Dream Sequences in D&D

Throughout the world, the use of dreams as a plot device is prominent. It does not matter whether the material is truth or fiction, a story from Africa or a fairy tale from Germany. Dreams are everywhere because they are an effective way to relay information to readers and listeners, or, in our case, players. Have you ever used a dream to set the stage for an event to come? To tell your PC’s something integral to the plot? To throw them off the trail of a vile enemy?

In D&D, dreams are an effective tool for Dungeon Masters.

In yet another prelude session for my upcoming Caught in Galen campaign, I used a dream to unite some of the player characters together. During the dream, they explored environs impossible to find in the location the campaign begins, so it gave every a taste of other parts of the world. Their city-based characters slid down a dune in a windy desert and battled scorpions there. They fought the rapids of a raging river, nearly dropping down a massive waterfall while a storm danced above them. They found themselves on a large chunk of fair, green country floating in the sky. The dream allowed me to put them places I otherwise couldn’t and face them against foes that wouldn’t otherwise be found in the city.

The dream also allowed me to foreshadow future events and characters in mysterious ways. In the case of Caught in Galen, I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling my players, but you can see this all across fantasy. For example, in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the main characters constantly have dreams foreshadowing future events. Jon Snow dreams of walking below the crypts beneath Winterfell constantly and screaming he’s not a Stark, hinting at something truly awesome below. One of the most mysterious factions in the series, the greenseers, experience prophetic dreams as their main ability!

Some dreams can combine the first two facets and allow the characters to accomplish or try to accomplish the unimaginable. Do you want to throw a red dragon against your third level party? Do it in a dream sequence. Does the party want to see how an encounter with the lich lord might play out? Perhaps a prophet induces them with a dream-battle against the villain. I somewhat employed this in my example in the form of a horde of aberrations constantly chasing after the group. If they were caught, they were dead. They never fought the monstrosities, but the threat was there.

Take care using dreams, however. Sure, you might be able to do awesome tasks related to the story with them, but the players probably want something more. The dreams need to have measurable effects. They might gain a boon or charm from the dream. Perhaps they obtain a magical item from it. In my example, the characters each gained a point of inspiration to start the campaign with and a minor magic item. The dream sequence did not only enlighten them with great information, it gave them interesting items with a unique origin story.

This only goes for entire quests or adventures or sessions in dreams, though. Dreams are a great way to spend a few minutes in a character's head. The dream can be contained to that character and that character alone, alluding to some prophecy they are a part of or filling them with fear from a powerful, outside entity. In a past campaign, one of the characters constantly dreamed about a volcanic eruption and the awakening of a fire primordial. It was scary. It was effective. Was it alluding to the future? Well, it never happened in that campaign, but that character is now a character in Caught in Galen. I opened his session zero with that same dream, a reminder that this primordial might still be a threat. It's a Chekhov's gun of sorts. In that same campaign, a different character was haunted by a night hag constantly. Some creatures (like night hags and the quori in Eberron) are able to affect dreams from the outside. And what's to say there is a magic-user called a dreamologist who can weave and twist the dreams of his enemies and allies?

Concisely, though, what can you accomplish with dreams?
  1. Connect the characters in an interesting way.
  2. Foreshadow future events.
  3. Let the characters battle unimaginable enemies.
  4. Give them fulfillment even though nothing happened in the “real world.”
  5. Use them to single out a character for a few minutes and allude to something.
  6. Utilize monsters with dream-affecting abilities and make up entirely new creatures related to dreams.
If you are interested in using dreams in even more interesting ways, I highly recommend reading about Eberron’s Dal Quor, quori, and the Dreaming Dark faction. Keith Baker did something stellar with this concept and I am definitely incorporating a lot of it into my world. There are two pages in Rising from the Last War that are especially useful in describing how all three relate to each other.

Until next time, stay creative!

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