By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Raging Swan Pressis 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so what does this pdf offer?
Essentially, we are all familiar with maddeningly obscure prophetic dreams that can provide central hints, ignite quests and make ironic sense once their circumstances become real. Thus, in order to understand dreams, we get three sample sources for these portentous visions – divine, arcane, and yes, thankfully also psionic sources are covered and the basic three guidelines are presented – especially cool for novice DMs: Guide, don’t expect; be vague, but not too vague; less is more. Of course, these are only the introductory guidelines. After that, we get to the meat of the product, the easy to use tables:
First, you can chose the tone between benign dream and nightmare, the we determine one of 10 locales and if urban, the exact urban location. This all works via d10. After that, we determine environmental factors via d6 and events like “birth”, “death” or “change” via d8. Next, we determine the subject via a d20-table (missing the 1-entry) and add between d10 objects or roll a d20 to check for a 3/4-chance of the dream to feature prominent colours.
We also get a new feat to represent knowledge gained from dreaming, the Oracular Dreamer feat, which lets you essentially e.g. recreate Johnny Depp’s role in “From hell” by enabling you to reroll mental skill-checks upon awakening to reflect the revelatory nature of your dreaming. The last pages of the pdf are devoted to 18 different sample dreams.
Editing and formatting are very good, though I noticed a minor bug with one table. Layout adheres to RSP’s printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with two versions, one optimized for screen use and one to be printed out. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. I’m a huge fan of prophetic dreams and the subject matter – when I’m playing CoC, I often draw upon Kingsport and the Dreamlands. When I think about a stellar PFRPG-module, Coliseum Morpheuon is always one that comes to mind.
When I think about dreams in 3.5, I think about the system of the “Book of Hallowed Might 2”, which provided a vast selection of symbols that corresponded to different concepts – once the players had learned what a symbol meant, they could interpret dreams with a semi-reasonable accuracy. A constancy in symbols and what they mean, perhaps even reliant on signs in the heaven (I have created 13 such signs in my home-game) does A LOT to immerse players and DMs in a given setting. And this is also my major gripe with this pdf.
Yes, it provides guidelines to create portentous dreams, but it lacks a sample guideline of such symbols, never going beyond a basic setting up of elements that serve as the dream’s backdrop. The tables remain painfully generic and thus also inadequate to the task of creating complex messages veiled in dreams and symbolism – essentially, this pdf is a guide to setting a dreamstage, but not on how to enact a compelling play on it. If I’d use such a supplement, it would be to convey e.g. “the princess has been kidnapped by a duke who is in fact a doppelgänger” – making this message obvious: Simple. Making it a veiled, subtle dream? Not so much. Ambivalent symbols would go a long way to enhance gaming experiences and the usability of this pdf. This pdf provides a great first step towards making dreams matter, the new feat rocks, but ultimately, if you’re looking for something beyond the basics of DMing dreams, I’d suggest you’d rather check out Rite Publishing’s “Rituals of Choice”-AP and learn from the way in which symbolism and dreams are woven into these modules – I learned more from them. Is this a bad pdf? No. Does it work? Yes, if you’re a novice and plan to invest quite some time in crafting your dreams.
If you’re looking for a spontaneous generator, this pdf is too short and generic to provide excitement. If you’re looking for a complex set of symbols, this pdf delivers just about nothing. The sample dreams are nice, as is the excellent feat and I cannot help but feel that this pdf’s main problem is its length: Were this a 20-page file, I’d wager it would be awesomeness incarnate – author Christian Alipounarian knows his craft. But at this short length, the supplement only manages to skirt the outer rim of the subject matter without delving in what I’d consider a sufficient depth. If you’re a novice DM without a clue for dreams, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, there’s not much to glean from these pages. For novices, this is a 3-star file, for every other one, me included, though, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 2 stars.
Portentous Dreams is available from: