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“Power Outage” Brings Tabletop RPGs to Young Players (And Their Grown-Ups)

“Power Outage” Brings Tabletop RPGs to Young Players (And Their Grown-Ups) thumbnail

Bebarce El-Tayib didn’t learn that Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop RPGs (role-playing games) existed until he was well into adulthood. He was intrigued, and on his first Father’s Day — his daughter was eight months old at the time — his wife encouraged him to check out a local game shop that was debuting the fourth edition of D&D. He was hooked and eventually branched out to other RPGs.

Fast forward a few years: El-Tayib’s baby girl is six and now has a four-year-old sister. His gaming was going strong, but with one hiccup — the girls kept stealing his dice. “Eventually I realized if I ever wanted the dice back, I’d have to come up with a game for the girls to play,” he says.

So he started looking around for options to introduce his kids to tabletop RPGs but came up short. “Considering their ages, most of the role-playing games out there were either too advanced or too adult,” El-Tayib says. “Some of the few that I found, while good, were often just simplified versions of adult games.”

His solution? Invent a new game to play with the girls.

Several years and hours upon hours of work later, the Power Outage world was built, and its corresponding Core Rules Book finally ready to be published.

“Power Outage is a superhero-themed tabletop role-playing game that is designed for kids, but fun for adults looking for a more casual, light-hearted gaming experience,” El-Tayib says. “It’s absolutely drenched with puns as well.” Built to engage kids as young as four years old, Power Outage’s cast of characters pits such villains as Break Fast, InstaGator, and The Bulshefist up against the Pocket Protector, SuburbanKnight, Rockin Troll, and other heroes.

“BreakFast” character description in the Power Outage Core Rules Book.

After reaching its funding goal on Kickstarter and making an official debut in 2019, Power Outage was nominated twice for an Ennie, a notable award in the RPG world. El-Tayib is building an audience for Power Outage and has gotten great feedback from fans so far.

“I think the best compliment I ever received was when someone referred to me as the ‘Mr. Rogers of role-playing games,’” El-Tayib says.

And along the way, he’s relied on DreamHost to power this and other passion projects.

Choose Your Own Adventure

As a kid in elementary school, El-Tayib loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. “So much so,” he adds, “that I would write my own and run them with kids at the lunch table. That was before I knew that RPGs existed.”

He was introduced to the concept as an adult through the early Penny-Arcade podcast crew, which was testing out and describing the new Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition. The idea of RPGs “immediately shot me right back to elementary school,” he says. His favorite game these days, other than Power Outage, is Tales from the Loop, which represents the kind of quality he’s chasing with his own game.

“My goal was to create a game that brought parents and kids to the table, have fun, and maybe learn a little,” El-Tayib says. “I’ve yet to meet a person that hasn’t claimed to have had a blast playing Power Outage.”

In creating the game, El-Tayib relied on his daughters for playtesting to craft an RPG that was truly centered on a child’s experience. “I built it from the kids’ perspective up — I think that really informed the shape of the game,” he says.

While most traditional RPGs focus on battles and fighting, Power Outage was built with a choose-your-own-adventure flair that gives kids — and their parents — different options for what kinds of games they can play. El-Tayib created a system he calls CAPE: Combat, Alternative, Puzzle, and Exploration. Each path creates a custom adventure that styles gameplay according to the preferences of both parents (who lead the game) and kids.

“Don’t want your kids fighting? Choose an Alternative path,” El-Tayib explains. “Want your kids to practice problem solving? Choose a Puzzle path. Additionally, I created a substantial amount of guidance for new gaming parents that I’ve been told sheds some light for even veteran players when switching to gaming with kids.”

Ultimately, he hopes the game can help parents, gamers or not, connect with their kids in a way that resonates.

“I want kids to have experiences with their parents that they’ll remember growing up,” El-Tayib says. “I want a channel to open up about themselves, without fear of reprisal. The ability to instill into an avatar their desires and see those play out, and in doing so, educate those adults playing with them.”

Feedback on Power Outage has been overwhelmingly positive — especially once he can help players ditch the expectation that this child-oriented game aligns, or should align, with Dungeons & Dragons gameplay.

“It’s also amazing seeing pictures from fans holding up kids, often infants, next to my book with the promise that a new player will be starting up soon,” he says.

Related: Herald and Sons Publishing: The Ultimate Father-Son DIY Project

Child’s Play

By trade, El-Tayib is the chief technology officer for a public school system in New Jersey. Part of his work includes considering the needs of students with disabilities, and in developing Power Outage, accessibility was top of mind.

The Power Outage rule book has a section outlining accommodations to make the game playable for all children, including those who need physical, communicative, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional adjustments to the gameplay. In creating this content, he consulted experts in special education to review his recommendations and terminology.

