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Author Topic: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied  (Read 905 times)

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Offline HikariTopic starter

[Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« on: December 22, 2010, 10:42:09 PM »
The core thinking behind the premise is simple: taking the piss out of taking the piss out of fantasy.  I took a fairly standard "self-aware" fantasy setting--the kind you see a lot in fantasy anime like Slayers and the like, where the world is casually accepting of the inherent absurdity of its genre tropes--and spun it back the other direction, asking, "What could actually make this sort of situation possible and logical?"  The goal being to end up with a fantasy setting where dime-a-dozen, down-on-their-luck "heroes" just trying to make a buck can hunt monsters, explore dungeons, and fight evil...  while still being sort of social outcasts and never quite hitting it big.

Basically, the setting needs adventurers--they're the only ones, in a practical sense, who can deal with monsters, necromancers, and the like--but it doesn't particularly like them.  The adventurers of the setting are outsiders by nature, largely unwelcome and unwanted in polite society outside of the useful functions they perform.  As a result, they are less heroes than heroic mercenaries, treasure hunters, and the odd well-meaning vagabond; the majority of them are in it for the coin, or simply because there's no other job they can do given their "condition", not out of pure altruism or happenstance.

I'm still on the fence as to whether I want a female-only adventuring party.  It would certainly simplify things in a lot of ways.  I'll hear suggestions to the contrary out, but given the tone I'm shooting for here, it's quite likely that it will end up going that way.

The Reader's Digest Version:

The entire world is nothing more than a dream.  The man on the street knows this, at least in an academic sense; it may have little effect on the way he leads his day-to-day life, but somewhere underneath it all he understands that the world around him--all his toils and aspirations, everything he knows and sees--is an ephemeral fiction of the divine.  That is why he is special: he, himself, has dreams.  Long ago when the gods first created the Dreaming Races--humans, elves, dwarves, and the like--it was this fact that made them special and unique.  This was what permitted them to alter the world to their liking and live upon it as godlike figures themselves, masters of their universe.

The gods had erred in their creation, however: while humans had one gift the gods themselves could never match--that of generativity, the power to give rise to things equal or greater than themselves, whereas the gods could only craft things so much the lesser--the thing that made them dream, that shard of divinity, was purely of their creator's invention.  Like all things of the gods, it could not be multiplied, only diminished--reduced to ever smaller portions to be divided up amongst those who came after.  Thus it was with time that the children of the gods--and in particular men, who were most prolific and numerous--grew further and further from their dreams, until they came to accept the world dreamed up for them as the only one they could inhabit.

There were dark times to follow.  Many men could not accept that they had been removed so far from their nature as dreamers; in particular, they found it galling that while the dreams of their forefathers could last forever, they were crude things born of a tired reality that could only hope to wither and die with time.  They sought the power to dream in the only place they imagined it could still remain: in dark places, in forbidden secrets and hidden horrors.  Though they could not find the forgotten shards of their divinity, there was something else they found in the darkness that they brought with them: the Nightmare.

For a time, the world became a very dark place.  Those infatuated with the power of nightmares warped it to their liking.  A great many of them even had the audacity to declare themselves gods of this dark world,  lording over the vast throngs of humanity who had come to accept the helpless, mundane nature of their dreamless lives.  They quarreled amongst themselves, and in the wake of their nightmarish wars empires were left to dust.  The terrifying things lurking within the nightmare were set free to roam the world, preying upon the weak and helpless people who could not even dream up a sanctuary from the horrors.

Amidst this, a human came to Awaken.  They could not say as to what her name was, as she was said to never have spoken in all her days, but she possessed in her calm demeanor a power that terrified even the nightmare things: with but her presence she could banish any trace of the unreal, cleansing the world where she walked of the nightmare...  and the dream, as well.  The humans who had for so long lived in terror of the dark powers flocked to her as a prophet, and though she did not speak to claim divinity or pass on wisdom, sought to emulate her in all things so that they, too, might burn away the shadows that plagued them.  After she died, their adoration turned to worship, and soon throughout the land came the call for humans to pursue the Awakening and deny all things dreamed up by the darkness.

An empire rose from the faithful, a grand crusade to cast back the veil of shadows and reclaim the world for the unfortunate dreamless.  They succeeded, to a degree; they pushed back the borders of nightmare-plagued lands to create for themselves a vast territory in which neither dream nor nightmare held sway.  There, within the protective bulwark of their civilization, all things unreal were to be abandoned and abolished, evicted to beyond the periphery of their great empire.

But out at the edges of the frontier, the dark things still exist.  No artifice of mortal men can hope to defeat them, and no prophet waits in the wings to banish the shadows back to their dark dens.  Here, on the border of the empire, people rely on those who wield nightmarish power themselves to fend off the darker things lurking beyond the limits of the light.  The priestesses may preach against it, and they may find their "saviors" nearly as unnerving as the fiends that menace them, but the simple reality here is that it takes a monster to defeat a monster...

