Reverie: enter the Dreaming…
A new skill for d20 fantasy games by Keith Savage
Reverie (Wisdom, can be used untrained)
Reverie is a special skill specific to my own campaign setting, the World of Arduin Urth. It is the very mystical ability to control one’s own dreams, to enter a mental dream world which reflects all things in waking life, a dream world common to all Dreamers, an amorphous place where skillful Dreamers can construct almost any fancy. If the Astral Plane is the absence of almost everything, then the Dreaming is its opposite, a world with the potential for everything. Yet if the dream-world’s potential is unlimited, its stability is almost non-existent. Things shift constantly, everywhere in the Dreaming. The more ephemeral a thing in the material world is, the more likely its reflection in the dream-world is to change. Time itself seems to alter, dilating to what seems decades in minutes, or contracting to only moments while hours actually pass. Only things with a long, unchanging material existence tend to remain stable in the Dreaming. For example, a Dreamer may dream-walk looking for the reflection of the local tavern, but finds only the massive oak tree that was cut down to build the tavern. While its lifetime might seem a long time to humans, the tavern’s 30 years of existence is nothing to the oak’s 300!
Reverie is, then, akin to lucid dreaming combined with shamanic trance, to use modern terminology. A skilled Dreamer can use the power of the Dreaming to perform feats that many would deem potent magic. It is a skill derived from the ancient fey ancestors of the elvish people of Arduin Urth, whose bloodlines have passed into almost every human-like creature now alive. The long-lost Eluna Shee spawned every kind of demi-human, humanoid and fey creature now known in the World of Arduin Urth. Thus every sentient race has the potential to Dream, though some find the skill easier than others. The current masters of the skill are the Grey Elves, the Danann Shee. Danann Shee characters have a +4 racial bonus to the Reverie skill check. Dwarves, Halflings, Half-orcs, and all humanoids have a 1d4 racial penalty to the same check. Non-Grey Elves and Feys (pixies, sprites, dryads, centaurs, etc) have a 1d4 racial bonus. Half-elves that favor their human parent have a +1 bonus. Half-elves that favor their elven parent have a +2 bonus. These modifiers are determined at character generation, and little can alter them later in life. (Potent magic such as a wish spell may, at GM discretion, change the racial propensity.) Humans have no racial modifier to their check. Reverie is a Wisdom-based skill, so all Wisdom modifiers apply in addition to the racial modifiers. As Reverie is a mystic skill derived from Fae blood, I have trouble assigning it to classes. The best compromise is this: Reverie is a class skill for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Rangers and Sorcerers. Depending on their race or culture, it may be available to Barbarians as well. (“Primitive” peoples tend to be more attuned to the Dreaming.) Lawful souls usually have problems with the chaotic nature of the Reverie, thus Monks, Paladins and Wizards tend to avoid learning it. Alternatively, make it open to all classes.
The powers of a skilled Dreamer include divination, of the future or the past; refreshing old memories (important to long-lived elves!); consciously altering habits and aspects of your personality; communicating with other Dreamers at any distance (limited to the same plane for all but the most skilled); creating or altering the local dreamscape, though permanency is seldom guaranteed; entering and controlling the dreams of others, though other skilled Dreamers get an opposed Skill Check and the non-skilled get a Will save; acquiring new Knowledge skills or spells, usually by finding a dream-being or another Dreamer willing to teach; empowering yourself with temporary Essence, for use in spell-casting; boosting self-confidence, granting a temporary bonus to skills or ability scores (no more than +2), and perhaps most potent, the ability of Astral Projection. Only the most skilled Dreamers have learned to enter the Astral Plane this way. Once this is achieved, the Dreamer is able to travel to any plane that touches the Astral. The Game Master may also allow other uses of the Reverie skill, depending on circumstances. To begin a Reverie session, the character needs a quiet, undisturbed place to sleep. If he’s wakened, the Dreaming ends at once, without any harmful effects. During a Reverie session, the character is no more (or less) helpless than anyone else while asleep, nor is he any more difficult to awaken.
Knowledge: Reverie is a related skill, subsidiary to Reverie. It is a character’s broad base of knowledge about the Dreaming and how to use the Reverie skill, not the Reverie itself. Characters are capable of studying about the Dreaming without actually having the skill to access its wonders. For every five ranks in Knowledge: Reverie, you get a +2 synergy bonus to Reverie skill checks. It is particularly helpful in learning the unstable dream-world’s landscape, how to interact with it safely, and understanding key elements of its structure, as well as known lore about it, such as places, special times or magic items that give a bonus or penalty to the Reverie skill check. Most Lore checks are DC 20 or more, if the Lore is very obscure.
