Ironsworn, or how I learned to stop worrying and love Apocalypse World

I've recently been reading the amazing Role Playing Game Ironsworn. This RPG uses the Apocalypse World Engine (Powered by the Apocalypse, or PbtA for short) as its primary system. It leverages the notion in PbtA games of the players selecting "moves" (actions you may take in the game) and rolling against those moves. In PbtA the GM never rolls the dice, so making moves an action that the player takes removes one of the key reasons for needing a GM. Ironsworn combines the reduced focus on the GM needing to determine whether the players succeed or fail and by how much. It mixes this mechanic with other mechanics to create a system that can scale between a solo player with no GM, cooperative play with no GM, or "guided play" where a GM can take the role of determining the world and the reactions of the non-playing characters and denizens within.

I was starting to sour on PbtA just from system fatigue. The moves in many games seemed pretty abstract, and the consequences felt more disconnected than the direct consequences of Stress in Fate, or hit points in other systems. It wasn't until I played a few rounds of Ironsworn that everything clicked together and I started understanding the dichotomy between a "strong hit", "weak hit", and a "miss". I realized how the moves could be tweaked to make most any game possible, as long as you understand the verbs of the game that you want to have (what does your player do). This was also coupled with re-reading some other PbtA games. What felt like a list of moves that one might not be able to keep track of or remember became a list of possibilities and what the game wanted to focus on. It was pretty amazing to finally realize this.

When I originally read Dungeon World I flirted with the idea of releasing my 8-bit computer revolution game idea under the system, but couldn't quite understand how to re-theme the mechanics to it. Over the years I've looked at implementing it using board game mechanics (which might still happen now that I have been introduced to Kraftwagen), Dramasystem (which will probably happen), Fate and Fudge (which is unlikely to happen without serious effort), computer games (which could happen if I decided to go with a simulationist route), and others that I'm not remembering. The advantage of using Ironsworn as a base are that I don't have to worry about getting multiple players to play something that I'm not sure works. At least I can iterate over it a few times to find the issues with it and make it better.

I was going to write off PbtA like several other systems I have let go of over the years. I'm glad I stuck with it because it's helping me to let my creative juices flow. If that isn't the main part of game design I don't know what is.