Review of Pasión de las Pasiones

Today I’m taking a look at a Powered by the Apocalypse game Pasión de las Pasiones by the amazing storyteller Brandon Leon-Gambetta. As the principle GM for the Protean City podcast you can be sure that Leon-Gambetta knows both awesome stories and PbtA so I have high hopes for this game. The fact that its designed to tell stories like telenovelas just seals the deal.

First of all, this is just a preview version. As the author says “this version of Pasión de las Pasiones won’t keep you playing day-to-day, year-to-year. This is the ashcan of the full game, … a fully playable sample of of the game before its actual release.” If you aren’t familiar with the term “ashcan” (I wasn’t) it’s a way for small publishers to generate funds for a new print run for books. I don’t know when the author is going to launch the full version but let’s take a look at what is available.

In the same design as this book, I won’t go into how Powered by the Apocalypse games work and I’ll just focus on what makes Pasión different. Likewise, I won’t get into what telenovelas are, although the book goes into it with some fantastic detail. I will, though, mention some of the common features that this game spells out for telenovelas plots: Beautiful People Trying to Find Love, Melancholy and Joy (both played to the hilt), Wealth and Status (losing everything and gaining a fortune but also with glamorous settings), Romance and Sex, and Violence (meaning, *ahem*, crimes of pasión!). This game also is designed for realistic worlds without magic and craziness, though I think that would be an easy change to make.

Pasión de las Pasiones - Canoodling
Image © Magpie Games

The Playbooks

There are six playbooks (at least in the ashcan version) each of which are standard telenovela archetypes, all following the standard PbtA sort of design.

  • La Belleza (The Beauty) is the femme fatale, diva, and conniving woman depending on how you play her. Maybe it could be a beautiful guy too?
  • El Caballero (The Gentleman) is a male counterpoint to the Belleza but is more of the active party in the games of the heart. Again, I think this could be a female too.
  • La Doña (The Matriarch) is the protective but harsh parent. She’s designed to control the actions of other (child) playbooks but also the sort of long-running character that stays on a soap opera decade after decade.
  • La Empleada (The Employee) is the servant, maid, etc. in the rich people’s big, important house. These characters can be some of the most empathetic but also can have secret motivations and be sneaky enough to ruin things for other playbooks.
  • El Gemelo (The Twin) which is probably the playbook I’d pick. You could be an evil twin or a nice twin but if you don’t pretend to be your twin you’re wasting everyone’s time.
  • El Jefe (The Boss) is not a nice sort of boss. This playbook is all about being demanding, getting angry at others, and generally being a dick.

Once you pick your playbook, you pick out a Name, answer some playbook-specifics about your Look, and some Props for your character like special clothing, something compromising, or an important location. You also get two Relationships to pick to tangle you up with the other characters of the story, choose one or two Moves (depending on playbook), and you answer the question This Time On to create a plotline specifically for your character.

Pasión de las Pasiones - Playbook Archetypes

That last one is the first of the Pasión-specific portions of the game and I think it’s a great addition for the genre. The group ends up with a ton of plots which necessitate even more characters to make happen and they might seem like too much plot. That is, they might seem like a soap opera. It’s a small mechanic that creates a big and thematic change, which is just my favorite part of game writing.

Moves and Audience Reaction

Powered by the Apocalypse games work on moves and typically on attributes that add or subtract from a 2d6 roll. Pasión uses moves and 2d6 as normal but no attributes. Instead when you make a move you are asked two questions (some moves lack questions, though) and answering the questions provides you with potential bonuses to the roll.

For instance, the basic move Demand What You Deserve has the questions “Are you offering something of value in return?” and “Do they love you in this moment?” When you get questions with a move, answering “yes” to a question gives you a +1 on your roll. Each playbook also has a question that is always asked when you make a move. For instance, El Gemelo’s question is “Are you taking advantage of your twin’s reputation?” So when you make a roll you can wind up with +0 to +3 to you roll depending on how you answer those questions. You’ll roll better if you are doing something with advantages and especially if it’s something that fits your unique style. Simple and easy.

Pasión de las Pasiones - Sexy Dancing
Image © Magpie Games

The full list of basic moves is Demand What You Deserve, Express Your Love Passionately, Strike Out At Someone (with voice or violence), Accuse Someone of Lying (preferably with a drink thrown in their face), Act With Desperation, Spot Something Out of Place (like a scarf left by a rival lover), Process Your Feelings Out Loud (the audience gives you bonuses to your roll), and Face Certain Death (the only possibility of characters dying, though only after a lot of close calls). There are also flashback moves which allow you to set up even more complex plot lines. There’s Flash Back to a Deal (when you set something up with another character), Flash Back to Preparations, and Reveal a Shocking Truth (something that has relevance now).

A really fun addition is audience reactions which are the responsibility of players whose characters aren’t in a scene. When something dramatic happens (including the Process Your Feelings Out Loud basic move and at least one move from each playbook) the “audience” can show their appreciation and the character in the scene gets to mark experience. There are five experience boxes on a playbook and when all of those are marked you get to pick a special move or something else fun. Again, this is a familiar system to PbtA players.

Lastly, there are the ways that characters can thwart each other and harm each other. Leverage is a game mechanic currency that allows players to provide +1 bonuses, -1 penalties, and force a way to enter a scene. The easiest way to gain Leverage is through flashback scenes but there are playbook moves that do it too. There’s also Stress which is the damage tracking part of the game. It’s mostly emotional stress (though you can actually be injured as well) and the consequences include becoming distracted, frustrated, bitter, or rageful all of which affect particular moves like in Masks. At seven or more Stress you have a Meltdown which leads to some real issues for your character.

Pasión de las Pasiones - Audience Reactions
Image © Magpie Games

Conclusion

This is a short review but then again it’s a short version of the game. I think Pasión de las Pasiones seems well-designed to create the sort of complex storylines you’re used to from soap operas and telenovelas. The playbooks seem great, there’s a lot of options to embroil characters, and the audience reaction system really creates the sort of dramatic moments with grand gestures that you see in these shows.

If you want to hear this game in action with Brandon Leon-Gambetta himself, check out the two part (so far!) episode of the One Shot Podcast. This story is pitch-perfect for the genre, but of course you don’t necessarily have an expert at your table. In this ashcan version of the game there is some good advice but I trust that the full version of Pasión will have tons of information on capturing the tone of telenovelas.

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