Dreamwalkers: Where Psionics Meets the Unconscious
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue.
What Are Dreamwalkers?
Psionics, and specifically telepathy and telepathy-related talents, in Traveller have generally focussed on targetting characters that are awake and possibly able to oppose the psion’s efforts. This, however, effectively puts the target ‘off-limits’ for at least part of every day, while the target is sleeping—or while the psion is sleeping. The existence of a rare psionic talent, the dreamwalker, represents the exception. Dreamwalkers are able to observe, and sometimes influence or manipulate, others’ dreams.
What Is Dreamwalking?
Dreamwalking is a psionic-enabled outgrowth of what has been called “lucid dreaming” or “controlled dreaming”, which involves the awareness of the dreamer that s/he is dreaming; with training and practice, the lucid dreamer can learn to control the dream. In dreamwalking, the dreamer need not be aware that s/he is dreaming; it is the psion’s awareness that matters. There are four types of dreamwalkers, Observers, Visitors, Benders, and Weavers. See the next section for information on the various types of dreamwalker. In Classic Traveller, dreamwalking is a level 5 activity for Observers and Visitors, or a level 6 activity for Benders and Weavers. In Mongoose Traveller, dreamwalking uses the Read Surface Thoughts check for Observers and Visitors, and the Send Thoughts check for Benders and Weavers, but both checks are at a cost of 4+range, rather than 2+range. Use the standard range limitations for psionics in whichever version of Traveller you play, but limit the range for dreamwalking to about 15,000km if it would normally be more; beyond that distance, speed-of-light ‘lag’ is too high to allow the dreamwalking link to form. The distance is measured by the most direct route, and disregards non-psionic obstacles; the maximum distance between a dreamer and a dreamwalker on Terra would be about 13,000km, if the two were on directly opposite points of the surface.
What Can Dreamwalkers Do?
There are several types of dreamwalkers, divided by their capability to perceive or interact with dreams. The least capable, Observers, can only observe the target’s natural dreams, while they’re happening. Their viewpoint is that of their target, and they have no sensory input that the target does not dream about—that is, if the dreamer does not “hear” anything in the dream, the Observer will not “hear” anything, either. In all types of dreamwalking, the dreamer’s emotional state is part of the information available to the dreamwalker.
The next level of dreamwalker is the Visitor. It has been established that, even though natural laws may not apply to dreams (or apply in different, possibly unique ways), the ‘environment’ of a dream is in fact self-consistent, and generally extends beyond what the dreamer directly perceives. The Visitor may perceive more of the environment than the dreamer does, possibly from a ‘third person’ viewpoint, and all sensory input consistent with the dream environment is available. The Visitor, however, is not perceived by the dreamer, and may not affect the dream or the dream environment.
Still more capable is the Bender. Benders can interact with the dream and the dreamer, affecting the events within it, though they can only do so in ways consistent with the environment’s rules, and that the dreamer will perceive as ‘normal’ for the dream and its environment. Attempting to make any change from the natural progression of the dream, however, risks jolting the dreamer into wakefulness, which ends the dreamwalk. If the Bender does not attempt to interact directly with the dreamer, but only makes subtle changes to the dream and its environment, it is possible for the dreamwalker to remain hidden from the dreamer. Interacting with the dreamer directly ‘creates’ a representation of the dreamwalker within the dream, and the dreamer becomes aware of the dreamwalker’s ‘presence’. Naturally, this poses a high risk of waking the dreamer.
The most capable dreamwalkers are Weavers. Weavers can control the dream environment in toto, able to change both the events and the ‘rules’ of the dream environment. Weavers can remain hidden from the dreamer when making even significant changes to the environment, and there is a lower risk of alterations jolting the dreamer into wakefulness. As with Bending, however, directly interacting with the dreamer makes the dreamer aware of the dreamwalker. Weavers may, under some circumstances, be able to induce and manipulate dreams in a sleeping person, or ‘daydreams’ in a character that is awake but drowsy, bored, or distracted.
