Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry

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Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« on: January 16, 2014, 12:42:13 AM »
Augury. This is one of those moves that could be taken literally, or less so depending on how the maelstorm functions within a given storyline. When the maelstorm is something physical, like there really are demons in the minds of men and they'll give hints, suggestions, powers, and what have you to those that open their brain–but might force them to do evil on a failed roll. Augury could be bringing the darkness out, or going into the darkness after something. Pretty cool, very easy to wrap your head around it.

However, I'm more interested in those MCs that have experience running story-lines where the maelstorm is particularly ... ethereal. Essentially not using metaphors, colours, shapes, smells, texture or other physical tangible senses. How might you have the Augury function within this type of maelstorm? I'll provide an example, although replying with examples from your own games are welcomed.


The last man stands in the ruins of the sun-bleached urban ruins, fresh bodies scattered here and there, the bullet wounds still smoking over fresh pools of blood. He knows that this bandit problem is done dealt with, but he opens his brain to the scene anyway.

On a 10+: Something is off. He looks over the bodies again, then knows what it was. There aren't enough bodies here. Some must have splintered off before he found these. He just has this feeling that they went west towards the Moonshine district, they've that new spring of fresh water out there. He better hurry.
On a 7–9: Something is off. There's that damn feeling again. Some of these scum aren't here, they're probably making for a water source. He better hurry.
On a Miss: A wave of sweltering heat washes over him. The last man feels nauseous now and is acutely aware of the smell of the corpses baking the in the sun. His stomach does another roll, his last meal coming up. He needs to get out of this heat and lay still for awhile. Best get a move on.

Basically the above is an example maelstrom where opening your brain is more of a sixth sense, a gist on the wind. I'm curious how you might theme an Augury within this context. Or in another suitably vague maelstrom.



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Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2014, 10:47:20 AM »
The beauty of the psychic maelstrom is that while its form is established in the fiction, it is up to the MC to determine what sort of information the maelstrom barfs forth (i.e. "the MC will tell you something new and interesting about the situation"), and more importantly how that information manifests.  So in games where the players previous interfaces with the maelstrom have made it effectively "the spirit world," the MC can go one way.  In games where the psychic maelstrom takes a much more mundane form, the MC can describe things in a completely different direction.  And this can take lots of forms.  As a more extreme example, in the film Gladiator, I posit to you that every time Maximus knelt down, grabbed a handful of dirt, and let it run through his fingers he was opening his mind to the psychic maelstrom.

As the MC, you can use lots of mundane stuff to impart insight.  Noticing some minute but important detail is the easiest.  Appealing to less well-used senses is great too (a smell, a cool breeze, a low rumbling vibration).  Thoughts or (better yet) memories should be within your bag of tricks too.  So if one of the players opens their mind and you want to clue the players in to a hidden room, you might go with: "As you stand in the ruins, you suddenly get the overwhelming sense that you've been here before.  Long, long ago, and the place was different then.  At first you question your memory of the place, but then you see a faded drawing of an airplane done in pink chalk, barely visible now, and you vividly recall your brother making it.  And when you stayed here as a child, there was a hidden, secret place where you used to hide when there was danger..."

Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2014, 12:22:16 PM »
Basically the above is an example maelstrom where opening your brain is more of a sixth sense, a gist on the wind. I'm curious how you might theme an Augury within this context. Or in another suitably vague maelstrom.

Well first off, remember that the experience of the Maelstrom is usually different for every PC, so if this one guy experiences it as a sixth sense that's no reason that another PC might not see it as demons possessing the minds of men, or whatever. It's up to the players to provide details on how they specifically interact with the Maelstrom, and it's up to the MC to decide what the Maelstrom is actually like -- based on her own ideas and also what the players have provided.

As for Augury, it will of course have to work in some way that is compatible with how the PC who uses it sees the Maelstrom: that's also the obvious place to start when figuring out what Augury 'looks like' for a PC. They're the one using it, so ask them: what's it like when you use Augury? What does it mean to 'isolate' something? Depending on whether this is something the PC has done before, they may have more or less informed answers. In my experience PCs who take the Augury move already tend to have a fairly developed idea about how they interact with the Maelstrom, and it is very rare that the same PC decides that their Maelstrom-experience is an "intangible sixth sense" sort of interaction.

