In the Forest of Broken Dreams
I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time, and keep coming back to it, but I’ve never really done much with it. Over the last couple of weeks I started to sketch out a setting, along with some rules, with the aim of maybe making my own RPG out of it.
Now that I’ve put it down on paper, so to speak, the urge has gone. I don’t think it’ll work as a RPG, at least not in my head, and I doubt I’ll ever come to set anything in this world now.
So, posting this here instead, in case it inspires someone.
This is the Forest of Broken Dreams, a vast forest between a range of mountains and the sea. Fragmented dreams float amongst the trees, hunted and captured, distilled into liquid form.
The People: the humans who live and work on the coast and in the eaves of the forest, hunting and exploring, crafting and building, living their lives within and around the forest that is essentially their reason for being where they are. The only known people in their known world, which encompasses the forest, coast, and the slopes of the distant mountains.
Forest of Broken Dreams: the immense forest that stretches out from the coast to the distant mountains, where broken, fragmented dreams drift amongst the trees and strange creatures, monsters and beasts roam the ruins of an ancient civilisation.
Broken Dreams: fragments of dreams that float and drift through the forest, caught and harvested by people to distil into Essence that is used in trade and as a form of magical drug.
Nightmares: predatory dreams of a malicious nature, more intact that broken dreams, often intelligent, always dangerous. These are hunted to remove the threat. Their Essence is potent but dangerous, and usage of it is illegal.
Dream-catchers: nets of fine wire and/or threads, enhanced with feathers, trinkets, bones and other items; used to catch drifting dreams or to trap Nightmares. Range in size from a handheld net, to a great net that can stretch between trees to catch numerous dreams at once.
Dream-hunters: a profession. People who hunt and catch broken dreams or hunt and vanquish nightmares. A dangerous but lucrative profession, generally considered to be important and worthy of fame (or infamy). A ‘cool’ profession.
Dream-weavers: users of Essence in its liquid-form, who are able to use the dream-stuff to ‘weave magic’ by manipulating existing dreams or conjuring their own. Prolonged use has a detrimental effect. Most dream-weavers die young.
Dreamers (also known as the Lost): a person who has taken too much Essence, or a bad dose of Essence, and has become lost in their own waking dreams. Often catatonic, sometimes akin to sleepwalking, always lost.
Dream-eaters: monsters from the forest who hunt and feed on dreams (and sometimes nightmares). They are normally non-hostile, unless competing for their food or their dens are intruded upon.
Dream-stones: the spoor of a dream-eater; smooth and rounded pebbles of concentrated dream-waste of beautiful iridescent colours. Can be broken down into a fine dust that, when mixed with Essence, creates a powerful drug that has strong side-effects. Is used by the wealthy in powered form, mixed in with wines or spirits, creating a hallucinogenic beverage that is highly euphoric and addictive.
Essence (also known as Dream-stuff): literally the stuff that dreams are made of, in a distilled liquid form. Essence is an iridescent transparent liquid, with a bitter aftertaste. It is used in trade, but is largely drank by dream-weavers who use it to weave and manipulate dreams. Users of Essence can manipulate and control existing dreams or conjure new ones, albeit temporarily. The more potent the dosage the more effective and long-lasting the altered or created dream. Essence can be additive and prolonged use has a detrimental effect, eroding the mind’s ability to distinguish dreams from reality. A user who has taken too much or for too long becomes either a Dreamer, or dies from organ failure.
Strangers: a catchall name for the strange, odd, and often alien entities that can be found in the forest; includes creatures, monsters and beasts. Often viewed with a awe, feared, and even worshipped. Some people collect them and display them in carnivals that move from settlement to settlement. Some known Strangers are famous or infamous and attract tourists of a sort.
Drinking Dens: establishments of recreation that serve drinks, food and a place to relax. Traditionally built in pits dug into the ground, the Dens are the taverns of the known world.
Masks: everyone wears a mask, which are traditionally worn to prevent dreams escaping from a waking person’s mind. Masks are also status symbols, with the more wealthy wearers donning elaborate masks made with expensive materials, and the poorest settling for little more than a sack with holes cut out for eyes and a mouth. The younger generation are rebelling against this ancient tradition and have started to forgo wearing masks, which is as bad as walking naked around town.
