The Independents: Power Outage

I’m on the lookout for games you can play with kids. Yes, my own is still measuring his age in weeks, and the nature of this sort of thing means that he’ll probably end up a football player or something and hew to the associated stereotype of not wanting anything to do with geeky things, but still. The instinct is there. Got to plan ahead. I thus found it very good fortune to find a game meant just for that landing in my To Be Reviewed inbox. Today The Independents are taking a look at a game built specifically with parents and their children in mind, a superhero world not quite our own, with Power Outage by Bebarce El-Tayib!

Power Outage is first and foremost a simple game that prioritizes fun over everything else; more than once through the 60+ pages of the core rules Bebarce makes a point of instructing the reader to do what they need to in order to make the game fun for their audience – the kids! Power Outage is set on the fictional island of Outage, Alaska, a landmass discovered in the Bering Sea and a hotbed of super heroic activity. The player characters play the superheroes, of course, fighting the good fight across Outage’s wildly varied landscape.

So, what brought this game to us? Luckily Bebarce was willing to answer every question I had about Power Outage, and that was the first one I wanted to ask.

“I had the idea originally from a desire to play games with my daughters.  They kept stealing my polyhedral dice and then asked if they could play a proper game with them.  I’d started looking around for something to play with them, but at the time I wasn’t really aware of anything out there.  D&D seemed a bit much since they were 4 and 6.   It was actually during Hurricane Sandy when we lost power that we decided to play a “power outage” game.

The first game was made up on the fly and we played it with minimal instructions, but I wanted to keep using the Polyhedral dice that they were so fascinated with, so I just made up stats as we went, and threw in a bunch of dad jokes.  The first game was actually “Power Girls” but when deciding to actually make something out of our play session afterwards we tweaked the name.”

Player characters have four stats: Impact, Power, Armor, and Yield Points. Impact and Power start off at 2, Armor at 10, and Yield Points at 10 + 1d6. When making a character of your own you have an additional 2 points you can spread across Impact, Power, and Armor. Impact is what you’re going to use when you’re punching and kicking, Power is what you’re going to use if you’re using a superpower, of which you’ll have several and gain or strengthen more as you level up. When fighting an enemy you roll 1d20 plus Impact or Power, and if you exceed their Armor you reduce their Yield Points. If anyone runs out of Yield Points they, well, yield.

The game explicitly says that characters who run out of  Yield Points are not killed; death is actually not part of the game at all. I’ve come across games that de-emphasize combat while keeping it as a viable choice, and even one that leaves it as an option while challenging you to never use it, but this might be the first time I’ve seen a game where combat is still included but death is taken off the table entirely.

“In one of my earliest test sessions with the girls, we used Hit Points.   At the time IMPACT just meant hit the thing.  I also didn’t have any means built in to recuperate powers that were used, and unbalanced high HP villains.  It was a perfect storm to have fights end up being slugfests which in the end is something I didn’t want to encourage.  The idea of changing it up to Yield Points helps on both ends.  I can encourage a nonviolent resolution to conflicts on the Hero to Villains end, and on the Villains to Heros side of things I wasn’t suggesting that I was literally “hitting” my kids until they were unconscious or hurt.  To yield is such a great term.  It doesn’t mean STOP.  It often means to let something pass.  To give something time.  I think there’s a lesson to be learned in that.”

Something that really struck me about the game was how much teamwork was valued. There are a number of ways to gain XP, but one of them is outright awarded for the player character working together. Everyone has the ability to regain Yield Points as an action by rallying themselves, but that ability actually works better if you’re helping an ally regain YP.

The Powers are pretty straightforward, split up into Combat, Utility, and Supportive. They’re pretty varied, easy to understand, and every section ends with a note that more Powers are coming soon . . .

As mentioned above, Power Outage isn’t set in the modern era, but rather in an alternate one. World War II happened, but ended without the nukes going off. Lincoln and Kennedy never got assassinated. Those are just the start. Different countries and peoples ended up settling Outage, discovering ancient ruins there. The result is that Outage is a locale that actually offers a number of different genres/settings. I’ll let Bebarce explain them and the alternate world.

