“What mistake would my character make right now?”

posted by mllaneza Original SA post

Deniable Assets 1/x

Deniable Assets is a PbtA semi-sandbox RPG of corporate executives climbing the ladder in cutthroat competition. It's 2089 and everyone has rivals, goals, assets, and Clarence Bodicker's cell number.

“What mistake would my character make right now?”

Unlike, I believe, every other PbtA game out there, the GM is not supposed to be a fan of the characters. Neither are the players supposed to identify with, or at least like, their characters. The aim of the game is to create an enjoyable spectacle of terrible people doing terrible things and meeting terrible ends. As I hinted above, think of the PCs as OCP executives (from Robocop) with fewer inhibitions and even greater rewards on offer: the Board receive literal immortality drugs, so no one ever retires from the top or dies of natural causes. There's only one way to the top, and that's taking a dead person's seat on the board.

I'll quote the book,


Players enjoying Deniable Assets do not want the same things their characters want.

The characters treat their struggles for power as though it’s a game to be won by any
means necessary. It’s just about the only thing they care about.

The players think that’s adorable.

The characters have submerged themselves in a toxic megacorporate atmosphere.
They believe... that the only way to get a happy ending is to dedicate yourself fully to control: over your customers, your coworkers, your enemies... They might smile and joke with each other over coffee, but any of them would cut the other’s throat for a corner office.

The players are in on a little secret: this game doesn’t actually have happy endings. At
the end of the maze is poisoned cheese sitting on a trap. The fun is in watching the
little corporate bastards plot and scheme and blow each other up for something that
seems important to them, but is actually very stupid.

If your character meets their end handcuffed to a glass table covered with cocaine, while scrambling for the pin to the grenade then you laugh and make a new character.

That's Deniable Assets. If that doesn't sound like an RPG for everyone, you're right, and the designer knows it and is up front about it. There's also support for the X-card, so specific horrible things that characters do or suffer can be managed without triggering anyone.

So, assuming you're OK with this kind of a game, what really is the player's role ? Well, "spectator and enabler" is the book's answer. Like most PbtA games, there a section on how to do that:

Ask Questions to better understand the fictional positioning.
Breaking Things because nothing is delicate and everything is expendable, just don't kill another PC unless their player is on board with losing their character now.
Taking Outrageous Risks because, again, your character is expendable, so "drive them like a stolen car."
Asking, “What mistake would my character make right now?” The book has no comment on this one and doesn't need one.
Asking your fellow players what they’re up to. This is your reminder that while the characters are enemies, the players are collaborating on creating amusing mayhem.

That's a pretty good set of advice for what's effectively a Lawful Evil Campaign with a side order of Paranoia.

Now about running the thing, how to play as the GM.

The GM represents The Board, an indifferent observer concerned solely with the stockholders (the players). The Board is all-powerful, confident, and ruthless in pursuit of their goals (everyone having fun).

How to succeed at being The Board:

Asking Questions. Like any PbtA game, you engage the players, find out what they're interested in, details you can use, and schemes you can manipulate.
Breaking Things. The GM should be ready to destroy any NPC, location, or storyline in any scene. "Break things to advance the story. Break things to inspire players to act. Break
things because of player action. Nothing in your toybox is sacred." There's absolutely no reason why a team of characters assigned to come up with a marketing slogan for a new soda flavor shouldn't be responsible for burning down corporate HQ halfway through the first session.
Creating Outrageous Risks. Like "normal" PbtA games, but it's OK to tempt characters into doing something monumentally dangerous for a chance at something valuable.
Asking, “What mistakes would my characters make right now?” This again.
Making Moves. Deniable Assets relies more on mechanical support than a lot of PbtA games for both players and GM. Fortunately, there a good set of tools for both players and the GM The Board.
Asking your players what they’re up to. Find out what they're trying to do and see if you can help further their schemes.
Playing some awesome music. The usual "run a fun table stuff"
Serving up snacks.

Making sure everyone’s having fun.

Let's call that part one. We'll get into the mechanics next time, and a sample Resume. We have to choose from:

The Fastlane
The Keymaster
The Shark
The Frankenstein
The Butcher
The Messiah
The Smile
The Gremlin
The Wildcard
The Albatross
The Innocent

The Fastlane

posted by mllaneza Original SA post

Deniable Assets 2/x

In this update, we'll look at a playbook and then start delving into the mechanics of the game. Since only one person had playbook requests, and I forgot which they were, I'm going with the Fastlane, which sounds right. From the book,

The Fastlane is a dumb, flashy young idiot who acts impulsively and crashes and
burns quickly. If a new player’s just joined, it’s an ideal starting point, not least
because pretty soon they’ll be ready for their next character.

