Powered by the Apocalypse

These are the games that are Powered by the Apocalypse, games that use Moves that capture a certain event grounded in rules, usually with a 2d6 die roll where 7-9 is a mixed success and 10+ is a success.

2019-08-28 How about 2d6

Hah, watching Secrets of Blackmoor has made me think about using 2d6 again.

On the one hand, I’m as fascinated as @lskh is by all the 2d6 mechanics surrounding me, from Traveller to Powered by the Apocalypse rules, and like a siren it’s calling me. And I remember older rules, too. I remember the very first such game I met was Fenris 2d6, and Pits & Perils. I remember being a bit disappointed when I realized that Pits & Perils was so simplistic even though I had read an enthusiastic review on Save vs. Total Party Kill.

But when I look at Dave Arneson’s table of old friends and his daughter in Secrets of Blackmoor, having fun, exploring dungeons, and just using just 2d6… It obviously works!

And I see that Norbert Matausch has been thinking about the same things, lately. To get a feel for his games, perhaps it makes sense to read Sophie’s review of Tatzelwurm, one of his 2d6 games. I first noticed his interest in 2d6 games when I read John Harper’s World of Dungeons, followed by Streets of Marienburg by unknown authors, and finally Norbert Matausch’s Advanced World of Dungeons. He took his old blog down, so you’ll have to do a little searching online to find the PDFs. Looking at his new blog, I see quite a few posts talking about the things I’m fascinated by right now:

Pre-D&D: How Dave, Gary, Phil and the original grognards played talks about people disliking Chainmail because it lacked hit-points and thus characters died whenever they were hit. There’s more about this in the Secrets of Blackmoor movie, actually. Anyway, the article tries to collect the actual rules used and continues with an example combat. A few days later, there is a second attempt at writing down the rules, Older School: Pre-D&D, 2nd edition, and finally How the Grognards really played, 3rd edition. Wonderful!

Ahhh... and yet here I am, writing spells and spellbooks. 😆​


Comments on 2019-08-28 How about 2d6

At the moment I’m fascinated by Advanced Fighting Fantasy, which also uses 2d6, which is still very light on rules. Also, Troika!, which is Planescape without superheroes using (basically) a modified version of AFF.

Ynas Midgard 2019-08-29 00:25 UTC

You did convince me to buy Troika! which also happens to be the Deal of the Day at DriveThru RPG.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-29 05:54 UTC

Also enjoying this list of quotes: Play worlds, not rules: Juggling ideas for stone age rpg sessions.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-29 06:28 UTC

Was thinking of combining Troika! with Hill Cantons setting/adventures. Seems like it’d be a good fit.

I also think World of Dungeons would go great with the Magic system replaced with that of Wonder & Wickedness.

Starmonkey 2019-08-30 08:36 UTC

I need to think about what I want from a 2d6 system. I don’t actually want to recreate a complex system and I feel like all my RPG experience is pulling me that way. So now I think I need to play, maybe start with as little as possible, and then decide where to take it based on what happens at the table. Which then makes me think I need the right players for it as well.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-30 09:52 UTC

Once I read through this, Troika immediately came to mind. It’s basically the system that this is describing. And Troika is just amazing generally...

– Ian Schlom 2019-08-30 20:20 UTC

Regarding the idea of going back to Arneson... wheee! I was reading The Arnesonian Dungeon by Justin Alexander and found comments by Dan Boggs and a link to his blog, Hidden in Shadows. And I’m thinking, nope, Arneson isn’t just rolling 2d6 and figuring it out as he goes. It’s a complicated, confusing, malleable machine in his head, ever changing, and so now I’m suspecting that a simple roll high on 2d6 might result in a very boring game indeed. There needs to be much more in the background, in the setting, in the internal workings of the world to make those die rolls interesting.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-30 22:21 UTC

2d6 – the original tabletop role playing dice mechanic, in Wanderer Bill’s Journal.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-19 16:27 UTC

A review of the Troika rpg talks about another 2d6 rule set.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-12-23 14:21 UTC

Aw, the heck with it: Our rules now have a real name. I keep wondering if a simple 2d6 game would be enough for a longer campaign. I do like that “trusting the GM” is baked into the rules. After all: do I want to play a game where I don’t trust the GM? Of course not. The rules are never going to make up for that.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-12-23 14:22 UTC

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2019-02-07 Dungeon World

I’ve been thinking about Dungeon World because I’ve been listening to the Plundergrounds Podcast by Ray Otus. And then I started thinking back. I think all these Powered by the Apocalypse games have something interesting about them, but perhaps it’s just the referee advice, and the strong thematic focus, I don’t know.

