The Misinterpretation of Dreams

Source Material for the Rolemaster Standard System

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell 1998-9



"To sleep, perchance to dream"
        William Shakespeare, Hamlet

    Dreams represent a powerful tool for the gamemaster to enhance his story. Unfortunately overenthusiastic players can abuse Dream spells and skills, transforming them simply into yet another means of acquiring information about the story with minimal effort.

    Dreams are a core topic in Mentalism Companion.. The reader is referred to that work for discussions of dream theories, dream types, and how to use dream skills and spells in the game. This article is an addendum to the Dreams chapter in Mentalism Companion, which could not be included in that work owing to reasons of space and the need to preserve story secrecy in my own play-test campaign.

Artwork Copyright by Jeff Bedrick

Sample Dreams

    Each of the following six dreams will be described in terms of the trigger for the dream, the dream itself and the intended meaning.


The Dream of the Summoners

     The party had survived an attack by demons on their sea voyage to the southern lands. Realizing that demons necessitate summoners, the Paladin decided to have a dream concerning the location of the summoners.

     You see a school, built upon the top of a rocky mountain. You find yourself in a classroom listening to an old tutor droning on about one of the old wars of the Imperial age. You have no interest in these ancient battles.

     The dream mountain is a large rock. The only rocks at sea are those associated with islands. The dream school represents a building upon a nearby isle. Schools are places of learning, but are not the only places of learning. Temples can also be places of learning, and indeed the summoners are lodged in a ruined temple.

    Inside the classroom, the two protagonists represent the Paladin (the tutor) and the Summoner (the student). The reversal of roles explains why the Paladin character finds himself being bored by military history, something which would not occur in the waking world. The Summoners, in taking over the temple, are ignoring the religions of the ancients in favour of their own dark creed, and are also ignoring the defeat of those religions by the champions of the Paladin's faith.

The Dream of Thomas' True Love

     Sir Thomas the Armsmaster angered Colwyn the Seer by insulting his divinatory talents. Colwyn decided that he would determine Thomas's true love as the first step in obtaining some revenge.

     You stand in a place outside of time and space. Before you stands a woman dressed in clothes fashionable several centuries ago. On your left, stands a woman clad in a robe emblazoned with the heraldic symbols of the kingdom. On your right, stands a woman clad in armour and bearing sword and shield. The three figures move together, blending together into a single figure. The scene then shifts and you stand in front of a mausoleum. Seated by the tomb, is a lone troubadour singing a dirge. The singer's face bears some resemblance to Thomas.

     I had no wish to make a future story commitment as significant as the description of another player-character's future love. Hence I decided to transform the dream into a character analysis of Thomas as seen by Colwyn's unconscious mind.

     The three figures each represent one aspect of Thomas' deepest motivations. The central figure stands for Thomas' family, and in particular, the ancestors whose reputations he protects and whose heroic lives he attempts to emulate. The figure on the left stands for Thomas' unswerving loyalty to his sovereign and the kingdom. The figure on the right stands for Thomas' adherence to chivalry and his love of battle. These motivations are the real great loves of Thomas.

     Colwyn's unconscious mind considers these infatuations to be unhealthy, even to the extent of leading Thomas to death. The loneliness of the troubadour is here indicative of the disparity between the motivations of Thomas and Colwyn.

The Dream of Taeryc's Task

     Taeryc (the Paladin) decided that he wished to seek the advice of his patron deity in a dream on the topic of what he should do next.

     You have no dreams this night.

     In my view, the player-character in question had been behaving in a fashion which was not in keeping with the character's faith. I decided that this behavior would place the character in divine disfavour and so Taeryc failed to dream. This dream was later misinterpreted as having foreshadowed Taeryc's coma and death.

The Dream of the One-Eyed Seer

     The party had been forced to flee into the jungle and were undecided as to which course of action to pursue. The Paladin and the Seer held opposing views. Taeryc decided to seek divine advice concerning the validity of the Seer's divinatory skills.

     You and the others of the party are in a jungle clearing. You are arguing with the Seer. Instead of two normal human eyes, his head is encircled by a fleshy band upon which a single pupil rotates. You win the argument and the mutated eye of the Seer falls out.

      The scene shifts and you sense it is much later. You and some of the others are fleeing through the jungle. The party members are badly wounded and you sense your enemies are closing in.

     The dream begins with the residue of the day, namely the Paladin in a heated argument with the Seer. In the dream, the Seer's eye can rotate to view the world in any direction, just as the Seer's skills enable him to look into the past, the present, and the future. The nonhuman nature of the dream eye is indicative of how the Paladin views divination - unnatural, an abomination. The loss of the eye represents the Paladin and the others ignoring the Seer's advice and divinatory abilities. The remainder of the dream is a direct warning that failure to listen to the Seer simply because of his talents may place the party in extreme peril.

The Dream of The Knight and The Hammer

     Colwyn (the Seer) decided to have a dream about the Amir of Kiresh, the ruler of the jungle-clad island where the party had been shipwrecked.

     You are bound to a slab. Standing over you is a knight in armour and wielding a large hammer. He strikes you repeatedly with the hammer.

     The only item in the dream which is even partially relevant to the Amir is the figure of the knight. Colwyn's unconscious is guessing that the Amir will be of a martial bent.

     Colwyn had been using Dream spells every night for the better part of a week (and hence interfering with his normal dreams). Meanwhile tensions in the party have been rising. Colwyn's unconscious is releasing his fears in the dream. Being bound to the slab is symbolic of feeling trapped on the island. The knight with the hammer actually represents the threat posed by the Paladin to Colwyn. The hammer is a clue to the identity of the dream knight, relying on the association between the word "hammer" and the word "anvil". The Paladin belongs to the Order of the Anvil of the Lord. The Paladin had threatened Colwyn and so the dream violence represents the fear that the threat will be carried out.

The Dream of The Prophecies

     The party have decided that two prophecies, known only to the rulers of Kiresh, are critical to an understanding of the unfolding events on the island. Colwyn decides to have a dream about the prophecies.

     You are in a room. On a table are two books. One is closed and rests face down. The other book is open, its pages being turned by a breeze coming from a window. Looking out the window, you can see trees on the far bank of a river. The wind is blowing through the branches of the trees, and you watch the autumn leaves falling into the river. The leaves swirl in the water, moving ever more quickly towards the rapids. When the leaves reach the rapids, the water turns red. You cannot see beyond the rapids.

     The two books symbolize the two prophecies. The closed book has been read - this represents a completed prophecy. The other book is open - this prophecy is not yet completed. The wind lifting the pages of the book symbolizes fate moving the prophecy to its fulfillment. The window provides a view of the real world, just as prophecies and divination can provide a view of the future. The same wind which lifts pages in a book carries leaves from the trees into the river. There is a further connection here - phrases such as "loose-leaf paper" and "leafing through a book" remind us of the association between leaves and pages. Here the leaves symbolize the interpretations of the prophecies as believed by the Kiresh rulers. As summer turns into autumn, deciduous trees withdraw the nutrients from their leaves with the result that the leaves are lifeless when they are shed. Likewise, the interpretations of the prophecies are also lifeless, lacking in any goodness - the party learned later that the rulers of Kiresh had received an inaccurate version of the prophecies. The river represents time, as might be expected, and the increasing speed of the waters symbolizes the race towards the denouement of the prophecy in a time of bloody conflict. The section of the river beyond the rapids is beyond the vision of the prophecy.

Concluding Remarks

     I hope this article has provided you with inspiration on how to weave elements of the story and the player-characters themselves into the material of dreams to entertain and perplex the players.