Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dream a Little Dream - Tips on Dreams & Prophecies

I'm not sure if the NERO drama is still going on, so I hope I'm not missing out on a great blog post idea!

As we get more into the season, it's time for all you plot & staff types to start cooking up stories and prepping your hooks. One of the fastest, easiest ways to hook a plotline is the prophecy or dream mechanic.

This is great, because you can do it via email or letter, and you can make it as long and as detailed as you want. You can describe things you could never rep in game. And having a prophecy immediately adds tension to what you're doing, hopefully encouraging the PCs to act! So there are a lot of good things to be said. However, here are a few tips to keep things interesting.

Don't make it too easy. It's really easy to fall into the rut of just giving the PCs a more flowery description of an obvious clue or hook. But dreams are seldom straightforward, and prophecies are mysterious. Don't make the answer too obvious to the PC, as long as you have the time to spare. Shroud clues in metaphor and symbolism (if you can't think of any, do some research!). Is the villain they're seeking by the sea? Don't just tell them "you see the ocean" but maybe instead tell them "you see a whale walking down a path." You can also add some aspects that don't mean anything, such as having the whale lose her hat - every mystery has a red herring or two after all. :) A lot of players love figuring out clues and puzzles like this, and it can add a lot to the atmosphere. But on the other hand...

Make it count. There shouldn't be a major prophecy on every mod, and if you keep hooking your players with dramatic dreams, they won't be so impressed. So use these mechanics when they'll have the best effect. You may not be able to control how often this comes up if the PCs have a mechanic (Dreamvision, anyone?). But even if it gets frustrating, try to do a good job and make the results in game instead of out-of-game via the grumpy plot person (even if deserved). Materials are usually being spent on this, after all. And if they do abuse it, give them a consequence, like angry dream elementals, nightmare effects, etc.

When you're writing things up, don't make things too obscure :) Avoid putting in too much nonsense, and throw in a few clear clues to compliment the mysterious ones. For the example above, have the whale find the villain sitting in a cave, with the sound of thunder (waves). So at least they'll know he's in a cave! Remember it may be obvious to you, but it's usually not to the PCs, and not being able to figure anything out can make them frustrated and disintersted in your plot.

Write it ahead of time. Dreams, visions, and prophecies are often the types of flavor that get left till the last minute and then hurriedly scribbled on the back of a logistics sheet before the mod. If you know you want to put it out, or if you know the PC is going to seek out the information, take the time to write it ahead of the event. It's a lot easier to be clever when you're not sleep deprived and hopped up on energy drinks. :) It's worth it to see your players excitedly trying to figure out what's going on.

Put a little bit in game. If the player is going to get hit with this at the event, it can be fun to turn up the immersion a little. Record some sound effects or even a voiceover to play while they read your write up. Have the prophet go into a trance right in the middle of the tavern to deliver their message. Act out what they see. You could even go so far as to make a game out of it, such as having the player put together a puzzle, or dropping random pieces of the dream/prophecy for them throughout the event and letting them put it together. You can still have a lot of the benefits the written word can bring, but really bring it home by having it done in character.

Include their characters. Most everyone wants to be the hero of their story, so hook in multiple PCs by giving them a starring role. Allow for little things that the characters can do to make a difference so that you can show them being important. Maybe only a dwarf will recognize the entrance to the cave, or you need an alchemist to make a potion. It can be dangerous to hook to a specific player, in case they don't make the event, but on the other hand, it's hard to resist the draw of starring in your own prophecy!

Got any other neat things you've done with dreams & prophecies?

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