Monday, February 3, 2014

Psychonauts of the Floating Realm

There is a place.

No, that's not quite right.

Let me start over.

There is a experience of place.  It is not another dimension, as some have claimed.  Nor is it merely an experience, the way meditation is.  It lies beyond the wall of sleep.

You may call it the Dreamscape, but that's not accurate.  Sleep is a doorway, not a destination.

Neither is Psychotropia an accurate name since it is not of the mind nor part of it.  You do not describe an ocean by looking at the vessel you sail on.

You may not call it Qorfu.  That is what the residents call it, and it enrages them to hear our words from our lips.

The poets call it the Floating Realm, or The Land Adrift.

The Elves, in their usual idiom, call it Dul-Vecni-Farraf, which means "Garden-Behind-the-Wall".

In fact, none of these things may be true, since it isn't a place, but merely an interface.  Like the surface of the water, where a fish swimming east may meet a bird flying west.

While we are awake, our mind is filling our brain, controlling our body.  The two mesh.  But when we sleep, our mind wanders from our body, and ventures somewhere else. . .

Some Basic Facts about the Floating Realm:
  1. Dreams are smaller versions of the Floating Realm.  They are private and safe.
  2. The Floating Realm is public and dangerous.
  3. When people dream, they sometimes enter the Floating Realm, or touch it briefly.
  4. Even animals dream, and enter it similarly.
  5. These visitors leave impressions in the Floating Realm, reflecting their memories.
  6. Many things in the Floating Realm are projections (extractions) from the material world.
  7. Many things in the Floating Realm are natives (as far as we are concerned).
  8. Psychonauts are the people who enter the Floating Realm, to communicate or gather information.
  9. In the Floating Realm, you risk more than your life.
  10. Time is utterly meaningless in the Floating Realm.
  11. There is a limit to how much you will remember when you wake up.  No more than a couple of paragraphs, for neophyte Psychonauts.

Examples of Psychonauts

Una, a seller of turnips, enters the Dreamscape for 4 and one half seconds after a long night of music and smoking delobia.  She falls asleep thinking about the marketplace and Farrad, who sells cabbages and who she is secretly in love in.  A Laculum (native "animal") notices her, briefly.  In the morning she wakes up and blearily goes to the Teradar marketplace erect her turnip stall.

Think of it as opening a chat room that persists after you leave.

Poshugilah, a psychonaut has been in a deeply drugged sleep for the last 120 hours. In a fit of nostalgia decides he wants to visit the Teradar marketplace.  He imagines* that he is a seagull and flies there.  He flies around the Teradar marketplace and sees Una's turnip stall, as well as a representation of Farrad that Una left behind--a dream simulcrum.  Because Una dreamt of the marketplace so recently, the version that Poshgilah views is a very up-to-date one indeed.

*It is not accurate to say that he imagines becoming a bird.  Emotion is essential.  He must admire the seagull's graceful form in and feel honest joy to contemplate its form.  Or he must fear the seagull, and shudder to think of the inhuman cruelty it shows the rock crabs.  Etc.

You cannot visit the dreamscape without leaving your own imprint behind.  This is not a personal imprint, but all of your knowledge and memory will shape, update, and gently correct the world around you.  For this reason, you should never visit the dreamscape if you have a secret at the forefront of your thoughts.

And you can gather information in the dreamscape (based on the imprints that other dreamers have left behind), but you will also see things that you know, expect, or fear.  A dreamer that visits the dreamscape to see if his wife is cheating on him with the baker--and imagines them copulating so vividly that he can picture it--will most likely find that to be the case within the dreamscape, whether it is true in real life or not.

The versions of people that you leave behind (including yourself!) are called simulcra.  They are bound to their scene, and have no memory beyond the moment.

Why Go Into the Floating Realm At All?

Mostly to learn something about inanimate objects.  Do you want to search the governor's room for his lockbox, so you can steal it more easily in real life?  You can do that.  Want to learn the layout of a castle?  You can do that, too.

The Floating Realm is also useful for communicating with things you wouldn't normally be able to contact.  You might enter the Floating Realm in order to speak with a dreaming-sage.

Oddly enough, a lot of magical items and artifacts have presences or minds that can be contacted in the Dreamscape.  Some magic swords must be bound to you before they will allow you to use their powers, and the first step in this process is commonly to speak with your sword in the Floating Realm.  A sword might present itself to you as a warlord, a dryad, a dragon, a star. . . pretty much anything.  (Obviously this applies to other magic items as well.)