Another skill very useful in the Reverie is Concentration. One’s control of the unsteady Dreaming is based on mental effort; hence Concentration checks during a Dream may be required by the GM to determine the Dreamer’s success at this aspect of the Reverie. The GM should bear in mind that uses of Concentration will not give the character any more knowledge than what’s already present in the Dreaming, only expound upon the details of the scene. To gain new information entirely requires a second Reverie check.
Spellcraft is a third skill useful while in the Reverie. It can be used normally, though the metaphorical reflections within the Reverie may confuse the results. The GM can require an Intelligence check (or Knowledge: Reverie checks, if this skill is known) or possibly a Wisdom check to see if the character understands the metaphoric imagery of the Dreaming. Failure indicates the Dreamer misunderstands something about the imagery, which may skew his Spellcraft results.
Reverie Game Mechanics
Reverie works like a standard skill check. A d20 is rolled, and all the Dreamer’s modifiers are added or subtracted from the roll. The higher the final result of the roll, the better the success of the Dreamer. Like other skills, the player must state his chosen intentions at the outset. These should include at least one goal or task to perform while in the Reverie. Each additional task raises the DC by 5. The roll result indicates success or failure at this one goal or task.
There are three consecutive levels of success to this check, dream immersion, dream control, and dream duration. A result of at least 30 is required for minimal success in all three categories. (The GM may set the DC higher or lower depending upon circumstances.) A result of 20 is required to enter the Dreaming at all, and to recall doing so upon waking, though with such a “low” roll, little can the Dreamer accomplish, for his subjective “time” there will be very brief. With a roll of 20, the Dreamer has succeeded only at the first level, that of dream immersion, which governs your ability to enter the Dreaming, changing a mundane dream into The Dream (lucid dreaming). This level also determines how “real” the Dreaming becomes, how much it affects the Dreamer, as well as how much he recalls upon waking. These effects can persist into waking life, so a wound taken in the Dreaming, unlike a mundane nightmare, appears on the Dreamer’s physical body. This is one reason skilled Dreamers are harsh with novices during their training. The Dreaming is dangerous.
To succeed at the next level, dream control, a result of at least 25 is required. Dream control is how well a Dreamer is able to alter and influence the dream world. With success at this level, a Dreamer can change some aspect of the dreamscape, move with ease around it, converse mentally with other Dreamers, or generally accomplish one simple action before returning to normal dreaming. Only with higher success will his Dreaming last long enough to do more than this. The GM should use this as an opportunity to tease the player with metaphorical imagery, allowing him to guess at its meaning, hinting at the correct one if the player can make the appropriate checks (Wisdom, Intelligence, Knowledge: Reverie).
With a roll result of 30 or higher, the Dreamer has managed to immerse himself in the Reverie, control its flow, and hold himself there long enough to accomplish his stated goal. If the goal is extremely difficult or significant, then the GM is fully justified in setting the DC for the task higher than 30. (Occasionally, much higher. Finding the Astral Plane’s Gateway should be an adventure in itself, with DCs of 40 or more.) Nor is the GM required to tell the player the DC, only the result of his actions. On a roll result of 20 (natural 20), followed by a “confirmation roll”of more than 15-1 per 3 ranks of Reverie, adds to the original roll’s success by however much the roll exceeds the minimum.
Once the goal is accomplished, the Dreamer usually falls back into mundane sleep (or trance, in the case of elves), his Reverie session over for the rest of the night. But very skilled Dreamers (6 or more ranks in Reverie) can hold themselves in the Reverie longer. This is a situation where the GM should require Concentration checks. Each successful check gives the character enough additional “time” (very subjective) in the Dreaming, per the GM’s discretion, to make more Reverie checks. Accomplishing a second goal (say, based on new knowledge gained by success at the last goal) is much more difficult, and requires a second Reverie check. (A cumulative penalty of -5 is added to each subsequent Reverie check during a Dreaming session.) The DC for this check should be at least 25. If the character fails this check, he instantly falls back into mundane sleep (no retry possible). If he succeeds, then he manages to accomplish a second goal before resuming a normal sleep.
