Your Psychic Maelstroms?

edited June 2011 in Story Games
One of the benefits to playing serial Apocalypse World one-shots is that I've seen the psychic maelstrom manifest in different ways.

* In a game riffing a touch on The Stand, set along I-10 in New Mexico, the maelstrom was Hell.
* In a game set on a generational starship, where the characters were a middle generation well after it launched, and wouldn't be the ones to reach the destination (so, only there to further populate the species), the maelstrom was the ship's frightening AI. Very Hal 9000.
* In a game riffing off of Summerland, with small human enclaves surrounded by the encroaching forests, the maelstrom was the forest itself, angry at humans. (Which made playing my Brainer weird, as my allegiance felt very split between my friends and the forest that could talk to me. That's also the game where I got the 29 experience in one session.)

How has the maelstrom manifested in your games?

- Ryan


  • In our near-earth-orbit game, it's dead people.

    In my other game, we all see it different ways - for me, it's usually very subtle, just a camera lens change and maybe a vision ... for our Skinner, it's a playground with mutant children who have mouths for eyes, and the mutant children are trying to tell her something ... nobody's punched through yet...
  • Possibly intelligent insect plagues and giant toxic trees.
    Ghosts when the mechanism to take souls of the dead away broke down.
    Gaia strikes back with mutants and megafauna.
    An alien parallel dimension that the crashed space ship ties into quite intimately.
    An intelligent creative force that has given up on humanity and is here to turn it into the next phase of the experiment.
  • I haven't played as many games, but in games I've MC'd I described it as a beach with a red tide, offering cryptic glimpses into the future. It's kinda like that beach in Inception, only its in everyone's brain. I like using it for foreshadowing in the narrative of the game.
  • I'd like to do one that is sort of Being John Malkovich crossed with Identity in which everything is going on inside someone's head and when they open their brain they get to pop into the head of the person who's imagining it all and control them for a scene (and maybe do cool thinks like leave notes for other players, etc).
  • Zombie Hive Mind

    Paranormalish residual anger of a scientist who purposely ended the world after his wife died

    New sentient creature who was formed from the psychic pain left from the apoc, AM style.

    Lots of others that never got fleshed out because the game died.
  • In the game I ran, which was mostly in the Mojave Desert, the Psychic Maelstrom was revealed to be the displaced collective goodness of humanity, which was shunted out of the world when base survival trumped any sense of altruism. It desperately wanted to return to the world, but people's hearts were too hard for any goodness to return. At least, until one of the characters rolled a 13 with their advanced move, and the Maelstrom made him it's champion.
  • edited June 2011
    A Matrix-like construct programmed by the humans who won the apocalypse to keep the rest of humanity from getting their shit together enough to come after the winners on their moon base. The construct contained 4 programs in charge of 4 spheres of life on earth, with some badass powers to control those spheres (humans, animals, plants, machines).

    Think the Ex Machina dimensional invaders meets Agent Smith.

    In the end, the characters brought 3 of the programs out of the maelstrom, giving them earthly bodies (baby, snake, seed), and fed the maelstrom's creators to the remaining machine-gone-mad.
  • One of the ideas that came to me when we were kicking around ideas from my most recently started game was a population-density related time-distortion field apocalypse. This would look like: relative time speeds up for people around a lot of other people and slows down for people who are really isolated. So, the great cities all burned up in a flash when this weird change happened and the other cities weren't too far behind. But villages and farmstead, maybe they're still around. And we were talking about a game set among the pacific islands where e.g. a lone traveler in an outrigger might paddle from one island to the next and it might seem like three weeks passed to that person, but to the villagers, it seems like she teleported. None of this really addresses the personality of the psychic maelstrom, but it would surely be related to temporal disturbance of one kind and another. At least one of the other players didn't like it so we passed on it but it still seems like a neat idea. But if this ended up pushing people away from interpersonal interaction, that would pretty much be a fail.
  • Hmmm. More of a discussion of the maelstroms here, less of a list type thing, so it might not go here, so feel free to tell me to get the hell out, Ryan, but any thoughts on "successful" maelstroms in terms of complexities?

