Dreamwalker: Roleplaying in the Land of Dreams
Dreamwalker: Roleplaying in the Land of Dreams Capsule Review by Peter C. Spahn on 09/06/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Totally Innovative! Like You've Never Seen Before! No Levels or Classes!
Product: Dreamwalker: Roleplaying in the Land of Dreams
Author: Peter C. Spahn, David Griffin, Michael Patton
Category: self-review of RPG
Company/Publisher: Golden Pillar Publishing
Page count: 152
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Peter C. Spahn on 09/06/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Science Fiction Modern day Historical Horror Far Future Space Comedy Espionage Conspiracy Post-apocalyse Old West Vampire Gothic Asian/Far East Superhero Generic
Made you look! :) In case anyone missed it, the no levels and classes thing was just a joke. Actually, the totally innovative thing was too.
First off, just to be clear, this is a self review of a game that I wrote. For the most part, Iíve always thought self reviews were pretty useless. I mean, what author/designer can honestly critique his own work? Nevertheless, here I am doing just that.
There were several reason for this, the foremost being that Dreamwalker is a print on demand book so you wonít see it on the shelf at your LGS or LBS unless someone orders a copy and never comes back to pick it up. We donít know too many people in the RPG industry and none of us will be attending Dragoncon (the closest big con to us) this year. So, I am trying to promote our game via self review (as well as via solicited reviews).
Again, weíre not making any huge claims about a brand new system (we use percentiles) or a game "like youíve never seen before---a game about dreams" (Shattered Dreams has been out for a long time although I still have not come across a copy).
What we have is a roleplaying game that weíre really proud of. It uses a percentile system and is about dreams. Or rather, it is about traveling into other peopleís dreams. Anyway, let me get to a few other things first.
The book itself is standard 8.5x11, paper back, glossy card stock cover. The layout, interior design and cover design were all done by Mark Arsenault at Golden Pillar Publishing.
Let me just say that he did a jam up job on the layout. We had originally considered running off a few copies at FastCopy, gluing them all together and slapping on a cover. Boy am I glad we didnít. We sent Mark a .doc file and some images and he produced something far better than we had ever imagined. "Wow. It looks like real book," was what David and Mike said upon seeing it for the first time, and I had to agree.
OK. I wrote the book from cover to cover, minus the various quotes, literary poems, and the two excellent poems by David Griffin (one on pg. 32 and one on page 72). Anyway, what Iím getting it is that itís not my place to evaluate the writing, given my obvious bias. :)
I will say that I had to resist the urge to go "dark". Iím a horror fan so my mind all too easily turned toward more macabre and twisted dreams. Somewhere along the line I realized that I wanted to make a game that adolescents could buy and play. Therefore, I decided to save "dark" for later supplements (like The Clinic. . .)
All original artwork was done by John Carlos and Milton. We got Milty to do game concepts and John to do atmospheric art. I think they both did an excellent job. (my personal favorites, pg. 58 and pg. 83)
In Dreamwalker, you play a Dreamwalker in the employ of Project Dreamwalker. Each night you enter the dreams of others and attempt to rid troubled minds of the Taeniid infestation (see below). Dreamwalkers are able to "slow down" the process of dreaming, and have complete dream recall upon waking. Thus to them, dreams take place at a relatively normal speed and are more coherent (based on the assumption that our dreams only seem fragmented because we do not remember every bit).
The Taenia Spiritus are a race of spiritual parasites that invade the dreams of a sleeping person, manifesting as some current or repressed fears of the host, in order to gain sustenance from the negative emotions generated by their presence during the course of the dream. Socially, they are hive-minded creatures whose entire existence seems centered around protecting the Queen and enlarging the colony.
The Dream Goal
Our most vivid dreams are experienced during the deepest period of sleep, known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Each of these dreams contain a goal or purpose that must be achieved for the continued psychological health and well being of the Dreamer. In Dreamwalker, we call this dream goal the denouement. The Taenia subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) work to prevent the Dreamer from achieving the dream's denouement, feeding off the negative emotions of distress and failure their actions create in the Dreamer's sleeping mind.
