Matthijs Holter

Design notes III – Dream scenes

In Design notes on November 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Dream scenes are very simple to play, I think. Obviously! I wouldn’t use rules that I find hard to follow. But I’ve seen others have problems with them, so they deserve a little explanation.

Here are the rules from the text:

You, the instructor, decide who’s going to do the diving. Set the scene as usual – describe the surroundings, who’s present, the atmosphere. You (or the group) should establish how the dive will be performed. Is the group using new, ground-breaking technology? Occult rituals? Drugs? Surgery?

Once the character – the dream diver – has dived in, the player should close his or her eyes. You describe a dream image that shows the dream diver’s surroundings.

Now the scene proper starts. One of the other player says what the dream diver should do in the dream. The diver answers what he or she sees happen in the dream – how the landscape changes, what other dream creatures do, etc. In other words, the dream diver never describes their own actions, and the other players don’t describe the dream.

There are three positions here, and they all have certain responsibilities and recommended techniques.

If you’re the instructor…

…you are providing the fertile ground and seed for the entire scene: The first image. This should be like an open question, like a surrealistic painting. Go for atmosphere. Conflict- or drama-oriented scene framing is possible, but beside the point – you don’t want to push for specific reactions; you want to put the dreamer somewhere they can explore.

Bad images: “You’re running down the alley, hunted by assassins!” “You’re standing in the Throne Room where the King holds a speech: <bla bla bla, long exposition and answer to some mystery>”

Good images: “You’re in a field of red flowers, surrounded by mountains. Each mountain is piercing a star. One of the flowers, at your feet, is unusual.” “The King speaks to you in a strange language. In his mouth you see a silver key, but his tongue is black with poison.”

You want a starting image that’s a springboard for random associations. That’s how you get to the other players’ dreams.

If you’re the dream diver…

…you have no responsibility. You are an empty vessel. You do not try to be creative. You accept everything that comes to you. When they ask you what you see, what happens, say what you see. Do not think. If you see nothing, say so. If you see something you do not want, or do not understand, describe it. It is not yours.

…there’s one thing, though: Whatever you see, try to describe it through your character’s eyes. If you (for some reason) see Michelle Obama, for instance, don’t use the name. Describe. Say that you see a strong and beautiful woman, powerful, dressed in wealthy clothes.

…things can happen that don’t make sense. Perhaps the Dreamer (the person whose dream you are in) seems to know things about your character, or even share experiences and memories with your character. Perhaps they know the future. Perhaps your character’s identity morphs and changes, or is lost. That’s all great! In dream scenes, boundaries are liquid and irrelevant.

If you’re one of the other players…

…you steer the dream diver around like an avatar.You tell them what to do, where to look, what to say.

…you do NOT EVER tell the dream diver what happens around them! It’s like being in contact with a deep-sea diver, with no connection except a noisy radio. You can tell the diver to pick up objects and inspect them; you can’t see the objects yourself. All you know, comes through the diver.

…you’re still in character! It’s your character telling the dream diver what to do.

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