So recently +luke crane said some dumb shit about AW and Fate-based games on +Sean Nittner 's podcast Narrative Control.

In fact, what he said is so dumb that I keep trying to comment on it and then erase what I wrote and try again later.  And yet... my mind keeps mulling it over.  Here's the thing I think that games like Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, Sagas of the Icelanders and The Sprawl DO represent real design.  Luke is dumb to say otherwise.  BUT!  I completely empathize with the feelings that would lead one to say such a dumb thing.

Does that make sense?

Let me start with something that definitely isn't design: Every game of Sorcerer I have ever played.  I've played Sorcerer in a Gothic Fantasy world, in a Mad Max-like World, in Post-Katrina New Orleans, in a coastal beach community, and probably a few others I'm forgetting.  Here's the thing, each of those games is memorable for different reasons but the gameplay experience feels pretty much the same from game to game.  That's because it's the identical cycle of how what I say impacts the mechanics who then informs the next thing I say.

Now here's the thing, to play across all those settings I don't have to change a thing mechanically.  I might put a different label on Humanity and customize some Descriptors but that's it.  I don't have to write new demon powers.  I don't have to come up with new stats.  I don't have to add a new method of handling financial resources.  I just do some verbal sketch work and I'm done.

Now here's the tricky thing.  I feel very similar when I play Apocalypse World or Sagas of the Icelander or Dungeon World or Monsterhearts or The Sprawl.  I feel like although the fiction has changed substantially the game play experience has not.  The kinds of decisions about what say and how that impacts the mechanics and how that informs the next thing I say is the same across all those games.


Unlike Sorcerer to get there is a lot more work.  You might have this core cycle of communication but in-order to direct that cycle towards: Survivors in a apocalypse, emotionally arrested teen monsters, heroic adventurers, Icelandic settlers, or cyberpunk professionals you have to build all the components from the ground up.  You have to decide what's important to you about who these people are and what you want them to be doing,  And then you have to articulate that, encode in in the AW language, and possibly add some extensions.

And that my friends is design.

But like I said I empathize with the feeling because at the end of the day PbtA games feel very similar because of their shared structural language.  And there's a part of me who is sad.  It makes me sad that so many people feel like the AW language or the Fate language is enough to express what they want.  In other words, I want people to want MORE from their ideas then simply encoding them in AW or Fate; a more crafted, custom and specific experience.

And I say that as someone who's writing something for The Sprawl and working on a setting extension for Dungeon World.  But I could never put The Elevator of Regretful Memories, A Dark and Quiet Place, Bread Mold Might Be Medicine, or Silent Sound in AW or Fate.  I'm chasing something so specific with those games and AW and Fate won't deliver those things.

So I say this: PbtA and Fate (and d20, and Gumshoe, etc) are fine core systems... languages of a sort.  If that's the space you really want to work in, fantastic.  It's stupid to reinvent the wheel if you don't have to.  If that really delivers what you want (and for the games I've mentioned I believe that is absolutely what their designers wanted) then go for it.  

But don't reach for one of these games just because "their popular" or their "sufficient."  Reflect on what you want and ask yourself, as a designer, could you build something unique that's a better fit?
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