The inspiration was:
- “The hashish man” (Lord Dunsany)
- “The fortress unvanquishable, save for Sacnoth” (Lord Dunsany)
- and perhaps also by session of Call of Cthulhu I played at a convention — which was based on Lovecraft’s “The dreams in the witch-house,” but I remember nothing about it, and only read the story years later
- My college experiments with lucid dreaming
All of these combined once led to an adventure in my short-lived GURPS Conan campaign in college. The set-up was a town or small city where the inhabitants are unhappy, drowsy, and fearful. In fact everyone within the walls is troubled by nightmares, all night every night.
A great tower overlooks the city — in the original adventure the tower was outside the city but it could just as well be inside. It is of course the tower of an evil sorcerer who is stealing the dreams of the townsfolk.
In my GURPS Conan campaign, to be honest I don’t recall how things played out, although I remember a final duel with Gaznak where the players had to figure out his weakness just as it happened in the story (if you haven’t read the story yet I won’t spoil it now, go read it…or if you are lazy, just listen to it, there is an audiorecording at the link!)
The adventure could involve besieging the actual tower … but the sorcerer escapes to dreamland. The party may not even realize this until they find their own dreams assailed. They will be plagued by nightmares, or robbed of their dreams entirely, and never know a good night’s sleep. The only way to stop the madness once and for all, of course, is to pursue the sorcerer into the dream realm. Certain drugs or potions will do the trick.
Adventures in dreamland pretty much open up any possibility. The characters’ attributes, age, even race, class or levels could be different. You could have characters leave all their possessions behind, or learn to dream them into the dreamland too. What about hirelings, and companion animals? Can they be induced to take the drug, or simply dreamed up like your sword or spellbook? (will the dream version of any of these act the way the real one does? will magic items retain their properties or take on others? will the spells be the same in the dream book? will spells have different effects in dreamland? will the dreamed-up creatures try to escape to the real world, and what will they do to their ‘real’ versions?)
Naturally, everything might be different in dreamland — the culture, landscape, the laws of physics and magic, the gods themselves. Maybe this is an opportunity to change systems or settings in your campaign. Maybe it’s an occasional interlude for when the DM is out of ideas, or you have unexpected absences and ‘guest’ players.
Lovecraft’s dreamland stories could obviously provide additional ideas, and so do several of Borge’s fictions and essays.
A GIS for maps of dreamland has some neat results too.
Movies like The Science of Sleep, the Nightmare on Elm Street series (especially the third film), The Imgainarium of Dr. Parassus, Brazil (OK, maybe every film by Terry Gilliam!), and Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
might be helpful too.
If you have any suggestions for books or RPG supplements I should add to the bibliography, I’d be happy to hear about it in the comments.