A somewhat dry blog title, perhaps, but it’s a subject I find both interesting and very important. ODAM Publishing’s work relies heavily upon using unique settings to set a specific mood and theme, and The Shared Dream is no exception. In an RPG, theme has lots of different ways to be delivered. Our RPG books have short stories, backgrounds and histories of unique people, and of course we can use art and layout to communicate the theme. The players themselves have even more options when it comes to communicating theme; since they are actively telling stories, they can choose exactly how our theme is utilized in their stories.
Board games, obviously, are a different animal. While some of the same tools still apply (properly thematic artwork, extra written material in the rulebook and cards,) unlike an RPG, theme cannot be injected into a board game where there is none. While in any good game, micro stories will develop, and some groups will expand upon that, for most players, theme is either there or it’s not.
Which of course, brings me to the topic of today’s blog: communicating theme through mechanics in The Shared Dream.
If you’re not familiar with Of Dreams and Magic, the core theme is that of belief versus doubt. This is personified by the main antagonist of the story being a literal, malignant personification of doubt and disbelief simply known as The Doubt. (You can find out more about The Doubt on our sister site here!)
Since The Shared Dream is an adaptation of ODAM, The Doubt remains as the primary antagonist. The players share a common goal (reliving their shared dream experience in the real world) and a common enemy in The Doubt.
The Doubt is represented in The Shared Dream in three primary ways.
The first is through the Conviction/Nightmare system that closely mirrors ODAM. In ODAM and TSD, characters must spend Conviction to fuel their magical powers. When these points are spent, they are directly added to a Nightmare pool. This Nightmare pool is then used to spawn Shadows and Reavers. This mechanic represents the reactionary methods that The Doubt uses – the more an Anima uses magic, the harder The Doubt works to destroy them. It also requires using magic to be a process that includes risk vs reward assessment – spending Conviction now may solve your current problem, but it will always lead to further issues by increasing your Nightmare. Finally, this mechanic furthers the theme that using magic is a dangerous risk and that Anima are under constant pressure from The Doubt.
The second is through Shadows and Reavers, the literal manifestations of The Doubt. It is through Shadows and Reavers that The Doubt is able to directly strike against Anima. These enemies serve as the active antagonist in a game of TSD and are the most direct loss condition – when an Anima suffers enough Doubt points from direct conflict with Shadows and Reavers, they are no longer able to dream, and are effectively removed from the game.
The final way is through Taint. Every location in TSD becomes more and more tainted the longer an Anima stays in that location. This Taint is used to direct Shadow and Reaver movement, and makes enemies stronger when in those locations. This mechanic adds a feeling of urgency to the game – players cannot hide from The Doubt, but instead must rush to fulfill their objectives before The Doubt becomes too overwhelming.