View Full Version : Enemies Within The Party's Own Minds

2008-02-15, 05:06 PM
If you've bought Dreamwalker (an awesome netbook, in my opinion), then you will have no doubt been awed by the main antagonists of the game, the Taenia Spiritus. For those of you that haven't, the Taenia are an endosocial race of psychic parasites that feed on negative emotion, by gradually eating away at their host's dreams. Needless to say, this is not good for the hosts sanity, and as a result, eventually turns the host into either a nervous, suicidal wreck, or an insane serial killer. Yeah, they're scary. So, why am I telling you this? Because I can't let up a story hook like that, thank you very much! So anyway...

The PCs are just adventuring, minding their own business when one of the villains of the campagin, a psychic psycho, hits them with a strange attack that seems to have no effect...At first. Then the nightmares start. They aren't that bad at first, only a few dreams that end in the PCs being utterly drained and defeated, wallowing in their own misery, but then, they still are when they wake up. Then the voices start. Evil voices that no one else can here, whispering to the PCs of their own failures and shortcomings. How they could have saved those people, but didn't because of their own cowardice, of why their home burned down, and how they could have prevented it; the usual symptoms of psychotic depression. Then they start seeing things. Horrible monstrosities that seem ripped from the player's increasingly disturbing dreams, taunting them, cajoling them, mocking them. Up until then, the PCs have been semi-normal, trying to do their thing despite increasing evidence that they might require psychiatric attention...Until one of those "hallucinations" turns out to be very real; a Taenia Broodking, spawned from the hives that the villain sadistically planted in the party's psyche, ventures into the waking world to wreak terrible destruction, and to happily revel in his former host's anguish. Although if all goes as planned, the PCs defeat him and spare the world from his bloodthirsty machinations, the root of the problem-the very real Taenia that infest in their minds-is still there. Now the players have to go into their minds and defeat the alien infestations...Before another Broodking is born from them.

Spooky, huh? This sets up a nice story arc where the players have to venture into their dreamscapes and confront both the Taenia and the emotional issues that allowed the hives to gain a foothold in the first place-the Taenia only provoke negative emotion, they don't cause it.

So, is this a good idea? What forms should the Taenia (who model each and every infestation uniquely based on the particular host's fears) take based on commonly seen PC personalities? What should their dreamscapes be like, based on the same PC personalities?

Couple things:

1) As said before, the Taenia have an endosocial hive structure, which is to say, they have a similar biology to termites and and ants, with larvae, drones, and a queen. The Broodkings are an exception; Essentially, they're mutants who aren't part of the normal Taenia hierarchy, and have goals of their own. More disturbingly, Broodkings actually enjoy spreading misery and fear, whereas the normal Taenia simply do it to feed and reproduce.

2) Each dreamscape has a "denouement", essentially a goal which the entire purpose of the dream is to achieve. The Taenia work by preventing the dreamer from doing so, and as a result, causing him to feel gradually more depressed and unworthy, the feelings of which the Taenia feed upon. On the other hand, if the denouement is achieved, it gives a great boost to any efforts to help the dreamer, and also severly weaken the Taenia.

3) The "Taenia hallucinations" aren't actually a part of Dreamwalker: RP-wise, that's an intentional side effect of the forceful implantation the villain did, OOC, it's just much cooler.

[Insert Witty Comment Asking For Responses Here]

Azerian Kelimon
2008-02-15, 05:22 PM
I'll assume There Are No Therapists, or Pep up programmes, right? Joke aside, shouldn't the PC's be able to do Wis rolls to know they're not to blame, or INT rolls to notice that their dreams seem fake? You must always give crafty or clever players the chance to kill your arcs, because, to be frank, if you take the path of an adventurer, only an idiot will wangst over things like not saving someone.

2008-02-15, 06:03 PM
I'll assume There Are No Therapists, or Pep up programmes, right? Joke aside, shouldn't the PC's be able to do Wis rolls to know they're not to blame, or INT rolls to notice that their dreams seem fake? You must always give crafty or clever players the chance to kill your arcs, because, to be frank, if you take the path of an adventurer, only an idiot will wangst over things like not saving someone.

