Let’s say there is a genre of roleplaying games that characterize player characters by a special set of ‘moves’ (special abilities that are triggered when something occurs in the narration). And let’s also say there’s another family of games out there that have their origin in one game that more or less defined British OSR.
The first genre of games is commonly known as ‘powered by the Apocalypse‘ (pbtA, because the game that started it all is Apocalypse World). The second kind of games is known as ‘using Troika!’ (with the exclamation point) or similar phrases (because Troika! is the game that started it all).
Both games are very much different from each other. One aspect I’d like to focus on today is that of ‘moves’ or ‘player character abilities’. Both pbtA and Troika! have them. But there’s a huge difference in execution.
A typical pbtA move:
Bend Bars, Lift Gates
When you use pure strength to destroy an inanimate obstacle, roll+Str. ✴ On a 10+, choose 3. ✴ On a 7-9 choose 2.
– It doesn’t take a very long time
– Nothing of value is damaged
– It doesn’t make an inordinate amount of noise
– You can fix the thing again without a lot of effort
In pbtA, you roll 2d6 and add your Strength bonus. Then, your result determines how many options you can pick from the list.
A typical Troika! Advanced Skill:
In Troika!, you roll 2d6 and compare that number to your (Skill+Advanced Skill). If you’re on or under, you’re successful. There is no list to pick options from.
Basically, both abilities/moves/skills do the same: they tell you if your character’s effort is successful. But while the pbtA ‘move’ makes you choose from a list (thus, keeping your narration in-genre because every character with this move gets the same list), there’s complete freedom of narration in Troika!.
So what would happen if we transported the pbtA move to Troika!?
The Troika! version would look like this:
1 Bend Bars, Lift Gates
No list to choose from. Just the pure skill.
To contrast that: in a pbtA game, if the character with the Bend Bars, Lift Gates skill/move rolls a 10, the player could narrate: “I try to rip the heavy wooden door off its hinges. I pull hard, and within seconds, it comes loose. It all happens really quietly, and I can even fix the door later.”
In Troika!, a successful roll for Bend Bars, Lift Gates, could look like this:
Player: “I step back a couple feet, and then I throw myself against that door. A crack appears, and I rattle that thing like crazy.
Referee: “You’re not trying to be quiet, aren’t you?”
Player: “Pah, I don’t care! Ooooooooooopen! You sonofadoor, oooooopen! And now I’m really pulling hard!”
Referee: “Seconds later, you have ripped the door out of its frame. And you know what? You rolled so well, nobody in the castle has even heard you.”
The Troika! version offers considerably more freedom for the player. And for the referee, as well. This freedom also means more potential for conflict, or unforeseen consequences.
So now the sixty-four thousand dollar question is: What’s better?
And the only correct answer is: whatever floats your boat. But that is so cliché, it hurts a little to even write it.