Playbook focus: The Savvyhead

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Playbook focus: The Savvyhead
« on: September 13, 2013, 01:27:47 PM »
Jesus, these things just keep getting bigger!

If there’s one fucking thing you can count on in Apocalypse World, it’s:
things break.

The Savvyhead is an inventor, a mad genius. His moves emphazise intuition and spookiness, and his defining feature is the workspace, which lets him potentially build, discover or engineer anything. His primary stat is Weird.

My take on it
First off, I love the workspace! It's almost like a little MC move and principles package in itself: Have the player tell you what they want, then offer an oppertunity and a cost for doing it. What is so awesome about the Savvyhead is that given time, he could potentially solve the apocalypse with his workspace – And I definitely feel he should give it a shot!

So, the first thing to do as a Savvyhead, unless something more urgent pops up, is to tell the MC ”I want to stop the acid rain” or ”I want to reverse the grey goo that's eating up our land” or ”I want to neutralize the technohound threat”, or ”I want to control the maelstrom” or what have you. The MC will tell you what you need to do, and it'll surely require risk, time, resources and intel or contacts, but hey – you're on your way to save the world.
History's greatest Savvyhead certainly tried to save the world.

Alternately, if utilitarism is not your thing, tell the MC ”I want to build a battlestation to take control of this sad ravine”, ”I want to make a maelstrom-based spy drone system to find out everyone's dirty secrets”, or ”I want to build an army and/or harem of cyberpuppets”
”They're my friends, I made them” indeed

If you want it, if you're ready to work and suffer for it, you've got it! Even weird imaginative stuff that we would never expect to work or even exist. ”Hey, just how does this work? Eh, it's Apocalypse World!”

Vincent writes to the MC (The characters' crap page 248) that for a too difficult project, you might as well say no, but I feel you should always say ”yes” to the Savvyhead's projects. Actually, you are not just saying ”yes”, but saying ”yes, and...” and then you add to the player's idea with interesting and challenging steps to completing the project – It's the ultimate improv device!

Remember that huge projects can have nested projects consisting of expanding one's workspace (page 249) or creating prototypes or confirming working hyptotheses, and if the Savvyhead has to enlist the help of other characters, that's just a boon.

All too often when MC'ing Apocalypse World one shots at conventions I see the Savvyhead picked by a player who wants to hang back, stay out of trouble and relate to things instead of people. You could take this for a feature rather than a bug, since it gives the slightly timid and nerdy player some space to play in. But if you're relying on all of your players to be proactive in the fiction it could be a problem, and for the Savvyhead concept to really get going, I think it should be played boldly.

That the Savvyhead invites safe solo play is no surprise though. First we have th Hx options, which basically says ”I'm weird, leave me alone”. Then there's the workspace. I mean, the Savvyhead is defined by the tech-cave or tech-mobile he is holed up in. So, make sure you ask about how the Savvy keeps her workspace working, how does he get food, water, tech, and security from tech-stealing scumbags? Who helps him? Of course the workspace in itself gives golden opportunities for this: Go get this thing from this person, go get this person to help you, etc.

And also ask about the tech-cave, have the player make it a magical and eerie and interesting place that other players love to visit with their characters . I'm talking Willy Wonka shit here, or maybe rather Alice's wonderland shit. There are lots of weird characters, but the Savvyhead is defined by their space, so make that space weird too. Just as the church of the Hocus can be a horrifying, serene or awesome (in the classical sense) place, the workspace of the Savvyhead should be something special.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Savvyhead blurs the line between technology and mysticism, which I feel is a brilliant take on it, and somewhat unique I think. It's hard to find this archetype in western media, most often it's the mad scientist stereotype; I had to go to anime to find my film clips for this article.

And it's not just the typical electricity and cogs, the Savvyhead transcends that shit and also deal with relics, organics and stuff of maelstrom. The line between mystic and scientist is irrelevant to the genius of the Savvyhead. All weird characters have a heavy say in what the maelstrom is, but the Savvyhead most of all. Presumably driven by curiosity and mastery, the Savvyhead actually has a bid to understand, systemize and control the maelstrom.

