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Author Topic: Kill Power 19  (Read 12672 times)
Luke
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Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest


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« on: July 17, 2009, 08:36:34 PM »


The so-called "Power 19" have been clogging up the design pipes here for too long. I'm here to kill the Power 19. These questions purport to consolidate nine years of collected wisdom about designing RPGs. To my eye, they are out of context at best, and limiting and confusing at worst. Furthermore, they make it REALLY HARD to have a discussion about your game when first we have to read through this wall of text in the form of the answers, and second, rather than asking fruitful questions, we have to pick apart your answers.

This is the First Thoughts forum. You're coming here with some half-baked ideas rolling around your noggin and you want to ask some questions and get some answers to see if you can and should bake 'em fully. Answering this mutant questionnaire is not going to help you take a game from concept to completion.

Also, if you're already playing your game, skip this forum and these questions entirely. Go straight to Play Testing.

If you're trying to articulate your design, this is your forum. Post your rough idea -- what's your game about? -- and let people ask you questions. The act of answering will help you better understand your design.

Now for the killing.

Debunking the Power 19[/b]
1.) What is your game about?

This is a decent question to start with, but it's incomplete. Perhaps the next 18 questions will shed some light on it.
When I do conceptual game design panels with Jared, we love punchy answers like "Consequences" or "International Finance" or "Lust." We LOVE asking follow up questions based on those. "Oh really? How is it about that?"

"Survival" is about the worst answer you can give to this. All games are about survival; no game is about survival. At least, I have yet to see a functional design that makes an interesting game out of the act of survival. That Avalon Hill game, btw, is terrible. I digress.

A full answer is something like this: "My game is about fighting for what you believe. You play the role of medieval mice in a dangerous forest, contending with weather, wilderness and animals as you try to resolve your ideals with the realities of a society of creatures on the lowest rung of the food chain."


2.) What do the characters do?

Not a terrible follow up question, but it could be tighter. "Who are the characters? What is their role?" would be more to my preference.



3.) What do the players do?

Vital, but overarching. Way more important than what the characters do. Game design is about making people do stuff that they would not otherwise do. So always think in terms of what the people at the table are physically doing. What are they saying? When are they saying it? How are they interacting with the game pieces?



4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

This is exactly the same question as the first question. You cannot disentangle setting and premise. Next!



5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

What the hell does this mean? I think idea is to ask, "If your game is about International Finance, why is there a giant section in character creation about military service?" At this stage, focus your character creation (if you even have any) slavishly on your premise. Just build what's absolutely necessary to put a character on the table. Flesh it out later.


6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

This is a poorly worded restatement of question 11. It's redundant, weird and unnecessary.


7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

How does your game reward players for following the premise? What's the currency system? What's the reward system? This is a BIG question and a major element in design. If anything, only a very general answer here suffices -- "I'd like to have a game that encourages players to be puritanical gunslingers, so..."


8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

Why does this matter? What does credibility mean? Why is narration a responsibility? Is this meant to ask about IIEE in layman's terms? If so, I'm lost. Or is it about permissions and expectations? If so, who cares?! You do NOT need to be thinking about this now. You should be thinking about, "I want to play space buccaneers and shoot unapologetically evil aliens with rayguns. I'm going to need rules for space buccaneers, unapologetically evil aliens, shooting, and rayguns. How do I get these elements to fit together in an exciting, interesting way?" If you can come up with a solution for that, you're way ahead of the game.


9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)

This question is ridiculous. "How is your game awesome?" is not a productive question at this stage in design. See the comments for 8.


10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

This is a decent question, but oddly placed in the list. Why so far down? Why after reward mechanics? Anyway, the question assumes that you've got a clue. It should be more along the lines of "What resolution mechanic best serves your premise? How can you use dice/cards/chips/narration rights to reinforce the feel and goal of your game." On the whole, the basic iteration of your resolution mechanic should be very simple and not fiddly. Bring in the fiddly bits -- and the stuff that reinforces your premise -- with other mechanisms that play on the basic resolution: modifiers, luck points, repeated or escalating rolls, etc.


11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

Ugh. This is a perfectly valid question, but it's the same as questions 6 and 10 and it's fucking esoteric. What's really being asked here is, "If your game is about finance and bankers, why do you have a Strength stat?" or "Why are there stats for drowning, falling and machine guns in your game about suburban cat-people romance?"



12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

Advancement is cool, but by now you're overwhelmed by the previous 11 questions. Don't worry about this shit now. Focus on your premise, what a character looks like and basic resolution. Come back to this when you have a clue.


13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

This will come to you if you focus on your premise. Don't worry about this now.



14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

Worst. Question. Evar. Why are you worrying about this? This exercise is about design. It's not a marketing panel. And there's an obvious answer: You want the players to have a really fucking fun time. You want them to feel a particular set of emotions. Great. We all do. Next question.