****

Basically, in this setting to have character class levels you must have a supernatural power source (yes, even if you are a Martial-type character).  Despite what common people may believe, not all adventurers rely on Nightmare power--there are a rare few, mostly among non-human races, who still have a strong enough shard of the Dream to call upon it--but the xenophobic teachings of the Empire demand that they shun all things supernatural just the same.  This, of course, includes an often very intolerant attitude toward non-humans and foreigners from far-flung lands where they still practice "idolatry" of nightmare-gods and other such blasphemies...

Adventurers in the setting are generally disliked or even outright hated, but people need them.  First and foremost, they are the only ones who can really stand up to most monsters.  An Awakened priestess certainly could, but the truth of the matter is that only a tiny fraction of the Empire's clergy are actually Awakened in the slightest; the majority of them are just mundane supplicants who have absolutely no capacity to stand up to the supernatural.  Beyond that, adventurers are often valuable as spies, assassins, and mercenaries, especially in the smaller kingdoms beyond the reach of the empire; after all, their abilities are outright superhuman, and if your enemy is using them what choice do you have but to respond in kind?

Nightmare power--also known as Diabolism or Black Magic--occurs naturally in some individuals, especially if they are exposed to it at a young age.  There are some races (such as Tieflings) where it occurs almost unavoidably.  Dream power--also known as Lucidity or White Magic--similarly occurs (much more rarely) by nature in some individuals, with certain races (such as Eladrin) having a higher proportion of it.  These powers can also be pursued, however: a wizard can learn to wield Nightmare powers by studying the way such things work and unraveling its mysteries, while a warlock can make a pact with otherworldly entities to gain his powers.  Awakened power--often referred to as Divinity by the faithful--the rarest of the three, tends to be "achieved" rather than come upon naturally.

A few notes:
*Because magic items are exceedingly rare in the setting, PCs will not have many (if any) by default.  However, because the availability of magic items is figured into the way the game is balanced, you will still be able to select a number of benefits essentially identical to an equal value of magic items on each level-up.  These are supernatural powers your character has.
*The above also means you can't spend gold on new items, which is pretty important since we're going for more of a down-on-their-luck adventurers theme.  You wouldn't have much money anyway, it'd be unfair if you didn't have any gold to spend on magic items!
*A character's power source, regardless of class, is generally defined as being either Dream, Nightmare, or Awakening.  Virtually every class can use every available power source.  For the most part, power source does not have an impact on what options are available to a character.  (The exception being that a warlock's power source is defined by his or her pact type.)
*I'm probably going to go with a lot of "rules shorthand" to speed up online play.  For example, we'll probably use narrative rather than an actual battle grid.  I know this takes away a bit from the tactical nature of the game, but running a proper grid seems to slow down play too much to be practical.
*Primarily we'll be using core races and classes.  There will be a few setting-specific races though they will use stats largely identical to those of core races.

Offline Cold Heritage

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2010, 11:00:11 PM »
I'm still on the fence as to whether I want a female-only adventuring party.  It would certainly simplify things in a lot of ways.  I'll hear suggestions to the contrary out, but given the tone I'm shooting for here, it's quite likely that it will end up going that way.

I've probably missed it, but I didn't get from your pitch why the tone you want demands an all-female party.

Does "Thus it was with time that the children of the gods--and in particular men, who were most prolific and numerous--grew further and further from their dreams, until they came to accept the world dreamed up for them as the only one they could inhabit." refer to males specifically, and males in the setting can't draw upon the supernatural power sources? Is that it?

Offline HikariTopic starter

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2010, 01:36:45 AM »
That's less to do with the setting in specific and more the fact that I find that mixed-gender parties just don't work as well.  Actually, most of the time they haven't worked at all for me on the DM end.  Also, to be honest it should almost be the de facto option to have a mono-gender group when you're running an erotic-themed game, but that's another kettle of fish entirely.

For the record, "men" in that particular line refers to humans as a whole.  Because they have more children than most of the other demi-human races their shard of divinity has been divided to the point that their lifespans are shortened (in comparison to that of an elf or dwarf, anyway) and it's very rare for a human to have natural access to Lucidity.  Eladrin, by contrast, reproduce very sparingly, and as a result they are still near-ageless and it's fairly common for them to have Dreaming powers...  but, of course, there aren't very many of them around.

The rarity of humans who can draw on Dreaming power innately doesn't make them inappropriate for player characters, it just means they're far more likely to have Nightmare powers, particularly in the cases of those who channel their powers latently (ie, Martial-types in particular).  The difference between the two in practice isn't usually that significant: zealots oppose any sort of supernatural power, and mundane people will tend to find anyone with such powers unnerving, regardless of the source.  Because of the rarity of Awakening powers, even people with those (despite the fact they should by all rights have messianic status in the Empire) will generally be confused for Nightmare users.

Offline meikle

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2010, 12:58:34 AM »
I would like to say that this sounds really neat and also sounds like it could be a fun premise to play with!

I think this is an Interest+ post!

