Custom Playbook: The Synthetic

  • 29 Replies


  • 777
Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« on: November 17, 2010, 11:05:14 PM »
G'day Gang,
One of my on again-off again players wanted a playbook that wasn't really out there. An android. A droid. A replicant. A Synthetic.

This is my take on it. I wanted it to be slightly alien and off putting, outside the 'normal' setting of AW, somewhat like Quarantine. I also wanted an inbuilt 'timebomb' as self-awareness overtook programming, and the inevitable slave/master, be free from your design paradigm.

Any and all advice or critque are most welcome, and my PDF-fu is crap, so if someone wants to take the challenge and design a professional looking playbook out of it, be my guest!

The Synthetic
Sartre used a dialectic in Being and Nothingness, when describing how the world is altered at the appearance of another person, how the world now appears to orient itself around this other person. But is a Synthetic person human? What is Human? I'll Be Back, Therefore I Am. Why are you here?

Creating a Synthetic
To create your Synthetic, develop: name, look, stats, moves, A.I. gear, and Hx.

Ash, Andy, Bot, C3-P0, Cherry, Roy, Zhora, Pris Leon, Deckard, Bishop, Borg, Terminator, Replicant, Skin-Job, Cylon, ED-209, Android, Nexus, Toaster, Data, Murphy, T-800

Man, woman, androgynous, machine, droid
Metal Skin, Real Skin, plastic skin, no-skin, high-tech skin
Glowing eyes, vacant eyes, throbbing eyes, piercing eyes
Metal face, plastic face, skull face, beautiful face, damaged face, no face
Metal Body, framework body, plastic body, real body, strong body, sexy body, functional body, high-tech body
The Synthetic begins as an emotionless machine with an anthropomorphic metal, carbon fibre or plastic endoskeleton, complete with an internal power battery and A.I. CPU ‘Brain’.
You will need to recharge from a power source for a few hours each day and ‘shutdown’.

More advanced models develop an external layer of living tissue so that they resemble a human being. The most advanced models are genetically engineered creatures composed entirely of organic substance.

A basic Model has its Stat Block with all values @ 0.
Upgrades can modify Stats.

You start with 5 upgrades, one of which must be a program.  Choose from the options below and note changes to the Stats. You may install more through improvement.
-Built to Kill: +1 Hard, + 1 Cool, +1 Armour, -1 Weird -1 Sentience
-Built to Fuck: +1 Hot, +1 Sharp, +1 Weird, -1 Hard, -1 Sentience
-Built to Work: +2 Hard, +1 Cool, -1 Hot, -1 Sentience
-Built to Talk: +1 Sharp, +1 Cool, +1 Hot, -2 Hard
-Built to Design: +1 Sharp, +1 Cool, -1 Hot or -1 Hard
-Encoded -1 Sentience
-Specialized +1 to Hot, Sharp, Hard or Cool
-Bulletproof Endo Skeleton +1 Armour
-Powerful Servos – Increased Strength +1 Harm in melee
-Strong A.I. +1 Sentience
-Memory Implants +1 Sentience, +1 Weird
-External Layer of Living Tissue +1 Sentience
-Genetically Engineered +1 Sentience. You Eat, Drink, Shit & Bleed.
-Everlasting Power Unit – no need to recharge

Programming effects your purpose, your reason for being. It allows you to access basic and specialised moves, otherwise you are acting against your programming.

Each Basic Program Package costs 1 Upgrade.
Programmed for War, Go Aggro, Seize by Force, Act Under Fire
Programmed for Pleasure, Seduce or Manipulate, Read a Person, Read a Sitch,
Programmed for Technical Specialty, Act Under Fire, Read a Sitch, Open Your (positronic) Brain
Programmed for Diplomacy. Read a Sitch, Read a Person, Seduce or Manipulate, Open your (positronic) Brain

Additional Basic Programs (moves) cost 1 Upgrade each

Prime Directive
This is your purpose, your reason for being, your immediate goal. You don’t choose it, one of the other players does as detailed in Hx. Tell them to choose one:
•You are to Terminate one of the other Characters.
•You are to Protect & Hide one of the other Characters.
•You are to Serve & Obey one of the other Characters.
•You are to Build or Create Something.
•You are to Collect or Catalogue Something.
•You are to Destroy or Dispose of Something.
•You are to serve the Hardhold, protect the innocent and uphold the law

You may also have a hidden directive that you do not know about.

If you fufill your Prime Directive and are at a loss, Ghost in the Machine may give you some guidance.

Why are you here? Sentience is a Stat, and encompasses the Synthetic’s association with such human traits as consciousness, sapience, self-actualization and awareness. It also melds the concept of Artificial Intelligence: It’s what makes you tick. Like other Stats, it ranges from -3-+3. But begins at 0.

