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Author Topic: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)  (Read 11145 times)

DWeird

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New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« on: December 22, 2012, 09:04:46 PM »
You might know about my earlier attempt at a playbook, the Abacus, who was a kind of stealthy hitman type. That one failed to take off - mostly because no one, including myself, was able to point at what exactly the playbook was supposed to be doing.

Well, now I've redone it completelly. Instead of being a cool loner assassin type, instead he's now basically a middle manager - a guy who is all about social leverage and the inability to use it gracefully.

You will find yourself caring a lot more about where and how barter is flowing, and you will be very capable of putting other people into trouble while remaining relativelly safe yourself. You lack the ability to have a "final say" in matters, though, and things ought to get away from you unless you take care of various troublesome details well in advance.

You can play post-apoc middlemanagers, loan sharks, dealers and brokers with him.

Inspirations were the Wolf from Pulp Fiction, Buddy from Swimming with Sharks, Fennyman from Shakespear in love, and my own burning inner desire to make a jerk playbook that doesn't screw the other characters.


Names:

Joe, Gray, Moss, Pierce, Case, Jules, Mirth, Rain.

Adams, Bach, Carter, Evans, Young, Thomas, White, Price.
 
QED, Once, Boss's Man, Mirror, Thirteen, Pi, Carver.

Looks:

Man, Woman, or concealed.

Formal wear, vintage wear, casual wear, signature wear, or luxe wear.

Concealed face, sharp face, stern face, fat face or forgettable face.

Deep eyes, dead eyes, calculating eyes, wise eyes, weary eyes.

Tall body, wiry body, pudgy body, crippled body, hard body.

Stats:
Cool+2 Hard-1 Hot-2 Sharp+2 Weird+1
Cool+2 Hard0 Hot-1 Sharp+1 Weird+1
Cool+2 Hard+1 Hot0 Sharp+1 Weird-1
Cool+2 Hard+1 Hot+1 Sharp-1 Weird0

Abacus's network -

By default, your network costs 2-barter maintenance per session and provides you with services as per your professional agreement. Missing payments means no more service, no more respect. Pick two:
* You've got a rare contact (maybe Milk) for something luxe or rare, like weapons, drugs or transportation.
* You've got two no-nonsense enforcers (maybe Vega and Ezekiel).
* You've got an understanding with the local warlord (maybe Jonathan) that you're the gatekeeper of something necessary, like food, medicine, or gear.
* You've got a front or a patsy (maybe Quentin).
* You've got cachet and an envoy (maybe Trigger) with the distant looming threat (maybe Greer's gang).

Moves:
Pick two:

In the pocket - at the beggining of a session, roll +cool. On a 10+, hold 2. On a 7-9, hold 1. Spend your hold 1 for 1 to have someone in your network make a move for you as if you were there to do it.

Swimming with sharks - if whoever's in charge around here owes you, you can cash in the debt to use +sharp instead of +hard to aggro, using their retribution as a weapon.

Options - you can spread 1 barter around once per session, getting 1 extra hold any time you get hold for the rest of the session.

Keeping tabs - you can read the sitch regarding anything you spent barter on, even if you're not there.

Served cold - when using time and manpower to pursue someone, roll +cool. On a hit, hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1. Spend hold 1 for 1 throughout your pursuit to:
* Find the least loyal member of their group.
* Trap, imprison them or remove an escape route.
* Put something left unprotected in danger.
* Hide something important or dangerous in plain view.

Special:
When you have sex with someone, either you get 1 hold on them or they get 1 hold on your network as per In the pocket rules, their choice.

Advancement: The usual, details pending, plus:
Retire as a threat.
Cool+3.


You also get some unimpressive weaponry to start with, and a whopping 5 barter. Improvements might get you a small hold or a moonlighting crew, both of which will benefit from the Network move.

sully the raptor

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2012, 09:57:13 PM »
I like it! At first I felt it might be a bit too similar to the operator, but the key difference I think is that even though something is always in the works, you're never the one getting his hands dirty. You've got your leverage evenly dispersed in enough places to have a little bit of control over most situations you'll walk into. Now that I think of it it's just the opposite of the operator! You're the guy arranging the shitty jobs and taking the nicer cut.

