Playbook focus: The Chopper

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Playbook focus: The Chopper
« on: October 01, 2013, 12:57:19 PM »

Apocalypse World is all scarcity, of course it is. There’s not enough
wholesome food, not enough untainted water, not enough security, not
enough light, not enough electricity, not enough children, not enough hope.

However, the Golden Age Past did leave us two things: enough gasoline,
enough bullets. Come the end, I guess the fuckers didn’t need them like they
thought they would.

So chopper, there you are. Enough for you.

The Chopper is the pack alpha of a motorcycle gang, making them violent, mobile and part of a close-knit group of kinspeople. They are a primarily Hard character, and they're also always Cool. To retain their power they have to manage their gang and it's impulses, making the gang both their biggest asset and their biggest trouble.

My take on it
Attila the Hun was the scourge of God. Genghis Khan created the largest land empire in human history. Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels rode counterculture into the heart of a nation and scared it shitless. There'll always be those that have and those who are strong and fast and ferocious enough to take. That's your legacy, Chopper!

Bikers are awesome. I always save the best for last.

Rawwwr, rawwwr, rawwwr!

I'm sorry, I was just making motorbike sounds. What is so awesome about the Chopper, you ask? Just look at the picture! Look at that beard! That some pre-apocalypse viking shit. The Chopper is born out of hardship and the survival of the strong, like an ancient force of nature, like a hurricane blowing in from the sea to fuck your shit up.

Riding a chopper is like riding the leviathan. I'm not just talking about the bike, a powerful beast in itself, but the gang that follows you; A ferocious creature that will tear any threat to itself apart, and who might turn against you at any moment if it percieves you as a threat or a prey rather than the pack alpha. Rawwwr rawwwr rawwwr is the sound it makes.

See, your pack is impulsive, always ready to spring into violence to neutralise and subjugate any threats to their safety or to their status, whether they be real or imagined. Packs work that way, by acting on instinct. In our day, we would call it by name of personality disorder; narcissistc, antisocial, borderline or paranoid, but in the post apocalypse, it can be a great way to survive, because when acting on instinct, you act immediatly, ferociously and without hesitation.

Packs have a hierarchy, which is a great way to eliminate hesitation. You are the strongest one. You have the least hesitation to bring me down if I challenge you. Good, then you are obviously the leader. It also means, of course, that you can't take shit from any out of pack bitches touching your bike the wrong way. Put them back in line quickly and ruthless to reassert status in the pack. Respect few, fear none. Build a reputation so everyone knows.

But of course there is more to the pack than that. You and your gang ride together, face hardship together, eat together, sleep together. This is a group of people united by something in a way that's outdated and rare in modern life and maybe even more so in Apocalypse World. This is also a part of what makes the Chopper into a primordial being. At the dawn of man, we all lived in nomadic tribes, lived all hours of the day surrounded by the same people, depended on them for survival in a world where people didn't die from cancer, but from violence, predators, dehydration and famine.

These people are your world, your family, even your power in the game, but they are also the fucking jackals that will tear you apart if you show any weakness. Truly, hell is other people.

When I played a Chopper, after the game was over, the MC told me that he never got any chances to make me roll for pack alpha after a while, because I became so in tune with my role as a leader that I anticipated anything that could challenge my authority, anticipated anything that could lead to the disdain of my gang, and asserted it right there and then. That's the best way to play a Chopper I think. The best Chopper never even rolls pack alpha, and here I would like to refer back to paragraphs on The Zen of Apocalypse world in the Hardholder and Battlebabe focus: You ony roll when there is resistance. (Or ”say yes or roll dice” as the principle was in Dogs in the Vineyard) Use that.

On the other hand, I felt like a total bitch for always trying to please my gang. Even though I considered ol' Deadeyes the most moral and least psychopathic of the bunch, trying to keep them on the right track, I also noticed how sensitive I became to what would stir the gang the wrong way, like I aggroed on any character that made me look not in charge. Yeah, that's pack mentality.

The playbooks makes out the Gunlugger as the obvious one, but to me the Chopper is the most obvious playbook: Get food to eat and loot to please your gang. Use your gang for threats from without. Use your status for threats from within. Ride hard. After all, there are no day jobs in Apocalypse World, and if you want to survive you've got to use the things you have going for you, as the Chopper fluff text so astutely makes out.

Watching Breaking Bad as I'm writing this, great example of an ordinary guy whose options have narrowed down and now it's down to to dying, losing your pride or using the assets you have, even if it's ugly. Speaking of series, Sons of anarchy is what really sold me on the Chopper. And it is also what sold me on getting Moonlighting for the Chopper.