Today I was looking at the Old School RPG Planet again, seeing Fighting The Last War (Post-Traumatic Innovation) by Zak S, and following the link to I'm Beginning To Doubt Your Commitment To Killing Space Dracula (More about Dungeon World), which talks about the reasons why Dungeon World doesn’t work for him and his players. And I can relate with so many of these points! (”At no point am I afraid of dying or, really, of any consequences at all.” Yeah.)

One of the reasons I’ve been thinkin about the whole thing recently is because of the artificial distinction between OSR and Indie I’ve added to the two Planets I run – see Indie or not? Is it real? Is it stupid? In the comments I linked to Brad’s post on categorization, but I guess his article new school old school goes in the same direction. And when I read Ben’s post Adventure Game vs OSR, I was wondering about the same thing. What’s the point in making the distinction?

Perhaps it all boils down to the polarizing effect some people have had on the hobby so that in the minds of people, we began to associate the conflict not with the people involved but with the games they played? Perhaps both aspects inform each other, of course.

Anyway, something that I keep thinking about.


Comments on 2019-02-07 Dungeon World


I don’t play that much rpg (not as much as I want to do!) I like this guy’s view of dungeon world and DnD. https://youtu.be/ESdNfWLwyvY There’s somthimg nice with the freedom in DW that I like.

So why not mix them both together, DnD and DW

Keep on blogging!

Kristofer 2019-02-07 17:51 UTC

Yeah, if you look at my Dungeon World pages, you’ll see that I’ve been inspired every now and then! 😊

– Alex Schroeder 2019-02-07 22:56 UTC


I’m home and sick so that page will be great reading in bed!

Kristofer 2019-02-08 09:23 UTC

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2018-10-29 Powered by the Apocalypse

Haha, Michael Prescott has a great post on his blog: PbtA for the Old School, explaining the Powered by the Apocalypse jargon to people more used to classic games. It made me chuckle.

For some perspective, check out this review of somebody who’s excited about the jargon: Justin Alexander’s Review of Apocalypse World from 2011. I wrote about it, too, in

  1. And then there are all the articles on Dungeon World I wrote, because I think these games have something of value to players of classic D&D-like games like I do.


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2015-11-08 Moves

I’ve been thinking about Dungeon World some more. Here are some of my comments from a recent post on Google+.

It all started with me reading the answer to How to ask nicely in Dungeon World on StackExchange. The answer says: There’s also no GM move called “have a freeform social interaction.” If the GM is following the rules, this kind of stall should not happen. […] Since the “everyone looks to you to find out what happens” trigger matches, it’s now the GM’s turn to make an appropriate move, instead of falling into “time for unstructured social exchange improvisation!” habits that they have brought with them from some other game. The rest of the answer picks all the GM moves in the book and provides an explanation of how it might have gone.

When talking about my classic D&D games with others, we sometimes talked about procedures (or the lack thereof). When I tried to explain how great classic D&D was to Lior oh so long ago, he said that he would love to see some practical instructions on how to make a game interesting. Classic D&D seemed to be steeped in oral culture transmitted outside the written rules. You learned how to do it from friends, or through years of experience, or by reading and talking about it online (which is how I finally got it). As we gave Apocalypse World a try, it seemed to us that there was something here about telling us how to run a game but we just couldn’t nail it. I don’t remember whether we were just too blind to see, or too distracted by all the new jargon, or too fascinated by the moves in play books. I think that now, I’m slowly starting to get it.

