Thursday, December 10, 2020

Taxonomy of Powered by the Apocalypse Games, some flawed-but-still-cool research

I turned this in as a final for art-history-of-games-ish class this semester, so I thought I'd put it up here for shits and giggles as well. 

This is a somewhat-exhaustive taxonomy of PbtA games, tracking ten different systemic mechanical elements in each, and a loose kind of succession between them. It's not perfect, in that my methodology is sort of flawed and there are definitely errors and omissions floating around, but it's a useful visual nonetheless, I think.

Here's the PDF. You'll want Acrobat for this, since it's dependent on the different layers. If you don't have Acrobat or otherwise don't have access to the layers feature, here's a .zip file of all of the graphs as images.

And just to show the mild absurdity of this whole thing, here's what the graph looks like with every single layer turned on simultaneously: 

Anyway, let me know if you have any questions or want to give me grant money to do more of this research or whatever. 


  1. Replies
    1. Literally how even the player characters are, in terms of power/role/status. In something like Dungeon World or Masks, they all play characters that fulfill the same role and while their abilities and powers may vary, they are all roughly equivalent.

      In something like Apocalypse World or Undying, the characters have very, very different levels in power: a Gunlugger gets a handful of guns, a Driver gets a car, and a Hardholder gets a town, a gang, a garageful of vehicles, and basically any personal gear they want. In Undying, characters literally have ranks inside the in-game political power structure, which afford them different benefits and abilities.

      It's an important distinction in how the game plays: uneven PC games tend to lean towards more communal and competitive modes of play, while even PC games tend to lean more towards cooperative play.

  2. I'd have loved to see Escape from Dino Island on here - it has a pretty great and (I think) unique mechanic called "Tell a Story".

    When you take an action when you're not in danger, you pick from a list of story prompts your character would tell, and tell a story as you complete the action. It's a really nice cinematic action/downtime split built directly into the moves, which I don't think another PbtA game has utilised...yet!

  3. I'd be fascinated to see whatever explanatory text accompanied this. The first thing that struck me was that The Sprawl was misplaced (First available during the Kickstarter in 2014; formally published in 2016, so published after Uncharted Worlds, but mechanically preceding it), which in turn led me to think about what information is readily available for publication dates, which finally led me to working on a project about the complicated publication history of PbtA!

    1. The initial text included with this was, imo, not very good, hence why I didn't include it. I'm currently working on a revised version of both this graph and the review paper itself.

      As for publication dates, I opted to go by the official public publication dates; trying to sort through all of the blogs, forums, ashcans, and homebrew documents out there was beyond the scope of this paper. In the revised version, this *might* change, although I'm not sure how much of that info is publically available—if you publish your history of PbtA releases, please let me know!

  4. I'd like to be credited on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd Ed. I was responsible for much of what differs from first to second edition on terms of rules. We live in an age of visibility, inclusion and accountability, don't we? 😉

    1. You're completely right—sorry for missing you! I'm working on an updated & revised version of this graph and an accompanying review paper, so I'll be sure to include you there!