Playbook focus: The Angel

  • 8 Replies


  • 262
Playbook focus: The Angel
« on: September 19, 2013, 08:01:05 AM »

When you’re lying in the dust of Apocalypse World guts aspilled, for whom
do you pray? The gods? They’re long gone. Your beloved comrades? Fuckers
all, or you wouldn’t be here to begin with. Your precious old mother? She’s
a darling but she can’t put an intestine back inside so it’ll stay. No you pray
for some grinning kid or veteran or just someone with a heartshocker and
a hand with sutures and a 6-pack of morphine. And when that someone
comes, that’s an angel.

The Angel is a post-apocalyptic medic with access to golden age medical equipment able to revive even DOA's. As other characters is depending on him to treat his injuries, he has a chance to see them at their most vulnerable. He is a primarily Sharp character, with a claim to Hard, a good Cool and a low Weird, (or vice versa if you'd prefer.)

My take on it

Being an Angel sucks. On a fictional level, you are trying to care for people in a world without resources, without social security and satuated with violence and brutality. That's as it should be. On a game level, you aren't really given tools to act proactively in the world. That's a problem that should be adressed.

I could make a case for every playbook being the most powerful one when playing on their strengths, but not the Angel. His strength is caring for the sick, that can't really be played on. It solves exactly one problem: Sick people. You can't really use that for power, you can't use it to blackmail, mind-control or conquer.

Hey, wait, that's the key, isn't it? That's why they call you the Angel. You're not into the power play. You still have the faith or dedication or empathy to dedicate yourself to caring for others.

If anything the Angel has taught me to find and focus on the importance and challenges of every playbook. So, the Angel can't be a power player in the story about who will control the valley, but he can be the spotlight on a different level, like a hero in hospital drama, yeah? So make that as important, interesting and challenging as the politics and feuds of apocalypse world.

Create compelling relationships that Angel care about, that motivate him to action, to help those in need. Create challenges that the Angel can work proactively on, like battling the stagnant water supply, the nanobot disease, the cheap Hardholder or the Chopper raiding caravans of medical supplies. Create resources that makes the Angel cool and helps him to work proactively, like authority over people working for him, the respect and service of the general populace, and strong NPCs who owe him a big one for saving their lives.

For a good example on how to do this, take a look at The Sunken Sydney one-shot scenario, where we basically set up the Angel as the hero, with skills highly relevant to the scenario, their own boat and potentially an infirmary from the start. The Infirmary move is almost mandatory if the Angel is to build a story on his endeavour to fight a large scale health problem. Consider giving it to the player for free. Make it your objective as an MC that the Angel should have his hands full with shit that feels relevant and important, not just when someone has been shot.

I really envision the Angel as standing up for the little man, the local community, taking a stake and getting involved in the fate of people around him.

And there is one thing that the you get as the Angel, and no-one else: You get to save other characters' lives, care for them when they're the most vulnerable, get to know a side of them that no-one else will.

What if you'd like to play a cruel, power-hungry or generally fucked-up Angel? Of course you could, but that would mean you'd lose your most important strengths: The respect, the trust, the close relationships, that good feeling in your gut for doing something good and important.
Angel – It's a thankless job!

About that feeling: I work in public health, which can be a lot of stress and frustation. Now imagine doing it in the post-apocalypse! But whether you're stressing over underfunding under a capricous hospital board, or stressing over having to do surgery with eating utensils for Fuckface the psycho Hardholder, there is still meaning to what yo do. Deep down, you know you're right, and that they are wrong. You know you're doing what's right, and damnit, you'll get it done. Not for Fuckface, but for the patient.

Why the Angel is the best playbook to play:
You get to be the good guy. You get to have the moral high ground.

What it brings to the world of the apocalypse:
Humanity, morality. A moral touchstone, if you wish to, for everyone else. And with the Angel in play, other characters' wounds has to be cared for by a PC with agency rather than an NPC among many.