Guilds: every profession has an associated guild, which is just a community of members from that profession who come together to share good practice, support one another, and trade services. Guilds have a degree of status and control, and some settlements are ruled entirely by the guild that has the majority of members.
Custodians: the government of the settlements, elected by the population, dedicated to safeguarding the lives of those who live in their settlement. Work closely with the guilds to ensure everything runs smoothly. Every season the custodians from all the settlements come together in a plenary meeting to discuss common problems and find solutions. These meeting take place at different settlements every season, to allow for a degree of fairness and balance. Some custodians have more power than others, depending on where they are from and what guilds they are allied with. There is normally 2-3 per settlement, meant to be on equal footing, but not always.
Enforcers: the local militia or watch, policing the settlements and keeping the peace. Some are little more than thugs, others have uniforms and a sense of duty and purpose.
Food-halls: communal feasting halls where many people congregate to eat their meals (usually three times a day; to break their fast, around noon, and in the evening after work). Food is exchanged for items or tokens earned by service or in exchange for goods traded in the community trade-hall. The poorest people work in these halls, ensuring that if nothing else they will be fed, exchanging their service to others for a meal.
Trade-hall: a community market-place to exchange services or goods for goods or tokens, which can be used to purchase other goods or services. Usually also the home to the local Trading guild.
Tokens: wooden plaques engraved with the local trading guild’s symbol, used as a form of trade. One token is equal to a common item. Tokens are generally only usable in the community or settlement where that particular guild is active (either is based, or has an outpost). They are primarily used to trade for services and are used largely in food-halls and drinking dens.
Dream–dust (death-dust, d-dust): by-product of a failed distillation of broken dreams. An iridescent crystal powder that, when wet, ‘burns’ with a strong, green-blue light.
d-Lamps: handheld lamps fuelled by dream–dust. Long-lasting, bright.
Glow-pods: the plucked fruit of the glowfruit tree, creating short-lived lanterns that produce a warming, soothing light. Used primarily at waystations and outposts in the forest, close to where the trees grow.
Bitterleaf: the small plump leaf of the bitterleaf tree; when crushed and dried is used as a medicinal tea that has a bitter taste but wonderful healing properties.
Bleeder: short bladed weapon similar to a machete, notable for the fine cuts it inflicts that bleed a lot.
Crusher: long-shafted hammer with a weighted end. Capable of crushing bones, deadly in a fight, but slow and cumbersome. Originally a mining tool repurposed for combat.
Skull-cracker: spring-loaded ranged weapon, fires a wooden bolt that can crack open a person’s skull. Deadly, but slow to load.
Forester’s Axe: singled-edged axe able to be wielded in one hand or two. Used for chopping wood, felling trees, clearing undergrowth. Works well as a weapon in a fight, easy to swing, reasonably balanced.
Spear: typical spear used primarily for close-combat, but can be thrown short distances. Used by hunters and guides when a degree of protection is needed. Considered by many to be old-fashioned.
Cosh: small wooden club, used for subduing ruffians on the streets. Primarily used by enforcers.
Table-knife: part-weapon, part-utensil for cutting/eating food.
Hunting knife: long bladed knife, sharp on one edge, serrated for sawing through ropes and sinew (for example) on the other edge. Used primarily by dream–hunters and pathfinders.
Places of Interest
Needles: a collection of spires ranging in size from the length of a spear to a dizzying tower, these mottled stone spikes are found deep in the forest and are a source of many broken dreams, which catch on the spires and are therefore easier to collect. Some of the towers are accessible by gaping holes in their sides, leading to a network of tunnels and chambers, sometimes occupied by Strange beasts. Valuable objects have been found inside, often oddities whose purpose is unknown but are traded as rare or unique artwork; as such the Needles are a place for exploration and treasure hunting. It is not without danger, however, as the accumulation of broken dreams attracts other creatures, monsters, and even Nightmares that prowl the site.
Sleepers: at the heart of the forest is a huge complex of iridescent, translucent stone buildings in all shapes and sizes, with diamond-shaped entrances leading to corridors and chambers. Within these buildings are rows upon rows of identical stone pods of the same iridescent material: inside these are beings of indistinct nature, curled up in foetal positions. From these pods fragments of dreams bleed out through the stone, floating through the ceiling and out into the forest. The majority of the broken dreams that drift through the forest originate here. No one has ever managed to break into a pod or wake the sleepers, although many have tried. The complex is also full of strange objects, immense rooms with bulky apparatus made of stone, and is a dangerous place that attracts monsters, Dream-eaters, and Nightmares of particular predatory prowess. Few have visited the complex and returned to tell the tale, fewer still have explored any part of it and escaped with something of value. It is, however, a badge of honour for those who survive a visit there, and for Dream-hunters it is the ultimate hunting ground.
