Prerequisite: read Power 19 part 1.
Okay, so you’ve answered the Power 19. Now what? Excellent question and one I am now ready to explore. First, let’s look at some threads on the Forge that are actively using the Power 19.
If you look through each of the initial posts in these threads, they all have one thing in common: They don’t ask for specific feedback! The “Power 19” is a design tool. It can lead discussion, but that discussion needs to be focused. And the author of the thread (whether on the Forge or at RPGnet) needs to highlight which portions of the Power 19 he wants feedback and scrutiny on. Just expecting people to read your answers and infer from that what needs help is an expectation that will be disappointed every time. But to better understand how to do this, it’s best to understand what it is that the Power 19 actually do. Look at the first question:
“What is your game about?”: That’s the concept of your game. It’s not asking for ANY mechanical details of your game. It’s not wanting details about the resolution system, strength stats, XPs, and all that jazz. It wants to know what the concept of your game is. So, this question really speaks to what is the first part of game design- the concept stage. Check out the next two:
“What do the characters do/What do the players do?” These questions ask about what playing the game is like. Still no mechanics, just what playing looks like. Once you have a concept of what your game will be about, it’s good to have a concept of what experience the players will have while engaging your design. These questions are really the second step of game design. 1st is concept, 2nd is activities.
Questions 4 and 5 (see Power 19 pt. 1) address two major components of an RPG- Character and Setting. I put Setting first, but order isn’t important. Different people work in different ways. The important thing is that the Setting fits the Characters and the Characters fit in the Setting. Don’t make a detective game set in Victorian London where all the characters are kung-fu masters. That seems kind of obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of designs meant to be about inter-character relationships and how they grow that spent tons of time detailing with how characters can break things and kill people (IE Combat). If what the game is about and the Setting you’re making for it aren’t going to provide the characters an opportunity to use an ability (say combat or magic or kung-fu) then don’t make that a part of your Chargen. A game does NOT have to have characters capable of fighting or using magic or being diplomatic to be fun. The Characters and Setting should both point back to your answer in #1.
Questions 6-9 ask you to elaborate on questions 2 and 3. You know what the characters and players will be doing. You know where they’ll be doing it (Setting) and you know how they’ll get there (Chargen). So now it’s time to go to the next step. That Step: Rewards and Engagement. Rewards are a key facet of game design. I could probably write a whole ‘nother article (and probably should) on Rewards/Reinforcement. Briefly, Rewards are the fuel that powers the rest of your design. It’s that carrot and sometimes it’s that stick that leads the participants to advance the game. In DnD, it’s XP. In Dogs in the Vineyard it’s Fallout. In Cutthroat it’s Status Modifiers. Rewards are the part of the game that makes the players want to continue playing. Read this article for more details.
Engagement is a bit trickier. At least for me it is. This is the part of the game that holds the player’s attention between Rewards. Often, that is narration and setting up conflicts. In DnD, it’s combat. Rolling the dice and fighting orcs is way fun, especially when you can use your kewl powerz. In Cutthroat, it’s the Raids. In Dogs, it’s exploring the Town. This part of game design definitely takes playtesting and requires a lot of thought.
Okay, after you’ve got how you make characters, play characters, and explore the setting of your game, it’s time to start getting down to the nuts and bolts. Resolution is on the docket for questions 10 and 11. There’s a million ways to do it, so if you’re looking for the right or best way here, you’re going to be disappointed. What those questions really want are two things: a brief explanation of the dice (or card or narration) mechanic of your game and how that enhances your answer to #1. Yes, the Resolution system of your game should tie directly back to What your Game is About. Look at what Vincent said Dogs was about: “…It's about the problems small towns face, it's about sex and lying, and most of all it's about violence. What use is violence? What justifies violence? What are its consequences?” That last bit is the important part: Consequences. In DitV, your character will change- a lot. That’s the point. Check out the Resolution system: roll, if you win you get what you wanted, if you lose your character CHANGES! The dice rolling itself stresses what the game is about.
I’m not saying your game has to do it the same way. For instance, a good Resolution system for a Western game may involve Poker rules. A game where the number 8 is a significant number in Setting’s cosmology might have d8’s be the only dice rolled in the game. A game built on social standing, may give characters at different levels different sized dice to roll. Whatever you decide on, make sure that your Resolution system reminds players immediately what game is about.
Questions 12 and 13 deal with character advancement. You are really starting to build your game at this point. You’ve got the foundational elements: Concept and Play Behaviors. You have the initial bricks laid: Chargen, Setting, and Rewards. You have the process of resolving conflicts, tension, and tasks: Resolution. Now it’s time to add the top floors the players will go through as they play. This is Advancement.
One of the most common errors made when designing Character Advancement in games is that people tie it directly to numerical increases. Advancement means simply that characters change. It may be that they get closer to their Destiny. It may be that they gain a new relationship. It could be that they move up or down a social ladder. It doesn’t have to mean they get a higher score in the Combat skills. Which brings me to the second most common misconception about Character Advancement: “Characters must always get better at what they do.” That’s a bunch of crap. In games like DnD, Rolemaster, Vampire, and all the games based off them, yeah that’s what we see. But in games like Cutthroat and DitV, we see characters moving up and down in their proficiency all the time. Break loose of the bonds of tradition in your design. Don’t settle for the way things have always been done. Challenge the players. Make the game tough and memorable. And characters don’t always have to advance on a steady, upward scale.
The last four questions (16-19) deal with production and marketing of your game. They ask you to focus on what the best parts are, enhance/magnify them, and then set realistic goals for yourself. Just producing a free game on PDF is a fine production goal. Full-on book printing is good too, but be prepared to have to fight to get your game out there. Talk to Vincent, Ron, and Nate Peteresen. They know their stuff. Oh and check out This Thread for further info.
Okay, so looking back through this article about the Power 19, what can we learn about them? Holy crap! It’s the initial design process! Or at least it is for me. It starts out at the concept stage and draws you through the process of designing all the major parts of an RPG and ends in production. It’s not a checklist, it’s a chain of events. You complete the first question. Then go to the second. Using that info, you go to their third. Using the info from 1, 2, and 3, you answer #4. And so on. You compile each of the previous answers to answer the next question. None of them, NONE, exist in a vacuum. They are all inter-dependant.
So what do we do with them now? Answering them is the first part, but when you post your answers about your game, ask for specific feedback on specific parts of your game. Don’t just throw them out there and expect people to pick up on it. No. It’s your job to tell the readers of your post what you want out of that thread. They can’t read your mind. The Power 19 is a great tool, but it’s useless if it just sits there.
So are the Power 19 the end of it? Heh, no they are just the beginning. There’s at least that many questions again if not more that one has to answer for his or her design. Maybe I’ll write some more up some time. But for now, let’s talk about these. Is there any part that is unclear? Is it still uncertain what they were meant to do?