Thursday, January 26, 2006

What are the 'Power 19' ? pt 2

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.

Smithy’s Game
Darren’s Game
Jaoa’s Game

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?




Frank said...

Troy, I'm working through answering the Power 19 for Troll Slayer which I've been discussion on my blog and I notice that #14 and #15 don't have any commentary above, and #15 I'm especially stuck on.

I've posted my Power 19 answers here.



Troy_Costisick said...

Heya Frank,

You've just proven to me the importance of being thurough. I didn't think 14 and 15 needed elaboration, but you have shown me my hubris, and I thank you for that. I'll expand on them here, then give you specific help with your game on your blog after I have some time to consider your answers more carefully.

14 and 15 are very different questions. Fourteen is really asking what you want the players to get out of playing your game. What type of emotional, social, intellectual, and/or physical response are you trying to get out of the players? An RPG should be more than just “going out and doing things.” It should make the players stretch a little and learn a little. When they get done playing your game, what do you hope they will say about their experience afterwards? What values (e.g. teamwork, individualism, compassion, justice) if any, might you be trying to communicate with your design? These are the sorts of things question number 14 deals with.

Fifteen is tied in with sixteen. It is asking the designer to look at what he has created and judge, as objectively as possible, where he has spent the most time adding detail (Color = Details). For instance, in many Fantasy RPGs, a ton of thought goes into stuff like Combat or Magic systems. That’s great if the game is about combat and magic, but what if it’s not? Remember, each question should go back and relate to the previous ones- especially question number 1. The “Why?” part of 15 is intended to make the designer think about the reason he added so much detail into a certain section of his game. Does it add to the play experience? Does it enhance your answer to #1? If it doesn’t do either of these things, then WHY did you choose to add so much detail there? Do you need it? If not, then what are you going to do about it? Don’t waste time and details on things that your game isn’t about.

I apologize for causing your confusion, Frank. Let me know if this helps.



Frank said...

Thanks for the explanation, that helps a lot. What threw me on #15 is understanding exactly what is color and what it's role is. Clearly it's very critical, but as you mention, it's often given very slapdash thought as detail is randomly spewed through a game text, or is lovingly crafted, for all the wrong reasons.

Now that you explain it, I see that color is the meat on the bones. A system can be mechanically brilliant, but without some meat, it's just another game. Would Risk be as fun a game as it is without the graphics, and the layout of the map using a world map? You could make a totally equivalent map that was just a collection of circles connected by lines. The game is fun, not just because a player takes over all of the spaces of a particular color, but that they have taken over all of North America and can imagine they have smacked the Americans.

When I look back at Cold Iron as it was introduced to me back in college, I realize how well focused the game was, though it's not perfect, and I went off in all sorts of directions adapting it to my own needs. Now I realize that going back to square one, and going through an intentional design process will get me the game I want.


Troy_Costisick said...


Your Risk analogy is right on! The game would still play the same if it were just circles and lines, but it's the location names that make it SO much more fun. Mind if I use that some time?

In any event, I'm glad this has helped you out. I would agree that going back to square one is a good place to start.

Also, getting in plenty of actual play with the game you like, taking notes, and examining why you liked what you did is equally important. The game you design should be born out of the play you enjoy. Does that make sense?



Frank said...

Definitely feel free. Risk really is an excellent example because the map really is so very simple, yet the game is fun to play (and fun to watch). Now part of the fun of course is that the particular arrangements of connections work, but it's not just that.

Hmm, an interesting contrast is Conquest which also has a simple, and elegant map. But it doesn't have much color attached to it, and as such doesn't raise the same level of excitement.

Definitely agree with paying attention to the parts I like about games, and certainly I've been using that in tuning how I play Cold Iron, but it's also making it clear to me that designing my own game, that might happen to borrow a lot of ideas from Cold Iron, is the best way to get the game I want (and considering that Cold Iron isn't a published game, there's no real advantage to sticking with it).

Thanks again.

I've added an answer to #15 on my blog.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Great blog you have here. Lots of blogs like yours cover subjects that can’t be found in magazines and newspapers. I don’t know how we got by 10 years ago with just magazines and newspapers.
Awesome information. I am really surprised with this topic. Keep up the good work and post more here to read.
ibcbet online, casino online

Unknown said...

Great work guys! I saw your site via a social media post (I think it was stumbled upon) and loved it! casino sbobet