Guide to creating new playbooks

  • 10 Replies
Guide to creating new playbooks
« on: January 21, 2012, 06:12:29 PM »
I heard someone request a guide for creating new playbooks, and I thought it might be a neat thing to work on. I'd encourage the participation of anyone interested.

Here's my thoughts on such a guide:

1. Vincent Baker is a smart dude. You should listen to him.

2. New playbooks shouldn't be strictly 'worse' or strictly 'better' than the starting playbooks. 'worse' and 'better' are subjective terms, but you can probably agree on negative examples such as "Like the Gunlugger but better at killing" or "Like the Skinner but more limited in concepts"

3. The LE playbooks are pretty well designed. They're in the ballpark of what you'd consider a good playbook (but not unfalliably so.)

4. Think of a playbooks moves as individual entities outside of playbooks that anyone could take for an advancement. In most cases, again, they shouldn't be strickly 'worse' or 'better' than existing moves, and they should be -roughly- on par with the functionality of other moves.

So, on specific notes:


Each stat line balances to +3
The first +2 counts as +2, but a second +2 counts as +3.

The battlebabe exception: If its really a big deal how Cool or Sharp your character is, you can give them a +3 to those stats at the start and treat it as them using up their required move. Don't make it an actual move, because it should be hard for the other characters to be Cool and Sharp (But its already easy to be Weird, Hot and Hard)

The driver exception: If there's a really cool move and really cool gear tied to the character that gives them a wide range of stat bonuses, maybe they should start off with slightly worse stats, like +2.


The standard set of advancements are:

2x get a move from another playbook

2x get a move from this playbook

1-3x get a particular move (or a workspace) that gives your character more external power + the stuff tied to it (Wealth + holding, Fortunes + followers, Moonlighting + gigs, gang + pack alpha/leadership, workspace + crew)

3-5x stat bonuses (to max +2, except for your main stat(s?), which goes to max +3)(Probably a good range of stats, but you could double up a stat if it seems where the character is headed)

If your playbook is already tied to external power, like the Hardholder, Hocus, Chopper or Operator, give them 1-3 options to change that power.

Quarantine exception: If the playbook is someone who is -becoming less of what they were-, than maybe it makes sense to not allow them to take more of their own moves and give them more take other people's moves.



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Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2012, 08:17:00 PM »
Oh man. Can we talk new playbook theory here? Like, the stuff that we think makes the difference between a playbook that's okay and a playbook that's good?

Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2012, 08:34:00 PM »
Just some quick off the cuff thoughts:
Its been mentioned that there's an underlying priority system, a la Shadowrun, underneath the basic books and presumably the LE books. From my best guess, everyone gets Secondary everything by default. To do better at one thing, you have to do worse somewhere else.

Breaking it down, its something like this:
Statline primary: total of all stats is +5 with one at +3
secondary: total of all stats is +3
Tertiary: total of all stats is +2
In all cases, a second +2 stat costs as +3. However, a character with stats primary can have a single +3 at a cost of +3. No stat below -1.

This is really sticky since its difficult to work out the balance. My best guess is like this.
Primary: You start with three moves. Most of your moves either use your primary stat, allow you to make some basic move with your primary stat or provide a general bonus to your character's focus. (Quarantine, Touchstone, Hocus but see below)
Secondary: Is the default. You start with two moves, they largely give you options with your primary stat, allow use of a basic move with your primary stat or provide a non-roll bonus to your focus.
Tertiary: Either you have a full complement of moves but they largely don't revolve around your high stat or you have only a few moves which revolve around your high stat and exist mostly for the benefit of your crap. Whichever it is, you get 2 to start.
The Death clock exception: If either A) You can not take your own moves as an advance or B) You can lose advances permanently through certain behavior then you can raise your Moves by one rank.

Crap: This is not just gear but any starting non-move ability. The Angel Kit, the Touchstone's "go among the people", gangs, holdings, followers, workshops, Gigs and Juggling etc.
Primary: You have crazy cool stuff and you can improve it in play. The Chopper and the Hardholder get it at the expense of Moves. The Driver gets it at the expense of stats.
Secondary: Either you have kinda-crazy cool stuff or you have a few neat things. If you have kinda-crazy cool stuff, one or two of your moves are tied to it (Maestro'D). Otherwise you have kinda normal crap (a couple of weapons, some armor, some barter) plus something really neat (the Gunlugger's big gun, Touchstone's token, Savvyhead's workshop, Angel kit etc).
Tertiary: Pick one of the two from secondary - either you have one big thing with a move tied to it or you have normal stuff plus one neat thing but not both. (Hocus)

Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2012, 01:21:18 PM »
This is great stuff guys. THANKS!

