Several months back, Adam Dickstein, the mastermind behind another RPG blog site Barkingalien.com, and I were discussing different games. Somehow, we fell on the topic of a supers RPG using the Apocalypse World engine. Adam’s a big fan of Champions, but also has a hell of a time playing Joshua Macy’s Kapow!, part of his SFX system. Hmmmm….Apocalypse World? Supers? It might work. A relatively simple, straightforward, fast, and easy system combined with the fun and relatively lightheartedness of four color superheroes? Hmmm. There might be a bit of genius in that. A little bit of Google Fu and we find out that a project had just recently been Kickstarted.
This new RPG was called Worlds in Peril. It has a good premise on the Kickstarter and was honestly something I probably would’ve backed had I known about it before it ended. They did quite well for themselves, though, raising almost $21,000 (before fees and unpaid pledges) on a $6k target. Having missed the Kickstarted, I found their community on Google Plus and did a little bit of sleuthing to find some beta rules. I read it and, to be totally honest, I wasn’t immediately impressed. Still, I figured, this is a beta, they’re not done yet, haven’t gotten any feedback yet, let’s see what the final product ends up being.
Several weeks back, it came up during one of the regularly scheduled Giant Dragon Gamers Chat, the idea of a super Apocalypse World game came up and someone asked me if I’d heard of any. Well, yeah. Turns out, that was the same week the game hit DriveThruRPG. So, I picked it up. I could definitely say some good things about this final book, but this is probably one of my harshest reviews in awhile. I tell you that before you get too far in.
I admire the creators for taking their ideas and putting effort forth into getting them published. They were successful enough to raise the money they did and I am sure they have sold books beyond that. And, some people out there probably love the game. Maybe lots of people out there like it. I don’t know. I know my opinion and the opinions of a handful of others. But, that’s all these are, opinions, right? Take them for what they’re worth. And, yes. If you gave me a penny for my thoughts, I’d remember to give you change.
The Look and Feel of a Supers RPG
From the pdf, I can say this book looks beautiful. And, I wouldn’t be disappointed to have a dead tree edition sitting on my bookshelf. They didn’t skimp with the artistic talent. It also looks like they did the right thing in bringing in a comic book artist rather than a traditional RPG artist. Now, I could be wrong. I haven’t done research on the team. But, whoever they had do the art understood the four color supers medium. My hats off to them, they did a great job on the artwork from cover to cover. Can I take some time and pick out what they could’ve done better with the art here or there? Hell, yeah. I’ve worked with a ton of artists over the years and have had to been their critic before sending things out to press. I didn’t see a reason to nitpick here. The overall look of the art was good.
One of the things they did early on was actually use the comic panel style to provide example of play. They gave the basics through here. I thought this was pretty neat and perfect for the genre. They’re not the first game to use comics like this. Some of the older World of Darkness books did this back in the 90s. Don’t let that take away from them that they did it and did it pretty well. Plus, it was just fitting and a perfect way to enhance the look and feel for a book about superheroes.
While the book was visually appealing and fit right into what I would want and expect from a supers RPG, it did falter in one area. The writing. And, let me explain this. The book was actually written quite well. I’m not picking on it for typos, grammatical errors, word choice, spelling, etc. Heck, I didn’t even see any of those problems. The writing was actually really good. Here’s my problem. The writing was long and drawn out. Hey, look at me! I definitely recognize this, because I do it all the time. However, for a supers RPG, especially one based on a system known for being fast and easy, I totally expected something different. For me, it wasn’t just as simple as, “Oh, this isn’t what I expected.” For me, the high level of writing of detracted from the rest of the product. For a four color supers RPG, I truly believe it should have something a bit clearer, direct, witty, snappy. Oh lord, as a writer, I hate it when clients ask me to write something “snappy.” But, in this case, I think the writer should have paid some homage to the styles of some of the greats from the genre.
Okay, I’ve mentioned a few times how the rules of Apocalypse World were designed to be smooth, allow a game to run quickly, and make character creation a breeze. That’s part of Vincent Baker’s genius. Now, some will say that his games are designed perfectly to run what they were designed to run and the bastardization of those rules to run other types of games are doing it wrong. I wouldn’t agree. I believe Vince would back me up on that as well. He fully supports people taking his stuff and doing new and different things with it. And, for that, I can’t fault these guys. They actually did a tremendous job.
Having aid that, I think the team on World of Peril went a little bit overboard. You can see this in several areas. Look at how short Apocalypse World is. That’s part of its beauty. Dungeon World, which is also based on Apocalypse World (and I enjoy), takes the AW engine and expands upon it. That’s perhaps its one drawback. It took a simple system and made it more complicated. However, the level of complexity was somewhat understandable and not too much over the top. With all the whitespace in the book, the large print, it made it seem simpler. It was also written to be easy for younger players to understand which took the edge off the complex pieces that were added.
World of Peril, however, went a bit too far in that direction. Let me explain. I understand that certain levels of complexity might be necessary. That’s a might. It seems they turned the dial up to 11. It’s not that any of the stuff they did was bad or wrong or broken. Instead, for me, it was a bit too much. The Take Down Move is 7 pages long, including examples. Seize Control, the next Move in the book, with examples is 4 pages long. In Apocalypse World, character creation is as simple as picking a playbook, circling some things, making some checkmarks, and going along your way. Character creation in AW takes 5 minutes. In Worlds in Peril, though, they added a lot more customization.
To me, it almost seemed like they were trying to combine the simplicity of Apocalypse World with the customization of newer versions of Mutants & Masterminds. At first blanch, that might seem like an interesting idea. After seeing it in action, though, I can say it doesn’t really work well. The two are more mutually exclusives than I would’ve originally thought. You create a team profile, a hero profile, customize your powers. Where AW allows me 5 minute or less character creation, I experience an hour or more creating a character for Worlds in Peril.
The Neat Stuff
Now, Worlds in Peril isn’t all bad. I don’t feel cheated for having bought the book. And, knowing how it turned out, I would’ve have felt bad about backing it. It sure seems to be a solid game. It looks great. It may not be what I want to play or run, but not every game is for everybody. They did some neat things and that doesn’t mean just what they did with the basic game into/explanation in the comic book style. I think their rules for Burning Bonds shows a certain stroke of genius. It’s something I’ll probably use in my own games. Their GameMaster (or, Editor-in-Chief) section is pretty well done as well. They go over the tropes and give some great advice for prep. Of course, that’s not what you typically see in an AW game, but it makes sense here.
So, while it’s not necessarily Apocalypse World, Worlds in Peril is its own game. It’s a kind of unique take on things. It’s put together well and the team worked hard to put the game together. Their dedication to quality is evident in the final product. While it may not be the game for everyone, it’s still a well put together game that I’m sure many will enjoy. It’s not for me, but that doesn’t mean it sucks. Would I have done it different? Yes. In fact, I’ve got a project sitting on a back burner around here somewhere. Does that mean they did it wrong? No.