Opening your brain and missing

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Opening your brain and missing
« on: August 04, 2010, 01:33:03 AM »
So tonight our gunlugger opened his brain during a battle, and missed the roll. As MC I kind of came up with this stuff where he saw and heard static that caused him to drop his gun and go all stunned, and then violent, bloody images flashed through his head (a bullet ripping through flesh, blood spatters, etc.). When he came to, there was a part of his brain that always contained these violent images, except when he was being violent.

...which was lame, and didn't really have an impact on play or on how we saw the character. I had stumbled through the first description, but I followed it up a couple minutes later with, "No, the images are there, but they cause you to take -1 ongoing when acting violent in this current conflict (taking over a rival gang), and they're gone when you're not acting violent." I wanted to give the "maelstrom in the brain" mechanical teeth, because I was afraid it would never come up again in a significant way. Turns out that the conflict was pretty much over, and it didn't come up again at all during the session (which was done in another 30 min. or so).

So...how could I have made this better? What are good things to do when people fail their "open your brain" rolls?

In general I'm having a very difficult time with the psychic maelstrom stuff. It's very flat and not at all weird & wrong, like I want it to be. It's hard for me to be extemporaneous on this subject in a cool way. There was one point tonight where someone opened their brain, had a 10+ hit, and I took a few solid minutes to spit something out. Then I realized that I hadn't even told them something new and interesting about the situation, and I did a do-over, but even the info about the sitch that they learned didn't come into play or become consequential. Bah! Why am I bashing my head over this? It seems so easy in the book. I may make a couple other posts about other things I'm having difficulty with as MC.

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2010, 02:46:32 AM »
I found this to be tricksy as well. Three things to try:

1) Ask questions. The more people you have contributing to the vision and experience of the psychic maelstrom, the more likely it is that someone will say something inspirational and exciting. Plus, you can ask the other players simple questions like: "What's the worst thing you've ever heard of the maelstrom doing to a person, when it got in their head?" and work with the answers.

2) Double check your MC moves list, and your Threats, outside of the game. The players have missed a roll, it's a chance for you to make a move. So spend some time wondering: "How might opening their brains and missing be an opportunity to seperate or capture someone? How might it be an opportunity to announce off screen badness?" and so on.

3) Have a look through your fronts and threats and see if any of them might manifest through the maelstrom. If not, especially if your characters are spending more and more time messing around in the maelstrom, maybe you need to think about developing some?

Hideous visions of violence
Affliction, delusion
Impulse: Dominate people's choices and actions
Description: At your most peaceful, your head is buzzing like someone ground up lead and viscera and made espresso out of it. At your most violent, you feel like God himself, and you want more.

Whenever you Seize by Force and don't choose to inflict terrible harm, and whenever you act violently but don't choose your most harmful weapon, you're acting under fire.

Hmm, that's not there yet, but it's a start.

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2010, 04:20:44 AM »

I think it can help, to some degree, to try and figure out what the Psychic Maelstrom's angle is: what sort of perspective is the Maelstrom bringing to your Apocalypse World, above and beyond answering the PC's questions?

One way to do this might be to think of it in terms of fronts -- does your Psychic Maelstrom represent a fundamental scarcity? If so ideally it's one that you don't already have in the game -- so it can interact with existing fronts freely, instead of merely appearing to be the instrument of one or another of them. Or maybe, instead of that, your Psychic Maelstrom represents the opposite of one of the scarcities -- your Maelstrom is all about satiation, or generosity, whether in a straightforward or a warped sort of way.

This is different than actually making your Maelstrom a Front, by the way -- I'm definitely not advising that (unless you already have an idea for it). I'm just saying: maybe it would help to think of it in terms of a scarcity, as a way of getting an angle on it. A hungry Maelstrom has a different character than an envious one -- it wants different things from the players, and it provides different perspectives as well.

Similarly, you could use the Threat structure (what does it mean to have a Maelstrom that is a Warlord (Hive Queen), or that is a Grotesque (Mutant), or that is a Landscape (Prison) or whatever. Again, doesn't have to actually be a Threat, but you can use the language (and then borrow the Moves, even, for when the PC's miss.)

Another thing that's already been mentioned is the Questions. Hopefully you've already been following through on the game's advice: the first time the character Opens Their Brain you have to ask them what it's like for them to interact with the Maelstrom. In terms of the aesthetic of the visions and such -- for me, those should be based almost entirely on what the player brings to the table. In our first game we all had very different visions of the Maelstrom, but they ended up sharing certain commonalities -- but how your Gunlugger gets her answers vs. how the Angel gets his, I think you want to follow the players' leads. And keep asking more questions about 'what it's like' until you feel like you've got what they have in mind (or until you force them to have something in mind.)

