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D&D General Using dreams to plant adventure hooks or provide motivation

Do you use dreams to plant adventure hooks/give motivation?

  • All the time

    Votes: 1 3.1%
  • Occasionally

    Votes: 25 78.1%
  • Never

    Votes: 6 18.8%

  • Total voters
    32

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I follow Critical Role and Matt Mercer uses dreams very effectively to give adventure hooks to his players, or if not that then at least provide motivation to follow up on some part of their PCs backstory. It works very naturally (when he does it) and helps to keep the PCs goals and stories central to the adventure.

I regret that I have never used this trick once for my players (and really if you run published adventures you’d not have much call to). But whenever I kick off another campaign I plan to try and feature it for the same purpose.

How about the rest of you? Do you let dreams influence your players? If you do, how has it worked out for your table?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This technique isn't for me. It feels a little too heavy-handed in my view as it's basically getting inside the characters' heads and pushing them toward something I want. I'm sure I've likely done something like this in the past, but it's out of my repertoire now and that I can't remember using it is likely some combination of age, drink, and it not being all that noteworthy as an approach.

(Notably, I would differentiate this from something like a night hag affecting a PC or a curse or the like.)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I can see that it would perhaps require a table that was open to that type of suggestion.

And I don’t think it’s necessarily pushing them toward something I want if it is dealing with elements of their backstory? It’s stuff they want in the story surely?

It seems easier than a long lost acquaintance showing up to recount a tale of woe. Or a letter or some such.

Adventurers being wracked by dreams or premonitions seems like a classic trope (or even cliched as Jasper notes).
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
I've used it a couple of times and think it can work well. It is very genre appropriate and certainly feels more epic than the "adventurers wanted" bulletin board in the town square. Sure it is a bit of a trope - but so are most of the other adventure hooks out there. Besides, part of the fun of the game is having YOUR character experience the cool stuff that happens to heroes in books and movies. As long as you don't go to the well too often, I really don't see it as problematic.

The two pieces of advice I would give are:

1) Use the dreams as early as possible to foreshadow a later adventure. Let the character have the dreams for a few sessions with no obvious way to act on them - then when they are least expecting it have them encounter something they saw in the dream that sparks the adventure. The earlier you can plant the seed, the more rewarding the payoff will be.

2) Dreams should be vague and confusing, rather than giving explicit directions. A dream where their dead father tells them "Go to Wave Echo Cave and defeat the Black Spider" isn't much more interesting than having a generic quest giver NPC tell them the same thing. Instead let them have a recurring dream where a giant black spider eats all of their friends and family - when they hear in passing that the leader of the raiders is called "the black spider" you will have their full attention.

As an example, I had a character have a recurring dream about a terrified woman trapped in a golden cage. Several sessions down the road they met the local ruler - who the character recognized as the woman from the dream. Except she wasn't in any apparent danger and looked at him like he was crazy when he told her he could protect her from whatever danger she was in. As it turns out, the real countess had been kidnapped and replaced with an imposter, which the PCs figured out once they started to dig into the situation. I could have set up the same adventure with the "rumors that the Countess has been acting strangely" approach, but I think this got them more invested in solving the mystery and rescuing the countess.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
And I don’t think it’s necessarily pushing them toward something I want if it is dealing with elements of their backstory? It’s stuff they want in the story surely?
I think if they really want to pursue something about their backstory, they'll just do that on their own. Not that I put much stock in PC backstories - I discourage anything longer than a Tweet. I find it gets created and explored just by playing off each other over time with no special effort by the DM. Basing games strongly on PC backstory also comes with some inherent risks.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I think a reason this resonates with me is one of my favorite fantasy books, Lord Valentine’s Castle, has the protagonist plagued by troubling dreams that hint that things are not quite as they seem. What a fantastic world Robert Silverberg conjured for that series.
 

HJFudge

Explorer
I have had players specifically wanting to play Diviners, or Oracles, or otherwise wanting some sort of foretelling ability.

I found the best way (for me) to give them that was through the Dream Sequence. It allowed me, the DM, to give them a very flavorful way to do what they wanted and also it allowed me to control what information they got without seeming like I was controlling it.

I would always keep the dream pretty vague, but it made a great foreshadowing tool.

I also once opened an adventure with a shared dream sequence that all the PCs received, and when they woke up at the tavern (everyone had suddenly passed out, and everyone awoke, but only the PCs remembered the dream) and boom...instant connection and reason to adventure together.

I like the technique.
 

Wishbone

Paladin Radmaster
This technique isn't for me. It feels a little too heavy-handed in my view as it's basically getting inside the characters' heads and pushing them toward something I want. I'm sure I've likely done something like this in the past, but it's out of my repertoire now and that I can't remember using it is likely some combination of age, drink, and it not being all that noteworthy as an approach.

(Notably, I would differentiate this from something like a night hag affecting a PC or a curse or the like.)

I like Critical Role but would agree in that I'm generally not a fan of Matt dictating the reactions of the PC's like he does in dreams or visions. I know they all trust him and prefer it that way but it's not my preferred style since it verges into affecting player agency over their characters' reactions without calling for a roll or asking for their direct input.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I tend to do it more to give impressions of what's going on, foreshadowing, or how things relate to one another - more like cut scenes in a way. But I also tend to make them kind of obscure and indirect too.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Once in a while (usually due to some in-game wild magic surge or other) I go a step further and have entire adventures be dreams. Probably done about five or six of these now.