Unless it was someone important to them. Before they became an adventurer.

I won't allow the WIS roles (they already think it's their fault, and the Taenia take advantage of that). Good point about the INT rolls, though.

2008-02-15, 06:12 PM
I swear I've seen this this thread before...

Anyway, cool idea. Have you decided how the 'denouement' is going to mechanically relate to the Taenia? Perhaps the upper echelons are invincible/ridiculously powerful until the denouement is achieved?

Also, what'd be an awesome final dungeon would be if the PCs had to go into the mind of the psycho who infected them in the first place. However, they'd have to deal with the effects of his insanity on the dreamscape as they try to defeat the Taenia

Azerian Kelimon
2008-02-15, 06:17 PM
Or better yet. An "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" scenario, but with a happy ending if they players are witty.

Kol Korran
2008-02-18, 01:38 PM
Um, i've done something a bit similar (though on a much smaller scale), on my last campaign. It took place in Eberron, and after some Catastrophe they got sucked/ transported into a torn fragment of Dal Quor (the dream plane). The place was mostly fog, and actually contained but one nightmare creature (DreamMaster, for those who know. but it's not importent for this post). who wanted to feed on the psychic energy of one of them, who venture far into the mist without them (the Paladin who struggled with his concious over choices he made).
The remaining party however couldn't see this dream monstrosity, and try to follow their friend. as they were equipmentless, they had to create some quasi rela equipment and powers from raw dream stuff. on the wya they found heavily distorted scenes from their past, each with an inkling to the Paladin, or their own lingering "issues". as they approached their comrade they got better at manipulating the dream stuff, and could sense their adversery. as a final ditch attempt, he made each one face a distored representation of himself (which proved nearly lethal to one of them). finally they met the shriveed hiding dream master, and helped save their comrade.

Anyway, from that experience, and from thinking about it at times, i hope the folloing points might help: (i'm assuming you're planning on a campaign arc, and not jsut a single adventure):

1) first and formost- the characters MUST have verydeveloped personalities, and be decent roleplayers. otherwise- you're doing a lot ofwork for nothing.

2) the discovery should be gradual. Wis checks, Int checks, Caster level checks for divination spells and more, are all good.(done secretly of course. i'd suggest you just generate a random table, before game, and use that insted of dice) but even if they succeed, then the information is obscure, not making much sense, maybe even a bit confusing. for example- when the spiritus try to provoke to some hostile action, and the character saves you could say "this person angers you greatly for some reason, and you almost draw your sword, but you don't at the last minute" or "this entire place makes you feel unsettled, you feel your hand shake, you block all sounds trying to concentrate, hearing only a silent sussurus" (i'm not a native english speaker, i hope i spelled that right)

3) the progression should also be gradual. it should have many slight hindrances or Symptoms, growing as time passes. these are to add some inconvinience to the party at times (non major at most times), and all kind of (mostly false) leads. some examples- losing a night's sleep, minuses on concentration/spot/listen/diplomacy checks, animals shun you (problematic for druid and ranger), increased/ reduced hunger, difficulty to control shape (for changling and shifter), and so on, losing a round or two sudenly, whiel staring into space in a trance...

4) the illusions: i suggest they should be in one's mind only (forgot the proper term for that). only he/ she sees it. again progression- at first more general illusions, maybe even badly made (low resistence DC), and slowly more personal, mroe detailed, more believable illusions. if each person's hive can sense the other hives, maybe they can grow and learn to communicate? you could cause realy tense scenes there (though again- they must be realy good roleplayers. have more minis/ icons to describe the different sitation).
one more point about the illusions- they must appear at least somewhat plausiable. no "and a monster appears". and prefereably- very, very subtle (one of the party member "noticing" that their patron shifted his face, just as they came in... a detection spell "giving" a different result, misshearing a word or two, or hearing something else).