Accessing the Dreaming is unlike normal sleep- it does not allow one to recover hit points as does a full night’s rest. A Dreamer regains half his character level in HPs during a night of Reverie, but only if he attempts one goal. If a second Reverie check is made during the Dreaming session, then the Dreamer gets no rest whatsoever, and regains no Hit Points, as if his sleep was interrupted. The restoration of Ability damage is suspended during any Reverie session, no matter how many Reverie checks are made.
The GM should consider these factors when determining the initial DC: the Dreamer’s state of health (a very tired or wounded character would get a penalty due his body’s need for rest); the location of the Dreamer in waking life (specific places and/or times grant bonuses or penalties); the presence of special magic items designed to ease or hinder one’s passage into the Dreaming; and the presence of other Dreamers. (Just having another skilled Dreamer nearby, or within speaking distance, lowers the DC by one per additional Dreamer.) The DC may be raised or lowered depending on these factors (usually by 1 per factor).
A second skilled Dreamer can also Aid Another as described in the Player’s Handbook, pages 65-66, though the DC is 20, not 10.
Dangers of the Reverie
Virtually all characters possess mortal bodies which were not designed to cope with a mystical dream-world. Only the ancient Eluna Shee had constitutions capable of traversing both the Dreaming and the waking world without strain. The stress on both the body and mind of a character mounts every time one enters the Reverie, having the effect of a cumulative -2 penalty to the Reverie check for each subsequent night the character attempts to enter the Dreaming. For example, an uninjured Dreamer can attempt to Reverie on one night without penalty, but the next night’s attempt will have a -2 penalty to the roll. A third night’s attempt will be at -4. A single night without any Reverie attempts is enough to “reset” the penalty to 0. Note that even a failed attempt counts towards this penalty.
Additionally, Reverie checks carry the potential for a “fumble” like most Skill checks. On a roll of a natural one, followed by a confirmation roll of less than 15 - 1 per 3 ranks of Reverie, indicates that the Dreamer has been adversely affected in some way by the Dreaming. The most common fumble effect is being stranded in the dream-world, which leaves the character in an apparent coma. The GM determines how long this coma lasts, usually 1d4 days, depending on the circumstances. Another Dreamer can attempt to “rescue” the stranded one, restoring him to normal sleep. Other possible effects include: being mentally or physically harmed by a dream-being (wounds taken in the Dreaming persist into waking life- an analogous wound appears on the victim’s body the moment it is taken in the Reverie); a -1 penalty to all rolls until the following night’s rest; a -2 penalty to certain rolls, like Will saves or skill checks, etc.
Adjudicating the Reverie
The astute GM will note that there’s a lot of potential for abuse with this potent skill, even though I’ve attempted to limit it in several ways. It seems to work best with epic, immersive campaigns, those with high levels of realism and character development. The “kick in the door” or hack and slash campaign gains little from the skill, and has the most potential for abuse. This should be severely limited by the GM. Remember that no skill of a character is infallible, so no matter what the result of the roll, a GM has the privilege of telling the player his attempt doesn’t work- at least, not as the character expected!
The GM should recall the Dreaming is unimaginably vast, with the potential to reflect everything that has ever existed in the waking world, so there should be a good, in play, reason for the failure. Instead of bluntly telling the player he fails, the GM should create a Reverie session that hints at what’s wrong. Be inventive- the Reverie is creativity incarnate.
Example of a Reverie session
Devorin, a half-elf Dreamer, wants to use Reverie to find out what happened in a specific town 30 years ago during a harvest festival. (Rumors around town indicate something suspicious occurred, yet few surviving NPCs will say more about it.) This is called retrocognition, the divination of past events. (It’s the opposite of precognition, divination of the future.) The Reverie can reveal the truth about the incident, for all things, even those long past, are reflected in some way within its depths. But the murkier the information, the more likely it is to be revealed in a very subjective and metaphorical way to the Dreamer. This is an open license for the GM to have fun, playing with folkloric imagery! In this example, the Dreaming character must succeed at a Reverie check, with a DC of 29, which the GM lowered from 30 because the character is sleeping at the town’s inn, which is on the town square where the events in question occurred. If the character went to sleep at precisely dusk (a magically-conducive time in his game world), the DC might be lowered another point to 28. If a second Dreamer were within speaking distance (not necessarily asleep), the DC would lower again to 27. If Devorin wore a magic amulet that eases passage into the Reverie, the DC might be lowered even more (-1 to -5 depending on the power of the magic item). Or a magic item that bolsters his skill could be worn, which would add to his roll’s result, rather than lower the DC.
