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Author Topic: Why the Maelstrom  (Read 5917 times)

Jwok

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Why the Maelstrom
« on: October 28, 2013, 09:17:16 PM »
So, this question is for Vincent, but others are welcome to chime in.

What was the inspiration and intention of the maelstrom in AW?
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DannyK

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2013, 08:46:21 PM »
Speaking as a player/MC of AW, I think the Maelstrom was  a genius thing to put in the game because it ties together a lot of different aspects of the game, but it's so undefined that you can do all kinds of interesting things with it, and it can really open up the game in a lot of ways.  As a player, it gives you something interesting to play with, and as an MC it frees you to make the AW setting really tight and grim in the "real world" because the Maelstrom is sort of an escape valve. A bit the way magic works in urban fantasy novels (rather than the way magic works in most RPGs).

elkin

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2013, 11:58:43 AM »
The maelstorm is great! As an MC, I often found myself being too stringy with information for my own good. The maelstorm is the players' way of asking "so, what's going on that's interesting?" and getting from me a straight answer. It's like hitting the library or the street for gossip in other games, only creepier, and answers like "you find nothing" don't apply.

plausiblefabulist

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2013, 02:22:47 PM »
From my point of view -- also as an author of fiction -- the way the world's psychic maelstrom works in AW begins to repair the decades of ruination that fantasy RPGs since D&D have wreaked on fantasy.

The psychic malestrom is numinous. It is deeply unpredictable. You encounter it at terrible risk; it can change everything, make anything possible, and you have no idea, in advance, how, or what the cost and consequences will be.

In other words, it acts like magic used to act in literature -- how magic acts in Middle-Earth, in Earthsea, in Prydain -- and as the miraculous acts in, for that matter, the Hebrew Bible --  and not how magic and the divine function in fantasy ever since D&D turned them into vending machines that produce precisely predictable effects given precisely predictable inputs.

Harry Potter casts third level spells from page 126 of the Player's Handbook. Ged opened his brain to the world's psychic maelstrom.

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lumpley

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2013, 09:53:56 PM »
Wow!

-Vincent

IvanEwert

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2013, 08:20:13 PM »
Fabulist - that's awesome, man. What a catch!

I'll say that the maelstrom started out with no interest for me - but as I'm running for a Hocus, a Savvyhead, and a Brainer, I had to get used to the idea. Now I absolutely love it.

The way I saw it (before Fabulist's answer): Like the sorcery and demons in Dogs, it can be as present or absent as the players wish. It's another way for them to build the world they want to play in, whether that's a straight-up apocalypse like Mad Max, a monster-infested wasteland like I Am Legend, or a full-bore Gamma World style freakout.

DWeird

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2013, 10:45:25 PM »
One thing I couldn't help but connect the mechanic of the maelstrom was this post by Vincent, specifically this bit:

Quote
If you don't provide seed content yourself, you're not leaving it up to the group, but to the random media crap-soup we all swim in.

The implication being that there's always shit ready to invade your brain, and the more 'weird' you are, the better you can end up on the good end of that process, avoiding mental scars as well as pulling out real, useful, interesting things.


The psychic maelstrom might be the bit of AW that's all about real live human nature. Which is a fun sentence to write!

Jwok

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2013, 06:34:28 PM »
This is great stuff, thanks all.

Particular props to Fabulist. This...
Quote
Harry Potter casts third level spells from page 126 of the Player's Handbook. Ged opened his brain to the world's psychic maelstrom.
...this is brilliant.

I've always liked the idea of "magic" as raw and powerful and unpredictable and costly. Sorcerer's making costly deals with demons, Carrie using augury and choosing to leave in "bleeding instability," etc. That said, I'm currently working on a hack right now that involves witchcraft, and I've been finding myself leaning back towards specific "spells" as a means to covey a specific color for the games setting. Not sure if this is a good thing or not, but hey, it's a work in progress.

