Publisher: Politically Incorrect Games [Site Info]
Series: Active Exploits Diceless Roleplaying
Review Dated: 10th, May 2003
Reviewer's Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Your Rating: [ Log in ]
Total Score: 21
Average Score: 7.00
Have you ever tried doing any maths in a dream? Just adding two numbers together? I have. It's crazy. Even if you're a fairly lucid dreamer (colour and all) like myself it is next to impossible to deal with numbers - and I'm told this is because the part of your brain that best deals with the logic of arithmetic isn't active while you're dreaming.
Politically Incorrect Games' Dreamwalker is an ideally themed game for the Active Exploits Diceless Roleplaying system. That's right, no dice. You need to have the core Active Exploits rules before you can use Dreamwalker but this isn't a problem. Active Exploits is entirely free. You should have a copy of Active Exploits on your hard drive, if you don't then you're looking a gift horse in the mouth.
I don't want to get into the mechanics of Dreamwalker too heavily - just as I wouldn't want to get into d20 mechanics too heavily for a d20 supplement review. Roleplaying without dice in Active Exploits essentially means being willing to spend enough effort on something to ensure success. You can't keep on exerting yourself endlessly because you'll tire out. Difficulties, environmental factors, stresses, strains and evil GMs (known as Directors) will all affect the amount of effort required, skills, training and talents help. If you're trained in Perl programming then you don't have to put the same amount of effort into to writing a Hello World script as someone who hadn't heard of Perl before will have to.
The tactics, if you insist on playing like that, is not to over exert your character before the big finish. There's no dragon waiting on the 20th level of the dungeon but typically Dreamwalkers will come up against a Taenia Queen. The catch is they first have to "complete the dream", satisfy whatever condition is attached to keeping the dreamer happily occupied and therefore less likely to wait up and destroy the dream mid-battle. If the Dreamwalkers don't try hard enough to begin with then they'll make the final fight harder.
Fights. Yes. There's a combat slant to the game, battling against the alien (but perhaps not from outer space) Taenia which plague mankind's dreams. It's a surreal fight slant but it's a fight slant. A good GM, a good Director, shouldn't have too much trouble broadening the scope though and adding real roleplaying elements into a campaign. Dreamwalkers certainly aren't in the same "Grr! Kill the Wyrmspawn!" mode which threatens to drag every Werewolf: the Apocalypse game into the realm of hack'n'slash. In fact there's a whole government conspiracy shtick that can be picked up, dusted down and used with Dreamwalker.
Dreams. I think the dreams themselves are more significant than fights with strange creatures. You'll be hard pressed to find an RPG with such an adaptive setting. Hey, you could even have someone dreaming of the Forgotten Realms if you're feeling unadventurous, or a horror backdrop, a bizarre space opera, a twisted soap opera, childhood memories, espionage, a favourite movie or book. The product helps you, the Director, get your dreamworld exactly right too.
The campaign world is one where a select few can enter other people's dreams and do so to try and save the dreamers. Most require the aid of a special drug, some have natural talent and others can invoke their abilities in other ways. The story text that introduces the game has two of the four man team, including the leader, access dreams with the aid of the Black25 drug, another is able to dream walk thanks to the mix of psychotropic drugs he takes and the other is a highly trained Buddhist monk. Each angle as their own strengths and weaknesses and those will be different while the hero is in the dream and when he is outside it in "real life". It would be possible to play Dreamwalker entirely as a series of dream adventures but I think one of the game's attractions is the juxtaposition of strength in the dreamworld and strength in the real world; you can be weak in one but strong in the other. The two worlds (counting the infinite possibilities of dreamworlds as a mere one world) gives the Director an expansive area on which to paint their plot.
I'm rather taken by the dreamworlds and the Taenia. The Taenia infest dreams in order to drive people to depression, insanity and even suicide. Why? The Clinic would love to know. The larval occurrence of the Taenia infest the Unreal; the background people, the NPCs if you will, of the dream and are only dangerous in very large numbers. The larvae eventually hatch into drones, they're more dangerous, have no fear and live only to protect the Queen. The Queen is the centre of infestation in any single dream, is powerful and can have anything from wry animal cunning to genius intelligence. There's also the mysterious and very powerful BroodKing Taenia and they seem to have an agenda of their own. So even in the crunchy bits there's mystery and I like that.
The last twenty or so of the pages in the 78-paged download are divided up between a linked set of three pre-written adventures and a plentiful supply of record sheets. The pre-written adventure does a pretty good job at illustrating the scope not only of the dreamworlds but how the Taenia encountered in each can differ. The Taenia Queens that the players may encounter are all clearly different from one another.
The PDF itself is done well, bookmarks and the sort of layout that is easy to print and yet avoids becoming a blur of text. You hardly notice that the product is light on illustrations even if you do notice that the illustrations given are used again as the background graphics to each new chapter's title bar. The nihilist sidebar effectively shapes the text and won't drain all your ink.
I like Dreamwalker a lot. Normally when I first read a book, PDF or paper, I flick through it to see what jumps out, read it properly the next day and then perhaps again before the review. That didn't happen with Dreamwalker. I didn't even manage to complete the flick through phase; the ideas and implementation caught my attention and held it. It's led to me pointing Dreamwalker out to friends directly and that's not something I do very often.