How to Play

From Gestalt

There are a lot of different realities going around these days.[1]

The Sun Never Sets on the Empire of Hel

Start with three to five Players and one Director , Gestalt's twist on the game master or storyteller. Prior to the gathering itself, Mode of Play should be decided on by the group and, depending on the mode, character details should be decided by the appropriate parties.

Game options

As you read over these rules and guidelines you will notice there are lots of potential moving parts to a Gestalt game. It can seem overwhelming. Try not to panic; where decades old tabletop games accrued complexity over time, Gestalt comes out of the gate with the advantage of what's come before. Try to focus on the potential part. Any components, variables, and game pieces are potential options. Their inclusion in your game is at the discretion of the Director. We intend the card decks, puzzles, interactive apps, and any other purchasable or printable materials to be modular storytelling tools. The only indispensable pieces are the Players and their imaginations; everything else is what the Director thinks will help you all keep track of the narrative, increase your immersion, or just looks fun. As a group, decide how long you'd like your expedition(s) to last, which can help decide which mode you'd prefer to play and which elements you'd like to incorporate or not.

Modes of play

The Cast of Characters
There are 4 suggested Modes of Play, each maximizing a different experience of The Realm.

Phantasy (easy, just for fun)

You and the other Players create Realm background characters and fully inhabit them, using the setting without the engine. You pick an phantasm as an alignment to roleplay. This is standard tabletop RPG mode. We suggest you substitute our mechanics with Fate Core to maximize fun while retaining the film world concept, but D&D 5e can be used if the film conceits removed.

What We Pretend to Be (intermediate, recommended for first run)

You and the other Players create characters and then roleplay as versions of yourselves that awaken inside those characters' bodies, bodies somehow familiar to them and possibly feel more like home than the ones they left behind. Questions to be asked and possibly answered in this mode are why and how you and your squadmates know your characters so well. Were you all lorepunks (fans of the film) prior to the game start? If so, you should all read as much of the Visitor's Guide before you begin. Are these your idealized selves? Do your Characters have some kismet with their new inhabitants that drew each to the other? This will likely be decided by the Director as part of their pre-written narrative. You remember your backstories and have the top sheets of your call sheets at hand. Roll dice to decide resisted outcomes, hoping your current circuit beats the threshold roll.

Participation in the story's creation in this mode is at the level most players will desire. Less dangerous, more appropriative or fetishistic. The game engine and the world will stil teach you to be careful what you wish for.

Tabula Rasa (advanced, possibly profound)

Roll all character stats blind on the corresponding dice. The Director fills out your call sheet and creates a name, maybe a backstory if it is important to the game they are facilitating. Character details may blindside you as they would in the actual scenario. Muscle Memories will be rolled like other Character traits, but any and all future disciplines can be allotted as you wish. In this form, your body may remember how to do certain things from what the previous inhabitant had already done, but this does not mean you have to do any of those things. If you choose to retain your Character's disciplines, however, you will have a headstart in them.

Not for the squeamish. This is the ARSG; it requires commitment, openness to experimentation, and possibly a waver.

The Method (expert, possibly maddening)

Full ARSG mode. Method gameplay inverts many of the powers and responsibilities between player and facilitator: game devices and character data such as dice and call sheets are the property and responsibility of the Director, who grants access to information diegetically to those who through exploration become aware of it--i.e. your only descriptions of your appearance come from other characters like your squadmates; you could not see your topsheet unless you found a mirror. You have no access to circuit numbers, and so must guess whether you are adept enough to achieve an action, as you would do in real life. In this case, knowing the weight of a thing before you lift it is necessary and helpful to future attempts as well. Tropes are revealed by the Director, and only usable by the player once discovered.

Players, meanwhile, become the primary agents of story creation. Rather than moving within the Director's design, players improvise the things they discover and what happens around the corner together and as a group. Likewise, disputes are arbitrated as a group. The Director's job becomes facilitation of the game: they handle all the nonfictional game devices like dice, circuits, and the manual, describe and keep track of surroundings (including the movie narrative and main characters), and play NPCs, but do not have a planned B Plot (your squad's story). The structure of the players' predicament, that of being stuck in The Realm, will help guide intentions and desires and keep the game focused, but otherwise how they choose to escape or not escape and deal with the problems the unique world presents and where they go to do so is entirely their choice. Director progresses the Story Cards, but depending on how close the group strays to primary plot and leading roles, it may never come into play. Because of the complete lack of game devices, immersion on the player end in Method is uninterrupted. Believe in The Realm.