But apart from questions about the Maelstrom, the sort of questions the Maelstrom asks seems like a really high-potential area to me. I remember one of the first times a character Opened Their Brain, and the MC question went something like:

MC: Who was your best friend/closest ally, back in <previous home>?
PC: Uh... <describes a person and a situation and how it worked.>
MC: Okay. Actually, there was someone else you liked more, but you've forgotten them.

At which point I was like 'whoa!' This Maelstrom means fucking business.

And of course the Maelstrom has particular interests -- it wants to know specific kinds of things, which is where some of the above bits about 'the Maelstrom's perspective' come in. An Envious Maelstrom might tend towards exactly the sort of question described above -- asking about nice things and then snatching them away for its own use -- while a Maelstrom made up primarily of dead children might ask lots of simplistic, experiential questions ('what's it like to do X?' 'what does that taste like?' etc.)


Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2010, 07:07:49 PM »
Thanks guys, great stuff. I think this super-simple answer is especially useful to me:

2) Double check your MC moves list, and your Threats, outside of the game. The players have missed a roll, it's a chance for you to make a move. So spend some time wondering: "How might opening their brains and missing be an opportunity to seperate or capture someone? How might it be an opportunity to announce off screen badness?" and so on.

I just need to spend some off-time thinking about the psychic maelstrom and what it is and how I can use it. I didn't think about it at all before our last two games, which is probably why it's been flat.

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2010, 09:09:01 AM »
I'm a very unexperienced MC, so when they miss a roll and I don't know what to do, I simply say: time for the break. And then I make myself some coffee or tea and try to relax and think clear.

About maelstrom and miss, there is one thing that seems to be universal - I describe some bad, dark visions. Last time it was the scene of brutal execution upon PC friend - she saw it like she was the one holding the gun.
I often use the "maelstrom misses" to add something dark from my fronts, and / or inflict some ap harm.

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2010, 09:15:06 AM »
I'm a very unexperienced MC, so when they miss a roll and I don't know what to do, I simply say: time for the break. And then I make myself some coffee or tea and try to relax and think clear.

This is good advice and something I use all the time GMing no matter what the game. Although, my break is usually, "Hold on, I gotta use the bathroom." Then, I can sit in there and think. ;)

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lumpley

  • 1293
Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2010, 09:57:10 AM »
My very favorite move to make when someone opens their brain to the world's psychic maelstrom and misses the roll is to capture someone. You can't do it all the time, though.

Here's a way I sometimes put someone in a spot when they open their brain and miss: I say "so Keeler, if you were to kill Marie right now -- I know, but just if you were -- how would you do it?" Prod Keeler's player into describing it in some detail. "...Oh sure, I see. Do you think you'd get any of her blood in your mouth? What do you suppose it would taste like?" And so on. At the end, I say "...and you realize that you've been saying all this out loud. Marie, what do you do?"

Or, hell, why not: "...and you realize all at once that this is what you've been actually doing. Marie, Keeler has her pistol pressed to the back of your head and she's about to pull the trigger. What do you do?"

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Chris

  • 342
Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2010, 10:12:08 AM »
I'm a very unexperienced MC, so when they miss a roll and I don't know what to do, I simply say: time for the break. And then I make myself some coffee or tea and try to relax and think clear.

About maelstrom and miss, there is one thing that seems to be universal - I describe some bad, dark visions. Last time it was the scene of brutal execution upon PC friend - she saw it like she was the one holding the gun.
I often use the "maelstrom misses" to add something dark from my fronts, and / or inflict some ap harm.

It's not a vision; it's a move, and hopefully a hard one. The vision is just misdirection.

For missing a open your brain roll, I like to do the exact opposite of taking a break. If you don't know what to say, if you've got nothing prepped for this, you're always doing an MC move. So I look at them and just pick one, the first one, that one. And then I misdirect with the first thing that pops in my head flavorwise,  regardless of whether it makes sense or not. When you're opening your brain, it doesn't have to follow logically.

