Power Outage: Creating a TRPG kids and adults want to play together

Bebarce El-Tayib is the Nerd Captain of GoNerdy.com and fully believes in the power of gaming. So much so that he created his own tabletop roleplaying game, Power Outage, aimed at bringing kids and adults together.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign Power Outage is ready for the public, so we caught up with Coaching for Geeks Community member Bebarce to find out more about Power Outage and why gaming is so important to him.

Power Outage new game

Give me the elevator pitch – What is Power Outage and why should we care?

Power Outage is a rules light superhero themed tabletop roleplaying game designed to be played by kids & adults. It’s features differentiation and accessibility guidance, a completely unique system of mechanics, adventure building, and power selection.  And is brimming with puns.

What prompted the idea to create your own game?

My daughters kept stealing my dice.  I decided if I ever want to see the dice again, I should probably get them playing a game with them.  At the time they were 4 and 6 and since my options and experience seemed limited at the time, I decided to build our own game designed specifically to what they liked.  It’s built from there into what it is today. The game was originally played during a power outage. My daughters named their team The Power Girls, so when I went with something more inclusive of all kids I switched the name to Power Outage.

How is Power Outage different to games like Hero Kids or even Tails of Equestria?

Well to start off let me say that I’ve played Hero Kids and it’s fantastic.  I’ve not played Tails of Equestria, but have heard great things so I am sure it is great too.

So while I can’t speak necessarily to differences in quality, partially because I also don’t know how many resources they’ve deployed for each of there games, I can speak to what I feel Power Outage does right.

Power Outage offers guidance on playing with kids at different age ranges and abilities, as well as some guidance on accessibility needs.  It functions more as guidance than a hardset rules list. It has a unique and easy to manage system for structuring adventures called CAPE (Combat, Alternative, Puzzle, and Exploration) that allows adults to follow customized paths of gameplay.  It also has focused attention on options for non-violent resolution, and it’s use of Super Heroics talks about not just fighting villains but saving people. It uses a full dice set which hopefully allows easier transitions into other systems as they get older or want to explore, but is not crunchy so everything is easily manageable by the GM.  I’ve also done my best to pack the book to the brim with options, features, information, guidance and fun. Finally Power Outage has characteristics that encourage external activity that impacts gameplay (Ex. Help a family member and a villain’s weakness activates). It allows the game to be used as an educational or counseling aide, or as a system you can build a gamified instructional environment out of.

Why is gaming with the family important to you, and to society as a whole?

Heroes in my game have weaknesses. These weaknesses are important, because it is an acknowledgement of one’s own fears, while still pushing past them for the greater good, that we truly become heroic.  My older daughter was playing Electric Girl and at one point discovered her sister was about to be stomped by some breakfast monster, unless she pulled the sprinkler systems. Electric girls weakness is water.  She pulled the lever.

I think experiences like this can’t be experienced easily in safe ways.  I think there is so much to be learned through roleplay, and so much potential for direct education in gamification.  And I think there is an absolute value in moving away from screen time and sitting around a table with family. I believe the lessons imparted in the decisions they make in these worlds impact their mindset to how they approach real life.  Let me give you another example if you don’t mind.

 

We were playing Hero Kids actually.  My daughter complained that the fisherman chose not to fight these fish creatures that attacked our boat.  I took it as an opportunity to point out that their characters were born and raised in heroic schools. They were provided training, materials, access, and experience to become the heroes that they were.  The fisherman on the other hand was giving up his livelihood for an undetermined amount of time to float a handful of heroes through dangerous waters to the lair of some potentially evil wizards tower. It’s easy to speak about platitudes when you’re coming from a position of privilege.  I can’t imagine any other scenario where I could have so succinctly impart that message to my girls.

Let’s talk about gamification.

Sure. It’s one of my favorite topics.

 

school gamification

Points, Badges and Leaderboards – that seems to be all there is to gamified education. Why is the use of gamification in educational spaces so detached from actual fun?

I think there is a place for the use of the mechanics of games to help facilitate instruction in the classroom, and that those systems are actually in fact more inherent to the preferred outcome kids desire to see for themselves.  In a typical grading system I am told that I am starting off with 100, and that from here on out, all I can hope for is a minimization of the reduction of those points. It’s a depreciating value that I’m always dog paddling against.  A current that drags me down, rather than something that lifts me up. Games understood at the start, that doing something like gaining experience is an ever upward trend. No matter how I did, I have gained experience toward something.  It is a simple change in mindset and one that I definitely value and recommend. But it definitely isn’t where you draw the line.

In technology education you have something called SAMR (originally proposed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, you can’t blame him for his acronym not being as catchy as CAPE) which stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.  This is a fantastic approach to inclusion of technology into curriculum, but I’d argue it’s a fantastic approach to including any novel degree of educational resources.

So what you’re seeing in points, and leader boards is really just a Substitution level (or at best Augmentation) of gamification in the classroom.  It is merely substituting in for a standard grading system, or at best increasing merit. But games aren’t only just a series of progress bars. It’s a component of an overall fun experience but not the whole.  For that you need to consider modification and redefinition.


What can educators do to start changing this?