Subjective Time vs. “Real” Time
Time, like physical law, appears to be malleable in dreams – while the length of most dreams is in the range of 5-45 minutes as measured by REM sleep duration in sleep labs (daydreams may be shorter, down to a few seconds), to the dreamer, they can seem to last hours or even days. Subjective time is the time that a dream seems to last; “real” time is the amount of time in-game, as perceived by characters not involved in the dream, that REM sleep lasts. Time-based effects of in-dream activity on the dreamer (e.g., reading and memorizing text) use the subjective time; time required for a dreamwalker to manipulate a dream is measured in “real” time.
Creating Dreamwalker Characters
Dreamwalking is closely tied to telepathy, and only telepaths are dreamwalkers. A telepath may be a dreamwalker by referee fiat (and that fiat should extend to the type), or, if random generation is preferred, roll 18+ on 3D6, DM +Psionic Strength. For random generation of dreamwalker type, roll 1D up to three times: for the first roll, 1-4 means that the character is an Observer; 5-6, roll again. On the second roll, 1-4 means the character is a Visitor; 5-6 roll again. On the third roll, 1-4 means the character is a Bender; 5-6 the character is a Weaver. It is technically possible for a dreamwalker character to not be able to exercise the dreamwalking talent due to insufficient Psionic Strength or experience. Because of the nature of dreams, dreamwalker characters should also have “social” skills such as Psychology, Non-Verbal Communication, Streetwise, Liaison, Interrogation, and so on.
Dreamwalkers in Campaigns
In a campaign in the standard setting where the PCs are Zhodani, dreamwalker characters are automatically drafted into the Tavrchedl’ (see Freelance Traveller, August 2014, for a Tavrchedl’ career), and are still considered ‘on call’ after mustering out.
In campaigns where psionics are viewed negatively, such as within the Third Imperium in the standard setting, dreamwalkers will be hated even more viscerally than psions in general, and where a telepath might well need to be proven to be such before being executed, dreamwalkers may well be executed on suspicion only.
In campaigns where psionics are viewed neutrally or positively, it is still likely that dreamwalkers will be perceived as ‘scary’ (dreams are a product of the subconscious; dreamwalkers can therefore get access to your innermost secrets), and will have controls imposed on them by the authorities.
Obviously, the details are left to the referee, and can and should be adjusted to fit the campaign.
How Dreamwalking Works
In order for a dreamwalker to see a dream, the dreamwalker must have some direct familiarity with the dreamer. The greater the familiarity, the easier the dreamer is to contact, and the greater the range at which contact can be made. Meeting the dreamer and having a few minutes’ conversation (e.g., at a cocktail party) is generally enough to be able to see a person’s dreams if the dreamer and dreamwalker are in the same city. Subjective dreamwalking time spent with a dreamer increases familiarity, and thus the range at which s/he can later be contacted.
Observers, Visitors, and Benders must be in a quiet place, with no distractions, conducive to sleep, in order to make contact. They do not need to be asleep themselves, but if they are, the chance of actually making contact – which can only happen while the dreamer is actually asleep and dreaming – goes up. Roll the task check described in “What is Dreamwalking”, above, to connect to a current dream, DM +2 if the dreamwalker is asleep.
Weavers must be in a quiet place with no distraction, but it need not be conducive to sleep, and being asleep confers no benefit for a Weaver. Roll the task check described in “What is Dreamwalking”, above, to connect to a current dream or daydream. If the Weaver wishes to attempt to induce a dream or daydream (for a sleeper who is not then dreaming, or for someone who is awake but bored, tired, or distracted), the same roll applies, but with an additional DM -3.
