Apocalypse World, which the indie luvvies have all gone ga-ga over is an impenetrable mystery to me in terms of its appeal. Dungeon World does a far better job of explaining how it is all supposed to work and be played but it can’t overcome the central plank of fail that courses through the system like a dose of castor oil ravaging your intestines.
Moves suck. Moves suck the creativity out of role-playing, coming up with on-the-spot actions and improvising absurd plans and Hail Mary’s out of the creativity of sheer desperation.
Characters in Apocalypse Powered games are, meanwhile, lumbered with a pretty restrictive set of ‘moves’ that channel them into a narrow set of actions. This is something that goes against the very nature and appeal of RPGs to me. This is ‘narrative’ chess, the horsey moves like this, the battlebabe takes on diagonals.
If there’re redeeming features to this game, they are that it makes a good workbook for plot-mapping and tracking, and that some of the artwork is borderline fetishy.
Otherwise, it’s a pretentious, bag-of-wank, ‘indie darling’ and when you don’t like it, people treat you like you don’t know how to use the three sea shells.
I’m a huge fan of the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide. That thing is the most complete handbook for building new elements, adding complexity, and dishing out rewards I’ve ever possessed.
To address some of the conversation in the body of the article: Completely unbounded creative space is not something that is accessible to many. The best systems for the most creative of us are terrible systems for a commercial audience. If you or other Storytellers can harness that and guide your players, who are probably pretty creative themselves if they are playing those systems, into any semblance of a game, be it short or long term, you are by far the outlier. So many people buy these books and dream of their Utopian RPG session that never happens. D&D and Pathfinder are huge commercial monsters in the tiny RPG market because they are a full game. If you have the full set of materials (core books and a campaign/module) you can read through and adjudicate, and not nearly as much creativity or planning is involved. I would imagine that the number of people that can fill in the blanks to marry together RP and mechanical elements in a mostly defined story is huge compared to those that can build from bedrock. “Make your own world so it’s yours and you’ll love it” is no excuse. To me it smacks of a lack of confidence. If you, the creator, can’t put together something captivating with your own system, who else will?
I maintain that “games” that have almost no coherent examples of what could be an entertaining experience included in their material are incomplete. Many of us that are designers have learned through the work of our predecessors, and if the game has no pre-written module or campaign content it will be extremely difficult to even start to create a mental framework to start from when improvising with the system.