Phillip K. Dicksian mindf*ck: what would you use to run it?

edited June 2009 in Story Games
I was just reading this very cool blog and he mentioned that he read a ton of PKD after his baby was born and wanted to write an RPG about it. Sounded like a great idea to me!

Here's my first impressions:

1. PKD novels are about identity and what it means in a world of technology;
2. Rarely in RPGs do players have as little clue about what is happening to their characters, internally and externally as PKD protagonists;
3. The best way to mess with a player's "in-character" sense of identity is to take it away, without explicitly stating it at the table;
a. How would you do that? My first effort: allow players to add details to each other's characters, if and only if they can introduce them in casual conversation, without explicitly stating what they are adding. eg: Adam, as Noriega: Wow, Skinner, you look exhausted. Have you been having those dreams about the blonde woman again? Thomas, as Skinner, knowing full well he's never mentioned his character having any such dreams: Uh, yeah. I was up all night with them. They just seem so real! GM: (cackles in insane glee and makes notes about a blonde woman and who she might be).

Thoughts? Has anybody tried this already?

Comments

  • Uhm... Fred Hicks' Schizonauts. But it's not considered finished by the author.
    Rather, a Game Chef 07 game that should work, apart (probably) for the endgame mechanic (which is why Fred asks to advertise the "unfinishedness" every time).

    http://www.evilhat.com/lab/schizonauts-game-chef-edition.zip

    All the characters are agents that hunt down dangerous subversives using memories injected from them. Or maybe they are brainwashed subversives, turned into agents by the evil government/corporation.
  • You might want to take a look at Paul Tevis's A Penny For My Thoughts. (A) It's about identity and (B) it has a very PKD like conceit that the characters are memory-linked through the use of an experimental drug.

    However, it's kind of far off from a classic RPG so I don't know if it will suit your tastes. You might also want to take a look at "Left Coast" which is a Game Chef entry from a few years back that I've always wanted to see refined. It's about playing PKD-type sci-fi writers but contains many elements of actually being in that kind of story.

    You might want to try just playing Shock as written with Identity as one of the issues and a Shock that interacts with that in a really strong way.

    Hacking Don't Rest Your Head in some manner seems appropriate where.... uh.... if the Identity Pool (instead of Exhaustion or whatever) dominates then something shifts to reveal something about the character he didn't previously know.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Jesse
  • This would fit really well in Lacuna but there aren't any mechanics to support it in that game.
  • Posted By: JesseHowever, it's kind of far off from a classic RPG so I don't know if it will suit your tastes
    The "traditionality" of a game matters not at all to me. In fact, what I've read about APFMT makes it sound right up my alley.

    My first thought for an extant system was some kind of Polaris hack with some kind of encouragement to add details about who a character was, regardless of how well it meshed with what had gone before: "But only if you've been having dreams about the Blonde Woman". My worry was that it would be too tricky not to set things up ahead of time and reveal too much when you add details. Although... "but only if the Blonde Woman is someone I've never met..." might make a good twist.

    I'll check out the various suggestions!
  • Posted By: DannyKThis would fit really well in Lacuna but there aren't any mechanics to support it in that game.
    I can't believe I forgot Lacuna. I would argue that the whole game is the "mechanic." Some games are about something because the mechanics continually raise the issue, rather than directly *tracking* the issue.

    Jesse
  • Doesn't Lacuna try to do this? I've never played it, so I don't know for sure.
  • I want to second Schizonauts. That right there is an effed up game.

    Lacuna works too but it's not for everyone, and everyone includes me. I mean, I like it but eventually I reach a point where, as the GM, I'm confused about what's happening.
  • Trail of Cthulhu, taking the "we decide how to behave towards you to make you think you're crazy" rules seriously.
  • Psi*Run?
  • Verge is my cyberpunk game homage to P.K. Dick, but it doesn't model the identity thing you talk about. You still might be able to do what you want with it. Schizonauts might do you better.
  • Cheap.

    You are never taught the rules.
    The ones you do figure out, you might not like.
    Winning involves replicating the very forces that have entrapped you.
    There is shouting, and puzzles, and you need to earn 5 little glass beads to buy a clue.
    But how do you get the 5 little glass beads?

    ...I don't know why I'm selling this game. It's currently in revision.
  • I suggest rolling your own. My suggestions will draw on a combination of Seth Ben-Ezra's in-development game Showdown and John Harper's Lady Blackbird (and its influences in turn, especially Burning Wheel and friends).

    Suppose that you have a few sentences on your character sheet, all of the form "I think that I am φ" for purely internal sentences φ ("I think that I am compassionate," not "I think that I have green hair."). Those are like your hit points; let's use Showdown's terminology and call them Qualities. If someone succeeds in making an "attack" on your identity (however that works), then the group somehow comes to a consensus (maybe one player proposes and everyone but you has a veto?) on something that will replace one of your Qualities, and you alter your character sheet to read "I think that I am φ but I'm not; I'm ψ" where ψ is the replacement Quality. Unlike in Showdown, it would be flavorful for the sentence ψ to be something surreally unrelated to the thing it replaces ("I think that I am compassionate, but I'm not; I'm probably the advance guard for an invading force of small gods.") Replacements can also start to describe your character externally, maybe ("I think that I'm compassionate, but I'm not; I have a second head growing from my chest.")

