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Sports Anime Tropes as Player Characters — Exploring the Playbooks in "Varsity"

 Last week I introduced Varsity, a Powered by the Apocalypse tabletop game that I'm developing that seeks to capture the feeling of the sports anime genre. I talked about the game's basic moves, which are split up between Game Moves and Break Moves, as well as the concept of "key moments" which you fight over during in-game matches.

This week I'm going to talk about the 'playbooks,' the classes that you can choose from when making your own "Ace" player character. Each playbook covers a different common trope, and ties into the game mechanics in a different way. I'll go over the trope I was imitating with each playbook, and then discuss a little of how my mechanics reflect those tropes. 

If you want to skip around, I'll put the names and descriptions for each playbook first so you can find and read the ones you're most interested in first. 

“The Ally”: While you may not be the best player on the team, your connection to your teammates and your inspiring attitude is what holds everything together in the most trying of times. 

“The Delinquent”: Authorities, teachers, and even your own teammates may not like the way that you march to the beat of your own drummer, but everyone knows that you’re always there when you’re needed most. 

“The Determined”: All your life you’ve been told that you could never make it. After days, weeks, even years of practice, you’re still not there, but you’re growing better with every day...

“The Veteran”: You’ve been in this game for a long time, maybe too long. During that time you’ve honed your skills to the absolute pinnacle. But you can’t put your uniform away yet… not until you make sure that your teammates can reach the same heights you have.  

“The Powerhouse”: Before you joined the Team, your raw physical talent turned every match you played into a one-sided victory. Now, at the highest level, you’ll discover if your physique alone can carry you to victory or if you’ll have to adopt new ways of playing to succeed. One thing is certain: when you finally leave the bench, it isn’t a matter of if you will change the game, but when. 

“The Prodigy”: From a very young age, you’ve been told that your natural aptitude for the game was unrivaled. Now that you are old enough to compete with a massive array of opponents and teammates, it’s time to put these claims to the test.

“The Rival”: Whether they’re a loner or too team-minded, a rude rule-breaker or a strict disciplinarian, something about that particular person gets under your skin. And the worst part? You’re stuck on a team with them!

An in-progress sketch of the Ally by @IdleCharles

The Ally 

The Ally is the sweetheart of the team. In a lot of cases, the Ally is the heart of the team itself. The tropes that inspired this playbook run the gamut from lovable fools to skilled team players. Characters like Sugawara from Haikyuu! and even Joey from Yu-Gi-Oh perfectly fit the Ally playbook.

Allies favor the "Heart" ability, and a lot of their features increase relationship between Aces on the team. If you want to lean into the lovable fool angle, taking a move like "Clueless" will let you comment on the action without actually having any clue what's going on (and add +Heart instead of +Eye). "Benchwarmer" gives you a bonus any time you comment on the action, flashback, or read the court as long as you are sitting on the sidelines. The "Healer" move lets you remove penalties from other Aces whenever you reach out to them.

Here's the printable playbook I used for the Ally in the v.02 playtest!

The Delinquent

The Delinquent is bad and they know it. They slack off, they break rules, and they look cool doing it. Unlike the Ally, who gains bonuses from helping out others, the Delinquent gains them from causing conflict. Based on your choice of moves, you can play a Delinquent who is more or less antagonistic to your teammates.

The "Badass Bad Sport" move powers you up whenever you show up late to practice or a game, lose relationship with another player, or get in trouble with an authority figure. "The Exception" lets you get some bonuses if you pick an NPC or another Ace you never turn your aggro against, like a crush or someone you view as a sibling. "Trickster" lets you turn some of your antagonism against the other team—when you use the "Curveball" game move, you can choose an option from the "Face Off" break move list. 

Here's the "Face Off" break move for reference.

The Determined

The Determined fills the trope of the shōnen protagonist, for lack of a better term. You start with the lowest overall abilities of any playbook, but you use your unwavering desire to improve to grow and become a true legend in your sport. When you choose the class, you also choose an unreasonable goal like "I want to be the best ____ player in my country!" Whenever you make clear progress towards your goal, such as by proving yourself against a team that you previously saw as unbeatable, you immediately level up.