Canoy

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2012, 11:20:12 AM »
Very interesting, espeically how the transfer of barter is highlighted. I think, however, that the maintanence cost of the Network a bit high, as after that inital supply of barter run out, the Abacus seem to have no way of earning new barter through moves, and must rely on the narrative to aquire it. Lowering the maintanence to 1-barter would allow the Abacus to spend newly aquired barter on other things, such as bribes or Options, rather than pay an upkeep cost. I think that otherwise, a lot of game time will be spent trying to to cajole others to give the Abacus barter, rather than shift barter around different parties.

EDIT: Did someone say middle management?
« Last Edit: December 24, 2012, 11:25:39 AM by Canoy »

DWeird

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2012, 01:14:58 PM »
Thanks for the interest! An Abacus is definitelly a 'nicer cut' kind of guy, and the comparison to Badger is quite apt (as both the menacing first episode material and the comedic relief of later ones).

As for the maintenance cost... I wanted money, employment and bartering to matter when the Abacus is in play. AW doesn't have terribly good tools for that as far as I'm concerned - in every game I've played, barter was mostly handled off-screen if at all.

Moves that give you barter wouldn't make you care about it - you only really ever care about things you don't have. The 2-barter maintenance cost is kind of steep, but it makes the Abacus's player care about the in-fiction flows of goods very much. I hope so at least! And I'd rather err on the side of too much for playtest purposes .

Paul T.

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2012, 02:27:41 PM »
Hey, D!

I like this, especially the concept.

I like the steep cost of maintenance, too. However, I agree that, reading through the playbook, it's really not clear how the Abacus is supposed to make money (presumably that's why he's brokering all these deals, right?). It might be very helpful to make it a little more clear. I think you have ideas in your head, but someone reading the playbook could easily go, "Huh? What do I do now?"

It could be a playbook move, or a peripheral move (kind of like the barter moves AW has already), or something baked into the Hx choices or set up when you pick your options for your network.

I also find the wording on many of your moves confusing, but I'll try reading them again later, maybe it's just my brain misfiring.

The concept is really killer, though.


DWeird

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #5 on: December 25, 2012, 07:02:12 PM »
Hey Paul! Merry Christmas!

Currently, I'm thinking organized extortion, a cut of deals made, and constant employment as some kind of accountant. I'm figuring maybe a simple "Barter" section, like in the other 'books, would do for getting that accross. Then again, who really reads those...

Hm.

What if I gave the Abacus a ledger full of people who owe him, as stuff? If he runs out of money... He goes aknocking on other people's doors, which could be interesting.

Not fully sure yet.


Oh, and yeah! Definitelly tell me what's not clear with the moves.
« Last Edit: December 25, 2012, 07:10:59 PM by DWeird »

DannyK

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #6 on: December 25, 2012, 08:04:52 PM »
I'm not sure how "keeping tabs" works in practice. 

I like the concept very much, but I feel like the playbook has too much sweet and not enough sour, if you know what I mean.  Maybe the player should also pick a couple of dangling threads that he needs to take care of in play, the way the Hardholder has to pick some vulnerabilities at chargen. 

(This is a really genius part of the game, IMO -- during the first session, you choose to have your Hardholder character be paying tribute to Spikey, a warlord from across the bay, hoping that the MC will forget about him.  Three sessions later, you're sacrificing all your principles and friends in an attempt to put Spikey's head on a stick.)

Also, I notice that there are no rules whatsoever for the Abacus' boss.  Is that just the Creative Void right there?  Because most characters whose livelihoods are dependent on complicated outside groups of NPC's like the Hardholder, the Operator, and the Hocus have to roll every session to see how things are going and that roll can make their life easy or hard. 

Maybe the Abacus should have a "Boss roll" every session to see if the boss is happy with him or not -- it doesn't even have to have any mechanical impact, just knowing in the fiction that the boss is pissed off, or suspicious, or jealous, would be very interesting.  Maybe he blames you for having those people killed, even though he was the one who said they needed to be killed in the first place.   

DWeird

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #7 on: December 27, 2012, 01:00:12 PM »
Keeping tabs means you've got an ear out for things you bought or invested in. The Abacus is positioned as a well-connected person, so you can bring in NPCs to convey the information.

Abacus is not likely to get much in terms of things that fuck him, network-wise. Unlike a Hardholder (who's a boss or authority) or a Hocus (who's a center of a cult) or a Chopper (who's, well, pack alpha), an Abacus is nothing special on his own. What makes an Abacus an Abacus is that he has access to all these different important, useful people. Losing that access hurts the player of an Abacus more than missing a Wealth or Fortunes roll does. Plus, I think that particular mechanic (barter on hit, trouble on miss) has seen plenty of use already.

