Monday, December 13, 2010

Inception and D&D Cosmology

Rewatching Inception on blu-ray this weekend I thought of another way some of the film's concepts might inform an rpg setting. Its portrayal of descent through “levels" of dream got me thinking how that might be applied to the standard model of AD&D cosmology.

First, you’d have to take the occult/mystic view that the multiverse beyond the Prime Material is largely a conceptual or spiritual place. The macrocosm (all that is) is reflected, perhaps even encompassed, in the microcosm of a human being. This is hardly a new view, but a different from D&D’s more mechanistic approach.

If the planes aren’t necessarily physical places in the usual sense, but more like states of consciousness or spiritual planes, they’re probably mostly reachable by astral projection, mental/spirit travel, or the like. Travelers’ bodies are left behind in the semblance of sleep.

The first stop would be the astral plane. This area would be malleable (to a degree) to the mind of an experienced traveler. Maybe it also impinges on dreams so random dream stuff is here that can be utilized. The distance through here to any “outer” plane might be a factor of attunement to that planes dominant emotion/ethos/mind-set, or maybe it has to do with some other factor.

Like dream-levels in Inception, I think it would be cool if time ran different in each planar level. The further from the Prime Materal, the “slower” time runs. The astral is only a little slower than the Prime, but in Hell things seem to last forever.

Anyway, that might mean that while each outer plane has a particular theme or character, it will be filtered through the consciousness of the traveler. Everybody gets his own heaven and hell--and nirvana, or whatever. I don’t know how that would work for a party. Maybe the lead traveler would have the biggest influence, but if they split up, individuals would gradually find themselves in very different realms. Of course, maybe the planes are sentient too--iconic representatives, after a fashion, of certain ideas. Maybe they assert their own influence which establishes the broad strokes of their appearances.

Anyway, I think you can see where I’m going with this. I suppose this idea might work better in a modern occult game or something like that, but I see it as playable with traditional fantasy, too. Characters (or players) need not have a real understanding of how the planes operate for them to work this way. In fact, it might be more interesting if they didn’t.


scottsz said...

Very cool.

Harald said...

I agree that the players does not need to understand the metaphysics governing the planes, but it is vital that the GM does. I'm speaking from experience here, from both sides of the screen. Further, the GM also needs to be able to describe the planes in such a way as not to make it seem too abstract.

If it all has that nightmarish, sickening, confusing sense of chaos and randomness (and not in a good way), the players will wish to avoid any connection to the planes in the future.

Also, sign me up for a copy of The City, when it becomes available :-)

ArmChairGeneral said...

What if instead of each person being able to shape their own version of the planes the party did it as a whole instead? The mechanic could be something as simple as using an AD&D Int check or making a stat combo from Int and Wis or Int and Str or somesuch and allowing them to attempt to shape the plane?

I agree that this concept would work best in the Astral plane but what if you did some kind of pocket dimension sort of like a Ravenloft but something where the players have control? Say put it in a mutable plane such as the Astral or the Ethereal and allow the party to change the laws. You could even develop a list of what they can change using something like Ars Magica and allow them a chance depending on the degree of success.

Say maybe if they wanted to change the way an ocean flowed they would need to get a complete success. A partial success would maybe allow them to change the direction of a nearby river or turn it upside down or something? Cool thought.

Risus Monkey said...

I've long used this approach for modern/near-modern fantasy games, thanks to influences like Gurps Cabal and Alan Moore's Promethea. It hadn't really occurred to me to try it out with traditional D&D fantasy but I think it would make for a fantastic game.

Trey said...

@scottsz - thanks.

@Harald - I agree, though I the GM must be sure of the portrayal--though I don't know that the GM can't remain agnostic as to what it all means.

@ArmChairGeneral - Good thoughts. They would be a workable implementation, I think.

@Risus - GURPS Cabal was certainly in mind when I was writing this. I didn't actual think of Promethea but I'm sure it was in there somewhere. I thinka actually a lot of elements of modern fantasy/occultish fiction could reasonably be applied to traditional fantasy with good results--or at least interesting ones.

NetherWerks said...

Inception has done us all a big favor by offering us a nice reference-point for these ideas and concepts that otherwise were too occulty, too Jungian, too Golden Dawn, too Theosophical, etc. to be used easily, especially in the D&D-end of the fantasy-spectrum.

I'm wrapping-up a few tings that I think you'll get a kick out of regarding planes...

Trey said...

I'm looking forward to it.