    Idea 2: Each player authors a handful of Dickian Conditions, maybe in the form of predicates ("is somehow the same person as the person to his/her right", "is infested with a sentient and communicative parasite", "is addicted to Key 17") and pushes them into the center of the table. When you lose an Identity Test, everyone else at the table chooses one of these Conditions for you. You add it to your character sheet and you have that Condition, in the Blackbird sense (which is in turn the Burning X sense). Then you can come up with interesting ways to frame Refreshment/Recovery scenes.
  • You might want to try just playing Shock as written with Identity as one of the issues and a Shock that interacts with that in a really strong way.

    Rob Bohl was selling Shock: at Gen Con as "The Philip K. Dick Role-Playing Game."

    I hear in the distant land of One Thread Away that Verion 1.2 is now available.

  • Posted By: ccreitzI suggest rolling your own.
    I likely would; I was just looking for suggestions for R&D. No point reinventing the wheel. That said, you suggestions are BOSS. "I think that I'm compassionate, but I'm not; I have a second head growing from my chest" is EXACTLY the sort of thing this game needs. Although that might be drifting from Dicksian mindfuck to William S. Burroughsian mindfuck. Which is also good.

    In fact, I am now opening a new "in progress" file titled "Mindfuck: The Roleplaying Game of Altered Perceptions".

    I keep hearing about Shock:, so I clearly will need to check it out. It kinda sounds right up my alley, Dicksean or not!
  • Retrofutur is already pretty Dickish and has a mechanism called Ubik that causes things to shift around.
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: ccreitzUnlike in Showdown, it would be flavorful for the sentence ψ to be something surreally unrelated to the thing it replaces
    I know it's lame to reply to myself this way, but... I am now totally going to suggest a game of Showdown set in the Interzone to the next suitable person I meet. Nothing in the Showdown rules prohibits me from rewriting a Quality like "I think I am a man of my word, but really I need to get this whale carcass off my hands pronto," or "I think I am I do a good job of hiding my addiction, but really I am a replica who is only sexually attracted to other replicas' Protoplasm Daddies." Why didn't I think of this before?
  • Vincent Baker's been working on a game called Bugfuck for a while now that's the William Bourroughs RPG. Whale oil addiction would fit there nicely.

  • I wrote a game for the Ronnies called Left Coast, where you play semi-famous science fiction authors in 1960s California. It's kind of VALIS the RPG. You and your peers have everyday lives and problems (marriage, children, rent), inter-author feuds, and struggle not to go nuts under the strain of their immense creativity. If you do go nuts, the other players get the chance to determine what you did while you blacked out.

    Left Coast

    (It ain't been playtested yet, though)
  • Posted By: renatoramUhm... Fred Hicks'Schizonauts. But it's not considered finished by the author.
    Rather, a Game Chef 07 game that should work, apart (probably) for the endgame mechanic (which is why Fred asks to advertise the "unfinishedness" every time).

    http://www.evilhat.com/lab/schizonauts-game-chef-edition.zip

    All the characters are agents that hunt down dangerous subversives using memories injected from them. Or maybe they are brainwashed subversives, turned into agents by the evil government/corporation.
    I remember that entry from GC07. I'm curious about the game, it really caught my eye back then; is there a blog or web page where the author discusses his problems with the endgame?
  • Posted By: Nathan HParanoia?
    How? Much as I love Paranoia, I don't see how it supports the OP's dream mechanically. But I'd be happy (no snark, seriously) to hear how I'm wrong on this one.

    Steve, I couldn't find the "retrofutur" you mentioned with any obvious search terms. Do you have a reference for it?

    Also, Vx's game - will that be out sometime after he finishes StWT? (I kid because I love. But clearly, a man with a lot on his plate.)
  • StWT is deep in development. More, I don't know. We don't talk about it much. It's not my kind of thing. We're playing Xenon: right now, and I think it's likely that some related group will play StWT soon and V will finish it up. If they can keep themselves away from Apocalypse World. Myself, I care more about Bugfuck, Red Sky A.M., and The Dragon Killer.

    We're both likely to have a shit ton of games at next Dreamation or Gen Con. I'll have Under the Bed, Shock: Xenon: Beowulf, and just maybe a super-secret project that could be as much a game I've always wanted to write as Shock: and Xenon: are.

  • I agree: Paranoia is plenty of fun, but all the good stuff is there in setting and not really supported by the mechanic. For the mindfuckery to really go nuts in Paranoia you either have to have huge amounts of prep or be amazing at improv.
  • I've often said that Paranoia was the first, and for years, only true science fiction RPG.

    It does with much greater comedy what Dick often did with a sinister smirk. The unknowability of the rules of the world is the biggest common feature. As a parody of other RPGs, though, it went for the kitchen sink approach, so you'll find bits and bobs of almost any science fiction anything in there.

  • Adam: The blog you link at the top of the thread is mine. Thanks for the link and kind words about my blog!

