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Campaigns I'd Like To Run: The Demon Dreams

I've been wanting to participate in the Age of Ravens Blog Carnival for "Campaigns I'd Like To Run," but up to now I've had a hard time coming up with anything. The thing is, for the most part I'm currently running the campaigns I would want to run, between Dust to Dust, Aurikesh, and (every once in a very long while) Over the Edge. This covers high medieval fantasy LARPing (with some dark elements, but not "dark fantasy" as such), late Renaissance fantasy tabletop (some weird elements, but not "weird fantasy" as such), and modern esoteric thriller tabletop. Also, my Mage chronicle is still pretty recent, so that's another modern esoteric fantasy. Of my general preferences, what am I even leaving out?
Aside: Plenty of things, but I don't have specific ideas for most of them. Ahem.
Well, I haven't run anything that went all-in on weird fantasy lately, or ever. The closest I've come to that is the MK ULTRA one-shot I ran as a Christmas special one year. There's also this one game I've mentioned, on and off, wanting to run for about five years now: Noumenon. For pure weirdness, there aren't many games that outrank Noumenon, to my knowledge, though Itras by gives it a run for its money. This crystallized for me today thanks to a phrase written by someone who hated the Georgia Renaissance Festival: Enchanted Demon Festival. What can I say? Inspiration comes from the strangest places. All by itself, Enchanted Demon Festival is an amazing and awesome idea for a Halloween party or one-shot LARP!

I want to combine all of these weird sources of ideas with my substantial supply of Dreamblade minis. I've wanted the minis to do more than gather dust on a shelf for a long time, but as you see from that second link there are some major tonal rifts between Dreamblade and the games I'm running. For what it's worth, I'm also about to have a whole shitload of Reaper Bones minis, and I'd like to make sure I can use those.

The Demon Dreams

System: Heavily hacked 4e - the classes and races are barely relevant, but the structure and dynamics of powers are central. The powers available to each player change pretty often; it's important for the math to stay easy to handle on the fly.

Concept: The players are dreams given life, sapience, and something like stability, thanks to a seismic shift in the landscape of dreams. Now that they have an independent reality, they begin to explore the dream-world around them, where they clash with others like themselves. Once they have gained a certain familiarity with how the world works, a city begins to form within the dream-world, a neutral ground where dreams can meet and trade without (as much) fear of violence. An NPC ruler rises to power among the dreams of the city, and the whole place becomes increasingly like the city of Sigil in the Planescape setting. Still later in the game, creatures of something other than dream enter the dreamlands - fey lords, cosmic entities, angels, and gods.

All PC dreams spring out of the same Sleeper, and the players cooperate to protect and strengthen him or her (typically represented in the form of a shared holding like a castle or tower). Over the course of the campaign, the players learn the bizarre secrets of the dreamlands, including ways to transform themselves into the forms taken by other dreams, changing their outward forms and capabilities so that they can tackle a wide variety of challenges. Ideally, figuring out the system would be interesting in itself. Much of the game revolves around the same kind of surrealist exploration as Noumenon. There should be tons of room of new and weird revelations, such as the nature of the players' Sleeper and the Sleepers that enemy dreams come from.

I wouldn't say I've given this any particular amount of deep thought - this is the stage of the idea in which I'm just cramming together as many neat ideas as possible. As I see it, the major challenge of such a game is grounding it enough that the players feel like B follows from A. Dream-logic tends to throw causality to the wind, but basic scene-by-scene game function needs GM to give the players a foundation for decisions, so I need to be on the same wavelength of surrealism as the players. I would probably draw in elements of Ink and still more of Planescape. It's entirely conceivable that a hack of Exalted or Nobilis would be a better system for this, but I have a lot less familiarity with those systems.

It might actually be better to start the game without the characters being aware that they are dreams at all. Instead, the PCs start with a standard fantasy setting, and the others around them are initially of similar forms (including the less-strange Dreamblade minis). As they explore areas farther from their home base, they discover increasingly outlandish opponents, and finally learn the first layer of truth about their own nature and the lands around them. That might set the right tone of stability early on, so that even when things get more dream-like, the players have their expectations of logic sculpted in the right way that they feel comfortable making decisions and guesses about what might happen next.

My "stretch goal" for the campaign would be to start messing around with set-building for miniatures use - physical structures on roughly the same scale as their miniatures. Beyond that, it would be neat to make some kind of interrelated artwork that the players collect and examine. I do almost nothing crafty or artsy, and making myself start doing some of those things as part of session planning would be good. It builds character or whatever.

I'll probably never get around to running this game, because the games I'm currently running take up all of my brain space and I don't love this idea enough to replace Aurikesh with it. Also, most of the prospective players just had a bunch of the Shocking Reveals spoiled for them when they read this post. Who knows, maybe I'll get to make a video game with this idea someday.

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