“That’s just me semi-selfishly bringing my own world building desires into the game for the most part, but it also helps facilitate the idea that this is going on in a world outside of our own, but that can still possibly have an effect on something that interacts with their real world.  It gives them the option of travel or divorcing themselves depending on their comfort.  Also, there is a big mechanical aspect to Outage itself.  Each of the 5 regions facilitates a different kind of play style and setting depending on what your group is in the mood for.  You could choose to stay in a region or bounce around.

  • Shorai City – Futuristic Utopian – Great for large battles with big bosses.  Your typical Golden Era style comic stories.

  • Atomnyy Zavod – Atomic Punk Noir – Great for detective stories, or kids that like darker moods and a bit of grit.

  • The Sink – Pirate filled oceans, underwater ruins, and Swamp filled slums – Great for exploration and dungeon crawling or sprawling naval battles and the chance to act like pirates.

  • The Overgrowth – Mysterious Sentient Fantasy Land that time forgot – Explore fantastical realms be it straight fantasy creatures, Magical Schools, Cast out Powers, or communication between warring factions where “enemies” are hard to define.

  • Sewards Refuge – Technological Bureaucracy – A chance for discussion on and gameplay that covers ethics, politics, and the role of things like science and objectivity.”

Now, while it’s definitely possible to create your own Power Outage player characters, the book actually recommends starting with pre-generated ones. In fact, that’s more or less the default. Several can be found at the game’s site, and there’s actually a Roster that fans are encouraged to contribute to, building up a stock of ready-to-play characters for everyone to use.

“It’s a great way to introduce the kids to the game.  After that first trial run, I feel like a lot of kids will (and so far of my “test subjects” they have) decide to build their own dream heroes.  That’s why I make the hero creation aspect of the game so open-ended.  Everything in this is about guidance toward playing, not setting up walls that people can’t escape from.  But additionally, the PreGens can now be added to the lore of the game.  GMs can help supplement a group of heroes with them if they feel the kids need more guidance, or they can be used as drop-ins for when friends come over.  Honestly, they’re such flexible options that I couldn’t help but put them in there.  They even work as NPCs for free play sessions.”

Power Outage isn’t just the core book and pregenerated characters, however. The game also takes on pre-written adventures via something Bebarce has dubbed the Adventure Block. One is currently available and another has a preview up, so I asked Bebarce to talk a little about what the Adventure Blocks offer and how they are designed.

“Adventure Blocks are basically Campaign units comprised of multiple sessions worth of adventures. Each Adventure block has approximately 4-6 Sessions that are designed to take roughly 15-30 minutes.  This way you’re not committing to 4 hours of gameplay which can be daunting at best for new dads, and just exhausting for kids.  But this way they can also be stacked to accommodate the desires of the group.

Sessions use a CAPE system, Combat, Alternative, Puzzle, and Exploration.  Its a method for breaking up a session into various components that form a map.  Parents can select the components they want to include to accommodate the group they’re playing.  They can also use those components to differentiate groups so that every kid still feels like they’re contributing to a greater narrative.  So “splitting up the party” is perfectly acceptable.  If one kid wants to try to solve a puzzle, while the other kid tries to explore, then so be it.

Alternative is a component that always appears as a compliment to Combat.  Basically, it gives you an option for a fully non-combative campaign if you so desire it.  This is necessary not only for younger gameplay but for accommodating children that may suffer from the effects of that discussion of violence might arouse.

The end goal, once I get version 1.4 done, is to create Adventure blocks for each region.  Level 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-17, 18-20. 25 Sessions in total.  Villain A, Villain B, Villain A sequel, Villain B sequel, Villains United. Of course, those are pretty lofty goals, so I’m content after I release a few Adventure blocks to allow Community decision to drive where I go next. Depending on the success of the series or my stubbornness who knows how many will eventually be released beyond that.”

Now, you might have noticed the ‘version 1.4’ mentioned above. The version I got to look at was 1.3, and 1.4 is currently in beta, with the mechanics available for everyone to look at. Let’s be honest, we’re all used to the 1st Edition -> 2nd Edition -> etc. linear model, even if the originator D&D doesn’t exactly subscribe to a linear model itself, so I was curious both about the versions and what the new version would bring to the table.

“I actually bounce around between calling it 1.4 and 2.0 personally, but there are a lot of reasons why I want to stick with 1.4. For starters I like the idea that this is a game that is continually improving, and I feel like going to something else is like putting the prior version to bed.  1.0 was the first time we played, 1.1 was the first set of 1 page instructions I wrote up and floated around. 1.2 was the first kind of core rules that I’d generated. 1.3 was the first real digital release, (and I think the CAPE system) so I figure 1.4 makes sense as the first Made for Print publication release.

