One note up front: I only guided a single one-shot before writing this reivew. The 3 players didn't have any prior experience with tabletop RPG's.
After leading a second one-shot my view hasn't changed. The only exception is that I first thought a gritty realistic setting wouldn't be possible with the Dreamchaser system, but I now think it is.
I will follow the same order here as we did in the one-shot and when describing rules or mechanics I will not go into extensive detail, but instead hope to give a general idea of how things work.
Let's start with the dream map. Because the one-shot was based on part of a larger sandbox game that I ran some time ago, I placed the dream (end goal) in the center of the table instead of having the players vote on what they should be doing. I also added a second dream underneath since the first goal was meant as a red herring. The players each wrote down one thing they wanted to accomplish as part of the session/story. These are called milestones and are numbered to give a flow to the story. Once numbered we placed the milstones in a triangle around the central dream.
After the dream map is created we performed so called "vision rolls". These die rolls give players an opportunity to see a possible future and gain an advantage if that future comes to pass. Each outcome is assigned to a milestone and can be "used" until the milestone has been passed. Two example visions are giving first aid to a different player or decrypting an encrypted message.
Now it is time to get into character creation. This process is remarkably easy which is always a plus. At the start you describe your character using tags like selfish or relentless. Strategies are chosen after that. Think of these like abilities or knowledge a character might have. For instance occult knowledge or shapeshifting. And now it is time to write numbers on the character sheet. First off the players distribute points between reason and imaagine. Reason is used in game when something would logically be possible, while imagine is used when skills (or reality) have to be bent to make something happen. I will get into this in the next paragraph. After that it is time to give the character his/her attribute points. Dreamchaser characters have 3 attributes: Body, mind, and spirt. Body indicates hit points when physical challenges are encountered, mind for mental challenges, and spirt for social or faith based challenges. The character now exists, but has no depth. To fix this the character gets 2 or 3 relationships to make the character part of the world. A relationship might be a generic and nameless reference, but could also be a soul mate. Lastly each character gets a few belongings that are unique for that character. An effigy or customized computer for instance. While the book contains lists of tags, strategies, relationships, and belongings they don't have to come from a list. Come up with your own, but also take caution that players don't make them either to broad or powerful. Academic knowledge might sound fine initially, but it can cover anything from arts to physics.
After all of that it is now finally time to talk about the rules. The players perform all die rolls while the guide merely states the difficulty of each roll. When players throw dice they throw 2 10-sided dice. One die for either reason or imagine, and the other for a strategy that is applicable to the challenge. Characters are able to use tags that apply to a situation to reroll dice, but the guide can also do this to force players to reroll. The game has a limited resource called belief which can be spent to force a specific outcome when rolling dice. Die rolls don't have modifiers. Challenges have their own tags and body, mind, and spirit statistics. If a player fails a challenge he or she determines what happens, as a few examples the character might be knocked out, killed, or exhausted. This is something we did not follow during the one-shot. At the end of a session players get to level up. This is not done like Dungeons and Dragons where a level dictates what increases and what abilities you gain, instead it is more freeform. You can increase for instance the body statistic or gain a new strategy.
Finally after all of that it is time for the conclusion. Dreamchaser is a game that is easy to pick up, even for players new to RPG's. It also has no inherent setting, meaning the system can be implemented broadly. Originally I thought gritty realism would be extremely difficult with this system, but after running a game in the style of Call of Cthulhu I think it can be done if the group is clear on what strategies to allow and how far players are allowed to stretch the use of strategies.
This (being separate from a setting) opens a whole lot of options like supplements for other RPG's, movies, book, you name it. The dream map is a way to create a story together with the player so everybody gets what it is that he or she wants. The game does require players that are more interested in a good story than in powergaming or min-maxing statistics. What I got from both reading and playing the game is that it is a creation of love. The creator cut away anything that was or could be unnecessary and polished the game into a generic system that I would describe as excellent.
At the start of this review I mentioned some changes I would make to the system or at least contemplate for future games. These are the following:
- Adding modifiers to challenges. To give two examples, a surprise attack will give players a single easier to achieve attack or better tools might also make a challenge easier.
- Different damage types. While I am not yet sure how this could be done with how damage is dealt, the previously mentioned modifiers could be one way.
- Give players a limited pool they can tap into or need to safeguard. Think of this like mana for spellcasting or sanity in a horror game. In the case of sanity the decrease might be a test against the current value so becoming mad becomes easier and easier as sanity decreases.
- Limited use abilities would be another thing I would add. An example strategy is shapeshifting, but I think that shapeshifting into anything (or anyone) at any time is overpowered. Taking such a power away completely would be a shame, so I would instead allow a player to spend one or two points from the previously mentioned pools to allow such an ability.
- Add a second tier milestone. Milestones are meant to be completed within a single session. What I would offer players is the chance to create a large overarching milestone that can be broken down into smaller milestones. Once all small milestones are completed and the larger one is in turn also completed, the player gets a small bonus reward for the long term commitment.
- The last thing I would add would be ranges to weapons. These would of course be relative since they would otherwise bog down the system too much, so think of the following: Melee, close, medium, long, extreme. A weapon might have a "preferred" range in which it will work normally, but it can work one step outside of that by increasing the difficulty of the shot by one or two. Due to how easy and open the system is most if not all of these ideas could be added without any issues.
The last thing I want to cover in this review is about the supplements. I have not yet read any adventures yet, so I can't comment on those. This game has several supplements for different genres. These supplements aren't meant as complete settings or world building books. Instead each supplement contains lists of dreams, milestones, tags, etc. that serve as ideas for the relevant genre. A supplement I would like to see is one that tweaks the system in different ways to better suit specific settings.