Method Disclaimer

Jane Orenda crafted the world of The Realm to accurately represent the experiences and cultures of real groups of people throughout history and today, reclaiming folklore narratives from racist revisionism (or in some cases, racist roots) to make them reflect anthropological, historical, and thus modern truths. This coupled with the random assignation of social identities in Method mode may lead to over-identification or projection, political posturing, and defensiveness. Emotions can heighten quickly. For this reason, if you decide to Method-play, it is best to lay out ground rules beforehand. Roleplaying can be an emotional journey, but playing oneself trapped with the consequences of an alien identity in a heightened mirror of our world, even more so. "Pause" or some other safe word should be employed if emotions intensify past reason, and areas any player is not ready for should be established prior to game's start, looked out for by the Director, and respected. It is imperative during Method that anyone such as a Director who has the slightest tilt of power respect the power of a Player to step away at any moment without explanation. Directors should refrain from manipulating Players with deception (other than fudging rolls), which is why this mode gives possession of the story to the group during this kind of play. All this being said: ground rules are not to protect you from confrontation of your issues, but rather to ease the fear and feelings of being trapped that prevent those issues from being confronted.

After the Meta-Session where Mode is decided, the Director invites you and the rest of your group to gather for a viewing party of a bootleg of The Realm. Regardless of at whose house you gather, the Director is the host because he will be bringing the video. The game begins as soon as there are two Players at the gathering.

Act 1

This portion of the game plays out like a Murder Mystery Party Game. The Director plays themselves hosting a viewing party of a bootleg, acquired through whatever manner of cajoling and scheming they decide, of an assembled Realm fan cut. You all play yourselves, but as if The Realm is a real movie you have either heard of or not (you may decide if you all are a fan club of lorepunks or if only some of you have heard of it--the only guarantee is that the Director is a fan). Let this sink in for awhile, discuss what you think the film may be or what you hope is in the cut if you are a fan. Have a bite to eat. The Director has acquired, through some manner of cajoling and scheming, a bootleg video of an assembled Realm fan cut, and has invited your little club to watch the movie you've only read described. When you're all ready to watch the movie, the Director, having prepared a Rabbit hole, presses play, and with some fanfare or drama, the entire gathering is transported into The Realm.

Act 2

From here, the pattern resembles a standard tabletop RPG. The Director describes your environment, hands out call sheets. The Players awaken in bodies not their own, in environs alien to them. Players perform improvised dialogue and describe or shadowcast actions to the Director. Actions can take the form of anything that could happen in real life such as climbing a mountain or leaping over an obstacle, or actions only possible in a movie, like summoning a god or making ice with one's hands. Most everyday actions are automatic.

The Director will have decided whether you all are near one another or at opposite ends of the Empire, based on how long they would like the first expedition to last and how difficult to get started they want it to be. Your prior lives, your Characters, and their backgrounds, depending on your Play Mode, will likewise dictate what kind of opening adventure you have.

Narrative Devices

Players, Characters, Directors


You are a player. You are also a Player--the version of you enacting the story. The only difference between you and You is that for You, the events of the game are real, no matter how strange. The movie is real, and You're really in it, and You no longer look like Yourself. When You interact with the game outside of group play, the movie and the message boards are real. At work, at home, playing with your kids, waiting for the lights to change, You are transformed. You have ceased to be you, become the You who crossed the threshold of another world, and fought off the Conquerors of Hel. You are the You that lifted 500 pounds, or called forth cryptids to do Your will, or attracted the attention of everyone near with a word, and You will be again. But remember that when You return, You will not be alone, and Your friends remember who You used to be.


The body you awaken within upon entering The Realm is your character. It has a past, an old personality, and a place within the narrative. They are what, in a standard RPG, might have been an "NPC". Their life was insignificant to the primary arc of the movie, but through the magic of The Realm, they are a fully realized, three-dimensional character.


The Director is Gestalt's twist on the RPG referee, game master, or storyteller. The Director is the host of the viewing party.

In two possible modes of the ARSG (see below), the Director has a larger role than in tabletop RPGs. As Director, you not only narrate the story for the Players, determine outcomes of action rolls, and arbitrate rule disputes, but also prompt Players to blind roll to discover their character's facets. As facets are discovered, the Director fills out call sheets, including inventing the character name (called a Dead Name).

