Dreamlands as a Multisetting Campaign Device
One of my players said that it would be fantastic if there was a way to play a single character in every universe possible with the Tiny D6 rules. Naturally, I came up with several ways this could be handled as we were talking about the idea to the slight shock of my players who are too new to playing with me to know than I can usually “spin up” ideas for settings and such on the fly. Here’s a brief write-up of the idea they liked best. It’s an obvious variation on Lovecraft’s “dreamlands”. It is not play-tested at all and is somewhat rough around the edges.
The base characters — that is, the character’s personality, outlook on life, etc. — have a humdrum existence in the real world working jobs, having families, etc. By night however, they are among the Earth’s “Great Dreamers” who live somewhat separate lives in dreamworlds…
Beth slowly drifted off to sleep beside her husband. in her sleep, she descended the 70 steps to the Cavern of Flame where the bearded priests Kaman-Thah and Nasht were maintaining the holy flame. She made the complex sign of dreams with her hands and asked if her friends had arrived yet. Nasht bowed to the holy flame, turned to her and gestured to a random point on the walls of the chamber where an archway appeared. Kaman-Thah murmured that she was the last to arrive and her friends awaited her within.
Beth thanked the priests, bowed to the Holy Flame, and walked through the archway to where her friends awaited. Tonight they were visiting one of their favorite dreamworlds: Zankhara, a relatively savage world of barbarians, pirates, and dark magic.
After a short discussion or their plans, her friend Robert touch the emblem of the flame on the wall before them and the wall opened to a version of the rune-covered seven hundred steps to the Gate of Deeper Slumber. The pattern and color of the runes matched her memory of the stairs to Zankhara, so she lead the way down the steps, joining her friends in discussing what had happened the last time they were in Zankhara as their forms slowly changed from their waking world forms to those of their Zankhara avatars.
By the time they reached the Gate of Deeper Slumber, she had assumed of her Zankhara avatar Ruth — the bastard daughter of a Umalau master scholar and a warrior and excellent navigator on sea or land. Her waking world memories faded as her Zankharan memories came to the fore. Ruth stepped through the gate and with a sudden shift in a direction that should not exist woke up in a bed in the Daft Unicorn. Looking out the window she saw the Golden Dodger, her group’s ship. She longed for the open sea — anything to get out of this oppressive town….
The game mechanics are simple. I’m giving them in Tiny D6 form as that is what we are currently using, but this should be easy to adapt to most games that have some type of “roll for success” mechanic.
Players can adventure in any setting their GM has ready for play. The players create a character, call an avatar, for each setting using the normal Tiny D6 rules for that setting. All of a single player’s avatars should have very similar personalities and general beliefs as they are all the same person, but their form, traits and memories are those of the particular setting. When the players enter a dreamworld, they assume the form of their avatar for that dreamworld. When the players temporarily leave that setting by “waking up” to resume their boring waking lives (usually at the end of a game session), the form remains ready for the next time they choose to visit that dreamworld.
What happens if a character dies? The player creates a new character which becomes their avatar in that dreamworld. In overarching waking world “fiction,” the player wakes up briefly with vague horrible memories of something “getting” them and they falls back asleep, descends to the proper gate, and steps though as their new avatar in a position able to rejoin their group ASAP. The same thing can happen if the a player just wants a new character. The old character retires/settles down/goes off to school/whatever at the end of a session and the player starts a new avatar the next time the group plays in that setting.
What about Experience? Assuming experience is used at all, that’s up to the players and GM. For example, each dreamworld avatar could have its own experience total or experience could be a part of the waking world player (like basic personality) and carry over to every dreamworld avatar the player has in some manner. If the latter, an avatar from one dreamworld probably should only be able to advance with experience earned by the base player in another dreamworld when the avatar has downtime to reflect and/0r study/train.
What about memories of other avatars? Can an avatar in one dreamworld remember experiences another avatar of the same player had in their dreamworld? Memories of the player’s waking world are somewhat remote. An avatar needs to successfully roll a test to remember waking world details (other than group info/plans, of course). An avatar can remember details of their alternate’s experiences in another dreamworld with a successful test with disadvantage and all such other dreamworld memories will be somewhat blurred, vague and dreamlike.
What is Zankhara? Zankhara is from “The Savage Seas of Zankhara” microsetting (created by Darren W. Pearce) for the Tiny Dungeon 2e rulebook (pp 134-138).
Playtesting would be needed to work out kinks and to add more details (if needed). This system should work well enough to be usable at the basic multi-setting system as is, however.
High Tech Alternative
A group’s main characters could be in a high tech setting where dreamworlds could be technologically created. For example, the main characters are spacers in a setting — main setting — where one has to sleep and dream through hyperspace travel to retain one’s sanity. The main campaign could be the SF setting the spacers are in. If the players and group wish to play some other setting for a break, they can play out their character time in a dreamworld generated by their ship’s computer during hyperspace travel.
What About Gates?
Gates are an obvious solution to the problem. Characters walk through the gate and end up in the setting the players want to play in now. This sounds like an exact solution to the desire to play “a single character in every universe possible with the Tiny D6 rules.” Unfortunately, gates have two major issues that often make them a poor solution in practice.
First, when a group of PCs go through a gate into a new universe, they are going to be the proverbial “strangers in a strange land”. The characters will have no knowledge of the universe they are entering and in many cases most of a character’s more advanced skills (e.g. technological and magical skills) may be next to useless in the new universe. For example, a German-speaking character built around 21st century medical skills with a side order of computer skills walks through a gate into Conan’s Hyboria. Second, some characters will simply be completely incompatible with some universes. For example, magic-using characters in a non-magical universe, characters that depend on a minimum level of technology/magic (or specific things like a specific drug) to simply survive or function.
While these problems can be fun to deal with for a while, especially if the campaign is about going through gates to explore strange new universes, they will quickly become more of a pain than fun for many if not most players. It’s easy to limit these problems by only having gates go to universes the base universe has known of and studied for a long enough time to educate gate walkers in the ways of the universe they are entering so they are less likely to be a “stranger in a strange land” and by limiting the places gates travel to places compatible with all the PCs. However, this solution is really more about running a campaign about a team of characters exploring different settings than it is the original idea of running almost separate campaigns in different settings using with (at some level) the same characters.