Tabletop Game: JAGS Wonderland
"But I don't want to go among mad people." Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
It's the world on the other side of the mirror, the world that pretends to look like ours, that behaves while you're watching it, that's watching you when your back is turned. Wonderland is the world that exists in empty places where no one can see it. It's the universe that's up and about at 3:00 AM. It's twisted and hungry and it knows all about you. It's read your mail, your diary, and your mind. It has your single, missing socks. It's eaten your sister. It's awakening across the globe and getting stronger. Wonderland is what you should be afraid of, instead of the dark.Imagine Lewis Caroll meeting HP Lovecraft.JAGS Wonderland is a tabletop setting for the free generic RPG JAGS. In it, a bizarre, inexplicably contagious mental illness known as Cyclic Psychoaffective Disorder is sweeping the world. The psychological community and most governments refuse to acknowledge CPD as anything more than normal Schizophrenia. A few conspiracy theorists insist there must be more to it, but nobody believes them.They really, really should.In reality, CPD is not a mental illness. In reality, there are seven lower layers of reality (called "Chessboards" individually and "Wonderland" collectively by those who know about them) beneath the one we inhabit, and once in a while someone accidentally falls through the cracks becoming Infected (or Unsane, because they are not losing hold of reality, reality is losing hold of them), and periodically being returned to Wonderland against their will. While on one of the lower chessboards, they throw a ''Reflection'' (an irrational copy of themselves) up onto our world (Chessboard Zero) that tries to imitate their actions on the lower levels to the best of its ability. If it can't copy them, it freaks out (Dissassociation). Worse yet, once one finally makes it back up to reality (usually taking a few hours and finding their Reflection has done something embarrassing or illegal) the native creatures of Wonderland can follow them back up (Notice). While in Wonderland, one can be mutated (Twisted or Damaged). Most people who are Infected die or vanish into thin air within a year.Chessboard One looks like the real world, for the most part, except that the people living there (shadows who directly reflect one person from Chessboard Zero) act very strangely, going about their tasks in very roundabout ways, and all spoken or written communication expresses exactly what the speaker subconsciously meant, rather than what they said. Chessboard One also serves as the entrance to the Linear Maze, a strange environment that connects all the other Chessboards to one another.On Chessboard Two, there are still shadows, but only a fraction as many. The parts that aren't directly used by shadows tend to be nearly-deserted, twisted places that look like they came from a certain little resort town. The deserted areas are home to monstrous manifestations of the dominant impression of the area on Chessboard Zero, known as Wild Things, that have no direct analogue above.On Chessboard Three, the world is nearly unrecognizable, becoming a strange mix of Victorian cities, Medieval countryside, and representations of bits of the mass subconscious (for example, a shopping mall might become a cathedral dedicated not to any god, but the idea of Consumerism). The Wild Things are pretty common here.On Chessboard Four, small suburban towns dot the confusing, dreamlike landscapes of the mind. Things like expectations and ideas are actual physical substances that can be pried from the land. Wild Things are everywhere.At the very lowest layers live the Caretakers, some of whom Alice and Lewis Carroll met, others who they had the good fortune never to. The Caretakers really don't care for reality, because it operates on mathematical principles and they operate on literary ones. They especially hate (or love, for certain values of the term) mankind, the one thing that can actually understand the rules. In the 1960s, after extended contact with a shadowy organization in the US Government, the Caretakers decided something needed to be done. They ultimately decided that the most effective way would be to simply tear apart humanity's will to live. This they accomplished by creating a series of projects that could go up to the levels just beneath Chessboard Zero and bedevil any shadows they find. Foremost among these are Big Pharma, the official initiative supported by most Caretakers, which seeks to pervert psychiatric medicine to eradicate all hope and free will, and Project Pagan, a Caretaker-controlled conspiracy within the U.S. Government to twist humankind so thoroughly that they will become something the Caretakers can work with. A few others try to make Faustian bargains with the Infected in exchange for exposing more people, with the goal of infecting the entire world.What they don't know is the very lowest level, full of machines that keep the other levels working, could render them obsolete if humans ever understood what the machines were for. Which they will. Soon.However all is not lost. The remains of the agency that made first contact with Wonderland, called Project Pilgrim then and Project Puritan now, crusades to keep Wonderland as hidden as possible, in the hopes that if the infection is contained, it can be controlled. Those Infected who survive for long enough and don't throw their lot in with the Caretakers wage a desperate struggle to get by. And most hidden of all, the Magicians, who learn to control Wonderland without entering it, and who each choose any of a number of different allegiances.