Don't we all feel alternately comforted and mystified by technology? Right now I'm sitting in a local coffee house, writing this. I look around me, and most people sitting here by themselves are immersed in the glow of their smartphones, tablets and laptops, safe in the lullabys of gizmos and the digital music flowing out of the establishment's speakers. I look at my laptop screen. It's busted, a screw is missing and a lever is off, but it's hold in place with a bent paper clip, a clothes peg and some duct tape. The place has free wifi, but trying to connect to it does nothing, my laptop just searches for the connection, fails, tries another wifi located a few hundred metres away, don't ask me why as I've already removed that network from the settings, and then starts anew to my befuddlement.

I think the Savvyhead holds a special place in our technology-satuated society of today. Technology can't love you back, but it can soothe you and you can make it do exactly what you want as long as you're smart enough. Not like unpredictable real persons. Merge with it, and you're omnipresent. It's like the psychoanalytic mother; let her womb embrace you.

Here's some real nice existentialism (or at least existentiobabble) wrapped in technology:
Did I just link to the entire Ghost in the Shell movie? Oh yes I did. It's all good. Yeah okay, except the robotic fanservice maybe, but I'm sure you can make some kind of maternity-technology-sexuality parable out of it.

Why the Savvyhead is the best playbook to play:
With a vision and the endurance to push it through, you can save the world, or anything else you want to do. You get to be a weird visionary genius and enslave the maelstrom with your genius. Sure, everyone can open their brain, but you're a scientist, in some weird way, and can apply methodology to map out, contain and control the maelstrom. You have a big say in defining and exploring it.

What it brings to the world of the apocalypse:
A possibility. A rabbit hole into the maelstrom and beyond the maelstrom. A rabbit hole which can be explored. A chance to redefine this miserable burnt-out world, or maybe escape it.

A space in the world that is not just measured in miles or kilometres, just as space is just a matter of ”eat me” and ”drink me” in Alice's wonderland. Yeah, that's what your workspace should be like, a rabbit hole open to you and the other players to discover the wonders and horrors of science-mysticism. Even the prosaic works of the Savvyhead, like creating a surviellance and defense system, a food production or a way to cross the acid lakes change the very world the characters live in and the conditions they have to deal with.

Fundamental scarcities of the playbook:
So, there's a real risk the rabbit stays in his hole, that needs to be either addressed or the game needs to adjust. The playbook doesn't really communicate the aggressive, visionary play that I advocate in this article, and maybe it's not intended to either. Either way, I believe the Savvyhead if anyone should be proactive and fired up about his projects, ready to take an active role in the world, place himself in the social web that is Apocalypse World and adventure/negotiate/swoon/steal his way to the components and help he needs.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, just like the Operator, the Savvyhead needs some time for his projects to pay off, so there needs to be a certain scale of time to the game. In that way I get what Vincent is saying about nixing to difficult projects, there's no fun in working on a single project that never ends. Roleplaying needs to have continous feedback to be fun and interesting, so have the Savvyhead complete or get new things or possibilities continuesly, MC letters are good tool for giving the Savvyhead new toys, possibilites and problems. And if they want to make a single thing for a specific purpose, like a spy-droid, maybe they can complete it in downtime or a single day, just let them choose between spending jingle, owing Rolfball one and making a perilous journey, summarize the effects and cut to the end result, kind of like Moonlighting.

One thing you could try is to really boost the Savvyhead's output of stuff to make them a power factor in themselves. Like, here is King Barnum of Salt Flats, there is the oracle Lost whom the Maelstrom God speaks through, and over there is Honeytree and her devotees, and then there is Ozair, the guy with the mecha war-spider that hatches tiny robot spiders that latch on to peoples' heads and mind-control them. Or Leah, the gal who uses a machine to teleport wherevere she likes and steal peoples things, or teleport into their head and steal there memories. Or Spector, the ambigously gendered person who purifies water, which gather people from miles around them. Just remember to keep their kind of power something different from the power base of other playbooks in play (so the war-spider is maybe a bad example, what with the Hardholder and Gunlugger having military power) and not make it to easy to create tech that solves all the problems. Tech that creates new problems is okay.

