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Kismet's Oneironautics, Part I

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But a Dream Within a Dream"But a Dream Within a Dream" by KingaBritschgi, resized, is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

 

 

Introduction

Both editions of Changeling: the Lost have presented their own systems for interacting with dreams during play. Mage: the Awakening offers guidance for accessing personal dreams and realms of abstract concepts through the Mind Arcanum. And Beast: the Primordial involves lairs constructed in the realm of dreams and linked together, one nightmare den to the next. Each game line covers dreams for its own purposes, in relative isolation from the rest. There are other possibilities that could exist, such as secret societies of vampires and mummies that have learned to access dreams in different ways.

What you’re about to read here is a system for dreams that can be used, in whole or in part, across World of Darkness game lines. It can be employed step by step or serve as inspiration for different experiences player characters might endure while they slumber. While there is an emphasis on Changeling: the Lost, options for other character types will be given. It’s designed for Chronicles of Darkness rules for supernaturals who can enter and manipulate dreams. Collectively, they are known as dreamworkers, and their gifts can add rich roleplaying opportunities to any chronicle.

First, we’ll establish the process of working with personal dreams; then, we’ll explore cosmology and other options. For a bare bones version of these rules, please see this document for Kismet’s Lite Oneironautics.

If you use these rules in your game, please let me know how it went. They are a work in progress and I’ll be adjusting them as they’re playtested.

The Process of Dreaming

When a character falls asleep, the process of dreaming begins and the Storyteller has some choices to make. If the Storyteller just wants to present a scene for a character to experience and no powers are going to be used to control the dream, the Storyteller can take inspiration from what’s covered below or go with their gut. However, if dreams are going to be interacted with by lucid dreamers with special powers, the following process can help guide everyone through the adventure. The Storyteller will take the early steps in order first; then, by the 5th step, players can get involved.

  1. Choose the basic type of dream the character will experience.

  2. Figure out any augmentations, which are special circumstances that can apply to any type of dream.

  3. Determine the dream’s vividness and power, which is called the Intensity. This rating also represents an inherent resistance to changes by others because the sleeper’s psyche resists interference with the dreams it sets in motion for its own purposes.

  4. Cover any circumstances that affect the dreamer’s ability to remain asleep, like distractions or nearby threats.

  5. Determine what it costs for supernaturals who are trying to move out of their own minds into the dreams of others.

  6. Explore the options visitors have to shape dreams for their own ends.

Types of Dreams

Memory

Fusion

Symbolic

Personal

Fusion

Universal

Fantasy

Fusion

Fear

Peace

Fusion

Catharsis

Each type of dream is a spectrum between two poles. Most dreams fall somewhere in the middle; they aren’t particularly memorable or impactful, so they grant no bonuses or penalties to visiting dreamworkers. Some dreams are skewed one way or another. These tend to be remembered in detail and are more likely to influence the dreamer’s emotions upon waking. They are also more insightful and resistant to change in specific ways.

Dreams can combine different types, in which case, the Storyteller has a choice to make. They can use all bonuses and penalties, or choose one category based on the dream’s ultimate goal; the rules for the main type will then apply. For example, the fantasy of introducing children to family members they never got to meet blends three kinds of dreams: memory, personal, and fantasy. However, the satisfaction of completing the family circle is the main point, so the Storyteller could rely on the rules for fantasy dreams alone.

Bonuses and penalties for the different dream types usually add or subtract 1 or 2 dice. They may be more powerful depending on the conditions of the dream (see Dream Augmentations below).

Memory dreams are drawn from people and places in the dreamer’s past. Traumatic or uplifting memories grant the 9-again quality on Intensity rolls. It’s worth noting that appearances may reflect older times more than the present. These dreams are paydirt when trying to learn about the dreamer’s history but actively resist changes that do not fit the memory at hand.

Symbolic dreams rely heavily on representation. People, places, objects, and events do need to not make logical sense; they are completely metaphorical. They are also likely to be divorced from the world the dreamer sees often. This type of dream is easy to change in similarly symbolic ways, but difficult to shift in ways that highlight or dig for memories.

Personal dreams involve the dreamer’s current waking world. They are built out of familiar components, but they also reflect personal feelings about those components and are self-centered. This type of dream is great for learning about the dreamer’s present life, but is not helpful if a dreamworker is seeking information about other people.

Universal dreams involve impersonal (some say mythic) archetypes and common symbols. They result in dreams many people share in common, such as flying or being naked in public. It can be easier to sway the dreamer when using these symbols, but it’s harder to reflect the dreamer’s waking life.

