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With Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises coming out this year, I can’t help but think of another one of Nolan’s films adapted into a game. When my wife and I saw Inception the first time, we were both blown away. Between the writing, the acting, the score and the directing, it has been, for us, hands down one of the best and most complete films either of us have ever seen. On top of the film being incredible, the gamer in me sat through the film completely intrigued as to how best to translate the ideas presented in the film into the d20 setting.
Writing for an Extraction/Inception scenario as either a one-shot adventure, a side-trek or a full-blown campaign could potentially be the greatest risk/reward endeavor a GM could pursue. As I’ve said in earlier posts, the greatest challenge a GM faces is the ability to sell the game world to the Players. Once you start throwing multiple dream layers, architects, kicks and the compounded time differential experienced in subsequent dreams, you better damn well hope your players are hooked or they’re going to walk. My experience around the gaming table, both as a Player and a GM, has taught me that Players want to think, but sometimes they don’t want to think too much. Additionally, in writing a scenario as presented by the Nolan film, getting too deep in (from a GMing perspective) may cause you to lose absolute focus and leave your game like the ancient Saito, trapped in Limbo, waiting to die.
If I were to personally write an Inception-based module for a game (which is very likely to happen), I would drop it into either a d20 Modern or Spycraft rule-set campaign. Given the emphasis in the film on military-grade technology and the undercurrent of corporate espionage, the formula just seems a more appropriate fit to a modern setting. However, that is not to say the same dream invading effects couldn’t be achieved through psionics or high-level wizardry in a fantasy campaign. My opinion is that it wouldn’t feel organic enough, but that’s just me. In order to appropriately present the setting, it’s important for both the GM AND the Players to understand the roles each of the character archetype’s plays. Based on Nolan’s character’s (and the film’s marketing campaign), they are as follows:
- The Architect – Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, is responsible for creating the dreamscape that the other character’s will invade.
- The Extractor – Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, serves as the team leader and the individual responsible for ultimately retrieving or implanting information in the target subject’s subconscious.
- The Pointman – Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, acts as Cobb’s primary support and the ying to DiCaprio’s yang.
- The Forger – Eames, played by Tom Hardy, serves a secondary support role, providing necessary smoke and mirrors in order to help complete the illusion of reality.
- The Tourist – Saito, played by Ken Watanabe, delves into the dream in order to observe and protect his investment, also providing support to the mission success.
- The Shade – Mal, played by Marion Cotillard, serves as the foil to DiCaprio’s Extractor, a vicious x-factor capable of anything.
This first part will focus on the most important and (in my opinion) complex character:
At first, the role of the Architect may seem pretty obvious, being in the realm of the GM’s responsibility. That assumption is not completely wrong. The GM creates and runs the game world that the PC’s exist in, so it only makes sense that whatever environment they plan to perform their escapade would have the GM at the helm. Anyone who’s watched the film understands that the Extraction team operates within the subconscious of the target (ie; the Player’s playing within the GM’s setting) with their adversaries being the target and his/her Projections. The whole point and key to success lies in the PC’s outwitting and/or defeating the Projections and getting out of the dream safely. This, however, is where I turn things upside down.
An Inception /Extraction module is the exception to my rule of GM vs. PC’s. The GM has ultimate control over the game world, but in this scenario, the power dynamic has shifted. The PC’s are the conscious, proactive actors in a scripted drama, whereas the GM-run Projections are reactors. By handing the reigns of Architect to the Players, the GM will actually be staying far more true to the spirit of the film and it’s themes while creating a new challenge for the players. I know, you GM purists out there must think I’ve completely lost my mind, and perhaps I have, but what it really comes down to is trust. If you REALLY trust your Players, it’s as simple as laying some ground rules of what the goal is as well as what is acceptable and what isn’t. You, the GM, control the subconscious of the target NPC, so it shouldn’t be hard to establish the limits that the PC’s must keep their subterfuge within. A good portion of the film focuses on breaking down the target’s psyche in order to create the maximum chance for success. This process should require plenty of role-playing for the Player’s as they prepare their Extraction. The GM should provide enough information in the conscious game world for the Player’s to be successful in the subconscious one. Let the Player’s create the set-up, build the maze and role-play their way through their own plan. All you have to do is sit back and run your Projections and do your best to trip the players up!
Next week, I’ll delve into the other roles in the scenario, so be sure to check it out!
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” – Tom Hardy as Eames in “Inception”