Playbook focus: The Brainer

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Arvid

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Playbook focus: The Brainer
« on: August 13, 2013, 10:12:01 AM »
Varje tisdag och fredag postar jag en artikel om en av Apocalypse World's playbooks. Idag har turen kommit till The Brainer.

[size:23pt]The Brainer[/size]


Brainers are the weird psycho psychic mindfucks of Apocalypse World. They have brain control, puppet strings, creepy hearts, dead souls, and eyes like broken things. They stand in your peripheral vision and whisper into your head, staring. They clamp lenses over your eyes and read your secrets. They’re just the sort of tasteful accoutrement that no well-appointed hardhold can do without.

Brainers are post-apocalyptic psychics, with the ability to read and twist the minds of others. Their primary stat is weird, and they tend to be creepy outcasts. They also have a lot of barter and powerful gear.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2Hkb1UHmSM
Psycho Mantis

My take on it:
My god, what's not to love about the Brainer? I don't even know what needs to be said about them, more than any playbook I think it speaks for itself. Just look at the words coming out of this playbook: ”weird psycho psychic mindfucks”, ”unnatural lust transfixion” ”preternatural at-will brain attunement”, ”direct-brain whisper projection”, ”in-brain puppet strings” ”pain-wave projector”, ”violation glove”. To me, these words communicate everything, in a clinical and science-speaky kind of way. While the Hocus is religiously weird and the Savvyhead is intuitively weird, the Brainer is clinically weird.

The game paints the Brainer as an outcast, inhuman, separate from the rest of humanity. Not strange really, if you look to what the brainer do, they fuck with brains. That is in itself creepy and inhuman! What would it do to you to be able to read and manipulate other people's minds? It would turn other people and their minds into tools that could be used, into means rather than ends in itself. Just like bodies can turn into mere business for someone working with modeling or surgery, seeing bodies every day, seeing how they work, learning how to make of them what you wish, minds and souls would turn into business for the Brainer. ”Kindness”, ”Rage”, ”Fear”, ”Madness” and so on would no longer be the existential stuff of life, but rather just words, qualities that could sometimes be beneficial and sometimes an obstacle for the goal of your current mindfuck project.

So the question is rather, can you make a social and kindhearted brainer? And would you enjoy it? We had a nice and kind brainer in one of our games hiding her powers and posing as the Angel, which also worked, as it created another kind of alienation and solitude through lies and charade. But I feel that alienation should always be a part of the package, mind control should never be an ”okay” thing. The Brainer special move is excellent for this purpose: When the Brainer sleep with someone, he reads them with a deep brain scan, whether he wants to or not, making ”normal” intimacy impossible to the Brainer, and whatever intimacy that comes from getting to know someone this way will be weird and always coloured by invasiveness.

So, accept your mindfuckness and revel in it!

And now, music!

  [video:youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I[/video]
Bad Romance

[video:youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw[/video] 
I fink u freeky

But also, explore it. What sides of the Brainer are strange, what sides are human? Is there sexuality, curiosity, fear, love, pride, shame, passion or coldness? You're playing the brainer, we are all curious about your character and we want to know! So be prepared to delve into your own mind as well.

And there is the power, of course. You don't even have to figure out how to make your character creepy, just set him up with a clear motivation, things he wants, and then have him use the tools available to him to pursue these goals. Since his tools are creepy, that will make him creepy. If your Brainer doesn't want to be creepy, that'll make it tragic, too!

Why the Brainer is the best playbook to play:
Ultimate power! You get to control peoples' minds! Either mind-control them for your own benefit, or charge others highly for your services. You also get to do weird crazy shit and revel in it, and you don't need any other excuse than ”I'm the Brainer!” So, knock yourself out! Or, if you're the introspective kind of player, you can play the tragic angle instead and really get to explore the tragedy of your characters existence! And finally, you get so much barter and so much hi-tech gear, it's awesome. And finally, as a high weird character, you get a big say in how the maelstrom works.

What it brings to the world of the apocalypse:
Creepiness. Innocence and loss of innocence. Powerful technology artifacts. Also, one great thing about Apocalypse World is the power assymetry. Like, the Gunlugger takes down anyone in a one-on-one fight, but the Hardholder has an entire hold to back him up, while the Hocus is everything for her followers, and the Skinner has social power. Adding a Brainer to the mix adds a whole nother dimension of power: Mind control.