JAGS Wonderland uses the following tropes:
- Animate Inanimate Object: Some of the Caretakers, such as the Factory and the Wheel.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: What will happen to humanity once (not if, once) they deactivate the Department of Works, the universe sized machine in Chessboard Seven that keeps reality going.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever/ Incredible Shrinking Man: A gameplay mechanic. It just wouldn't be Wonderland without it. PC's and NPC's can be anywhere from an inch to a hundred feet tall, made that way by various sources. Specifically, the Typeist can enforce this on others.
- Body Horror: A common element, and frequent component of becoming Twisted. Upon entering Wonderland, people who feel powerless in life may become Noodle People. Gamblers and risk-takers may gain a prehensile neck. People who suffer from some form of self-loathing may be run through with metal blades and barbs. The list goes on.
- Bedlam House: Just a few InNetwork Physicians can turn any mental hospital into this.
- Brain in a Jar: One of the formerly-human heads of Project Pagan. It's getting impatient with Pagan's slow progress, and is contemplating just wiping the unconverted mass of humanity out with nuclear weapons.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Wonderland starts with Alice introduce the game to you. In Mind Screw way."I suppose you think you’re reading about me while I think I’m dreaming of you, but we can’t really be sure who is dreaming of whom and who is reading of whose dreaming…
- Brown Note: The Llamed strain.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Inverted. By enforcing the notion that anything you see during an episode is absolutely one hundred percent not real, Underground support groups can slow or even halt the progress of infection. They believe themselves to be blunt realists who are Doing In the Wizard by refusing to embrace delusion; this belies the fact that Wonderland is indeed very much real. Due to Infection originating from seeing and believing in an Impossible Thing, seeing and not believing weakens it. If it were possible to totally "unbelieve" in Wonderland, an infectee could be cured instantly.
- Ironically, this method is effective only as long as the support groups don't realize why it's effective — If it were explained to them, they would know for a fact that Wonderland is real, and would be unable to disbelieve. And on it goes...
- Darker and Edgier: Than the source material to be sure.
- Deadly Doctor: The InNetwork Physicians. They're created when the need to mentally dominate a patient takes over a psychiatrist from one of the lower levels of reality. They enjoy tormenting their charges a little too much.
- Down the Rabbit Hole: In-universe slang for a deep trip to the lower levels of reality, where the Caretakers live.
- Driven to Suicide: What the Caretakers hope to achieve on a worldwide scale with the Big Pharma project.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: It's going to be hard, it's going to be painful, many are going to die. But in the end, humanity's victory over the Caretakers and Wonderland is not just likely, it's predetermined, a mathematical inevitability. Humanity will find the Department of Works in Chessboard Seven, destroy it, and transcend as the true master of everything and nothing.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Caretakers. Somewhat subverted in that they are absolutely terrified of us, since while it is possible for us to figure out their rules, it's impossible for them to figure out ours.
- Evil Chef: They're really more like Knight Templar Chefs, but Confection Cooks (Whirls produced when someone feels an overwhelming sense of anger towards a Karma Houdini) use their pastries to bring about poetic fates for their targets. Unfortunately, they're also rather Lawful Stupid...
- Enemy Civil War: Between the 'true' Caretakers and the Deconstructionists. No, really. Since the Caretakers embody literary concepts, naturally the ones who embody taking those tropes apart are their natural enemies. They're just as bad a lot of the time, but they're more likely to help you.
- Some of the Caretakers also work at cross purposes to each other.
- Fate Worse Than Death / And I Must Scream: Some Caretakers want to "civilize" humanity. This is the result.
