One of the basic moves in Apocalyse World is "open your brain to the world's psychic maelstrom". The trigger for this move is:

When you open your brain to the world's psychic maelstrom...

What kinds of actions trigger this move?

In AW players always describe in-universe actions. So an AW player never "attacks a zombie and activates power attack" they "draw their hammer and ferociously swing at the zombie's skull". I just can't figure out what in-universe action would constitute "opening your brain" (I hope it isn't literally!)

  • \$\begingroup\$ @cpcodes See this FAQ for why your comment was removed. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2018 at 21:07

2 Answers 2


"Cool, what's that look like?"

So, first I should say: there's never any question that your character is capable of opening their brain to the psychic maelstrom. The existence of the psychic maelstrom is one of the few common features of the Apocalypse World setting, and if your character hadn't been capable of dealing with it to some degree, they would have lost themselves to Ψ-harm. (The idea of Ψ-harm is introduced in the second edition, and further cites will come from the second edition text.)

Second, I should say: when you're a player in an Apocalypse Engine game, it's totally fine to talk about the names of the moves you want to make. A lot of people make the mistake of assuming the MC rules apply to everybody, but MC moves are more like plot prompts, and naming them doesn't actually help convey the plot. But player moves are scripts that both the player and MC have to agree on to some extent, and if you try to agree on what move you're making without saying its name, you're gonna have a bad time.

Here's your opener in the MC section (p. 148), discussing how players make the move:

The player will want to choose a topic, naturally. She’ll say “I open my brain about Tum Tum” or something.

Which, as previously said, is fine to start. Everything else is going to come out in conversation, and the section goes on to detail some things the MC may want to start out by asking.

At first when you ask questions, they can be simply to establish facts and images, questions like “what’s the psychic maelstrom like for you?” and “how do you learn things from it?” As the game progresses, though, ask questions about the characters’ lives, pasts, psyches, souls.

So, how do you trigger opening your brain? However you say you do, subject to MC approval.

It's probably going to wind up being something at least notionally meditative? Though maybe not even that for playbooks like the Brainer and the Hocus that are right next door to the psychic maelstrom anyway.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Ψ-harm was first introduced in 1st edition in the Quarantine limited edition playbook, but yes, introduced as a core concept in 2nd edition. Also, +1. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2018 at 6:58

This only requires opportunity and the player’s stated intention to do so. Opportunity can be as elaborate as a snowball of moves over sessions of play, or as simple as a PC deciding they’re going to open their brain, no build-up (since the maelstrom is right there).

  • Player: I open my brain to the maelstrom. I wanna know what Wisher’s doing down there.

    MC: Ooh, cool. Have you done this before? Yeah? Okay, what’s it look and feel like for Mom when you do that?

  • MC: … you’re still alive, somehow. Those voices that you’ve been barely hearing lately is a howling storm suddenly, pressing against the door of your head while you’re lying there, ears ringing from that grenade’s concussion. It almost sounds like you recognise some of them, too. Do you open the door?

  • Angel: Dammit, I missed! No, I can’t let Dremmer just die!

    MC: Issat so? Well… if you open your brain to the psychic maelstrom, you just know somehow he’ll live. Wanna?

    Angel: Augh, but I’m Weird-1…

    MC: I know. It’s up to you. What’s saving Dremmer worth to you?

Because the nature of the maelstrom is something to be discovered in play, what’s appropriate is something you’ll play to find out. Lean on your players to see how it works… after all, it’s their brains.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .