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Tabletop Game / JAGS Wonderland

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"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 Carroll meeting H. P. Lovecraft.

JAGS Wonderland is a tabletop setting for the free generic RPG JAGS, and like its other settings, is available for free, here. 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 note  beneath the one we inhabit, and once in a while someone accidentally falls through the cracks, becoming Infected. The Infected are also known as the Unsane, because they are not losing hold of reality... reality is losing hold of them. Once you've been sucked down once, it can happen again with very little warning, and creatures from Wonderland may be able to follow you back.

The further down the Chessboards you go, the looser reality gets. Chessboard One and Chessboard Two are still recognizable as reflections of the familiar world. Chessboard Three is connected to our world only through metaphor, and below that, things are... strange.

While someone is trapped on the lower Chessboards, a Reflection is thrown back up to consensus reality which will try, clumsily, to imitate their actions deeper in reality. If it can't, it may have an epic freak-out called Disassociation, and when you finally return to reality, you may find yourself in a padded cell.

Most people who are Infected die or vanish into thin air within a year. Even the lucky or careful ones can find themselves damaged by the creatures of the lower Chessboards.

The worst and strongest creatures of Wonderland are the Caretakers and Deconstructionists, two factions of gods that work through the laws of literature and language instead of physics and mathematics. The fact that humanity is able to comprehend mathematics makes us as abominable to them as they are to us. Some of them hate us, and seek to destroy our will to live and provoke mass self-destruction. Some of them love us, and think we need to be "civilized" into something the Caretakers can work with. Some of them just want to drag the entirety of Chessboard Zero down into Wonderland, spreading Infection across the entire globe.

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.

The Book of Knots is where the information on the groups of the world are.

JAGS Wonderland uses the following tropes:

  • All Take and No Give: The Clear Widow is a Caretaker embodying the Taker, when she's sure she's the Giver. It kind of rings false when she's one of the sponsors of the Army of No.
  • 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 when (not if, when) 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. PCs and NPCs 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. And so 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 introducing the game to you. In Mind Screw fashion.
    "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...
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Subverted. At first, it has all the hallmarks- mind-destroying secrets, dark powers that twist you into a monster, hungry dimensions beneath our reality, impossibly powerful alien beings reaching in from another world, all of that. As you learn more about the world, though, it becomes clear that the universe is set up for humans, for us to evolve into beings of great power and wisdom. Which we will inevitably do- all the Caretakers can do is petulantly try to delay it out of spite.
  • 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 masters of everything and nothing.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Caretakers. But ultimately subverted and inverted- while powerful and alien, humans can ultimately figure out their rules and nature. However, it's impossible for them to figure out ours, meaning that they ultimately have far more to fear from us then vice versa. And they know it
  • 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 Evulz: The Army of No was meant to punish humanity, not just destroy it. Which means their Caretaker sponsors gave them a sense of humor that is best described as maliciously petty. Such as specialized devices for destroying iPods (so they can remove the music that gives you joy), and television bugs that force the most grating, annoying ads through your media devices (so they can laugh at your frustration). It's even part of their official SOP for keeping the troops entertained.
  • For the Lulz: The Cheshire Cat will do anything for his amusement, never letting 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 Cthulhu: The inhabitants of the lower "Chessboards" have trouble understanding the concept of "math" and "physics", while Humans can understand the literary rules followed by the inhabitants of Wonderland... by basically going insane. Turns out, mankind has the potential to master both, essentially becoming gods even greater than the Caretakers.
  • 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.
  • Literal Metaphor: Very common in Wonderland, as might be expected.
  • Little Green Men: The original "aliens" produced by Project Pagan. Very few humans were intelligent or megalomaniacal enough to be converted, and thus the focus was shifted to turning people into The Greys.
    • The Field Martians of the Army of No, too. They actually don't claim to be from anywhere but Earth (the name is a reference to the god also known as Aresnote ), but they are indeed green, and they are lustful.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: Like Alice, you may get a serpent's neck and lose 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.
  • Platonic Cave: What the universe turns out to be in the endgame. Chessboard Seven contains an Eternal Engine called the Department of Works. The Department of Works was built to generate the universe as we know it. It was also always intended to eventually fall apart. The Department of Works was created to give reality the rules and stability humanity needed to develop. Once humanity is sufficiently grown up enough to not need it anymore, they are inevitably destined to reach Chessboard Seven and shut it down, turning off the universe and freeing humanity to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Army of No, intentionally.
  • Rule of Drama: In Wonderland these have replaced the laws of physics.
  • Sanity Has Advantages: The Caretakers often just aren't aware that people talking to them are humans, because they're literally so wrapped up in their own perceptions they don't notice.
  • 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 The Wall 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...
  • World Half Full: Despite everything, humanity's ultimate victory over (and destruction of) Wonderland isn't just likely, it's a mathematical inevitability.