Mechanically, this is your normal PbtA game at the core: When you trigger a move, roll 2d6+stat and hope for a 10+ or at least a 7+. DA has more structure - the corporate environment and trying to get a project to market - than most PbtA games, and it has the mechanical structure to make that work.

The stat array in DA is:

+beast: How aggressive is your character?
+grip: How stone-cold is your character?
+eyes: How aware is your character?
+slick: How charming is your character?
+outtabox: How’s your character at things not taught in business school?

The game also suggests that your stats inform how other people see the character. Someone with low +grip won't be relied on in a crisis, while a high +slick character will be seen as, well, slick and/or charming.

And like all PbtA games, your character is their playbook plus the basic moves.

Mechanical terms like Authority or Damage will be bolded on their first use. I will be using only limited quotes from the text, this is still in playtest after all.

All of the following Moves have an example of play (except Get Help). I'd say they're almost done with the basic moves, but there are a few spots where they know what they want, but just haven't gotten the wording right.

Basic Moves in Deniable Assets

Shoot the Devil. +any. When you finally make your play for a seat on the Board you pick a stat and narrate how it helps you make your move. On a 10+ congratulations ! You're an NPC now, but the player get to do a metaphorical victory lap because this is the only happy ending for a character in this game.

Test the Waters. +authority. Authority is the first of the unique to DA mechanics. Playbooks generally start at 1 Authority. This stat represents your ability to do fire people and defend your own actions. It plays a crucial role in DA's version of Harm. It's also restricted in scope; Debbie from accounting can't tell two security guards that they're fired - she has to cut Security's budget and try and get into the archives after staffing cuts have been made.

Test the Waters is rolled by someone at the start of every session. On a hit, everyone gets budget equal to their allocation, and whoever rolled gets handed a new and exciting opportunity. On a 7-9, the division has hit an obstacle and someone is in trouble. The player who rolled decides who was responsible and who was blamed for it. The scapegoat doesn't get their allocation, and the session starts with them being dressed-down by the division's Executive or one of the Bosses. On a 6- the division is in crisis mode. Nobody gets their allocation, except for one person of the rolling player's choice; everyone else gets a hook on that character.

Allocation is another secondary stat, and budget is your in-game currency. A hook is like a string in Monsterhearts: you have some mechanical influence on the other character.

Draw Blood. +beast. When you fuck with someone (violence, lies in the lunchroom, sabotage, altering archives), roll +beast. There's a list of damages you can inflict and slips you can suffer. On a 10+ choose two damages. On a 7-9 you choose a Damage and a Slip. On a 6- The Board chooses two slips. For Damages, you can take a hook on the target, damage their target, take less Harm if they retaliate, or outright take something from them. Slips can be making a bigger mess, exhausting an asset, drawing unwanted attention, or giving a hook to another PC.

Eat Trouble. +grip. When you try and move your own ass out of harm's way, roll +grip. On a 10+ You avoid the danger and can get a hook on the responsible party. This move is currently poorly written. Avoiding the danger can be limited if The Board rules you just can't avoid all of it, and you only get the hook if you already know how you'll get revenge. I can see that the designer is putting a lot on interpreting the fiction, but this stands out in a game with a lot of mechanics to help prop up the fiction. On a 7-9 you get a choice; get ALL the way out, taking ourself out of the picture and into a panic room, or cheap motel room two states over; saving yourself costs you something important,; saving yourself costs a favor. On a 6- you narrate your action but "The Board, or player who put you in danger, puts you in the way of worse trouble." Again, weak as rules and relying too heavily on the fiction.

Read the Room. +eyes. When you size up a situation, roll +eyes. On a 10+ keep 3 (keep is just hold renamed) and gain a hook on someone in the scene. On a 7-9 keep 1 and gain a hook on someone. On a 6- you left your guard down and someone gains a hook on you.

You spend keep during the rest of the scene to ask questions from a long list; "What are they hoping I don’t ask them?", "What’s getting left on the table?" and so forth. The move doesn't specify who answers the questions, I'd assume The Board for NPCs and the other player (oh yes, there is PVP in DA) for PCs.

Play Somebody. +slick. When you're messing with someone's head and trying to use them, choose your scam (there's a list) and roll +slick. If you spend a hook you have on your target you can choose your own scam. This move works differently on NPCs than with PCs.
On an NPC, when you Play Somebody you pick your scam and roll +slick. On a 7-9... yes, 10+ is missing, on a 7-9 "pick a loose end too." So I guess the 10+ result involves "...and they buy it" and/or "take a hook".
On a PC, when you Play Somebody, choose a scam and roll +slick. On a 10+ either they believe it and they act accordingly or you gain a hook on them. Also, they tell you what you learned about manipulating them. On a 7-9 they gain a hook on you if they believe you and act accordingly. Tell them what they learned about you while you were tryin to scam them. On a 6- they gain a hook and have the option of believing you or not (in an adversarial, weird, cyberpunk game this makes a certain sort of sense).