Character discovery should be conducted prior to the first gathering or at top of the very first session, as a prologue. These ideas inform the shape and breed of their body, what culture it was born into, its muscle memory of its prior talents, how NPCs who've met them perceive them, and what happens in case of Crucible.

Because Gestalt is primarily a game of imagination, you are free to alter this play mode. Ultimately, what's beautiful about imagination-based games is that the rules bend to the will of the group. Always, always, always get consent before plotting a game that will test real friendships or actual traumas.

Game Time vs Real Time

While decades may pass from your perspective inside The Realm, on Earth each session lasts the length of the bootleg video: 92:47. When you begin a game, put on The Realm Official Score or a fantasy score of your choice, provided you set a timer. As the score progresses, Story Deck cards should be turned over every 15 minutes or when Players interact with the Film Plot, thus advancing it. At the end of the score, you will be booted back into your bodies on Earth, but the game session and certainly the campaign will not necessarily be over.

Story Decks

Story Decks are note cards for the novel by Jane Orenda and her editor, production index cards for the film and its reshoots by E.E. Smith, and postcards from the documentary filmmakers on the plot, the making of the film, and the investigations of cast and crew deaths. These decks may be separated or put together in the order the Director wishes them to present themselves in game. The Director can even shuffle them if motivated by their interpretation of game events. Directors can buy pre-made decks as extensions to incorporate into their experiences or make their own on real index cards. The order they are put in can decide what happens to the Players, but not directly--in Gestalt, The Realm's story and the story of its creation are environmental factors the Players can encounter and interact with.

Every 15 minutes, a card should be turned over. When your squad finds certain story fetishes or encounters a lead character, plot time passes and you turn over another story card. This lets your Director know what's going on and where, and where Leading Characters will be as you move through Hearth. When you get to the end of the cards, you and the squad are booted out of The Realm, but your previous lives are over. Only around 92 minutes will have passed on Earth, no matter how many weeks, months, or years you spent on Hearth. In the nonfictional life, The Realm and its curse will follow you, until you are driven to go back to Hearth and resolve your and the world's unresolved business. The Story Deck builds as more footage and manuscript bits are discovered. Script cards and Manuscript Cards will occasionally contradict one another, because there is no canon. No one knows what will happen if the story were fully assembled, coherent and allowed to finish.

Blight Decks
There are four Blight Decks, either used one at a time or shuffled together. When someone finds a cursed or Helenic object, its effects are decided by rolling Plot Threshold against their Lucidity circuit. The decks each correspond with the level and style of Blight. An Orange card may only cause a single minor action out of the Player's control; a Yellow card will be territorial and paranoid, affecting social interaction among the group; Gold can have long-lasting ramifications on party cohesion, involving things that can't be taken back; and White is a continuous, active betrayal on the part of the Player, done in secret, and can completely derail squad plans, perhaps never revealing itself. By removing certain decks or using only one, a Director can decide the level and intensity of the blight element in their game, up to and including discarding it altogether.
Incorporation into play

A good way to incorporate the Decks is to think of them like any cards in a standard board game. As Director, keep a map of the area and pre-mark it where certain Blights or Story Elements exist. As the game progresses, keep track of where the Players are on the map, and if they enter an area, roll the Lucidity Threshold to discover what happens. If entering a Narrative Zone, everyone rolls Narrative Threshold (D4) to see who succeeds at perceiving the reality warp. If entering a Corrupt Kingdom, everyone rolls Lucidity Threshold (D20) to see who fails to avoid it. If you are hit with a Blight, flip the card to find out what flavor Blight hit you, and discard to the Director. Cards will give instructions on how to play the Blight including how to discard.

Call sheets

A call sheet is the paper where you keep and maintain the details of the character you inhabit. It is also where vital archetypal information about the Players is recorded so as to respond correctly to blight cards.

Top Sheet

The Top Sheet has information about superficial appearance, name, facet circuits, and backstory information that may or may not be property of the player, depending on the Mode of Play (see below).

Thresholds vs Sums

Gestalt uses all of the dice.