Fantasy dreams are all about pleasure and aspirations that make the dreamer feel better. The people in such dreams may not be the real focal point, however. It may be that the dreamer needs more of a certain kind of pleasure in their life. These dreams are easy to shift in ways that make the dreamer feel better, but resist any efforts to make the dreamer feel worse.

Fearful dreams confront the dreamer with what they dread most. Events may not be easy to interpret literally because Freddy Krueger chasing you may have more to do with fears of being hunted than horror movies. These dreams are fertile ground for nightmares but fight against efforts to make the situation nicer.

Peaceful dreams are a respite from the emotional turmoil of the waking world. They are quiet and calm, and may seem boring to visitors. These dreams leave few impressions beyond the feeling of rest, which is what they are for. Efforts to soothe the dreamer are easier in this type of dream, but efforts to rouse the dreamer’s deeper emotions - in nice or foul ways - are harder.

Cathartic dreams involve feeling small in the face of overwhelming emotion. Repressing feelings are experienced and released. It’s easy to confuse these dreams with nightmares, but they leave relief, not trauma. They resist efforts to calm emotions or be recognized, but enhance efforts to impress and rouse feelings in the dreamer.

Dream Augmentations

Any dream can be augmented by special circumstances that affect its purpose and manifestation. Some of these factors can intertwine, but they usually occur on their own. Most dreams don’t have augmentations, so those that do tend to stand out and remain memorable for all involved.

Nightmare: All dreams can twist into tormenting nightmares, where the psyche or an outside agent inflicts harmful images to make the dreamer suffer. Nightmares occur more often during times of high stress or fresh trauma, but happen randomly, as well. The Storyteller can choose to inflict a nightmare, but the player can also ask for a nightmare to happen to their character. A dreamworker can learn a lot about a dreamer by analyzing their nightmares but can’t afford to take anything at face value. (See Beast: the Primordial pg. 134-142 for common nightmares in the World of Darkness.)

Check the dream’s Intensity against the dreamer’s current Willpower rating. If the Intensity is 1 to 2 points higher, a nightmare develops and keeps the dreamer from regaining Willpower that night. If the Intensity is 3 - 4 points greater, the dreamer wakes up in distress and cannot sleep until they feel safe again (10 - current Willpower hours). A nightmare 5 or more points higher results in a night terror, which means the dreamer screams and struggles in their sleep and any effort to wake them suffers a -2 penalty. Upon waking, the dreamer must roll current Willpower to avoid developing a Condition.

Any Conditions a character has count as penalties against their Willpower to determine if nightmares occur. This is most appropriate when they are newly acquired or when they have been activated but not resolved while the dreamer was awake.

For instance, Juliana is a vampire with a permanent Willpower rating of 5, but she expends 1 point during the night and suffers from amnesia (which exacts a -1 penalty), which leaves a rating of 3. When she sleeps, her dream begins with an Intensity of 4. What starts as a personal symbolic dream turns into a terrifying jumble of faces and places she doesn’t recognize, backlit by fire. She’s far too disturbed to regain Willpower that night.

Prophecy: Fate influences all things, but dreams about the future focus on events that can impact the dreamer or those they care about. Prophetic dreams involve moments of chance, where things can go either way; these scenes will have major effects on what follows. They highlight warning signs that the key moment is drawing nigh and might show possible outcomes, but nothing is certain. Using the signs to keep the worst from happening might not avoid all the outcomes. Other times, avoiding one step will break the chain. Sometimes, nothing can be stopped; it can only be prepared for and endured.

Prophetic dreams are naturally more intense, gaining the 9-again quality on Intensity rolls. Storytellers can choose to run prophetic dreams or choose a roll on a d10. Dreamworkers can tell if they’re witnessing the future with an Understanding roll (see Dreamcrafting below), but can’t make significant changes without ruining the prophecy. Certain rituals can encourage prophetic dreams, but they are never assured. Watching foretold events unfold in real life can resolve a Condition or regain a Willpower point, if the character intervenes and averts the worst. Otherwise, they might suffer a new Condition after helplessly watching fate take its toll.

Reinforcement: Sometimes the subconscious mind needs to strengthen itself against threats or upcoming challenges. It can’t wait for events to unfold in the waking world - the psyche needs a win now so it can keep going. In such a case, if the Intensity of the dream is normal, the character experiences their Vice and regains one more point of Willpower than they normally would. If it’s an exceptional success, they see their Virtue fulfilled and all Willpower is restored. These dreams are relatively rare, but can happen in response to great strain or difficult duties that can’t be avoided.

