Author Topic: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?  (Read 281 times)

Fniff

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Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« on: September 14, 2017, 01:56:58 PM »
I've been trying out solo roleplaying, where it's just yourself and a GM emulator like Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator. There's been a few examples on the forums, and I've had a very good time using it with Apocalypse World.

However!
I've noticed that, even when I'm playing a high weird character, I don't use Open Your Brain very much. You see, Going Aggro, Manipulating, Acting Under Fire, these moves have immediate effects in the fiction. Even Reading a Sitch/Person suggests questions I might not think of: if Keeler says he's gonna kill me, he might be lying.

The problem is, the point of Opening Your Brain (it seems to me) is for the MC to give the player a piece of information that they couldn't have learned otherwise. This works fine in a normal RP, but not in a solo one since I am the player AND the MC.

I've tried using randomized pictures to simulate trying to make sense of the psychic maelstrom, but that tends to lead to me piecing them together to form the most obvious conclusion, which doesn't seem fitting.

What do you guys think would be the solution?

Ebok

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2017, 12:24:34 AM »
Opening your brain is when you look for input that was not otherwise obvious to you. You can out of ideas and want more, you want to know the source of some power, you interact with the psychic maelstrom, etc. In that regard, I don't think it's really possible to open your brain for yourself. AW is a communal game, and so questions like these can help the MC bring out more to the story/scene. When you are the source of the story and the scene... that's not really AW. That's just dice to find out what happens.

If you want to play 1 player AW, I guess you need to decide what "fiction" you disclaim in regards to the maelstrom, and you hack the choices to resemble one of the other basic moves. Choose hold, ask questions, avoid trouble, etc. Whenever you encounter something weird, roll+weird. On a Hit You learn something about the maelstrom. 7-9, tell the maelstrom about someone you care about, and something you're worried about (vulnerabilities). On a Miss, tell the Maelstorm and expect the worst.

Worst being like, the shit straight out eats you. Something inexplicable happens. The Maelstrom makes a move against you or your exposed vulnerabilities. whichever.

Borogove

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2017, 04:10:29 AM »
I've tried using randomized pictures to simulate trying to make sense of the psychic maelstrom, but that tends to lead to me piecing them together to form the most obvious conclusion, which doesn't seem fitting.

Are you reaching conclusions you wouldn't have come to without the pictures, or no? If you want the result of Open Your Brain to be a surprise, maybe try answering the question before looking at randomized pictures, then look at the pictures and then require yourself to come to a different conclusion than the initial one.


Munin

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2017, 08:15:16 PM »
Ooh, ooh, Tarot!

And I'm not talking like divination, but rather the use of Tarot that forces you to think outside the box, to give you unexpected insights into how disparate elements might be connected. I find a shortened Celtic Cross is really good for this, because it's really brief and easy.

I'll tell you what, give me an example of a situation under which you're opening your brain, and I'll whip out some cards and give you an interpretation to show you how you can make it work in your game.

Fniff

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2017, 09:39:58 PM »
Thank you all so much for your responses!
*snip*
I see your point about AW being communal. Solo RPs always lack that element, by design. They make up for it by being much simpler to setup.
If you want the result of Open Your Brain to be a surprise, maybe try answering the question before looking at randomized pictures, then look at the pictures and then require yourself to come to a different conclusion than the initial one.
I like that! I'll try that next time I'm playing. That, and...

I'll tell you what, give me an example of a situation under which you're opening your brain, and I'll whip out some cards and give you an interpretation to show you how you can make it work in your game.
Well, this is a first. Someone wants me to relate my roleplaying stories. :P

Okay, let's take the story of my Gunlugger, John 2:14. She's in a hardhold in a swamp, it's basically post-apocalyptic Jonestown complete with charismatic cult leader (modelled off Nick Cave, natch) and Christian overtones. Funfact, my first thought for the game was "How about Outlast 2, except good?"

