Game: Reve de Dragon
Series: Reve de Dragon
Review Dated: 3rd, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 22
Average Score: 7.33
This is not a review.
I cannot offer a review on a game I left in France several years ago, when I had to trade the mantle of a dreamer for that of a scholar. Yet, when I learnt that Rêve de Dragon had been translated into English… well, it awakened memories. Out of some twenty years adventuring, out of more than a hundred RPGs, this one is among the few that make me wish I could trade again my keyboard for a sword. Or rather, for the walking stick of a wanderer.
Obviously, I will not detail the content of the rulebook(s). What I can do is musing on what I remember of RdD after some ten years. On what makes it special enough for me to remember.
The first age was the age of dragons. Dragons dreamed the world, and the world was one. Dragons shared a same dream, and in that dream they dwelled. Until the day when the dream escaped them, when humans and other creatures the dragons had dreamed emancipated. They had learnt to dream for themselves, to change the dream of the dragons. They had learnt what, in other worlds, would be called magic.
The dragons left their own dream. Humans who had learnt to master it, the so-called high dreamers, took their place, or so they thought. They could see no limit to their power, but for each others’. They began to battle, to destroy one another with spells so potent they could shatter the dream. They made of the world a nightmare, and many a dragon awoke, and the world was no more.
Thus ended the second age, the age of the high dreamers, and began the third, that of the wanderers. Today, the dragons are back to sleep, but the world is no longer one. The dreams are numerous: fragments of the old dream for some, new dreams altogether for others. If those dreams are connected, it is but accidentally: shimmering curtains act as doors one may pass without even realizing it. Doors which, more often than not, are one-way tickets to the unknown.
What is a wanderer? Not every traveler is one, but most everyone has been. Usually, wanderlust will seize you in your teens. You will leave your owns and travel… as far as the next village, maybe, then back. Or as far as the next town. Or city. Or maybe will you be one of those who never stop. Those few are the “true” wanderers, who will finally leave the dream they were born in, willingly or by mistake, never to see it again.
It never left you. The urge to go forward, to discover new horizons, to meet new challenges. Your possessions are what you, and whatever mount or carriage you may possess, can carry. You are living for today, and tomorrow is always new.
RdD is poetic, with a tinge of humor. It is what really makes the game, and what I feel unable to render here. To give an example, though: quests have little to do with accumulating wealth, or fighting monsters. Too much wealth cannot be carried around, and fights can be deadly even for a seasoned adventurer. As it stands, to travel and explore is in itself the “quest” of a wanderer, full of dangers, full of wonders.
Another type of quest is to realize a dream. You have a dream so vivid that, when you awake, you feel the need to make it true. It can be as simple as tasting a loaf of bread made by the best baker in the next town, or as strange as wanting to see its mayor dancing with a bear. If you can make your dream come true, you have an epiphany: you remember parts of who you were in past lives.
Past lives? Yes! Because you are a wanderer and live fascinating adventures, the dragons find it hard to forget you. When you die, you “awaken” as someone else, who looks a lot like your past self did. You have the same attributes as your past self at the moment of death (they increase with experience) and some of the memories, veiled in dreams.
In some circumstances, as with the epiphanies already mentioned, that veil may be lifted and so, you may remember skills that one of your past selves had mastered beyond your current level. That is one of the ways to improve, though maybe I should have mentioned that in the next part of this no-review:
RdD is a skill-based system. It revolves around one percentage table, which fits on the character sheet. Now, beside RdD, my other favorite games are BESM (Guardians of Order), Amber DRPG (Phage Press), and the first Starwars RPG (West End Games). I tend to prefer rule-light systems, which RdD is not. I had the same discussion with the author as I had with Gary Gygax some fifteen years later. Both of them will tell you that rules are important if only to prevent the game master (and Denis Gerfaud hates that very word, “master”) from being a puppeteer, with the players as puppets. I will not carry that discussion here, I will simply admit that, in the case of RdD, the rules fit the world.