But more importantly, Augury works on the actual Maelstrom, the one that it is the MC's job to understand and embody. Regardless of how the PC perceives their interactions, it is this Maelstrom that they are isolating something from, and it is this Maelstrom that is going to bleed instability. So ultimately the MC has to figure out what that means, regardless of how the PC sees it.

This is all just preamble to the actual question, but I think that it's pretty important to consider whether or not the MC can actually decide the Maelstrom is completely intangible/metaphorical, or whether or not that is a good idea. I have created plenty of psychic maelstroms using metaphor and abstract concepts for inspiration, but in the end I still made the Maelstrom an actual thing, with concrete parameters and desires and effects on people. And those are the things that Augury is going to affect.

So in your example, the important question is: what is the Maelstrom actually like. Is it about death and corpses and not-quite-dead things? In that case, maybe isolating a dying or recently-dead person from the Maelstrom lets them die 'properly', the way people died before the Apocalypse. Maybe it just keeps the visions and nausea at bay; or maybe it means they can't die at all, even when they want to. If the Maelstrom has purchase on the souls of the dead and the living, then perhaps when you 'reach through the Maelstrom' the part you reach out to is that soul. When you open a window, everyone can see the dead. Etc.



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Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2014, 04:26:47 PM »
These are helpful points of view, although I had been hoping to see a few direct examples from other games. I'm looking to see how others have done it in the past. I've fiddled a few ways through during my own games, but I feel there is significant room for improvement. But instead of outlying all the details here and getting a critic on that lone example, I am hoping to see what has worked well for you in the past.

I appreciate the responses so far.



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Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2014, 02:40:49 AM »
Let's see...

Cobra opening his mind (about 1/2 way into the post)

Specials using Augury (2nd paragraph)
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2014, 10:51:06 AM »
These are helpful points of view, although I had been hoping to see a few direct examples from other games.

Okay, but I am going to struggle to keep this at all short. This is all from memory, and was awhile ago, so I am sure what I think was my process and what my actual process were are no longer the same thing.

Anyways, I ran a game quite awhile ago; as with all our AW games it started with the players talking about what sort of Apocalypse we were into, in very general terms. We agreed on a cold Apocalypse, and we also wanted to play in a more urban setting with a greater focus on some basic scarcities. One player contributed some much more specific imagery: the idea of weird radio signals (which have existed historically in real life) that broadcast weird garbled text, or random beeps, etc. The player went on to play a Savvyhead with an eventually Augury-capable workshop. This Savvyhead had a kind of intimate obsession with the radio signals, and his workshop was in fact a semi-functional radio tower.

I don't remember if we played a full first session immediately; I suspect we did not, because I remember having time to go away and think about the setting and specifically what the Maelstrom might be like. Since the Savvyhead's player had by far the strongest/most specific Maelstrom-related concept (and I really liked the idea of the strange radio stations, broadcasting despite or perhaps because of the Apocalypse), that was my starting point. I remember at some point (probably during the initial discussions) writing down the word STATIC and this eventually became the seed-word for a bunch of different things in the setting, including the Maelstrom.

The connection between STATIC and radio signals is pretty obvious; the question that occurred to me was 'is the radio the Maelstrom or is the static the Maelstrom?' This was not a question I answered immediately. I also brainstormed a bunch of other STATIC-related ideas -- the idea of personal static, conflict between people, and also the idea of static as the disintegration of data or identity. Static-as-interference turned out to be the key to my understanding of the Maelstrom, though this developed only over the first five or six sessions.

I was pretty excited about this general Maelstrom concept, mostly because STATIC is such an evocative word -- it's the perfect word to help guide a Maelstrom, because it is simultaneously abstract and concrete. No matter how wildly you associate on the word, it is very easy to snap back to the literal object, whether it be the hiss and crackle of a radio signal or the visual static on a television. In any case, my excitement meant that I ended up forming a great deal of the setting around this concept -- even when the Maelstrom itself was not directly involved in a threat, the metaphor of the Maelstrom was clearly at play.