She's just decimated a rival family's gang by herself. They're after her for being in a relationship with a woman - a psychic one, no less. The cult leader is slack on punishing her since she's head of town security (being the biggest badass and has the only gun in town), so the family took matters into their own hands. After failing a seize by force to mop up the survivors, she gets clubbed in the back of the head.

She wakes up crucified (with rope, thank god) in a dank basement across from a woman named Veil holding an axe and wearing nothing but a cloak and about three layers of blood. This is a fairly small hardhold and John has never seen her before. They stare off for a while, saying nothing, before John bolts for the door and Veil bolts too. John manages to lock the door on her but Veil grabs her left arm and chops it off before she can.

So, John is in a dark, labyrinthine basement. A madwoman pounds on the door behind her, her guns are gone, she's missing an arm...
And there's something watching her.

Hopefully that should be enough material for your reading, Munin!

Munin

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2017, 02:12:11 AM »
OK, cool, that'll work perfectly. So interpretive Tarot works best when framed with a "what if I were to do X?" question, but sometimes you can just apply it straight as-is to a situation to give you insight about what's going on. And that's what I'll do here.

The first card (the leftmost) represents forces working in John's favor. In this case, the card drawn is the 8 of Disks, which represents "prudence." Whatever John is going to do from here, she needs to be careful and not hasty.

The second card (the rightmost) represents forces working against John. The card drawn here is the 8th card of the Major Arcana: Justice. Oh, shit, it looks like John is on the wrong side of something. Some action she's taken has put her on the wrong side of "the law," be that the law of the settlement or maybe in this case just vendetta law. But let's take a step back from her immediate circumstance and say it's her relationship with this psychic woman, as that's what started all of this trouble in the first place. Hmmm, a community's laws usually get made for a reason. Uh, oh, maybe the psychic woman (or psychics in general) are trouble. Why could that be? How might it manifest?

The next card (the topmost) is a succinct framing of the problem. In this case, it's the 15th card of the Major Arcana: The Devil. The Devil represents temptation in its most base form, and often represents the destructiveness of those temptations. What this implies to me is that John's "thinking with her clit," and furthermore, the position of the card indicates that doing so is problematic. Is it just a problem for John herself, or is it bigger than that? My money's on the latter.

The fourth card (the bottommost) is a succinct prompt indicating how forces are moving to address the problem posed by the previous card - it is the universe's "solution" to the problem. Here, the card that's come up is the 8 of Swords: Interference. Well, no shit. But what's interesting here again is that the issue isn't one of vengeance for the killed family, or excommunication by the cult or whatever - It seems like perhaps the Veil's goal is less one of payback and more one of trying to stop John. But stop her from what? What is it that John is doing that poses a threat to the existing order? Again, I'm thinking there's more to this psychic chick than meets the eye, and that John is unknowingly playing with fire.

The fifth (central) card represents the stakes, what hangs in the balance. This time, it's the Queen of Wands. Court cards very often signify people. Wands represent force, action (both creative and destructive). The queen tempers this a little bit, in this case being at once both matriarchal and nurturing - although in this context the term "protective" would be suitable as well. Think "Tiger Mom," maybe. This seems like exactly the kind of role that Veil might fulfill. But as a consequence card, this is interesting. If Veil is really the matriarchal protector, what does losing her mean for the hardhold? She's clearly a woman of force and action (as evidenced by her removing John's arm with an axe), but is she also something of the power behind the throne here? What sort of power vacuum would be left if something bad were to happen to her? Maybe Veil is not the real enemy here.

The sixth and final card (placed cross-ways over the fifth) represents an outcome. Here, we see the Princess of Wands. Again, court cards are often signifiers for people. In this case, the card represents someone who is active yet practical. I see this as a pretty good analog for John herself, and in this position it can also be advice to John - and builds further on the other cards in the spread; take decisive but prudent action. Don't be hasty, but don't be passive. Under the circumstances, I'd make a bold play - confront Veil as an equal, get her to tell you just WTF is really going on here. But maybe don't rashly open that door just yet. And ultimately, maybe John's "enemies" really should be her allies, and vice versa.

