Xavid, a software engineer and award-winning LARP designer, has taken a tabletop RPG called Dreampunk to Kickstarter. Played with surreal art cards (a giant hamster in a hat, anyone?), the game has found an audience, quickly hitting its funding goal.
Geek Native has an exclusive extract from the Dreamers character section, an interview and a look at some of the art. First, let us look at the intro video, or you can just skip to the pledge page.
The game is for two to six players (but, as we find out in a chat with Xavid, it could be adapted to work solo) and in two parts; the campaign funds the rules and the art cards to go with it. There’s no dice.
In Dreampunk, your characters are Dreamers, drawn into the Dream, where they have power and the ability to shape the world.
At night, you dream. Your dreams are not idle imaginings, but visits to a persistent world of wonders and dangers both personal and alien. Will you find power there? Will you find freedom? Or will you slowly slip into Entanglement, and be trapped there forever?
There’s a hardship pledge level available; otherwise, if you just want the PDF for the core rules, then that just takes a pledge of $10.
A paperback copy is added to the rewards with pledges of $20, and the add-on system means you can add the cards later if you want.
Alternatively, if you just want the deck, those pretty cards, then that’s $30.
The entire game, which means paperback book and physical cards, is the reward at $50. That comes with a digital deck and PDF for the rules. Dreampunk has a pretty clever way of using digital cards online too.
There are higher tiers, especially for retailers. Fulfilment is in October, irrespective of the backer level you settle on.
Dreampunk RPG preview
Xavid has been kind enough to give Geek Native permission to show an extract from the ‘Dreamer characters’ section of Dreampunk.
The Kickstarter page already has a preview of the first section of the TTRPG as well.
A Dreampunk RPG interview with Xavid
Can you introduce readers to Dreampunk?
In Dreampunk, you’ve been called to an uncanny dreamworld. The Dream has its hooks in you, and the terrors you face there are far too personal. Rather than dice, Dreampunk uses surreal art cards as both a resource to spend on your abilities and as a creativity prompt for unpredictable developments. This creates a unique zaniness to the gameplay, leading to stories that you’d never have come up with normally and a really fun experience.
What does the word “Punk” mean to you?
For me, it’s about rejecting authority and the restrictions the status quo tries to put on you. In Dreampunk, the chaotic world of the Dream still has hierarchies of power, with stronger denizens exploiting more humble ones for personal advantage. The Dreamers, as powerful independent agents, naturally threaten this structure. At the same time, Dreamers bring with them their problems from the waking world, which often involve issues of incompatibility with the systems around them. So on two levels, Dreampunk is a game about rejecting an inequitable status quo and forging your own path, which I think really reflects the “punk” nature. It’s definitely something I was thinking about when putting the game together.
Is there a way to categorically determine whether a character succeeds in a risky gambit in Dreampunk?
For the most part, Dreampunk is not a game focused on success or failure in a clear-cut sense, but more on “yes, and” or “yes, but”-style improvisation. There are two main mechanisms for determining success and failure when that’s needed.
The first is for conflicts with the denizens of the Dream. The assumption is that, in a struggle, many denizens can fight back against the Dreamers’ abilities, but not forever. A denizen in a conflict gets a small stack of Integrity cards, which they can play to avoid or counteract a Dreamer’s card-based move. Once they run out, they’re defeated, at least for now. Thus, success in a conflict is often based on how many resources the Dreamers are willing to spend, leading to struggles with some dramatic back-and-forth but also clear endings.
The more general mechanism is the Guide’s “Resolve Doubt” move, which has the Guide (or a player acting as the Guide) play the top card of the deck and interpret it as the outcome of an attempt to do something. This is a subjective process, but using a card can help find an answer when things are nebulous or when folks disagree, and the random nature of the cards often inspires a more interesting result than just a simple “success” or “failure”.
What sort of influence does that and the system have on the game as a whole?
