Before there was Inception there was Fight Club, The Cell and the Matrix. And before that, Total Recall. And before that, Dreamscape. Playing in the realm of dreams is nothing new to movies or role-playing games and, if used correctly, provides a fertile ground for horror.
The fun part of a dream world is how the rules can be altered at the whim of the game master. Weak heroes can become strong, petty fears can become monstrous, and reality can be bent as suits the dream. Any dream can just as easily become a nightmare. What makes Inception different is how it explicitly outlines the rules of the dream world.
In Inception, there are up to three levels of dreams, each owned by the person’s subconscious. Time moves slower the deeper in you go. The fourth level is limbo, where nobody is in control. The dreamer sorts his dreams from reality through a totem, an item he is intimately familiar with. It is possible to construct alternate dream realities through architects who are specially trained to create dream terrain. If you die, you wake up.
These rules may sound familiar to Call of Cthulhu fans because some of them apply to H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. In the Dreamlands, time flows differently than reality. It is possible to construct alternate dream realities by the powerful residents of the Dreamlands. And if you die, you wake up.
I used three scenarios in my own campaign that deal with dreams: “Dreams Dark and Deadly” by Michael Szymanski from Cthulhu Now, “Little Slices of Death” by Monte Cook from D20 Call of Cthulhu and “The Truth Shall Set You Free” by Bruce Ballon from Unseen Masters. Despite using Call of Cthulhu rules, not a single one of those scenarios is set in the Dreamlands. Each deals with the fragmentation of reality and its effect on the players. In the end, Agent Guppy’s blossoming schizophrenia nearly consumed the world.
What was fun about playing in Guppy’s dream was the opportunity for a physically weak character to become the hero. Normal rules didn’t apply. It was also an opportunity to delve into Guppy’s past by using memories (a big no-no in Inception) as part of his dream. In essence, the players were witnesses to Guppy’s personal history through his dreams, a feat that would normally require them to sit on the sidelines as I narrated it.
In modern games, tntering a dreamscape requires somnacin, which allows for dream sharing. It requires a craft (chemical) check, DC 30 to create. Then the dreamscape team must create or acquire a Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous (PASIV) Device to administer the drug. It can also be created from scratch using an action point and Craft (electronic) DC 30 after 60 hours of work. For more information about the PASIV device see the instruction manual online.
- Weight: 5
- Purchase DC: 42
- Restriction: Restricted (+2)
Dreamscapes are formed in the mind of the dreamer. As a result, each is highly customized to the individual. There are four levels to each dream plane. The first level is controlled by the original dreamer in reality, with subsequent levels controlled by dreamers within dreams. It’s possible to go three levels deep, with the fourth level being Limbo. Traveling through dreamscapes requires the Lucid Dreaming skill.
The team in Inception is just as important as the setting. The team roughly aligns as:
- Extractor (Fighter/Tough Hero): The mastermind and leader who knows how to steal or implant memories into a dreamer. Knowledge (behavioral sciences), Lucid Dreaming.
- Point-Man (Wizard/Smart Hero): The information-gatherer who provides all the relevant details on the dreamer. To know the dreamer is to know the dreamscape. Required Skills: Research, Investigate, Lucid Dreaming.
- Chemist (Cleric/Dedicated Hero): A necessary team member to concoct a means of entering dream sleep and waking the dreamer up. Required skills: Craft (chemical), Craft (electronic), Lucid Dreaming.
- Forger (Rogue/Fast Hero): The forger can use Lucid Dreaming in conjuniction with the Disguise skill to mask his appearance within a dreamscape or adopt the appearance of another. Required skills: Disguise, Lucid Dreaming.
For more information about Inception’s dreamscapes see the Dream-Share Manual and Inception Explained.
Lucid Dreaming (Wis; Trained Only)
You can use this skill to realise you are dreaming, consciously direct the elements of a dream, and to move into other dreamscapes. Keeping a personal totem, which the dreamer carries with him at all times and knows intimately, acts as a failsafe to ensure the dreamer knows if he’s in a dream or not. It bestows a +5 check to Lucid Dreaming skill checks to determine he’s dreaming.
Check: Making a Lucid Dreaming check is a standard action that provokes an attack of opportunity.
Task | DC
- Realize you are dreaming* | 5
- Wake up (or Wisdom check) | 10
- Change one aspect of your personal dreamscape | 15
- Change one aspect of another’s dreamscape | 20
- Change your personal appearance | 20
- Depart one dreamscape for another | 15
- Depart a dreamscape for Limbo | 25
- Pull another with you into Limbo | opposed Lucid Dreaming or Wisdom check
- Leave Limbo | 20
- Harness Limbo | 30
Dreamscapes have the following traits:
- Objective Directional Gravity: The strength of gravity on a plane with this trait is the same as on the Material Plane, but the direction is not the traditional “down” toward the ground. It may be down toward any solid object, at an angle to the surface of the plane itself, or even upward. In addition, objective directional gravity may change from place to place. The direction of “down” may vary. Gravity is determined by the dreamer, so if his inner-ear registers a change, the gravity changes along with it. See the gravity section of D20 Future for more details.
- Flowing Time: The deeper you go into a dream state, the faster your mind is able to imagine and perceive things within that dream state. The increase is exponential, so going deeper into dreams turns minutes into hours, into days, into years.
- Self-Contained Shape: On planes with this trait, the borders wrap in on themselves, depositing the traveler on the other side of the map. A spherical plane is an example of a self-contained, finite plane, but there can be cubes, toruses, and flat planes with magical edges that teleport the traveler to an opposite edge when he crosses them.
- Sentient: In the dream only one person controls the dream, it is their subconscious driving the events. These planes are ones that respond to a single thought— that of the plane itself. Travelers would find the plane’s landscape changing as a result of what the plane thought of the travelers, either becoming more or less hospitable depending on its reaction. In Limbo in Inception, no one owns the dream. It is a place of shared consciousness by all dreamers or a shared dream state. Architects can control these dreamscapes using the Lucid Dreaming skill.
- Strongly Aligned: Planes are aligned to the dreamer. When a dreamer detects that intruders are within his or her dream — usually by acting “out of character” or otherwise violating the laws and physics of the particular dream — the plane turns against them. A -4 circumstance penalty applies on all Charisma-based checks made by all intruders. In addition, the -4 penalty affects all Intelligence-based and Wisdom-based checks, too.