Miscellaneous Systems: Inspired by Sucker Punch with a little Inception

Players make three versions of their characters in progressively less realistic/gritty systems.

The primary character is built to unexceptional human standards in something like GURPS or BRP. This represents the character’s real identity (so far as he or she knows). This character is trapped: either literally (locked in a prison, committed to an asylum, stranded on an island) or metaphorically (dead end job in a city with no opportunities).

The secondary character is made in a less realistic but still “human powered” system, likely in a world similar to our own but different enough to feel like an escape: Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Aeon, etc. This character is an exaggerated version of the primary character, with strengths and weaknesses somewhat magnified and expanded into the new rules. Here, the troubles of the real world take on a more melodramatic significance (e.g., a local bully becomes a prophecy of a terrible evil threatening the character), and the space in which the real characters are trapped is remapped into a more appropriate confines for the new setting.

The tertiary character is from a much more high-powered system, like Champions, D&D, Mechwarrior, Nobilis, Wushu, etc. This character is the primary character’s incredibly exaggerated idea of “awesome me:” how the primary character dreams that he or she would be if dropped into such an exaggerated setting. In this setting, there is a very unclear sense of space: small but related issues within the secondary world become sprawling encounter areas without much connection to others.

Whenever the characters sleep on any level of reality, they wake up back in the primary world. Play here is slow and mundane, but sometimes rife with creeping danger. Whenever each PC has a core problem of the day, play progresses to the secondary world, where these problems are woven together into an overriding threat to the group.

In the secondary world, the PCs have a greater range of agency, but what are often “molehill” problems in the real world grow into “mountains” in the melodrama. The issues wrap together to create a much more complex threat that cannot be simply defeated. Instead, the characters must tackle it in segments, and each segment requires a plan. As soon as the PCs have developed a plan for dealing with part of the problem, play progresses to the tertiary world.

In the tertiary world, the PC’s plan is vastly expanded into a series of encounters where the original points of the plan become nodes within an only vaguely related adventure. Once the adventure succeeds or fails, the PCs revert to the secondary world to view the outcome of the plan there. Whenever the characters finally reach the end of the day (possibly having solved the whole issue or at least several segments of it), they sleep and wake up in the primary world to determine what this all really meant.

Ultimately, this should have a “Kill Puppies for Satan” vibe, where largely flawed individuals trapped by their own issues tend to describe fairly mediocre accomplishments and failures as superheroic victories and epic tragedies.