Recurring: Dreamers may revisit certain themes, scenarios, or people (or sometimes all three) at different times. These dreams can be based on memories, similar events, or complete fabrications. They tend to reveal things that fascinate or haunt dreamers. Recurring dreams are likely to reveal patterns in the dreamer’s waking life, albeit in symbolic ways. Sometimes they happen because dreamers won’t admit their secrets or fears. These dreams resist changes that are not in keeping with their themes.

They are more likely to be remembered upon waking because they are usually more vivid; add the 9-again quality to Intensity rolls. Dreamworkers can introduce small narrative changes to take the story into the next phase, or recurring dreams may advance on their own in response to recent events. What happens next will reveal feelings about the dreamer’s current waking life, if the new scene is allowed to play out.

Intensity

Once a character enters REM sleep, they make a reflexive Intelligence + Resolve + Power Stat roll to determine the Intensity of the dream that follows. This roll can be made once (for a full normal sleep session), or can be re-rolled after an interruption, or when the scene changes.

This roll is modified by conditions that enhance and interfere with sleep. Certain drugs, Conditions, and meditation each grant a +1 - 2 bonus to the dice pool. Supernaturals who sleep in the Hedge gain a bonus to Intensity equal to their Power Stat as their strangeness strengthens their dreams. Mortals, on the other hand, roll 1d10 and take half (rounded up) for the bonus to Intensity, which represents the extreme and varied ways the realm can influence mortal thoughts.

Loud noises, nearby movements, and certain Conditions exact a 1 - 2 die penalty each as the psyche struggles to create vivid dreams.

Sleeping & Waking

Loud noises, nearby threats, and unexpected movement can wake a sleeper unexpectedly. The Storyteller can simply decide if the sleeper is roused or apply penalties for each circumstance to a reflexive Meditation roll for the character.

Anyone can try to remain asleep in their own dreamspace by making a reflexive current Willpower roll or a Compelling dreamcrafting roll. Lucid dreamers can force themselves awake by rolling their Willpower + Power Stat vs. a dreamworker’s Compelling dreamcrafting roll. Supernatural creatures add their Power Stat to rolls made to force themselves awake or remain asleep.

Travel

Changelings can enter and manipulate their own dreams without effort or cost; they just need to fall asleep. They can enter the dreams of a pledgebound person (with the dream task) by spending a Glamour point and sleeping at the same time.

A changeling can spend 1 Willpower and 1 Glamour point to enter the dreams of their fetch without using a pledge or Contract. Each time they do, the fetch reflexively rolls an Understanding dreamcrafting roll vs. the changeling’s Protecting roll. If they exceed the changeling’s roll, they realize what’s happening and can invade the changeling’s dreams thereafter (for the same cost). Fetches cannot usually learn dreamcrafting but can engage in combat as if they’re lucid dreamers (see the merit in Appendix I).

Mages rely on Mind spells to enter and move between dreams; these ideas can be used in addition to those rules. Dream Reaching (Mind 2) allows a mage to recall their own dreams and to enter someone else’s dream, but they can only make Understanding and Compelling rolls in someone else’s dreamscape. Sleep of the Just (Mind 3) allows mages full control over their dreams or can make other dreamers lucid. Psychic Projection (Mind 4) lets mages transport another mind into a target dream. This level of power also allows mages to use Protecting and Destroying maneuvers in others’ dreams.

Beasts may enter dreams through a Primordial Pathway (see B:tP pg. 97).

If there are distractions nearby that result in more than a -1 penalty, a dreamworker must enter a meditative state (see the WoD core rulebook pg. 51) to travel to another person’s dream space.

No one can reach the dreams of those in far realms, such as Arcadia, the Abyss, and the Inferno. Such malleable places can be said to be half-dream, themselves. With special rituals and expenditures of Willpower and Glamour, dreamworkers may be able to reach dreamers in nearby realms like the Shadow. The Hedge, as noted elsewhere, makes dream contact easier.

Teamwork

A pledge can allow groups of changelings to gather and work in one member’s dream (provided they’re all oneiromancers and have agreed to it). A group can then act as a team to perform better and more difficult maneuvers. They first have to choose a leader to guide the activity (usually the changeling with the most experience). The number of assistants allowed on the roll is limited by the leader’s Wyrd; they roll as per the teamwork rules (WoD core rulebook 134-135). If combat starts, each member can act on their own, but only the leader can attack non-lucid dreamers (or the sleeper whose dream is the stage, even if they are lucid).