"Never Give In" lets you take a penalty to stop your team from losing the game if it isn't sudden death. Basically, you can keep pushing yourself to the brink to hold on to the idea of victory. "Power of Will" lets you add +Heart instead of +Power when you overpower the other team. Moves like "Reckless", which gives you EXP when you jeopardize your team's chance of winning in order to pursue your goal, and "Under Pressure", which gives you EXP whenever you become 'crushed' by the pressure mechanic, both back up the Determined playbook's theme of pushing your limits to advance in levels more quickly than any other playbook. 

The Veteran

As the Veteran, you have the most experience and skill of any playbook, but you aren't meant to take the glory or spotlight for yourself. You're probably only a season or two away from retiring from the team, and see the other Aces as your successors—even if they need a little polishing before they can really shine. You are the Obi-Wan, the Gandalf, the Daichi.

"Call the Play" gives you and another Ace a bonus if they come to you for advice, while "Unity" lets you rally the other Aces when you're behind in points. "Lived Experience" lets you know a little about each of the teams you come up against, giving you an edge when preparing for upcoming matches. "Well Respected" is my favorite of the Veteran moves—your community, school, etc. know about and respect you giving you sway over NPCs as well as the benefit of the doubt from coaches and referees. 

The Powerhouse

The Powerhouse is exactly what it says on the tin. You're basically indomitable. Like Kagami and Aomine from Kuroko no Basket, your main conflict with the outside world is boredom. You need competition—real competition—and you're pushing yourself to the highest levels of your sport to seek it out. 

"(Not) Worth My Time" represents the ethos of the playbook, and gives you a bonus while crushed by pressure and a malus while under casual pressure. Moves like "All Out" and "Limit Break" let you reveal that you weren't even trying yet and pull off truly remarkable feats of power. "Second Wind" is an incredibly powerful move that lets you clear all of your penalties once a game. All of that power requires a lot of fuel, so "Heroic Appetite" increases your relationship with anyone who buys you a lot of food.

The Prodigy

Continuing the trend of OP playbooks, the Prodigy matches in skill what the Powerhouse has in power. You're the shining star of this generation, and you've got it all—talent, looks, brand. As The Prodigy, you have a special move called "Named After You," which lets you and the GM create a signature play together that your Ace is known for. Whenever you meet the three specific conditions that make your play yours during a match, you get a massive bonus to your next roll. 

Other moves emphasize your popularity and overwhelming finesse. "Devoted Fanbase" gives you a loyal crowd of followers who lower your pressure as you go into a match. My personal favorite of their moves, "Retcon" lets you reveal that you expected a new threat all along, and set up a counter for it in advance. If you fail the roll +Eye that "Retcon" requires, an enemy ace saw your counter in advance and set up a counter-counter! 

The Rival

Rounding out the playbooks is the most different of the batch. The premise of a Rival, someone who feels like they exist just to counteract another of their teammates, is closely tied to the sports anime genre and anime as a whole. As the Rival in Varsity, everything you do is tied to another of the Aces. Unlike every other playbook, you don't choose your ability scores from a list of options. Instead, you choose to have either the exact opposite of your rival's scores or the same as your rival's but +1 in their best score and -1 in their worst.

Moves like "Intertwined Souls" and "Hate Bond" give you bonuses when assisting your rival during a game. "Accomplice" and "That's Impossible!" give you bonuses to one-up or take down your rival in or out of a game. "Will they/won't they?" is my personal favorite, and gives you and your rival EXP whenever you gain or lose relationship with each other. 

Next week, I'll talk about the core gameplay loop of Varsity, specifically focusing on the time between games. In doing so, I'll also talk a bit about the penalty system, and how overcoming and removing penalties drives the story forward and pushes the game's emergent narrative.


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