Additionally, in Centerra, there is no sending or other way to communicate across long distances.  The Floating Realm is the only way to send word quickly.

Is the Floating Realm Reliable?

Absolutely not.

People are either (1) as they wish themselves to be, (2) as they fear themselves to be, or (3) as someone else sees them.  And everything in there is tainted by expectation and assumption.  If you expect to find evidence of the baron's complicity with the rebels, you might, simply because of your expectation.

Finding the unexpected is a better indication that it is trustworthy, but even then, it might have been built by someone else's assumption, not just your own.

The limitation with objects and places is that it depends on recent imprints--that is, someone must have dreamed about it recently, or at least, some recent dreamer must have had recent knowledge of it.  So if there is an ancient crypt beneath the cemetery, but no has visited it or known about it for generations, the dream cemetery will have no crypt beneath it.  You'll unearth only soil.

Meeting animate objects (like people) is more difficult, since animate objects have so many different states of being.  But you might be able to meet people there if you are talented psychonaut.  They will be a simulcrum projected by their own dreamer (an alpha simulcrum) or someone else who was dreaming of them (a beta simulcrum).  And of course, if the person you seek is in the dreamscape themselves, you might run into them in person, and that is a very dangerous situation indeed.

When meeting simulcra in the dreamscape, you'll be hard pressed to talk to them like you would a real person.  Each one exists in a very specific context.  A sailor will be sailing a ship.  A child will be hunting lizards in a garden.  A bard will be singing songs.  And you cannot tear them away from these tasks.

It makes sense after all.  A man dreams of his doctor.  What does he know about his doctor except how he acts and dresses in a professional context?  And when the man dreams, the only imprint of his doctor that he can leave behind, is of the doctor in his office, consulting his books, awaiting his next patient.

Similarly, if Bob the Grocer leaves behind of his simulacrum of his doctor, that simulacrum will have no knowledge of medicine beyond what Bob knows (although the doctor-simulacrum will do a good impression to the contrary--constantly providing false advice and pseudo-cures--according to what Bob thinks are likely doctoral knowledge.)

How Do I Enter the Dreamscape?

Drugs.  Potentially life-threatening, unreliable, psychogenic drugs that may or may not contribute to insanity.  From sketchy, illicit sources.

There are a few psychonaut-savants who can assist you in this process, but they are all (a) very busy transmitting messages across the globe, and (b) asleep all the time.  Servants feed and water their sleeping bodies, and replace the sticks of charcoal in their hands.  They also roll the parchments under their rapidly writing hands, so that when the master psychonaut hands write out communications and premonitions, they'll write it on new parchments.

Psychonaut-savant is ostensibly a class that a PC could take, but I'm leery of the idea because all of the abilities would be useful while sleeping, and not necessarily in a dungeon.  Anyway, the rules below are for common dudes who enter the Floating Realm.  I'm sure the psychonaut-savants would have a much easier time of it.

How Does Gameplay in the Floating Realm Work?

Characters will jump around from scene to scene.  In each scene, there is a chance of a random encounter.

You have three new stats in the Floating Realm, derived from your mental stats.  Dream-stats are used to accomplish things, usually with a chance of success equal to Stat * 10% (minimum 20%).  When you spend them to accomplish things, they deplete 1 point at a time, but other things may attack them for multiple points of damage.

Memory = 1 + 1/2 of your Intelligence.
Not only do you remember the world you left behind, but you also remember your goals.
This is the "fuel" you use to travel the Floating World.
If your Memory drops to 0 or less, you wake up, forgetting what you have learned.
If your Memory drops to -1 or less, you wake up and suffer retrograde amnesia covering the last X days, where X is the number of points your Memory is less than 0.

Imagination = 1 + 1/2 of your Wisdom.
You use Imagination offensively, to change the world to your liking.
You use Imagination defensively, to keep the world from changing around you.
If your Imagination drops to 0, you become unable to wake yourself up, and must Suffer the Night, until you wake up normally in the morning.
If your Imagination drops to -1 or less, you become permanently unable to wake up, and will sleep until someone in the Waking World magically awakens you (this can be as simple as casting an inverted Sleep spell).  You will Suffer the Night once per day until awoken.

Ego = 1 + 1/2 of your Charisma.
You have a personality, an identity that is separate from the Floating Realm.
This is perhaps the most important stat, since it protects your identity.
If your Ego drops to 0, you will wake up with a new personality quirk, appropriate to whatever damaged your Ego.
If your Ego drops to -1 or less, your become part of the dream and forget your previous life, while your body becomes filled with a strange intelligence.

