Home > Authors, Messy Confessor, RPG > Hacks & Homebrews #1: Inception (Part 1)

Hacks & Homebrews #1: Inception (Part 1)

I like RPGs and storytelling.  Generally speaking, I have more fun as a DM than as a player.  The problem is that I hate complicated rules.  I don’t have the time or attention to remember all the different conventions and possibilities in, for example, D&D 3.5.  I prefer to keep a few simple ideas in mind during the session, and let anything complicated happen on the players’ own time between games.

Hacks & Homebrews is going to be a series of simple rulesets hacked together from other, more complicated systems in order to facilitate roleplay in settings that lack dedicated systems of their own.  First, I’m going to tackle Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Before I hack together rules for a setting, I like to sit down and define just what makes that setting so compelling to me — what are the three qualities the game mechanics absolutely must communicate?  Here’s what I picked out for Inception.


Inception is a heist.  As a genre, heist stories bring certain expectations with them.  There is a very particular way in which the tension gradually ratchets up in a heist film.  In a lot of RPGs, the stakes are constantly being raised and lowered as the characters move from one situation to the next.  Particularly in a sandbox setting, it is not uncommon for there to be very little in the way of an overarching plot, and thus there may be many small climaxes rather than one big one.

Not so, in Inception.  There is one story from start to finish, and the stakes are constantly being raised.  If the players ever feel that their situation has just improved significantly, then the heist is not pressuring them enough.


The laws of physics apply — until they don’t.  The thing that separates Inception from being just another heist is the set of assumptions that come with the dream-world.  Impossible architecture.  Inexplicable physics.  The psychological, made physical.  What would be a sign of magic in D&D is just another mundane structure for this setting.


It all starts with a meticulous plan.  In most RPGs, chaos is just the way things are.  Delving into a dungeon, for example, it’s hard to plan ahead — you don’t know what’s in the next room, so how would you have a plan to deal with it?  (And no, “Plan A: Fireball.  Plan B: Bigger Fireball.” does not count.)  Inception, by contrast, necessitates a meticulous, complex plan on the part of the players.  Not only do they have to plan what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it, they must first plan where they’re going to do it — the dreamworld must be constructed before it can be invaded.

Only when the players have a carefully detailed plan can you, as the GM, mercilessly destroy it with one bullshit complication after another.  As the gods intended.

(To be continued…)

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