By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 17 April 2019
Games pitched to children have been a hit or a miss in my book. Usually, the mechanics are either so simplified that they become unplayable after a while (and often broken by older kids and adults), or they are just kid themed with a convoluted mechanic.
That said, I walked into Power Outage with this trepidation. Was it going to be too easy to break? Was it going to be impossible to run more than once? Does it have enough to work with for the kids?
With that, grab your capes and jump in!
What happens when you take the limitless imagination of a child, a near-magical island just off of Alaska, and superheroes? In short, you’ll get Power Outage, a game pitched as a kid-friendly, kid-focused roleplaying game of superheroes in an alternate universe.
It is a book loaded with puns and gags for kids and adults, a world that is flexible enough for the imagination, and a toolbox to equip GMs with the tools they need for any group of kids they’ll be gaming with.
==What You Get==
The PDF weighs in at 190 pages, broken down into six sections: Quick Play Instructions, Mechanics, Heroes, The World, Villain Files, a Gaming With Kids chapter, and a Scenario.
Mechanically speaking, the game utilizes a d20+stat mechanic, with rolls being opposed. Creating characters is a simplified point-based mechanic, and scenarios are developed using the CAPE system (Combat, Alternative, Puzzle, Exploration) to map things out.
From there, we are given artwork of a number of heroes and villains, enough story to populate the island of Outage (and the rest of the world), and the necessary information to set up adventures with the various themes that are dominant in each location.
To put it plainly, Power Outage is exactly what it markets itself as: a kid-friendly, kid-focused roleplaying game of superheroes. I’m glad to say that, for once, a game fulfills exactly what it pitched.
Power Outage handles this in a few specific ways. For starters, the mechanic is simple to grasp, as it is a d20+stat, contested against a flat number or another d20+stat. That’s it. Considering the game only has five stats (Impact, Power, Ohmer/Resist, YP/HP, and Travel), this becomes even easier to work with and tinker. I won’t go into my usual “How Does It Work?” discussion, because it really is that simple.
The book layout also plays up on the ease of access motif. I spoke with the author about this to ensure it was intentional, and it is. The book is purposely designed with larger font and spaces to ensure the book will be easy to read, while also having information “compartmentalized” to be easier to find and follow. As someone reading this on the go via a tablet, this was a very welcome design choice.
I would remiss if I didn’t say that Power Outage has a built-in toolkit for new GMs and those working with children. Inclusion plays a huge part of the game, including tips for autistic heroes (one of the pregens is autistic!), coping with children’s capabilities or limitations during game sessions, and other “tricks of the trade” that any parent/teacher/uncle/etc may know or benefit from. Between all of these tools and mapping out scenarios with the CAPE system (a way to break down scene types), Power Outage becomes just as useful a tool as it does an RPG.
Here’s a shocker: there’s almost nothing inherently “bad” about Power Outage. That isn’t to say I didn’t have gripes, and other readers may have the same reactions, but they mostly fall into what I would traditionally classify as “The Middle.”
As the only negative point: there are some parts of the book that could have been done better, and I don’t mean in layout. I am referring to the wording, as some areas could have been written to be a bit stronger or more coherent (like the Joint Attacks, which I struggled with), and there were a few scattered typos that I caught in my initial reading. Beyond that, there really isn’t anything truly wrong with the book.
Yet there are parts that may not bode well with some audiences, and they may be given amazing praise in others. As always, take these with a grain of salt and consider your own situation.
For starters, the game is truly built to be simple and kid friendly, so the game may not cater well with teens and adults at the gaming table. It has potential, but the inherent qualities of the game that make it ideal for kids can be crippling for some other players. The mechanic is easy but a little variable at times, the powers are mostly generic (but there are suggestions and web resources for more), and some of the moving parts may feel a bit limiting to certain audiences. As it is marketed this way, I can’t say it’s a bad quality, but I wanted to plug it as a “middle” quality of the game as it’s value will be inherently based on your players and how they handle the mechanic. Some adults will have an absolute blast playing it (as these videos will show), but others may find it a bit lackluster. Again, it’s all about the audience.
While a bit nitpicky, there are times that the book caters more to the adults reading it than the kids playing it. There are a number of puns hidden throughout the book, often within character names (like SuburbanKnight), as well as references to films and actors in the 80s that children may not understand. There are some topics that are great to mention to kids (like how the Insa-Gator is a play on fedora-wearing internet trolls), while others will go right over their heads (like referencing Nakatomi Plaza, or the villain Bolshefist).
I’m also a bit ambivalent on the “weaknesses” side of the game. All villains have a “weakness” to take advantage of, but to do so involves the game being a bit meta. For example, volunteering in your community could negate a major power of the Big Bad, while helpfully cheering on allies and generally being a good sport weakens another foe. While I love the idea in principle (as it gamifies good behavior between games), I find that it makes for fiddly or near-impossible to fulfill for some groups of kids (younger audiences, those with disabilities, kids from families without financial means, etc). Like everything else in the book, it is stated to be tweaked as needed, but as written, it really relies on regular playing to gamify positive behavior, while falling flat for event-based gaming.
Finally, as it stands, I don’t know how well this would handle the full-blown power levels of comic book heroics. Many of the characters here I’d classify as “street level” heroes and villains, with a few minor exceptions, which means the games here will be inherently “lower powered” compared to what kids will be seeing on screen or in the pages of a comic. While I am certain there are ways to tweak this (like giving additional powers and changing the narrative of actions), the game doesn’t quite seem set for that. I find this to be a boon to keep things in check and be in the more “Golden Age” of comics, but at the same time, it’s a concern for modern audiences.
Once the capes are hung and the costumes are put away, I’d have to award Power Outage four buns.
The game is exactly what it markets itself as: a kid-friendly, kid-focused roleplaying game. It uses easy addition mechanics and greater vs lesser rolls, a simple power system, and provides a number of tips and tools (as well as external resources) to run a game that is accessible for children across the board.
That said, it is a niche game with some inherent limitations because of this niche. It can come off as too simple, fiddly, or inconsistent depending on personal opinions, but otherwise is still a solid game.
If you are looking at running a game for children, or need a simple and easy-to-grasp superhero game, I really cannot suggest Power Outage enough, as it gives you everything you need for that. If you aren’t going to run a game for kids, or don’t need the various accessibility tools (which are honestly worth having), then you’ll probably want to give this a pass.
Power Outage is created by Bebarce El-Tayib and was published thanks to a successfully funded Kickstarter. The book is currently available for purchase on DriveThruRPG for $20 (PDF-only) or $45 (hardcover book).