DWeird, I think you hit the answer I was looking for on by bringing up that quote. In a lot of my games, when I ask "what does the maelstrom look like for you," I get a lot of disjointed ideas - the random media crap-soup. I've always imagined tapping into the maelstrom as a universal experience, but now that I think about it, I kind of like that the maelstrom would fill itself up with whatever the viewer brought to it.

I still can't really wrap my brain around the idea of just "opening your brain," like releasing a clenched fist to something that you always know is there. Well, I guess I get the concept, I just have trouble imagining the sensation or what the experience would feel like.
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Lukas

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2013, 09:21:45 PM »
For some reason I'm thinking that the Maelstrom could be wonderful if combined with the weird, unbalanced glory that was the sorcery rules of 1e Stormbringer.

plausiblefabulist

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2013, 10:15:10 AM »
I'm sorry to necropost, but having now read the later replies to this thread that I missed the first time around, I wanted to add something clarifying about how the Maelstrom ended up evolving in the game I'm running. Particularly with reference to Jwok's comment about adding back in "spells".

I was expecting -- and had gotten the sense, from the rules -- that the maelstrom would come up largely as an information-gathering mechanism, sort of a weird super-read-the-sitch. Read sitches you couldn't possibly have any way of knowing about -- hand the MC a way of announcing you some off-screen badness, giving clues about what's happening elsewhere, and so on.

But the Maelstrom in our game quickly overflowed those bounds. I was asking the players how the maelstrom was for them, right? When they first opened their brains, I asked, so what is that like? What do you do, what do you see in there?

The Hoarder's way of opening his brain was to talk to his imaginary friend, the embodiment of his hoard. He sort of felt like he was hallucinating or daydreaming this "friend", who he called Yomamaman, because he was so lonely. The hoard was jammed full of Golden Age weapons, tech and fannish fetish items -- cosplay costumes, DVDs, action figures and the like -- and the Hoard was this character who lived in the Maelstrom and in the hoard, this violent, mercurial, manic-depressive, paranoid, generous, truculent, abusive, expansive ├╝bergeek who would pull out cool shit to give the Hoarder and then flip out about it coming back scuffed. The Hoard became an NPC, and a powerful NPC, one who lived in the maelstrom, who could produce information (open your brain) and physical objects (go into your hoard --- or was the Hoard actually producing them out of nothing, or had the Hoarder found them himself and just hallucinated the exchange? Hard to say.)

The Brainer was an interesting take on a Brainer -- rather than being already a full-bore powerful manipulator, the player chose to have him be a kid just on the cusp of learning his true powers. The only thing he'd been able to do so far was sense the physical location of pain, which he did first for his mentor, an Angel-like NPC who would find suffering people and heal them; and then for his captors, a gang of Brutes who killed the mentor and used the Brainer to find potential victims. The Malestrom appeared to the Brainer as a three-d geographical map of real space colored with emotions, a kind of alternate sight in which pain or grief occurred as flashes.

All this is coming from the players, when I asked them "so what's the maelstrom like for you"?

The next thing that happened in the Maelstrom's evolution was due to my hard moves on a miss. The Brainer's legs had been broken by the Brutes to keep him immobile, tied to a cart they dragged him around in while they used him as their seer (this was the player's idea, already established in backstory in the Hx round before the game started). After a while of playing, I was getting a little sick of the Brainer being totally immobile and a captive and was looking for a way to get him connected with the other characters (because I'm his fan). So Yomamaman sends the Hoarder (dressed in a vintage Batman outfit which had better come back in pristine condition!) to rescue the Brainer (because Yomamaman wants the Brainer -- for his collection).

I was expecting him to go rescue him, and there we'd be, PCs united and ready to roll. That's not how it worked out.

Through a series of snowballing moves, the Brainer was able to contact the Hoarder's mind and see through his eyes and stuff -- some successes on using the Maelstrom the way the player wanted to, and I'm his fan, right, and he's stuck in an oxcart.