“Role-playing games allow all of us to not only break free of the limitations we find in our everyday lives, but express our real selves through our avatars,” El-Tayib says. “The absolute need to make that process available to everyone is imperative. We need to be accessible. We need to be inclusive. We need to bring everyone to the table, and if we can’t, then we need to drag that table over to them.”

El-Tayib wants his entire mythology — based on Outage, an ancient, mysterious island that appeared in the Pacific Ocean — to be fun and understandable to children of all ages and abilities.

A map of the world of Power Outage in the Core Rules Book.

“I eliminated death from the game, changing your standard HP (health points) to YP (yield points),” he says. “Kids are freer to enjoy their creative spirit with the knowledge that they can get up and try again. All the villains are fun and humorous, but many have deeper contexts that parents can use to exemplify lessons.”

Power Outage does have a slight amount of number crunching, and still uses the “‘math rocks’ — i.e., dice — my kids loved to steal in the first place,” El-Tayib adds. The game is designed to allow players of different skill levels to work together on the same goal, so kids of all ages can still play together. It lists generic powers for the avatars to use but leaves the details up to players’ imaginations. Power Outage throws out the traditional RPG character races or classes — wizard, human, elf, etc. — to give kids more wiggle room to create the avatar they want, be it a robot, a werewolf, or a princess.

“The sky is literally not even the limit,” El-Tayib says. “It allows kids to keep their creative mind, while conditioning the effects into manageable gameplay. Heck, it even has a comic strip in the back that explains all the powers.”

Related: Leveling the Web: 12 Questions with Accessibility Expert Gian Wild

Running the Game

Creating and testing the game and teaming up with designer Rosanna Spucces to give it a polished look was the fun part. Getting Power Outage, a self-published, indie game, out in front of an audience, has been El-Tayib’s biggest challenge.

“I’ve often described promotion of an indie game with the analogy of a crowded bar,” El-Tayib explains. “Everyone is in there, clamoring to have their story heard, often talking over each other. You have that solid group of people that are always there listening to you, but your story never really branches out from your table. Your friends will share it, but the message doesn’t get much farther out from where you are. Then someone walks in and everyone in the bar looks up at once and shouts “NORM!” You’re incredibly appreciative and flattered by those that you have with you — your small group of friends and fans. But you always wonder, ‘Man, what makes everyone like Norm so much?’”

El-Tayib’s found that his best tool for promotion is creating loyal fans of the game. He’s given the rule book to podcasters and Twitch streamers and has run games online and at conventions.

Earlier this year, he coordinated Shelter in Play, a quarantined-themed charity sale with 17 other kid-friendly game creators, who offered their products together as part of a $10 bundle. Proceeds were split between Extra Life 4 Kids and the Child’s Play Charity, with each charity receiving a little over $3,500 each.

“I’ve probably given away eight times or more digital copies than I’ve sold,” El-Tayib says. “On the whole, I believe people in the communities I’ve engaged with have a bit of faith in my character, and they’ve rewarded me by helping me to promote things.”

Home Base

El-Tayib has been a proud DreamHost customer since 2006. So when it was time to get serious about publishing Power Outage, he knew exactly where to build its website, which he hopes to grow into a community hub for game players and fans.

“I like that it’s built with WordPress, which has a lot of adaptability and the allowance for personalization,” El-Tayib says.

He’s built websites for others and himself for years. Along with a website for Go Nerdy, his parent company that publishes Power Outage and other resources, El-Tayib runs a personal website, (“Who else gets to claim their own first name as a domain name?”), and is developing a wiki site to provide resources to make tabletop RPG play more accessible to people of all abilities.

“DreamHost’s support is great,” El-Tayib says, “and absolutely tolerant of my late night blunderings. There have been quite a few times they have bailed me out of a hotspot. The site structure on the back end is super intuitive and it offers a lot of control. Honestly if I’m not building a site directly on DreamHost, I’m often encouraging others to migrate to it.”

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Work Ahead

Outside of his day job and work on Power Outage, El-Tayib is passionate about writing. He’s written a few children’s books, and he’s working on a series of princess-themed STEM stories with titles like “The Princess and the Placebo” and “A Princess’ Primer to the Theory of Evolution.”

“I also enjoy woodwork, even though I’m a bit of a novice at it,” he says. “I made a tie rack and, recently, some custom sandboxes for my kids and extended family.” Tech consulting and side gigs also keep him busy, not to mention juggling his family and trying to invest time into advocating for more accessible gaming tables.

As far as Power Outage goes, he isn’t done promoting or working on the game. He’s working on supplemental adventures — a necessary component to keeping a tabletop game growing and earning money.

“The biggest mountain is sustainability,” he says. “I have to find a way to create future products faster, with better turn around, and increased promotion.”

Currently in the works: an adult version of Power Outage.

“It’s called Power Outage: Neon Knights,” El-Tayib says. “The idea is to take all the campy weirdness of Baywatch Nights and apply it to my own world setting. But of course, ‘adult’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in any way more mature. After all I’m a pretty immature adult myself.”