Is that sufficiently weird and non-obvious that it would help in this situation?

As a side note, there are a bajillion ways to interpret tarot. There are lots of different spread techniques and different decks have different symbology and iconography. Some use the orientation of the card itself to change the meaning (with cards placed upside down having the "ill-dignified" opposite meaning, for instance). The method I used here uses position relative to other cards to determine whether a card is ill-dignified or not (i.e. a single sword card heavily opposed by a bunch of disks, or whatever).

Ultimately, it really doesn't matter which method you use; the goal of interpretive tarot is to present you with pieces of information and then force you to figure out how they fit. Some of these will confirm the obvious, but some of them will yield entirely new or unexpected insights because they'll force you to think outside the box (e.g. when The Moon - indicating deception - comes up in an unexpected place and you have to figure out what it might be that's being hidden, or who's lying to whom about what, or whatever).

Ebok

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2017, 02:31:55 AM »
There would still be the question of the differences between the 7-9 or a 10+. Maybe only some of these are known to the character on a 7-9, but you still do the whole thing- aligning a stake to the question. This is what will happen, but what will she do without that knowledge? Dunno.

I find the best benefit of the Weird roll is by forming relational questions between the PC and NPCs / World. I'd be worried that this wasn't taking place without making that play a major part of it. Of course, if we held to the object of the maelstrom questioning the character...  you could always ask the character what do they feel about these choices, or who they see as what card. Dunno.

Munin

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2017, 02:51:53 AM »
Or how about this: same system, totally different cards, yielding a different interpretation...

First card (forces in favor), 3 of Disks: John has put something into motion that is working to her advantage. Her actions have already had a ripple effect, and those ripples are helping her in some way. Maybe her violent purge and sudden disappearance has people in the community looking for her. Maybe the reason Veil is so forceful is because she knows she only has a limited amount of time to do whatever it is she plans to do to John?

Second card (forces opposing), Prince of Swords: This signifies a person who is very cerebral, calculating, considered. This is not a person of action, but rather someone who likes to manipulate others into taking action. Who might this person be? Veil doesn't seem right for this, but maybe it's the cult leader? What other NPCs might fit this bill? Maybe it's someone closer to John - and maybe deciding who clubbed her from behind would yield answers to this. Whomever it turns out to be, they are demonstrably NOT on John's side, appearances to the contrary.

Third card (pose the problem), Prince of Wands: again a signifier. Ordinarily, this is someone who is a creative force, an idea man, someone who is decisive. But in this context (because of the cards around it - the last two, in this case) the card is ill-dignified, meaning someone who is indecisive or unimaginative. I see this pretty clearly as the cult leader; if he'd kept John on a tighter leash - or stepped in when it looked like trouble with the other family  - none of this would have happened. Thus, we get to the crux of the issue: poor leadership has led to deep divisions within the settlement, a much bigger problem than the current immediate predicament.

Fourth card (possible solution), The Star: This card can represent whimsy or fantasy, but it also represents mysticism and/or esoterica. Oh, shit - the psychic! The solution to the present predicament? John needs to focus her mind and reach out to the psychic, needs to use her intimate connection with the psychic to call for help! How does this work? Is this even possible? I have no idea, but what's the harm in trying? Roll+Weird!

Fifth card (hanging in the balance), the 10 of Cups: more than just fulfillment but satiety. Having enough, maybe more then enough. The symbology of the card is cool here, because the cups literally "runneth over." But in this context, I'd interpret this as satisfaction, i.e. an end to the feuding. If she can get out of this alive, John will have proven her point.

Final card (outcome), The Hanged Man: Put simply, this card represents sacrifice. John's not getting out of this one for free, but whom (or what?) must she sacrifice? Will calling on the psychic to save herself lead to a Pyrrhic victory, where John lives but her psychic lover dies? I see massive "bloody fingerprint" potential in this one. In some ways, it makes John's predicament more dire, because she knows that getting out of it will cost her dearly. Is it a cost she'll be able to bear? Let's play to find out!