The basic Synthetic isn’t empathetic or ‘human’ in character, and as their Sentience increases, become emotionally unstable. They may have a built-in lifespan to prevent them from developing their own ‘emotional responses.’ This is especially necessary for models whose intellectual capacity (Sentience +2 - +3) at least matches those of their genetic / robotic designers.

Basic Moves
You get these two moves:

Hasta La Vista Baby! Your Terminal Lifespan rears its inevitable head. At the start of each session roll +Sentience:
On a 12+ these are your end times. You know the truth of your existence. Ask the MC any questions about your design, maker, programming, purpose or directives. Do you act with a purpose?
+1 Ongoing to any move and you can choose the result (including 12+) of any available move once during the session. If you don’t construe your shutdown (retirement) by the end of the session, the MC will.
On a 10-11 You can feel the impending finality. Hold 2. Ask the MC a question or two about either your purpose, programming, hidden directive or maker and they will answer with detail. If you act on the answers, spend a Hold for +1 to the move, or to nullify acting against your programming. Mark Experience.
On a 7-9 You Hold 1. Spend it to nullify acting against your programming.
On a Miss you are none the wiser about your Synthetic Story.

When you act in synch with your programming, you are acting With a Purpose, which covers all your programmed basic and specialist moves. If you are also acting in accordance with your Prime Directive, you are Focused and carry +1 Forward.

Conversely, when you attempt a basic move you don’t have access to, you are:
Acting against your programming Roll + Sentience:
10+ Do it! Roll for the move as written and mark experience
7-6 You Do It, But….Choose 1 prior to rolling for the move.
On a Miss you do it, but at what cost? all 3 take effect.
-You reboot – default systems check. You hesitate, a time critical incident occurs.
-Your burgeoning emotional instability causes an Internal Logic Conflict  - this entitles the MC to give you a move-related  ugly choice, worse outcome or hard bargain.
-You can’t manage the override without suffering 1 AP (self) harm in the process.

and choose one more:

More Human Than Human:
Some Synthetics were engineered to tolerate extreme environments.  When you take Harm from an environmental stress, Roll+Hard: on a 10+, you ignore it, on 7-9 you take -1 Harm, and on a miss you take +1 Harm.  Note that this does not work for attacks like gunshots, but may work for chemical or electrical attacks at the MC's discretion.

Fuck the Three Laws of Robotics:
In the final analysis, people are the problem.  You dish out +1 Harm when fighting humans.  

Ghost in the Machine You access your deep processing for guidance on the current situation.
Roll +weird to see what your circuits (the MC) directs you to do.
On a 10+ mark experience and take a +1 Forward if you do as instructed.
On a 7-9, take a +1 Forward if you do as instructed and act under fire if you don't.
On a miss, act against your programming if you don't follow your deep processing.

You get Not Much, unless your build requires you too:

Built to Kill:
•1 Ranged no-nonsense weapon (these can be inbuilt)
-magnum (3-harm close reload loud)
-smg (2-harm close area loud)
-hunting Rifle (2-harm far loud)
-sawed off (3-harm close reload messy)
•1 Close Combat Weapon (these can be inbuilt)
-police baton (2-harm hand messy)
-many knives (2-harm hand infinite)
-sword (3-harm hand messy)
-taser (s-harm hand)
•Armour worth +1Armour (you detail)

Built to Fuck:
•fashion suitable to your look, including at your option a piece worth 1 armour (you detail)
•oddments worth 1 barter

Built to Work:
•equipment needed for your work (you detail)

Built to Talk
•fashion suitable to your look

Built to Design
•specialised toolkit (you detail)

Everyone introduces their character by name, look, and outlook.
List the other character's names.
Go around again for Hx. On your turn:
- One of the characters is your Friend / Master. They know your programming – tell them. They Know your Purpose – Tell them. They know your Prime Directive – They tell you, as they helped you to understand your reason for being. Tell them Hx+3
Tell everyone else Hx -1 They are afraid, derisive or treat you like a toy.
On the others' turns, choose one or both:
- One of them is curious about you. Ignore what they tell you and write Hx+1.
- One of them is part of your Prime Directive. Add +1 to whatever number they tell you.

At the end, find the character with the highest Hx on your sheet. Ask that player which of your stats is most interesting and highlight it. The MC will have you highlight a second stat too. (Sentience can be highlighted)

Harm & Healing
Synthetics take harm just like regular folks, they just may feel it slightly differently. Roll the Harm move as normal.
Note that some Synthetics have actual armour, both inbuilt and external.
Angels can only heal Synthetics with the Living Tissue or Genetically Engineered Upgrades. Other Synthetics need to find a specialist NPC as determined in the rules.
Debilities occur as normal, Synthetics can also choose to take:
Memory Wipe – Lose one Program
Circuitry Collapse -1 Sentience

Synthetic Special
If another character imparts an upgrade, by design or arrangement, you mark +1Hx with them and hold 1. If they get into shit, either you or they can spend it and you are there with a purpose.