And then there was a crucial 7-9 where the Brainer, trying to really contact the Hoarder and not just see what he saw, had the option to push through and invade his brain, but with unspecified chaotic consequences -- "you can push through the membrane, and then you'll be with him, but you'll break it, and you won't be able to control what happens next..."

So there I am, in play, and stuff is happening and people miss rolls, and I'm like, what can I do here? What downside can I activate, how can I mess with them?

And, in a burst of zany inspiration, I have them switch bodies.

Now here's the Brainer, suddenly with working legs again and a backpack full of grenades and a Batman suit, on the outskirts of the camp of Brutes. And here's the Hoarder, stuck in the Brainer's nonambulatory body with the Brutes, having to think fast because he doesn't get the context and has no clue what happened.

Does the Brainer go rescue the Hoarder? Fuck no, he's terrified of the Brutes plus he's got WORKING LEGS. He gets the fuck out of there.

So here's the thing: I had NO IDEA the maelstrom could do that. No one did! The maelstrom is suddenly not just an information-gathering device; it can have you SWITCH BODIES. What else can it do? We don't know! Because there's no spell list -- it's all emergent. We're finding out as we go along, based on the established fiction. As soon as we state something on-table about the Maelstrom, that has consequences, and unexpected results follow!

We're playing to find out what the Maelstrom can do.

So after that, there is a long arc of conflict between the Brainer and the Hoarder over possession of the body that's got working legs. The Hoarder manages to get one of the Brutes to kidnap him and act as transportation so he can hunt the Brainer down and switch back. He's using Open Your Brain to contact Yomamaman and make his hoard moves even though he's not near his physical hoard -- because it turns out his hoard (since it's been established to be a powerful NPC who lives in the Maelstrom) can act at a distance and have stuff show up.

At one point the Hoarder is about to be killed by the Brute he talked into kidnapping him, because he promised the Brute he'd get him paint thinner to inhale (the Brute is a huffer) and didn't deliver. The Hoarder opens his brain, goes into his hoard, and pleads with Yomamaman to save him.

So a guy walks out of the forest holding a can of paint thinner. But there are strings attached. The Hoard isn't all-powerful, he can't just pull guys with paint thinner out of nowhere. Instead, it's kind of like he put out a bid and Someone showed up. But the guy with the paint thinner has his own agenda; he's another powerful NPC who may or may not be a physical manifestation of the maelstrom, but he's definitely crazy fucking weird, and as play develops and moves force us farther into the story, it turns out (who knew? not me!) that he's a kind of rival of Yomamaman.

So here again -- these aren't like gods in D&D, that the Cleric picked from a list, with known relations, enmities, stats, areas of specialization. It turns out there are powerful quasi-human entities in the Maelstrom with conflicitng agendas! But that wasn't set up ahead of time -- it emerged out of play. We're playing to find out what the entities that live in the Maelstrom are like.

Finally, the Hoarder and the Brainer meet, but the Brainer doesn't want to make the switch, so the Hoarder opens his brain to aggressively retrieve his body. How do I deal with that? What move is reclaiming your body? Is it just "open your brain", the Brainer interferes? Well, we sort of start out like that, but a duel consisting solely of the same move, "I open my brain!"  "No, I open mine!" gets boring fast. And there are 7-9s coming up, so I have to offer hard choices. "Okay," I say, "you can fling yourself at the other guy's body, but you have to let go of your own. You may not seize the other body, and meanwhile your own body is unoccupied, and if left unattended too long, it'll go into cardiac arrest."

This seems like a good idea at the time! Give them a possibility of unseating the other guy, but with a risk attached. But it quickly snowballs to the point where I have to write a whole bunch of custom moves for ethereal combat. I've also now created a whole other space in the game, accidentally. Because now the maelstrom (or, as it turns out, the Void Below the maelstrom -- nobody has advanced Open Your Brain yet, but we seem to be stumbling into part of "what's beyond" descriptively) is a place you can go. Because what if you lose your own body but don't get the other guy's? Well you're still somewhere, making moves! So now we have this whole weird landscape you can move around in, with its own surreal laws.

