View Full Version : Surreal and abstract settings

2014-01-24, 04:45 PM
English class this year has me reading a bunch of hazy novels. Novels where the line between reality and illusion, weather that illusion is actual magic, the effect of insanity, or just creative interpretation of events.

Anyway as with my usual insperations, I was wondering how often these mindwarping realities are used in your games.
Every now and then a game can have a trippy dream sequence or some out of place giant space flea. But is there or have you built an entire session out of these acid trips?

Some examples of how I interpret things.
Surreal: logic is absent, interpretation is flexible, the concept of distance is impossible. Some examples of a Surreal enviorment would be an M.C. Escher's artwork. please don't bring in the 4th dimension since that is technically a logical, early point and click adventure games really fit the bill as well.

Abstract settings are more common, they include elements that don't make sense, but there are still rules. Candyland, most of the worlds used in old videogames (Spring yard zone, the Mushroom kingdom, Rayman's World). Some of these settings can be explained as a world overloaded with magic, but others are better left as just how things are.

So how often do you deal with dream sequences, Eldritch worlds, or Giant space fleas? Is one of your party members a rabbit named Harvey? If your current status is "snared in a ball of twine and rolling uncontrollably" you might have a good story to tell.

2014-01-24, 05:04 PM
I often use spirit realms, dreams and hallucinations.

This is from a post I made years ago here:

The fourth room: Every player had a unique vision of the room, due to differences in spot and will saves. They all saw a room filed with traps - pitfalls covered with illusions. They first made a map of where each of them sees the traps. They used C to carry the rest over the pits, then he dropped M into a pit...

Four out of five of them saw a hole there including M. He fell 80ft, and took the appropriate dmg. Now he was stuck in a 10x10 hole, quarter HP lost. V saw him lying on the floor shouting for help.
V: Dude get up, and move along.
M: Help me!! I fell into the pit!
V: You're just lying on the floor.
She starts walking over to him and tries to grab him. C sees this and stops his friend on the edge of the pit.
C: Are you OK? You almost fell down after him!
V: Where did I almost fall down to? He's right there. She touches M.
Me: M you were touched by an invisible creature, you felt the attempt to grab, what do you do?
M runs away from the 'ghost' as far as he can, back against the wall. He shouts: Help there is someone here!!!
L puts two and two together and says that he will tie a rope around V, and let her go down the shaft. They do this. M sees V dangling above him. L, J and C saw V going down the shaft. V saw them throwing the rope at her feet after she walked into the 'pit'. She grabbed M and tried to lead him through a solid wall, which resulted in him slamming into a wall.
Next idea came from C: How about you give him a dagger? V gives M a dagger. C, L and J see the dagger fall into the pit, and they hear M scream: 'My arm!!!' M is glad to have an invisible dagger in his hands, and V sees M inspecting a common dagger like an idiot.
This is the moment our Saint Ninja has a revelation.
C: 'We have stumbled upon a gap in reality. If we make a single wrong move we might end up killing our alternative selves, thus killing ourselves for real in all dimensions'.
V OoG gets up from the chair, starts walking back and forth, staring at her feet, visibly upset.
V iG: We have to get him out of there! But the rope is too darn short!
C: Why don't we make a rope out of our clothes?
V: ?
C: Starts popping ninja suits out of thin air (12), tied them together and with the rope. Now the L and C pull M. They almost drop him into the negatives (6 hp remaining) until they succeeded and pulled him out. They dropped him three times avg height was 53ft. When they pulled him out a cheer went across the table, but a new problem arises here.

Me: Who is willing to move? Do you think you found all the traps there?
V, looking at her map: I'm gonna walk straight out!
M, J, L, C: NO!!
They decided to tie a rope around her waist and let her go first, with L holding the other end. After a few squares L, J and M see her drop. L didn't menage to maintain the hold of the rope, and she fell all the way down, but L managed to catch the rope, before it fell into the pit. V and C saw L, J and M shout after V, also they saw L throw the rope, and then jumping after it and catching it. L, J and M pull V out of the hole and see her heavenly bruised. V and C see V trying to get away and the three pulling her toward them selves. C & M ask them wth?

