- Roleplay Previews
- Signs & Portents #3
- Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros
- The Hamlet of Thumble
- Pits of Despair
Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros
Two previews for Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros can be downloaded at the end of this page. The following text and illustrations are only a small example.
What does the world of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros look like? Is it a mere vaporous daydream or does it have a physical reality? How do its inhabitants reconcile dream and reality? These questions are addressed in this chapter. Herein will be found the legend of the Three Ages, the upheavals of the Great Awakenings, with the birth of the custom which gives the characters their raison d’être: the Journey, an odyssey along roads as well as across dream worlds.
The universe of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros is in the genre of heroic fantasy, also known as medieval fantasy. It is the imaginary universe of old legends, fairy tales, and sagas, of The King of Elfland’s Daughter and Mistress of Mistresses. Here there are kingdoms which border on the Unknown; vast, impenetrable forests, wastes inhabited by monsters; fortified cities crawling with a motley assortment of starving adventurers, fat burghers, mendicants, buskers, thieves, and guards; smoke-filled taverns where dice clatter on beer-stained tables; ancient, decrepit towers inhabited by magicians. In this teeming, baroque world intrigues are knotted and unraveled: there are duels, chases, sword fights, quests, curses, treasures…
Historically speaking, heroic fantasy universes never existed, and their geographies only exist in imaginations of their authors. Witness Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Leiber’s Lankhmar, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea… the list goes on and on.
Such is the ambiance of the universe of Rêve, the kind of places one expects to visit there, the kind of creatures one expects to meet there, the kind of adventures one expects to live there.
Heroic fantasy worlds usually are based on a legend, a cosmology which legitimizes their existence and lays their foundations. The foundation of the universe of Rêve, that on which everything rests, naturally is dream. The world is dreamed in the literal sense of the word. But the essential thing to grasp is the point of view; or, in cinematic terms, where is the camera? The point of view in Rêve is not that of the dreamer, but that of the dream itself, or more precisely, that of the creatures being dreamed. The dream is always and solely perceived from within itself. Any justifications which might be conjectured are only pertinent from this point of view. From the outside, what is there really? Giant reptiles snoring in their caverns, digesting their last meal before setting off to hunt their next one? Lords of light curled up beneath sumptuous canopies? Players rattling ten-sided dice? Whichever version you choose, none are of any interest whatsoever to the characters in the dream. They have no concern for the ‘where’ of the dreamers. This dream is their natural world. They fall asleep in it and wake up in it daily, even dream in it themselves. In this dream they are born, grow up, live, journey, suffer, and die. And for all that it does not seem to them to be a dream: it is physical, it is tangible, it is life. It is their world and they know nothing else.
Sometimes their philosophers say, “The world is but a dream of Dragons…” And most people react like one typically does to a philosopher: laughing, mocking, saying, “How could the world be but a dream? Isn’t the ground solid, the sun warm, isn’t bread nourishing, wine comforting? And none of that is real? You can’t be serious!” Just as in our real world, the characters of Rêve are far from all being mystics. Only a minority—intellectuals, philosophers, High Dreamers—having analyzed their own dream experiences and compared them to their world’s reality, have come to this conclusion. And this conclusion is the only one which is consistent with magic. Journeyers generally are part of this minority, given their own exposure to rifts in the dreaming and other oneiric experiences; they have had their eyes opened.
There is not just one dream
The universe of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros is in fact a multiverse (to borrow a term from Moorcock), which could be rephrased as a multidream. The Dragons are infinite. Rarely is a particular Dragon spoken of—and even then only in the context of legends—the Dragons (in the plural) are almost always only mentioned. And if the Dragons dream the world—that is, the world from which the players’ characters hail—they also dream an infinite number of others, like so many parallel worlds.
If you create your own scenarios, or if as a player, you enter the world of another author, the milieu will necessarily be different, the mood and atmosphere will not be the same, you will not be in quite the same ‘dream’. Rather than being an undesirable inconsistency, in Rêve this is totally acceptable.
The term ‘dream’ therefore carries a double meaning. On the one hand it means what is normally meant by the word dream, on the other it also means ‘world’, ‘imaginary time or place’, or ‘adventure’ or ‘scenario’. Thus by changing scenarios one changes dreams.
As a result, there is no absolute ‘world’ in Rêve in the usual sense: no definitive atlas, no general geographical reference. The actual ‘world’ of Rêve is virtually infinite: it is the collection of all dreams.
