Friday, May 9, 2014

Worlds in Peril: A Quick Look

DRAFT ANALYSIS
I was asked if I’d take a look at the early draft materials for the Worlds in Peril rpg, currently about to wrap its successful Kickstarter campaign. WiP is a supers game based on the Apocalypse World engine. As you can see from their campaign page, they’ve done well. I’m late in writing this, but I hope it might inform some people who perhaps hadn’t heard of it. I thought it might be a useful exercise to write out my thoughts and perspective before I read. Please note that this is based on an Alpha Draft of the rules, so I’m going to avoid commenting on art/layout/organization.

I’d consider myself pretty versed with superhero rpgs. I’ve run heavily using several different systems in multiple editions (DC Heroes, V&V, Champions, M&M). I have a pretty decent sense of what works for me in a supers game. My historyof superhero rpgs project- much longer and more involved than I’d expected at the start has jaded me a little on “innovations” in these games. Or at least to too many new mechanical tricks that up the complexity. All told though, I’ve sunk a decent amount of time into reading, running, playing, and thinking about this genre.

Worlds in Peril uses the Apocalypse World engine. I have more limited experience with that. I’ve skimmed through three versions: Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, and Dungeon World. I’ve also played one session of Monster of the Week. I liked what I saw in AW and in MH- both felt like games where the mechanics fit with the tone and approach of the setting. They offered a new take on a niche genre. On the other hand, Dungeon World didn’t grab me. That’s too bad, as a number of smart and creative people I know really dig it. It didn’t feel like a game I wanted to run or couldn’t do with other rules. But again, that’s a response based on skimming the book and talking to people who’ve played it.

I’ve also played Monster of the Week and I enjoyed that session. But MotW feels a little off from the rest of Apocalypse World. It focuses on combat and procedural elements. It offers a fun ongoing approach to the genre of the title: characters fight a monster each week and have to figure out how to defeat it. But it minimizes options, especially social details. Those aren’t entirely absent, but they’re significantly reduced. In that regard I wouldn’t use MotW for a more open world horror/action game. It cuts back on what the AW engine seems to do best- handle non-traditional “actions” like status, social ties, and mental stress. As with Fate, conflict and overcoming obstacles is more broadly defined in AW, but at the same time there’s a granularity built on the different roles.

OK- WHAT DID I THINK?
Overall my reading convinced me to back the project.

But with a caveat. I have many superhero games and systems I love, so I’m not sure I would get this to the table. It is more likely than most. But Worlds in Peril does offer some really interesting takes on the genre. Part of the problem is that on my read-through, with my minimal AW knowledge, I can’t really judge the implementation of that engine. I know some people have very strong feelings about that. I’ve heard discussions that some premises don’t fit and some games handle moves quite badly (I've seen tremulus cited).

  • I really want to see the more polished version of this. WiP has so many ideas and concepts that they’re hard to pick out. The organization of the Alpha version feels very rough- I’m looking forward to seeing the pieces rearranged in a more careful order.
  • Worlds in Peril takes a generic world approach. Like Dungeon World it aims to be an open system for supers, tailored to the players’ decisions. That’s a plus in that you could easily use WiP for any setting. I can imagine adapting it to something like Underworld or GrimWar. If you’re looking for a system, then WiP will work for you. If you’re looking for a setting sourcebook or background material to lift for another campaign, then this isn’t as useful. I really hope the final version of Worlds in Peril adds additional material talking about the world creation process. I think that has a lot of potential. How do you negotiate the creation of a collaborative superhero setting? What kinds of details should the GM (or Editor-in-Chief) be looking as the players choose characters? That’s a rich vein left untapped.
  • Powers don’t mean all that much in this system. That sounds a little odd, but it makes sense in the context. When I was thinking about this, I imagined that we would get character playbooks based around the power-types (ala City of Heroes Blaster, Tank, etc). But powers appear more as an abstraction- they’re a player-created fiction to allow them to justify and describe certain Moves (actions) in play. There’s no real power list or manifest, except for a few suggestions. You set the general terms for a power on worksheet and then you can apply limitations that offer benefits elsewhere in play. At first I was a little put off by this approach- I’m so used power structures in supers games. But it makes sense for the kind of play Worlds in Peril aims for.
  • Character creation involves the group collectively building a team profile. That doesn’t have any mechanical effect- from what I can see, but I really like that concept. I’m probably going to steal that for the next game I run. It would be interesting to have some team-based abilities which could be used up or burned. There may be some mechanics for that in the game, but there’s so much here I may have missed it.
  • Apocalypse World games are built around playbooks- easy checklists for different archetypes which players use to define their character. Worlds in Peril has you pick an origin book which gives you a small number of moves, suggested foes, and some perspective on your character’s approach. These include A Death in the Family, The Accident, My Alien Heritage, and so on. That’s then combined with a Drive Book which sets your motivation and goals. The Drive book has a play requirement to gain access to it, which is an interesting idea. These include Reconcile My Past, See Justice Done, Inspire, and so on. I like the two-part playbook creation system. The game offers many options.
  • Worlds in Peril is a narrative-heavy supers game. Players have a currency in the form of Bond Points. These are connections, problems, relationships, and so on. In order to guarantee success, you have to burn a bond before you roll. That creates tough choices and interesting stories for the players as they have to balance costs against success. I especially like it because it puts the “disadvantage” system in the players’ hands. That’s closer to something like Fate than to Champions. It also avoids some of the problems of the unnatural and power-tweaking approach which sometimes happens in these games. Effectively the game monetizes the background and play.
  • I really like the ideas and examples of the GM moves in the game and what they can do in a supers setting. That’s a nice framework for thinking about running supers games- especially improv games. I’m mentioned before on my blog that superhero games end up taking more prep time for me than other genres. This material offers a new way to think about that for this system and other campaigns.

OVERALL

I wasn’t sure at the start- and it took me a while to warm up to the game. As I said, I’m not an expert judge of AW games. I suspect Worlds in Peril has some interesting twists here which AW/DW enthusiasts might find useful. Certainly based on my limited exposure, it has given me some new ideas for how to play those games. If you’re not an Apocalypse World/Dungeon World gamer, but you like supers games I think you ought to seriously consider this. That’s especially true if you want a narrative and character-based supers game. If you want a more crunchy approach, then you might want another option. But even if you like crunch, Worlds in Peril has approaches and toolkits worth looking at, especially for GMs.