If an Observer makes contact with the dreamer’s dream, the referee should narrate a scene/vignette (not merely a static scene) for the dreamwalker, which may or may not be relevant to information being sought. The scene may last as long as necessary in subjective time, but will only last a few seconds or minutes in “real” time. The dreamwalker may ask questions about the scene; the referee should answer them only to the extent that the dreamer would have perceived – for example, if the dream has the dreamer walking along a corridor with a vague feeling of being followed, and the Observer asks who was following, the referee should reply that the dreamer simply didn’t know; there was just that feeling of being followed. It is possible that the dreamer is having a lucid dream (that is, the dreamer was aware that it is a dream); in such a case, the referee can also tell the dreamwalker whether this is a repeating dream.
A Visitor should be handled like an Observer, but the referee may answer the Visitor’s questions with detail that should logically have been available, even if not in the direct perception of the dreamer. In the example dream above, if the Visitor asks who was following, the referee should reply that the Visitor couldn’t actually see who was following, just a vague shadowy figure, but it is possible that it was any of a list of individuals that might have reason to follow the dreamer (and give at least a partial list).
A Bender or Weaver should be treated as a Visitor if they make no attempt to modify the dream. To modify the dream, the dreamwalker should describe the modification to be made, then roll the task check described in “What is Dreamwalking”, above, but do not impose any additional Psi cost. If the task check fails, the dreamer wakes up immediately.
Benders and Weavers can modify the dreams that they ‘walk’ in. However, there are limits to the modifications:
Benders can only draw on the dreamer’s experience for modifying a dream. If the dreamer doesn’t have an applicable experience, the modification will fail, and the dreamer will awaken. For example, if the dreamer has never been exposed to gravity other than the natural gravity of her homeworld, the Bender cannot modify the dream environment into one where the gravity differs. The dreamer’s previous dreams count as ‘experience’ for this purpose, so if the dreamer has had previous ‘flying’ dreams, the current dream can be modified into a ‘flying’ dream. Transitions into the modified dream must be ‘reasonable’ within the context of the dream; if, for example, the rules of the dream don’t allow changes of scenery without going past some sort of obvious demarcation, the modification must provide that demarcation in a way that fits within the context of the dream. The dreamer immediately becomes aware of the Bender’s ‘presence’ in the dream, but may not realize that the Bender isn’t ‘part’ of the dream (the Bender should roll the Send Thoughts task (no psi cost); on success, the dreamer doesn’t realize that the Bender isn’t ‘part’ of the dream).
Weavers can draw on their own experience as well as the dreamer’s, and the imagination of both the dreamer and the Weaver can be drawn on as well. If the Weaver’s modifications are consistent with the rules of the dream, and are ‘in context’ for the dream, the Weaver can remain ‘hidden’ from the dreamer. ‘Out of context’ modifications or transitions will reveal the Weaver, as with modifications by a Bender, above, and with similar consequences.
To modify a dream, the dreamwalker should describe the intended modification and roll the Send Thoughts task. The referee should roll the same task, separately. If the dreamwalker’s task fails, the dreamer wakes immediately. If the dreamwalker’s task succeeds, but the referee’s task fails, the dream is modified, but not entirely as the dreamwalker intended, and the dreamwalker is revealed to the dreamer. The referee should describe the changed scene. If both the dreamwalker and referee succeed, the dream is modified as intended, and the referee should narrate the changed scene. A Weaver is not revealed to the dreamer unless he wishes to be; a Bender is always revealed.
What Can Be Learned From Dreamwalking?
It must be remembered that dreams do not necessarily reflect reality, but are influenced by wishful thinking, fantasy, imagination, and so on. Even if a dream is modified into a ‘real’ situation, information from the dream may not be accurate – for example, if in the dream, the dreamer sees the contents of a safe, those contents may not be the actual contents of the safe, but only what the dreamer believes to be the contents, or hopes to be the contents. For each fact that a dreamwalker wishes to ascertain from a dream, the dreamwalker should describe the nature of the fact to be ascertained: “I want to determine the contents of the safe.” “I want to determine who the dreamer met.” A statement of fact to be ascertained may actually be two or more facts – for example, “I want to determine how much money is in the safe” is actually two facts to be determined: first, is there any money in the safe at all, and second, how much.