Nevertheless, each scenario takes place within a specific region, with its villages, cities, forests, and hills, all specifically named and all of which can be mapped on a more or less large scale according to the extents of the scenario. But what lies beyond the edges of such a map? As those regions beyond are outside the ken of the given scenario, one might as well say that they are part of a separate dream. But one might also just as well imagine that this realm continues, with more forests, other hills, etc. Most of the time, its inhabitants are unaware of what exactly lies ‘beyond’, on the other side of the forbidden forest, or the swamp from which no one has ever returned. The Dream Keeper must improvise an extension of the geography of a scenario if she wishes for it to continue beyond its original borders.
But more often than not Journeyers use other crossings to get from one dream to another. Understand that this might mean going from one realm to another, but also going from one scenario to another. For the journey is as much oneiric as it is physical. These crossings include:
- Rifts in the dream, which function like teleportation portals from one parallel world to another;
- Blur dream, through which a Journeyer travels like a road leading from one world to another, crossing the Limbo between them;
- Grey dream, which functions as if the Journeyer had just awoken in a new realm, retaining but a foggy and grey memory of the vague, supposed physical journeys which have brought him there.
These crossings are described in detail in the following chapter, From One Dream to Another. For the characters of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros, the geographical continuity of their journeys are a mere minor concern.
A World Without Gods
There are no gods in Rêve. This is one major departure from a typical heroic fantasy milieu. Other than that, most every thing else is consistent with the genre.
True, the Dragons are the creators of the world and in that sense fulfill the role of gods. But there the similarities between Rêve Dragons and other fantasy gods ends. The characteristic common to heroic fantasy gods (and mythological ones, for that matter) is their ability (and tendency) to appear on the mortal plane, and that mortals can also visit the gods’ plane. Hence arise dialogues, conflicts, pacts, sacrifices, prayers, interventions, religions, cults, ad nauseum … Gods confer powers on mortals in exchange for … what, exactly (the thing has never seemed to make much sense to me nor been very clear)?—let’s say in exchange for their ‘faith’. Furthermore, the gods seem to need mortal worshippers in some sense, and vice versa.
None of that with Rêve’s Dragons. Dragons do not need mortals. If one wishes to speak of need, the only thing the Dragons could be said to need are their dreams. But these dreams include mosquitoes, humans, and the stones on a beach with the same lack of discrimination. Do mortals need the Dragons? One may as well ask if music needs a musician. The question is irrelevant, and even if it comes up, it is meaningless and changes nothing. Mortals and Dragons not only exist on different planes, but their planes of existence are not even parallel. The reality of the Dragons includes the mortal world if only as a vague and minor peculiarity. If the Dragons were gods, they would be inexorably divine ones, and nothing more.
Oneiros, Hypnos, Narcos, and Thanatos (dream, sleep, paralysis, and death) are not gods, but principles, cosmic laws—the only ones which need concern us within the Dreaming. Deifying or basing a cult on them (one could try) would both change nothing and be as meaningless as a cult of the Universal Gravitational Constant.
One traditional aspect of heroic fantasy role-playing is therefore not reproduced here: gods never ceasing to meddle in the affairs of mortals, and vice-versa.
But let’s not draw any hasty conclusions! The absence of gods does not necessarily mean the absence of religions. The great metaphysical question which people have in all times asked themselves—why do we exist?—may equally be asked by the characters populating the worlds of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros. The fact that the world is but a dream may be interpreted differently by different individuals living in different circumstances Such an interpretation might be philosophical, like most High Dreamers’, or superstitious. Said superstition might give rise to the cult of a particular Dragon—be it founded on an entity, monument, or relic of ancient times—with its accompanying hollow and corrupted ceremonies, and its blind and bloody fanaticism.
The Three Ages
Just as life and death are inseparable, so too is the notion of the dream inseparable from that of awakening. The world is a continuous creation, but if the dreamer ceases to dream: negation. A grave question arises: can the Dragons wake up? Unfortunately, the answer is: yes. Two kinds of awakening are considered: individual and collective.
As professional dreamers, the Dragons have rather complex oneiric lives. On the one hand, each individual Dragon has its own personal dream; and simultaneously, the sum of all dreams is dreamed by all Dragons. (This is similar to what are referred to in psychology as the individual unconscious and the collective unconscious). When a creature dies, its Dragon (the one who dreams that creature specifically) has just awoken. Nevertheless, as this creature also exists in the dreams of all Dragons, the awakening of one dreamer has no other effect.
When several Dragons awaken together, on the other hand, it’s not just genocide but a cataclysm, an upheaval of the physical world which manifests in the dreams of the remaining Dragons. And when the majority of them awaken, it’s the end of an Age. Thus an Age is defined as the period between two collective Dragon awakenings.
