Powered by the Apocalypse is a game engine that powers over 30 different games, with some of them arguably being among the best TTRPGs on the market.
The PbtA engine offers a template that game designers can add their own flavor to. The framework was originally built for Apocalypse World, but has since spawned dozens of other games. The TTRPGs using this framework vary greatly in genre, including high fantasy, sci-fi, urban fantasy, and much more.
Powered by the Apocalypse games require only a rulebook, printable character sheets, and two six-sided dice to play. The framework uses a system of “playbooks,” or pre-defined, customizable classes. These playbooks often include character-building prompts where different characters’ relationships to one another are defined as part of creation. This makes PbtA games approachable, with minimal fuss and an emphasis on collaborative storytelling.
There are many popular options available, but here are the five best PbtA games to try right now.
Dungeon World is an easier alternative to Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder
Far and away the most popular of the bunch, Dungeon World is a high fantasy tabletop RPG with similar themes to Dungeons and Dragons.
The playbooks of Dungeon World include classic fantasy archetypes like the bard, thief, cleric, wizard, druid, and so on. This game is great for players who love the themes and high-fantasy setting of DnD but are intimidated by its dense rulebook. It’s equally great for players who’ve already played a ton of DnD but want an alternative.
Like all Powered by the Apocalypse games, Dungeon World’s rules are relatively simple and approachable. The high fantasy setting is implied in the game’s playbooks, but not rigidly defined. Players and the game master are intended to collaborate on building a setting organically through character creation and active play.
All of this makes Dungeon World an ideal TTRPG for fantasy enthusiasts of all skill levels.
City of Mist brings superhero noir to life
City of Mist is an urban fantasy TTRPG inspired by the film noir and street-level superhero genres.
Character playbooks in City of Mist represent heroic archetypes that the player-characters, known as “Rifts,” channel in order to gain power, fight evil, and solve mysteries. Rifts channel the essence of a mythical hero or concept and act as a physical conduit to this otherworldly power.
Fans of the superhero genre will recognize the “secret identities” of Rifts who must balance their mundane lives with the mythical power they wield in the shadows. Noir enthusiasts will appreciate the brooding atmosphere and morally gray world. All of this makes it a great game for RPG fans who enjoy shadowy aesthetics, superhero tropes, and mythical heroes.
Monster of the Week brings series like Buffy and Supernatural to PbtA
Monster of the Week is an urban fantasy RPG focused on hunting fantastical monsters. Drawing themes and inspiration from series like Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, players form a team of professional monster hunters in this Powered by the Apocalypse game.
While everyone plays someone who hunts monsters for a living, the playbooks offer a wide range of archetypes within this role. A player might embody The Chosen, who was destined to hunt monsters, much like Buffy herself. Or perhaps The Divine, empowered by higher forces to root out evil like Castiel from Supernatural. If not either of those, there’s The Expert, who makes it their business to know everything there is to know about monsters, like Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In short, Monster of the Week is the perfect game for fans of monster-hunting media who want to live out their own version of these shows.
Apocalypse Keys makes monsters the heroes
Apocalypse Keys is a mystery tabletop RPG about monsters holding back the apocalypse.
A secretive agency known as DIVISION is responsible for keeping the modern world safe from hidden, apocalypse-level threats. In order to accomplish this mission, DIVISION employs the services of monsters-turned-saviors, i.e. the player-characters.
Inspired by works like Hellboy and Men in Black, Apocalypse Keys centers around a cast of monstrous beings using their powers to save the world. All the playbooks for this game are some kind of fantastical monster. The Summoned is a being from another dimension. Other playbooks include archetypes like the telepathic amnesiac monster “The Found” or The Surge, who is barely controlling their raging inner power.
Players who are tired of heroes fighting monsters and think the heroes should be the monsters should love Apocalypse Keys.
Bring together a motley supernatural crew in PbtA’s Urban Shadows
Urban Shadows is an urban fantasy TTRPG where monsters and mortals alike walk the streets and vie for power in a realistic setting.
Urban fantasy is a popular genre these days, so it’s no surprise that Powered by the Apocalypse-fueled game designers have been looking to it for inspiration. Urban Shadows is probably the most direct translation into a tabletop game.
While many other games hone in on a particular aspect of the genre, Urban Shadows offers a bit of everything. Like in Vampire: the Masquerade, a player might take on the role of an urban vampire with The Vamp playbook. Or, like in Monster of the Week, the player might be a professional monster killer as The Hunter.
What distinguishes Urban Shadows from these works is the wider scope and variety of the playbooks and settings. Instead of all being one thing, Urban Shadows brings a wider array of potential characters together. With a focus on intrigue and street-level dealings between mortals and monsters, Urban Shadows can unite all manner of fantasy fans around the table.