Fundamental scarcities of the playbook:
The Brainer needs a purpose beyond just weird behaviour. Like, either there is a struggle for humanity and acceptance, or there is just insane weirdness to the core, which is fine too - then you can explore the method to the madness, how the psyche of your brainer works. Just madness for madness sake will become hollow and empty fast. There also needs to be a balance, the Brainer should be neither a popular cheerleader or completely alone. He needs a friend or two, or at least some subordinates or superiors. If he is a complete creep there is also the possibility that the other characters will get enough of his mindfucking and wipe him out. I'd love to see a completely balls to the wall Brainer though, who amasses puppets and meatshields out of NPCs, and push hard to establish himself as a local a warlord no matter what anyone else thinks of it.

Moves and crap analysis:
I think Vincent nailed mind control with this one. First up is Unnatural lust transfixion, which lets you seduce people with Weird instead of Hot, and Casual brain receptivity where you can  read a person with Weird instead of Sharp, and you just have to look at them. So, both of these are basically taking the architecture of the game that is already there and saying, ”You can do this really competently, and it's psychic”.

Then there is Deep brain scan which let's you find out other peoples secrets and weaknesses, if you have time and intimacy with them, setting you up to exploit this in your next moves.

Direct-brain whisper projection and In-brain puppet strings lets you command people through telepathy. They have a choice though, if they don't follow your command, they take harm for it. Now, I really like this, first because it avoids falling into complete mind control, which in my opinion is boring/bland/alienating to the other players. Secondly, because it jives with me as a psychologist to imagine brain control as a voice in your head saying ”You must go and fuck up Brace”, followed by a overwhelmning and acute feeling of anxiety and dread that some great but undefined and vague catastrophe or harm will come to you if you don't. That's pretty close to how severe anxiety can manifest, and since anxiety is a somatic experience, I feel this take on it touches on our human conditions in a way. I like it. Kind of OCD mind control, except the whole fuck people up-part.

The Brainer also start with 5-barter (a lot!) and some pretty sweet gear. Someone said on Barf forth apocalyptica that every time a Brainer has been in play, the player chose violation glove, because, hey... ”Violation glove”. It lets you bypass time and intimacy and just mindfuck people right there. 


Violation glove, by Sunamori, for Luxe eternal

Me, I'm in love with the pain-wave projector. Hits everyone around you except you for 1-harm armor piercing. Suffer, bitches! Implant syringe and receptivity drugs makes your moves more potent against the target. Brain relay lets you use your powers at a distance, opening up for some pretty creative mindfuckery. Deep ear plugs protects the wearer from all brainer moves and gear, so you can give them to a friend before you unleash the pain-wave projector around you. Except for that I'm not really sure what to make of them, unless there are NPC Brainers. Then they'd be hella sweet.

As for other playbook moves, you could take Merciless from the Battlebabe playbook. Suddenly, your psychic shit does 2-harm instead of 1-harm, meaning it'll straight up kill anyone who gets in your way! Opposing your whisper projected commands = Death. Botched in-brain puppet strings = Death. Pain-wave projector = Bloodbath. Or Impossible reflexes, also from the Battlebabe, and reskin it to weird-ass psychic bullet protection, Akira-style.
Lost from the Skinner playbook or Bonefeel from the Savvyhead are good moves to set up secluded brainfuckery, or you could get Frenzy from the Hocus playbook to propel your weirdness to truly epic proportions. Or maybe Infirmary from the Angel because oh god noooooo

Relationships and dynamics:
Tto start exploring mind, humanity and relationships in the Brainer, ask him things like ”Who is precious/scary/confusing to you?” ”Where did you come from?” ”What is your recurring dream?” ”What would you never do to anyone?” ”What is the kindest act anyone has done to you?”

The Angel is your opposite in a way – Unweird, grounded, somatic and probably a nice guy or girl. You could set up some real antagonism there or, may God have mercy on us all, team up in secret.

If you're in a group with a Hardholder, they can't live with you, and can't live without you. Have fun! The Operator is also a potential employer, or the Chopper, if your character is truly an outcast of the hold. Friendship with The Maestro D' or the Skinner, or dependance on their drugs/performance could both highlight your humanity and be a nice excuse to get out and meet people.

The first thing I would do when playing Brainer in a game with the Savvyhead in it would be to ask him to make me all the sweet gear I missed out on at character creation. The next thing would probably be building maelstrom-powered devices bordering between technology and psychology. The third thing would probably be the Savvyhead building anti-brainer protection and weapons. Lot's of fun to be had, in other words!

I have a hard time seeing a Brainer co-existing with a Hocus. They both claim to define weirdness, but in different ways. My guess is you'll have war over subjects (pawns) or a war of intrigue, maybe the Brainer infiltrates the cult?

