I’m currently writing up an encounter for publishing here regarding a dream/nightmare maze that uses concepts I’ve touched upon lightly before.
In the mean time, I just wanted to give you some examples of taking small contributions from your players and growing them into something with meat on the bones.
I wrote a post a little while ago about a few ideas to grow and stretch your characters but I want to talk specifically about using player input on their PC’s best and worst memories.
Trigger Warning: Some of the nightmare pieces are fairly intense and deal with horror, fear, fire and burning, gore, death of a loved one, violence, implied suicidal thoughts and intense claustrophobia.
If you want to use anything this intense in a game, do make absolutely 100% sure that all of your players are comfortable with this level of roleplaying. I also do quick comfort checks for everyone around my table at regular intervals. Don’t be offended if any of your players want to bow out. You’re all there to have fun.
I asked my players to write me quick summaries of their characters’ best and worst memories. Specifically, I asked them for a moment they would wish to live in forever, and another one that they wish had never happened.
The purpose of the in-game scenarios was to make 2 traps for each PC, one which they would never want to leave, and one in which they were trapped by their own horror and helplessness.
Below, I’ve put the input I got back from my some of my players (Briefs) and what made it into the adventure (Flavour Text).
I hope these examples are helpful in illustrating how you can take small input from your players and fleshing it out to give them an chance to really roleplay their characters.
Liah the Paladin.
Brief: Liah’s Best Memory: When she and her twin brother Leo ran away to have an adventure aged 8 and spent two nights out in the forest before their parents found them.
Flavour Text for Liah’s Dream (in game): The full moon shines into the forest, lining every tree with silver and illuminating tiny wisps that float through the air. The night shimmers and shines. There is magic here.
You spot it, peeking at you from the petals of a lily. You reach out to it but the fairy darts away from you. Leo laughs and dashes forward, wooden sword drawn, his hat falling back and loosing his vivid red hair, washed to black in the moonlight. The fairy swoops around him, almost too fast to see and is off through the woods. He grabs your hand. Come on, Liah! His teeth are bright white, flashing from his grin. It’s getting away! You squeeze his hand and together you race after it.
Brief: Liah’s Worst Memory: The day Leo died falling from his horse aged 12
Flavour Text for Liah’s Nightmare (in game): The smell of blood fills the room. Underneath, the sickly sweet stench of infection. The doctors murmur sorrowfully in the corner. The boy in the bed is still, his chest barely moving as the breath whistles through his broken body.
There is nothing you can do. Father has already killed the horse. A small revenge. A pointless death. Leo will never wake up. You try to will his eyes open. His hand is limp and lifeless in yours. He cannot even feel you kiss his brow. Leo is dying. You are going to be alone. You smooth his red red hair from his brow. Did his eye twitch? Your heart leaps. You hold your breath. You wait. You wait. You watch your brothers broken face. You pray. You rage inside your head. Nothing you can do. Leo is dying.
Olivar the Fire Mage (revenant)
Brief: Olivar’s Best Memory: At the Festival of Conflagration, Olivar is enchanted by one of the fire dancers, a young lady whose arms are aflame without damaging her. Emboldened by his recent birthday and his status as a lord’s son, Olivar summons the courage to speak to this young lady.
Flavour Text for Olivar’s Dream: A crush of dancing, happy festival goers whirl around you, their brightly-coloured garments streaming out behind them in shades of yellow, red and orange. Cinnamon and chilli spice the air as the sun is setting, casting a warm russet glow over everything and reflecting sparks in the polished metal jewellry of the revellers.
Through the jubilant throng, you catch sight of her, her arms aflame, the burnished auburn of her hair radiant with the reflected glow. You catch a waft of her perfume and the flash of her smiling eyes before she’s lost to view. She’s just ahead of you, through the crowd. You catch the melody of her laughter floating over the earthy drumming of the festival’s music. She is somewhere ahead of you, waiting for you.
Brief: Olivar’s Worst Memory: His own death (Olivar is a revenant brought back to unlife). When his classroom is attacked, he reacts with fire magic, watches the fire spread from his hands, engulfing the room, killing himself and those he was trying to save.
Flavour Text for Olivar’s Nightmare: The small room is bathed in fire. Bodies writhe in agony, wreathed in hellish flame, screaming out their never-ending pain.
Your skin burns and chars and heals and chars again. The voices of those you’ve doomed to a slow, tormented death bore into your skull. You know you should die soon but the moment stretches on forever. You burn, you heal, you burn again and the screams of your victims echo in your mind.
Eric the Barbarian
Brief: Eric’s Best Memory: Hunting on the mountain plains with his Father when he was younger teaching him the skills needed to survive.
Flavour Text for Eric’s Dream: The mountains stretch out before you, wild and free. Their snowy peaks are dazzling in the bright spring sunlight. The air is clean and fresh in your lungs and the day sparkles with possibility.
You feel the weight of the spear in your hand, fitting perfectly, worn already with the imprint of your hand. Your father smiles approvingly at you. You are ready. A thrill of nerves go through you, heightening your senses. A flash of something at the edge of your vision. Your prey. Your father grins wolfishly and you feel an answering grin stretch your own face.
Brief: Eric’s Worst Memory: Some members of Eric’s tribe were kidnapped on a raid from a Bugbear tribe and he was also captured, tied up and taken.
Flavour Text for Eric’s Nightmare: Darkness. You see nothing but feel the weight of stale air pressing down on you. You breath whistles and wheezes, the only sound apart from the too-loud hammering of your heart. The taste of death in the air. Must and dust.
The ropes bind you, confine you, trap you. One minute they are simply wrapped around you, the next they seem to be squeezing the breath from your lungs. But that is an illusion, you try to tell yourself. Every movement, every twitch brings you into contact with the damp stone walls around you. There is no escape, no relief from the darkness and the pressure of this place. This place will be your tomb, forever locked away in the dark, dank earth, far from the sky.
Reed the Rogue
Brief: Reed’s Best Memory: Pirate ship springs to mind 🙂
Flavour Text for Reed’s Dream: The wind is crisp on your face. The sea is brisk today but there’s no danger, only the thrill of adventure in the air. The ship charges through the water, sound and true.
You laugh into the headwind, and it whips the sound away. The crew leap to your every order, eager for action. The wheel is strong beneath your hands, testing you, you rise to the challenge with each pull and the ship responds keenly. She is ready for anything. The day is laid out before you, ripe with possibility.
Brief: Reed’s Worst Memory: He was disgraced and kicked out of the Cavaliers for something he didn’t do. Disowned by his regiment and denounced by his family.
Flavour Text for Reed’s Nightmare: The ally is foul with rotting offal, piss and shit. Dark smears stain the crumbling bricks and a starving dog growls apathetically from the shadows, pus weeping from one of its half-blind eyes.
The reek of your own unwashed body pollutes the air, gagging you. You feel the tremble in your hands, the aching emptiness of your belly and the soul-deep weariness of sickness. The soldiers that surround you were once your friends. Now their taunts sting as badly as the rocks they fling at you. You bleed from a thousand tiny cuts, ache from a thousand bruises. You do not deserve this but they will not hear you. You are nothing now.