Okay, not all of the dice. The six unique dice in a common set: D4, D6, D8, D10, D12, and D20. As opposed to the dice representing Randomness as a function of your ability (i.e. "luck"), the dice in Gestalt represent Chaos as a function of exterior systems (i.e. "chance"). Thus chance is encountered, not carried. Each die randomly generates the difficulty thresholds for one type of obstacle to your efforts, and are rolled together in the Threshold Pool. The Facets of your Character's capabilities and muscle memories combine in the Sum of Your Efforts. Measure these against one another to discover outcomes to actions involving Random Chance. If there is no room for chance, then no roll is necessary. Some RPG players may find this hard to understand, having spent years rolling dice to decide if they mess up their actions, and rolling for almost every action that isn't walking. Personal responsibility should be represented in your skillsets, not by the roll of a die. A boxer does not randomly forget how to box--unless something in his environment has altered his mindset in an unusual way, including substances in his body. The rolls are essentially the same--decide to act, roll, compare the rolled total to an ability score--but when to call for a roll becomes clearer, and the description of the event and what transpired should reflect some event outside of skill that's transpired, even if it's the Player suddenly realizing the other boxer looks like his father.

The Thresholds
D4 Paradox Threshold Rolled to generate difficulty levels of film narrative paradoxes, i.e. phantasm reassertion, plot holes, or novel-film disagreement
D6 Physical Threshold Rolled to generate difficulty levels for challenges to bodily ability
D8 Mental Threshold Rolled to generate intensity levels of psycho-logical stressors
D10 Identity Threshold Rolled to generate difficulty levels of challenges based on breed, scene, fame, or other social illusions
D12 Disciplinary Threshold Rolled to generate difficulty levels of challenges to trained abilities, i.e. mind-body coherence
D20 Lucidity Threshold Rolled to generate difficulty levels of challenges to mind-reality coherence, i.e. gnosis/agnosis

Depending on your Play Mode, you may or may not touch dice for the duration of the game.

Exploring The Realm

The Director decides whether you are near one another or at opposite ends of the Empire, depending on how long they would like the campaign to last and how difficult to get started they want it to be. Your lives and characters, depending on your Play Mode, will also dictate what kind of opening adventure you have.

Changing reals

Once transported to Hearth and the party have found one another, a high fantasy version of a noir, dystopian, horror, or hybrid genre story should unfold, revolving around dark cultural taboos, the nature of power, the effects of trauma, questioning social conditioning, and/or societal injustices, up to, with consent, mirrors to Players' real-life personal issues, but always in some variation on a quest to find out how they got there and how to return home. The basic structure to this is the structure of all portal fiction: Through the Looking Glass, Mulholland Drive, Farscape, Pleasantville, Hellraiser, and thousands of others.

Wherever you find yourself--either within the structure of the empire as an imperial stooge, fetching weaponry as a drone, working as a mercenary or spy double-crossing the empire from the inside, or technically free but always looking over your shoulder for Hellion patrols--you are first at a loss--just last week you were in retail, or tech support, or restaurant service.


Danger in The Realm comes in the form of wild cryptids, puzzles, traps, political intrigue, natural disasters, personality corrosion, and the machinations of antagonistic forces as devised using this wiki guide by the Director, who also assumes the role of the various non-Player Characters (NPCs) you encounter. As scenes unfold, you contribute to the story by responding according to how you would respond in that scenario. Rolls of the die, combined with preassigned facets, generate random levels of difficulty for tasks and determine whether you hit, miss, awestrike, or bomb your attempts.

Exploits in Gestalt are divided between three overlapping worlds:

  1. the nonfictional world containing the game, Earth;
  2. the alternate reality containing the production of the unreleased fantasy film, The Realm; and
  3. the fictional, still-evolving world of that film, called Hearth by its inhabitants.

The fictional and nonfictional places where the two worlds overlap is the PunkloreTM ARSG, where what is real becomes harder to discern the longer one remains.

Kingdom crawls

Rather than dungeons, Hearth has kingdoms--townships and cities in various states of decay wherein the population believe themselves to be the exalted servants of a King of Light, dwelling in principalities of untold wealth and pleasure. From an outside perspective, the areas are in figurative or literal ruins, either through decadence, negligence, or catastrophe. You have more to fear from the corrupted citizenry and members of your squad who sniff the wrong flower than from monsters or demons.

Think of each kingdom like a planet from the original Star Trek, where some blight of culture, history, or social justice has gone to an extreme that points out a philosophical error. The only true cities of the Inland Empire are Helios and Aurora, and they are high-tech deserts and cultural wastes towering over conquered, literal wastelands.

A Broken, Devolving World

Like any fantasy world The Realm has rules, yet the entirety of its rich pageant is bound to the scattered, decaying, or burned pages, reels, and bootleg VHS tapes, not all of them coherent. If the only copy of an element is damaged in some way, that damage will manifest in three dimensions in the locations visible in that scene. Characters' dialog may be garbled by the warping of the reel. Continuity errors, contradictions between manuscript and screenplay, and the toe of a grip in a shot become permanent features of the geography...much to the chagrin of you and your squad. Few if any natural inhabitants of The Realm seem to be aware of such disturbances, too caught in their effects. To be aware of it, a regular Character would need to be very high circuit and casting a very specific Craftread hex, or be a god.