    In other words, do you find that a more complex expression of the maelstrom/weirdness is "better" than a "simple" one or maybe the other way round?

    Feel free to insert your own standards for my words in quotations.
  • my fav maelstrom ...

    -Every night The Smoke blew in off the coast and covered everything in the city, For one driver, the maelstrom was The Smoke. and when he opened his brain he lit up a cigarette and talked to the smoke.

    This just reminded me of an important MC choice. Unified Maelstrom v.s. personal Maelstrom.
    Sometimes it is different for everyone, sometimes it's a thing, like most of the people above have described.
  • edited June 2011
    Regarding my post above, it would also be cool if opening your brain let you form a psychic link and inhabit and control other PCs and NPCs, obvious downsides included.
  • My last maelstrom was a psychic feedback loop created when a network of incredibly powerful psychics were corrupted by an alien memetic virus.
  • edited June 2011
    My Battlebabe Kite’s maelstrom was all sound and rhythm like the beating of some massive heart or drum, she opened her mind to it by listening to the beat of the world till it hypnotized her and gave her insight on an instinctual level. Kite was never big on thinking, more of a shoot from the hip instinctual gal.

    - Colin
  • One game i was in never finished, and thus never revealed the bigger explanation, but my Gunlugger's relationship with the Maelstrom was a talking corpse dog. It was this black, bloody thing that growled and whispered to him, always around him, always in the corner of his eye. But when he went into battle (Battlehardened move) the Dog worked with him...
  • Posted By: ChristopherHmmm. More of a discussion of the maelstroms here, less of a list type thing, so it might not go here, so feel free to tell me to get the hell out, Ryan, but any thoughts on "successful" maelstroms in terms of complexities?
    Not that I mind, but it might be a worthy talk as its own thread anyway.

    - Ryan
  • One question I always ask about the Maelstrom is "What color is the Psychic Maelstrom?"

    Every time I do, it's Octarine in color.
  • Oh, fuck yes!

    And likely some next time I MC, the maelstrom will be synesthetic. Taste the rainbow!

    - Ryan
  • In the game I MCed, the maelstrom was the remains of the Internet, full of weaponized meme-viruses after a global war, getting into everyone's brain implants.
  • It was the great game, played by gods, on the chessboard of our world, with us as pawns. Of course the real revelation was when we learned that after the game is done, the board is destroyed...
  • My favorite idea, that I'd be tempted to run with again if I found the right group, was one where the world's psychic maelstrom was the broken shards of the fourth wall. All inspired by a comment of John Harper's that "characters don't actually receive the MC's love letters in game" which made me think "Actually, it would be kind of awesome if they did."
  • In our most recent Apocalypse World game....
    In the future man kind has figured out what the "Soul" is and had attempted make an artificial heaven. Satellites orbit the earth and collect the souls when people die. It did not go as expected, the satellites malfunctioned, science in general began to fail, and the captured tortured souls watch over the destroyed world from the sky.
  • In my Ozarks Ghostwood AW setting (set in 1968, 50 years after the post-WWI Great Flu killed 99% of everyone) the Psychic Maelstorm was Talking to Ghosts. So many people had died so quickly that the gates to the afterlife got clogged up (or so people said) and ghosts were blown about by the winds and got tangled up in trees. Smoke kept ghosts away, but if you went into the woods without smoke to keep the ghosts away, you risked possession by breathing in a ghost.

    But if you wanted, you could talk to ghosts, and sometimes they would whisper things to you that they'd seen or knew.
  • Carl, that's beautiful.

    Sage's Driver opened his brain by turning on the radio in his car. He picked up stations no one else could hear. Or so he thought.
  • edited June 2011
    SETI had results. But the message it recieved was so alien, so unlike any human forms of communications that it was mutagenic. SETI@Home was quite a success, so when the decyphering algorythm was spread across the world through the web, the world changed. Machines broke or became mean, media bled into people's head, and their thought bled out of their brains, and nature changed and became strange and unearthly. And 99% of the world population died in the aftermath.

    Opening one's brain is scavenging the memetic wasteland caused by the Message. Going through the Maelstrom? That's trying to figure out what the Message means.
  • Posted By: John HarperCarl, that's beautiful.

