Splats, which I’m defining as “sourcebooks that share the core game but can be their own game” for the purposes of this article, were popularized by White Wolf in their Chronicles of Darkness line (originally called “New World of Darkness”). It can be a great way to expand on your engine and game-line without bloating your main game.
The existence of each other does not increase the rules complexity of each other and expands the types of adventures the engine can have. People can still do mixed splat titles and intersect the rules if they so desire.
It isn’t a common tactic in traditional roleplaying games — normally, sourcebooks expand on the main game and its play experience–, but it is an interesting alternative.
Powered By the Apocalypse (PbtA) is one of my favorite engines and I love seeing how people play around with it. Some fans of the engine have tried working in splat design to the engine to emulate some of their favorite settings and its interesting to examine the mechanics behind it all.
The attempts tend to revolve around using the concept of “peripheral moves,” moves that are not core to the experience, to represent the general workings of the world that everyone abides by, but giving each faction/supernatural/etcetera a different set of “basic moves,”the moves core to the gameplay experience, to represent the unique ways they handle core tasks and unique abilities they all posses.
Every faction/supernatural/etcetera could have a move like “Raise An Army,” but each group has a different move to handle individual combat. Maybe one group is less suited for fighting so their move involves giving more ground or paying a higher cost while another is a combat machines and plows through battle.
If one splat is about vampires, then feeding or participating in a vampire clan may be basic moves for them while a splat about mages would need basic moves related to using spells and researching magic.
As vampires don’t need to worry about casting spells, the existence of the wizard set doesn’t increase complexity for them. It might for a GM, but this would only happen in a cross-splat game and, regardless, is something that can be avoided in execution.
Moves are the main way characters in PbtA titles interact with the world and the fiction and establish a lot of the meta-narrative rules of the world. With this setup, it guarantees that each splat has its own meta-narrative rules and, therefore, work differently in play, narrative, and the world from each other. It does this without making the experience overwhelming for any one player as they only need to know their own “basic moves.”
It helps each splat have unique advancements and playbook specific moves as they have a different set of moves to apply bonuses towards. It can also be a great to allow certain playbooks to take basic moves from different splats’ “peripheral moves” to represent branching out, just like how the normal “take a move from another playbook” advancement functions in most PbtA titles.
One could go a step further and give each splat its own stats. Stats in PbtA, after all, play a big role in establishing how the world works. The fact that Cool, as in the slang term, is a stat in Apocalypse World and is used in Act Under Fire establishes how the world works on a meta-narrative level.
However, one of the people I spoke with said that pursuing that method is a big hassle that didn’t add a lot of reward in his mind: he felt that separate stats for each splat lacked the meta-narrative effect of having one set and diluted the overall effects of each set.
It’s an interesting design direction that some devs could take in the future. It could be hard to keep a tight focus while taking this direction, but that something that can only be known if devs explore the idea. Like split playbooks, it can really allow for bigger PbtA titles that handle a wider variety of characters.
My main worry with this idea is that it can lead to the problem where individual moves end up weak and lacking “oomph” as a result of playbook bloat. It could also lead to a cookie cutter format that leads to playbooks in different splats being too similar to one another. These would be worries that devs exploring the idea would need to consider.
I think it’s a cool idea and I might explore it in the future once I finally get more projects done and out the door, so to speak.