Sorry, it's really hard to find clips from that show, fan tributes is the best I can get.

Why the Chopper is the best playbook to play:
Rawwwr, rawwwr, rawwwr!

And if anyone comes up to you and tell you that you're not the best playbook, you put them in their place.

What it brings to the world of the apocalypse:
A family of sorts, or at least band of brothers. A dragon everyone else has to relate to. A sense of history and legacy. One thing I considered doing was making a really tribal pack of bikers with strong traditions and rituals, one step beyond the lingo and rituals of modern bikers.

Fundamental scarcities of the playbook:
The MC should prepare by reading the about the Pack alpha move (see below) and decide whether to use it as written or in a more narrative fashion, and if so, exactly how hard a move it should be. Like, how nasty of a threat is the Choppers own gang, exactly? And also make sure to make the gang into interesting individuals with real motivations, so he can play out their reaction to things right, i. e., when to roll pack alpha.

Moves and crap analysis:
As MC, make sure you read the more in-depth explanation of Pack alpha and Fucking thieves on page 221. Pack alpha can be a little cryptic, but this lays it out super clear and operationalised. Fucking thieves plays well on the impulse for retaliation that I've outlied above.

Even more so than other playbooks, A no shit driver is a given, although your bike is only power+1 looks+1 weakness+1. Daredevil too, of course, if your gang counts as a ”convoy”, or Rasputin, basically the same deal.

Moonlighting is also a great choice, you can get both Moonlighting and a holding with Wealth as an improvement, so there is definitely a possibility for you to go boss over the local operations. And why not get Leadership to get some war discipline into your pack?

Juggernaut and Bloodcrazed goes well with playing you up as a force of nature in combat, and I really like Dangerous and sexy for those ends too.

Your weird is -1. If you really care for your gang, maybe try out Touched by death? Then you're inviting your MC to fuck your loved ones up, of course. Batte-hardened is another possible solution.

Relationships and dynamics:
So, a Chopper, a Hocus and a Brainer walk into a Lady Gaga video... Ever since I saw this video, I've wanted to make a Chopper and a Hocus team-up where the gang is also the cult.

Make sure to ask every PC if they are a part of your gang at character creation, and try to get at least one to join up! Makes the Pack alpha move so much more interesting. I could potentially see any playbook be a part of your gang, save for the Hardholder and the stranger ones of the limited edition playbooks. The less expected the more interesting!

Good questions to ask the Chopper to make their dirty life on the road seem real: Tell me about your bike. Tell me what part of it makes it unique. What is the best day like for you, and what is the worst day like? What is your favorite food, and what is your least favorite?

Good questions to ask the Chopper to make their gang interesting: What signs, marks or costume do your gang wear? What traditions do your gang have? What is your meetings or parties like? When did you become pack alpha? What's the worst thing you've done for your gang? Whats the worst thing you've done to your gang? What's the best thing?

And there is also a facet of tenderness to the Chopper, what with them actually having sort of a family. Just look at their Chopper special. So: Tell me about your relationship with a PC or NPC that the gang does not approve with. What's the most loving and loyal thing someone in the gang has done for you? Whom in your gang do you have tender emotions for? Did you sleep with them?

The Hardholder with their gang and the Gunlugger, perhaps with NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH are the real tough threats to go up against. I played a game with a rather satisfying cold war going on between the Gunlugger and the Chopper. They both had the means to exterminate the other, but everyone knew it would be very, very ugly, which built great tension.

Save for the Hardholder and Gunlugger, the Battlebabe, the Quarantine or the Operator is probably your best bet for an adversary, seeing has they have the Cool to evade or ambush your gang and the attitude to do it.

The Operator is also a good contact for fixing things you need but do not have the skills or contacts to get (except maybe if you get Moonlighting yourself.), or to get some scratch through by doing jobs for them.

As the only other mobility-based playbook, The Driver could be a rival, or a good contact, or a part of your gang. Think of the road as a theatrical stage that the two of you share in a special way.

The Skinner and the Maestro 'D also deals with status and social power, but in a different way than you. The establishment of the Maestro 'D could be the most interesting scene for your gang, seeing it is not primarily a place of laws and daily living, like the hardhold, but of party and pleasure. What biker gang doesn't have a hangout? Do they go there to take the edge off, or maybe to start fights?

In your relationship to the Savvyhead, think of themes such as engines and machine worship, to carefully build and to recklessly destroy, mobility and stationarity. A Savvyhead with Bonefeel is a character that can meet up with you even when you're in the wasteland, which is a good thing. Same with a Faceless, for whom it makes sense to roam the wasteland, and especially if they have Scent of Blood. Good candidates for strong, ambivalent relationships.

