Concocting a Fun Power System

I did say I was having fun with this, recently.

Anyone who knows me should be aware that I love me a good Shounen action show/manga. It’s just such a fun style to mess around with and one of the biggest things defining that trait is the unique power system of the world in which the story takes place. Worldbuilding is my jam. I can spend hours – days even – just fleshing out minute details of the worlds of the stories I’m developing. And I love little more than getting to show off that world in my actual writing. And as I’ve recently been working to flesh out as many key details about the characters and world of Burning Sky as possible, I recently had the pleasure of taking another look at the interesting power system therein.

I’m obviously not going to spoil any of the specifics, here. But if you want a little taste of what you can expect, three short stories, as well as nine whole chapters (plus an epilogue) of Burning Sky Prelude are available for free on our main site. So check those out when you can! But yeah, in the world we’ve created, the power system is, for the most part, pretty deceptively simple. There are a lot of moving parts, but there’s also a lot of overlap in places you probably wouldn’t expect, making the whole thing really easy to understand. And I think that should always be a goal when creating the power system for any world. It should be something digestible that isn’t going to overwhelm your audience. But obviously that isn’t all.

Voyager’s 3 Criteria

Personally when I develop the power system for a world, I tend to take sort of a Game Design philosophy and try to first think about what I’m creating that system to fulfill. I have three criteria. But just because the power system is designed with one foremost in my mind, doesn’t mean it can’t also fulfill the other criteria to a lesser degree. They are:

  • To create a fun, engaging, dynamic way for the characters to interact in their clashes.
  • To inform and add depth to the world through history that reflects how things developed this way.
  • To act as a storytelling device by having the system represent a greater thematic purpose in the story.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that in Burning Sky, it was a clear case of Option 2, but with a medium dose of Option 1 and a light sprinkling of Option 3. There are a lot of ways to attain power in this world, and it was really fun coming up with so many characters with so many wacky, zany, totally insane-y abilities to bounce off of one another. But the biggest thing, for me, was making sure that the power system of Gaea really reflects what the world has been through. What could cause all these different forms of power to need to exist? Why is the distribution of some of these abilities weighted so differently in different regions of the world? Things like that. I think a well-crafted power system can actually be a fantastic way to teach your audience about the world they’ve chosen to engross themselves in.

Power Systems Are All About Rules?

Well… no.

I’ll just make this clear. In writing, there are no rules, only guidelines. Anyone who tells you a power system must have a set of hard rules is probably too caught up in the idea of writing, itself, needing to have rules. Obviously, chaos need be controlled. Don’t take that advice as me telling you to just throw caution to the wind and go wild. I only mean that once you do learn the “rules” (guidelines) – meaning you’re familiar with them, their inner workings, and why they’re such strongly held beliefs to begin with – then you may proceed to bend or break them to your heart’s content.

“Are you saying that Burning Sky’s power system doesn’t have any rules?”

HA! Oh lord no. Burning Sky has more rules than I can shake a stick at. It’s possibly the most structured power system I have ever created. But that was necessary to an extent, because I wanted each route to power to have its own unique identity, which meant things had to be a bit more defined. That being said, there are certain elements of chaos. But nothing like a few other stories I’ve had in the pipeline for ages, where abilities were just “whatever cool abilities get introduced in this arc through a new enemy/ally,” after which I’d find a way to roll with it. Funnily, I don’t really think that particular style is actually any more difficult to understand than the one here, though. I think when you have a more chaotic system – a la Dragon Ball Z/Super (where, let’s be honest, the only hard rule is that ki and magic are not the same thing) – things can often be just as easy to understand, if not more. Because you don’t have a lot of arbitrary red tape. It’s very pick-up-and-go, in that sense. Some series don’t even do that. Characters just have wacky powers inexplicably. And for the sake of balance, rules aren’t part of a greater system, but each individual character might have their own unique set of rules that govern their abilities.

Rules in power and magic systems essentially exist to avoid the looming threat of the dreaded “Deus Ex Machina.” An ass-pull, essentially. And it’s a valid reason to institute such a thing. Does every power system need to have hard rules? No. Would it be beneficial for the abilities of the characters to have rules, even if there’s no greater system dictating them? Yeah, probably. You can have something where there are just no rules at all, but at that point you’re either doing it for some greater storytelling purpose… or you need to take a step back and rein in your excitement a little. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, don’t inundate your power system with such intrusive rules that you restrict your own creativity. If a power system isn’t fun, you might as well not be using it at all.

Let’s Be Honest. We LOVE Those Talks.

You know the ones. Comparing the different abilities of characters in-series or just theorizing about how powerful a character “truly” is, and what fun applications their powers can have that haven’t been shown yet. What if the writer thinks of the same thing as you?! Eeeee! We’re all geeks here. And we undoubtedly enjoy that kind of thing. And guess what? We writers love it as much as anyone else. I can’t begin to tell you how many times we’ve been chatting about the abilities of certain characters and just got derailed with thoughts of if that character could take on another, or what some really cool stuff could be that they might pick up later, with a little more experience. It’s a blast. I think one surefire mark of a really great, memorable power system is that you devolve into a squealing fangirl and rambling nerd about it from time to time. No shame here.


And that’s my bit. Sort of a short post, but it was a fun one to write and a fun one to think about yesterday, while I was ironing out some stuff. I really can’t wait for you guys to get to fully immerse yourselves in this world we’ve made and start experiencing the adventure for yourselves. Hopefully you’ll have those little nerd-out moments like us, the dorks who wrote it. Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, Stay healthy, Stay awesome,
Voyager

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