Publisher: Go Nerdy
Writing: Bebarce El-Tayib
Year Published: 2019
There are a lot of kid-friendly RPGs on the market. Just check out this list of them on RPGGeek. To my knowledge, however, there is only one RPG designed specifically for kids which also was designed as a guide for parents and educators of children with disabilities. That honorable distinction goes to Power Outage, a new game by Bebarce El-Tayib. Naturally, when I first heard about this game I knew I had to get my hands on it. I needed to see what others were doing in terms of accessible games, and the promise of a super hero themed RPG designed to teach youngsters and parents alike was just too much to pass up. Spoiler: I wasn’t disappointed.
On its surface, Power Outage is a simple, somewhat traditional-seeming RPG. The core die mechanic is simple: roll 1d20, add your attribute, compare to a target value. It’s basic enough for children to understand and familiar enough for parents who have been gaming for a long time.
This isn’t just some d20 clone though. Far from it, actually. Aside from the above mechanics, there are a lot of changes to the familiar RPG paradigm which make this game feel fresh, unique, and accessible.
Every Power Outage character has five core attributes: Impact, Power, Ohmer, Yield Points, and Travel. Because they aren’t necessarily self-explanatory, here’s the gist:
Impact (IMP) is the “do stuff” attribute. It includes anything you can do to impact the world around you, from punching and kicking to talking your way out of a fight. Impact can be used to bop someone in the nose, encourage an ally to get back into the fight, stare down an enemy, and whatever else you can think of. I love how this attribute isn’t just about fighting things; as you’ll see later, the game offers a lot of alternatives to murder hoboing your way through a game session.
Power (POW) is your hero’s super power attribute. Whenever you activate your cool special moves, you use Power.
Ohmer (OHM) is your defense. The word is derived from “armor” but with a power / electricity-themed pun. This is just one of many puns the game will throw at you, and I assure you they get way better (if by better I mean worse, but I do love a terrible pun so this is right up my alley).
Yield Points (YP) are basically your standard Hit Points, but they have been renamed to be more child-friendly. When your character is reduced to 0 YP they yield instead of die. It’s like being Taken Out, but they can be encouraged by their friends to get back up and start fighting again (which is basically like healing, but again, more thematic).
Travel is how fast your character moves.
Level 1 characters start with three attribute points to split between Impact, Power, and Ohm. YP are equal to 10+1d6, and Travel is equal to 4+1d4. At every odd level, you gain one attribute point to increase one of your three core stats.
At first this doesn’t seem like there is a lot of variation between characters, but power selection helps differentiate one from another. This creates a fairly balanced system where all characters are basically equal in strength, which is a good thing when you’re running a game for children.
When two characters oppose one another, the offensive character rolls 1d20 + IMP or POW depending on their choice of actions. The defending character rolls 1d20 + OHM. If the offensive character wins, they deal damage to the defender’s YP.
At first level, damage dealt is 2 or 1d4, whichever the player chooses. The game makes a note that there’s a risk/reward choice here: there’s a 25% you’ll do less damage if you roll, but there’s a good chance you’ll do as much or more damage as well. Damage changes as you level up.
Without having played the game yet, I must admit I am a little concerned about the variability of the d20 with such small bonuses. Anyone who plays D&D can tell you that first-level characters feel more as if the die roll matters than their actual skill. This is exacerbated when the defender gets to roll a d20 as well. I’m not mathy enough to run the odds of success, but it does seem like whatever those odds are, they favor the dice far more than skill.
My initial thought would be to change the d20 roll to 1d10. Take this with a grain of salt because I haven’t tested what this might do to the game’s intended balance, but it feels right to me. To the game’s credit, they explicitly give GMs permission to change the rules as desired.
Powers come in three varieties: Combative, Supportive, and Utility. They’re pretty self-explanatory.
Starting characters may use their powers up to six times during combat before having to take time to energize. Outside combat, there is no limit to the numbers of times they can be used. This is great, because it gives you the flexibility to be awesome basically all day long without allowing you to use your powers as the only method of solving combat problems.
As you would expect, you gain powers as you level up. No character may have more than six powers, but stronger versions of powers replace weaker ones.
The list of powers is really more of a list of effects. Children are encouraged to come up with their character’s concept and abilities, and the GM can help them map those concepts to the available effects.
For example, an arrow and a ray gun may both have the same effect: deal damage at a distance. They’re technically the same power, but how the character manifests that power is up to them. It’s a bit like the Trappings system in Savage Worlds’ magic system.
There isn’t any need to bore you with a huge list of effects. Suffice it to say, if you can dream it (and kids can dream some pretty darned crazy things), you can find or build a power for it in this game. It really does encourage kids to let their imaginations run wild without throwing off the balance of the entire game, which is great.
The final notable aspect of Power Outage is the CAPE system. CAPE stands for Combat, Alternative, Puzzle, and Exploration, and it defines the way game sessions and adventures are built.
