Powered By The Apocalypse

Some of you may recognize what Powered by the Apocalypse means. Some of you may not. In simplest terms: it’s a role playing mechanic system based off a game system called Apocalypse World. This Wiki Page best explains the system briefly. I encourage you to check it out for yourself HERE. It’s great system, which is why I chose it to be the basis for my game. Before I explain why I chose this system, I’d like to provide a little history.


The Beginnings

Back when I was first started playing RPGs, it was 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons, (or as it was called Advanced Dungeons and Dragons), I had had ideas for my own AD&D game modules. Modules were prewritten adventures for Game Masters (Dungeon Masters) to host for gaming sessions. I had played a bunch of modules beforehand, classics like “The Keep on the Borderlands”, “The Lost City”, “Rahasia”, “The Isle of Dread”, “Castle Amber”, and “Slave Pits of the Undercity”. All of these adventures took place in the generic setting of Greyhawk. Most of my “home grown” modules were continuations of previous ones, that I had originally hosted. It wasn’t until I had played Ravenloft that I was exposed to something outside of the Grayhawk campaign setting. The got my creative juices going. My modules where beginning to take place in their own little contained world. Later on, I discovered The Dragonlance series, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to create a whole new campaign setting.

I began working on this setting when I was in a 6th or 7th grade. It was nothing like what you’re going to be reading about here, but it was the start. I took a lot of notes, drew up a lot of maps, even created a modules for it, which were hand-written on lined paper and staple bound. High School came around and started spending less time role playing and more on school life. That’s not to say I completely ignored role-playing, it just wasn’t my main focus at the time.


After I graduated high school, I went to a vocational for a year and then proceeded to college. Before College I had played a couple sessions, occasionally, but by the time College started I really felt a need to get back to more gaming. I found a group of people that had a campaign going and were willing to let me join. However, this gaming experience turned me off from the whole role playing thing for a while. It was so bad that I felt I needed long a break.

Return to Dungeons and Dragons

So life went on. I graduated college. I got a job. I got married. You know, regular life things. One day I was in a Barnes & Noble and I discovered a recent copy of Dragon Magazine. I remembered that I was amazed they were still printed this thing. It reminded me of my old stacks, stored somewhere in an unpacked box from moving. The cover of this issue highlighted a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It was 3rd Edition that was is coming out. I thought to myself “cool, I need to check this out”. I was immediately turned on and I think I even left Barnes & Noble that day with the Player’s Handbook.

I was excited about the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons and wanted to get back into the game. However, I had a small dilemma: most of my friends, that I played with in the past, were all having their own lives, whether they be married or living in a different state or doing something completely different, and most likely not interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons anymore. That did not stop me from learning how to play the game and buying more books. I even renewed my subscription to Dragon Magazine (and Dungeon magazine).

I didn’t have a local gaming store nearby, but there was one over an hour away which I was willing to drive to once in awhile. I was talking with the owner of the store and mentioned my predicament, that I didn’t know anyone who I can play with and he said that they hosted sessions, at the store, every week. I explained that the drive was too far to be able to make it weekly. He then mentioned to check out the store’s website and look for the classifieds section, where fellow gamers where looking for other, local, gamers to run campaigns with. That is where I found my first gaming group since College.

Let The Games Begin

I started playing with this group. It was an interesting experience. Most of the gamers were younger than me, especially the host, who was also the Dungeon Master. He was a little wacky but I was willing to put up with him because the other guys in the group are pretty cool. Eventually one of the other guys, one who was closer to my age, decided to start a campaign of his own, but it wasn’t Dungeons & Dragons. This guy, not only had his own campaign setting, but his own set of rules!