Suffering the Night

If you can't exit the Floating Realm (to go back to your normal dreams/sleep), you will be trapped there until the morning, when you wake up normally.  This usually means rolling for ~5 random encounters AND taking 1d6-1 Ego damage, since spending a lot of time in the compulsive dream-broth can overwhelm lesser psyches.

Losing Yourself In the Dream

The simplest way to lose yourself in the dream is just to have your ego drop into the negatives.  There is a 33% chance that your body will permanently take on some physical features from it's new personality, and a 33% chance that it will take on nearly all of the physical features of it's new personality.

For example, while dreaming herself aboard a sailing ship (the H.M.S Pinnafore), a rival Somnomancer blasts Magathea's Ego into the negatives.  Magathea's mind forgets itself, and becomes a permanent part of the dream realm (she becomes a mermaid in the scene where she got blasted) and will remain there.  Her body will wake up, claiming to be Josephine, the captain's daughter.

You have two options at this point.

1. "Josephine" becomes an NPC, using Magathea's mental stats and her own mental stats (rolled fresh).

2. "Josephine" remains the PC of Magathea's player.  Just take Magathea's character sheet, subtract one level, and reroll the mental stats.

Of course, there are ways to rescue someone who has become trapped in the Floating Realm.

Arriving in the Floating Realm

You always arrive in a random location.  The DM should roll on whatever his most random table is, or invent something whole cloth.  You arrive with a random set of clothing/armor pulled from your unconscious (armor confers no real benefit here) and no equipment.  And then roll for an encounter.

Alternatively, have the PCs arrive in a location of importance to the campaign.  A destination, or a previous site of long-reaching implications.

Travelling to a New Scene

It costs 1 Memory to go to a new scene (all travelers must pay it).
The chance of arriving at the location you seek is equal to [Highest Memory score in the group] * 10%.

So if two people, Memory 4 and Memory 7 want to travel to a location in the Floating Realm, they will have a 70% chance of arriving at the correct location, and will have 3 and 6 memory after they travel.

If you don't travel to the correct location, roll a d4 to see where you do travel.
1 Confusing, impossible location.  Lose 1d4-1 Memory.
2 Unrelated location (usually a place they've previously visited, or thought about recently).
3 Thematically similar location.
4 Deceptively similar location.

And then roll a d6 to see how recent (up to date) the location is.
1 - Days-old memory
2 - Weeks-old memory
3 - Months-old memory
4 - Years-old memory
5 - Decades-old memory
6 - Ancient memory
If you attempt to visit a location before it existed, reroll until you get a memory within the bounds of the locations temporal existence.  If you visit an event (which is a type of location that only existed for a brief period of time), the DM will roll a die appropriate to the duration.  So if you want to visit a month-long harvest festival, the DM willl roll a d3, with equal chances of getting (1) few days before the end of the festival, (2) few weeks before the end of the festival, and (3) beginning of the festival.  More recent memories are more likely because they are "on top" of all the old ones.

Remember that you aren't actually entering a place, but rather a memory of a place that some previous dreamer left behind, like a footprint.

Manifesting Objects

So you've gotten to the tower you hope to infiltrate, but the door is locked.  How do you get inside?

Accomplishing things in the Floating world is done by creating stuff (not by using skills, for example).  This is called manifesting.

In the previous example, you might need to create the key to open the door.  You would focus, and then then key would appear in your hand.

To manifest an object, first roll your chance of success (equal to X * 10%, where X equals your Imagination).  Then spend an Imagination point.

Manifesting a key is pretty mundane, and so carries no penalty.  But manifesting less likely things carry penalties to your chance of success, such as a battering ram (-20%) or a wand of passwall (-50%).  Even when you fail your manifestation checks, you still get something.  If you failed the check to manifest the key, you might get a key to a different lock, or a set of lock picks that you don't know how to use.

Manifested objects can be carried with you from location to location.

Doing incredible things also counts as a manifestation.  If you attempt to do something that you could conceivably do in the outside world, although it unlikely (like the barbarian ripping a door off it's hinges), make a manifestation check as if you were creating an object.

If you are trying to manifest an object that you own in the waking world, you get +20% to this check.

If you are trying to manifest an object in a location where it could commonly be found, you get +20% to this check.  (Like manifesting a secret compartment filled with poisons beneath the floorboards of the thieve's guild).

Using Your Normal Skills and Abilities

This is not to say that skills don't work here--thieves can still climb sheer walls--but just that they are largely subsumed by the power and versatility of manifesting things.