The Brainer is the Thulsa Doom to your Conan. As you know, only steel can you trust.

Ask the Touchstone if they want to a part of your gang!

If there is a Hoarder, point to them whenever the Chopper misses his Fucking thieves roll.

The Playbook Focus articles will return in the future! Next season, we'll take look at the LE playbooks and some special articles.


Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2013, 05:37:31 PM »
Nice write up. I got some stuff to think about for my session on saturday where i GM a chopper among others. :)

Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2013, 09:16:07 PM »
Imagine if a Hoarder taking the stat line with +1 hard opted to be in a chopper's gang, with a sidecar filled with his hoard. Now Fucking Thieves is in direct tension with the hoard!

Great write up! I might add in that Indomitable is a good move for the chopper as well. It plays into the authority carried by a Chopper, and his comfort at the battle scene. I love the idea of using leadership in addition to pack alpha. I think a Hardholder doing the reverse would create interesting opportunities as well.



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Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2013, 07:13:29 PM »
The Chopper is probably my favorite playbook, just because it's so damn easy to MC for.  "Hey, there's a column of smoke up ahead on the road, wanna check it out?  Some of the corpses are wearing nice gear, wanna take it?  That other guy just called you a mutant, what do you do?" 

The idea of a Hoarder in a Chopper's gang is pretty awesome, actually.  He'd end up fighting the other gang members on a regular basis to protect his crap. 

Bonefeel is a great Move for almost any playbook; if you can convince your MC that the equipment your PC needs when they show up includes the gang, then you're golden. 

If your game's Chopper seems too nice and rational, zoom in on his/her gang and develop it more, I think.  Like the Savvyhead, you can draw the Chopper out of their comfort zone by hooking their gang into the community and world around them.  Moreover, the gang by definition is a bunch of aimless sociopaths, so it's totally plausible to let them get into deviltry and quarrels whenever they're not actually under the PC's direct control. The Chopper's comfort zone is leading the gang on their hogs into a fight, so find ways to mix it up.  This doesn't necessarily nerfing the gang -- any Chopper gang is an efficient machine for fighting, looting, and covering ground, so find things that complicate that efficient machine and get the Chopper to make command decisions. 

One of the best things to ask the Chopper's player is how they became pack leader.  If they were leader of a different gang that got wiped out and they built this one up, that's cool; if they used to be just another gang member, that's even better!  The former leader, or his friends, will make natural rivals and malcontents.

Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2013, 06:33:20 AM »
Nice! The first character I ever played, when I knew next to nothing about the game, was a Chopper, and I quickly came to a similar playstyle.

I do have one exception,
When I played a Chopper, after the game was over, the MC told me that he never got any chances to make me roll for pack alpha after a while, because I became so in tune with my role as a leader that I anticipated anything that could challenge my authority, anticipated anything that could lead to the disdain of my gang, and asserted it right there and then.
That was not my experience with pack alpha. I found that even if I tried to anticipate challenges to my authority then I would still have to make the move. Maybe this is down to an MC's playstyle, but I found my gang schizophrenic. First they were violent and wanted to fight, then they didn't want to fight and wanted to settle down into a community, and then they wanted to be violent hardasses again, and it was always playing off the fiction described for pack alpha.

Otherwise, excellent post and very insightful! Makes me want to play a Chopper again.
Looking for a playbook? Check out my page!



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Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2013, 09:39:32 AM »
I think it's quite dull to describe the gang as "aimless sociopaths". Greedy, violent, frequently cruel people, of course, but not aimless sociopaths. This is, of course, because "aimless sociopath" is the most boring character type imaginable. They don't really want anything other than short-term gain, and they don't have any potential for interesting personal development. If the chopper's gang is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from a pack of always-chaotic-evil orcs, the MC has failed in making them seem human.

Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2013, 12:55:33 AM »
Lukas: I agree whole heartedly. The Chopper can make trouble for others easily and the gang brings its drama without even trying. But they need a goal or at least an impulse to drive them. During character creation, do any of you use that to shape your gang? What one of our groups players did as Chopper was take the "disciplined" option and became obsessed with order, and went on to become the Hardholder after reopening an derelict prison.

Re: Playbook focus: The Chopper
« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2013, 04:16:22 PM »
I always strayed away from playing the chopper, and i've never actually had one played during a game I MC'd. I suppose I figured they would be a lot to manage, but the write up really helps. I think I plan to give it a go for the next game i'm in.