You think it’s fictional?
Hero who appears in you to clear your view when you’re too crazy.
-Gorillaz, Clint Eastwood
I found myself watching Alice in Wonderland the other night and I saw an ad for the new animated Oz musical, and it got me thinking about a concept I’ve had for a while, adventures that just take place in your head. There are a few different kinds of adventures that way, so I’ll go over them all in turn.
First is if you have a character or group that has literal psionic abilities, you could use that in situations of mental connections, as if they joined the astral plane as a mental projection. This can also happen in cases of technology going wrong, like a virtual reality program. The characters can be idealistic versions of themselves, or some other sort of avatar representative, so you could easily do all sorts of weirdness where their thoughts have power or where everything they encounter is things from their memories. Maybe they are searching their minds and it can be literal with Id, Ego and Superego as actual NPCs, or fantasy with a quest through a dark forest to a lost castle is their journey to uncover the memories. You could classify Alice in Wonderland as being one of these too. You could possibly lump Sucker Punch here, but definitely could put Inception in here.
Secondly, there’s hallucinations where the player is experiencing things that could be real. Dreams are another example of this, as can be the beginnings of a Groundhog Day repeat scenario where the players wonder of they’ve been here before. Momento is another example of this possibility, if used carefully. I’ve used this as a scene from time to time in different systems to do prophecy and divination types, where the events play out as they would and then the players may be able to stop them. Also, it can be a possible method of information extraction as they observe someone going about a ‘normal’ day and guide them to where they want them to do. The animated tv series Reboot had an episode where the character was pushed out of reality for a while to see a possible course of action and outcome and another where they had a whole story take place just to find out something about themselves.
Using the alternative information as a theme, sometimes it isn’t so much about what you know or think you know, its about trying to keep it straight. The video game Sanitarium is an example of this, where you throw the player into a scenario they know nothing about and then have things slip into yet another scenario from time to time. Have them question their sanity, is what they’re seeing real or is what they saw before real? Time travel and dimension travel are rife with options for this, as are games with mystical entities like Gods in fantasy or Q in Star Trek. You can tie some meaning to the scenarios, or they can just be alternate settings you would like to try, as long as you have a justification for it when the players start to get close enough to figuring it out. One thing I’d love to try is something like that for a character who has Multiple Personalities. They suddenly end up in different areas with no clue how they got there or what they’re doing and then they’ll go dormant again. Could be fun with a group playing different personalities, sort of like in WoD Wraith with players playing another Wraith’s dark side, tempting them to do things.
There are many ways you can run things that are all or mostly mental. Young Justice the animated series had one episode as a training scenario gone horribly wrong done with psychic mindlink. Sounds like your typical holodeck or danger room failure. Maybe your hero’s God wants to prove something to them or some alien decides messing with your mind will kill some time. Just take the idea and run with it and you’ll see how many options there are to make it work.