There are still reasons not to like the game. The game no longer promises ever changing game play via mechanics (spells changing the adventures you can run, hit-points being replaced by saving-throws, and so on). And I still don’t quite see how the game can surprise me – how will I avoid making decisions that I feel the rules should make for me? The advice for running a dungeon basically suggest improvising a dungeon based on moves, i.e. whenever the players are at a loss, or when they fail their rolls, the dungeon grows, the monsters move, dead ends appear, signs of trouble ahead show up, and so on. “Dungeon Moves are a special subset that are used to make or alter a dungeon on the fly. Use these if your players are exploring a hostile area that you don’t already have planned completely.”

Even if I use The Perilous Wilds as my rules, these thing are still true. Except now there are more tools to work with, more specific instructions: countdowns for themes, a predetermined size, and so on. It seems to me that DW and friends are very interested in “play to see what happens” and one of the consequences is that the world is being generated as you go, based on your moves and the improvisations of the DM. That, in turn, is perhaps why my suspension of disbelief might not work as well. Or perhaps that’s simply a problem for an old school D&D player. If we’re exploring an existing place with an existing map, and existing dangers and treasures, it feels more “real” than generating things as we go. If the consequences of failure are generated by random rolls on a table, if the danger of monsters depends on the severity of my moves, then the rules can say fiction first as long as they want, I read it as DM fiat. But: This could be my D&D bias. Perhaps DW does not shirk from DM fiat as long as it follows from the fiction. Perhaps it works at the table even if everybody knows that the DM is improvising. After all, D&D also requires improvising but generally DMs will try to hide the fact that they’re doing it. The impression of impartiality is generated by dice rolling. Staying true to the fiction is presumed.

Then again, when I look at some of my recent “dungeons”, I find that I mostly think of them as interesting areas, connect one way or another, it doesn’t really matter. Plus monsters and treasure, and traps, rarely. Perhaps that’s not very far away from what Dungeon World and friends are suggesting. After all, the improvisation and dice rolling at the table is only for “a hostile area that you don’t already have planned completely.” I’m suspecting that – at the table! – my current method and the Dungeon World method with a little planning are not very different, after all.

Curious and willing to learn, in any case.

This is what a recent dungeon map for classic D&D looked like, in my campaign:



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2015-03-23 Sagas of the Icelanders

Today we played Sagas of the Icelanders. I spent about half an hour skimming the book, having read various playbooks and some stuff online, some months ago.

I had three players playing the Skaldmey, the Seiðkona and the Huscarl. I noticed that the fighters picked moves such as Belligerent, No Mercy and Freya’s Light. That seemed to indicate armed conflict. The witch picked Bonecaster. That seemed to indicate some searching. I decided to make this about a whale. If somebody managed to harpoon a whale, there was a 50% chance that it would wash ashore in the following days, dead. In this case, half the whale belonged to the owner of the land and the other half belonged to the owner of the harpoon.

We quickly introduced relatives. Picking a last name automatically determined the names of parents. The relationships at the beginning determined additional background: The Huscarl belonged to the family because his father had been killed in Norway and the father’s friend had taken the boy back to Iceland. The Seiðkona had maybe killed and buried her husband and made sure to set the Skaldmey on her path of rebellion.

The player characters venture out to find the whale. Some bone casting follows. They arrange to bring along an ally from a neighboring homestead, a young man thirteen years of age, defend their honor against malicious comments from the elder brother, find other neighbors having also heard about the whale, pick a fight, kill one of them, both parties call for reinforcements, a standoff ensues and finally the whale is divide 50:50, partly to avoid a feud about land ownership because this is a bay where oath breakers are drowned and therefore it belongs to neither family, and partly to avoid a feud because the Skaldmey had killed one of the neighbors in a wrestling match, tempting fate.

Some of the interesting things I saw at the table:

  • The Huscarl trying to influence his foster sister the Skaldmey and realizing that he had only violence at his disposal. The men cannot reason with others. He didn’t want to risk killing her and so she got her way.
  • The Huscarl being goaded by the Skaldmey to jump from the cliff into the cold water below and risking grave harm. That’s when we realized that a failure meant death.
  • Whenever the women talked reason, the men were still free to ignore the warnings and suggestions, but it meant incurring a significant disadvantage.