5) if there is an authority figure with enlightened/ mystic/ prophetic abilities, the Spiritus can try to hide their influence as if coming from them. (in the dream appears "you must free the artifact X from it's tomb, or else bla bla bla" when of course doing so would cause great harm and disaster). it would be best for the spiritus if this source is very inaccesible (so the characters can't question him), but it could prove interesting. (this lead might wreck havoc with paladins/ celrics/ druids/ monks and such).

6) as to going into the dream scapes: first of all, you should plan a whole different set of rules for acting there- dreams can be anything right? if you turn your mind in the right direction. this deals with time, movement, perception (how far do you see? how close? is it you doing the watching? or are you outside yourself?) personification (do you appar as yourself? taller? a color to your eyes? maybe some other special feature? (nearly invisible for the "blend in the crowd" person, a crack down the middle, if believe he is flawed). what "powers" do the person have in dreams? what does Rage look like? bardic music? a magic spell? what can a druid change to in dreams?
I suggest you make a system that defines some of these qualities, with possible focus on. stability, dream shaping, dream moving, and so... due to my next point, it might even be wise to keep a seperate character sheet for "dreams" with the approriat skills, attributes, and such. the Dream character should stem from several sources- the normal character sheet, accomplishments and training through the campaign (finding a scholar who can train the party, finding an artifact that enhances dream persona, or accomplishments in former dream ventures)

7) dream ventures: i suggest that the characters would venture into their dreams before the final battle on different occasions. this might happen when the spiritus try to goad them, or submerge with them (i'm not familiar enough with your concept for them), or perhaps some insight gained (due to the campaing, or perhaps sufficient WIS/ INT saves or other tests?). It is best if at least at first you make them believe it's somewhere else and not encounter the spiritus at all, just their more dream substantial figments. (the spiritus shape the dream to make it seem like another plain? a labirinth of one of their enemies?) these should idealy be short adventures (several encounters top), focused on the horror of the possesion, and of the character's actions. here you might bring to full effect the character's own.. well, character. these are very personalised for each character, and perhaps demand personal adventures (though if the hives communicate, suddenly the adventurers begin sharing in each other's dreams. this might be a great way to show character's weaknesses, hidden past, shame, flaws and such, and have the other character help to overcome them... boy this was a badly structured sentence)
as the characters become more and mroe aware, they will face better and better each time. of course, the spiritus grow as well...

8) as to the Spiritus themselves. i have no idea how they should look, or stats or such. but Eberron hasa few Quori nightmare creature you can use, you can always take some outsiders and twist them, i haven't read it, but the "heroes of horro" sounds like a good source to me.
have you read the "sandman" series? there might be some ideas there you can use, either for spiritus, or nightmares they cause.

9) the "goal" at the end of the dreamscape: depending on whether your players might like it or not, it might be cool to find that the goal wasn't what the player thought, but something else, unexpected, but understood in retrospect ("it wasn't my father i was angry at, it was me, all along....") soppy? emotional? therapy session by prolonged nightmarish torture? well yes. most probably won't like it, but dramatic roleplayers would probably love it. just make sure it's them that come up with the solution. (works as a nice turning point for the self searching anguished character)

this has been a long post... hope it helped. it sounds like a wonderfull idea, though might be hard to execute. it depends a lot on the type of players you have. let us know how it went!
oh, one last thing- if you'd like us to give suggestions to type of nightmares/ delusions/ illusions and such for the character, let us know

2008-02-18, 02:23 PM
I won't allow the WIS roles (they already think it's their fault, and the Taenia take advantage of that). Good point about the INT rolls, though.

Actually, that is exactly what Wisdom rolls are for, and you should probably let them make them - to know the dreams are fake, as well as convincing themselves they are not to blame could very easily be a charisma check (see Chaos Beast).

2008-02-18, 03:16 PM
It might work for you, but this is not how I run my games. This sounds like horror campaign, in that the PCs are powerless against the terrible. I think an important part of D&D is to give the PCs choices that influence the future. Going around and scraping up the after-effects of things that are all their fault just doesn't seem very fun.