Hello students. This week, faculty member Andrew Young (@ThatOneGM) and I continue a series that should prove exciting and useful to you all. Enjoy!
We’ve covered hacking a rules-light system like Wushu, and we’ve covered hacking a rules-heavy system like D&D 5e. Today, we’re going to cover hacking systems that focus on building narrative, and we’ll be using the Powered by the Apocalypse system to do so.
The basics of Powered by the Apocalypse games
The Powered by the Apocalypse system (PbtA) is the foundation of games like Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, and Monsterhearts. (We’ll be using the Dungeon World version of the system for this hack.) PbtA games prominently feature a mechanic called failing forward, and they expect that the GM will never roll any dice. The mechanics are set up to encourage back-and-forth interactions between the GM and the players, and even a failure by a PC is an opportunity for the GM to make something happen that is interesting and moves the story forward.
In a PbtA game, PC classes present the players with robust options, but in relatively simple mechanical forms. A Move might encompass all of a PC’s shapeshifting abilities, but the mechanics of those abilities will not vary as much as in a rules-heavy system. And the Basic Moves in the game are broad enough to cover many different kinds of situations, and aren’t particularly specific to any genre. (In fact, we shouldn’t need to alter Dungeon World’s Basic Moves list at all for our Power Rangers hack.)
In a PbtA game, the GM and players have lists of Moves that they use to determine the mechanics of the actions in the story. The players use Basic Moves and class-specific Moves whenever the GM decides that a possible failure would be interesting. GMs have (in addition to the Moves available to any given NPC) a list of Moves that they can use specifically to respond to PC failures. And they can use Basic Move prompts to adjust the difficulty of actions on the fly (for example, the GM might call for a Defy Danger roll for any PC that approaches a particularly dangerous opponent before the PC can even attempt an attack).
Adapting Dungeon World for Power Rangers
Adapting Dungeon World for Power Rangers is a mixed bag. The Basic Moves and the flow of the game can remain unchanged. Failing forward and a back-and-forth flow for combat works well for Power Rangers. The simplicity of the Basic Moves keeps everyone on the same page, and the variety of equipment and class-specific Moves allows players to make their rangers stand out from each other.
The classes are very descriptive, and the Moves are themed to go with each class. Because the mechanics of the Moves are pretty general, they shouldn’t need to be hacked, but they will require a significant amount of reskinning (as will equipment). For example, the Wizard class makes an excellent tech-savvy ranger. The Wizard’s Moves are reskinned primarily as inventions or modifications to standard ranger equipment.
The most prevalent mechanical difficulty is making the power levels (teenager, ranger, Megazord) feel distinct. The simplest way to distinguish the teenagers is to prevent them from using any equipment or class-specific Moves. This allows them to engage in combat effectively, but without the versatility and extra power from their special Moves. Then, when they morph into rangers, they can take advantage of everything on their character sheet. We used a similar method when hacking D&D 5e, and it works just as well for PbtA games.
As with our other two hacks, the most complex part of a Power Rangers game is the final fight using the Megazord. With Wushu, we allowed the players to collaborate and describe the Megazord’s actions, and with D&D 5e, the best option we could find was to have the players take turns operating the Megazord character. With our Dungeon World hack, we decided to combine the two ideas.
The Megazord has its own character sheet, but it has no Moves. Instead, the players take turns running the Megazord character, and they use their own PC’s Moves for the Megazord. With good teamwork, the players should be able to come up with interesting mechanical combinations that would normally be difficult or impossible. Dungeon World fights can be short, so it is important to make sure that the giant monster is suitably tough in order to maximize the chances of every player getting to run the Megazord for at least one turn.
The Powered by the Apocalypse system (and Dungeon World’s version in particular) is excellent for telling exciting and adventurous stories without sacrificing too much in the way of mechanics. The back-and-forth aspect of conflict in the system lends itself well to Power Rangers, as does failing forward. It takes a lot of reskinning to fit a Power Rangers game into the Dungeon World system, but the effort is rewarded with a version of Power Rangers that focuses on character-driven action and rich storytelling.
Next week, we’ll be doing something a little different. We will review the movie (which premiers in the US on March 24, if you didn’t know) and analyze a few of our favorite scenes in game terms. From that point, we will continue this series, but it will not be weekly. If you have a system you’d like us to discuss, please let us know in the comments. After a few more articles about hacking and re-skinning, we will discuss what is truly the end result of this type of work…writing a new game system.
Stay tuned, and may the Power protect you.