At the end of two and a half hours, all three players said they liked it. One of them had run a few sessions of Apocalypse World for us, ages ago. He liked it. The other had played in those Apocalypse World sessions and he had also played in my One Shot of Colonial Marines. He said that he liked Sagas of the Icelanders best.


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2014-01-12 Chase Rule

This post is a translation of the rule presented in German a few weeks ago: 2013-12-23 Verfolgungsjagd. Matt Wagner was wondering about chase rules on Google+.

This rule is part of my German house rules document, Halberds & Helmets. I just can’t remember the weird rule from the Basic D&D and Labyrinth Lord books. Inspired by skills in Apocalypse World I decided to use 2d6 and ideas by Erin Smale he left in a comment on a Google+ post of mine.

Chase: If you’re being chased, roll 2d6. On a 2, you’re surprised. On a 3–6, it’s a fight. On a 7–9, choose two points from the list. On a 10–11 choose one point. One a 12, you made it, no problem.

  • you were separated
  • it takes a long time
  • you got lost
  • you had to drop shields and backpacks

Optional modifiers. +1 for each of the following: if there are twice as many chasing you, if you have a faster movement rate, if there’s a thief in your party, if it rains, if it’s dark. -1 for each of the following: if there’s an elf or a ranger tracking you, if there are wounded party members with you, if there’s snow on the ground.

Only use the modifiers if you remember. 🙂

License: Please accept this text as a gift. It is licensed to you for any purpose with no requirements whatsoever.


Comments on 2014-01-12 Chase Rule

In a comment on the same post, John Harper said: “The classic D&D method gives the PCs the choice to drop food and/or gold pieces to distract or delay pursuers, so it’s not just ’compare movement speeds.’”

I think that would be an even simpler alternative. In the days where the dungeon expedition was mostly a question of logistics (rations, torches and oil going down and treasure coming up) it makes sense to make the escape a question of resources spent. Forget about chase rules, so to speak.

I guess the number of hit-dice pursuing you should indicate how much you need to drop: a daily ration or 100 gold per hit die squared, perhaps?

AlexSchroeder 2014-01-13 10:02 UTC

This is the closest to what I’ve been looking for on running away so far! 🙂

Luka 2016-11-15 19:50 UTC

Let me know how it went, if you use any of it! Perhaps all it needs is a little change in the wording. Maybe this: “Chase: If you’re being chased, roll 2d6. One a 12, you made it, no problem. On a 10–11 choose how you managed to escape by picking one of the options below. On a 7–9, it was hard to make your escape. Pick two of the options below. On a 3–6, you didn’t make it. Turn around and fight. On a 2, you were outsmarted and set upon when you least expected it. Endure a surprise round before rolling for initiative!”

The options would be rewritten:

  • we split up in order to confuse them and now we need to meet up again
  • we took a long detour in order to throw them off, many hours have passed
  • we had to lighten our loads and dropped our shields and backpacks
  • (think of something else?)

– Alex Schroeder 2016-11-15 22:35 UTC

On Discord, KingPeta asked me why I stopped using this rule.

It simply wasn’t an interesting thing to do. I look at time at the table as a zero sum thing: if we’re doing a chase and it’s OK, we need to compare this to the option of just allowing player characters to get away and have a GREAT scene elsewhere.

These days I often just wait for players to say: I throw them some rations, I set a flask of oil on fire to cover the corridor behind us, I throw some gold, or something like that. If so, auto success. Or I’ll ask: anybody wearing plate mail? If so, auto fail. Move to the next scene. Rolling dice, adding modifiers, it’s just too slow and doesn’t make it more exciting.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-09-27 20:10 UTC

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2013-08-19 Skills Inspired By Apocalypse World

Recently I was writing about The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions and forgot to mention the house rules appendix at the very end. On those two pages, Vincent Baker introduces his favorite form of perception test—essentially a skill system.


When you size a situation up, roll 2d6 and add your Wisdom modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7–9, ask two. On a 3–6, ask one:

  • Who’s in control here?
  • What’s my best approach?
  • What’s my best exit?
  • How could I assert my own dominance?
  • How could I disarm the situation?
  • If the situation proceeds unaltered, what will happen?