❏ I’m more important than you thought
❏ You’re more important than you
❏ Don’t worry, I’ve got your back
❏ I’ll tell you who doesn’t have your
❏ Relax! It’s under control
❏ Listen close, because the shit’s about to
hit the fan

Loose Ends:
❏ The longer your scam lasts, the more
pissed they’ll be when they figure out
you were playing them
❏ They seem to believe you a little too
much for your liking
❏ Your scam is not going to stay secret for
long, and somebody out there won’t like
❏ You have to sell the scam by doing something you’d rather not.

This move works whether or not you're lying, but it doesn't work if you're being earnest or sincere. The trigger could be polished a little, but the name of the move is "Play Somebody" and if you aren't playing them, you don't roll this move. We're still in playtest, it can get cleaned up.

Enter The Mix. +outtabox. When you search for advantages in the surreal and illegal VR network known as The Mix... This is your attempt to look for clues, dig up secrets, or buy illegal shit. The player is expected to describe their personal VR environment.
Fun thing mechanically: there are 5 options to choose from and you can take as many as you want. If you get greedy, you'd better get a 10+. WIth a 10+ you pick one Hangover, they range from leaving a clear trail to drawing law enforcement attention. On a 7-9 The Board picks as many Hangovers as you chose options. On a 6- you also take that much harm. you always get what you wanted, everything else is just haggling over the price.

Get Help. +bleed. When you’re about to go down in flames and are forced to put your fate in someone else’s hands, name your savior and roll +bleed. You can name a PC, but if they’re not willing to help, you get an NPC instead.
This move is about target and hooks. Target is basically hit points. You have 5, this move can recover up to 3 of them. The tradeoff is, whoever saves your worthless, well-tanned ass gets as many hooks on you as you regain target. Hooks are good for die modifiers against them - both if you're rolling something or they are, fictional leverage, or make up a scam for the Play Someone move. You can 'forgive' or give up hook at will, especially if you can use it as leverage; “Back me up on the Marlinspike deal and maybe I’ll forget about my little vendetta and just in time for your big presentation.”

The last two moves are project management moves. No matter how much wheeling, dealing, mind games, thuggery, and cocaine you do, you do still have a day job that all of that is in service of.

Form the Project. +budget. When you kick off a brand-new project, spend budget on it. The amount you spent is equal to the project’s target, and that times the number of players is the project’s prestige. Then roll +budget spent.
Budget is a resource, it comes from the Boss and from executives. The more you can amass before formally launching the project the higher profile (prestige) and harder to cancel (target) the project is. The opening phase of the game is about - as I read it from here - gathering as much budget as possible and maneuvering to be the one who formally launches the project. This move is a choose from a list move, there are four potential problems; on a 10+ you can avoid 3, on a 7-9 pick 2, on a 6- pick 1. In high-level corporate life holding a "get-out-of-If the project fails, you’re practically guaranteed to get blamed for it" card is golden.

Launch the Project. +viability. This is when everyone gets their goodies, or rather track. Track is basically XP, you advance you character after every 5 track you accumulate. A lot of track will come your way through familiar PbtA means, like rolling a highlighted stat, but when a project is launched its prestige is split up as track for everyone involved, at, of course, The Board's decision. Since a project's prestige is its budget/target multiplied by the number of players, there's generally a LOT of track tied up in a product launch - you only need 20 to take your shot a joining The Board. Viability is accumulated through play as actual work gets done on the actual project.
So someone rolls this when a member of the team presents, sends off, or otherwise steps up to push a project to market, roll +viability. The example in the book is about someone putting on a prototype personal defense shield and handing another player a loaded gun to test it. What I get out of that example is that this move is for when you test the product with real stakes and find out what you've got. In the example they get a 7-9 and find out that the shield is only good for one shot. At least they know that before they have to stand up in front of an audience with their pitch deck.
The roll mostly determines how prestige gets split up for track. On a 10+ any flaws remain hidden and The Board divvies up track however the people upstairs would see it. On a 7-9 at least one glaring issue shows up in the demo. The Board divvies up track again, and also assigns blame - often to the person who got the most attent... track. On a 6- everything sucks and everyone is rolling Eat Trouble because upstairs is pissed.

That's the basic moves for Deniable Assets 0.31. On the whole, the designer knows what they want and is almost there in terms of nailing down the exact wording of moves.

Next time, more detail on the mechanical terms introduced here and possibly a look at a playbook.