Bringing the Surrealism

I was recently asked: Any tips on getting the surrealistic aspects [in a DayTrippers game] to be more prominent?

I had to think about it a bit, because aside from the rules, I'd never explicitly been asked how I do it myself. Here's my answer...

There are two ways in which surrealism will typically come about: either gonzo or emo. The type you'll get depends on the nature of the players and the gestalt psychology of the group including the GM.

In the initial scene (catch-up, daily routine prior to mission, backstory, whatever), you can ask the PC what they've been thinking about lately. Any interesting dreams? What's been bugging you lately? Make leading suggestions. Note any interesting responses. These may end up being freaky coincidences or thematic resolutions later on. The Player can help you with this without even knowing they're doing it. Get them to describe mundane actions in POV, and go from there to the accompanying thoughts. This way you can sink in to the PC's/Player's head deep but comfortably. If your Players give you serious answers and mirror your tone when you get somber, you have a good chance of getting an emo vibe going. There will be more bleed there. If they're silly, uncomfortable or overly enthused, you're probably going to get a gonzo vibe.

Try to hold to that level of close immersion (fairly tight focus on characters as content) until after the jump has occurred. That's when everything changes; now you pull your camera back and go heavy on the adjectives in your description. Use your voice. Use music. Again, watch for interesting responses - in terms of psychological effect - and note them for symbolic reincoporation later.

When you feel a tone becoming established, when you hit an emotional vibe that everyone feels, stick with it... then modulate it up or down depending on the narrative arc. Re-incoporate meaningful symbols and emotions from earlier, whenever the chance presents itself. This helps give the entire experience a unique sense of a recurring "Theme" and a "Feeling" - even if it's unclear exactly what it's trying to say.

Dream Worlds are the best places to get meaningful surrealism, because a dream has its own logic, whereas the Multiversal Chao (by comparison) is nothing but churning chaos 100% of the time. In a sense, a visit to a Dream World can be like an unspoken contest between the PCs and the Dreamer of the Dream (who is never seen, but whose effects are felt everywhere and may be altered with the Lucid Dreaming skill). In addition, you're free to make things up that have symbolic - rather than literal - meaning. It's also a good chance to use the "Binary Tree" method and the Tweak tables.

EXAMPLE: Say your Players have a TCV of 300. So you know the first Crisis should be about 100. They are in a Dream World inhabited by mobile plant-people who worship a giant gem that floats over a great glass bowl. One of the Players makes a joke about fish. Someone else says "I hope not; I hate fish. They creep me out." Stuff happens with the plant-people. The gem makes weird noises.

A little later the PCs do some stuff and now it's time for a Crisis, so I grab a die and think "Is it a plant people attack?" Roll yes/no, I get a No. Next thought: "An attack from the gem?" I get a Yes. I roll on the Tweak Natural table, and get an 8: "It is intelligent and has a mind of its own." So...

Instead of hitting the PCs with a physical attack, suddenly the gem has eyes and a mouth, it looks like a big living cartoon now and it is speaking in a gigantic booming voice (I make something up); this is an Attack alright, but get this: because DayTrippers uses a universal action resolution system, I can make it any kind of attack, against any Stat. This is a tremendous freedom. I decide that it's a BOOMING VOICE ATTACK that targets the PSYCHE Stat, and if you fail to defend, you are pelted with hundreds of small fish which seem to emanate from the gem itself (although no one else sees them but the victim).

Finally, here's a good trick for quickly making up enemies and obstacles: Just look up a sample NPC/Monster worth around the same number of points: then change the skills and stats but keep the scores. For instance, let's say we start with "Attack Snake" (105CP). We use those numbers to turn it into a "Deific Gem: PSYCHE 3 BoomingVoice+2 HurlFish+1 with a Disorienting Effect DL4." It all comes down to the numbers, see? So the description can be literally anything. This gives you the freedom to pour surrealist content right into the fiction, re-incorporating any psychic cues you got from the Players earlier. This might sound like a tricky thing to pull of convincingly, but I assure you: the hurdle is more in your mind than anywhere else. Once you say, "Yes, you are being pelted with small fish and it's beginning to hurt your brain," guess what? Your Players will believe you.