And so it goes.

One thing I wanted to add - if you end up with a partial success on open your brain, you can use this same approach, just use fewer cards. I'd just use the 1st, 2nd, and 5th cards, as these give you some idea of forces working for and against you as well as what's ultimately at stake, but they provide no insight into the larger problem, pose no likely solutions, and give no hint as to the potential outcome.

Paul T.

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2017, 02:53:51 AM »
My gut feeling here is that - if you have, indeed, already tried using Tarot or imagery for inspiration - you could do one of two things:

1. Design a system of your own for handling the "obvious" ideas that come to mind. This could work via Tarot or other open-ended brainstorming techniques, or it could be a finite list.

The idea is that you a) form an idea for what the maelstrom wants to share, and then b) apply a "filter" to decide what actually comes of it. The "system" you're designing is what those filters are and how you choose one.

For a hyper-simple version, consider a "random table" like this:

(1) Terror (chaos, violence, madness)
(2) Love (attachment, dependence, sex, sorrow)

When someone opens their brain, you roll to see the result, and then you come up with the appropriate vision, topic, subject, or theme. (For instance, they're opening their brain about Birdie? Then Birdie is the subject, maybe.)

Finally, you randomly choose one of those themes above - Terror or Love. Now use that as a "lens" to colour, distort, or present the subject/theme/vision/topic. Reveal something to the character accordingly. What about Birdie, Birdie's past, or Birdie's present circumstances is chaotic, violent, or terrifying? (Maybe ask the player - in this case, the character - if you're not sure.) What about Birdie, Birdie's past, or Birdie's present circumstances is about Love? How does that PC feel about Birdie? What does Birdie feel attached to or who do they miss? Etc.

2. Leverage your MC prep.

Take all the stuff you've prepped - basically a bunch of threats, right? Because pretty much everything you prep is a threat. Number them all somehow, so you can randomly roll up something from your prep (or put them in a stack of index cards).

When you need a vision, revelation, or have to make a move because of an "open your brain" roll, select something randomly from your prep. You rolled "The Cult of the Returners"? Ok, what's up with them?

Maybe on a 10+, the PC gets supernatural insight into the Cult or a useful bit of information. Maybe they can ask a question of the maelstrom about this thing.

On a 7-9, they learn something, but it's disturbing, confusing, or otherwise complicated. It's new information, but not what they were hoping for - instead, it complicates the situation.

On a miss, well, you get to make a move, but make it related to the Cult. Maybe the Cult is actually making a move, or maybe the maelstrom just shows the PC some bad news about the Cult's activities.

Something like that.


Paul T.

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2017, 02:55:22 AM »
I find the best benefit of the Weird roll is by forming relational questions between the PC and NPCs / World. I'd be worried that this wasn't taking place without making that play a major part of it.

Ebok,

This sounds like a really cool and interesting practice. Can you give some examples of what this looks like in your games? I'd like to learn how to do this - sounds like a great thing to do!

Munin

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2017, 03:15:16 AM »
Paul, I can't speak for Ebok, but I often do something that sounds similar: the insights gained from opening your brain often serve to establish previously unknown relationships, preferably between the PCs and NPCs. When viewed through the lens of however the PC interacts with the Maelstrom, you see the people and events in your life in new ways.

Example: one of the PCs in a recent campaign viewed the Psychic Maelstrom as pushing his cart up and down the aisles of a massive grocery store, complete with saccharine muzak and weird announcements. At one point he opened his brain about a situation involving strange disappearances, at which point I described him pushing his shopping cart past the meat counter, where he saw a particular NPC in a butcher's apron, whistling a jaunty tune and wielding a cleaver with great gusto and enthusiasm as viscera flew. That, uh, "set the tone" for future interactions with this NPC, for sure.

Ebok

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2017, 09:08:58 AM »
Im not going to make a big post about this. But in an attempt to keep this answer in line with providing the OP some information for this type of game, I'll give a short touch on both.