I've been mulling over a playbook for the last couple weeks, and I think this thread will really help me cement some ideas. :)



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Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2012, 05:53:04 PM »
I usually follow the rule "everyone gets three cool things".

A thing is a move, special crap, a vehicle or high-tech gear, a gang...

A group of people + a move to control them counts as 1-2 thing(s).

Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2012, 09:17:53 PM »
Some comparisons on the three things idea.

Except for the Hocus who gets gets three moves and followers (four things) but doesn't get basic gear. So you could say that all the basic crap collectively equals one "thing".

Similarly, the Chopper gets four things - two moves, a gang and bikes for the whole gang. The Hardholder gets two moves, a Hold and a Gang. Both of them pay for it by having no other moves, though. They get gang/holding boosts instead.

The Maestro'D is the odd one. She gets two moves and a venue, but that venue doesn't provide much mechanical advantage itself. Some of her moves require it. If there's a gang, the Maestro also has a noticeable lack of Leadership/Pack Alpha.

The Brainer gets a lot of cool stuff. 5 barter, two brainer gear bits, a fancy weapon and two moves.

Like I said, its a bit harder to breakdown the internal logic behind stuff than it is moves and stats.

Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2012, 05:44:59 PM »
DWeird: I think that could be really helpful! I'd say go nuts but I would have a few suggestions:

1. Be mostly positive. Focus on stuff that you want to see more of. People can feel discouraged when they read that an idea they like is bad. Encouragement usually works better than discouragement.

2. Be constructive. If you're going to describe something you don't like, describe it as specifically as possible, and provide reasons why you don't like it.

Here's a post about how I judge playbook themes:



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Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2012, 04:07:26 PM »
Those things go without saying as far as I can tell!

So, here's my take on what's worth doing as a playbook - first off, it has to be something that hasn't been done before. Which is harder than it seems! The first-generation AW playbooks do a pretty good job of covering the bases and it's hard to squeeze in a basic concept that's not already covered by one of them in some way.

As far as I can tell, there are two ways to go about finding space for new playbooks - look for game mechanics gap you can fill or try and create a second generation playbook, one which assumes familiarity with first generation playbooks and adds a serious twist unique to that one playbook that changes how we approach the Apocalypse.

So, gaps in game mechanics! Let me try to explain this by an example - the Skinner. Of the original playbooks, it was the only Hot-based playbook. What this meant was that, via the choose-a-move-from-another-playbook, the game mechanics space a Skinner could explore would be pretty limited - there was a move you could take from the Battlebabe, and maybe some moves to your non-core-stat that other playbooks could be doing better, and that's pretty much it.

So the Maestro'D takes that game mechanics gap and fills it - now, across it and the Skinner, there is a whole range of Hot moves that you can take, broadening the possible game mechanic-y combinations characters could take. But note - the Maestro'D doesn't really change the rules of the game - what's on that playbook is mostly a combination of things that are on other playbooks and not much more. Whether the Maestro'D is in or not is not a game-changer.

For example, my own playbook, the Abacus, attempts to be one other such gap-filling playbook. I figured that, between the Battlebabe and the Operator, there aren't really enough Cool-based moves to play around with a character. So I took a look at the possible descriptors of 'cool' and tried to find one that isn't covered by the existing playbooks. I found one, 'cool=rational', and built a playbook around that, best I could.

When you're doing a gap-filling playbook, your main job is to respect the space you're working in, I think. Which means a bunch of little things that I only kinda-sorta feel, but here are a few I can actually verbalize. First, your moves have to be ones other playbooks could take - it's easy to make rules that are only usable by your character (see early iteration of the Metal Beast/Juggernaut, for example) or make the coolest move on your playbook also be the coolest move on an already existing playbook (any fighter-type playbook with a reskin of NTBFW, I'm looking at you).

Second, your moves should respect the stat that they're based on. This one's more of a taste thing, but here's two opinions of varying agreeability. First one is... if you make a straight manipulation move that's based on Hard, it's a mistake -  not because you can't make fictional sense of it (rugged, strong-willed people=sexy, why not?), but because it messes with the mechanical stat economy somewhat, allowing a Hard person be good anything from violence to facing danger to gathering information to being sexy. (There's a workaround, of course! Weird playbooks don't get to roll Weird to seize by force, but they can get a bunch of conditional violence moves, so you could do a conditional Hard manipulation move with different requirements or outcomes to a straight manipulation roll).

