Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What Do The Alice Stories Make You Think Of?

I have basically finished writing and am very happily working away on the drawing Eat Me--my Alice-themed thing for The World's Most Popular Role Playing Game And Its Modern Simulacra--that James will be putting out.

Anyway, I figured I'd ask--because maybe it'll be interesting and maybe it'll make me think--what ideas do the Alice stories make you think of? RPGable or otherwise?


  1. Powerful psychotropics.

    Thanks, Jefferson Airplane!

  2. Fever dreams.

    As a child, being small and hiding in a room full of furniture and boxes.
    The next desk or chair I crawl under could be the one that leads to a wild wood or some dim hall lined with doors in an old stone castle.

    Meeting weird creatures that seem like they would tear me to bits as soon as sit down to tea and cakes with me. Have to be polite, walk on eggshells, while trying to figure out what pisses them off so I won't do it.

  3. There is an interesting theory here http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_03_10.html
    that a lot of the apparent weirdness is actually mathematical "jokes" and mocking of certain mathematical ideas(Caroll was maths professor).

    Anyway that out the way, I think the main points that seem to jump out world-wise are:

    -everyone loves to fucking talk

    -pretty much everyone is contrary and prepared to argue about anything and everything

    -most people are eloquent and sharp witted (if not necessarily sane)

    -language is real big important thing (and even when/where it isn't everyone acts like it is)

    -people frequently talk apparent complete nonsense, but often there is some kind of hidden,twisted or just plain silly logic to it

    -everything is layered in rules and "the correct way to do something", but mainly random , subject to random change, or in direct contradiction to desired results

    I think lots of RPG potential if done carefully.

    I think the biggest aspect here is that
    adventurers are very goal-focused but dealing with people and getting stuff done in Wonderland is kinda fucking annoying.
    I can imagine average party would have murdered half the characters by half-way point.

  4. I think of the Jabberwocky scene:


    Alice thinks she's at the end of the story. She's back home. Then she realizes she's stuck on the wrong side of the glass. How horrible is that? Then, the Jabberwocky. I can't think of anything that captures the concept of 'waking nightmare' as well. The way it sort of corrupts that room by being in it. It's impossible that such a thing should be there, but it is. You can't believe your eyes.

    The 2nd edition-style "DM text" for this scene could sound laughable if you just read it aloud: 'The room goes dark. You turn around. There's a horrible monster in the room with you.' Jaded D&D players would just laugh. But actually, if that happened, that would be the worst thing. Brr. I hate that fucking thing.

  5. I think of Tenniel's illustrations. All dense crosshatching and weird proportions. They are cartoonish and kind of menacing, which I imagine is the point, but some of them have this feeling of claustrophobia.

    The last bit from the Mouse's Tail sticks with me, too.
    "‘I’ll be judge, I’l be jury, said cunning old Fury, “I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.’"

  6. I agree with Mark. The main thing for me is language. Carroll was a talented logician, and very little (if any) of the content is truly "random." Particularly the scene with Humpty Dumpty. Very playful and clever use of language.

  7. Those card-people from the old animated. The guard ones and the servant ones running around frantically.
    Come to think of it, they didn't really have distinct heads. If the Queen chopped off everyone's head, what were they afraid of?

    The Cheshire Cat always freaked me out as a kid, too. Just a smile out of nowhere? That's a bit scary.

  8. I think about layers and layers of meaning, with a huge gulf between the surface meanings and the deepest meanings possible. Maybe that's Goedel, Escher, Bach speaking to me instead of Carroll, I dunno. Or maybe it's that JAGS Wonderland RPG I read, with its layers of increasing weirdness below the so-called real world. Or Lewis Carroll's own Sylvie and Bruno, which has adult characters shifting back and forth between the real world and a nonsense-filled fairyland. Or maybe its the fact that Aleister Crowley claimed that the Alice books were full of qabballistic truths.

  9. From watching the Disney movie as a kid, I got a distinct feeling of menace, like walking through a dangerous factory with all of the safety devices removed. But instead of danger from machines, it's danger from people. Especially Tweedledum and Tweedledee gave me this impression of sociopathy. That they wouldn't hurt you out of raw cruelty, but that they were so separated from common humanity that they might hurt you because of some weird train of logic or because it might simply not occur to them that they shouldn't.

  10. A world made to be baffling and nonsensical to adult readers as the real world might be to a child. Parlor conversation made just grotesque enough and linked by puns and associations rather than logic. Innocent things turned into antagonists. A dreamlike way of nothing being resolvable.

  11. Alice is under more or less constant surveillance. Even when she thinks she's alone, she isn't.

    Relatedly, anything might be alive. Especially things that definitely are not.

    Logic is relative. Rules are meaningless on their own, and even the ones we follow in everyday life are arbitrary.

    See also, Wittgenstein. And the Markson novel, Wittgenstein's Mistress.

    Actions have consequences, even if they're not readily apparent.

    Fables and horror exist on a spectrum.

    Jim Henson. Particularly Labyrinth and even more, Fraggle Rock.

  12. The idea of the Duchess's baby turning into a pig while she was nursing him has stuck in my mind.

    I also associate masks and hats with Alice: I was in a school play as the White Rabbit and had to wear a half-face mask. All of the human characters - apart from Alice - wore hats, and all of the animal characters had full or half face masks.

