:07 PM on February 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I kickstarted The Watch, by Anna Kreider, a PbtA game in a similar vein. It seems fine, though I confess I came to the conclusion that I don't care for PbtA systems particularly much between the Kickerstart and receiving it, so I can't provide a review one way or the other.
posted by Caduceus at 5:28 PM on February 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

RPGs run the gamut now. Some are more story-oriented, some are more game-oriented, etc. It's interesting to see how different mechanics affect all aspects of the game. D&D in its fifth edition (the 800 lb gorilla of RPGs) has learned a lot from indie games. There's no default for character creation, and nonbinary gender is a-ok by the rules (though it's not emphasized). PtbA works great to create a campaign with a beginning, middle, and end while 5e is more focused on the "endless game."

I think more queer folx are designing games, playing RPGs, and making spaces in gaming. Also, in the US at least, young people are a lot more openly queer than they were back when I started playing D&D in the 80's. It's really great to see the hobby pulling away from gross tropes about tavern wenches and really explore issues of identity, morality, and what society can accept.

All my games tend to be about how the players keep themselves from becoming monsters, even while they are fighting "monsters."
posted by rikschell at 5:41 PM on February 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd like to play one of these games sometime. I like both game frameworks that allow exploring themes of the player's choosing (which FATE can be) and strongly opinionated games that let them decide what matters, these definitely fall into the latter.

I think it's worth it to include a link to the TTRPG Safety ToolKit.
posted by gryftir at 7:11 PM on February 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

If PBTA games and hella queerness are appealing to anyone reading this, Friends at the Table is definitely the actual play podcast for you.
posted by Acheman at 11:58 PM on February 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Matt Mercer (of Critical Role) has an new "Handbooker Helper" on Monsterhearts 2 up just this week. The Critical Role group are of course, doing a MH one-shot very soon, and this serves as the intro for it.

This is the first non-D&D "basic intro" video they've done, I think. Good place to start.
posted by bonehead at 5:51 AM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

As someone who started with traditional TTRPGs 20 years ago and quickly ended up playing character driven, no-rules, freeform-only campaigns without a rulebook in sight with an amazing and inclusive group, I haven't kept up at all with rulesets and game mechanics. Reading this was such a positive eye opener, and gave me so much joy and hope! Thank you Maecenas and forbiddencabinet for posting this.
posted by Dee Grim at 9:17 AM on February 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Dee Grim, I would argue that the difference between what you did and a PbtA is pretty slim, so it might be a good choice for you to introduce new people in your life to roleplaying, if that's something you want to do ever.
posted by Caduceus at 11:41 AM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Avery Alder's Dream Askew comes in a two pack with a very similar game that's about Jewish identity more than queerness, and to give you an idea of how different that game is from traditional RPGs one of the available character classes is "midwife." They're not pbta, exactly, because these two games have no GM and no dice, but the moves are familiar and the focus on fiction first gaming works out to create something that feels very similar.

The Quiet Year is incredible, my favorite RPG out of all the dozens I've played, and the way it builds up a contentious community either for its own sake or as a basis for the setting of a more traditional game is some real alchemy.

I could write multiple essays just as long as this one about all of the things I like about powered by the apocalypse games and their derivatives and siblings (forged in the dark, belonging outside belonging, modern microgames from creators like Grant Howitt), the GM moves, failing forward, a system designed to collapse gracefully, clocks and more, but I'll save the space and just say that they're good and if you have any interest in games or fiction you should consider reading the How to GM sections of as many of these games as possible.

After wizards of the coast released the elves supplement that talked about gender changing I was at a table with a male-presenting person I'd known for several months who decided to try playing as a female elf, then a few weeks later she came out as transgender to the group after nobody made a big stink about it. It's a more and more common way to try out other identities and seeing how incredibly much queer people have already added to a hobby about playing with identities I'm very, very excited to see what else is coming.

Anyway, the gayest system is the Chuck Tingle RPG, but the suite of PBTA games are the gayest systems that are also playable and fun instead of just inexplicable.
posted by fomhar at 4:52 PM on February 7, 2020

A friend of mine ran a twitter poll for what she should run at BigBadCon where the choices were:

a gay game
a really gay game
a gay PbtA game
a gay Fate game

I don't remember what won, but the not-further-qualified "a gay game" was the least popular choice.
posted by Zed at 8:53 AM on February 9, 2020

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