Dreamcrafting

Humans spend decades trying to understand their dreams, so it’s no surprise that supernaturals learn unique crafts to engage with them. A changeling can shape dreams wherever they sleep, but they gain stacking +1 bonuses when they and their target are slumbering in the Hedge. They also don’t suffer from seeming curses on dream rolls of any kind.

Unless specified otherwise, a dreamworker can only attempt a number of dreamcrafting maneuvers equal to their Power Stat rating. The dreamer’s psyche can be spoken to without using a special action, but no extra benefit will come out of the interaction.

Dreamworkers who are very successful in their work are likely to leave deep impressions on a dreamer, whether they mean to or not. A low-Intensity dream can be overwritten by something much more powerful, but the dreamer is likely to recall more details upon waking. With an exceptional success, the dreamer might sense who’s responsible, whether they saw the dreamworker or not. They reflexively make an Understanding dreamcrafting roll vs. the changeling’s Protecting roll, with success leading to an impression of the changeling being involved.

Changelings can analyze their own dreams and alter their content to stop most nightmares. If they can’t beat a nightmare’s Intensity in one turn, however, they will have to ride it out or try to force themselves awake. They can tear down their own dream’s Intensity, but they can’t perform any other maneuvers for their own benefit, so changelings make pledges to help each other.

Understanding

These maneuvers rely on observing a dream, making subtle changes, and analyzing the results. They uncover secrets about the dream and the dreamer but do not impose effects, for good or ill. A successful Understanding roll grants later dreamcrafting actions a +1 bonus until the sleeper wakes up. The more you know about a sleeper and their current dream, the easier the work becomes.

Discover Dreamer Traits: Realizing the hidden traits of a person through their fantasies is rarely an easy task, however. Some of the things that can be learned, like Conditions and supernatural interference, are aspects the dreamer might not be consciously aware of. A dreamworker can learn one trait of the dreamer for every 5 successes on an Understanding roll. Extra successes represent insight that can be applied at a later time, which means they count the next time the changeling visits the dreamer and tries to learn more about them. However, it only takes three successes to learn the following information:

  • Virtue and Vice from reinforcement dreams

  • Permanent Willpower rating from memory dreams

  • Conditions from nightmares

  • Merits and Flaws from recurring memory dreams

  • Supernatural powers used on the dreamer from recurring dreams

It’s possible to uncover emotional and mental powers that have been used on the dreamer, if a dreamworker seeks them. Each success allows the dreamworker to trace supernatural effects back one week.

Find the Mark of the Others: Dreamworkers have every reason to hunt for the work of the True Fae in mortal dreams, and this is how they do it. The target number is the Fae’s Wyrd rating + 1 for each special maneuver impressed on the mortal beyond conditioning (see The Rulers of Dreams). Only one such roll can be made each night, and any interruption to concentration (like combat) means all progress is lost.

Search for Intruders: This maneuver tries to detect hidden agents, fae or otherwise. It’s contested by Compelling rolls as intruders try to stay hidden.

Understanding maneuvers usually rely on Intelligence + Empathy or Occult + Power Stat (or their rating in a related power, whichever is higher) - Intensity of the dream.

Specialties: Analyze Dream Type and Condition, Discover Dreamer Traits, Find the Mark of the Others, Search for Intruders

Protecting

Protecting craft rolls are entirely beneficial for the dreamer, whether they realize it or not. If a dreamworker gets an exceptional success on such a maneuver, they gain a +1 bonus to social interactions with the dreamer for the next 24 hours, as the dreamer has the sense that the character means them well. The dreamworker also enjoys a +1 bonus to Protection rolls for each trait they’ve learned or confirmed through Understanding rolls. Long-term effects, like healing, can only be attempted once per night. Dreamworkers suffer a -1 to -4 penalty if they know little about the dreamer they’re trying to help.

Healing: Physical healing can be accelerated, with every two successes advancing natural recovery by one day.

Fortifying: If a dreamworker already knows the dreamer’s Virtue or Vice, they can craft a dream to bolster the dreamer’s sense of self. The dreamer will regain Willpower equal to half the successes, rounded up.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can be given, with each success equal to a day of help.

Sleep Teaching: A dreamworker can try to teach a Skill, Merit, or Contract they possess; every two successes grants one experience point that can only be spent on what is being taught. The Skill, Merit, or Contract must be raised before another dream can help.