Once the statement of fact to be determined is made, both the referee and the dreamwalker should use the Read Surface Thoughts task. The referee should use the sum of all of the character’s relevant social skill(s) as a +DM on his roll; the character should use only the relevant social skill with the highest skill level; the referee should use the number of facts over one as a -DM on the roll. If both rolls succeed, the referee should report the fact(s) accurately, and indicate that the character is confident that it is correct. If the character’s roll succeeds, but the referee’s roll fails, the fact should be reported with partial accuracy (e.g., if the character wished to ascertain whether the meeting would occur in Vista Park, the referee would report that the meeting will take place ‘in a park in the city’), and indicate that the character is confident that the information is correct. If the character’s roll fails, but the referee’s roll succeeds, the referee should report the fact accurately, but indicate that the character has little or no confidence in the accuracy of the information, and if both fail, the referee should report the fact with partial or no accuracy, and indicate that the character has little or no confidence in the answer.
Dreamwalking by Benders and Weavers can serve other purposes than information gathering. Psionics-based therapy is part of the Tavrchedl’ stock in trade among the Zhodani; dreamwalking offers the potential to reduce the treatment time in some cases, though the limited number of available Benders or Weavers generally means that this use would be limited principally to important people whose need is considered critical. It could also be used in “re-education”. If your campaign has rules for handling psionic therapy or re-education, it is recommended that hours required be ‘swappable’ at one subjective hour with a dreamwalker therapist being the equivalent of one hour ‘real’ time with an equally-skilled non-dreamwalker therapist – but limit the number of subjective hours per night (sleep period, six-to-ten ‘real’ hours) that can be experienced in therapy/re-education dreams to no more than the smaller of the actual number of ‘real’ hours spent in sleep or half of the dreaming character’s END.
The flexibility of subjective time in dreams also offers an opportunity for ‘ordinary’ education: a Bender or Weaver with knowledge of a desired skill, plus Instruction skill, can reduce the amount of ‘real’ time required to master a non-physical skill (e.g., Navigation, Computer, etc.). It can possibly also be used to teach the theory part of physical skills (e.g., ‘rules of the road’ for Vehicle skills), but much of physical skill involves what is called ‘muscle memory’, which cannot be instilled by dreaming. As with therapy and re-education above, limit the number of ‘effective’ subjective hours of dreamwalker-assisted learning to the lower of the actual number of ‘real’ hours spent sleeping or half the dreaming character’s END. It will take the same number of total hours – subjective plus ‘real’ – to gain the skill or level as in the basic rules, but also limit the maximum skill level that can be attained if the entire ‘course’ is ‘taught’ through dreamwalking to one half (rounding down) of the lower of the dreamwalker’s skill in the topic being taught or the dreamwalker’s Instruction skill (that is, if the dreamwalker has Computer-4 and Instruction-3, the maximum level of Computer that can be taught totally through dreamwalking is Computer-1 [half of Instruction-3 (1.5), rounded down]). An attempt to teach the physical aspects of a physical skill within a dream will succeed with the same time caveats, but will not carry over into the ‘real’ world the way pure knowledge will – though the theoretical knowledge of how to perform the action will carry over (e.g., a dreamer ‘taught’ to ride a bicycle in a dream will know how to ‘push off’ to start moving, but will not gain the agility or ‘muscle memory’ to actually keep his/her balance while riding until s/he actually rides a bike in the ‘real’ world for a while).
Even if the dreamer isn’t a ‘lucid dreamer’, a Bender or Weaver can engage the dreamer’s ‘dream self’ in conversation or debate, and can convince the dreamer of a proposition or to take specific actions in the ‘real world’. In addition to any relevant dreamwalking tasks, roll the normal interpersonal tasks as though the attempt to convince were happening in the ‘real world’. Note that the dreamer may remember the dream (see the task below). If the dreamer does not remember the dream, s/he will still be convinced (if the attempt to convince succeeded); s/he just won’t necessarily know why s/he ‘changed his/her mind’.