The second thing, for me at least, are Sharp-based playbooks that allow an option of +3 Sharp and a whole lot of awesome moves, anything from violence (roll +sharp to seize by force!) to social (+sharp to seduce!) to special-effect, on top of the thing that the basic sharp moves are about - giving every other moves bonuses.. Giving Sharp cool moves doesn't respect it's place amongst the stats - it's a meta-stat that gives bonuses to other moves, and it works great as that. That's the reason the first generation Sharp playbooks don't get cool sharp moves and get cool gear instead to balance it out. Sharp as a stat isn't a doing-things stat, it's a setup-a-move stat.

So filling gaps with playbooks is hard! You have to see a gap, which there aren't that many of to begin with, plus you have to fill it without breaking the overall balance of the stats.

The other option is to forget about most of that stuff and just go as wild as you can. Basically, instead of trying to work within the limitations set out by first generation playbooks, you take them as a given and bolt on something entirely different, making a good and proper second generation playbook. Look at the Quarantine's psi-harm rule, or the thing that allows him to answer questions about the Apocalypse, or the Touchstone's thing that allows him to walk among the people, respected and loved by default (I don't have the Grotesque, but my guess is it does a similar thing). These playbooks are game-changers, you include them and what what the Apocalype is about becomes different.

If you do one of these, you need to go bog crazy with your inspirations (living incarnation of the maelstorm! Alien overlords here to see you through the mess you made!), and then enforce them in your writeup either through special rules (psi-harm), gear (your symbol is...), or writeup (when you walk among the people). That can be easy or hard, depending.

I don't know if there're lessons to be learned about this type of playbook - each one of them is supposed to be unique, conceptually and mechanically, after all.

Now the problem with these is that any of these playbooks, just by virtue of what they are, is that they are show-stealers and the game will eventually revolve around them, one way or another. So what you do is build in dependencies on other characters - that's why the Quarantine has the advice move and starts out alone, instead of knowing all she needs to know and being surrounded by a powerful infrastructure ready to support her. Make them needy and dependant, and they'll naturally try to rope in whatever other players they can into their future, to fun results.

So yes! Working within first generation playbooks and respecting the limitations or working outside of them and respecting them as-is and bolting on something new and cool on instead.

And... There's also the Faceless, which isn't really a snugly fit for this way of splitting things up. Don't have anything to say about how it works or why, though.



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Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2012, 02:19:31 PM »
I think people have offered some really good advice so far mechanically, and I can only add a few metagame thoughts:
  • A playbook shouldn't be dramatically better than the existing one in its mechanical or narrative effect.
  • Some ways to balance a playbook include explicit disadvantages or vulnerabilities like the Chopper or Hardholder, narrowness of focus like the Gunlugger, or dependencies on other parts of the setting, like the Maestro 'D or Skinner, who require some kind of functioning society to do their thing. 
  • It's nice to have built-in hooks to the setting and characters, like a crew or hideout, starting gigs or obligations.
  • I like to mentally check off a new playbook against each of the existing core playbooks.  If this character is in a scene with a Gunlugger, for example, are their roles narratively and mechanically distinct? 
  • Is this playbook going to annoy players or the MC OOC?  Go easy on Moves that require tracking lots of modifiers or holds. And while mind control is part of the whole AW setting, I don't think mind-controlling Moves should get much more invasive or obnoxious than what the Brainer has.

Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2012, 03:35:41 PM »
Mind controlling or otherwise influencing PC's has a nice mechanic in the current moves. With the exception of Towering Presence and Go Aggro (advanced, 12+) its always a carrot and stick approach. Either the target PC gets a bonus for going along with it or a penalty for trying not to. So they don't have to do what they're told but there's a +1 or a Mark Experience to encourage it. In my personal experience as a player, this actually makes it fun to be controlled every now and then.

Edit: I'm also probably going to experiment at some demos next month with hold tokens. In a full game they'd have to be color coordinated to keep better track of what is what but it strikes me as a great visual reminder of what you've got waiting to happen. Most PCs are only going to have one type of hold anyway, so it should be more convenient than a pain.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2012, 04:26:49 PM by nomadzophiel »

Re: Guide to creating new playbooks
« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2012, 06:10:40 AM »
Edit: I'm also probably going to experiment at some demos next month with hold tokens. In a full game they'd have to be color coordinated to keep better track of what is what but it strikes me as a great visual reminder of what you've got waiting to happen. Most PCs are only going to have one type of hold anyway, so it should be more convenient than a pain.

Completely aside: I did just that with nondescript tokens and the players naturally kept their holds on their trifold, right on the place where the corresponding move is written down. But most holds evaporate after the situation anyway (read a person or deep brain scan eg).