Friday 14 December 2018

Dreamscape project - Rules For Players!

Here's the plan:
The players get an a4 printout with their character sheet on one side and the rules on the other. The character sheet takes them through character creation step by step, and then all the rules they'll need to know in order to play are on the other side.

Here are the steps for Character Creation:
1: pick which department your Agent is from (IE which class they are). You get given the relevant character sheet for this.
2: roll your Age. 3d6+18, giving a result of 21-36, and an average of just under 30.
3: roll your Intelligence, Will and Charisma on 3d6 each.
4: roll a d6 for your HP. Security agents get +6 hp.
5: your resting heart rate is 70 bpm. Add your Age to get the lower end of your optimum heart rate. Add triple your age to get the upper end of your optimum heart rate. Subtract your age from 200 to get your maximim heart rate. (So a 25 year old's heart-rates are 70 resting, 95-155 optimum, 175 maximum, for example).
6: saving throws, defence and to-hit chances are determined by your department; your int/will/cha don't affect them.
7: you get a package of equipment depending on your department (normally uniform, ID, an in-ear communicator and perhaps something relevant to your department) and then any one other item of your choice. It can be anything, so long as it's small enough to carry on your person.
8: each department has department Techniques- special things only they can do. Sometimes they pick from a list, sometimes the abilities are the same for all agents in that department. Each department's mechanics work slightly differently.

Each stat on your sheet explains how you generate it and how it's used in play. So the box for saving throws tells you what your saving throws are, and how to roll a save when the GM says so.

Then, on the other side of the sheet, you get the rules for players and some fluff explaining the basic setup; you should be able to play based off what's on this sheet and nothing more. The rules are these (things in brackets and italics are explained on the front of the sheet):

Heart Rate 
You begin the mission at your resting heart rate. 
Whenever you roll dice for any reason, add the result of the roll to your Current Heart Rate.
You are more effective when in your Optimum Heart Rate as you can Push Yourself To Do Better.
When your Heart Rate reaches your Maximum Heart Rate, you suffer cardiac arrest and are removed from the mission to receive emergency medical attention.
Sometimes the Referee will tell you to add an amount to your heart rate (typically 10) if you are performing stressful or tiring actions, without a roll being required.
When you are able to calm down, your Heart Rate returns to its resting level. The Referee will tell you when this happens.

Types of Dice Rolls 
The Referee will tell you when to roll and what sort of roll to make. Dice rolls are Normal, Reckless or Careful.
Normal dice rolls only roll once.
Reckless dice rolls roll twice and take the higher number.
Careful dice rolls roll twice and take the lower number. Ignore the other dice result  entirely and don’t add it to your Heart Rate.

Pushing Yourself To Do Better 
When in your Optimum Heart Rate, you are more focussed. If you don’t like a dice roll, you can push yourself to do better. Roll the dice again, and take the new result. 
So long as you remain in your Optimum heart rate, you can re-try a roll by pushing yourself as many times as you want. Remember, every time you roll dice, you always add the result to your Heart Rate.

(Attribute Rolls
Roll under a relevant attribute with a d20 to succeed in difficult tasks outside combat. The referee will tell you what and when to roll.)

(Saving Throws
Roll your saving throw value or better with a d20 to avoid some hazard. IE, 13+ to avoid glitches. The referee will tell you what and when to roll.)

To attack, roll To Hit (roll a d20 and beat the score given on your sheet, IE 10+). If you succeed and the roll wasn’t negated by the victim’s Defence, the attack hits (defense means that particularly high rolls to hit are blocked, IE if you have defence 19+ any roll of 19 or more to hit you is deflected and does no damage).
Roll a dice for damage. When the victim has taken as much damage as their HP, they’re taken out of action.
Enemies attacking use the same procedure.
If you take as much damage as your HP, you are forcibly ejected from the mission to receive emergency medical attention.

Gaining Experience
When you leave the mission. you will receive a number of Experience Points. You receive 1 experience point for each of the following: 

  • Completing each mission objective. 
  • For each area of the dreamscape discovered during the mission. 
  • For each entity of the dreamscape discovered during the mission. 
  • Each new area or entity encountered which you are able to give a comprehensive description of to the agency during your debrief. 

You may be awarded an experience point for other achievements in the dreamscape if they further the agency’s understanding or objectives.

Increasing Clearance Level 
When your Experience reaches 10, you raise your Clearance level to 2nd. You raise it to 3rd at 20 Experience, to 4th at 40 Experience, to 5th at 80 experience, etc. 
Each new Clearance level requires twice as much Experience as the previous.

  • When you raise your Clearance Level, you gain the following benefits:
  • You get d6 more HP.
  • You improve your To Hit chances by 1 each.
  • You improve your Saves by 1 each.
  • You increase one of Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma by 1 (your choice which).
  • (Some agents will also gain a benefit from their class, for example surveillance agents also get a new surveillance technique each time they level up).

