Tabletop RPGs in 2022

This is why I never buy IP RPG’s or run campaigns outside of some stable system (like GURPS) in their IP universes. Because you get a campaign together, you buy some books, and then, after 3 to 4 years, the IP passes to somebody else. Rinse and repeat.

Yeah, I guess for me and my group, we’re usually going to just pick a system and go for it for a few months before switching to some other shiny, so a publisher losing the rights isn’t a big deal. With Conan, it’s my second-hand copy of the core book and a couple of the other players picked up some pdfs of the same as well as a couple of the regional sourcebooks. None of us were looking to “complete the collection” anyway.

I guess for the hardcore, the shame is that Modiphius had announced a Pict sourcebook, but that won’t ever happen now, at least not for this line.

So there’s an Avatar (the Last Airbender) TTRPG that just came out? I’ve been looking for years for a system and world to bring my kids into role-playing, and after dallying with D&D and Marvel, I just didn’t find it. This could be it. Anyone know anything about the game or the Powered by the Apocalypse system? My RPG knowledge ends with the original White Wolf run, basically, so I know nothing.

I know a bit about Powered by the Apocalypse but not the Avatar RPG. PbtA structures a game with “moves”, which are mechanics that bring to life the feeling of a genre. Most moves refer back to the core mechanic for players of rolling 2d6 and adding a little. Higher gets better in the three tiers of results, and results are detailed in the move itself.

The math is simple, there aren’t many dice to learn, and what a character can do is approachable through the move list.

Howdy! Big PbtA fan and deep in the dollars backer of the new Avatar RPG from Magpie! Gonna start with some higher level stuff that I think is interesting, then get to actual questions to the best of my ability.

Boring Game Designy Stuff

PbtA is technically “just” a design philosophy rooted in the game design grognardery of the old Forge forums, if you want to read the 12-part blogpost series one of its progenitors wrote up over the last couple of years. And, if I recall, you are a game designer yourself, so you might enjoy that!

But, realistically in the modern era of what I think of as 3rd generation PbtA games, certain truisms have emerged that look much more like a game system (one that has relatively consistent, recognizable parts to it). That’s in no small part due to the work of Magpie Games, especially their landmark title Masks: The New Generation, a Young Justice-inspired teen superheroes RPG that cares way more about interpersonal melodrama and the trials of growing up than they do exactly how many hit points a Kryptonian eye ray takes off per second.

So, you’ve got some mostly agreed-upon basics: Characters are built using Playbooks, which encapsulate most of the mechanics you need to play and develop the character in a 1-4 page document you can easily print out. The core mechanic of the game is rolling 2d6, adding a very small modifier at most, and seeing if you hit “Fail” (6 or less), “Mixed Success” (7-9), or “Full Success” (10+) on the roll. These rolls are called for when certain Moves are triggered by players – Moves are basically “When your character does [something specific] in the fiction of the game, make [this move].” Moves also include a set of fictional and mechanical effects based on how well you roll them, often prompting players and/or the GM to generate new fiction along with whatever effect they have. Characters often take fictionally described Conditions rather than just rote points of damage. The GM never rolls dice, instead just playing NPCs, setting the stage, and responding to player actions/roll results with their own little list of Moves (some of which include, well, “deal some damage to that fool who tried to fight and sucked at it.”)

All this results in a family of games that are very player-driven and roleplay-heavy. They tend not to have a ton of mechanical crunch. Specifics like distances and weights are often handwaved or full-on ignored. GMs aren’t generally expected to do much pre-planning; you should instead respond to player actions, lean into character relationships, and riff off the results of failed and mixed success rolls using your GM moves and principles. Very “fail-forward” type game design where even a totally botched rolls is intended to make something interesting happen that naturally leads into the question: “Now what?!”

