After writing the below, I looked for a good illustration photo, and suddenly realized that the game Oblivion does have portals to pocket universes. However, Oblivion is itself set in a highly magical world, and the pocket worlds are limited variations on the same theme. Not really what I am talking of.
The muses in my head just came up with a worldbuilding I have never read about before. It is a mostly ordinary world where the economy is largely based on magical daydreams.
The only “magic” in the ordinary world is the ability to access the Dream Aether, where daydreams are real. Well, more or less. Each Dream is basically a small pocket universe, and people can visit these and, on certain conditions, bring things with them back.
(It is not specified whether the Dream Aether is local to that planet, that alternate universe, or whether it exist everywhere but some mutation in the distant past gave humans the ability to interact with it. If the muses know, they are not telling yet.)
The Dream economy is based on three types of people: Makers/Dreamers, Stayers/Visitors and Fetchers/Adventurers. The Makers and the Fetchers have the more specialized talents.
Pretty much everyone can Dream, but most people’s dreams remain small, personal and flimsy. There is a kind of bell curve from the few who cannot Dream at all, over the ordinary people who can only make small banal Dreams, to the actually useful Makers, and a few extraordinary people whose Dreams change the world.
Dreamers cannot simply wish into being whatever they want. The Dream Aether has its own rules, which are fantastical but consistent, and different from (or rather in addition to) the natural laws of the ordinary world. The magic inside the Dreams is more similar to High Fantasy, in a general sort of way, but its principle is that Everything Comes at a Price. There is a balance of risk and reward, effort and result, light and darkness etc. So if you create a Dream in which you can only grow potatoes, your enemies will mostly be weeds and beetles; but if you want precious treasures of gold and jewelry, you will have to fight deadly monsters and dodge devious traps. Stuff like that.
A Great Dreamer can create a fairly large fantasy realm with extraordinary treasures, but the Dream Aether will enforce the corresponding challenges, presumably dredged from the subconscious of the Maker. (Although some crazy philosophers believe that the Dream Portals actually lead to other worlds that exist elsewhere and are just “found” rather than “created”. Dreamers generally disagree with this, although they admit that they often start with a vague idea which then takes on a life of its own.)
Maintaining a Dream takes effort, but Visitors can do this. The more (and the more Dream-talented) people that are inside a Dream, the more persistent it becomes. It is even possible to maintain Dreams indefinitely after the original Maker is dead. Some people stay more or less permanently inside the most important Dreams, having houses and families in there.
Fetchers have the dangerous task of grabbing the loot, at considerable risk to life, limb and sanity, and getting it back to the ordinary world. No magical talent is needed for this, but obviously they need other skills that Joe or Jane Farmer is unlikely to have.
A few extraordinary Great Dreamers created realms that have been permanently settled for centuries at the least, possibly millennia – there are legends of forgotten realms that are still inhabited. (The oldest of these was supposedly created by Allfather, the progenitor of all Dreamers now alive, millennia ago. But no one knows where it is, if it still exists.)
The rise of a Great Dreamer can alter the geopolitical balance, for lack of a simpler phrase. It is like discovering a very valuable natural resource – but one hard to extract.
Magical weapons and armor (and other magical artifacts) exist in many of the Great Dreams, but they lose their power permanently when taken out in the mundane world. This also means you cannot bring magical artifacts from one Dream to another and game the system that way. You can however bring weapons and armor made from mundane materials but with exceptional quality. Of course, these are not exactly left lying around unguarded – they are usually found on ferocious opponents.
ANYWAY, this is kind of meta-worldbuilding in the sense that the actual pocket universes could be anything from a poorly disguised World of Warcraft clone to something never before imagined. The muses may or may not follow through on this. At the moment, they seem more interested in the meta. In such a world, would you breed for super-Dreamers in the hope of discovering new amazing realms, or hunt them down in order to preserve the existing order? What if different countries take different approaches? What if there are more or less secret cults doing each? What if there are secret cults guarding the entrance to Dreams forgotten or never revealed? What if any random kid could be the next Great Dreamer, with the power to change the course of history forever?
Your challenge, should you accept it, is to recommend fiction similar to this, so I don’t need to write it myself. Writing is a thankless job, especially if others have done it already.