Dreams are often used by the Game Master to provide a spooky or unsettling moment for the players. But there are so many ways to use dreams to enhance the game for your players, and add exciting elements to your campaign. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind:
I dreamt this moment! – Prophetic dreams have long been a staple of folklore and Sf literature. It’s easy to use in stories because the writer can control the plot to make sure the dream lines up with the events as they unfold. In an RPG this can be a bit trickier, since player agency may mean that something you show as coming to pass in a dream may not play out that way at the table. If you plan to have prophetic dreams, try to keep things as symbolic and non-literal as you possibly can, so the dream suggests general directions as opposed to specific outcomes. Giving the character a series of prophetic dreams that is best way to keep them on track. This way you can dial each ensuing dream in to better fit the details as they play out at the table.
Your mind to my mind – The waking mind is a tumultuous place, and one could imagine trying to contact that mind from outside would be difficult, even dangerous. Much better to wait for a person to sleep, and contact their mind when it is at rest. This can be a lot of fun to play out, as the player starts out treating the situation as a dream, and only eventually comes to understand that someone is trying to talk to them. In fact, it’s possible that at first it is a dream, just not the character’s. Perhaps the two minds have become entangled somehow, and now they character and the NPC now share dreams. Eventually they might be able to talk to each other in their dreams, but for now they each get an insight into the other’s mind.
I don’t think we’re in Kansas – Travelling in dreams has also been a popular facet of fantasy and SF fiction. The Cthulian Dreamlands are a good example, the Thomas Covenant books would be another. Perhaps the character’s sleeping mind travels to another time or dimension, and lives out a life there in what would normally be the character’s downtime. What effect does this have on the character? Has this always been the case, or is it something new? If a new occurrence, why is it happening now. And the biggest question of all: is the character really the character, or another sleeper dreaming a different life?
Allowing the character to skip between times and even dimensions in this way is a great way to introduce information to the campaign the characters might not otherwise be able to find. Perhaps they get historical perspective on an ancient evil they currently face. Or they see that what they thought was a local problem actually spans across the multiverse. Used well, it’s a great tool for expanding the scope of your campaign world.
Whose head is this again? – One possible use of dreams is to link two characters, with the players’ permissions of course. But if the players assent, think of all the possibilities of having two characters linked through their dreams. Why are they linked? How did it happen? If it was forced on them by a third party, is that entity also linked to both of them? What if shared dreams are the common link between all the party members? This certainly expands the usefulness of dreams as a method of conveying information, or adding a different facet to the threat facing the adventurers.
Good? Bad? I’m the one in your head – As we have touched on, not everyone who worms their way into your dreams is going to have your best interests at heart. Perhaps the villain the party is working their way towards confronting has found their way into the sleeping minds of one or more characters. What sort of trouble could they cause? Misleading prophetic dreams, nightmares, attacks on the mind, all these are on the table. Even just making sure that characters get no sleep could be enough to disrupt the heroes and keep them out of the villains business during waking hours. Consider also, that none of this has to be antagonistic. If the villain truly believes in what they are doing, maybe they appear in dreams to try and sway the characters to their point of view. After all, they have a captive audience until the character wakens…
So these are just some ideas around dreams and how to use them in your game. From these I am sure you can find specific ways to introduce dreams and dreamscapes to your campaign. After all, why should the fun stop just because a character is sleeping?