[Apocalypse World] Brainer with brain problems

A player choose this Playbook but he wants his character to have multiple personalities. I'm not sure how to go about this. Personally, I think this is a bit too much and wouldn't contribute anything significant to play and to the overall fun. Any ideas?


  • edited February 17
    Stat up each personality as a threat on the home front. Treat each like a separate NPC as long as the player isn't inhabiting that personality. Ask the player to detail the personalities then apply the threat type that seems the most appropriate.

    The other players will start with relationships rooted in their gangs, gigs and so on. This brainer is the same but carries them all in his head.
  • Yes, I like the idea of using the second personality as a Grotesque. I'll have to talk to the player so I can meet his expectations and he can follow mine. I don't want this to turn into a comedy with the player speaking to himself at the table for long periods of time.
  • I'm questioning the issue with the player talking to himself for periods of time, as long as it's handled seriously. What exactly is the issue?
    Are things like monologues not okay in your group? Or is it just the worry that the player wouldn't take it seriously?
  • It's not a monologue when the player is talking to himself as two diferent characters. It could easily slip into a sort of auto-masturbatory situation as the player engages himself and the rest just watches in a scene reminescent of Gollum talking to himself. Plus, I don't trust the player himself to take this seriously enough.
  • I'd very much call that a monologue. It's one player performing for a period of time while the others watch. Whether he's playing one character, two characters, or a dozen, it's still a monologue from an OOC perspective.
    I can see the problem though if you don't trust the player to take it seriously.
  • Oddly enough, the last time someone played a Brainer in one my AW games, the character had multiple personalities! Hmmm.

    It doesn't sound like a problem or anything worrying about - after all, it's just up to the player to roleplay the character as a crazy person, right?

    However, if the player isn't taking it seriously, that's a different issue, and probably one to consider no matter what kind of character the player is going to play.

    That said, if the player can be brought into the right mindset over time, here are some things you can do:

    1. Let the player just portray the multiple personalities as they wish.

    2. But do ask lots of questions, and keep bringing them back to a) the apocalypse, the maelstrom, and their destiny (basically, whatever weird or psychic stuff is going on in the campaign - the multiple personality thing IS related to it in some way), and b) how it affects their relationships with other people in the community.

    a) means asking things like, "So, when did your mind first become segmented into these different personalities? Was it after you ate the brain of the Boss (a cannibal cult leader) and gained your powers, or before?"
    "Which personality's voice reminds you most of the maelstrom?"
    "Do you think any of them might be the voices of dead people you've forgotten?/people whose minds you have ruined in your experiments?"

    Get the player to buy into the madness and excited about the thematic potential for exploring an aspect of their character, their psyche, and the messed-up nature of the Apocalypse World where they are living.

    b) means always asking how their craziness affects those around them. "Who in the community knows or suspects you have multiple personalities, and who doesn't?" "Hardholder, is this the only person under you who you've seen with multiple personalities? Do you trust them more or less? What do you fear might happen?"

    Here's a good one:

    "Someone in the holding worships or adores you for your weird psycho powers. Who is it? [...] Ok, what is that person's theory about your fractured personalities? Are they the echoes of your ancestors? People who died but are still half-alive in the maelstrom? The voices of your future children? Or do they believe that fracturing your personality into multiple ones is how you get weird mindfuck powers, and therefore they want to try to break someone else's mind (or their own)?"

    Bring these up when doing Hx questions, for sure, so you can similar questions of the other players, too.


    The more you can get the player to answer all this themselves (even if you lead them through it), the more he or she will be "bought in" to these concepts and want to take them seriously.
  • edited February 18
    What I'm not seeing is how would that work in-game exactly. Because having multiple personalities is about loosing control. @Paul_T, how did work out for you? How did the player portray his "problema" and how did you use Moves in that regard?
  • edited February 18
    In my game, the *character* was occasionally out of control, yes, but the *player* was always in control. It was just a complex form of psychology for the character, but always played and presented by the player.

    What is your player suggesting, instead?

    If he or she has very specific ideas, we could try to whip up some custom moves to represent that, perhaps, but I also think you're right that this may be over complicating things. Tell us more!
  • What the player suggests is a character with one dominant personality and two others struggling for control. Which, to me, implies that sometimes the player will loose control via MC Moves.