Moves and crap analysis:
The Savvyhead playbook is one my favorites when it comes to the moves, on par with the Brainer and Battlebabe.

Bonefeel is an absolutely wonderful move to get involved in stuff, and then there's Spooky intense which lets you roll Acting under fire with +weird which is fucking A. Both of these moves encourage a Savvyhead that gets out and gets into interesting situations, which I feel is great. Take Spooky intense and Deep insights at character creation, and you'll be acting under fire like a Battlebabe! Oftener right also encourage you to get involved with other characters. Thing's speak is also a great move, both in terms of driving home the point of your mystic weirdness and the sheer flexibility of stuff it let's you do with it. Reality's fraying edge lets you deal with the maelstrom, that's the key to wonderland.

The workspace I've already talked extensively about, so let's move on to other playbook moves.

A no shit driver and Daredevil are cool moves if you want to pilot your inventions. My other car is a tank, and then put the workspace in there, maybe? Acquisitive eye and Appraising eye are good for finding sweet tech. Brainer moves are also a cool direction to take to play up the weirdness. Infirmary is a given, if the MC doesn't rule that you can already do that with your workspace.

Maybe take the Hocus' Seeing souls and embrace it? Make a strong point of getting involved and invaluable in other people's business and trouble. Combos in a great way with Bonefeel! Here comes the Savvyhead to the aid again, out of nowhere, in just the right moment and with the right tool. Or vice versa, here comes the Savvyhead to fuck things up, out of nowhere, at just the wrong moment with the tools he needs... again! What a fucking asshole!

Relationships and dynamics:
Help the Savvyhead getting out and meeting people. Don't just make the Savvyhead realize how awesome they are, but make everyone else realize it as well so they want to enroll savvy in their schemes. One simple way to connect the Savvyhead to others is to have him supply something they need at the start of the game, like chemicals, drugs, technology, electricity, or the like. That's not very interesting in itself, but it's a good spring board for setting up scenes with other characters and making NPC-PC triangles. Maybe the Savvyhead at one point has to choose between supplying the Hardholder or his lover for instance.

Ask questions about the workspace. Keep them perceptual, grounded in the senses or in symboles to evoke imagery and make it a fascinating place. Like How does it smell? What does it sound like? What is it like to sleep there? What is the first thing that catches ones attention when one walk in there? If your home/workspace was a creature, what creature would it be, a cold slimy woodlouse or a jungle-feverish tiger?

Ask questions about other characters to connect them, try to mix up Savvyhead relationship with Savvyhead projects to raise the relevance of both. Who relies on you? Who disturbs your work on your projects? Who do you love/fear/envy? Who are you making a gift for? What is the gift? Who has something you consider yours? Who usually comes over to visit your workspace? Who have you stolen a thing from, and how do you feel about that?

The Driver and the Chopper rely on motors, so there is a great match. They can also make expeditions to the radiated lands for the tech scrounge you need.

The Angel also easily becomes a lone progressive force. One thing I think could be interesting is to team up the Savvyhead and the Angel and have them take up a common agenda in a fierce way. Both have the job of bringing things/people in and fixing them, sometimes these things overlap. MC, allow them to do really crazy interesting stuff if they put both their minds to it, and raise the stakes accordingly.

The Operator is a great match for you, being a part of their crew is not as overbearing as working for the Hardholder. If you are the Hardholder's vassal, make sure you are part of the Hardholder's court so there are some different ambitions going around there, and not just a single guy telling you what to do. The Operator is also a good partner for brokering deals and the like, speeding up the progress and profit of your projects during downtime.

The Brainer, Hoarder and Hocus are interesting matches. You apply control to weirdness, is that something they benefit from, or does it create animosity? (Anti-brainer gear!) I can totally see the Hoarder and Savvyhead bickering over gizmos and constantly stealing from each other, they are, like, the worst roomies evar

A Savvyhead with a vision benefits greatly from having a Battlebabe, Gunlugger, Touchstone or Operator to help them out.