Fundamental scarcities of the playbook:
To reiterate: Give the Angel social influence so he can be proactive. Give the Angel possibilities so he can be proactive. One thing you could do is to give the Angel a little imaginary workspace, so you ask the Angel what he wants to do, and the Angel tells you that he wants to make ground water drinkable, so you answer ”Okay, but you'll need some time to examine the bacteria, you need 4-barter worth of material, and you'll need Rex to help you” See my focus article on the Savvyhead why the workspace is so great.

Try out the Bond for Apocalypse World rules, they're better than the original Hx rules, and they give a more powerful boon for medical care – By the end of the campaign, the Angel could have a permanent +3Hx with everyone.  And while I'm linking to house rules, check out these visceral harm rules.

Moves and crap analysis:
Did you know that the Angel has two +1hard improvements? A +2hard really helps driving through with that righteous ambition to protect the downtrodden and save the injured.

Healing touch and Touched by death is an interesting combo for a -1weird angel. Vincent writes he makes it his personal mission to bring an Angel with healing touch to +2weird. Sound advice. Touched by death is really cool that way, in that it is huge flag asking the MC to lay the death and the drama upon you. And once you're at +1weird or +2weird, a whole new batch of moves open up to you, Visions of Death in particular sticks out to me.

Sixth sense and Battlefield grace are good to help the Angel function in the world, but not very exciting to talk about. Professional compassion has a cool name, but I'd rather use the Bonds rues and get the Angel to high Hx/Bonds with everyone else instead.

Moonlighting is available to you as an improvement. Great way to get more involved with the community!

If you have an ambulance, stuff those medical supplies in the trunk and get Daredevil and A no shit driver. I think a car + A no shit driver should be in the list of improvements for the Angel.

Disciplined engagement is cool. Go aggro with +2hard, when they suck it up you can hit them for 1-harm and then ask again. Bonefeel is probably a lot more useful for a medic than a technician. Scent of blood is a possibility for a die-hard medic. You dont have to be fighting just because you're at a battle, you know.

Visionary and Towering presence if you want to play up the Touchstone angle.

Just like the Gunlugger, the Angel might come more to its fullest potential as a second playbook for the character, rather than the first. You switch to the Gunlugger when you're desillusionised with kindness. You switch to the Angel when you're desillusionised with violence and power.

Relationships and dynamics:
Good questions to ask: Why are you an Angel? Who sets you up with your angel stock?  What do you absolutely have to fix right fucking now? Some questions to humanise and connect the Angel with people and the community, if that's the route you want to take: What is your secret fear? Who depend on you? Who do you depend on? What could you change for the better?

The Gunlugger and the Chopper might be your best customer, or at least a source of customers. Tension might ensue. The Chopper in particular, not only does his gang terrorize the landscape, they brutalize each other!

The Hardholder is an obvious boss, but try to avoid the simple boss-underling dynamic, make sure to preserve the Angel's independence and add some other important people in the hold, like the quartermaster and the gang lieutenant for a dynamic of ambitions.

Working for the Operator could be made more interesting and dynamic. The Savvyhead is a good match in that you could do some cool cross-discipline work, trying to improve or exploit the setting. And everything I wrote about the ambulance, yeah, you could just team up with the Driver instead. How is that for a game? Operator, Savvyhead, Driver and Angel!

The Skinner is also a playbook depending on social power, a game with a Skinner and Angel could potentially explore the nuances of that more deeply. The Maestro 'D can be a completely far out character, but can also work to ground the game more in reality, seeing as even our world has Maestro 'Ds and Angels, or rather bartenders and doctors.

The Brainer is a kind of anti-thesis, what with them being weird and exploitative. In one game, we actually had a kind Brainer with Healing touch, masquerading as a doctor. The Hoarder can also be a great nemesis, with great love for things but no love for people, if medical supplies is a part of the hoard it takes whatever rivalry or co-dependence there is up a notch. Could be real interesting, and elevate the story of the Angel and the Hoarder both.

The Touchstone is the paladin to your cleric. So I've painted the Angel as a moral touchstone throughout this article, but the Touchstone (released later) is explicitly the moral touchstone of Apocalypse World. However, I feel the Angel does that job in a more subtle and satisfying way. First of all, the Angel heals instead of fights, and second of all the Angel doesn't have powers that say ”I'm the morality”. It's a lot more humble. I wouldn't use both playbooks in the same game.