    I like @Krippler suggestion that I should create the two extra personalities as threats, probably Grotesques. Most of the time, the player will choose which personality he is roleplaying at that moment, but then, when I get to make a MC Move, I can push the threat and the player will surely loose control.

    My reluctance is that it can easily slip into comedy-hour with this particular player as he tends to create slapstick situations just for the fun of it. Roleplaying three different personalities at the same time may be too much for him.
  • Well, there is no direct solution for a player who is not interested in taking the game as seriously as you (the rest of the group) do.

    The best tool I can think of (aside from a very direct and in-depth conversation with the player, to see if you can get on the same page) is to ask a lot of leading questions which distill the issue to particular experiences the player is interested in exploring.

    For example, "What is your deepest regret in life? What is something you might have been able to have, achieve, or save if you didn't have a fractured personality?"

    If that can be overcome, then you could certainly have some fun with custom moves. Switching personalities could be under the MC's control, for example, triggered by MC moves ("A different personality comes to the forefront/takes control").

    Or specific moments/actions mean the player loses control altogether, allowing MC moves which literally wrest control of the character from the player.

    I'd want the player to present me with a clear image of how they want this to play out.

    Simply having a move to represent the personalities, in place of one of the starting Brainer moves, could do the trick, too. Do different personalities have access to different moves, but each one has a blind spot (e.g. when Bartus is in control, you can't seduce/manipulate or Deep Brain Scan, because Bartus has no sense of empathy).

    Perhaps the different personalities have different stats highlighted, so that changes depending on who is in the "driver's seat". When Bartus takes control, Hard is always highlighted - something like that.

    It might be worth looking at the Hoarder; the concept of the "Hoard" could be used to model a personality within the character's mind, with whatever incentive instead of "collecting valuable things", as befits that personality.
  • I would be leery of any approach where "multiple personalities" means "the MC plays the character", however. It's just too much for the MC: the player will end up barely playing the game at all.
  • Insanities in games like Call of Cthulhu hinge on the lack of control on the player part. AW is a different game altogether, but player's still loose control when those dice come up 6 or less.

    The character, as defined by the player, is split into three personalities. One is dominant (the main character), the other two vie for control and sometimes surface and dominate. The player can go about his business, roleplaying whatever personality he sees fit. Most of the time, anyway. The other two personalities are Grotesque Threats. When those dice come up 6-, it's time to push one of those threats.

    For a brief moment, he acts on the impulse of the grotesque. Perhaps this is the easiest solution.
  • That's a really good and simple one. And it works well with the "threat" rules (as suggested earlier, writing up the other personalities as threats).

    With the player's permission, you can occasionally have some "acting under fire" under the influence of the other personalities, too. (Your MC moves don't all have to be "you lose control and do X...", they can also be, "If you don't do Y/you do Z, you'll be acting under fire", or "If you do Y, you'll mark experience", or some other carrot/stick.)

    Then you can spend a lot of play time exploring the relationship between the personalities and the maestrom. It seems basically a given to me that they're connected. (e.g. "Take away their stuff" -> one of the personalities gets swallowed by the maelstrom - taken away! - and now lives or is imprisoned there...)
  • It's a little tough to say how it "should" be since multiple personalities is probably just a fictional phenomenon, but I'd be inclined to set it up with the understanding that they don't even know about one another. But I guess I still don't really understand what kind of experience the player wants out of it. Could you just have people accuse them of bad behavior when they thought they were asleep, representing times an 'other' personality was in control of the body?
  • Dissociative identity disorder is in the DSM-IV, so while it's controversial, it's a thing. My fear is that the player doesn't know much about DID and will portray mental illness for laughs according to weak-ass tv stereotypes.

    The people I've known with multiple personalities had only one "in control" at a time and were largely conscious of the other personalities existing, but not always aware of what the others said to me. However, I'm aware that a lot of people with DID are unaware of their alters.

    I would have the player do a ton of research on DID, create a couple different personalities with different roles, and play them serially without any "fast-switching" except perhaps in the face of trauma or triggers. I would avoid any situation where the player was not aware of various alters and could disavow behavior as a player; the character, sure. I think agency is important here.
  • Thanks, @Adam_Dray, my thoughts exactly.
  • edited February 19
    Yeah, nice post, Adam.

