D&D General Surrealism in D&D


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Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Ceci n'est pas un goblin

Goblin.jpeg
 



When I use surrealist things, I try to keep them confined to some particular area or concept or the like. Over-use quickly leads to boredom: "oh, another kuh-ray-zee thing, yawn, moving along..." (Not that my players have ever said this to me; it's just been my experience in other contexts and from others' reports.)

So, for example, I have emphasized the "outsider-ness" of certain beings by using certain phrases with my players. "You open your magical senses and you can see...well, it's really hard to describe. The couatl you see was also the human-looking woman from earlier...but now, with your magical senses open looking at her natural form...you can see that she's somehow more than she should be. That it's almost like she's...folded up, being squeezed into a space smaller than she actually is."

Other beings, those who are merely touched by this outsider-ness without actually being outsiders themselves, have similar descriptions but to a lesser degree. So, while Tlacalicue (lit. "Daylight-Her-Skirt") is a proper celestial, Tenryu Shen the gold dragon is only partially outsider-like, and thus has "less" of the too-much-person-squeezed-into-space effect. Recently, I had another character (a time dragon "stuck" on the barrier blocking exit from the world the PCs come from) who was similar, but his existence was divided between different locations (one "inside" the barrier, one "outside." He got stuck because someone did something very stupid with an artifact that has space-time properties.)

In other areas, I do things like mentioning unusual sensory combinations, playing up the spooky vibes, providing background music when I can (RIP Rhythm Bot, it sucks people kept using you illegitimately...) and otherwise enhancing the overall "feel" in various ways. Doing too much more just risks being overblown or failing to deliver.
 

I lean into surrealism when angels or other extra-planar creatures are interact with the party. Sometimes slightly off occurances happen when the party is travelling through a plane fairly distant from the Mortal planes.
 


surrealism is a way to go outside official path and expectation.
For DnD the Fey wild may be the most ideal place to play surrealism, making a toad the absolute ruler of the Fey kingdom and reversing usual expectation for monster, classes and so on.

For fantasy my best take is the « Save the cheerleader, save the world » from the heroes tv show.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
I may include surrealistic environments, and oddness in general, but I never go fully surreal, beyond the environment. I go for the unexpected, never the wahoo.
 

This discussion reminds me of my favorite "light bulb" joke.

Q: How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?​
A: Three: one to fill the bathtub with golf balls and the other two to paint the cat.​
Johnathan
My favorite versions of that joke use the same Q, but answer instead with either

A1: Fish!

or

A2: Ten. Nine to hold the giraffe, and one to fill the bathtub with brightly-colored machine tools.

Interesting that both yours and A2 involve filling a bathtub with solid objects.
 

Richards

Legend
Agreed - interesting. I hadn't heard either of your alternate answers, but they're equally fitting. The version I heard was told to me by my grown son.

Johnathan
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Surrealism works if one has the party in an Alice-In-Wonderland type of setting or adventure (I tried this once for a gonzo one-off and it worked well enough), and-or if a party somehow finds its way to the Plane of Chaos, at which point anything goes.

But long-term? Hard to sustain, if only because one either a) runs out of cool new ideas or b) succumbs to the how-do-I-top-that problem and takes it completely off the rails.
 

Savage Wombat

Adventurer
I always wanted to base a campaign world around surrealist landscapes, but I haven't found very many pictures to use that didn't include blatant references to technology, so I haven't gone further with the idea.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I always wanted to base a campaign world around surrealist landscapes, but I haven't found very many pictures to use that didn't include blatant references to technology, so I haven't gone further with the idea.
One source might be, of all places, Magic cards. There were a few series - Zendikar might have been one - that had a lot of surrealist landscapes in their art - chunks of land floating in the air, that sort of thing.

Of course, if all you have is the cards the art is kinda small, but it's something. :)
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Surrealism works if one has the party in an Alice-In-Wonderland type of setting or adventure (I tried this once for a gonzo one-off and it worked well enough), and-or if a party somehow finds its way to the Plane of Chaos, at which point anything goes.
Dreamlands-type locales are fitting, too, i think.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
I always wanted to base a campaign world around surrealist landscapes, but I haven't found very many pictures to use that didn't include blatant references to technology, so I haven't gone further with the idea.
You might try one of those recent txt2img generators, using the keyword "surrealism" in the prompt.
Screenshot 2022-10-02 15.50.33.png

Screenshot 2022-10-02 15.48.27.png

The "AI" does the acid so you don't have to.
.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
Surrealism can work well but it is also easy to overdo it. I've had some success with some places and some scenarios being particularly weird. I think trying to make the entire setting be surreal would be difficult and probably too much.
 

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