But from a gameplay and content specific description it’s a huge jump.  It has roughly twice the content as version 1.3 and part of the reason it’s taking so much longer than any of the prior iterations is because I keep having those “Oh but this would be great to add” moments.  Eventually, I’ll have to give up on them, but I still find myself squeezing them in.

From a mechanics perspective, I’ve divorced the game quite a bit more from its initial feel of a trimmed down D&D.  I’ve rethought up initiative so that it facilitates more collaboration between players, and created a lot of alternative options for combat resolution.  One thing that still hasn’t made it into the version I sent you to review is the idea that IMPACT can now be used even in Combat rounds to end conflicts.

But really the list goes on and on

  • Expanded lore

  • A Villains Directory with 100 henchmen and 10 villains with 2 separate levels

  • A New Quick Play guide

  • New Mechanics for gameplay and character creation

  • New design and graphics and layout

  • More Powers with color coding

  • Hero and Villain Backgrounds

  • Expanded Differentiation guidance

  • A section on Free Play

  • A full adventure built into the back

  • Meta Mechanics for bringing out of play learning opportunities into the game

  • And a section dedicated to guidance for providing accommodations for children with special needs.”

So, let’s say you’re a parent eyeing Power Outage to play it with your kids – maybe you’re like me and trying to build a little collection. What advice for the prospective Power Outage GM does Bebarce have to offer?

“Pick up the game, or for now, ask me and I’ll give it to you.  Likewise, reach out to me if you have any questions. Read through the quick play instructions and play a game session.  If you don’t want to jump right into things with kids, grab another adult. I’ll be creating more and more tutorial videos on how to play, so those will hopefully be a good resource.  Here’s the first of them.

Talk to your kids about what they want to see in the game they play.  If they want to create their own character.  How comfortable they are with things.  What environment they want to play in. If all else fails, for now, I can try to set up a game demo via roll20 because I really am dedicated to the idea of getting adults to interact with their kids through gameplay. If you’re planning on using the game as an instructional aide or counselling aide, then reach out to me.  I’ll make sure that they get a discounted/or perhaps free digital copy and help to provide guidance.

Don’t be afraid.  There is no messing this up.  At worst you’re having a conversation with your kids.  I think I’ve had more character creation sessions with my kids than actual gameplay because they too love the idea of creating, and that’s completely ok.”

Final words for our beloved readers?

“The honest truth is I’m more interested in encouraging tabletop gaming between kids and adults and showing the power of gaming in education far more than turning a profit. I really believe it has the power to change the way we see education and its role in enjoyment through play.  If I can do anything to facilitate someone that isn’t too much of an out of pocket expense I will.  And I never scoff at a question or request.  The popularity of the game and the profitability of the game directly relates primarily to me being able to dedicate time to make more of the game for the community and to provide for any artists and creators that end up collaborating along with me.  If they have an opportunity to support the project, fantastic.  If they have an opportunity to help fund it when I go to kickstart it, great.  But no matter what it’s going to exist in some form or other so don’t worry and have fun. I’m here for you.  Be a hero to your kids and play games with them.”

So there you have it. Power Outage is easy to learn and easy to play, it looks fun for both sides of the GM’s screen, it has a varied setting to tell stories in, and you’ve got a creator who’s dedicated to growing and improving it.

Honestly, we here at CHG try to keep to the tagline of bringing games and gamers together (hopefully we’re succeeding). Bebarce’s final words on the matter are frankly right in line with that, with the added bonus of helping bring families together around the gaming table. Between the quality of the game itself and the heart behind it, I think this is absolutely a game worth taking a look at.

You can find loads of stuff at the game’s own site, Bebarce on Twitter, and Power Outage PDFs at DriveThruRPG. The best deal  is the Starter Bundle, which includes the full 1.3 version and an Adventure Block for $1.00, half of which will actually end up at Child’s Play. Power Outage’s other offerings range from Pay-What-You-Want to a whopping $2.00.

Kids get to be heroes, and parents get to be heroes to their kids.

Go forth. Adventure. Save the world, without leaving the kitchen table.

Be a Hero.

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