And what about the Faceless? You'd have this:



The Driver, this:



The Hoarder, this:


Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2013, 11:27:40 AM »
For my players this is the most picked playbook (and it was the first playbook I played myself). 4/6 brainers I've MC'd wore some sort of diving equipment, what's up with that?

I always saw the Brainer as a dark mirror to the Skinner. Both apply overwhelming control over people's emotions and literally occupy their minds. The brainer steals your secrets and forces you to comply so you fear and hate her while you fall in love with the Skinner and you want to do things for her but she doesn't really have control over you.

What I've yet to see and would be super interested in is a Brainer who founds a hardhold. Like, how would that turn out?

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Lukas

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2013, 11:53:12 AM »
The Skinner or the Quarantine, whose sex move is the exact opposite of Deep brain scan.

Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2013, 01:49:13 PM »
The thing that made me curious is why the brainer starts of as a rich kid with 5 barter?

Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2013, 04:46:46 PM »
We adressed it in one game and decided the brainer (the enforcer of the hardhold) had a friend selling tinfoil hats in the hardhold that were supposed to make you immune. And they sort of do since the brainer doesn't want to ruin the scam.

Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2013, 01:02:19 AM »
What I've yet to see and would be super interested in is a Brainer who founds a hardhold. Like, how would that turn out?

Pretty poorly, in my group's experience. The Brainer was so used to dealing with people as tools/pawns that he had no time or real inclination to manage the lives and daily welfare of his (drug-addicted) hardholdlings. They would come to him with their problems or in need of instruction and he would be like 'what the fuck, figure it out yourself, I'm busy being a Brainer here' -- that ended predictably poorly.

Though in the end, the character's final advance in the game was to become a Hoarder, who chose 'people' as the things he hoarded, as part of his behind-the-scenes takeover of the game's primary hardhold (whose leader had abandoned it.) It made a lot more sense to imagine the character operating behind the scenes, using his psychic/hoarder mojo to determine where people best 'fit' within the 'hold and elevating competent people to leadership positions, rather than operating as an actual iron-grip or nurturing-type leader.

(This wasn't my PC, so possibly if Johnstone is around he might have more to say about this.)

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Arvid

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2013, 05:45:55 AM »
The thing that made me curious is why the brainer starts of as a rich kid with 5 barter?

Quote from page 37:

Quote
If you're charging someone wealthy for your services, 1-barter is the going rate for: one successful deep brain scan; one in-brain puppet command, upon its execution; one week's employ as kept brainer.

Easy money!

I could picture the Brainer as a greedy collector or detached and uninterested in the physical reality - Barter is a side-effect to doing mindfuckery, so it tends to pile up. Or s/he just whisper into peoples brains to give him/her their barter.

Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2013, 09:02:14 PM »
What I've yet to see and would be super interested in is a Brainer who founds a hardhold. Like, how would that turn out?

Pretty poorly, in my group's experience. The Brainer was so used to dealing with people as tools/pawns that he had no time or real inclination to manage the lives and daily welfare of his (drug-addicted) hardholdlings. They would come to him with their problems or in need of instruction and he would be like 'what the fuck, figure it out yourself, I'm busy being a Brainer here' -- that ended predictably poorly.

Though in the end, the character's final advance in the game was to become a Hoarder, who chose 'people' as the things he hoarded, as part of his behind-the-scenes takeover of the game's primary hardhold (whose leader had abandoned it.) It made a lot more sense to imagine the character operating behind the scenes, using his psychic/hoarder mojo to determine where people best 'fit' within the 'hold and elevating competent people to leadership positions, rather than operating as an actual iron-grip or nurturing-type leader.

(This wasn't my PC, so possibly if Johnstone is around he might have more to say about this.)

It turned out badly because when you're a Brainer and you get a hardhold, you get the one from the back of the book, and it comes with ZERO tools for defending it from the MC. So if you haven't developed those tools already (and the Brainer has no reason to develop them until he has a hardhold) then you either drop everything else that you're doing and work on them, or you let your hardhold stay vulnerable and take care of other business. In this particular game, I had a bunch of shit to do and didn't have time to actually develop the holding and protect it from stuff. Switching to hoarder was way better, but that's where we ended the game so I didn't get to actually play with that situation.

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Scrape

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2013, 02:22:46 PM »
The Brainer's Deep Ear Plugs serves two purposes. Obviously, to protect you from npc brainers, if that's a thing. Less obviously, to protect your friends from you. And think about them from a bartering perspective: what wouldn't someone do to be free from this creepy fucker's control?

