Maelstrom Thoughts: Paul Holds Court 3/3
Okay so this mini-campaign I took a different tack than before. A lot of this comes directly from some killer best-practice advice about Sagas of the Icelanders I got from Mikael Andersson back in the day, regarding that game’s bond economy and some clever interpretation of the moves set. The executive summary from that game (hear me out) is that when someone Tempts Fate and the GM (whose meta-character is “The Fates”) earns a bond on that character from a 7-9 roll, the GM gets to use that bond in exactly the same way as the players: specifically, a move called “look into someone’s heart.” I’m sure you can see the similarity to Open Your Brain.
This campaign, I didn’t have a strong sense of “who” the Maelstrom was, but I knew it’d have a personality and an agenda. I took the players’ lead on that the first time someone opened their brain: what even is the Maelstrom, how does your character interact with it, what does it look like to them? Based on those early answers I formed up the Maelstrom’s personality.
In Sagas, the neat little psych trick is when you look in someone’s heart, you get straight answers but the questions are constrained. Stuff like “how could I get your character to do X?” Then, later, when the GM puts those things into motion, was that the Fates? Was it magic? It’s even better when the Seidkona playbook, who is ostensibly “magical,” gains 3 bonds on you, asks her own questions, and the Fates (the GM) collaborates on the answers. It kind of … seems like magic is happening.
In Apocalypse World I go for the same thing. I’m asking questions for a couple reasons: to get them talking and thinking about stuff, and checking to see where the players’ interests lie. The talking and thinking sets the hook if their interests are aligned with the questions.
When I ask Maelstrom questions, I just ask Paul-to-player. I don’t talk with a weird voice or anything. I feel like I’m asking on behalf of this fictitious monster, though! Like I’ll sit there a moment and imagine what this evil fucker wants. And then I’ll ask about that in the nicest possible way. That might look like ummm:
Dang, not to get back into the Battlebabe story but it’s a fresh and relevant example. What the Maelstrom really wants to know is, how I can I get the Battlebabe to hurt Mice the worst? How can I manipulate him into that moment? Concession prize: how can I hurt the Battlebabe the worst via his relationship with Mice? It is totally a shit-stirring, dysfunctional, mean-girl kind of attitude. How can I inflict misery? Because, when I first asked about what the Maelstrom “is,” the answer I got was “the psychic static of the world’s misery that reached a tipping point.”
Okay, so I hear the Maelstrom tell me this. Then I have to rely on my grasp of human nature to make that work. So I ask questions about BB’s investment in Mice. Nudge him toward investing in the idea of their relationship more. Nudge my play of her into something sincere. This is me doing the Maelstrom’s bidding. You can armchair-psychologist this all you want. 🙂
Later, I remember testing the waters, to see if the hooks had gotten set. That’s when I asked about whether he thought she’d let him go if she was alive. Followed with, “so I guess that means you have to kill her, yeah?” And just letting that sit with the player a bit.
Then, when my 7-9 came along and I could finally cash in my chips, I know he felt partially responsible. It was my proudest, brightest moment in the game when he sits there, puts down his character sheet, throws his hands in the air and says “I don’t know what to feel!”
Then he had his character run off and nearly die chopping the shooter’s head off with a sword.
I guess I’m not sure how else to describe this other than to hone your headgame skills. If this doesn’t come naturally, maybe it’s not a technique you can internalize and put to good use.
I will say this: I also use the Maelstrom to get a sense of how to deliver meaningful achievement as well. Sometimes 10+ results can be just as magical: everything is on the line, it could all end in catastrophe, there’s genuine tension, and that is when they get everything they wanted and more.