Friday, September 9, 2016

I Have Seen the Future - Surreal It!

"We are faster, faster than pain
We are a nerve ending without a brain
We have evolved, we have no feeling at all
It is a brave new world"
 -- "I Have Seen the Future" by The Bravery

March of Remembrance 2 by Michelle Robinson (flickr)

To illustrate my proposed method for adding surreal elements to your RPG session, I want to present an extended example of the method I proposed earlier.

The first step is to identify a compelling metaphor.  I have selected the lyrics that opened this post from The Bravery (with the video available here).  The metaphor is useful as an illustration in that it can motivate a potential antagonist and is sufficiently coherent as to provide the material we need to develop.

The second step is to turn the metaphorical elements into physical (in the game world) elements.  Here there are many elements that we may want to translate.  Here are some of the elements we may want to translate (we can be selective):

  1. We - a group/collective
  2. speed
  3. pain / nerve endings
  4. lack of a "brain"
  5. evolution
  6. lack of feeling
  7. "Brave New World"
  8. The march-like nature of the song itself
I won't try to tie all of these together within a short blog post - but it would not be too hard.  Instead, I want to focus on the elements of:  a collective nerve system lacking a central control or feeling.

I take these concepts to indicate a widely distributed network of an almost military organization lacking a central command structure -- and acting without regard for feelings, emotion, or (maybe) ethics.  

The key part of this translation process is to make the metaphor physical within the game setting.  The notion of connected nerve endings could be made physical (or manifest) within the RPG session.  These antagonists could be connected by a physical or psychic connection like nerves within a network.  The members of the network could all respond as if they were one entity (taking the "we" seriously) without there being a specific leader or central point (taking "without a brain" seriously").  The physical/psychic connection should be visible to make the metaphor manifest in a way obvious to the players.  The lack of emotion may be clear from how the antagonists communicate with player characters (monotone, efficient, no regard for pleasantries) or their plan/goals (ruthlessness, willingness to sacrifice others or even their own members).

The final step of the method is to look for connections to other potential metaphorical elements.  We could look at evolution as a fruitful source of metaphor.  However, I will focus on the term "brave new world."  Inspired by the book of that title, we could incorporate biochemical self-modification and a sense of hierarchy within the group.  Maybe the group recruits (or somehow adds to its members) through the spread of a drug (Soma) or through genetic manipulation (which could tie in the evolution theme, despite my best efforts).  

With this brief exercise, we have a fairly robust surreal antagonist for a game.  An army is connected through a series of psychic or physical (say, wireless - but visible) connections and acts as a hivemind.  This hivemind lacks a central command but ruthlessly pursues its goals -- which may even be self-replication.  The closer to the metaphor - with actual floating connections between the members of the group - the more surreal this antagonist will be.  

You can use this in just about any game (turning up or down the surrealism by manipulating the literalism of the manifestation of the metaphor) but it could work well in a surreal setting.  

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