Each of these four elements is a building block which can be slotted into an adventure or excluded to taste. There’s an example adventure in the core book to illustrate just how this works, but here’s the short version:
If you’re trying to avoid or discourage combat for your kids, leave out the Combat block and use an Alternative instead. If you’re okay with combat but want to allow the kids a chance to come up with different solutions, perhaps you can plug in Combat or Alternative based on the game’s narrative.
If you’d like to stretch your players mentally, use a Puzzle. The game encourages GMs to use real-world puzzles, especially those which might focus on a skill the children are learning in school. Sudoku, mazes, and jigsaw puzzles are all among the recommendations listed in the book. Puzzle blocks are great for helping your kids learn, and they’re especially great if you’re an educator running Power Outage in a classroom setting.
Finally, the Exploration block encourages players to look for traps, talk to NPCs, and generally explore their environment.
I love how easy Power Outage makes it to add or subtract any of these elements from any adventure. Combat in particular can be a touchy subject for parents of small children or kids with behavioral challenges, so having an alternative is welcome.
Discussion of Disabilities
One of the most notable elements of Power Outage is its discussion of age appropriate themes and challenges. It explicitly gives parents insight about how to adjust the game for children of different age groups.
Even more importantly is the game’s discussion about how to address the needs of children with a variety of disabilities. Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
Power Outage takes the time to discuss various symptoms and some possible ways to help children adapt. This may be anything from crafting tactile game aids for kids with visual impairments to creating a safe space for children to retreat to when feeling overwhelmed.
I couldn’t possibly do this chapter justice by going into all the details, but thankfully I don’t have to try. Bebarse set up a website at http://www.accessible-rpg.com for anyone to visit. It is a Wiki of disabilities and symptoms, along with notes on how to address and accommodate those while playing RPGs. Anyone can contribute to the Wiki, and you can visit it now for an idea of what to expect in the book.
As much as I love the meat of the game, it’s the section about disabilities that I feel really sets it apart from all others. It is thoughtful, intentional, and helpful in so many ways, and it is fantastic to know that someone out there has really devoted their time and energy to this subject. Obviously it’s a subject that is near and dear to me, but the fact that it was so well integrated into this product is what makes me truly happy.
I’ve mentioned it before, but Power Outage is full of some of the best worst puns. The game is delightful to read and was the source of several off-the-cuff Twitter mentions while I was reading through the text.
I don’t want to spoil too many of them, but here are a few to hopefully tickle your fancy.
- There is a sidebar about critical successes and misses called “Excellent Adventures and Bogus Journeys.” My 80s self is proud.
- One of my favorite villains is named General Particular. His defining power? Making people forget his very existence.
- The villain known as Break Fast got his name by using an internet language translator to convert an ominous sounding name into English. At first he spent many a monologue explaining his identity, but eventually he embraced it. Now his tagline is “the terror to start your day with.”
- Session hook: Treant sapplings are being hunted by a vicious herbivore. Can you guide them to the safety of their tribe?
This book is witty. It’s a total joy to read. Even though it has its share of typos and editing mishaps, those are easily forgiven when you consider just how amazing everything is. If you have a silly sense of humor and love taking puns to their illogical conclusions , then this is the book for you.
With a huge focus on how to accommodate children with disabilities at the gaming table, you would expect Power Outage itself to be accessible.
Sadly, that isn’t the case yet.
For those of you who don’t have any visual or print disabilities, this book is gorgeous. It is colorful, the art is fun, and there are plenty of variations in page formats to keep things interesting.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn any of that off. The PDF doesn’t make use of layers, so people with visual impairments can’t turn off the clutter. There’s no color blind mode, and the PDF isn’t tagged for screen reader support.
In most cases, my copy of Adobe Acrobat was able to process and add tags to the pages in a logical fashion, but there were circumstances where I noticed the right-hand column on some pages was being read before the left. This is a common issue when we’re forced to leave Acrobat to do the tagging, and it’s another reason why publishers should be tagging their own documents from the source.
The good news is that I have spoken directly to Bebarce, who assures me this is all going to change. Although none of these accessibility features were on the radar of the production staff when the book was published, they’re open to correcting that problem. The good news is that PDFs aren’t forever; once an update is available, it can be re-downloaded to replace the original and we can all take advantage of its new functionality.
Power Outage is among a growing number of kid-friendly games designed to bring children into the hobby, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a unique game with a flexible system, it’s a guide for parents and educators of children with disabilities, and it’s a humorous read.
Few games have gripped me so thoroughly from the get-go as this one. From its simple but powerful storytelling system to its helpful guidance, I love virtually everything about this book. It is a strong recommendation to everyone who has ever considered running an RPG for kids, as well as anyone who just enjoys a good RPG to read.
Although its PDF accessibility falls flat at launch, I am encouraged by my discussions with Bebarce. He did, after all, come up with the Accessible RPG Wiki, so I know this is a matter of importance to him. I’m confident he’ll update the PDF and deliver something great.
Even before that time, I suggest you get yourself a copy. It is well worth it.