Offline Admiral J

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2010, 01:11:54 PM »
Also, to be honest it should almost be the de facto option to have a mono-gender group when you're running an erotic-themed game, but that's another kettle of fish entirely.

Actually, could you elaborate on this particular kettle of fish a bit?  I'm potentially interested in playing (that is, if you don't mind male players), but before I commit I'd really like to understand this particular opinion of yours a bit better.  I think it goes to play style.

Thanks!

Offline HikariTopic starter

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2010, 04:56:29 PM »
There's a lot of reasons it works better, actually.

First and foremost, a scene that's erotic and interesting for characters of one gender almost by default will not be interesting for characters of the other gender.  You either need to make provisions and adjustments to make it so, or split the party up so that characters who wouldn't be interested in that scene are not involved (and probably also create for them an additional scene in which they would be interested).  At best, it's adding unnecessary additional workload; at worst, you essentially end up running two barely related games simultaneously.

This can be a problem in a "normal" roleplaying group (ie, if some players are more interested in game world politics and roleplaying, while others are mostly interested in dungeon crawling), but moving things into the erotic arena really puts a much finer point on it.  Playing with a mixed-gender group it becomes almost impossible to avoid.  Even if all the player characters have the same sexual preference (ie, all the females are bisexual or lesbian or all the males are bisexual or straight) the difference in kinks between a gay male and a straight female, for example, tend to be too large in scope to cover in anything but the most generalized sense.

Games here already have a huge turnover rate due to players losing interest too fast.  Trying to run a game where the players' interests run too large of a spectrum is just asking for trouble, as one of them will almost certainly decide the game isn't going to their liking and stop participating, at which point it tends to create a domino effect until everyone drops out.  I'd really prefer to have this game run longer than a week, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm being unabashedly direct in excising any elements that I identify as potential problems.

Offline Cold Heritage

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2010, 08:16:32 PM »
I'd really prefer to have this game run longer than a week, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm being unabashedly direct in excising any elements that I identify as potential problems.

It's not like I take offense, or anything, it's just that my personal experience doesn't match yours, is all. I've just never been in anything but mixed games.

And as J says, it's just something I've never run into before.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2010, 10:18:20 PM by Cold Heritage »

Offline Admiral J

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2010, 10:11:38 PM »
There's a lot of reasons it works better, actually.

First and foremost, a scene that's erotic and interesting for characters of one gender almost by default will not be interesting for characters of the other gender.

That makes sense to me, I suppose -- I've just never looked at the adventuring party as an erotic unit.  In my experience eros in roleplay has always been individualized.

Quote
I'd really prefer to have this game run longer than a week, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm being unabashedly direct in excising any elements that I identify as potential problems.

Not at all; it's completely your prerogative -- you just stated your position like it was accepted fact when it is an opinion I'd never even heard voiced before.  Your logic is sound -- bringing together players of varied interests at one "table" is extremely challenging.  I'd just never conceived of this particular solution.

If you're accepting male players of female characters I would be happy to stretch my D&D4 muscles a bit.

Offline HikariTopic starter

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #8 on: December 25, 2010, 04:26:35 AM »
The individualization of the experience tends to be one of the main problems with group play here, actually.  I'm not sure if they're consciously aware of it or not, but players seem to feel slighted (or at the very least, bored) when the GM devotes one-on-one time to another player, even if they're doing it in such a way that it doesn't detract from the "main thread" of the game.  (Such as by playing the scene out in PMs/IMs and considering it to be outside the flow of events, so that the rest of the game doesn't get held up waiting for its conclusion, for example.)  The lack of...  well, "group activities", I suppose you'd call them...  tends to lead to an overall lack of cohesion with the players.

Considering most groups of players here are made up of individuals who don't have a pre-existing relationship and thus aren't already bonded to one another the way a "normal" group of tabletop players would be, that can be a real problem.  You very commonly end up with players feeling like they're unwanted by the group or a poor fit for it and either dropping out or (worse) becoming passive-aggressive about it.  I can't promise that won't happen anyway--the whole play-by-post medium is fraught with these kinds of problems, even in non-erotic games--but I'll do what I can to avoid it where possible.

Male players of female characters are fine with me.  It's not like I'm doing door-to-door gender checks on the players to make sure they're matching their claimed gender and sexual orientation, anyway.  (I mean, I would, but it's just not practical with me being in Korea right now and all.)

Offline Admiral J

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2010, 10:49:13 PM »
Sounds good.

By core races and classes, do you mean PHB1 only, or PHB1-3 only, or what?

Offline HikariTopic starter

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2010, 05:45:31 AM »
PHB1 only.  If you really, really want to play a class from PHB2 or 3, I'll consider it on a case-by-case basis, but absolutely no races from outside PHB1.

Though at the moment, it's looking like there might not be enough interest to get started.

Offline Admiral J

Re: [Interest] D&D4: Dreams Denied
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2010, 01:38:00 PM »
Seems that way.  I'm game, though.  Keep me abreast.