I'm Not Toto, and This Isn't Kansas

(Originally posted on slashdot.org in response to an article on heresy and what we can't say.)

If you take the Landmark Forum and then take their follow up course -- the ubiquitously named "Advanced Course", they have a section when they talk about types of reality. One is "reality by agreement". It reminded me about one rather extreme case of reality by agreement.

Back in the '80s, there was a company known as "Sir Unicorn Enterprises". They created a game called "Dreamquest" (which later morphed into LRPS Live Role-Playing System). It was based on a D&D type scenario, where you had different character classes with different abilities etc. However it was done live-action and on a commercial scale... For my first game there were about 75 'players' (paying customers) and one or two dozen actors.

One of the base rules of the game was "If you're out of your tent, you're in character".

Other than the limitations and powers of your character class, there was very little restriction to your character. You got to make up their personality, their costume, their history -- Even the history of how they got to Samiltan (the country in which the game was played). As an extreme, there was one guy on my first quest who was dressed in a (civilian) paratrooper's outfit. His story was that he was on a jump, went through this weird glowing portal thing, and next thing he knew he was fighting dragons.... Character class: Fighter (of course -- completely non-magical).

The venue of that quest was a country club.. We had one small section of the country club building (basically a large room) and the edges of the property leading down into the river valley. On the Friday night, we were given very explicit instructions to not go beyond the end of the one room, because there was a wedding going on, and we were NOT to go beyond there. Disturbing the 'mundanes' (non-players) could get us booted out.
In game parlance, The world ends there.

Of course the country club didn't warn the wedding party about our presence (why should they? They knew that we wouldn't go past the "end of the world").

And of course, a couple of wedding party members wandered into the game space.

I'm guessing that the first thing that they learned was not to go past "the end of the world".

But they wanted to go home, so they started talking to people, and hearing stories -- stories from past dreamquests and the present one... stories of magic, demons dragons and an impending doom if "the unnamed one" could not be stopped.

At first, they were highly skeptical (of course), but they didn't really care, they just wanted to get home -- unfortunately, nobody could tell them about how to get home -- of course, nobody could, since it made sense that anybody who got home probably wouldn't/couldn't come (willingly) back from a mundane (non-magical) world. Nonetheless, it was possible (but not guaranteed) that a powerful enough wizard might be able to get them home. One thing that they had going for them, though, was that recent events in this corner of Samiltan had resulted in the gathering of some of the most powerful wizards known (and probably the cause of their own troubles). Thus, if anyplace had hope of getting them home, it was likely to be here. About the only thing that they learned for sure, however, was that they should not go past the end of the world... People were adamant about that -- beyond there lay death.

From what I can tell, they were in the game area for at least an hour... maybe two. Word was going around the players that a couple of characters (possibly actors) were playing guests from the wedding, and trying to get people to break character.
but we knew better, right?

Nobody would break character for them. The guy in the parachute outfit probably clinched it for them... If they could expect a straight answer out of anybody, it would be him, since he was dressed "normal" but he seemed to have much the same questions as they did -- and no answers. In fact, he seemed pretty resigned to his fate -- happy even.

"Dressed strange? We're not dressed strange. You're dressed strange."
"Those are the strangest suits of armor I've ever seen!"
"Doesn't look like they'd stop a dagger, much less a sword.... unless they're magical."
"Are they magical?"
"Could I test them?"
"Do they stop magic?"
By the time they got to me, these two unfortunates were down to two possibilities:
  1. They were insane
  2. They really were in a different world.
Between the two of them, they were able to bounce things off of each other and determine that weren't both insane, so this really only left (2). And if 2 were true, then -- with no magic they had absolutely no way to get home.

They were starting to get scared, and very desperate

How do I know this? They got me to break character. They started their conversation by telling me that they knew that people ended up here by going through portals, and that they guessed that they had probably gone thru a portal of some sort, but they really didn't remember it -- everybody else who had been portaled into the world semed to remember a glowing portal, and they were sure that they would have remembered something like that (they weren't anywhere near that drunk ... In the middle of our conversation, one of them suddenly broke into something of a monologue along the lines of:

I don't know if this is of value to you in this world, but it's the only thing I have on me that's of any value. If you can get any value out of it please do. If we can do anything else for you, just ask, but we just want to get home... Please. Just get us home. That's all I ask.
Then he handed me his wallet.

I looked through his wallet... Not new, but a very good quality wallet. Gold cards (unexpired), cash, driver's license. Yep.. It was a real wallet and he wouldn't take it back. He just wanted me to get them home. That is when I realized that they were for real.

Even so, I wasn't willing to commit the heresy of completely breaking character. I dropped partly out of character for a moment at a time .. long enough to drop a clear hint about the dual nature of "the world". I got their story from them, and told them that if they went beyond "the end of the world" over there, there were rumors of a wedding of some sort, but not for our kind... For us to go there was death -- but if they were truly of another world their passage might be safe.

The guy that had offered me his wallet, wanted me to keep it, but I managed to convince him to accept it back it by taking a $2 bill out of it (yes, there were bigger bills in there).

I never heard from them again. I took that as a sign that they made safely it back to their universe.

My point is that it took less than 2 hours to convince two sane, intelligent, and reasonably successful (possibly mildly inebriated) people that they had been magically transported into another world. All it took was a few score people with absolutely no willingness to admit that any other truth was possible or to act like there was anything wrong with this world. It helped that there was a reasonably consistent (if vague) explanations about how they had probably been transported from 'home'.

There were two key heresies which doomed them to their fate:
One was going beyond 'the end of the world' (toward the wedding).
The other was admitting that we were anywhere but Samiltan.

It turns out that it doesn't take much to lock ourselves into a fantasy world.

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Stephen Samuel (samuel@bcgreen.com)