As a Dreamwalker, it is your job to help the Dreamer achieve his goal. Only afterward, when the Dreamerís mind is preoccupied with the exhilaration of his success, is it safe to take on the Taeniid colony.
Types of Dice
Dreamwalker uses both ten-sided (d10) and/or six-sided (d6) dice during play although the game's core mechanics are based around the percentile system---rolling a ten-sided die twice for a number between 01 to 100. The first roll indicates the number in the "tens" column while the second roll indicates the number in the "ones" column.
Ex. - Your first roll is a 4 and your second roll is a 2. Therefore, your total is 42.
Two factors are taken into account during task resolution---the character's Attributes and Skills.
Attributes define a characterís physical, mental and social capabilities by assigning them a number from 05 (worst) to 100 (best), in multiples of 5. Things like the characterís intelligence, hand-eye coordination, brute strength and charm are all represented by his Attributes.
Skills describe either things a character can do naturally or has learned to do over the course of his life. Skills are assigned a Rank from 0 to 5; the higher the Rank, the better. Each Skill Rank adds a 5 to the Attribute in question during task resolution (see below). Handgun, Repair and Leadership are all examples of Dreamwalker Skills while firing a handgun, fixing a lawnmower or trying to talk someone into giving you a lift to the nearest gaming convention demonstrate their use.
Rolling the Bones
When a character attempts something difficult, the Game Master determines what Attributes and Skills are appropriate to the task at hand. The player then adds the Attribute and the Skill Rank bonus ( 5 per Rank) together to get his character's Base Chance of accomplishing the task.
The player then rolls percentile dice. If the number is lower than the Base Chance, the character succeeds; if not, he fails.
Ex.- Breaker, with a Reason of 70 and a Computer Skill Rank 3, has an 85% (70 15, for 3 Ranks) chance of retrieving the information hidden within the Dreamer's hard drive.
One other factor that should always influence the outcome of a task is common sense. Obviously, some tasks are so easy to accomplish that they do not even require a roll. A character with a high Reason and Academic Skill should be assumed to know how many planets are in our solar system without having to make a roll. Similarly, some tasks may be so difficult that the Game Master has the option of lowering the character's Base Chance---the chance of convincing an Emperor to abdicate in the character's favor should be minimal at best, no matter how high the character's Persuasion Attribute is.
Mana is the raw spiritual energy from which the Dreamworlds (dream settings) are formed. Dreamwalkers are able to manipulate this energy to produce various spectacular effects.
Using mana, physical Attributes may be raised beyond the normal limits. New Skills may be learned or known Skills increased. Mana can be channeled into a direct attack or used to deflect such attacks. Characters even have the power to Possess the bodies of the Unreal (the every day inhabitants of the Dreamworld). Most importantly, mana may be used to Create and Reshape items into new items that the Dreamwalker desires.
Veteran Dreamwalkers are able to use mana to perform even more incredible feats such as flying, teleportation or even changing one's form.
This section contains your standard introduction and disclaimers. It tells you a little bit about what and what not to expect from the game as well as why we created Dreamwalker.
This is the obligatory short fiction piece. Again, I wrote it so I will keep my comments brief. The story follows a team of Dreamwalkers as they enter someoneís Dreamworld and help him achieve the dreamís denouement. This was the original story in which I "hooked" my co-designers. It was also the story I gave to potential playtesters to see if they would be interested in trying the game out.
This is your standard "What is a Roleplaying Game". It gives a listing of game terminology (definitions of d6, d10, percentile dice, etc.) a brief summary of the roles of the players and Game Master, as well as a very short example of play.
This is a short section that contains some factual information on REM sleep, dreams, and nightmares.
