Review Dated: 14th, November 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 11
Average Score: 5.50
Sleep comes to the game that’s End All Be All of RPGs. In other words, Nocturne is a supplement for BTRC’s EABA.
BTRC and Greg Porter are well known for their comprehensive game mechanics and, indeed, Greg Porter may say that mechanics is more his forte than game worlds but he can also write very well indeed. I love being won over by an introduction. If in these first few paragraphs I can be tempted into thinking “Hmm. Yeah. I like the sound of this,” then that can carry me through to the end. It’s also great when a game gets in the same headspace as you. My train of thought went something along the lines of; ah, this a dream based RPG… oh this bit is a bit like… I wonder if I can use… and right near the end of Nocturne, in the GMing section, there’s a list of sources, including other RPGs, which can be used as Nocturne aid. This is a great resource for GMs and it shows the breadth of the possible influences for the game. Can you imagine a fantasy RPG supplement with orcs, swords and twenty sided polyhedra trying to (or bothering to) putting together such a list?
Let’s not toy with the idea that Nocturne too similar to any other dream based RPGs. It certainly isn’t. For a start, since its EABA based, it’s extremely flexible. The default setting for Nocturne is our 21st century but it does not need to be. You can have a historic, fantasy or even bleak future setting for Nocturne and it’ll easily convert and work wonderfully.
The bleak future option is an interesting option for any Nocturne GM to consider. Nocturne is set at a time when history is just about to happen. An event known as The Awakening is in reach – and could happen. This may or may not be good thing, but it’s going to be a big event. This divides heroes and villains into two camps; those who want The Awaking to happen and those who do not. At the Awakening all the Sleepers will become Dreamers. This might be the end of the world – reality might fade. It might be the mass religious epiphany needed to bring peace to the universe. It’s up to the GM. Dreamers, our characters, are attuned to The Awakening and can sense its impending influence. I like the situation that this creates. There might be villains and heroes with the same goals here – long term goals, anyway. Potential allies and otherwise morally sound Dreamers might be completely opposed to our characters’ views on The Awakening.
There are two broad groups on The Awakening side. There are The Redeemers who want it to happen and who work to bring Sleepers into the Dream. There are the Elite who don’t want it to happen and would rather keep Dreams for the Dreamers. Within these two factions there are many different groups and plenty of dynamics.
Dreamers are those of us who remember our dreams. The Sleepers may dream but don’t really remember. Dreamers explore the Nocturne, a realm composed and compiled from the collective psyche of everything that has dreamed and everything that is dreaming. The Nocturne includes (and is more than) the Materia and the Apocrypha. The Materia is the material and mundane world. Apocrypha are those unknown realms beyond the material. When you die – you go to your appropriate Apocrypha. If you believe in Valhalla and believe that’s where you’re off to on death then it’s the Valhalla Apocrypha you go to. If you believe in Hell and believe you’re heading that way… bad luck. In Nocturne powerful Dreamers can travel the other way, dead Dreamers can return to the Nocturne after death. This adds another interesting twist to the RPG.
Then there’s the Pattern, the Weave and the Thread. If you like to be impressed (I do) by your RPG then think of these as the Eidos (idea), Morphe (Form), Chrusolinon (Golden Thread). Internet using new Dreamers might use the terminology Web, Node and Account. It’s the Pattern, Weave and Thread which define and bound certain aspects of reality (given how reality is a surreal affair spread over the Nocturne, Materia and Apocrypha). The Pattern is everything, it’s the cumulative experience of everyone who’ve seen something or been somewhere. Dreamers weren’t able to Dream their way to the Moon until after Armstrong. The Weave is the local part of the Pattern. Dreamers can’t directly effect the Pattern but can effect the Weave. Simply moving a rock from window ledge to the ground outside effects the local Weave – but it doesn’t effect the Pattern so when the Dreamer comes back to inspect the scene he’ll find the rock on the window ledge. The Thread is your local part of the Pattern. It’s something to protect from aggressive Dreamers.
There are aggressive Dreamers. If you’re fanatical in your Elitist or Redeemer belief then you’ll have enemies but all human Dreamers have other things to worry about to. For a start there are The Others. The Other Dreamers are powerful and certainly not as extinct as we might expect. There was a time when Homo Sapien lived alongside Neanderthal. The two species were competitors and in the most part Homo Sapien was highly successful and better than the Neanderthal. The Neanderthal were much better Dreamers and so they plotted to join the Nocturne, Materia and Apocrypha and create a realm where they would have the advantage. A band of Homo Sapien heroes ventured across the continents and put a stop to The Other’s most powerful ritual right and they managed to do this at the most dangerous part. They were successful insofar as they stopped the Neanderthals but disrupting the ritual caused a huge blast. So large was this explosion, realities clashing, that it kicked up enough dust to cause a year-long winter. Hunter-gatherers were in big trouble and those without stores. Only a few hundred of The Others survived. Their descendants are alive today and they the enemy of mankind.
There are other Dreamers out there too. Does your dog dream? Does you cat spend hours asleep? Both dogs and cats dream and both are often allies with mankind although, as you’d expect, not always on good terms with each other. Dogs tend to have a better time in Materia but cats are more powerful Dreamers. Then there are the rats. Ratkind and mankind have too much in common to be allies; both consume and breed, consume and breed and so both will compete for resources.
There are deity-like entities too. The Primal Apocrypha are essences which embody the various Apocrypha and which actually are the various Apocrypha. These entities can’t leave their own Apocrypha but can send their agents out to work in the Nocturne. As Nocturne puts it; angels and devils literally exist only in our dreams.
Nocturne is a tempting game. It bristles with possibility but it’s also going to be a lot of work. GMs will have to be able to weave stories which operate in both waking and Dreaming space. There’s a lot which can go on in the Nocturne too.
You need EABA to use Nocturne and the assumption here is that if you like EABA’s mechanics then you’ll have no problem with the Nocturne expansion. This is an expansion; there are extra skills and modified rules. Combat, for example, is different in the Nocturne (the realm, not the game) as it’s an intellectual and willpower matter, not one of physical prowess. It is a formidable system.
The artwork deserves a mention to, notably the chapter introductory pieces which really do give life to the game’s tagline; “become the architects of surreality…”
I do like Nocturne. It has the wow factor but it also worries me slightly. I think it’s a tough setting for the GM to get the most off but easy to know when you’re falling short. I’ve played in EABA systems before but I’d want to brush up on my rules before attempting to run a significant Nocturne game. This is definitely one for EABA and BTRC fans.