Footage Warp & Restoration

Warp can happen anywhere continuity disrupting gnosis is performed near or within Narrative Zones, contradicting Continuity. Metahexes invented from scratch and with too broad implications are particularly hazardous to this. Warp can decay the scene you inhabit and destroy everyone inside. By the same token, there are hexes and mystiques that can heal footage to reveal story elements, film artefacts, or fetishes of power.


Visible ripples and distortions in space called tracking signify locations or approaching moments that have to do with the Movie Plot, something like a tear in reality that can suck you in and keep you playing out a scene without an ending, or a scene shot and re-shot until it is full of paradoxes and contradictions. While Tracking Zones may be hazardous, they may also be the only areas with clues as to how to leave The Realm and get back home...and whether or not there is a home to return to. If you linger too long in Hearth from an Earth perspective, your original body may die--but who knows how long has passed? Not all tracking zones are strictly VHS tracking. If something is only extant in film reel form, it may be something wrong with the gate, or a warp in the DAT audio tape. Either way, the artefacts of filming are clues you approach the artifacts of the film.

Canon paradox zones

Once again, only within or near Narrative Zones, there are places where the Screenplay Drafts and the Manuscript diverge, creating extreme Paradox Zones where the fundamental rules of reality breakdown such as Plot holes. Typically you will find these kinds of full de-realizations exclusively in the hearts of Kingdoms or the Empire itself, quarantined by the Architects in elaborate structures, maintained or contained by Priestly rites, and guarded by kerboras. The Empire needs to keep a lid on these areas and would never inform any soldiers of what lay in the temple or why their rituals are performed.

FF, Pause, Step, and RW

In some Tracking Zones, time is moving in Fast Forward. In some, one Step at a time. Yet others are frozen in a Paused state, and still others Rewind precisely backward in double-time. In Rewind, scenes and battle begin at their endings and conclude where they begin, narratively, and the Plot Threshold is rolled to decide which Act of the event the Party enters a Rewind Zone. Play time is also measured in these increments: Fast Forward for days passing during down time; Pause for mid-combat decision-making or dice rolls, Steps for the progress to the next turn.

Act 3

Leaving The Realm

One never really leaves The Realm once entered; after a few days or so, your squad may find themselves randomly back on Earth and in their own bodies, only 2 hours having passed on Earth--yet still, the feeling lingers. Is this world real, when the dream of Hearth felt the same, only better? If it is, why is there so much evidence that the Empire of the Sun secretly rules Earth as well? How is it that you feel more yourself when in a fictional body? Who keeps emailing you about purchasing props from production, and how do they know you've been there? Have they as well? Are any of the characters in The Realm fictional--or are they just like you: real people trapped in fictional bodies they believe in more than the ones they left behind? Maybe the group should meet again. Maybe the only way to get real answers about this world is to return to the other...

When a session ends, the Party Game atmosphere should slowly return as you all recover from being booted out, possibly mid-action, to your real bodies. There you should talk to one another or not based upon your actions, even if just recanting what everyone did. Some of you may have crossed some lines. Feel free to call each other out on things if you feel it's needed, congratulate one another for braveries witnessed, muse about what any of it could possibly have been--or remain silent and pretend as if none of it really happened. Try your best to be true to what you would actually do in the situation. Most standard post-roleplaying session behavior is fine, but keeping up the act of it all having been real will enhance your experience. When you part, it will be in a fog of mystery and trauma, and back into our world forever altered by an unforgettable experience cut too short.

Act 4

There & Back Again

Between game sessions within The Realm, the alternate reality components come into play. You will be contacted, messed with, and possibly receive packages directing you to nonfictional actions, blurring the line of what is real and what is Realm. Ultimately, you and your friends must decide whether or not to attempt a return to Hearth, and whether or not you are accepting the call to adventure or choosing to go mad. Returning to The Realm, you will enter a world that has altered based on your behavior previously, and yet somehow it is the same moment in time that you last entered. You will not be the same Characters you were last time. When identity is removed, when your body is removed, when continuity of existence is disrupted, who are you? Who is the one who listens to the voice inside you?


  1. Abbie Hoffman