Whether your character is a vampire, medieval hero, occult investigator, cybergear netsurfer, or starship pilot, few game sessions will pass without the players taking actions that would be considered a crime in our world---and probably a crime in the world of the game. Roleplaying game storytelling has used the crutch of crime fantasies since the beginning, and there is no end in sight. Layers of drama and symbolism aside, is there not something wrong with a storytelling hobby that glorifies criminal behavior as the primary protagonistic component? What is the true source of our enjoyment of this hobby? Is it the portrayal of an alternate personality? Is it the exploration of a given set of genre conventions? Or is it the illicit thrill of engaging in criminal behavior, sanctified with a safe trapping? What is the source of our [fun and excitement] anyway, and why?

POWER KILL is meant to suggest a few answers. Or at least, to ask a few questions.

- John Tynes, Power Kill rules (http://www.johntynes.com/rl_powerkill.html)

Power Kill is a free (as in beer) set of rules for a metagame meant as an adjunct to any ordinary FRPG. Through the use of post game Q&A sessions the rules drag out the old and hackneyed idea that characters in any given FRPG are facets of the players themselves. As an added bonus Power Kill's rules even come within spitting distance of stating that anyone who plays FRPGs is fleeing reality. Unfortunately in his quest to draw parallels where parallels do not necessarily exist the author completely ignores or forgets that correlation is not causation.

Mr. Tynes probably thinks he's being "edgy" or "clever" but read past the pseudo intellectual trappings and you might notice that Power Kill is about as sophisticated and insightful as a Chick tract. I would have expected better from someone who writes rule books for these games -- even if he was responsible for a Stargate SG-1 RPG that the people of earth were only saved from because the company responsible died before it could be published.

Deconstructing the attraction of players to FRPG is really something that shouldn't be attempted without at least a passing familiarity with psychology. I don't claim to posess such knowledge myself, but it's a safe assumption that with this understanding comes the realization that there are no glib "one size fits all" answers to the loaded questions that Power Kill poses.

So why am I reminded of a hipster Jon Katz when I read the Power Kill rules? Much like Katz, Mr. Tynes forsakes research for fast answers and a thinly veiled sense of smug superiority. Just as Katz is (after all) The Journalist, Tynes is (really, my dear) The Game Designer; He already knows the answers he's looking for so everything else is simply designed around them.

I realize that my opinion is not shared by many (any?) other gamers, but we've come a long way since the 80's and seeing this flavor of pop psychology espoused by someone inside the industry (tongue in cheek or not) disturbs me.

The shrill tone I have taken in this write-up is not exactly condusive to keeping a level head, but please bear with me. On this particular subject sabby and I have quite amicably agreed to disagree. As happens often on e2 nodes, sabby's w/u presents additional facts to my own and a vastly more popular (if directly opposing) point of view. I am happy to see this more prevalent viewpoint represented on e2 despite the fact that I don't agree with it.

Once apon a time anti-gaming types would frequently cite "damning" quotes from actual RPG manuals. Of course these quotes always turned out to be fabricated, distorted or taken out of context. However because gaming advocacy isn't sensationalistic enough to garner the same level of press it has always been quite easy for the facts to languish in reletive obscurity. Power Kill is not only easier to use in service of the sorts of arguments these people build than some dry AD&D tome, it's so poker faced that even real journalists are likely to miss its humor.

It is quite possible that sabby is correct and I am entirely missing the point of Power Kill but considering that even he admits a vehement desire to not share it with non-gamers I think my point (however marginalized and ham-handedly expressed) is still valid enough to leave here.

I really disagree with the previous writeup, since it seems to miss the point of Power Kill. Power Kill isn't a pop psychology take on gaming, it's about rethinking your standard responses to typical gaming scenarios. This is John Tynes here. You know, the guy who wrote Unknown Armies, which would make Power Kill's analysis of your character determine that you would need to be shot on sight. (He has the game which became Unknown Armies on his website at http://www.johntynes.com/rl_newinq.html ) What's even more fascinating is that you can buy Power Kill as part of Puppetland in paper form. Puppetland describes a world filled with psychotic puppets, who killed their marioneteer and use his skin as a disguise to fool the other puppets. (See the Puppetland node for more detail!) If that doesn't describe a sick and twisted game, I don't know what does. He's also responsible for Delta Green and a ton of other Call of Cthulhu stuff. (You'll just have to read that node to see why THAT could be called sick and twisted.)