15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

I think what this question is trying to gently ask is: Why does your game about high finance have a chapter on combat that's ten times longer than the chapter on finance? Does your game about playing heroes in a declining age really need 40 pages of setting material describing the ancient history of the world? You're in First Thoughts. Your game isn't ready for this question. Save this question for when you're done.



16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

Come on. Really? What does this have to do with anything? At this point you better be freaking drooling and delirious with excitement about the freaking paper your game is printed on if you're hoping to take a design from concept to product. There's a fuckton of hard work down the road. If you're not in a stupor of excitement now, find another hobby.


17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

This question is useless. Just make your game the best game it can be. If you're not absolutely 100% in love with your game, scrap it and start over.


18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?

Shoot this question in the head. This has nothing to do with game design. Publishing goals are what you talk about when you ask "How do I publish my game?" Right now, you should be designing a really cool game and that's it!


19.) Who is your target audience?
Curb stomp this question. Your target audience is YOU. You think this game idea is cool enough to post on the internet about it. That's all you need to get started. Later, if the design has legs, you can think about big picture stuff, but for now focus on the design itself.

To reiterate: Don't use the Power 19. Look at the first three questions -- maybe -- and post your idea in the First Thoughts section. Don't be cagey, be open and honest about your design and your goals. Ask questions and don't be afraid to step up and answer tough questions when asked. Wrangling over design will make your game better.

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Vulpinoid
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Kitsune Trickster


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« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2009, 04:11:13 AM »

Interesting post...I agree with a lot of the sentiments, but...

This is the First Thoughts forum. You're coming here with some half-baked ideas rolling around your noggin and you want to ask some questions and get some answers to see if you can and should bake 'em fully. Answering this mutant questionnaire is not going to help you take a game from concept to completion.

This is kind of true, I remember the first time that I encountered the "Power 19". I read through the questions and thought "Fair enough, I'll give this a go"...then when I actually started wading through the questions and answering them for my game I had to think again. Many of the questions seemed to repeat themselves, others didn't seem t address my game design ideas at all. I thought that maybe I was thinking about game design wrong, and that's why I didn't get it. So I thought I had to re-adjust my thinking to a way that made the "Power 19" make sense.

I think that the first time I posted a "Power 19" about a game I was working on, nobody responded. Pretty disheartening, but I've been around here long enough now to say that I got over it. 

But when all is said and done I have found the "Power 19" to be a useful tool. Like all tools, I choose to use it when I think it's appropriate and I ignore the bits that I feel are superfluous (which in many cases is about half of the questions...but it's a different half for each different project).

Quote
If you're trying to articulate your design, this is your forum. Post your rough idea -- what's your game about? -- and let people ask you questions. The act of answering will help you better understand your design.

That's probably some of the best advice a newcomer could receive.

V
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Lance D. Allen
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Posts: 1962


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« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2009, 04:35:30 AM »

Part the first: As Vulpinoid said, the Power 19 is a tool. It is not a presentation format. I once made the same mistake and posted a Power 19. I'd been around long enough to know better, but this Power 19 thing seemed cool, so I did it anyway. I don't think anyone responded to mine, either.

Part the second: The Power 19 doesn't work for every game. Some games the questions simply muddy the waters, or are completely irrelevant.

Part the third: The Power 19 could use some editing, I agree. Most of your specific points are spot on, Luke. Some, however, I disagree with.

Q2: What do the characters do? I like this one phrased the way it is. Your question is too ambiguous. This question asks the very specific question of what your characters are DOING in the fiction. What sorts of actions do they undertake? I think that's a golden question, because it allows you to focus your design on making those actions, and only those actions, possible and shiny.

Q4: Isn't the same as the first question, it's a zooming in of the first question. Sure, setting and premise cannot be untangled... But you can think more specifically about the setting portion of the whole deal. That's what this question is intended to get you to do. Think about the specific contributions of the setting to the premise.

Q18: Thoughts about publishing intentions ABSOLUTELY should be thought about early in the process. Maybe not in depth... You shouldn't necessarily worry about page size, layout, etc. But you should definitely think if you want to design a game for you and your friends, for free .pdf distribution, or for a full-on commercial print. Having an idea of your destination is important.

Q19: Yes, definitely, YOU are your target audience.. But what the fuck does that even mean? I fit pretty broadly into the target audiences of a dozen highly-different games. My tastes vary at any given time by too many factors to count. This question gets you to think about what tastes your game should satisfy.

More generally, a lot of your criticisms are based on the idea that the Power 19 is intended purely for the First Thoughts forum. It's not. It's a general list of questions to get you to think about your design process, and to hopefully challenge your assumptions, at any point in your process. I'd already been years at my projects when I looked to the Power 19, and it still helped me focus my thoughts. Of course, I've been years on those same projects since, so perhaps I'm not a good example of its efficacy.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2009, 04:50:08 AM »

I think the Power 19 might, in some cases, be useful for game designers to go through, on their own, and answer for themselves, but they are definitely hard to parse as a way of presenting your game on a forum.  In my mind, the most useful questions for someone to answer when posting to First Thoughts is:

1) What part of your game are you most excited about?
2) What do the players/characters do?