Using magical class or race abilities (like spellcasting or a paladin's detect evil) costs 1 point of Imagination, as long as you are using abilities that you could feasibly use in the waking world.  If you are casting things you normally couldn't cast (like a level 1 wizard casting fireball in his dream) then it is a manifestation, and has a failure chance.

Altering Yourself

In addition to creating objects, you can also change yourself.  For example, another way to get into the building would be to change yourself into a mouse and creep under the door.

To alter yourself, first roll your chance of success (equal to X * 10%, where X equals your Imagination).  Then spend a Imagination point.  Turning into something more powerful or exotic carries a penalty (turning into a lion might carry a -20% penalty) while turning into something weaker or mundane carries a bonus (turning into a mouse might grant a +20% bonus).  Turning into something equivalent(-ish) carries no bonus nor penalty.

Even if you fail, you still turn into something related.  Failing to turn into a lion might turn you into a housecat.  Failing to turn into a mouse might turn you into a shabby grey child.

While in a different form, you can do anything that form could normally do.  For example, if a guard challenged your presence in the castle, you could turn yourself into the king and bid him to kindly fuck off.  Since the guard is a simulcrum, who only exists in the moment and the scene, there will be no dissonance when the PC turns into the king in front of him.  Like a dream, these things go unquestioned.

Due to the constraints of logic, if you try to turn into a specific individual who already exists in this location, you will attempt it with a -20% chance of success.  If you want to turn into a creature similar to one that already exists, (like turning into a wolf in front of a pack of wolves), you will do so with a -10% chance of success.

Waking Up

Waking up is automatic, and costs 1d2 Memory points to Wake Up.

Combat in the Floating Realm

There are beasts that live in the Dreamscape.  Except that they are not "creatures" as much as they are coherent collections of symbols, sort of like stable colonies of salient semiotics.

Dream creatures will have HP, but will attack your dream-stats.

You can fight them by attacking their HP, as normal, or you can fight them conceptually.

Attacking their HP is almost exactly like combat in the waking world, except that (1) you don't have any gear that you haven't manifested, and (2) all of your physical stats are replaced with whatever your Charisma is.  (Yes, this means that the bard can beat the barbarian in an arm-wrestling contest, but only in his dreams.)

Fighting them conceptually is as simple as saying "I want to fight it conceptually" on your turn.  If you are perfectly suited to fighting it (like if you have a scythe and you are fighting a giant corn stalk), you deal damage equal to 1d3+1 * HD of the target.  If you are well suited to fighting it (like if you are a lion and you are attacking a gazelle), you deal damage equal to (1d3) * HD of the target.  If you are somewhat suited for attacking it (like a tiger attacking a lion), you deal damage equal to (1d3-1)*HD of the target.  If you are poorly suited for attacking it (like a trout attacking a whale), you deal no damage.

It is especially important that fighting things conceptually doesn't have to be offensive.  Defensive counters work just as well, so turning into a porcupine is a great way to fight a giant wolf, conceptually (since wolves aren't so good at attacking porcupines).  I'd say that a porcupine does (1d3 * HD) conceptual damage to a wolf.  Similarly, turning into a mouse might do (1d3+1 * HD) damage to an elephant, since everyone knows that elephants are scared of mice.

Of course, if the mouse defeats the elephant, you'll have to narrate how it happens.  The elephant might just run off, terrified forever.  Or it might slip and fall down a set of stairs, in its haste.  Or it might just explode.  This is the realm of dreams, after all.  It doesn't have to make sense.

And of course, you can use mundane equipment to attack things conceptually.  For example, if you have a boring ol' pike in your hands, you're already very well equipped to counter a charging horse, conceptually speaking.

The idea here is that the party will attack small creatures using mundane means since that doesn't drain their dream-stat resources, and larger, more threatening ones by using manifestations and transformations (since those drain their dream-stat resources).  Higher level parties will be able to overcome more enemies by hitting them with swords, and so will be better at conserving their dream-stats.

Ideally, fighting something conceptually should be like the wizard's duel in Disney's Sword in the Stone.  One person turn into a caterpillar to escape into a small hole, the other person turns into a chicken to pursue them, the first person turns into an elephant to sit on them, then the second person turns into a mouse to scare them, etc.

Of course, fighting a monster (which does not transform) will probably just be everyone turning into different counters for the monster and then fighting it conceptually, which will probably kill it pretty quickly, regardless of its HD (as long as they transform into good counters).  Remember that you get a -10% chance of success if you try to transform into something that your buddy has already transformed into.