The other thing I was most excited about was the idea of a cold Apocalypse, which I had brought to the table as a player during our initial discussions. It should not be very hard to see how the idea of a world in which it is constantly snowing might fit extremely well with a world in which the visual and cognitive metaphor of static was running rampant. Static on television screens = snow, after all.

The third point from our initial brainstorming was that we wanted at least one crucial, basic scarcity; I think we decided in our group discussion that it would be particularly ironic if the scarcity was drinkable water, despite the fact that it was constantly snowing. Whether it was decided then or immediately after, this idea -- that there was snow all the time but for some reason the snow was not safe to eat/melt/drink -- formed a perfect bridge with my notion of the Maelstrom as a static-producing, disintegrating force. I decided that the snow was in fact a vector for the 'personal static' that I had been thinking about. That people who ate the snow lost a sense of themselves, and became dysfunctional in society; that they progressed through various stages of psychological breakdown the more snow they consumed, eventually culminating in a complete loss of self. This formed an explicit, concrete connection between the scarcity of potable water and the much more abstract scarcity of society, identity, etc.

Process-wise, most of these decisions either emerged from or were made increasingly explicit by my post-First-Session MC work. STATIC was the first Front I built, and one of the threats under STATIC was the Maelstrom. I don't remember offhand what sort of threat I made the Maelstrom -- I am actually pretty sure I made it two types of threats at once, which is something I tend to do a lot with Threats I find particularly interesting.

In fact, I ended up adding the Maelstrom to all three of my initial Fronts, assigning it a different threat type in each case. It wasn't called the Maelstrom in every case, but focused on some particular part of the constellation of concepts and concrete effects that were slowly coming together as 'the Maelstrom' in my head. Because the effects of the Maelstrom were so widespread, it manifested as threatening in different ways, depending on what fundamental scarcity (and therefore what Front) was at issue. In all cases, the Threats were very clearly of the same abstract family, but in each case having to choose specific threat types -- in the context of the Fronts, which also tended to be more concrete (with the exception of the STATIC Front, which was specifically for tracking metaphorical dangers) -- forced me to crystallize my vague, abstract ideas of the Maelstrom into specific, immediate effects on the people and the environment.

All this was coming together over the first three or four sessions, with input from the players in the form of Opening Their Brains (and telling me what it was like) and also with more details from the Savvyhead on what his specific experience of the radio signals/stations was like.

By this point I had two things: a very clear FEELING for what the Maelstrom was like, in terms of its personality and what it desired; and also an increasingly large number of very specific EFFECTS that the Maelstrom was having on the PCs, NPCs, and environment. The former was still extremely vague and abstract -- I knew it wanted to make it harder to know things, including making it harder for people to know who they were and what they wanted. But the latter was all stuff that was actually happening, because of what the Maelstrom was like. I knew people were becoming psychologically empty, wandering around in the snow forgetting who they were; I knew there was an entire Hardhold of NPCs who were all halfway-there, because of the fish they lived on; I knew there was a PC who made a living harvesting glacier-ice, which was somehow free of static; I knew that the NPC who controlled the only working water-filtration system was far more important than anyone particularly thought; etc. And knowing all of these things fed back into my abstract understanding, and made it clearer what part of these things was because of what the Maelstrom really wanted, and what part of these things was only indirectly connected to the Maelstrom, as a sort of fallout.

And then the Savvyhead finally invented his AUGURY MACHINE, which I am going to have to cover in another post because this one is already super long.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2014, 11:04:51 AM by Daniel Wood »

Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2014, 10:56:57 AM »

In fact having typed all of that out I now realize that I have only the vaguest memories of the Savvyhead actually performing Augury -- I do remember that I made him wait way too long, as a player, to actually get his Augury-machine working, but not what sort of things he used it on. Anyways, I will check some notes and see if I remember more clearly, and if not I will just have to give another much more Augury-focused example from a more recent game. In any case I will end up using the previous post as well, because it all relates to the idea that you actually have to know what the Maelstrom actually is and actually does before you can figure out how Augury actually works.



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Re: Augury and the Maelstorm Inquiry
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2014, 11:34:11 PM »
Daniel, in the situation you describe above, even if you no longer recall how the augury move was used. I'd be interested in hearing how you might choose to have that move act if it happened today. I do know that the reply may not be true to the fiction as it was then. I'm not worried about that so much.