    It does not surprise me that many people have toyed with writing a Philip K. Dick game. It seems like one of the great un-cracked challenges in game design. Two and a half years after that original post and I still haven't finished my own PKD rpg but I do noodle around with it from time to time. It has a couple of tracks along which reality bends: identity is one (you are not who you think you are); others involve free will, pattern recognition / paranoia, and the illusory nature of reality. One of the key principles is that the GM can introduce all manner of weird incident and enigma but is specifically prohibited from deciding what it all means, in the same way that a Dogs in the Vineyard GM poses moral quandaries but is not supposed to take a position on the PC's proper course of action.

    Ron Edwards had a characteristically incisive (if characteristically grumpy) warning on the problem of the PKD rpg in a Forge thread on Steve Hickey's excellent Left Coast:

    "The subject matter works very well for me, because I think you've hit upon the core issues that drew me to the topic, back in the day. Bluntly, I despise the subset of SF-fandom which adores the ravings of Philip K. Dick, for instance, as if they were gorgeous fantasies. I respond to his fiction because the stories and empathy for others seem to clamber forth, somehow successfully, through the fog of his personal misery and confusion, and I see the stuff the fans seem to like as the fog. Classic Philhead fans appall me with their babble about dimensional shifts and conspiracies; they seem to me to be like vultures or fetishists. It's not the Black Iron Prison or his Exegesis or Valis (as a topic, not the title) that interest me, but the stories about friendships, the betrayals, the groping for a meaning to it all, the misunderstandings, and the desperation - his artistic sensitivity to issues that really matter."

    My goal would be to write a game that only half appalls Ron: to do the genre justice, you do have to push deeper than the sci-fi window dressing to get to the deep issues that really drove Dick. That said, I like dimensional shifts and alien conspiracies...

    I'm in total agreement with what Joshua says right above about Paranoia as the first (wonderful, if flawed) science fiction RPG. Coincidentally (of course there are no coincidences), I mentioned the PKD project just yesterday at the end of a series of alternate Paranoia settings on a friend's gaming blog. Maybe it's because I just had a second baby, so I'm back in the same sleep-deprived headspace I was in in 2006.

    Cheers!
  • Rob, small world!

    Do you mind sharing any mechanical insights you might have had in your multi-year PKD RPG journey? How do you make "free will" an exciting gameplay element, for example?
  • Obviously, Ron and I have very similar feelings about science fiction. He's said some very kind things about Shock: to that effect, in fact. So it's no surprise that I completely agree with him, with the caveat that I'm less intimate with Sci Fi fandom than he is.

    My goal would be to write a game that only half appalls Ron: to do the genre justice, you do have to push deeper than the sci-fi window dressing to get to the deep issues that really drove Dick. That said, I like dimensional shifts and alien conspiracies...

    Rob, so did Phil, and so does Ron. So do I and so does Shock: for that matter. The important thing is that it means something.

  • I just posted at the Forge a bit about our recent mindfucky Psi*Run game. I don't imagine it was at all Dickian - I wouldn't know Dick from dick - ha ha ha I slay me - but it might be interesting anyhow.

    Psi*Run at a creepy-odd angle

    -Vincent
  • Vincent, that is awesome. Again it blurs the line between PKD and WSB, but I can't imagine a game that worked well for one that wouldn't work well for the other. PKD was more "Holy crap, I'm actually a robot who thinks he's a leprechaun!" and WSB was more "Holy crap, I'm a robot who thinks he's a leprechaun with a heroin addiction and an eyeball growing in the back of my hand and OH MY GOD WHY IS THE BIBLE BLANK?"

    Actually, upon second-reading, your game seems very David Lynch, which is another thing to lead to the list of inspirations for Mindfuck.
  • And David Cronenberg.

  • edited June 2009
    Joshua: "The important thing is that it means something."

    Vincent: "Absolutely not, under any circumstances, try to make any of it make sense. By Psi*Run's rules, that's the players' job, not mine."

    Me: "One of the key principles is that the GM can introduce all manner of weird incident and enigma but is specifically prohibited from deciding what it all means, in the same way that a Dogs in the Vineyard GM poses moral quandaries but is not supposed to take a position on the PC's proper course of action."

    Great minds thinking alike? Or not, since as stated I simply got the idea from Vincent.

    But what is / where does this game Psi*Run live?
  • It baffles me with its obviousness, but it's an obviousness that somehow eludes much of fandom.

  • Posted By: Rob MacDBut what is / where does this game Psi*Run live?
    Here is the Psi*Run forum on the Ashcan Front site. I don't know if it's available in any form right now. It's a game under development where you are on the run from agents and don't know why and don't know who you are and you have psychic powers.
  • I like imagining you explaining this with your face red and sweaty, one hand on your knee, the other gesturing weakly, and out of breath.

  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanAnd David Cronenberg.
    Cronenberg definitely. Especially for moments like the development of the custom surgical tools in Dead Ringers where you go "What in the hell is he making those for? Not for... oh... oh my." And of course his work bringing WSB to the screen.
Sign In or Register to comment.