- Flat Earth Atheist: The Support Groups refuse to acknowledge that the experiences they go through are actually happening. At least not the Lower Echelon...
- For the Lulz: The Cheshire Cat will do anything for his amusement, never let things settle down if he can “turn the heat up”. He can be helpful, but his help usually sends you from frying pan into the flame.
- Full-Circle Revolution: It's basically stated that if the Deconstructionists win they'll be just as bad as the Caretakers - the Stealth Pun here is that they would pull a Decon-Recon Switch.
- Government Conspiracy: Project Pilgrim, set up by the government to combat the spread of Infection, and Project Pagan, set up to turn humanity into something the Caretakers can tolerate.
- The Greys: The result of Project Pagan's attempts to turn humanity into Rational Actors.
- The Heartless: Whirls, Shadows who were spliced off from the people who cast them in the grip of strong, usually negative emotion. The InNetwork Physicians are the variety that is usually the most antagonistic, but the others aren't nice either.
- Humans Are Special: Aside from the automated Department of Works, humans are only ones that are capable of understanding math, something the Caretakers can't.
- Little Green Men: The original "aliens" produced by Project Pagan. Very few humans were intelligent or megalomaniacal enough to be converted, thus the focus was shifted to turning people into The Greys.
- Lovecraftian Superpower: Like Alice, you may get a serpent's neck and loose sight of your feet. Or other things... Unlike most examples, however, the Twists are not due to corruption of yourself, but exposure to Wonderland allowing you to manifest bits of your subconscious as mutations. They're actually vital to fighting the Wild Things, and they're quite temporary.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: At some point in the distant past, the Caretakers managed to damage the machines. This caused the breaching between Chessboard Zero and lower layers. Unknown to them, it all went according to the Department of Works's plan. Now it's only a matter of time before humans discover the machines.
- Personality Powers: If you end up falling Down the Rabbit Hole, you tend to walk away from the experience with powers that shape themselves to your personality and traumas. Getting the attention of the Caretakers can have this effect as well, but their rather warped perspective tends to make their alterations... unusual.
- Putting on the Reich: The Army of No, intentionally.
- Rule of Drama: In Wonderland these have replaced the laws of physics.
- Secret Project Refugee Family: The Lost Family, who fell into the hands of an InNetwork Physician, escaped, and now work with groups around the country to fight their influence and try to rescue people trapped in the lower Chessboards.
- Sexy Secretary: Andrea, the Secretary of the Army of No. She uses a poisoned stiletto to clean her nails, so it might not be a good idea to hit on her too much, unless it takes the form of a humiliating bribe to get an appointment with her boss.
- Shout-Out: Watching TheWall is specifically noted as a good way for an infected individual to slip down a few levels.
- The Mad Hatter: Oddly enough, the trope namer doesn't count in this version—in fact, no one is quite sure what the Mad Hatter thinks, because he's trapped in a strange mini-reality where it's always Thursday afternoon.
- You can get a Mad Hatter Reflection with the Cool Reflection perk, though.
- The Power of Hate: The Wheel claims to run on self-hatred, which he considers to be a universal force instead of an emotion. He's also the Caretaker behind the aliens, who were originally humans that have been stripped of all emotions except hatred.
- Wicked Witch: The Wyches, Whirls born from the realization that one is obeyed because he is feared rather than respected. They are, as their nature would suggest, purveyors of Black Magic (actually techniques to call up Wild Things from the lower Chessboards) and vicious bullies. Hell, an effect they exert on Zero is literally Halloween decorations and B-Movie occult symbols showing up everywhere!
- White Man's Burden: Parodied with the White Rabbit's Burden, the twisted feeling of responsibility some Caretakers have for mankind.
- World of Pun: Wonderland seems to run on puns almost as much as it does the Rule of Drama. General Ledger of the Army of No constantly demands more reports!, the Army itself has long divisions instead of regular divisions and field martians (who aren't from Mars), the Liebrarian presides over a library filled with untruth, the Typeist is constantly infuriated by humanity's inability to stick to her categories...