    Sage's Driver opened his brain by turning on the radio in his car. He picked up stations no one else could hear. Or so he thought.
    We had Maelstrom Radio in a game, too - it was the signal lost in the ghost-static in the perpetual snows of the city. My character was a Savvyhead named Spectre with a huge radio antennae and a drinking problem.
  • In our current game, the psychic maelstrom is a manifestation of nature taking back human intelligence. Every hostile facet of nature - the mutated, poisonous indigenous lifeforms, the vegetation, the foods, drinks and drugs derived from them, the bacteria and viruses, the rain and storms - are trying to rip sentience and free will from the remaining inhabitants, leaving them as idiot human husks, savages, and bottom feeders. The player characters and a handful of key NPCs are the only ones relatively unafflicted by the maelstrom, which is why their motivations are a tad bit more complex than "where can I get my next drink" and "who do I have to kill next to get what I want".

    When you "open your mind" and hit, you get to commune with the icy cold remnants of that compounded lost intellect. When you fail, I ask you questions about your mental activity, and when you wake up those answers have been lost to you.

    The Psychic Maelstrom is easily the most difficult part of AW for me as the MC. I'd be very interested in a thread discussing interpreting them, potential pitfalls, and complexity.
  • I agree that the Maelstrom's the most difficult part of the game. It often feels bolted on to the rest of the game rather than an integral part. As both a player and an MC I felt put on the spot when I had to describe an interaction with it, and it seems like others I've played with were feeling the same. The creative flow bogged down, and a lot of it felt artificial.

    In the game I ran last year, the Maelstrom was a source of information: the Hocus could pull "ancient" recorded music out of it, and push music into it; the Gunlugger could get tactical overhead maps from it. Eventually it became apparent that it was composed of Matrix-y satellite AIs that used humans as hardware and fought each other for control of minds. The game wrapped up before we got to explore this very much.

    It's not real clear what the maelstrom is in our current game. We've had fire and light imagery; psychotropic, contagious mold; a sentient trash heap; weird people who have clearly spent way too much time on the mainland with the mold and trash heap.
  • The indigo children come.....
  • The hateful soul of a parasitic black sun which has enslaved Sol to use for the destruction of mankind, it was a pretty harsh world.

    Brain implant internet, as many other have had.

    In my Sunken Sydney game it was the Dreamtime.
  • Our Apocalypse World ended up being the dream of a dying person (Jacob's Ladder, wooo). The maelstrom was neural impulses, and utilizing the maelstrom meant a dream character was altering the dreamscape and messing with this dude's brain. Creepy.
  • Posted By: KripplerIn my Sunken Sydney game it was the Dreamtime.

    Wow! I dig the Dreamtime as the PM... Do you have any play notes to share on that?

    As for me, the PM has been Oblivion ala Wraith though we did not gert very far with it and in my next game the maelstrom is going to be the stormfront of another reality overwriting our own... Though the idea of the cast out Lucifer as he travels back through toime to reach Heal could be cool
  • edited July 2011
    Posted By: Joe Beasonagree that the Maelstrom's the most difficult part of the game. It often feels bolted on to the rest of the game rather than an integral part.
    I feel you. I think it's the one thing in the game that's underdeveloped. It's not that I want Vincent to tell me what it is, but I felt that he could have told me how to use it.
  • In the game Will Hindmarch ran for us at Origins, the psychic maelstrom was the gulf that existed between the haves and have nots, the abyss that remained where the middle class once existed. It was an apocalypse where the very rich and the very poor were the only two castes and the goal for my Battlebabe character was to ascend to that upper strata any way he could.

    It was pretty awesome, really.
  • edited July 2011
    It's like this music video, particularly after 3:15. (No it's not.)
  • The Maelstrom is that Fruitful Void thing. It doesn't feel to me as if it's bolted on at all.

    Indeed, apart from a dozen less-obvious-but-still-very-important-things, the Maelstrom is one of the few surface level artifacts that differentiate Apocalypse World from many other PA RPGs.

    In most of the AW games I played the table came most alive during interaction with the Maelstrom. Even the campaign where I played a Maestro D' with a -1 Weird.
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