  13. Causality being weird works both for and against you. The more useful you expect something to be, the less useful it actually is, and vice versa.

    I'm trying to figure out what Wonderland might have been like if Alice took the traditional D&D route and just killed anyone who got in her way. This works in ordinary games because it's the path of least resistance, but in Wonderland I wonder if it wouldn't just make your life more complicated every time you tried it. Occam's Razor doesn't apply; the most complicated solution is the most likely to be true.

    Manners are important. There is no situation which can't be made better by knowing your etiquette, and can't be made worse by knowing it wrong.

    Everything is written backwards, or upside-down, or in a language that doesn't make sense. Words are as relative as anything else. It's like trying to read a book in a dream.

    The only way out of Wonderland is to wake up.

  14. It is so very strongly about character and place. Where you are, and who is there are constant concerns. The caterpillar is smoking a hookah on a friggin' mushroom. The fact that it's a mushroom matters to Alice and her place in the story. What I take from that is that (1) Characters are defined by place, (2) places need to fit with the characters, (3) what happens to protagonists happens as a result of interaction with very particularized constellations of character and place. That is to say, these things are not generic. Who and what and where they are, matters to the story. Yeah, yeah, that's just Writing 101, but the extent to which this sort of thing gets done, and done well, in the context of RPG modules and settings is uneven (at best).

    What I've always liked about your stuff, Zak, is that your campaign settings cannot be confused with anyone else's. They are very much what they are, and they take what they are to fruition. Goblins who say the opposite of what they mean, and ride in baloons made out of pigs, and who WILL FUCKING KILL YOU... these are things that I will always remember about what goes on in your game world.

    I'm not sure that makes as much sense as I hope it will (too little sleep, too early in the morning), but there ya go. Alice is about the fit between crazy people and their crazy places in the world, each defining the other with terrible, clear, and dangerous intensity.

  15. For me there is always at bit of desperate sadness under the whimsy. The walrus and the carpenter comes to mind. Everyone is mad, all too often in a mad tom of bedlam way, and it's odd and funny - right until their tone shifts and it gets creepy, scary and violent. Like trying to 86 a difficult drunk, only the world plays along with there delusions.

  16. One of my old GM's had a "White Rabbit", and NPC described as "fish-eyed" gentleman who appeared quite but not randomly and following him always landed our PC's in trouble, there was no CoC canon fitting explanation for him as far as I know, he was not secretly avatar of Nyarlahotep or anything like that.

  17. The world works according to a set of crazy rules that won't immediately kill you, and you have time to subvert those rules and survive. You need to work with these rules because you're small and defenseless.

  18. I admire what Paul S. said, that is really what it's all about. Memories and nightmares of some soft neglect, you have a fever of 106 but the family is busy moving, so have a popsicle and get on with it. So you are <9years old and tripping balls, left alone in a room with boxes and furniture, but you recognize some of the furniture but you can't remember why or how and -that- makes it bad. Because now you know something is wrong. And then you fall into another nightmare where you are completely frightened, but if you ACT frightened, you are dead.

    On the other hand, sometime in the early 80's-- my first game group held that the vorpal sword was THE artifact. In fact, to us, it was the only artifact in Greyhawk, we revered it. It was "the equivalent of a lightsaber". The GM never mentioned it in game, we never found it, heh. Now a GM could write some epic poem about an artifact and read it with aplomb as theme music played in the background and no one at the table would even arise to a facial expression.

    I do not mention this because I am lost in nostalgia, or because I have no concept of 'distance'. I mention this because Alice is going on this adventure while things are still awesome.

    I'm saying that Wonderland is the original RPG.
    Of course, if you want to talk mechanics, Alice is not FROM Wonderland and neither was the gang in the D&D cartoons. I dunno why all the PC's are from the world they are in now. Who made that rule?

  19. Hi Zak,
    Totally off the topic, but I just wanted to tell you that I just found a copy of Vornheim at a local game shop and I absolutely love it. When I saw how "compact" it was, I was a little unsure, but you've been able to cram so much content - good, usable, engaging content into a concise little volume that looks totally sexy on the bookshelf. Can't wait to pluck my players out of a dungeon and into the city crawl. Cheers!

  20. Wonderland is situated next door to Edward Lear's gromboolian plain, and the hills of the chankly bore. Lear's stuff is more pure nonsense, Lewis Carol's follows a twisted logic, but both are silly, subversive, used to escape the rigid rules of society at the time. Manners are incredibly important but also incredibly silly. The main goal for Alice seems to be getting to the other side of the board to 'queen' herself, from what I remember.

  21. Games and rules. There is Chess, a pure intelectual pursuit, and there is Cards, with its random elements: two opposite camps, inimical to each other, in struggle.

  22. an ovel by raphael slepon. i am one of the few people lucky enough to have read that rare book.

    apuleius's golden ass.

    the thing alice, an ovel, and apuleius all have in common is that they're weird, recursively enumerated journeys into magical worlds.

    slepon is a programmer's programmer (he gets to design computer chips), and carroll and apuleius were both logicians.

    recursively enumerated strangely logic driven magical universes.

    that's what alice makes me think of.