    I'd add the caveat that, given the existence of the psychic maelstrom, "multiple personalities" in Apocalypse World might be a completely different thing from DID in the real world...
  • Agree, @Paul_T, i'll talk to the player about that. Perhaps the voices in his head began talking to him when he first opened his brain to the psychic maelstrom. Since the psychic maelstrom itself can be a Threat and whatever the players want it to be, it could lead to some interesting situations.
  • edited February 20

    I did my best to cover that angle earlier, here:


    My approach would be to keep asking the player questions so at develop the theme.

    For instance:

    Likely (at least for the Brainer), the maelstrom is some conglomeration of voices and personalities, all jabbering and squabbling for dominance.

    Maybe one day he opened his brain a little too much, and a few of them got in there. Now he carries a part of the maelstrom with him.

    As soon as you get something like that, it gives you ideas for threats and moves: what happens if another, more hostile personality sneaks its way in as well? Can it kill other personalities in his mind/soul once it's in there?

    Can these personalities "infect" other people, as well? If one of the voices in the Brainer's head is Jackabacka... what happens if Jackabacka starts to "appear" in the minds of other people in the community, too, until Jackabacka is legion (and plotting to overthrow what little order exists in his world)?

    And so on. Now you have interesting threats and challenges which the player has a personal stake in, because they are, at a fundamental level, about his character, and, at an even more fundamental level, about his ideas - his own personal creativity is being reflected to him through the game, which is powerful stuff.
  • I have played the Faceless move Norman something like using an alternate personality that's got one foot in the psychic maelstrom.
  • edited February 20
    Ah, that's a good alternative, as well! Between that and the Hoarder's design, you could have a few interesting options, should you wish to have mechanics for the character's inner struggle. (Norman always struck me as a little Gollum-esque...)
  • I think this is obviously something to work out at the table, but I've always liked it better to see people playing up the dramatic, cinematic "madness" rather than trying to realistically play out, say, PTSD, based on reading some articles. Since all pop culture versions of multiple personality/DID come out of The Three Faces of Eve, go with that. It's a pretty good movie if bad psychology BTW, you could get a lot of inspiration from it.

    I'm reminded of the Discworld character Altogether Andrews, who was a conglomerate of about 8 spirits in one body, all of which seem active at any given time, although one of them was nasty enough that the other 7 cooperated to keep him away from the controls. To make things more interesting, maybe there are some Brainer moves that only the "shadow" personality can access.
  • I've personally always found the pop culture madness offensive.
    You definitely need more than just reading a few articles to play realistic mental illness though. It's something that takes thorough research, and realistically takes talking in depth with people with whichever mental illness you're wanting to play/write.
    I feel like ideally you only ought to be playing mental illnesses that you or people close to you have.
  • I'm not seeking a realistic depiction of mental illnesses. I doubt the player chose that for realism. I believe he thinks it will be fun for him, for whatever reason. I want to avoid derailing the game with comedic antics and slapstick actions.
  • I feel like if one isn't intending a realistic depiction of mental illness, then one shouldn't be portraying mentally ill characters in their play, because if it's not a realistic portrayal, it's going to end up an ableist stereotype.
  • In Call of Cthulhu you portray people with insanities. No harm done there. My knly concern is the player using that as an excuse for some stupid antics which may go against tone. In any case, I feel the psychic maelstrom is the way to as discussed above.
  • The idea may be an attempt to explain the special skills of the brainer characters: "His supernatural skill to read the minds of others stems from the fact, that his own mind is... special."

    As a GM I´d ask the player to abstain from direct references to real categorized mental illnesses. If he´d play his character as a singular abnormal mind, I´d no problem with it.
  • According to the player, it's three different personalities vying for control. Again, I see no problem there except if the player is using that as an excuse to have fun at the expense of other players or just to make overtly comedic situations.
  • I'd call CoC very very deeply ableist (as well as racist, because of a Lovecraft's themes). I don't think it's a game people should be playing.
  • My answer referred to "Apocalypse World" (I´m feeling uncomfortable with CoC, too).
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