Protection rolls generally call for Composure + Empathy or Medicine + Power Stat (or their rating in a related power, whichever is higher) – Intensity.

Specialties: Fortifying, Healing, Psychotherapy, Shield Other (see Dream Combat), Sleep Teaching

Compelling

Compelling maneuvers involve manipulation of a dream’s content, for good or ill. The dreamworker can rewrite the current plot and appearance of an ongoing dream, but they will often keep some of the same elements to make their work seem less obvious or distressing. Rolls with lasting effects, like subliminal suggestion, can only be attempted once per night.

Alter Dream: A dream can be altered in great or small ways without granting a special benefit. Altering just sets up a scene, people, places, or objects to interact with, but it can also interrupt a nightmare. This maneuver benefits from 8 or 9 again when the dreamworker is crafting aspects from their own memories.

Force to Stay Asleep: This roll suffers penalties based on the immediate surroundings of the dreamer (such as loud noises). If the dreamer suffers damage, a new roll must be called for, with the damage as a penalty to the Compelling roll.

Siphon Glamour: Glamour can be Compelled from a dream in two different ways. One involves Compelling the ambient power of the dream forth by rolling Presence + Persuasion + Wyrd – Intensity. The other relies on Compelling the dream’s plot into an emotional scene, in which case, the roll is determined by the scenario they create. In either case, each success returns a point of Glamour.

Subliminal Suggestion: A subconscious command can be implanted so that when the dreamer encounters an established trigger in the waking world, they will perform a specific action. The dreamer will get a reflexive Willpower + Power Stat roll to resist performing the deed (vs. the successes on the Compelling roll). If it’s dangerous or out of character, the dreamer will get a +1-3 bonus.

Most Compelling maneuvers depend on Manipulation + an appropriate social skill + Power Stat (or their rating in a related power, whichever is higher) – Intensity roll.

Specialties: Alter Dream, Environmental Attack (see Dream Combat), Force to Stay Asleep, Siphon Glamour, Subliminal Suggestion

Destroying

Destroying maneuvers are efforts to deface and wear down - the dreamer, the dream (in whole or in part), or another visitor. They do not create anything, but what is destroyed can be beneficial to the dreamer’s psyche. Benevolent dreamworkers can try to dismantle supernatural influences on the dreamer’s mind and emotions. Mesmerism, memory altering, even emotional Contracts might be undone, or at least their influence may be reduced. Each of these maneuvers can only be made once per night.

Degrade Intensity: A dream can be weakened it until it can be easily rewritten or cut short. Each success reduces the Intensity by 1; if it falls to or below 0, the dreamer wakes up. This is the main way to counteract nightmares. A dreamworker can try to diminish the Intensity of a dream more than once, but suffers a cumulative -1 penalty. They can keep a dream together after it falls below an Intensity of 1 by spending a Willpower point, but it will remain at that Intensity and no other maneuvers will be possible.

Dismantle Influence: Once it’s been detected with an Understanding roll, emotional or mental manipulation can be destroyed with this maneuver. The dreamworker must gain more successes than the original manipulation + Power Stat (if it applies). Long-term tampering will take a number of successes within a certain number of rolls determined by the Storyteller, and only one roll can be made per night. Successful psychotherapy (via Protecting) related to the manipulation can help reduce the number of successes required.

Nightmare: It’s unusual for dreamworkers to craft nightmares in dreams they’ve accessed through pledges; the Dream Contract is the usual door. If a dreamworker exceeds the target’s Willpower when creating a nightmare, they will suffer a -1 penalty on all social rolls with the dreamer for 24 hours afterwards, as the dreamer is beset with uneasiness in the changeling’s presence. (See the nightmare Dream Augmentation above for more details.)

Undo Memory Alteration: Unless the Storyteller judges otherwise, magical alterations bury memories - they don’t destroy them. A dreamworker can destroy the false memories, leaving the dreamer to rediscover the truth. Short-term alterations can be undone by getting more successes than the original manipulation + Power Stat. Long-term changes require a target number of successes and rolls determined by the Storyteller. Psychotherapy (Protecting) may be needed for the dreamer to access prior memories.

In general, Destroying maneuvers call for a Wits or Manipulation + Empathy, Intimidation, or a physical attack skill + Wyrd – Intensity roll.

Specialties: Degrade Intensity, Dismantle Influence, Nightmare, Personal Attack (see Dream Combat), Undo Memory Alteration

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