So just out of this one conflict, out of asking the players what they know about the maelstrom, out of making my moves, out of following the logic of the fiction, we end up with this whole emergent magic system far cooler than anything I ever would have planned if I had just sat down to write up tables of spells. There are no spells here! There are custom moves, like the move for (having opened your brain) letting go of your body and flinging yourself into the Void Below. The moves get written after people start doing those things, though, in order to make sense of them! It turns out the maelstrom has physical effects, it can have you switch bodies, it can summon real-world beings to help or hinder you, it has entities that live in it which have their own agendas, it has places inside it you can enter and traverse.

But none of those things is bounded. There's no spell list; there's no sense of "these are the sum total of things you can do".  The maelstrom is placed into the game as a mystery, a generator of undiscovered possibilities. The moves -- player moves and MC moves -- tangle with it and generate weirdness and then more weirdness.

My game ended up with a magic system, but the magic system is wholly emergent and built around particular characters and being a fan of them and wanting to mess with them.

So that's kind of where I was going with "the maelstrom begins to repair the decades of ruination that fantasy RPGs since D&D have wreaked on fantasy". The maelstrom in the game I'm running -- and admittedly, it seems to be a more potent thing than the maelstrom in some other people's interpretations of AW -- feels like magic actually does in fantasy literature before D&D. You don't know what's going to happen. It's powerful and risky as hell. Because it's not predefined.

So, I'm not saying never make an explicit magic system for an AW hack or anything. But consider leaving it as open-ended as possible? I'm having a lot of fun playing Dungeon World, too, but there's something mildly disappointing about having a list of spells. "These here are what wizards do". Really? (Admittedly there is a Ritual move, which is like a Savvyhead's workshop for magic, but it hasn't come up yet in our game). Monsterhearts strikes a good balance between some things that are like spells, but with room to specify and detail (Hexes, Bargains) and also having more open-ended generative magic (the Infernal's "anything you want, at a price" move). But there's a way in which the AW maelstrom is a fruitful void (if I'm using that term right -- in any event, in my game it's literally a fruitful void) in a way no spell list can ever be.

I'd like to see a color-first approach to magic where you're suggesting initial clues to the puzzle of what magic's like in your world, and moves that drive the characters toward finding it out, without limiting the space ahead of time in terms of what can emerge. Magic Now, in other words. :-)





 

lumpley

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2013, 05:11:32 PM »
Most excellent!

-Vincent

Oldy

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #12 on: December 12, 2013, 09:13:42 PM »
That is, seriously brilliant. And so in tune with so much of what I've read on AW. Inspirational, especially when applied to hacks - awesome stuff.

metroidgeek21

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2013, 10:53:24 PM »
dude that's sick. i hope my maelstrom can come close to even an iota of that

Ampersand

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Re: Why the Maelstrom
« Reply #14 on: December 17, 2013, 07:05:33 PM »
How did your maelstrom come to be? This is kind of directed towards everyone.

In ours WW2 paranormal scientists discovered psychic energy. It was an emission from sentient life and floated about the world like a second weather system. Fads, trends, the similar patterns of fairy tales, culture, and belief grew from this. The scientists tapped into the power of all thought and pulled pieces of this psychic weave bundling them into bombs. We never went atomic. Psychic bombs could preserve cities by killing only sentient life, telekinetic bombs could devastate areas without making it unusable for future use.

They didn't have a clue that this weave was us in a way and it responded from the multiple wounds our world wide arms race produced by calling out to its many parts and tried to put itself together. All the bombs reacted and went off. Reality fractured and spasmed. The Golden Age went out with bang as they always joked it would. The Weave is a Maelstrom now, feral, disjointed, bleeding memories, dreams, and ideas.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2013, 07:47:50 PM by Ampersand »