L to others: I think she hit her head, she claims she is ok.
J examined her: She didn't break anything, but she did bump her head.
V Angry and shaking, I'm not sure whether in or out of game says: screw this crap I'm getting out of here!
She removes the rope and runs out of the room watching out for the traps that she notices.
V OoG is panting, wondering what's gonna happen with Ras (the gnome).
Me, OoG: V come with me, I take her two rooms away from the game room and ask: Do you look back?
V, breathing even more heavily: Yes?
Me: You see that there are no pits in the previous room.
V, now with tears in her eyes: I go and put my foot where the last pit was.
Me: Solid stone, you see others jumping/balancing, for no apparent reason while walking over the room. They don't see you.
V OoG: What the heck was that room!?!
Me: Insanity?
V, now crying: YOU BASTARD!!!

2014-01-24, 05:07 PM
Glorantha's Otherworld (of RuneQuest and HeroQuest, but especially the latter).

The Otherworld, Hero Plane, or God Plane exists outside of Time. All the events that took place before Time began are represented there, and are known to people as myths. Everything happened simultaneously but sequentially, before Time began, so you can construct definite sequences of events, but they don't need to match up; for instance, Event 6 in sequence A can be parallel to event 8 in sequence B, but B8 also happens after A9 has already happened...

Moreover, there's a two-way interaction between myths or belief and the God Plane. In theory, the events of the God Time happened before Time began, and became part of the mytho-magical geography of the God Plane, and are told by mortals as myths, scriptures, and tales.

However, the myths that the mortals tell shape the myths found represented on the God Plane. If a story changes completely enough, and becomes the prevailing story for enough people, the reality of the God Plane changes... at least for those people. This, in turn, can affect the real world: when the God Learners replaced one area's Grain Goddess with another by changing the people's stories and myths, the local crops went to pot and there was famine.

The lack of Time to use as reference for pre-Time events, the weird nature of cause and effect, and the back-and-forth feedback of myth and reality make for a fairly abstract thinking.

Esoteric mythological engineering is awesome.

Glorantha has other oddities, like the fact that the Sky is a dome that is mu feet above the ground - basically, the distance is infinite but finite. You can't reach the Sky normally, but only by magic flight (which does include certain supernatural animals). Also, because the Sky is at an unreal distance from the earth, the Sun is always directly above you at midday, no matter where you are in Glorantha...

Likewise, the Moon is strange. For one thing, it's only been around something like 500 years (out of 1600 since Time began), and it's always directly above the city built on the lip of the crater that was born when it shot up into the Sky. For another, its always full if you're within a border (the borders are defined by circles that emanate from certain specific temples). Outside of the border, it has a 7-day cycle.

Also, Glorantha isn't a ball with curvature, it's a square of Earth floating in an endless ocean of Water, with Darkness underneath and without, Sky above, and Air between Earth and Sky. (Pretty Sumerian, that.) This means that, given no obstacles, you can see a very, very long way. Some interesting things you might see are an almost needle-shaped mountain some 12 miles high, and a giant waterfall that falls out of a hole in the Sky... (Although it's quite possible that there's a sort of "horizon," a distance at which things are hidden in a blue blur; it would just have to have a mythological-metaphysical basis.)

2014-01-24, 06:36 PM
I've done a couple of Elliptical Mazes. That is mazes built with an elliptical geometry due to planer distortions. The work of Escher is a bit like them.

Corridors always meet at right angles, even if there are three, four, five or six of them.

Corridors always appear straight, though it's hard to see very far down them.

I managed to arrange one where seven left turns, or seven right turns, or seven straight ahead choices, ... would bring you back to where you started.

The whole thing was a single route between planes, twisted upon itself in a complex knot with intersections where the route touched itself. It was symmetrical and so had the added surprise of them emerging in another world when they thought that they had simply retreated back through the entrance.

One of the players tried to make a map, this was hilarious.

The maze had four doors, two of which the party needed to go through.

The maze was unoccupied, until someone opened the fourth door. This led to a room which had leaked into the abyss. Lots of mass fear effects later and the party are lost and scattered being chased by demons and oozes in a maze they can't map. It was quite fun.