I've also used dreams as clue-givers but not often - maybe five times in 35+ years of DMing.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I like Critical Role but would agree in that I'm generally not a fan of Matt dictating the reactions of the PC's like he does in dreams or visions. I know they all trust him and prefer it that way but it's not my preferred style since it verges into affecting player agency over their characters' reactions without calling for a roll or asking for their direct input.
I also think Matt oversteps with regard to describing reactions to the dreams (and other times). I just think the mechanism for planting a plot hook is cool.
 

I use them rarely as they tend to be cliché. I don't mind pushing PCs to a quest (simply hanging a sign in the town square does that), but dreams become tricky if the PC dies and so on.

Now if the adventure is directly tied to it (e.g. the Dragonlance adventure where characters are caught in someone's nightmare), or it makes some narrative sense (a fey has heard the PC rescued a dryad but can only communicate to Second World beings through dreams), I'll pull out the ole index, er dream cards.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
A Paladin or Cleric could get dreams / visions that foreshadow something that will be important to the upcoming adventure - such as a crystal ball showing a town; they can recognize the town's skyline when they get there, and should show interest in any resident fortune-teller. A Druid might also dream / vision, under more restricted conditions (because the natural world as Gaia does not know the future). A dream that is an analogy rather than a foretelling - as the Spider, above - can serve as confirmation the group is on the right track.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Usually, when I tell a PC a dream, it is because an NPC is giving it to them. I've had the Gods (or Patrons) speak through dreams. Literally haunted people's dreams with undead spirits. The Dream and Nightmare spells have been used throughout the editions.

However. I do not recall directing a dream when it wasn't a specific force guiding it. I don't have players have a bad dream to give them hints. I don't give them a premonition warning unless some specific force is doing it. Although I can't recall it happening, I would want the players to make up the dreams of their PCs rather than have me direct it.
 

SirMoogle

Explorer
I would give out dreams sparingly, and prophetic ones even less (unless they dabble in the arcane or divine). Even though D&D is supernatural, when most people dream, more often than not it's more their subconsciousness bubbling up to the forefront. In my opinion, dreams shouldn't really make up hooks to guide characters in the main campaign, but possibly for off-the-trail sidequests or character development. Perhaps the adventurer who has left their hometown for a while starts dreaming about their mother's cooking, or the brook where they and their childhood friends used to play in. If they decide to travel back, it could be a peaceful reunion or a horrifying discovery to see their home devastated by some malevolent force.
 

I follow Critical Role and Matt Mercer uses dreams very effectively to give adventure hooks to his players, or if not that then at least provide motivation to follow up on some part of their PCs backstory. It works very naturally (when he does it) and helps to keep the PCs goals and stories central to the adventure.

I regret that I have never used this trick once for my players (and really if you run published adventures you’d not have much call to). But whenever I kick off another campaign I plan to try and feature it for the same purpose.

How about the rest of you? Do you let dreams influence your players? If you do, how has it worked out for your table?
Dreams are fine. Of course D&D is a very magical universe. There are a LOT of ways to convey plot hooks. Prophecies, omens, and portents (of which dreams may be considered one flavor) are all good. Of course, a plot hook could also simply materialize out of thin air, literally! A god could simply drop it out of the sky, or hand it to a PC, as could any other sort of 'patron' or 'messenger'. This is only scratching the surface. So, my basic response is, "why would I lean heavily on ONE of these methods?" I like variety, give the players a surprise. I voted 'occasionally' on the basis of I am sure I have done it a couple times, but never more than once in the course of any one player's play of the game. I've rarely repeated ANY theme multiple times!
 

I would generally only use dreams where they are sent or caused by an outside force or an unusual character development. If someone has just caught lycanthropy or vampirism I'd say some weird dreams are in order as they contend with new alien urges and instincts. Setting aside magical changes, I'd really only do it if there was a player who I felt wanted or needed to perform out some sort of internal conflict in front of the group, but they were playing a character who wouldn't be that transparent. I don't want to dictate to someone what their character is really thinking or what conflicts they have, but sometimes a player needs an alternative stage to act out such things.

But of course being sent dreams by a deity, enemy, ally, or anyone with the Dream spell is a different matter entirely. In fact I highly recommend having a major enemy target one or more of the characters with the Dream spell if you need to make sure they unload a bunch of exposition or otherwise want a way for them to banter in an environment where the player has limited agency to derail the scene.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The closest I've come was when the PCs' dreams were overridden by those of a telepath nearby, and the telepath himself was receiving prophetic visions in his dreams. They're still chasing down the repercussions of that.
 

Curse of Strahd, early in the book in a section on the Marks of Horror, suggests using dreams as a Foreshadowing device:

Whenever characters take a long rest, give one character a prophetic dream in which he or she glimpses something yet to be found or encountered.

Personally, I wouldn’t do it every long rest. But once in a while, if kept quite vague and perhaps a bit creepy, I think it could be a worthwhile method for planting minor hooks and promoting the gothic theme.
 

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