Avatar-Specific Stuff

Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game contains a TON of Masks DNA, but also a lot of really intriguing revisions to that formula and additions to mirror the fiction of the Avatar media universe better. But the basics are still there. Create characters using heavily archetypal playbooks like The Bold or The Prodigy that feature special moves and often pair character development to mechanical progression, gently pushing your character along some trope-y personal storylines without fully seizing control of their fate. Characters get stats like Creativity and Passion. They face Conditions like Afraid and Insecure when they falter. The game has a set of basic shared moves like Assess a Situation or Push Your Luck that cover the stuff characters in Avatar shows do all the time. The GM has a nice flavorful list of responsive Moves, like Reveal a hidden truth and Twist loyalties with tempting offers. The book contains tons of great setting details and flavor and art, digging deep into details of many eras of the Avatar world that didn’t get a ton of visibility in the original two shows (lots of content from the graphic novels, as I understand it).

It also includes the aforementioned revisions and special tweaks. There’s a really neat Balance system reflecting conflicting but valid Principles that guide how characters view and interact with the world around them – one might have a balance between Self-Reliance and Trust, for instance. This comes up in all sorts of places, as characters try to make their way in the world, sometimes having their core principles pushed on (for good or ill). There’s also a much more elaborate combat system than many PbtA games (where a fight can often be resolved in one Move!), with some extra trackers like Fatigue and tons of cool Moves and Techniques tied into the basic formula reflecting the really cool powers of the shows but also helping play out the emotional battles that often underpinned the actual fights.

It’s built as a game about a group of young, driven, but still-learning Companions going on awesome quests and journeys together. There’s going to be lots of hooks for intra-character roleplay and encouragement for characters to grow as people just as much as they do as piles of special moves and stats :)

I will say that due to the extra systems, and the somewhat-unusual-for-PbtA combat focus, this is a somewhat more difficult-to-learn game than the average PbtA title. It benefits a lot from at least the GM really deeply reading and understanding the book to get how all these interesting little narrative mechanics tie together to run a cohesive experience. Players coming from D&D or Pathfinder are going to spend a lot of time wondering where stuff they assume is mandatory in an RPG is here. If you’re just looking for a “punching bad guys in dark caves” simulator, this will be a terrible choice.

But if everyone at the table is invested in telling a shared, collaborative story about young heroes growing up and changing the world around them for the better while also having cool magic powers, then this is a great, great game!

Also @Nightgaunt, if you have followed any of the Ironsworn/Starforged conversations around here, that system is also PbtA, you can get an idea of how the general concept of ‘moves’ plays (from a solo perspective at least) from this thread:

Has anyone had any experience with Foundry Virtual Table Top?

Yes, especially last year (which brings it into the purview of the 2022 TTRPG thread). Basically, it’s the best VTT that I’ve played with. It’s also another hobby on top of the game you want to play, figuring out what the right hosting situation is for you. Do you pay Forge to host your Foundry game or muck around with port forwarding? How many optional modules do you need to truly get your game experience right, or at least good enough? How much do you want to spend on Patreons paid to other Foundry fans who have worked out solutions to some underlying problems?

A buddy of mine used Foundry for his 5e Strahd campaign and Numenera campaign. Both were well run, fun, and stable. I was glad to be a player. (I remember the QT3 D&D 4e Fantasy Grounds campaign; that platform was better than playing over the phone lines on conference call but it crashed frequently.) I tried running one session of my long-running 5e game on Foundry. (We tried it because of the pandemic shutdown.) It was so traumatic that we haven’t played since, even back to the in-person tabletop. I also tried messing around with the '80s Ghostbusters RPG and can’t figure out how to get the Ghost Die to roll.

In short, if you’re determined and have lots of resources, be it cash, time and/or know-how, it’s a wonderful tool. There’s room for improvement but as a player with a good DM/IT support, it’s terrific. I prefer it over Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds.

Well, the Humble Bundle came with the Abomination Vaults Module and a lot people on the 2e reddit really seemed to like it for pathfinder.

I love Foundry. Feels a little like the Linux of VTTs. It’s really powerful and works really well, but you need to dig into it a little bit to use it. But I’ve both run and played in a number of foundry games and highly recommend it. I’ll echo Djscman’s preferring it to Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, for me by quite a decent amount.