2014-01-24, 06:39 PM
This is tough, because there need to be rules. Otherwise, you leave the PCs stuck in "things happen because I said so." It's important that PC actions have somewhat predictable results, otherwise you're ruining player agency.

This is perhaps something that works better in literature than in gaming. It's one thing for absurdist things to happen to the protagonist in a story, because the audience is reading the story and can see how it plays out. It's another thing to have absurdist things happen to players in a game, because they have to decide how to proceed, and taking away their frame of reference may not be fun.

2014-01-24, 06:48 PM
While I wouldn't say all of Town is in Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine some parts certainly are. The Outside, especially, is the region of unreality where things explicitly become more abstract, starting by drawing on narratives but increasingly becoming a world looking like kid's art and then outright abstract art and thinking in more complex terms is the basic challenge of those regions. There is also Bluebell Park which has been described as a more cheerful, sunlit version of the of Silent Hill with an extra dose of acid on the side. Other trippy areas include the Far Roofs, the Yatskaya Shrine and Arkadia on an especially strange day.

Not just that even the more mundane areas still operate more on story logic, enforced themes for what kind of stories take place in them and how you feel when there. They're also the kind of place where an ordinary kid can just happen to build a reality warping machine because he felt like it and where monsters become increasingly human the more scrutiny they're under and the god of evil can take up rearranging the streets by riding his motorcycle through them as a hobby project. So overall this is a rather strange, abstract and surreal setting with some places pushing the limits more than others.

The way it addresses TheStranger's concerns is by allowing rather major amounts of player agency in shaping and defining the weirdness around their characters, as well as the individual weirdness of their characters. To the point that one of the standard actions players can take is defining something as being important foreshadowing for later. It, naturally, also leads to a very improvisation based system that is pretty much nothing like anything else I've ever seen.

2014-01-24, 08:42 PM
Over the Edge - Everything is true all the time.

JAGS Wonderland (http://www.jagsrpg.org/) - You're just delusional. Probably.

This is tough, because there need to be rules. Otherwise, you leave the PCs stuck in "things happen because I said so." It's important that PC actions have somewhat predictable results, otherwise you're ruining player agency.

This is perhaps something that works better in literature than in gaming. It's one thing for absurdist things to happen to the protagonist in a story, because the audience is reading the story and can see how it plays out. It's another thing to have absurdist things happen to players in a game, because they have to decide how to proceed, and taking away their frame of reference may not be fun.

To extend this, I think it's important to avoid conventional logic. Circular thinking and poetic license are your friends here.

2014-01-25, 04:32 AM
LotFP published an adventure called the Monolith From Beyond Space and Time. It endeavours to make no sense and scare any players who think sentences like "I go forwards" or "I turn to the left" are going to get them anywhere. It also works, though fair word: no character that enters this adventure is going to come out the same as when they left. It's kind of a horror thing.

2014-01-25, 04:50 AM
LotFP published an adventure called the Monolith From Beyond Space and Time.

The MFBS&T is a great read, with some interesting ideas, but it IMO fails as a module: it doesn't work in an existing campaign, because it will entirely change (and possibly end, literally; that line is really childish...) any campaign it's dropped into, plus there no reason or pay-off for PCs to go there, just death and horror; and it doesn't work as a one-off because there's no way to win, nothing to be gained, and the players can just keep marching infinite PCs to their deaths to learn how eveything works. I guess you could think of it as a really extreme Lovecrafitan-style Tomb of Horrors...

It's definitely surreal, though! Great read, as I said.

Death Love Doom is similar, in that there's something in it that can entirely change a campaign, but it's much more useful, and not likely to actually ruin everything. Unfortunately, it's completely juvenile...

Death Frost Doom is also similar, with potential to cause enormous upheaval and destruction in a campaign setting, but on a small scale. It's not juvenile, but still has some nasty gotchas, and the "good" outcome for the PCs actually circumvents the main content of the module.

In all three cases, the only "right" thing to do is for the PCs to turn around and walk away from the module as fast as they can.

... there's a weird trend among LotFP adventures, isn't there?

2014-01-25, 05:24 AM
I played Kuilt with a GM who was very good at surreal, twisted and weird. It's definitely a setting where reality and dreams easily becomes mixed together. Perhaps it helps that he also has some experience with mind-bending drugs...