Actually, it is one of the aspects of the game that make it so special: everything fits. Why you adventure, your quests, the way you gain experience, why you can join again the party after your death, how magic (the high dream) works: the world may be a mosaic of shattered dreams, it is conceptually coherent, and the rules blend seamlessly. I remember one time when I did not know the rule for some specific circumstance: I quickly came up with one, only to discover later that I had but reinvented what was in the book. Once you “get it,” it all fits, it all flows smoothly, like a dream.
I own two editions of the game. The second one has known two versions, I think, both produced by Multisim. The first of those versions was a box with three booklets and a screen. The illustration for the box (the same as for the screen) represents a stage which expands into dreams and the characters’ reality. It is by Florence Magnin, one of France’s most famous Fantasy illustrators, notably for her work on Zelazny’s Amber (novels, tarot, French translation of the RPG, even a separate art book). Actually, her vision of Amber did not fit mine as well as Kucharski’s (who illustrated the original RPG). On the other hand, her very personal style heralds RdD perfectly; her illustration for this game is still, in my eyes, her masterpiece.
The interior art (all in black and white) is by Rolland Barthélémy. I fear I have to repeat myself: his work fits the game to a tie, making it easier to get into the right mood. In addition, his work underline this great quality of coherence I have mentioned for the game, as (1) he alone drew the interior art, (2) his art does illustrate the very text you read, (3) he often makes use of a few “iconic characters” (the main one being the sassy Nitouche Peregrine) to illustrate different aspects of the game.
Alas, if Rolland Barthélémy’s artwork can be found in the English translation for the game, it does suffer from its adaptation to the .pdf format. The problem is: no greyscale. But line art is translated in pixels not only as black and white but also as shades of grey: without grey pixels to serve as a transition between the black pixels and the white, a smooth line become a ragged (pixelised) one. Of course, the use of greyscale would have made for a much, much bigger .pdf file, making it a nightmare to those of us with only a 56k modem.
First, I should point out that I had but the most cursory look on Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros. The following comments only deal with details; if you want to know more, I can only advise you to download the free main rulebook (and the free Excel character generator, and the free character sheet, and…).
I was both thrilled and afraid when I learnt about an English translation for the game. Thrilled because I can only wish for one of my favorite RPGs to find new gamers; afraid because Denis Gerfaud’s prose can be very difficult to translate. An example? Let’s consider the guerrier sorde: “guerrier” can be easily translated as “warrior,” but “sorde” is a bilingual pun: its echoes both “sword” (an homophone) and “sordide” (French for “sordid”). How do you translate both aspects? Much of the game’s peculiar mood stems from such poetic puns; in French, the book(s) are a delight to read.
[Edit: When I submitted this review to RPGnet, the translator sent me an email to point out that his “sordid warrior” could be read aloud as being a “sworded warrior,” thus preserving the pun.]
It was a relief to learn that Denis Gerfaud had sanctioned the translation. Yet, I do remember him to be very adverse to the word maître (master) in maître de jeu (game master). So, how comes that the Gardien des rêves is now a Dream Master? Of course, the literal translation (Dreams Guardian) does not sound like much, so I understand it was discarded. Still, my point is: a game with so peculiar a mood, conveyed less by rules than by poetic use of a language, can only be challenging to translate into another.
I could go on with my nitpicking; a precise bookmark index makes it very easy to dig out whatever you are searching for, and I was searching for problems, for what I knew had been especially difficult to translate. If I like the use of “dreamtime” for “haut rêve” (high dream), I have found the very title of Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros to be more esoteric than poetic. Now, a literal translation for Rêve de Dragon would be “Dragon’s Dream,” which sounds very cliché in English. Still, I would have preferred a title such as “When the Dragons Dream…” More poetic, maybe? Your mileage may vary. Denis Gerfaud has approved the translation. Multisim, the French editor, has approved it also. And I am grouchy like a groin.