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 übergeek 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. :-)