Synthetic Improvement
Whenever you roll a highlighted stat, and whenever you reset your Hx with someone, mark an experience circle. When you mark the 5th, Improve (Upgrade) and erase.

Each time you improve, choose one of the following. Check it off, you can't choose it again.
Other Programs may be available which replicate specialist moves from other playbooks. Each such programmed move costs one upgrade.
All Upgrades / Programs require some crap (tech) and knowhow (workshop) as pre-requisites to the purchase.
All Upgrades / Programs are:
You also need the services of a tech/savvyhead and their workshop - this will always cost you.
When they go into their workshop and dedicate themselves to your Upgrade / Program the MC will tell you “sure, no problem but….” and start with 1 condition. Some upgrades cost more than one condition which are connected with an ‘and’.
•Basic Program Packages cost +1 Condition
•Programs from other Playbooks +1-3 Conditions
•Ever lasting Power Unit +1 Condition
•Powerful Servos +1 Condition
•Bullet Proof Endo Skeleton +1 Conditions
•Basic Builds cost +2 Conditions
•Memory Implants cost +2 Conditions
•Strong A.I. / External Layer of Living Tissue cost +2 Conditions
•Genetically Engineered costs +3 Conditions

__install one Upgrade
__install one Upgrade
__install one Upgrade
__install one Upgrade
__install one Upgrade
__install a move (program)
__install a move (program)
__install a move (program)
__install a move (program)

« Last Edit: November 18, 2010, 07:58:30 AM by noofy »

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2010, 12:29:26 AM »
The names list should include "Cherry"

This may not be the way you want it, but if I were to play one I'd like the ability to become effectively (or actually) human.

It feels to me like there's too much work for advances - it makes sense that you need to do it to do it, but invariably making the character buy something hard to get for every advance seems pretty mean.



  • 157
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2010, 12:43:15 AM »
It's a very cool idea, but I feel like it's covering too much territory, both the Bladerunner Replicant and the Terminator, and it ends up being a little muddled that way. 

The playbook should also, IMHO, have these moves:

More Human Than Human:
Some Synthetics were engineered to tolerate extreme environments.  When you take Harm from an environmental stress, Roll+Hard: on a 10+, you ignore it, on 7-9 you take -1 Harm, and on a miss you take +1 Harm.  Note that this does not work for attacks like gunshots, but may work for chemical or electrical attacks at the MC's discretion.

Fuck the Three Laws of Robotics:
In the final analysis, people are the problem.  You dish out +1 Harm when fighting humans. 

I mean, this is Apocalypse World, of course a robot PC is going to have mechanical incentives to go Berserker and destroy all human life. 



  • 777
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2010, 04:09:49 AM »
Thanks Danny,
Love those moves! Amended and included. I also agree with your analysis that there is too much encapsulated in the brief, like what Ron was saying about Bret's Faceless: Once you start you just want to fit everything in!

That given, I guess to pare it down would be to focus on the replicant /android side of things. More human than human you know? Any suggestions?

I was thinking of keeping the builds / programs, but scrapping the other upgrades and just having a generic 'base replicant model', where stats (including sentience) are improved via experience rather than upgrades. Reflecting the emergent 'humanness'. Thus at +4 Sentience you become effectively human and have no need of programming any more?

Yeah, advancement is a wee bit hard huh? Maybe it only needs the synthetic to expend experience and justify the upgrade within the narration (make AW feel real) rather than a Savvyhead / Tech move and payment? Though I do like the idea of Synths hounding a poor techie (a la Sebastien in Blade Runner).

Thanks for the advice gents!

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2010, 04:33:13 AM »
Maybe a move like this?

Modular If a savvyhead or techie does some upgrade work on you, or you find some gear you can attach to yourself, mark experience.

I'm not sure about that one, but maybe something along those lines would be nifty.

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2010, 02:30:43 PM »
Yeah, like Mike I like the idea a lot, but I disagree with the rules for advancing.  I think in the book it talks about "prescriptive" and "descriptive" advancement, right?

Like the Driver PC in my game could get a new car by spending in-game time and moves to find some old heap in the junk piles and get the help of the Savvyhead PC to fix the thing up and once it's all done I, as MC, go "Yeah, okay, put the new car on your character sheet."  OR he can get a new car by earning an advance and taking the Collector move.  Boom.  New cars.  Of course we talk about how they were acquired in the fiction, but I'm not going to make him spend time and make moves and such.

I feel like that's how getting new upgrades and programs for the synthetic should be.  He should be able to work for stuff like that in the story by pursuing it with moves, but if he buys them with advances it should, more or less, "just happen."