Start getting into Modification and Redefinition.  I’ll give you an example. Susy buys 10 apples. She give 5 apples away and receives two back. So…  the question is, who the hell cares?!

school system

 

I don’t care about Susy’s apple intake.  Is the apple thief a villain? I’ll never know, but you know what, now I’m moving on to 23 more problems that pose the same level of monotonous drudgery that i’m just skimming through to the numbers for.  Even you reading this right now, upon seeing the set up of the word problem, more than likely turned off the section of your brain that cares about narrative to focus on the number you’d have to keep track of.

That’s where a lot of gamification fails.  Teachers aren’t modifying their assignments and lessons to be more game like.  They are not allowing kids to explore, they’re not allowing kids multiple options to get to different destinations, they’re not creating a continuing and engaging narrative, they’re not delivering knowledge as a subsidiary effect of having fun.  There is a reason that you remembered every pokemon name, and it wasn’t because of the PokeRap. It’s because that knowledge was imparted on you as a side effect of your enjoyment. And so too education that desires to utilize gamification, should take that into consideration.  

OK back to Power Outage – what’s the educational value in there?

I think there is educational value in most role playing games if I’m being honest.  Mine is just one that happens to have a very low bar for entry, a very dynamic and free formed structure for engagement, and something that I’ve embedded with tools to utilize meta actions into.  The compartmentalization of my game system mimics lesson plan creation. And the guidance I put in there about differentiation and accessibility allows more kids to quite literally come to the table.  I believe at the very least in small group or counseling sessions. In montessori or homeschool environments, directly utilizing Power Outage is ideal. In larger group settings the game play mechanics can be diluted to accommodate larger class sizes while still providing a framework for introducing those higher level introductions of gamification into the classroom.

Tell me a bit more about the setting.

Outage is an Island in the North Pacific that mysteriously appeared in the 18th century. Over the years it’s been heavily contested by Russian, Japanese, and American interests finally landing in a majority American control.  In current days, it consists of 5 distinct regions:

  • The Atomnyy Zavod, a soviet always-darkened atomic punk gothic city
  • Shorai City, a Japanese inspired futuristic metropolis filled with mile high skyscrapers,  robots, flying cars and big monsters
  • Seward’s Refuge, the worlds largest military and scientific base with access to a space elevator
  • The Overgrowth, a sentient fantastical forest filled with seemingly mythical creatures
  • The Sink, a pirate-plagued peninsula that is continually sinking into the ocean while at the other end emerges the island sometimes bearing ancient structures

Basically there are 5 distinct defined regions that have thematic aspects that allow you to play the type of game you’d like.  Want a gritty noir detective story? Try the Atomnyy Zavod. Want to do some exploration? Give the sink a whirl. Golden Age comic beat’m ups?  The skyline of Shorai City might call to you.

power outage new game

How about character classes and dice?

Power Outage uses most of a 7 dice set.  Again my kids really loved the dice so I wanted to include them.

The interesting thing is there are no races or classes in Power Outage.  Whether you are a robot, alien, human, metahuman, slime creature, 8 foot tall giraffe girl, whatever you want to be it is all an aesthetic narrative decision.  Heroes have tables of Powers split between Combat, Supportive, and Utility. They take these generic powers, and apply their own flavor text to them. So if you’re doing 1d6 to an adjacent creature, it doesn’t matter if you say it comes from a fireball, or icicle, or karate strike, or mind melt.  Depending on how you develope the ratio of powers you pick across the 3 power categories, really determines what typical rpg roles you are more likely filling in the group. However since you’re open to change powers as often as you need, you are not boxed into a specific race/class.

Would adults and manchildren such as myself get anything from playing?

There is a ton of joy to be had.  So the book is written to hopefully be entertaining for adults as they work on building narratives and elements for children, but they are welcome to play the game with groups full of adults.  It’s rules-light, so if you enjoy narrative heavy or noncombat heavy crunchy games, then you’ll have a great time. I’ve found that ironically most kids that play Power Outage roleplay as adults, whereas most adults roleplay as kids. There is no rule that says this is how it has to happen, but it seems to occur naturally. I think there is a joy to be had about entering that mindset.  Going back to considering the world around you with fresh eyes and curiosity. You remove yourself from the weight of oppressive responsibilities you’ve unconsciously heaped upon yourself, and in doing so free yourself to possibilities and just…fun.

Now the self-promotion – what have you got from being a part of CfG?

Coaching for Geeks has been great.  It creates a focused supportive environment that allows me to set goals for myself, while providing support and eliminating judgement.  And you get to talk to such a breadth of supportive people with each having their own skillsets. It’s standing on the shoulders of “fellow” giants, and occasionally you get to pull a member up along with you. Robin’s created a special community.

 

Power Outage is now available for a mere $20 from DrivethruRPG!

You should buy it, play it, share it with your kids.

 


 

Bebarce El-Tayib, Nerd Captain of GoNerdy.com.

He fully believes in the power of gaming.

Follow Bebarce on Twitter – https://twitter.com/bebarce

 


 

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Robin Bates

Coaching for Geeks Overlord at Coaching for Geeks
Robin Bates is a 40 year old manchild who somehow ended up in charge of Coaching for Geeks. He has a penchant for gaming, dressing up, music festivals, and the Oxford comma. He is a terrible typist despite many hours playing Typing of the Dead.
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