The use of ambiguous cards for inspiration or direction, rather than clear numerical results, and combining that with ideas everyone comes up with is the core of Dreampunk. Dreampunk is fundamentally about exploring what story you want to tell, what you want to pursue, and using the cards as inspiration for how that develops, rather than about the uncertainty of whether you can pull something off or the fear of losing. Dreampunk is built around the random and surreal nature of the cards, and it is the unpredictability of the twists they provide that underpins the Dreampunk experience.
Do you have any suggestions for how groups new to the approach can get the most from it?
I think my main advice is to approach it in a collaborative way and try to avoid preconceptions. The Dream may feel like a hostile place, but this isn’t the sort of game where you’re trying to beat a challenge defined by the GM. Dreampunk really works best when everyone’s engaging with what’s going on and building on others’ contributions. The surreal nature of the Dream encourages unexpected developments to happen constantly. This is what makes Dreampunk unique and fun, so I’d encourage players to not get attached to any particular expectations as to how things will go down. The gameplay agenda section in the book for both Dreamer players and the Guide goes into principles for encouraging surreal play in more detail, but the core of it is this: if you roll with what happens and approach it from a collaborative mindset, it’s a ton of fun.
Could Dreampunk be adapted into a solo RPG or a journalling game?
I think it could! Using cards as creativity prompts to inspire twists or developments in a solo story would work well, I think. You’d really need to emphasize the cards’ ability to prompt unexpected outcomes and twists, and you’d want to use the Signposts, which provide guidance to support Guide-less play, to help focus your interpretations of cards
in a cohesive way. But with the right mindset, I bet you could get some really fun stories out of it solo!
Do you have to be particularly imaginative to play?
Dreampunk is a creativity-focused game in a lot of ways, but I’d encourage folks to not get intimidated by that. The cards are designed to give you a variety of different possible elements (characters, items, places) to make use of, and this means at any given time you’ve got a toolbox of ideas sitting in front of you. I find this can be less paralyzing than more purely abstract games in many cases, and creates room for players to come up with different types of interpretations as they become more comfortable with the game.
What was the inspiration for Dreampunk? How did it come about?
Dreampunk really started with the idea of a dreamworld, something I’d always found compelling in movies like Paprika, Mirrormask, and Ink, and finding a way to represent it in a game that would let players manipulate the dream world in creative ways. It took me a while to find something that worked well for that! My initial attempts were based closely on the indie RPGs I’d been playing, using diced rules based on Fate or PbtA games, and I just wasn’t able to come up with something that captured the unexpected twists I loved from my inspirations. It was years after I first started messing around with Dreampunk before I came up with the idea to use surreal art cards, but once I hit on that everything started falling together. It let me incorporate the visual surreality of the movies that inspired me, while also prompting a type of creative play that felt exciting and new. From that, everything else followed.
How did you brief the artists involved? How did they know what to illustrate for you?
There were a couple of different ways cards came around. Many of the cards were based on short descriptions from me, something like “An exotic or mythical animal on a street with its child staring at a painted domestic animal in a mural”, which the artists would then realize. Other cards were entirely based on concepts from the artists, based on a list of general principles like having multiple contrasting elements on each card. And some of my favorite cards combined the two, where both me and the artist bounced ideas back and forth until we came up with something we were both excited about. Honestly, working with the artists was a lot of fun. They brought a ton to this project.
I notice that you use a site called PlayingCards.io to help with digital cards. How does that work? Do you need an account? Is there a Dreampunk template to find?
PlayingCards.io is great! I was worried when things started shutting down that playtesting such a card-based game would be difficult, but I’ve found PlayingCards.io to work really well. It’s a free site you can use without needing to register an account, and while it targets more traditional games like Go Fish or Checkers, it works well for any card-based game. It has a really intuitive interface for having decks and hands of cards, playing them on a shared space that anyone at your table can see, and letting you move them around as you wish. Anyone who backs at a tier that includes the digital Dreampunk deck, or adds it as an add-on, will get access to a Dreampunk room setup that they can use to play with the Dreampunk deck of cards as much as they want. It makes online games really smooth and fun!
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