...because the answers to those two questions, in almost every case, are what the core of the game and its mechanics should be about, if you haven't figured out exactly what your focus as a designer should be yet.

Additionally, those two things should be closely related, because otherwise the things you are most excited about won't translate in play into stuff the players are excited about doing.  And that makes for unexciting play.
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Luke
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Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest


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« Reply #4 on: July 18, 2009, 06:31:05 AM »

Hi Lance, JWalt,Vulp,

I am talking about the Power 19 specifically in regards to First Thoughts. Those questions are too much for someone just trying to codify their nascent ideas. Answering these retarded questions should not be seen as the default step to getting started on this forum. Yeah, maybe when your game is written, you can come back and take a look at them, but in this context, they only serve to kill discussion.

In regard to the last question: you should be making this game for you and only for you because it excites you to the point of delirium.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2009, 07:06:07 AM »

Fair enough. In the context of First Thoughts, most of your criticisms are spot on, though I stand by my comments on Q2 and Q4.

I also forgot to make the point with absolute clarity that a Power 19 as a presentation method in First Thoughts is a really, really bad idea. As a tool, it should be used for your own purposes, to help you think about your ideas in a structured way.

One thing I think, after having perused a couple Power 19s here in First Thoughts... Question 3 should be bumped down for a Question 2a: "No, really. What do the characters DO, in play, at the table? Be specific!" Because it appears to be the one that people answer the least productively. They give vague-ass answers that are very, very hard to take anything useful from.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Daniel B
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Posts: 171

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2009, 09:25:09 AM »

Just my opinion, I think most people post these Power 19's simply for validation of the idea, not because they're really interested in any sort of useful constructive criticism. I don't think this is a fault of the Power 19, so much as simple human nature. In other words, even with the best-worded and cleverest questions ever, you're still going to get the same result.

(Meh, I guess I shouldn't remove myself from that category though I've never posted a Power 19 .. I'm still new to the game.)

Daniel
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Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
mjbauer
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Posts: 115


« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2009, 09:43:22 AM »

Thanks. I think that this is really good advice. I tried out a Power 19 as one of my first posts and it was a bit overwhelming to me and not as helpful as I was hoping. Likewise I have rarely made it through someone else's Power 19.

I think that this can help to focus conversation here.
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 171

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #8 on: July 18, 2009, 11:04:54 AM »

How about a Power Six and Three Quarters? Nah
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Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2009, 01:33:29 PM »

There's always the "Big Three", I think it was called, which was the proto-form of the Power 19. The Big Three is simply the first three questions. It predated the Power 19, and someone thought it didn't go far enough in helping you think about your design process. Perhaps for the purposes of kickstarting your discussions in First Thoughts, the Big Three would be much better suited.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2009, 01:45:25 PM »


I agree that power 19 don't really have any place in "First Thoughts", which I have written about before. The best way to get feedback here, is to try to make a post that can be the starting point of a discussion. If you present a semi complete game and ask "what do you think" (as you would do with power 19), you will not get any helpful answerers.

 - Anders
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opsneakie
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Posts: 87


« Reply #11 on: July 18, 2009, 08:55:38 PM »

I've found the Power 19 tremendously helpful in getting game design started. It makes you think about how all the different elements of your game should tie together. I think as a game designer, you can post a partly-finished power 19, and get a huge amount of useful feedback. The power 19 I posted for Night and Day helped turn it into the system my group is always asking me to run more of.

Additionally, it's probably wise to avoid absolutes like 'never use the power 19'. You thinking the power 19 sucks doesn't make it suck. I'd agree that it isn't the most useful tool, but I think saying 'don't use the power 19' is taking the idea way too far.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2009, 10:41:06 PM »

I will make this absolute statement, and you can listen or not as you choose:

Don't post your Power 19. Yes, sometimes you will still get feedback, but I know that my eyes aren't the only ones that begin to glaze over when I start reading down that particular wall of words. You're not getting feedback because of the Power 19. You're getting feedback in spite of the Power 19, because you managed to say something interesting enough and useful enough to catch the glazed eye and make it focus again. You're getting feedback because someone cared enough, for whatever reason, to wade through the post.

Use it if you think it's helpful. Absolutely do that.

But then take the parts that it helps highlight for you, and post that in a way that communicates your design hassles and emphasizes where you want help.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2009, 07:38:40 AM »

Name me one game with more than thirty copies sold that started from a publicly posted Power 19.

Paul
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Luke
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Conventions Forum Moderator, First Thoughts Pest


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« Reply #14 on: July 19, 2009, 09:45:25 AM »

Now you're equating success in design to copies sold? Paul, I'm shocked!




I'm kidding.



Seriously kids, don't use the Power 19. There's no rationalizing or discussing needed. There are better ways to talk about and learn about game design.

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