Paul T
It happens in my games that the maelstrom just doesn't really understand people, it's some bastard thing given life and sentience without an idea of what it is or what it came from. It WANTS to know these things. So however the theme of the maelstrom is applied, for me, the maelstrom remains a source of curiosity.

I normally lead with the questions. They are thing I don't know about the character, but assume they apply. The Maelstrom might inquire:
Have you ever lost something?
What does it feel like to be alive _right now_?
Do you really love ____, or do you even like them?
I've seen all the people you've killed, all the people that are afraid of you, who isn't? I mean there's someone here that see's past that, tell me their name.
You've been spending more time with someone here lately, who is it? then followup: What brought you together?

The reasons for this are two fold. First, when you have 4 and 5 players acting all the time, screen-time is often very eventful, rather then conversational. I have had 6-7 hour long sessions with a single player just talking to NPCs before, forming real emotional and narrative bonds. When this is impossible, sometimes I need a prompt to color in the past moments and present the players with an understanding of the people that surround them. What they mean to them, and all the more subtle things that get glossed over by the action. In my games, when someone you love is killed, it's okay to cry.

The second reason is more tactical. I use the answers they give me to tell them what they see, feel or sense. The maelstrom says, you cared about that little eight year old girl because you dont know why. Well, you notice something about the scene around you, it kind of looks like her pendant, you know the one. The little sparrow in silver she wears. Well, ok, now's not the best time to be noticing shit when you're being chased, but you've got two directions to go, and one of them has a stone that looks like her necklace. Or I might say something about the smell of her on the air, or maybe they recall the little girl talking about a certain place before, a place that would be useful right about now. Maybe their minds drift back to something she said to them once.

Fniff

I know that you don't lack for screen-time with you character so this might not seem that important to you. But the reasons that it means so much to me, is that it prompted questions about who the character is, or how they're feeling, or what they might do if, or what they're most afraid of, etc... things that otherwise may never come up. Things that Matter when making the world and the people in it seem real.

I dunno why it is you're playing solo. But these things may or may not still be important to you. So. Maybe when your character takes the moment to open their brain, You have to tell the maelstrom a secret. Something that you haven't told anyone else before. This prompts you into creating that thing and giving it value, it sets up something to play off of for the hit or a miss. It's not random magic, which is an important thing for me. Dunno though, there are lots of ideas on the table here. I guess it depends on what you NEED this to be.

Fniff

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2017, 06:28:03 PM »
First of all, even if I don't personally respond to it, thank you all for your posts. They were all helpful.

To Munin, that is excellent. Seeing Tarot in action, I see it adding a lot to my games! I've already tried it on its own, and that was enough to make me excited for trying it out in-game (and maybe getting a tarot deck of my own...). So, thank you so much.

To Ebok, two things.
One, the reason why I play solo RPs is that I live in an isolated area and don't get to play certain games very often. I've tried setting up Apocalypse World games before and unfortunately they've all fallen apart before they got really interesting.
Solo RPs may lack that communal aspect and if I was only playing solo RPs that would be definitely miss. However, I can do a solo RP whenever I want, about whatever I want. That is incredibly convenient.

Two, I haven't played enough Apocalypse World to truly start defining what the maelstrom means to me. However, I think I have figured out what Opening Your Brain is. Seperate the psychic stuff from it. Open Your Brain is the mechanical version of...
Well, you know that scene in a film where the twist is revealed? The characters goggle in wonder and horror while shots from earlier in the movie are shown, which now take on a completely different meaning from their initial appearance? That's Opening Your Brain.
At least to me. Don't know about you guys.

Munin

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Re: Opening Your Brain in a Solo RP?
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2017, 02:53:55 PM »
To Munin, that is excellent. Seeing Tarot in action, I see it adding a lot to my games! I've already tried it on its own, and that was enough to make me excited for trying it out in-game (and maybe getting a tarot deck of my own...). So, thank you so much.
No worries! I'm glad it gave you some inspiration.