Thursday, October 5, 2017

Daemons of Dreams and the Dead: Part One

Today's two-part Portcullis entry is from guest author, Dave Folger., for which we are both honored and grateful.

Daemons. Not to be confused with the type of monster particular to the Dungeons & Dragons game. In mythology, daemons refers to nature spirits between gods and humans similar to ghosts, chthonic heroes, or spirit guides. In computing, it refers to programs that run in the background. The discussion that follows fits both definitions well, which is why although there exists potential for confusing them with D&D’s daemons, the term is too fitting not to use.

Roleplaying games are a peculiar type of game. It treats a fantasy world and those monsters and characters who inhabit it as if they are real. The potential for detail in the fantasy world is practically limitless, but limitless detail can be impractical for purposes of playing a game. Enter the daemons. These are fantastic creatures, generally nature spirits, that typically operate in the background. They conveniently tie up loose ends that enable the fantasy world to make perfect sense without overburdening the game.

The Restless Traveler

Recently I was asked for some “game mechanics” reasons why adventurers should pay for a room at the inn rather than rough it outside. There are some pretty obvious answers. Bad weather. Wandering monsters. Guards arresting you for vagrancy. Thieves pilfering your camp. But the answer I gave had to do with troublesome minor spirits who invade your dreams, preventing the sort of “restful sleep” spell-casters need to be able to memorize spells in the morning.

I imagined that homes and certainly inns would have certain trinkets or decorations that prevent these spirits from entering its precincts. What would seem like odd items of superstitious nature to us, such as dreams catchers, have functional purpose in the fantasy realm. Special symbols carved into an inns sign may serve the purpose just fine. Homes might have grain or sand thrown before its door as a means of detecting invisible intruders. Pets also possess a different sensory range that complement that of their human companions and may serve to frighten some spirits away, or at least alert the household to the presence of spirits.

It is therefore preferable to seek lodging in a permanent shelter. This does not preclude the possibility of getting a good night’s sleep under the stars when characters are traveling. Elements and wandering monsters notwithstanding, certain types of characters who are to a degree “at home” in the outdoors--Druids, Elves, and Rangers--have special defenses against dream daemons. Elves are alleged to not sleep and so they are unaffected. Druids (and high level Rangers) learn to use local flora to craft small, wreath-like ornaments which are effective at warding meddlesome nature spirits.

There’s no limit to how elaborate you can get. Just keep in mind, these are details that usually fade into the background unmentioned so that for game purposes it can generally be assumed PCs must pay to stay at an inn. It’s only when the underlying assumptions fail for some reason making what is usually ordinary and mundane become a challenge and part of the adventure. It is then that the details come into the foreground as they serve some purpose within the overall adventure. Otherwise they are at best referenced as flavor text, if at all. For further inspiration, the 1st edition AD&D, Dungeon Masters Manual, pg 26-27 has a list of gems and their reputed magical properties. And pages 220-221 has a list of herbs, spices and medicinal vegetables with their uses. The Wikipedia articles on Amulets and Lucky Symbols are also worth reading. The entry on Fairy includes a section for Protective Charms.

Dave Folger runs the Myths & Legends blog ( His personal campaigns are heavily influenced not only by the Dungeons & Dragons game but by the later fantasy RPGs of Gary Gygax. He played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons at the age of 6 and was co-authoring a module for the Lejendary Adventure RPG with Gary at the time of his passing.

No comments:

Post a Comment