Roll20 is a very poorly made hammer that has now been marketed as a screwdriver, wrench, and banana-hanging stand. Which is to say, the majority of its core assumptions/base systems presuppose D&D as the only thing you’d ever imagine playing. Those systems/assumptions largely haven’t changed much since its earliest days; they’ve just been piling bandaids and extras on top of them for years now. My experience with it is that it’s buggy, slow, prone to extremely weird behaviors and edge cases, and filled to the brim with poorly documented but extremely useful features and options. People have been beating that rickety scaffolding into sort of supporting myriad other systems for years and years, morphing d20-centric toolsets and UI elements into things at least marginally suited for other systems, but it always feels a little like a hack to me, and getting it rolling well as a GM is deeply frustrating, time-consuming, and requires a shitload of Roll20-specific extra work on your part.

So, amusing then that every experience I’ve had or heard about with Foundry makes me less interested in replacing Roll20 with it, lol.

“The Linux of VTTs” is an extremely apt comparison, but when I use it, it’s intended as a nigh-unspeakable insult/divine condemnation/absolute repudiation :D

I am not even sure what a VTT designed for playing the things I would play looks like because I don’t know how much you need a VTT for like, PBTA.

Having received a number of things for Role, maybe it’s that? I dunno, I didn’t back those particular things expecting to play them, mostly.

PBTA-style games are more my jam, and Roll20 modules were okay in terms of giving us pretty, shared, interactive character sheets that updated the right values and logged dice rolls to chat. But the A/V experience and general bugginess was always a struggle.

My preference is still Zoom/Hangouts video chat with Google Sheets for narrative games, and the jaw-dropping Owlbear Rodeo for quick dungeon games.

Well, that’s just great! I hadn’t even heard of Owlbear Rodeo, and now there’s another simple VTT to check out?

I remain pretty pleased with the Roll20 “playmats” I designed off of some long-lost reddit guide, which are very solid for theater of the mind type stuff but awful for tactical combat, of course. Still, I use 'em for a lot of the D&D stuff I’m running right now up until we drop into battle. Collecting handy things like PC descriptors (traits/bonds/flaws/ideals) for inspiration triggers is nice, and I’ve made a few basic little trackers for things like Skill Challenges.

Works a little better for less-fiddly things like Fate, though not being able to squeeze in PC aspects is a real bummer; I gotta keep a separate sheet open to the side.

Players can use the text tool to add notes and such, and I can still drag-drop tokens onto the area to show foes when they show up; I mostly use Handouts for location info.

We generally use Jitsi, Zoom, etc., for video/voice, though; Roll20’s built in stuff is hot garbage. The little customizable decks for things like Fate Points, safety cards, etc., are neat, but again, very much a “this kludge kind of accomplishes what you want so just go with it” type thing.

Alchemy VTT seems like it’s meant for more theater of the mind with heavy emphasis on creating atmosphere. Not sure if it’s actually all that simple to use but it definitely puts presentation at the front and center. Its current kickstarter has unlocked enough stretch goals to include a number of different systems (heavy on Free League so far).

Yeah, but there’s a ton of Roll20 that’s completely vestigial in that sort of play. starting with the map screen. Because it’s designed for playing D&D, and has a lot of stuff that’s cool (if a lot to learn and possibly janky - I’ve only seen any of it in the actual plays they’ve done for their youtube) for that. For Apocalypse World or whatever it just feels like all you really need is a spot to stick sheets, chat, and a dice roller, and while Roll20 certainly does those things, it’s cluttered and another account and there’s ads and…

But maybe a VTT that focuses on that sort of thing could bring more to the table in a way Roll20 doesn’t really, IMO. I just don’t know what.

I love Foundry. Currently running Savage Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords. It’s fantastic for games that rely on battle maps. Role is the one I go to for light/indie games as the sheets are easy to create yourself and it has a focus on Video that I like. Their map support is crap though.

Foundry is awesome - its also somewhat taxing on machines, which is something to keep in mind.

I’ve kickstarted the abovementioned Alchemy VTT, which seems quite well done in terms of UI and presentation, something which Forge lacks a bit. Forge is great, but it has a definite learning curve.

Going with the linux thing where that’s how I think of Foundry, Alchemy feels like the OS X of the group. If you can work with how it does things, it seems to provide a beautiful presentation that’s clean. I tried entering some homebrew non-supported stuff and I got jammed up. But the kickstarter has me excited for how many rulesets it has with properly designed support (hopefully).

Fantasy Grounds is the IBM OS/2 of VTTs.