History of Project Dreamwalker
This section gives an account of the dream research of Dr. William Morris Black (creator of the Dreamwalking drug, Black25) and the founding of Project Dreamwalker. It also briefly mentions a rival Dreamwalking organization known as The Clinic.
Now you get into character creation. The first thing we start off with is character Concept. All characters are assumed to be newly recruited members of Project Dreamwalker, but the Concept indicates what type of person they are and/or what they did before they learned about the Project
After that you get to the nuts and bolts of character creation. This is strictly a point based system. There are 13 Attributes (total of primary and secondary) in Dreamwalker and a list of general Skills. The number of Attributes is somewhat misleading as a few of them (such as Reflex) are used only in certain situations (such as when determining initiative).
I described the basic system above. In this section, I give a few examples of how this system can be altered for more detailed play---Attributes can be listed in multiples of 1 (36, 58, 89) and for each Skill Rank, the player can roll 1d6 write down the total. In Dreamwalker, all D6ís are open-ended so the total can conceivably become higher or lower than the normal 5 per Rank.
There are three Traits which define the characterís overall psychological makeup. These are also listed in range from 1-100. A Skill list comes next. Then the player rolls for how many Mana Points his character has.
This section details the different types of Dreamwalkers a character can be---Analysts are scientists recruited and trained by the Project; Naturals are able to Dreamwalk via inherent ability; Mystics are generally spiritual or holy men, able to Dreamwalk via a mixture of faith and/or mental discipline; Users are drug addicts, addicted to some type of hallucinogenic drug which enables them to Dreamwalk.
Detailed Attribute, Trait and Skill descriptions come next.
This is where we start getting into the real Dreamwalker setting. This section was written primarily as player information and is purposely devoid of numbers.
This section gives information on the astral layout of the Empyrean. It describes how each personís individual Dreamworld (dream setting) can be vastly different and touches on the inhabitants of the Dreamworld, including the Taenia Spiritus. It also talks more about dream denouements and their significance as well as how helping the Dreamer achieve his or her denouement must be done before tackling the infestation.
Towards the end of this section is a brief listing of other types of Dreamworlds including the dreams of the insane, mentally impaired, animals as well as spiritual "islands" that constantly float through the astral realm.
This section details the systems used for the more common and mundane tasks---climbing, repair, running, performance, etc. and gives some examples. It also includes information on determining a characterís Base Chance to accomplish a task (as described above) as well as any situational modifiers that may come into play.
This section details the systems used in combat resolution--- initiative, standard situational modifiers (character running, storm, bad footing, etc.), special maneuvers and called shots as well as weapons and explosives charts.
This section covers vehicular combat, pursuit and other maneuvers. It also includes generalized guidelines for creating vehicles and several charts of sample vehicles.
This section covers various types of injuries a Dreamwalker character may sustain. Love it or hate it, Dreamwalker uses an abstract injury system---in this case Health Points, determined by the characterís Health Attribute.
With the rationale that the more injured a character is, the less likely he will be able to perform certain tasks, for every 5 Health points of damage taken the character must subtract 5 points from his Base Chance to accomplish any task (or 1 per 1, depending on how much math you like).
It is difficult, if not close to impossible, for a Dreamwalker to truly die while he is romping around in other peopleís dreams. Dreamwalkers who are "killed" while in another personís Dreamworld are instantly awakened. A very, very, very small percentage of these characters die for real. Some suffer from a change in mental status and pick up a Phobia or Dementia (see below), but most just wake up, disoriented but healthy and alive.
The final part of this section discusses different forms of Dementia and Phobias and the applicable rules.
As touched on above, using spirit mana, a character can heal himself, temporarily learn new Skills, make himself stronger or faster, or fire off deadly Mana Bolts that rip through the fabric of the dream. Characters can also Possess the various inhabitants of the dream, or alter items into new and more usable ones. All Dreamwalkers begin the game with these abilities.
Mana Talents are the "super powers" that really set Dreamwalkers apart from the rest of the dreamís inhabitants. There are minor Talents and major Talents. The ability to fly, teleport, absorb damage, leap great distances and shape change are only a few.