On a 2 or less, you stand gawping.

You can ask more, or questions of your own devising, if you’re willing and able to stand musing while the situation unfolds. If you have a positive Wisdom modifier, you can also ask one question without rolling, and roll only if you decide to ask further.

This write-up follows the famous Apocalypse World approach that has been used for a gazillion indie games. They all offer a number of “basic moves” (skills) which anybody may use and a number of moves from “your playbook” (your class-specific skill list). You roll 2d6 and add a modifier. 10+ is a success, 7–9 is a lesser success, everything else is a failure. The ones I am concerned with come with a list of possible results and players pick one or more from the list depending on their degree of success.

Here’s an example basic move from Apocalypse World. As you can see, the list of possible results only comes into effect on a lesser success. It’s a way to suggest possible partial successes—a list of possible compromises, if you will:

When you go aggro on someone, roll+hard. On a 10+, they have to choose: force your hand and suck it up, or cave and do what you want. On a 7–9, they can instead choose 1:

  • get the hell out of your way
  • barricade themselves securely in
  • give you something they think you want
  • back off calmly, hands where you can see
  • tell you what you want to know (or what you want to hear)

I like it very much! I like how we can agree on a list of possible results and depending on how successful we are, one or more of these results can be picked by the player. It takes automatically forces people to compromise and if the moves are well written, they will often involve difficult choices.

Unfortunately I still don’t like skill systems.

  • sometimes they encourage players to stare at their character sheet when faced with a problem
  • sometimes they change our default assumptions (the famous example of knights falling off their horses as soon as a Ride skill is introduced)
  • sometimes I prefer to handle social situations by talking or as simple puzzles

However, there still is a decent amount of rolling the six sided die in my game in order to find traps and secret doors or to attempt funky things I personally find implausible. Perhaps it would be cool to have a number of these lists of possible results and giving players the option to choose?

If you want to disarm a known trap, roll 2d6+Dex bonus. Pick three results on a 10+, pick one result on a 7–9. Unless you choose to avoid it, the trap will be triggered and the referee will check for wandering monsters.

  • you are quick and avoid the wandering monster (if any)
  • you disarm it (allowing anybody to bypass the trap)
  • you arm it (useful after having disarmed and bypassed the trap)
  • you extract the poison needle or gas-filled glass bottle (if available)
  • you know who built this (kobolds, dwarves, elves, humans)
  • you know how old this is (when it was built, when it was armed)

Perhaps I’m reinventing Dungeon World? Apparently that’s a D&D variant built using the Apocalypse World “engine”. In fact, the InDesign source files are on GitHub and look like readable HTML. For those that already own Apocalypse World, check out the Dungeon World Hack.

The trap disabling equivalent in Dungeon World is this:

When you pick locks or pockets or disable traps, roll+DEX. • On a 10+, you do it, no problem. • On a 7–9, you still do it, but the GM will offer you two options between suspicion, danger, or cost.

The above example seems less specific than what I would like. Perhaps I just started out with the wrong example?

The skill system introduced in the house rule appendix from The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions is the most interesting skill system I have found because of the compromises it suggests for lesser successes. I’m not sure that’s enough to make me add it to my own game. It’s enough to make me consider playing a game of Apocalypse World or one of its variants (”hacks”).


Comments on 2013-08-19 Skills Inspired By Apocalypse World

In a recent session, I used a free form alternative of the system:

When wondering about something, roll 2d6 and add and appropriate modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7–9, ask two. On a 3–6, ask one. On a 2, you don’t get to ask any questions.

It was used to figure out whether there was a drug trade in this town, where it was being shipped to, and to figure out who was involved in it, for example. When I asked my wife after the session, she said she liked it.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-22 10:45 UTC

One of my main problems with Dungeon World is that it tries to be both D&D and some other game that is more concerned with the characters’ personalities and their evolving; it becomes a true heartbreaker... However, the idea of using the Apocalypse World engine for a non-story game is neat for, as you said, it involves compromises and difficult choices, keeps (and enhances) player agency, and even avoids DM fiat to a degree (by not letting him arbitrarily choose the result, I mean).

