Image by Steve Jurvetson
For the typical group of adventurers, nocturnal activities are limited to hunting werewolves, a random encounter during second watch and having some implied fun time with a seduced barmaid or stable boy. There is one more night time occurrence you can bring to a game, the common but enigmatic experience of dreaming. Allow me to guide you through just a few of the ways dreaming can spice up the old eight hour rest.
Plot Hook Delivery Service: This is the most commonly used aspect of dreams in RPG. You may say that it is a tired and cliché method of story telling but I would argue that it is a classic for a reason. A well placed vision dream can jump start a campaign that has lapsed into confusion and inaction. A more cryptic and symbolic dream can intrigue the players, leaving them to try to unravel any little clues they can get from it. Plus there is nothing more precious than the look on their faces when they discover the meaning of the dream exactly too late.
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Enhanced Description: The dreams that come to a character in a location can drastically affect the feel of the place. A place of sanctuary can provide the characters with serene nights of rest, filled with happy dreams where wishes come true. Conversely, a dark and evil place can fill a character’s head with implanted fears and nightmare visions. These visions can even ramp up the difficulty of an area by denying the characters their much needed rest.
Dramatic Tension: It is very easy for players to lose sight of their character’s ultimate goal when they get distracted by killing monsters and taking their stuff. Persistent dreams about what great evil deeds the villain is doing or showing the dungeon which houses the ultimate artifact will keep it fresh in the minds of your players and promote some roleplaying opportunities from their characters. Additionally if every night brings fresh atrocities it can spur your players to act quickly, throwing away some of the over thinking caution groups can develop.
Backdrop: Dreams can do more than flavor your settings, they can be your setting. In the short term it is not hard to imagine a villain or evil force which can only be fought in a dreamland. Perhaps it only exists there but it threatening to spill out into the real world or it makes its home a place that can only be accessed during sleep. Perhaps it is a powerful and dangerous beast, only vulnerable in its own dream projected form. For a long term campaign, with a little imagination your entire game can take place in a dreamscape. Your characters can be ordinary people with ordinary lives and jobs but in their dreams they enter a strange, magical, fantasy realm. Dreams as a setting allow you to tinker with many of the standard assumptions. You get to determine what happens when the characters die in a dream, alter the flavor of magic and special abilities and distort travel and locale. Additionally it can open a world of roleplaying potential (literally) as you explore how these dreams might affect the character’s ordinary daytime lives.
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Character Development: This is one just for the players. If you really want to get into a character try to figure out what is they dream about, in the literal sleeping sense. Dreams can express deepest fears and deepest desires cloaked in symbolism, confusions and some simply pointless nonsense. Sometimes dreams represent nothing at all and are just pointless visions, but personal ones. If you can figure out what dreams your character has and what they mean to him it could make for some great roleplaying at night and around the breakfast fire in the morning.
Have you used dreaming in your games? What’s the best dream sequence you’ve played in?