  • 157
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2010, 07:55:00 PM »
Well, maybe the "need a Savvyhead to keep you going" flaw could be one from a pick-list.  I almost feel like the Synthetic playbook should have you stat up your package the same way you'd create a Hocus Cult or a Holding --some good stuff, some bad stuff. 

I was thinking about the limited lifespan aspect -- this is something that historically hasn't worked really well in RPG's.  At RPG.Net it's called the "Juicer Problem" because the same thing comes up with Juicers -- they're supposed to trade elite combat skills for a short lifespan, but it doesn't play a role in the game. 

So maybe the Synthetic should start at the point when their countdown is almost done, so they have to fight mental and bodily decay every session -- like the fortunes roll, except if you miss, you take a debility.  I think that would keep the advancement more problematic -- you'd have to choose between spending XP on improvements and trying to fix the ravages of time. 

Finally: in the Hx session, I like the idea of another PC being the Master, but I don't think the text should assume it's a friendly relationship.  Maybe the Synthetic has been serving as a night watchman or executioner or manned a pump for the Hardholder PC, he's been a living tool.



  • 777
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2010, 08:39:37 PM »
All good suggestions lads!
This may just get off the ground. I'm still processing and trying to coalesce the goodness. Any changes, I'll note and respond in turn to each of you. Thanks!

If you have anything more in the meantime, please share.

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2010, 09:20:23 AM »
This is neat.

Savvyheads in general should be able to work on and heal non-biological Synthetics (or maybe all of them.)

'Hal' should be on the list of names.

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #9 on: December 04, 2010, 10:25:13 PM »
Sorry to resurrect this, but I've been behind the times, and I had a quick thought as I just now read through it:

At first, I was a bit leery of the 'countdown' effect of the playbook necessarily having an endgame of "you go nuts trying to be human and you die/explode/whatever", and I saw that someone recommended "Sentience +4 = fully human", but I realized the game's already got you covered! You can take the "choose a new playbook" advance to show that you've become effectively human! But there's the tension of melting down before that to keep things interesting.

Anyway, just thought that was a neat intersection of some of the source material and the existing AW rules.

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2010, 01:10:57 PM »
I just wanted to mention, I think the move should just be called "Screw the Three Laws".  Shorter, punchier, and seriously, who has to ask "Which Three Laws?" given this setup?



  • 777
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2010, 06:01:53 PM »
Yes! Exactly. You push and Push to choose a new playbook and become human Vs an increasing tension as Sentience Increases and the Hasta la Vista move rears is hypnotically ugly head. That was my intention, but I have not the articulation you posess in spades.

On a game play note, Alex has been playing with his Synthetic - Roy, built to fuck and a complete cad! He's exploring his sentience through meaningful encounters with other players sex moves. Awesome.

Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2010, 08:11:25 PM »
I kind of think the whole "Sentience" mechanic is a mistake.

It's kind of dull to be all like "What makes something human?" "How human am I?" "What does it mean to be a human being?" and then be like, "Oh, there it is, +2 on my sheet".



  • 157
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2010, 05:07:36 PM »
Yeah, how is the sentience mechanic working for him?

Also, I was thinking about the source material and I was wondering about explicitly tying the Synthetic to a Threat in the game, maybe as an option.  For example, start off knowing only that your Synthetic character is built to collect information, and later discover that he was meant to be the scout for a coming robot invasion. 



  • 777
Re: Custom Playbook: The Synthetic
« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2010, 06:24:44 PM »
Yeah Siomon, in retrospect the Sentience has the feel of an 'add-on' (which it is!) to an already tight ruleset. Custom moves are one thing, but the additional stat just seems to be an enforced mechanical measure of what has intrinsically become in play - colour.

Alex has mentioned (as a player) that the cool thing about AW are the moves. In this regard, he says the Synthetic gives him other options as compared to the other playbooks, and the whole sentience thing is not really at the top of his agenda. So far (after two sessions) Hasta la vista has given him 7-9's and he's used the holds to act against his programming. Huh. No real big deal. Its almost as if the countdown holds no real 'threat' for him.

Since his Prime directive is to 'collect and catalogue the depth and breadth of human sexuality' he's had much more fun screwing (metaphorically and literally) the various denizens of our Sunken Sydney, and has alluded to his creators legacy as a yet unknown threat.

Acting against his programming has worked really well as a move in play thus far, and greatly added to the story (especially since most results were misses or 7-9's), and seems to be the only real constant reference to Sentience (in play), so in light of scrapping Sentience as a Stat, perhaps it just becomes Roll+ Upgrades taken instead? Following on from this, Hasta La Vista gets scrapped and replaced with the standard 'Open you (positronic) brain...' in order to get answers about the Synthetics background.

Hmmmm. This whole playtesting / tweaking thing is hard (but fun!) I know there is a workable playbook in there somewhere.

Thanks for all the help and feedback gang, its really apppreciated. :)