In Power Kill, you don't have a character. What you have is a character sheet marked "DIAGNOSIS: SCHIZOPHRENIC PSYCHOSIS." Then the Game Master asks you a few questions which you answer in character. For instance, "How many times a month do you find yourself in genuinely life-threatening situations?" I don't know about you, but my Cleric/Paladin in the game that I play today would have to say at least once per day, making it a minimum of 30 times a month. When you observe that statement without the knowledge that I'm answering as a roleplaying character, you would think that I am an extreme nut. You also answer, "Have you ever taken personal possessions from a corpse?" Heck, all the time. In fact, in my group of six, I was the only one who had any personal objections about raiding the tomb of the mummy where we obtained my very nice magical sword. (The animated corpse was evil. My god told me so.)

Then after talking about that, the Game Master would then have the character recount some of his past adventures. After the player describes what the player saw (as the Dungeons and Dragons Wizard or whatever), the Game Master describes a similar "real life" scenario. So, you might say that you defeated a camp of orcs and recovered stolen treasure from them. In real life, however, you entered a shanty town and killed the inhabitants, and then pocketed all the portable loot, such as drugs, cash, and so on.

Examine the world through the eyes of your character, you see monsters whom you kill and take their stuff (most FRPG, but especially Dungeons and Dragons). Or you're a vampire, and you drain the life from legions of blood pets (Vampire: the Masquerade). Or you're an investigator, examining and wiping out cults who are bent on summoning dread elder things that no one else can comprehend (Call of Cthulhu). Every one of these settings has you play a character which would be considered a fringe element in modern society. In fact, to quote the original document "Stripped bare of themes and story arcs, RPG sessions consist of endless variations on the life of a criminal."

The game doesn't suggest it's bad. It's quite telling that one of the character archetypes he should mention is "occult investigator," since he worked for Chaosium, makers of Call of Cthulhu, which is the big occult investigator game.

Does it have a solution to this "obvious" problem in the game? No, not really. It's intended to make you examine what "programmed responses" are written into your game, and whether or not you want to continue them. Your first response to seeing an orc encampment is to slaughter the inhabitants. But, are orcs just generic bags of experience and gold? (See Orkworld for another take on this whole "bag of experience and gold" problem.) Or can you negotiate a treaty with this camp? And why is it that you're in mortal danger every gaming session? Is this a line of work your character really needs to be in? Shouldn't he be home taking care of his family? Or if he's a cleric/teacher/soldier/etc doesn't he have some sort of responsibility to the community? The answer isn't always going to be "You're right, I should quit adventuring?" But, your RESPONSE to the question tells you something about your character. John Tynes is a game designer. First and foremost. But, he's got a sense of humor. And with this satire, he tries to bring your gaming to a new level.

I got a reply from John Tynes, which I will repeat here. (I also tried to convince him to come on over to E2 and post his own reply. The whole E2 thing would appeal to a game designer, I would think. Heh. Doesn't sound like he is on his way, but doesn't sound like he blew me off either. Maybe we'll get a visit.)

Hi Daniel,

Well, thanks for the note. :) I can't get too worked up about it--people get PK or they don't, and the ones who don't are usually pretty entertaining to watch. But I appreciate you taking the time to show me this stuff.


<- John Tynes - john@tynes.com - http://www.JohnTynes.com/ ->
Consensus is for people who are afraid of responsibility.
And cowards only innovate failure.

Ok, let me state for those who may think otherwise: I'm not insulting the author of the previous writeup. If you see my daylog under June 3, 2002 you'll see that I talked to him privately after the writeup. I did jump to John Tyne's defense because the man does have talent. Just like any other game designer (and programmer), however, it takes a certain amount of hubris to think that YOUR words are important enough to be set down upon paper. So, Erik Fish is right when he says that John Tynes may be saying things with a smug superiority. All of the good game designers look a bit arrogant when you don't know them.

I didn't think that the previous writeup captured what the true meaning of the game was about. I also had to write to the author for two reasons: 1.) I wanted to make sure that he was being ironic. Sometimes I miss the point of things. 2.) Gosh, I just love getting email from game designers. And John Tynes wrote me back the next day. I mean, how cool is that?!

For future reference: Go out and find the game "Violence" and write a review about it. Power Kill and Violence are both similar in tone in their parody of roleplaying in general. They're often linked in reviews. In addition, there's another RPG book which is currently out called The Munchkin's Guide to Power Gaming, which is a bit less dark. Finally, Mongoose Publishing will release a new "Slayer's Guide" dealing with Rules Lawyers. So, the parody of gaming in general is going full force.

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