This got me thinking. This inspired me to go back to working on my own campaign setting. I started digging through my old notes. Found a bunch of my old Maps. Found my old magazines and modules! I decided to take things in different directions. I made some changes. I was moving along! I wasn’t too concerned about the rules. You see, when Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition, came out it, had this thing called the D20 system. It was an Open Source gaming system that allowed other people able to publish material using the same set of rules. It was groundbreaking at the time, for role playing games. It was something that they had borrowed from the software industry. Open Source, where the code was openly free to read, redistribute, and edit, as long as credit was given to the original writer. Wizards of the Coast, (formally TSR, as I knew them) practically the same thing. And I was going to “cash” in on this. I was going to create my own campaign setting using the D20 system. I even had aspirations of publishing, eventually.

I Thought This Would Be Easy

Developing the campaign setting took a lot of time. This was because I was very particular about a lot of details. I also spent a lot of time on things that really didn’t help with it’s progression. For instance, I decided to create a website for this game, and being that programming was a hobby of mine, I took a lot of time working on it and little time on the actual game itself. Once I realized this, I stopped. I converted the sire to something very minimalistic so that I can get focused on the game. I then spent a lot of time trying to work on peculiar details of my campaign setting with the D20 system. Some things worked really well. Other things not so much, particularly the magic system. I never really liked the way Dungeons and Dragons did Magic. I spent a lot of time there trying to develop my own Magic system, even borrowed some stuff from other d20 published material. I was still struggling with this aspect and a lot of time went by.

After play testing the system a little bit, with a couple sessions, I came to the realization that the d20 system really wasn’t working out for me. The rules are becoming a little too cumbersome. I was afraid that if I dropped a lot of the rules, then it wouldn’t really be a D20 system. Then I would just light, plagiarized, version of d20. That wasn’t going to work out for my publishing dreams. At that point I decided to start creating my own rules. After all, that other guy, that I played with, did it. Why couldn’t I?

Years went by. I continued working on the system and the campaign setting. The gaming group disbanded. I found other people to play with and continued to meet up with with the other guys once in awhile. The rules for the Game were coming along, but again, I felt like they were becoming a little too cumbersome. During my time, while developing the rules, I did a lot of research and discovered different kinds of role playing games. I was beginning to really like the games that were more focused on the story and less on mechanics. I also started to realize what it was more fun working the background, the setting timeline, the characters, the races, and the adventures that could take place. I enjoyed writing the story and not so much the rules. And then I heard about this game called Dungeon World.

Powered by the Apocalypse

I was talking to one of the guys, from my old gaming group, and he mentioned he was playing this game called Dungeon World. I remembered he was saying that his group were having a difficult time grasping the game rule as it was not too heavy (he was a hard core D&D player). This peaked my interest and I decided to check out the book myself. Reading the book was a bit of a bear. I found the Powered by the Apocalypse and looked up more about that. I discovered a game where the rules were similar, called Apocalypse World. This book was a little easier to read and I started grasping the concept a lot quicker. I’ve also heard of the author before, Vincent Baker, and played one of his earlier games called Dogs in the Vineyard. Dogs was an interesting game. It had an interesting set of mechanics and not too difficult to learn. It was a little more focused on creating the story of the character. I did a little more research. I read some articles and interviews with creater, Vincent Baker. The more I read, the more I was interested and the more I like this game’s rules.

I listened to several podcasts of actual Dungeon World session plays, to get a better grasp of the rules. It really did help. I also listen to a podcast interview with Vincent Baker. I was particularly interested in the way he encouraged people to hack his rules and create their own variations. Apocalypse World took what Wizards of the Coast had started and brought it to the next level. And like the original Open Source software movement, it was less about profits and more about creating a tool for people to use. Vincent Baker created something for people to make more games and not a way to make more money. And it’s been pretty sucessful so far, with little to no marketing that Wizards has done with d20.

After listening to that interview and playing a few sessions of Dungeon World (I found an online group on Google Hangouts), I made the decision that this would be the next step in my campaign setting/game development. I was going to use the Apocalypse Engine. And in the spirit of Vincent Baker’s philosophy of hacking his games, there will be some major hacks. The system will need to fit with my campaign setting. In the next few articles, I’m going to go over some of these hacks, that will be both changes and additions.

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