Lonely Hill: a solitary hill that rises out of the forest like an unwelcomed wart. It is full of flowers but devoid of trees. No dreams drift over this hill and no Nightmares will come near it. At the apex is a ring of standing stones, engraved with runes and symbols of a dead and forgotten language. In the middle of this ring is a stone slab. The slab covers a stairwell leading down into the darkness of an ancient catacomb, little of which has been explored. There is treasure here, artworks and gemstones of an ancient world that no longer exists, and sarcophagi of a long dead people. There are also Strangers that lurk in the darkness, seldom seen, that feed on the fading memories of the dead.
Nightmare Grove: a dense section of forest full of shadows and ruins. Nightmares are drawn here, prowling the ruins of an ancient and devastated civilisation that no one remembers. Hunters come here to prove themselves, and the most infamous of all Nightmares, the Void, has made this its territory.
Quiet Lake: a still, tranquil lake that reflects the sky and surrounding forest like a mirror. Broken dreams drift across the water sedately. Peaceful but considered unlucky to catch dreams here. Ruins lie beneath the water, the remains of an ancient town.
Bitterleaf River: flowing down from the mountains and through a dense wooded area known as the Bitterleaf Woods, this slow and wide river carries the leaves from the trees of that woodland, which are fished out and dried to make a bitter therapeutic tea that has medicinal properties.
River of Ice: a cold, fast-flowing narrow river springing from the snow-capped peaks of the mountains, this river travels through the forest all the way to the sea, carrying floes of ice.
Bitterleaf Woods: a dense region of woodland in the forest, dominated by the willow-like bitterleaf tree, whose leaves are used to make a bitter tea that has healing properties. The woods are haunted by nightmares, so most of the leaves are fished out of the river that flows through the woods.
Rainbow Mountains: bordering the forest, these towering snow-capped mountains are striated with different coloured rock, creating a colourful backdrop. There are a few mines here, but the journey to them is long and dangerous and the mines are a perilous place, with mining a deadly (but profitable) profession.
Wrathful Sea: the opposite border to the forest, the sea stretches away into the distance and no one knows what lies on the other side, if anything. The sea is turbulent, with strong and uncharted currents, hidden rocks along the coasts, and sea-monsters further out in the depths. There are few ships, and all of those are coast-huggers. Fishing is restricted to sheltered coves or well-known coastlines that are easy and safe to navigate.
Dreamtown: the largest and original settlement, this town is also where most of the primary guild halls can be found. The Custodians of the town are all leaders from their guilds, forming a committee of governors who keep things running more or less smoothly, albeit with difficulties arising from their own personal agendas. The main gate into the forest begins here, and roads from the other settlements all converge on the town.
Greenfields: the agricultural centre of the land, this large town is surrounded by farmland that sustains the population of the settlements. Produce is exported daily during the summer and autumn, but the town is quiet during the deep winter months when the snow is thick on the ground. Then most gather indoors to share stories, meals and companionship. The Custodians here are all respected farmers, and the town itself is quieter and kinder than the others.
Waypoint: under the eaves of the forest, this small town is home to numerous hunters and mappers, who use it as a base of operations for their ventures into the forest. The buildings here are built up trees, in the hollows of ancient trees, and nestled under the roots of the largest. There are more Drinking Dens here than any other settlement, and as such it is known as the ‘Drunk’s Refuge’. A whole sub-town has sprang up for drinkers, especially for those who are looking to escape their lives and hide in the bottle. A lot of Dreamers gather here as well, feeling safer under the leaves of the forest, aching to touch the broken dreams that sometimes drift over (only to be caught in the ‘catchers that hang along the walls and the highest buildings). The local Custodians are either hunters or brewers, depending on who is the most popular when it comes to electing new ones.