Also, maybe those earplugs protect the Brainer from Augury and similar moves. We decided that was the case, in a game with a Brainer, Hocus, and Savvyhead. The Hocus ended up capturing the Brainer and violently tearing those plugs out so he could Augury-isolate the creeper, just to finally have some peace.


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DannyK

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2013, 01:20:28 AM »
In my Gaga game, there were a Savvyhead and a Brainer, and one of the things I did during the first session was have the NPC Hardholder ask the Savvyhead how those anti-Brainer devices were coming along.  This created full-blown paranoia in the Brainer's player, not just the character, and worked wonderfully well at splitting them up and creating PvP tension.  In general, the Brainer seems to be pretty easy to split away from other PC's.  If I were playing one, I'd seek to become best buddies with someone like the Gunlugger or Quarantine early on.

The Brainer's greatest vulnerability, I think, is that the whole Brainer gig is something of a paper tiger; yes, you can screw with people no end, interrogate their brains and implant commands, but if you go too far, you'll discover that four guys with guns and shivs are more than a match. This is such a classic situation, it even made it into the rulebook as the example of combat.  I wonder if the pain wave grenade was created for just such a situation, it's the Brainer's best defense against being dogpiled by angry citizens. 

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Scrape

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2013, 02:12:50 PM »
I would strongly recommend that a prospective Brainer player talk with their MC at length about the playbook, its role, and their vision for the character. It's very easy for a Brainer to turn into a caricature or become aimless. I've seen three Brainers in play and only once did they effectively get involved with the other PCs. It's real easy to fall into the Lone Outsider role, and hard to engage that role sometimes. Something to look out for.

Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2013, 07:06:29 PM »
I would strongly recommend that a prospective Brainer player talk with their MC at length about the playbook, its role, and their vision for the character. It's very easy for a Brainer to turn into a caricature or become aimless. I've seen three Brainers in play and only once did they effectively get involved with the other PCs. It's real easy to fall into the Lone Outsider role, and hard to engage that role sometimes. Something to look out for.

The Brainer in my recently ended game had this in spades. It was at least partially my fault; the rules say to "identify where there not in control, and push there" and I was never able to do that in satisfactory way (though of course, its kinda hard to do that when they don't really seem to want anything other than to be weird). I think the game would have been improved drastically if we had had a conversation during the first session about what his vision for the character was.

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Scrape

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2013, 03:39:04 PM »
Yeah, the example text in the book presents a Brainer that is more or less a normal person, with relationships and daily concerns. But the playbook text heavily emphasizes the mindfucker weirdness of the Brainer and it's too easy to make The Joker or something. Worth discussing for sure.

Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2014, 06:19:02 PM »
Best game I ever ran (not just Apocalypse World game, but Rpg campaign ever) had a Brainer and a Hocus as the main characters and a Hardholder as support. The two worked amazingly together as allies for and then against the Hardholder. Just goes to show you any characters can be united under a common foe

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As If

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Re: Playbook focus: The Brainer
« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2014, 07:17:48 PM »
I'm running a game with a Brainer and a Hocus as well, they are definitely the outlier characters in the campaign.  My Brainer player is an RPG newbie.  It took 4 sessions to get the two of them to meet the other PCs.  It took 3 sessions to develop a backstory for her, because there are so many vagueries (where do Violation Gloves come from, what status do Brainers have in the world, etc).  But it's working out great, because they both keyed into the Maelstrom pretty quickly.  That allowed me to link them together in a way, even though they were physically separate, and I use their visions to drop clues about the major local NPCs that will eventually cause complex collisions to occur, one way or another.

To MCs: If you are in this situation, be patient and let the maelstrom guide you. :-)  One thing I found really helped in character detailing was asking the question: "How are Brainers viewed by the rest of society?"  This question, because it involves everybody's point of view, turned into a group discussion in which we collectively figured out the answers for our world.

I'm not gonna write your world for ya, but we established pretty easily that IF there was a class of people who could read peoples minds and even make them do things, they wouldn't be held in very favorable regard by the population at large.  So in our world, Brainers are like a very loosely-connected underground network of autonomous (and poorly-socialized) individuals who keep their talents a secret almost all of the time.  In some places they are persecuted in religious witchhunts.  In others they are dissected or experimented upon by curious Angels or Savvyheads.  You do NOT want to walk around wearing "I'M A BRAINER" on your T shirt.

While trying to think of an allegorical class of oppressed or distrusted people, we decided that openly being a Brainer (in our world) would be roughly like being an openly gay black Wiccan in the South in the 1950s.