Two Ages have already passed and serve as the historic and legendary backdrop for the world of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros, which takes place near the beginning of the Third Age.
The First Age
The First Age was called the Age of Dragons. It was the beginning of time, the beginning of dreams. In this era more mythological than truly historic, the Dragons enjoyed dreaming of themselves. In their dreams they lived in fabulous palaces, surrounded by a myriad plants and animals, which their abundant inventiveness never ceased bringing into being. But, in their power and infinite dream, they dreamed a race of beings especially destined to serve them: humanoids. Primarily these were the gnomes and humans, but some more eccentric Dragons also created other avatars: humanoids with porcine heads, humanoids who were completely blue, lizard-men, and so forth. Creatures who were too dissimilar were left to inhabit different kingdoms, but this did not prevent skirmishes and wars. No matter! This, too, could only delight the Dragons, lovers of spectacles, and who thereby shed tears of joy.
The First Age lasted an eternity. It lasted until the gnomes, most industrious of the humanoids, discovered the first gems, dream stones par excellence, stones by their very nature magical—said to be the tears of Dragons. This discovery was followed by the first enchantments, and thus was born magic. Creatures of their own dreams, suddenly the Dragons were no longer the sole masters of it, and, as might have been expected, took this new development very badly. In order to rid themselves of this new nightmare, they awakened en masse. The world suffered terrible cataclysms, and nine-tenths of all creatures died. And thus ended the First Age.
Thereafter, the Dragons were never again seen in flesh and blood. Nowadays, philosophers claim that the world is dreamed by the Dragons. But are these dreamers in fact the same as the rulers of the mythic First Age? What is known, is that these were tremendous beings. And the dreamers who dream us (since we know from the practice of magic that the world is dreamed) are likewise tremendous beings. From there to conclude that the Dreamers and the Dragons of the First Age are one and the same requires a single logical step, a step which has been taken by most philosophers.
The Second Age
So it was that eventually the Dragons went back to sleep. But, in fact, they never again directly inhabited their own dreams—or if they did, it was in forms impossible to discern, perfectly incognito. Likewise, while the common base was dreamed by all, numerous dreams began to be differentiated and separated. Snorks, saurians, feracats, turntooths and other monstrosities were dreamed separately in dreams having no common border. As if defying its brothers, and yet all the while still contributing to the common work, each Dragon secretly cherished the treasure of its own personal dream. Why would they thus dream at cross-purposes? Perhaps they had not gotten over the discovery of magic by the gnomes, and each blamed the others for it.
For the Second Age was above all else the Age of Magic. In this time the gnomes withdrew to the deeps beneath the mountains and magic passed into the hands of humans. Humans used it and abused it, and believing themselves the masters of the world. Sprawling cities grew, kingdoms rose, roads and bridges were built: all the signs of a flourishing civilization. But humans did not live in mutual harmony. Not satisfied with killing each other in endless wars, each sought supremacy through magic. In truth, the extent of their magical powers was enormous, beyond the measure of even of the Third Ages most talented High Dreamers. It is said that by the end of the Second Age one in ten humans was a magician.
And the inevitable happened. Abuse of too-powerful and often uncontrolled magic consequently led to rifts in the fabric of the Dreaming. The Dragons, invoked and pestered by mobs of magicians, began to blunder. Each lost track of what it was dreaming and not dreaming, what belonged in the common Dreaming and what belonged in its secret garden. The dreams became entangled, torn, and scrambled. Creatures from one dream invaded another, while entire portions of the map disappeared who knows how or where—maybe nowhere. And magicians made matters worse, using the phenomenon to banish their enemies, leading to a crescendo of upheavals and raging cataclysms. The Dragons had lost control of their dream turned chaos. To free themselves of this nightmare, they awoke again.
The Third Age
We are now at the beginning of the Third Age. The world is in turmoil, its civilizations collapsed, there are few survivors, and hordes of unknown creatures have invaded from the rifts. The Dragons have returned to their slumber and taken up their dreaming as best they can. But the Dreaming is far from being healed, and rifts remain. Perhaps a thousand years have passed and the Third Age is still in its infancy. What will it be like? What will it be called? Will the Dragons awaken again? Only time will tell. The world has become immense and uncharted. Between a few pockets of more or less autonomous civilization lie vast wildernesses filled with ruins and mystery. In this post-apocalyptic setting, the world awaits rediscovery.
In fact, in the Great Awakening not all the Dragons opened their eyes at the same moment, some just waking up as others were falling back asleep. There is some continuity therefore from Age to Age in spite of the upheavals and ruins. This is why, in the collective memory of humanoids, the ‘Other Age’ is still remembered.