If Devorin’s player succeeds at the check, then the GM might reveal that during the festival, the town’s mayor killed a man in cold blood. But instead of baldly stating this, the GM should describe what Devorin sees in the Reverie thus: “As you stroll out of the inn, you see a large crowd has formed in the square. The excitement is high, people are laughing, and boisterous… their faces flicker strangely, leaving you uncertain who they are, though many resemble people you’ve met in this town. Their voices are garbled, difficult to understand…”
[At this point, if Devorin’s player wanted to know more specifics about what the people are saying, the GM should require a Concentration check- this simulates Devorin using his skill at Reverie to “fine-tune” his control of the Dreaming.]
“Suddenly, there is shouting, a blood-chilling scream, someone cursing, and the crowd goes silent and very still, almost as if frozen. As one, they all look away from the north side of the square, but the mass of people is too dense for you to see what they are avoiding.”
“Okay, I’ll walk over towards the north side,” says Devorin’s player.
“As you approach, the crowd’s enthusiasm dies away; all of them look sad and shameful. One by one, they vanish, leaving you alone in the square. On the steps of the town hall, a young man brandishes a bloody dagger in his hand. Behind him a woman in a black veil weeps. There is something very familiar about the man, but you can’t put your finger on exactly what.”
[This is another chance for Devorin to use Concentration. If he succeeds, the GM should tell him that: “The young man’s face flickers like the pages of a book turning, rapidly aging into the face of the town’s mayor.”]
If Devorin wishes to know more, like the identity of the victim, or the whereabouts of his remains, the GM should require an additional Reverie check. Only if the player had stated at the outset his desire to learn the identity of the victim would this knowledge be included in the original check. (Something that was impossible for him to do, as he didn’t know anyone had been killed.) Assuming the player makes his Concentration check and his second Reverie check at a -5 penalty, the GM could reveal to him the identity of the victim and the location of his unmarked grave with more of the Reverie’s strange metaphorical reflections.
The nature of the Reverie is always metaphorical. The world of dreams is only reflective of waking life, never objective or certain. The GM and players should never forget this when running a Reverie session. All actions and revelations within the Dreaming should be based on this principle- for as the Grey Elves say: “Reverie reveals reality- only metaphorically.”
Spell casting in the Reverie is possible- but wildly variable in its effects. Players should soon realize 90% of all spells aren’t worth trying to cast in the Dreaming. I lean towards all 1st level Divination spells being the only ones without side effects, plus few higher level spells appropriate to the Reverie, aka Dream, Sending, etc.
Finding another living person in the Reverie is difficult at best, for even a being who’s dreaming normally makes little impact upon the rich tapestry of the Reverie’s dreamscape. Finding a person who’s awake is impossible, yet the Dreamer may find a dream-being who reflects some truth about that person. The GM has license to utilize the character’s lack of Reverie lore to tantalize the player with campaign-appropriate facts. Requiring Concentration checks is a good way to simulate the character’s task of finding such a being (or simply moving about the vast dreamscape). Finding a person who’s asleep but not yet dreaming is also impossible, for only if they are actually dreaming do they appear in the Reverie, though they manifest as translucent ghosts. With extremely high DCs, a Dreamer can locate the mind of dreaming person and pull them into the Reverie as well. Often used to train novice Dreamers, this method is dangerous to both Dreamer and victim, who must roll Will saves against psychic shock (DC 20), or become harmed by the Dreaming as detailed above. Spells that affect others can only be targeted on others within the Reverie, ie. a sleeping and dreaming mind observed by a Dreamer is rarely affected by any spell- the spell has a 75% - 1% per rank in Reverie of the Dreamer to totally fail. Any spell that manages to affect such a sleeper grants the target a Will save, even if the spell does not normally allow one.
Finding another willing Dreamer is easy by comparison- assuming both Dreamers make their Reverie checks, both will arrive in the Dreaming at the same agreed-upon spot. (Assuming they made prior arrangements while awake.) The DC for this is a standard 30. Without prior arrangements, a Dreamer can make a blind search with a successful Reverie check, DC 30, assuming the other is Dreaming and willing. Concentration checks may also be required.
Finding an unwilling Dreamer is difficult, requiring opposed Reverie skill checks. Assuming both are within sight of each other, combat is possible, with the highest check prevailing. The dream-battles of the Danann Shee against their mortal foes, the Firvolg, were said to be almost unbearable to witness!