Your version of disarming traps looks great, actually better than the one in DW.

Ynas Midgard 2013-08-26 15:12 UTC

The Fighter’s “use pure strength to destroy an inanimate obstacle” can be re-written for D&D-compatibility. I thought it would be too short for a blog post, so here it goes:

When you force a door open, roll +Strength; on 10+ choose three, on a 7-9 choose one. Note, that forcing a door open normally necessitates a wandering monster check.

  • the door is forced open (the door is bashed and effectively destroyed, it also takes 1 turn)
  • the door is not “destroyed” in the process
  • it takes less time (it takes 1 round)
  • it is not noisy (no wandering monster check)
  • - Ynas Midgard 2013-08-26 20:35 UTC

Hah, exactly!

Perhaps I’ll make a collection of these and give it a try in my game.

Here’s another example.

When you steal something that is guarded, roll +Dex; on a 10+ choose three, on a 7–9 choose one. Unless you choose to avoid it, your attempt at thievery will be noticed immediately and an alarm will be raised.

  • you get the thing you were looking for (if any)
  • you get something else (a handful of coins of appropriate value is the minimum)
  • you aren’t noticed (but the victim may still discover the theft within seconds)
  • you delay discovery of the theft for you to make a safe escape (but the victim may still have noticed your suspicious demeanor)

I guess I’d have to change how thieves advance. Instead of getting better at it, they get to add more “moves”.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-27 14:21 UTC

That’s a good move, perhaps you could change the first two options on the move to:

  1. you get just the thing you’re looking for
  2. you get something valuable (choose this and the one above if you’re looking for something valuable, unless you’ll settle for a damaged or cheap version)

and add note to the end (if it’s been already established that there’s nothing valuable there and nothing your looking for, you can’t pick the first two options, in fact why are you even stealing anything?)

– Josh W 2013-09-12 20:01 UTC

That looks like a definite improvement!

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-12 21:20 UTC

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2011-10-03 Apocalypse World

The End… Today we played our second session of Apocalypse World. I think I like it. There were many things about the game I suspected I would not like:

  • The rigid character creation allows you to pick a very specific kind of character. In terms of D&D, you’d pick a class, a typical attribute distribution, a skill package, a name (from a list!)—it’s really very rigid. In the end, however, I enjoyed it. I guess a rigid system is very similar to a very simple system (like Labyrinth Lord).
  • The obscure attributes like Hot, Hard, Weird and the rest of them are often tricky to picture. Eventually it all works out because the character sheet will list the “moves” you can do with the respective attribute.
  • The rigid list of moves players are allowed to choose from seemed very artificial. I feared it would play like D&D for Dummies. In the end, however, it feels quite flexible. On the contrary, by listing common actions and the required skill test, it’s actually easier to pick a move and continue playing.
  • I don’t like the post apocalyptic genre. I don’t remember seeing any movies in this genre. I don’t remember playing either Fallout or Wasteland.

I liked the barter system and the way successes are described. Essentially you can have partial successes and full successes for every “move”—and many of the move descriptions also have a list of four or more items with a partial success meaning “pick one” and a full success meaning “pick three” from the list. That’s awesome.

I think our Indie game night will play Apocalypse World for another one or two sessions before switching to something new. I’m not sure I’d want to play it again, but I’m interested in playing Dungeon World, now. 🙂


Comments on 2011-10-03 Apocalypse World

The moves in AW say: “Here’s the fun”. And IMO they deliver pretty well so far. After peeking into Dungeon World I’m not sure that its moves are as dense packed with fun. In fact I am a little skeptical that DW’s one-to-one translation of D&D is a good idea.

I would like to play another two or so sessions of AW where I will try to let the game shine more in some aspects I neglected until now. The game text is full of examples and descriptions of how it should be about the PC’s interacting with the post apocalyptic world. But it lacks concrete tools to get this interaction going if the players do not set their PCs up like that. I am resolved to use aggressive measures to get the “interaction” to the PCs if necessary... I hope it works.

lior 2011-10-07 11:21 UTC

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