The Skinner? That's an interesting one. I suppose the obvious choice would be to use their relationship to highlight the contrast of someone relating to people and someone relating to tech. In other words, to play through your own trauma of being a nerd in love with someone who is hot and amazing. Yay!

In our last game, the Savvyhead and the Maestro 'D where mortal enemies, with the savvy representing progress and the maestro representing decadence. You could easily switch that around, if the Maestro 'D is feeding the poor and the Savvyhead is building doomsday devices and killer drones. Or put them in the same place for an establishment of engineered drugs and cyber-dreams. And then you start implanting mind commands in the addicted customers. I can only see great things coming from this!

Savvyhead + Quarantine? Game Over, you won, I guess.

Savvyhead vs Quarantine? That's really interesting! Like, the Savvyhead wants to get his hands on the Quarantines ancient technology for his own ends, the Quarantine uses his military abilities to resist. Let's say the Quarantine gets Followers, well-armed ones and the Savvyhead is a powerhungry sunnovabitch with the know-how for domination, the next thing you know you got killer drones and laser beams against guys in modern infantry armor and assault rifles, fighting for territory. Awesome.

Okay, this is silly and I don't know where to put it, but I want to include it, so:
« Last Edit: September 13, 2013, 01:33:47 PM by Arvid »

Re: Playbook focus: The Savvyhead
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2013, 05:31:28 AM »
Having played the Quarantine in a Quarantine/Savvyhead combo, it was definitely "game over" but probably not how you meant. The combination of Inspiring, Eager To Know and Oftener right can be downright monstrous if they get on the same page. You've got a pretty significant bonus for the Quarantine and a license to print XP for the Savvyhead.

Q: Hey, you know this world. What's the best way to do this thing?

S: Oh, well do this stuff and take a +2 at it, optionally Reading A Sitch first to make it stat+3.

Q: Cool, I roll to do that stuff and take an XP for using my highlighted stat.

S: Great, I'll assist and take 2 XP, one for you taking my advice and one for the assist.

Obviously it was a lot more exciting than all of that but you get the idea.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2013, 05:36:40 AM by nomadzophiel »

Re: Playbook focus: The Savvyhead
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2013, 02:04:49 AM »
One of the ideas we had in our group for savvy head was a psychic detective. "Ishmael" started with Things Speak and used it as a a sort of gut feeling-psychometry. He then made gadgets that helped him gather information, increase his mobility, and take down his enemies. Effectively it was the show Psych meets Batman.



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Re: Playbook focus: The Savvyhead
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2013, 06:59:07 PM »
The tendency of the Savvyhead to stay in their workspace and do lonely fun is the biggest problem of this otherwise excellent playbook.  One way I've tried to counter this as MC is to put the Savvyhead in the middle of the relationship map; everybody wants something from them, even if it's only to fix their daughter's talking doll or something.  Weird and intriguing NPC's come from far away to get their help and advice, or to lure them away to be a warlord's weaponsmith.  I also tried to integrate the Savvyhead's little gang of helpers into the setting as much as possible -- they all had relatives and boyfriends and such in the community, so there were lots of ways to draw them out. 

If you've got an NPC "hardholder" running the area, that's an awesome way to problematize the Savvyhead's situation -- what does the boss want that the Savvyhead doesn't want to give them, or what does the Savvyhead want that the boss doesn't want to do, like his/her own tank or access to the Rad-Vault underneath the city?  Does the boss want the character to spend a certain amount of time each week repairing the armory and building new weapons? What does the boss do to maintain leverage over the Savvyhead character, and how does the boss play the PC's against each other?

Finally, the Savvyhead has some awesome tools for fixing many of the problems and scarcities that beset AW characters.  I think the key for the MC is keeping them busy doing urgent stuff so that they don't pull a Robinson Crusoe and make their own private paradise out of junk.