Mechanically, an Abacus is more like a Gunlugger or Skinner than a Hardholder or Operator, really.

Anyway. I get the general concern. My plan is to make the Abacus not need so much 'sour' on his sheet by making the Abacus *be* the sour, if that makes any sense. I'll try to relay this with Hx and they ways he gets his barter.

For example. You probably know how, if you have a Gunlugger in your game, the profile of your NPCs changes - even if you're a player who's NOT a Gunlugger, you're far more likely to deal with violence from other NPCs?

An Abacus should have a similar effect, only with abusive, organized gain-orientated social relationships instead of violence. With the added effect that the Abacus is far more likely to be on the initiating end of a relationship that hurts another PC or NPC they care about.

So, basically, as an Abacus you have to make your own trouble, but that's easy because you're very good at making trouble for others.

DannyK

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #8 on: December 27, 2012, 07:15:39 PM »
I have AW in the queue to run after my current Monsterhearts game, I'll see if anyone wants to play the Abacus and see how it works in practice.

Vondas

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2012, 11:34:41 PM »
I'm a newbie to AW, so I don't feel confident enough yet to give an opinion about the Abacus' concept, other than the different feeling it gives, which is a good thing for me.

I don't quite get the move Swimming with sharks, though. What would be the harm inflicted if the target chooses to force your hand? Wouldn't it be better to use the move in manipulation rolls, rather than when going aggro?
Sorry, yo no English nativo speakero!

DWeird

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2012, 12:03:44 AM »
Cool! I'll try to get this guy up to spec faster, then.

Here's some gear & Hx.

In addition to your network, you get:
* 1 failsafe weapon.
* Oddments worth 5-barter.
* Fashion suitable to your look, including at your option a piece worth 1-armor (you detail).

Failsafe weapons:
* .38 revolver (2-harm close reload loud)
* 9mm (2-harm close loud)
* antique handgun (2-harm close reload loud valuable)
* shotgun (3-harm close messy)
* machette (3-harm hand messy)

On your turn (choose however many you want):

One of them owes you for services rendered. Tell that player Hx+2.
One of them owes you, because you said so. Tell that player Hx+2.
Tell everyone else Hx-1. You don't advertise - unless you do, in which case tell everyone Hx+1.

On the others' turns:

One of them has refused you access to their assets or is disrupting a profitable venture. Whatever number that players tells you, ignore it and write down Hx+3 next to their character name instead.
Everyone else, whatever number they tell you, add +1 to it and write it next to their character's name. You stay informed.

DWeird

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2012, 12:15:07 AM »
Vondas - a fair complaint!

I don't want to use manipulation for it because it's not bluffing - if you refuse an Abacus or his agent, well, the local toughs are going to have a field day with you. In fact, direct access thugs is the only new thing the move adds - you could manipulate people using your powerful friends as leverage before this.

Still, go aggro doesn't really do "violence will inevitably come some time later", so I guess I need a rephrase?

Swimming with sharks - if whoever's in charge around here owes you, you can cash in the debt to use +sharp instead of +hard to aggro, using part of their gang as a weapon.

So it's now your job to make sure there are gang members around you if it's a highly fictionally detailed situation. Better?

Paul T.

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2012, 03:00:01 AM »
Hey, cool.

Merry Christmas to you too!

Those Hx options really help situate the character and give us some clues as to what the character is supposed to do in play.

I think you should go back to your idea of people as "stuff" in the network: choose certain people who owe you, and maybe someone who you owe but can't afford to pay (you owe them something unusual or out of your reach maybe). That has lots of potential!

I reread all the moves... and I still find them really confusing.

For example:


"Special:
When you have sex with someone, either you get 1 hold on them or they get 1 hold on your network as per In the pocket rules, their choice."

What? So if the Abacus has sex with me, I can choose to give him one hold (the first choice), which he can use to make me make a move for him "as though he were there to do it"?

Does that mean mind control? Can I refuse? Who makes the roll? Using which character's stats?

The second choice means I get to use their network to make a move, ok, that's clearer. I have a feeling that might get weird in play, but I'm willing to try it.


"Options - you can spread 1 barter around once per session, getting 1 extra hold any time you get hold for the rest of the session."

Here, "spread around", means "spend", yes? I think it does.

That's a far-reaching effect! Very interesting move.