Ice Cove: a coastal settlement known for its shipbuilders, and the primary source of fish and other seafood. The Shipping Guild has its home here. Recently, the sailors here have discovered ruins on an island out to sea, triggering a rush of explorers eager to investigate them. The Custodians are all sailors, but spend most of their time at sea, making the small town a somewhat lawless place. The docks are notorious for their nightly brawls. The River of Ice meets the sea here, and the town harvests the ice that survives the journey to the sea.
Pot: the smallest settlement, little more than a few buildings and guild outposts, it is also the most distant. The small community sprang up out of necessity, catering to the needs of the miners who work the mines in the Rainbow Mountains. The people here are hardy, stubborn, and are wary of visitors until they have proven themselves. The sole Custodian is a veteran miner who knows more about the mines and mountains than anyone.
Minor Settlements: there are also small settlements, farms and temporary communities dotted along the coast and the edge of the forest, or in the distant mountains. These are little more than a few buildings at most, although some are large enough to at least have a name.
“Guild of…” or “(…) Guild”.
Dream–hunters (Hunters): generally considered to be the most influential and powerful guild, it boasts a large membership of those who hunt and catch dreams and nightmares. Every settlement has an outpost at least, and most have a full guild hall. These halls and outposts are a combination of meeting rooms, training facilities, workshops for crafting dream-catchers, and dormitories for those hunters with no fixed abodes. The guild is an essential part of society, and without the hunters, many believe society would collapse, since so much depends on this most prestigious of professions.
Dream–weavers: the second most influential guild, chiefly due to the power they can wield, the guild has one main hall and several outposts, including some in the forest itself. The guild is effectively a boarding school, with facilities for training and treating Dream-weavers, boasts its own library and laboratory. It even has its own, albeit small, distillery for immediate refining of Essence.
Distillers: small in numbers but high in status, the guild is truly a membership of specialists. The training and experience required to successfully distil Essence is time-consuming and costly, so there are only a few distillers, all partial guild halls as well. The main guild acts as a training ground for new recruits who want to be taught the process; such an education requires membership to the guild and a commitment to the profession.
Traders (Trading): a high status guild that runs the trade-hall markets, produces the tokens, and settles disputes between traders. They are only less powerful that the dream-trio because of the their location. If they were anywhere else other than the forest, they would dominate the guilds. Their guilds are always trade-halls, with a subsidiary building for craving the tokens commonly used in trade.
Cartographers (Cartography): explorers and mappers of the land, enjoy a higher status than most because they have maps of the forest, known paths, best places to catch dreams, locations to avoid, and have members that are famed for their bravery, skill, and curious natures. Every settlement has a guild or outpost, and many ‘adventurers’ hail from these guilds. The guild gives out tokens for newly discovered locations, new paths, and
“Guild of…” or “(…) Guild”.
Miners (Mining): a small but powerful guild, who would be a major player if their numbers were greater. Comprised solely of hard-working and tough men and women who venture out to the mines in the distant mountains, risking their lives to bring back gemstones, precious metals, and raw materials for ironworking. Their guilds are often blacksmiths and smelters of metals.
Jewellers (Gem-cutters): a small guild dedicated to the few artisans and craftsmen who work with the gemstones and precious metals mined in the mountains. They have workshops and tools that they hire out, and have a close alliance with the Mining Guild, who supply most of their goods.
Costumers (Costumers): once a major guild, it has fallen behind others as most people are capable of making their own masks and seldom need to hire someone to create one for them. Furthermore, the younger generations have started to rebel against the tradition, and the guild has suffered a loss in both members and status.
Shipwrights (Shipping): small in numbers of members, these guilds are dedicated to the building and sailing of ships and boats, and are comprised of coastguards, fishermen, explorers of the sea, and the few shipwrights that are still alive and practicing their trade. They are based in the coastal settlements.
Brewers: the guild of brewers of ales, spirits, wines, and tea. Although only a minor guild when it comes to status, it boasts one of the largest memberships as every Drinking Den, brothel, tea-shop and apothecary has a membership with this guild. The guild helps establish new dens, settle disputes, and shares brewing techniques. The guilds are usually also breweries or vineyards, or driers of leaves for making tea.