Psionics and Other Mental Activities Within Dreams
It’s not unlikely that a Bender’s or Weaver’s player-character will see (or think s/he sees) possibilities for the use of psionics within a dream, perhaps on the theory that in the dream, the dreamwalker is at ‘closer’ range than in the ‘real’ world, and thus able to use a psionic skill that s/he couldn’t use because of range limitations. No! The dreamwalker is not actually at closer range, and range limitations still apply.
Non-psionic activities, however, are a different question. It is distinctly possible that if the dreamer is naturally susceptible to hypnosis in the ‘real’ world s/he can be hypnotized in dreams by a Bender or Weaver. The dreamwalker must have the relevant skills (e.g., Psychology), and roll the relevant tasks. Post-hypnotic suggestions or ‘trigger words’ can be implanted, and will be effective in the ‘real’ world. The referee should be careful to limit the opportunity for abuse, but it can be used to create a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ or a sleeper agent like in the movie Telefon.
- To initiate a dreamwalk:
- Use the Read Surface Thoughts task, imposing the full psionic strength point cost for the task and range. If the dreamwalker is asleep (lucid dreaming) at the time of contact, DM +2. If the dreamwalker is a Weaver, and is attempting to induce the dreamer to dream or daydream, impose an additional (cumulative) DM -3. This is the only task that applies to Observers and Visitors.
- To modify a dream after initiating a dreamwalk:
- This task applies only to Benders and Weavers. Use the Send Thoughts task, with no psionic strength point cost. The referee also rolls this task. Neither the dreamwalker nor the referee apply any DMs. If the dreamwalker’s task fails, the dreamer wakes. If the dreamwalker succeeds, but the referee fails, the dream is modified, but not exactly as planned, and the dreamwalker is revealed to the dreamer. If both the dreamwalker and the referee succeed, the dream is modified as planned, and a Bender is revealed to the dreamer. Weavers wishing to remain hidden should roll the following task.
- To remain unnoticed by the dreamer after modifying a dream:
- Applies to Weavers only. Use the Send Thoughts task, with no psionic strength point cost. Must be rolled after every modification of the dream, until the Weaver is revealed to the dreamer, after which the Weaver can no longer be hidden.
- To be taken as ‘part’ of a dream after modifying it and being revealed:
- Applies to Benders and Weavers. Use the Send Thoughts task, with no psionic strength point cost. Must be rolled every five subjective minutes by Benders; must be rolled after each modification by Weavers, but only if the Weaver has previously been revealed.
- To determine a fact from a dream:
- Both the referee and the dreamwalker should use the Read Surface Thoughts task. The referee should use the sum of all of the character’s relevant social skill(s) as a +DM on his roll; the character should use only the relevant social skill with the highest skill level; the referee should use the number of facts over one as a -DM on the roll. If both rolls succeed, the referee should report the fact accurately, and indicate that the character is confident that it is correct. If the character’s roll succeeds, but the referee’s roll fails, the fact should be reported with partial accuracy, and indicate that the character is confident that the information is correct. If the character’s roll fails, but the referee’s roll succeeds, the referee should report the fact accurately, but indicate that the character has little or no confidence in the accuracy of the information; if both fail, the referee should report the fact with partial or no accuracy, and indicate that the character has little or no confidence in the answer.
- To remember a dream modified by a Bender or Weaver:
- This task is rolled by the referee and the dreamer, not the dreamwalker. Formidable, <no skill>, INT, Instant. If both the referee and the dreamer succeed, the dreamer recalls the dream with the same amount of detail as if the dream had actually happened in the real world. If the dreamer succeeds, but the referee fails, the dreamer remembers the general sense of the dream and perhaps one or two short ‘vignettes’ from it, but not the entire dream. If the dreamer fails, but the referee succeeds, the dreamer has an uncomfortable feeling that s/he dreamed about something, but can’t recall even the general sense. If both fail, the dreamer does not recall the dream at all. In any case, any therapeutic effects, education, or post-hypnotics carry over with no change.