Creatures of the Floating Realm

A Laculum is a creature composed of the concepts of rounded edges, steel, bone, and sound.  It may manifest as a rushing train, a giant skull, a marching band, or a metallic cloud echoing overhead, or a fat, bald man with a wickedly curved scimitar.  Or anything appropriate (or inappropriate) for the location.

A Laculum has the following stats:
HD 1d8+1
AC 1d8+12
Save (HD+5, roll under to succeed)
Attack Bonus: 1d8+1
Damage: 1d4-1 Memory
Everything else (movement modes, etc) is determined by whatever it appears as, which in turn is informed by whatever the stats are.  (For example a 2HD laculum will appear as a big bald guy with a pair of magic, bone-crushing symbols, and a 9 HD laculum will appear as an inverted, fractal cathedral of bone, that sort of thing.)

A Malacardium is a creature composed of the concepts of muscle, rhythm, blood, blasphemy, and shame.  It may manifest as a flesh golem, a bunch of dancers, a vampire, a heretic, a dirty child, or Shub-Niggurath.  Or anything appropriate (or inappropriate) for the location.

A Malacardium has the following stats.
HD 1d6
AC 1d6+12
Save (HD+5, roll under to succeed)
Attack Bonus 1d6+4
Damage: 1d3 Ego and Dishearten (or Hopelessness if already Disheartened).

There are sentient inhabitants, too, as well as other Psychonauts, but this is already long enough.


Emotions strongly affect the way you navigate the Floating Realm.  They can be given to you by events, monsters, or you may even enter the Realm with them, if you fall asleep in an highly emotional state.

Negative emotions can be cured by going to a location that negates or removes them.  For example, if you are Frightened, you can remove it by going to a dream-location where you feel secure.

Disheartened: You cannot use your Imagination to transform yourself.  (You can still manifest within your environment.)
Hopelessness: You cannot spend Imagination points.
You can cure Disheartened and Hopelessness by visiting a Cheerful memory, such as a childhood birthday party.

Other Psychonauts

You aren't the only ones in the Floating Realm.  You may encounter powerful psychonauts in there.  Against the power of a fully realized psychonaut-savant, you are as babes, so I hope the ones you run into are nice ones.

There are  few places that the established psychonaut-savants frequent.  You would do well to avoid those locations.  I won't tell you what they are, because then you might accidentally dream yourself there, and I don't want to be responsible for whatever happens to you there.

And gods help you if you run into a dream dragon.  No one is quite sure what the dream dragons are, exactly, but they are certainly creatures of the waking world.  They are immensely powerful, and can scoop your mind out of it's soul like the flesh of a melon, and replace it with whatever they wish.

People have suggested that dream dragons might be drow, far beneath the earth.  Or a species of intelligent insect, unremarkable in the waking world but potent while asleep.  Or the collective subconscious of all the oozes of the world, which some say exist 90% within the Floating Realm at any given time.

There's also a fish, called a dream fish.  It's a bit like a goldfish, in shape, size, intelligence, and temperament, but it can enter the Dreamscape with incredible regularity.  If you own one as a pet and fall asleep in the same room as it, expect it to follow you into the Dreamscape like a loyal dog.

Closing Thoughts

Okay, this might all be a very bad idea.  It probably expects too much creativity out of people and GMs, and the combat rules are so fast and loose that I don't know how well they'll work.

And this is obviously an incomplete subject.  Other things I want to add (if I ever revisit this topic of psychonautics) are:

- Random dream locations
- Hazardous dream locations
- Pyschonaut-savant class? Ugh.
- Senient (and inimical) inhabitants of the Floating Realm
- More semiotic dream-beasts.
- More about emotions
- Sample adventure
- Dreamy items for use in the waking world

If you wanted a simpler version of this, just use the Charisma = physical stats rule, and let people use Imagination for imagining stuff.


  1. I love the idea that to master a magic sword, you must converse with it, strike a bargain, best it, etc. in the dreamscape. And that it might have the form of a dragon there, or whatever.

    I've seriously wanted to run an adventure in the dream world for a long time now. If you cook one up, I just might try it.

  2. Do dream-stats recharge when you wake up, or what?

  3. Shadowrun uses basically the same method to deal with player going into the virtual reality.

    I used a similar concept in one of my TORG game too where players were in a nightmarish world and at night people shared a mutual dream.

    Some of the ideas here are also present in my wheel of dream setting witch is detailed here :