« Last Edit: September 19, 2013, 11:44:13 AM by Arvid »



  • 378
Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2013, 12:18:40 AM »
Well done! The Angel in my current campaign is a big power player, but she established herself early on as caretaker to the Hardholder, and her clinic is the main source of drugs in the community (an important commodity). I think you're dead-on in that this playbook requires some in-setting work for it to really sing.

Teamed up with a Savvyhead, the Angel can really do some cool stuff. Mine have formed a team and work on peoples' brains through the maelstrom. Neat!

Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2013, 04:15:05 AM »
Great stuff, once again!

Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2013, 07:52:36 PM »
His strength is caring for the sick, that can't really be played on. It solves exactly one problem: Sick people. You can't really use that for power, you can't use it to blackmail, mind-control or conquer.

If you can't use the ability to save people's lives to blackmail someone, you probably aren't trying very hard.

Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2013, 12:02:19 AM »

It's also worth mentioning that the Angel is the only playbook that can get Sharp+3 (the Driver can operate at Sharp+3 in her car only) prior to their sixth advance. They are by far the most competent playbook, when it comes to understanding people and situations and (consequently) solving problems in a sensible way. The sharpness of the Angel plays in to their general frustration, I would say, as things that seem obvious to them are likely to escape most of their fellow apocalypse-dwellers.



  • 157
Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2013, 03:25:27 AM »
This is an easy character type for the GM to jerk around, since you can plausibly invent sickness and injury anywhere you like in the apocalypse.  It's easy to pair them up with other PCs or NPCs since the Angel can ride shotgun with almost anybody who's likely to get hurt or likely to encounter the injured during their travels -- which is pretty much everybody. Like the Skinner, this character tends to have trouble determining who's being friendly because they actually like them, as opposed to who just wants access to their services when they need them.  The ambulance or infirmary are great things for this playbook -- unlike the Savvyhead's workspace, where they tend to have solitary fun until the MC finds a way to lure them out, the Angel's infirmary is a natural hub of activity and drama.  McCoy from the original Star Trek is a great angel -- emotional, wise, irritable, demanding at times. Think of all the shit McCoy did in the show and you'll have an idea of the Angel's range. I work in the medical field, so I like the Angel a lot because I think it feels a bit like an actual EMS does.  I still remember the beta-version Angel who had this whole fiddly minigame with chillstabs and blood supplies, if you have a game with only a few players and one of them is an Angel, you could get a whole lot of mileage out of the Angel's struggles to maintain his/her supplies.

Here are some ideas I came up with to create complications for the Angel:
--they have to take care of an injured prisoner that someone else wants to interrogate/kill/liberate
--they're faced with a public health emergency and have to get the authorities to enforce a quarantine or keep people from going  in the water or drinking from the river, that sort of thing, pissing many people off
--one of their crew, or an important NPC, is hooked on chillstabs and keeps stealing them or trying to buy them from the Angel even though they're needed to treat patients
--the angel is asked to help out people in another community who don't have a doctor or whose doctor can't handle the load -- but the hardholder insists that the angel charge a massive price or their services, with the hardholder taking a cut
--they have an ill patient who is hateful to them, or who will do awful things if they recover their health -- do they fulfill their duty to this patient, or to the community?  I actually put this in a game, with an ill old man who knew the secret of turning soldiers into blood-crazed zombie warriors. Unfortunately, I neglected the game and it died before we found out what would have happened.

Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2013, 01:57:24 PM »
I look to Doc Cochran from Deadwood as one way an angel can be realized.  An idealist in many ways, but also practical when necessary.  I think the balance of optimism with despair, and idealism without naivety.

Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2013, 12:18:27 PM »
DannyK, I'd make it even easier than that:

"ThreeDog came into your infirmary yesterday with a touch of whatever's been going around lately. . . say, what is the biggest threat to public health around here?"

Then let them tell you what kind of things they're interested in facing on the medical front.



  • 262
Re: Playbook focus: The Angel
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2013, 04:33:35 PM »
Oooh, I totally should have put Doc Cochran and Leonard McCoy in the youtubes!