Don't hesitate, don't blink, and they'll think you had it planned all along. Then you can figure out what the hell THAT meant later on in your prep for the next session. Maybe even make it a stakes question.
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

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Bret

  • 285
Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #8 on: August 16, 2010, 10:13:16 AM »
Here's a way I sometimes put someone in a spot when they open their brain and miss: I say "so Keeler, if you were to kill Marie right now -- I know, but just if you were -- how would you do it?" Prod Keeler's player into describing it in some detail. "...Oh sure, I see. Do you think you'd get any of her blood in your mouth? What do you suppose it would taste like?" And so on. At the end, I say "...and you realize that you've been saying all this out loud. Marie, what do you do?"
Ahahaha, I love this. It's despicable.
Tupacalypse World

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2010, 11:34:37 AM »
Don't hesitate, don't blink, and they'll think you had it planned all along.

Unless you do hesitate or blink. Some people will. Seems like it'd be a great time to take a break, scan your moves, pick an awesome one, and then daydream a sweet way to misdirect.

I don't think taking breaks is inherently a bad thing when someone fails any particular move. If you've got something, run with it. Don't balk. But, if your brain goes empty, take a break, scan your moves, pick one and then come back and address yourself to the character and misdirect.

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2010, 12:20:34 PM »
Since I posted this I've found it very helpful to go through the basic MC moves and jot down a little thought for every one--how might I use this one if they open their brain and miss? It was easy to come up with great stuff with time to think. I'm sure I'll use some of the things I wrote down, but really they're more for if I get stuck/ to springboard me into doing it extemporaneously.

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #11 on: August 16, 2010, 12:21:54 PM »
Having been Keeler in that situation, it is massively fun and crazy what happens when a PC accidentally says stuff out loud. Don't over-use it, but that little scenario set up the whole next arc of play.

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Chris

  • 342
Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #12 on: August 16, 2010, 12:31:31 PM »
Don't hesitate, don't blink, and they'll think you had it planned all along.

Unless you do hesitate or blink.

The hesitation comes from thinking that you might say the wrong thing. There is no wrong thing. Just a pick a move. They're right there. You don't have more in the bathroom. :)

I mean this specifically for opening your brain. You literally CAN'T go wrong as the MC.

For me, anything I step away to plan for "opening your brain" is not gonna be as direct as something I just go with. It's the same in our Wave game. I have all day, literally, to come with weird ass apocalyptica. But it's always the weirdest and most direct if I drop whatever come to me right then.

But as you know, I'm that kinda GM anyway. My spur of the moment is always better than my prep. If you give me time to think about a move, you'll end up in a bomb office. :)
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2010, 12:51:10 PM »
Don't hesitate, don't blink, and they'll think you had it planned all along.

Unless you do hesitate or blink.

The hesitation comes from thinking that you might say the wrong thing. There is no wrong thing. Just a pick a move. They're right there. You don't have more in the bathroom. :)

I mean this specifically for opening your brain. You literally CAN'T go wrong as the MC.

For me, anything I step away to plan for "opening your brain" is not gonna be as direct as something I just go with. It's the same in our Wave game. I have all day, literally, to come with weird ass apocalyptica. But it's always the weirdest and most direct if I drop whatever come to me right then.

But as you know, I'm that kinda GM anyway. My spur of the moment is always better than my prep. If you give me time to think about a move, you'll end up in a bomb office. :)

Oh, I follow you totally and agree. I'm talking about those times when you literally go blank, or get stumped. Naturally, a bathroom or tea or smoke break or whatever doesn't add moves to the list, but it certainly gives you time to examine them carefully, refer to your Fronts and make a selection without the pressure of the players staring down on you.

I do like the suggestion earlier of writing a little prep, "How might I do X move when someone fails on an open your brain roll..?" and jotting down some ideas. That's a good way to elaborate and mitigate the breaks in the game.

And, since you mentioned the Wave game, it reminded me: ask the players what they think, or open up the floor for input. I failed a roll with Jasper one time and you were like, "Oh, you get stuck in the mud." And, I'm like, "No way. How about the hatch flies open and I have a hard choice, lose the cargo or not?"

I think the move is: sometimes, disclaim decision making by putting it in the player's hands. I think this goes for failed rolls too.

Aside: office bombs. :) Ha!

Re: Opening your brain and missing
« Reply #14 on: August 16, 2010, 02:32:32 PM »
One of my favorite things with missed moves is to give them just what they want PLUS. So if it's a gunlugger getting all violent, tell them how the malestrom floods them with violence, power, strength, and energy. Then let them know they can go aggro with a 10+ right now, as long as they don't mind going aggor on everyone in the room, including the innocent bystanders.