"Swimming with sharks - if whoever's in charge around here owes you, you can cash in the debt to use +sharp instead of +hard to aggro, using part of their gang as a weapon."

I'm having trouble seeing how this is triggered in the fiction. What does the character actually do?

Because if it means playing out talking to the dude who's in charge, getting them to agree to lend you their gang for a while, etc, that's more or less how it would normally play out in regular play (with no special moves).

It's also not super clear what to do if the person in charge isn't in debt to you, or doesn't care about repaying the debt.

Perhaps (and if I'm anywhere near even understanding the move correctly), it would be better to rephrase this as a modification of the "when you give someone 1-barter with strings attached" peripheral move. So, you can give whoever's in charge 1-barter, or cash in on an existing debt, in exchange for using part of their gang for a move.


Also, I think it might be cool to give the Abacus three choices from the network options to start with (with maybe the option that one of them has been disrupted or someone in trouble), kind of like how the Operator has two gigs and an obligation.

Since you don't get to expand your network very reliably later, I think three choices might make the character's life more interesting. But maybe two is fine!

DWeird

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2012, 04:24:16 PM »
I'll consider adding a PC version for In the pocket, that should solve most problems.

As is, I don't think the special is that problematic - either you fuck with the Abacus to use him, or you fuck him 'cause you like him, in which case he gets to use you. You get to choose whether or not the Abacus gets to use you, so you should generally be good with things he asks you to do.

Still, would this phrasing be any better?

In the pocket - at the beggining of a session, roll +cool. On a 10+, hold 2. On a 7-9, hold 1. Spend your hold 1 for 1 to have someone in your network act on prior orders or established duties and make a move on your behalf as if you were there to do it yourself.

You use the Abacus's stats. Ever had a job where you followed orders even where the task was pointless or counterproductive, using not your own best judgement, but your boss's? This is that.


Spread around in Options means 'spend', yeah. It also means that the target of the spending is not necessarily well-defined. I think one of the barter moves shares this usage, more or less with the meaning of "give a little to everyone."


Swimming with sharks is triggered with you threatening other people with gang members that are close enough in the fictional timespace.

So, if you threaten a farmer with violence and he tells you to fuck off, maybe you have like a week to have local toughs fuck him up.

If you're locked in the farmer's closet and he's sharpening his skinning knife, there has better be a bruiser within shouting distance.

Also, if you have Swimming with sharks, you immediatelly skip all of the steps that you'd normally have to take to do something similar with a regular character - actually convincing the harholder, actually convincing members of her gang, making them care about the exact worth of their debt to you, etc.

Also, the debt owed by the authority needn't be be barter. When I made most of the moves, I kept thinking how other playbooks could use them - in the case of Swimming with sharks, it's definitelly a move intented for Angels or Drivers, people who the authorities might be indebted to because of the valuable service they provide, not the money you lend them directly. You're important, is the thing - whether by providing healing, or transportation, or brokering deals for hard to get stuff. It's like being rich and white and calling for the police. So you could even get away with using the gang without the local authority's direct knowledge - only you'd lose face with them if it was something against their interests.

Does the above make the intended use of the move clear?

With that in mind, how about this phrasing:

Swimming with sharks - as long as you remain on good terms with whoever is in charge, you can roll +sharp instead of +hard to aggro, using members of their gang as a weapon.


The Abacus is going to get an option to get another Network options as advancement, maintenance-free. If I make the parts of Abacus's network a more uncertain gamble as you're proposing, I might give him a bigger list to choose from as well as more options, though.

Paul T.

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Re: New playbook: The Abacus (evil middlemanager edition)
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2012, 06:07:44 PM »
Ah, yes, that's really helpful. Is there a way to bake some of that information into the move descriptions a little more clearly? As a reader/player, I could read through the move descriptions and totally miss out on some of that subtext.

(I guess the "swimming with sharks" move is like when you say, "Do you know who you're dealing with?" That makes sense now. So you're threatening someone, and the threat is getting roughed by the enforcers of whoever is in charge around here. I could almost see that being more of a "manipulate" move than "go aggro", though. Maybe a custom move would be even better?

Like, if they refuse, choose options, on a 10+, choose 2, on a 7-9, choose 1:
* The local enforcers will play the marimba on this fucker's bones
* It won't take them a good long while to get around to it
* You don't cause a problem for whoever's in charge as a result

That sucks, but you get the idea.)