All Talents are difficult to obtain (the source of some player griping, David) :) but extremely powerful when used in play.
GAME MASTERíS SECTION
Behind the Scenes
This section gives more information on the structure of Project Dreamwalker, describes the Dreamwalking drugs and details more of the specifics of the process of Dreamwalking and the possible dangers encountered within the Empyrean and the Dreamworld.
This section covers all the information that Project Dreamwalker knows about the Taenia. It includes stats for the different Taeniid molts---larva, drone and Queen as well as stats for the rare Taeniid Broodking (the baddest of all baddies, able to "kill" a Dreamwalkerís spiritual form and "ride" it into the real world).
This section also describes some of the mana powers unique to Taeniid Queens and Broodkings as well as descriptions of Taeniid manifestations and guidelines on how the Taenia work toward keeping the Dreamer from achieving the dreamís denouement.
The World at Large
This section gives a brief summary of what others believe on the process of Dreamwalking. It includes a more detailed description of The Clinic as well as other government agencies, private interests and religious groups that have access to and/or knowledge of Dreamwalkers.
Then follows a list of the more common Antagonists (from average people, to military special forces) as well as a section covering rules for animals. These sections are useful for populating the Dreamworlds. Descriptions of animals and antagonists were intentionally left vague with only Attributes and Traits listed. The reason being that an alien chef would have vastly different Skills (or at least Specializations) than a modern day chef and it is up to the Game Master to customize the inhabitants to the setting.
This section covers the construction of Dreamworlds and their denouements. It also gives guidelines for populating the Dreamworld including more suggestions on basic Taeniid manifestations.
Also in this section are tips for customizing standard items and creatures into nonstandard dreams (for instance - use the statistics for a modern day rifle to simulate those of a musket, except that the musket must be reloaded after every shot).
This section gives examples of the most common types of Dreamworlds and denouements to be found. It contains a few adventure seeds as well as tips on running Dreamwalkers from organizations other than Project Dreamwalker. It also includes a brief section with tips on converting Dreamworlds, denouements and mana usage over to other game systems so that Game Masters may incorporate Dreamwalks into existing campaigns.
Lastly is a list of books, songs and movies we think give the overall "feel" of Dreamwalker.
This section contains a few tips for running Dreamwalker adventures. Most of it is stuff experience gamers have seen before. All of it is stuff I like to be reminded of on occasion.
After this we come to the Rewards section which gives an Experience Point chart and how Experience Points are used towards character development.
The Pinebrook Chapter
This is a setting for Dreamwalker that details a Project chapter and its staff. This is the original chapter designed for Dreamwalker and the one I still run with my players.
Four sample Dreamwalks follow. These adventures were the ones given out to our playtesters. They are tied to the Pinebrook chapter but are easily adapted to any other.
Iíll be honest folks, if there is a portion of this book I am somewhat disappointed with, it is these four sample adventures. While I think they are an adequate demonstration of the framework of the Dreamworld/denouement system, somehow they lack the scope and "feel" of what Dreamwalker is really about, or at least what I intended it to be about.
For one thing, these adventures were designed to be completed in only one or two sessions. I personally feel that a really good Dreamwalk should last much longer and be full of non-denouement related encounters and events. However, the powers available to each Dreamwalker make a predestined set of encounters and/or events almost impossible to lay out without railroading the characters (something I am firmly against). Even more so than in other games that I have ran, Game Masters will have to make things up on the fly or restructure parts of the Dreamwalk to account for player actions. I enjoy this immensely but others may (did) not.
After the sample Dreamwalks is an Appendix, Character and Game Master Sheets and a list of charts for handy use.
And thatís it. Thatís our game. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have. Also, I hope this was an adequate review. If you have any questions, ask away.
Oh, and as for ratings, I give it a 5 for style (Excellent) and 5 for substance (Excellent). Come on guys, what did you expect? :)