Note that you may, eventually, reach the point where you succeed some rolls automatically. You still need to roll, as you still risk increasing your Heart Rate.

Lastly the back of the sheet has some details about the setting. What you get on every sheet is this:

The Dreamscape 
In the early 20th century, psychologists such as Carl Jung theorised the existance of a collective human subconscious all people access, that contains various archetypal psychological constructs. The Dreamscape is, so far as anybody is able to tell, a real place. You can visit it. You can interact with the various inhabitants of the human subconscious. Needless to say, this is somewhat risky. 

The FBPI Machine 
The FBPI Machine is the best known way to access the dreamscape. The agent is placed in a druginduced altered state of consciousness and wired into a complex life-control system. Each agent has, grafted into their nervous system, a small plug like a USB port on the back of their neck, which allows them to access the Dreamscape in this state, and links them back to their body for monitoring and retrieval by Control. 

Control is the collective term for the personnel monitoring and facilitating the mission. As well as medical personnel who monitor your body in the FBPI machine, other members of Control are able to view the events of the mission. Some agents can contact them from within the mission. On request, they are sometimes able to make adjustments to the dreamscape from outside. 

Interference is the collective phenomena of corruption, uncertainty, distortion and noise as they affect the connection between your physical body in the waking world. As Interference rises, contact with Control becomes more difficult and the dreamscape responds by become stranger and more dangerous. 

Areas of Interest 
Our explorations of the Dreamscape are incomplete and fragmentary. We know that the dreamscape seems to reflect the waking world (familiar landmarks can be identified, for example). At the same time, it contains entities that have no equivalent in the waking world. The following are all of interest to The Agency: 

  • What are the 770 Stairs? 
  • What is the distinction between the Shallow, Deep, Far and Nightmare dreamscapes? • Who are the Squid Men?  
  • What happens when you sleep or die in the Dreamscape? 
  • What does ‘Hypnos Ascendant’ mean? 
  • What are the Orphic Mysteries? 
  • What interest does Orpheus have in the Agency?  
  • What is the Leviathan?  
  • Why do entities interviewed fear the Leviathan so much? 
  • What is the Burrowing Vorm? 
  • What are Leng and Ib? 
  • What is the significance of the various sleeping fish?  
  • Who Else can access the Dreamscape? 
  • Why are spiders so commonly encountered? 
  • Why do human dreamers in the Dreamscape behave the way they do? 

A big inspiration with all this has been the playbooks in Apocalypse World games; the fact that you can hand a player the relevant playbook and they have everything they need to run their character right there is good design imho. On top of this, putting all the player-facing rules on the player handouts means that players don't ever need to read the rulebook.
This is good, and ties into the other big point of the game: Mysteries and Discovery.

The players start out not knowing how anything works. The 'areas of interest' listed above give them hooks into the world, things that they know are going to be interesting to find out about, and a sense that there is a big world out there. But, they don't know how it all actually fits together and must learn about it in play. I've written here about how the sense of discovery is important to me in play: finding out about the setting, encountering new things, etc etc are the *point* of the game to me.
So in this game, there's a reasonably big setting with various features, conspiricies and conflicts that the players start out knowing nothing about, but will uncover in play. The more they delve, the more the setting opens up before them. 
To really reinforce this, there are other character sheets for the PCs to use when they unlock new aspects of the setting. (for example, there's a sheet for doing things in the waking world). When they realise they can go and do things in the real world, you hand them their 'waking world' character sheet to fill in, and the experience of play shifts to work in new ways. Its a lightbulb moment for the players as they realise that there are new, weird possibilities. There are, incidentally, plenty of other 'oh shit we can do that' moments for the players to discover if they look in the right places.

I'm also adding a timeline to the game that explains a) how things got to where they are when the PCs first start exploring the dreamscape and b) what probably happens if the PCs don't interfere. Factions out there will see the PCs entering the dreamscape, and react. The balance of power will alter over time to respond to what the PCs do, and if they don't prevent it, the setting will change. Orpheus by WW is a big influence here. 
I want the experience of playing this to feel like a conspiricy thriller, unpicking the threads of what's going on piece by piece, and learning how to use that information.

I'm not giving specific details at present because, tbh, I don't want to spoil the setting for potential players. Not knowing how things work when you start the game is important to the experience, I've found.


  1. I know this is for the players, but I wanted to say the most important Lacuna rule that had the most impact on my games was always Static.

    1. So, while Lacuna is a strong influence here, I want to take this in its own direction. So there's a static-like mechanic that Logistics agents need to deal with, but its de-emphasised compared to in Lacuna.
      In its place, I'm using a few GM-side mechanics that have similar effects.

  2. Are you running this online? I don’t imagine you’re soliciting random players from around the web, but this seems really interesting. I’d love to see recordings of this, at least.

    1. I'm not yet at a place where I can playtest this yet, but when I am it's likely to be with a small group online, text-based. I might post the logs, or a precis of what happens.

  3. The list of 'Areas of Interest' is *so good*