Strangers of Note
Lord of Ruin: there is a clearing in the forest, of dead grass and trees, the soil leached of life. It is a perfect circle, centred on an obsidian dome of great size. Every year the decay spreads a few more feet, driven by the will of the Stranger that sits inside the dome. The Lord of Ruin sits on an ivory throne, willing the forest to wither and decay, furthering entropy for his own, unknown, reasons. He never leaves his throne, never leaves the dome, and although he speaks, he never smiles or says a kind word. At night, when the sun goes down behind the Rainbow Mountains, he cries tears of diamonds the roll and scatter across the floor. Hundreds of thousands cover the floor of the dome, glittering under the light of the numerous candles that sit on iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Seeking to prevent the entropy that is spreading, and will one day consume the forest if left unchecked, is a cult calling itself The Order of Preservation and Restoration of the Natural Order; commonly referred to as the Preservers. These plant new trees and sow new grass, albeit with limited success. The more militant amongst them believe the decay will only end when the Lord of Ruin is slain. So far, any attempts to so have failed, and the bones of those they tried are buried beneath the flood of diamonds.
The Void: the most infamous of all nightmares, never caught or bested, this creature lurks in the darkest region of the Nightmare Grove, although it has been known to venture forth to hunt on occasion. The Void is a nightmare of absence, a hole in the fabric of reality, emptiness personified. It looks like a shadow of the deepest kind, but it is actually just emptiness that momentarily cuts a hole through the world. Tall, thin, with long limbs and a vague head, the creature stalks the forest, especially drawn to Dream-weavers or lost Dreamers, somehow sensing the Essence they’ve consumed. Anyone unfortunate enough to be caught by the Void simply ceases to exist. Those memories associated with that victim soon fade, and the victims are simply forgotten, leaving just a feeling of sorrow and absence in their place. The only reason anyone knows what the creature is or what it does, is because of journals written about it by witnesses who saw the attack, but who have since forgotten who vanished.
Hail is a famous Dream-hunter, who has dedicated her life to the slaying of the Void. She spends her time tracking it, spreading the word of its attacks, and seeking the means of defeating it. Hail believes that somewhere in the ruins within the forest are the answers she needs. Her sister was a victim, and only the words in a diary remind her that she once had a twin; that and the feeling of loss she feels every single day.
Tooth-collector: this Stranger roams the forest near the settlements of Dreamtown and Waypoint. A hunched figure wrapped in thick robes and a deep hood, its head hidden in the shadows, the Tooth-collector carries a puppet theatre on its back and sets it up nearby the gates to the towns. There it puts on a silent puppet show, of anthropomorphic mice and cats in a tragic tale of romance and war. When the show ends the collector comes out with a rusty old bucket and shakes it for payment: it only wants teeth, and isn’t fussed on their condition. Anyone who stops to watch and doesn’t pay finds that they have toothache a few days later, and will need to have their tooth removed. The collector returns to perform again as soon as the tooth is pulled. Those that have caught a glimpse of its features beneath the cowl have said that its face is entirely comprised of teeth.
Those that offer a tooth freely, without the show being put on, are gifted with a trinket that the collector produces from its robes: these trinkets are often strange but useful, even valuable. A gang of entrepreneurs in Waypoint have learnt of this and go about the town at night, seeking out drunks to steal teeth from. They are known locally as Rippers.
Headless Hunter: found close to the Needles, the Stranger known as the Headless Hunter, or simply the Headless, looks like a Dream-hunter that has lost his head. Armed with a spear and carrying a weighted dream-catcher net, the Headless is thought to be looking for his missing head, and will silently plead for help whenever he encounters someone. If ignored or threatened, he has been known to attack, frantically and with increasing rage. Those he kills he decapitates and, for a short time, wears their head as a replacement. The temporary head is only crudely attached and does not do anything other than rot.
Luci, a local Dreamer from Dreamtown, more lucid than most, believes she has had a vision and knows where the Headless Hunter’s head can be found. No one will listen to her (which is not surprising, as her speech is slurred and often incomprehensible) or believe her, but she is determined to find it and give it back; as soon as she can get her legs working, and can find the way out of the town.
Old Man Frost: always found on the banks of the River of Ice, normally fishing, is the Stranger known as Old Man Frost. He is an old man, his beard glittering with a permanent layer of frost. His skin is blue from the cold, his lips too, and his eyes are like ice that has caught the sun. He laughs easily, is happy to make small talk, and knows everything about the river and the land that borders it (albeit only for half-a-mile off each bank). The fish he catches are delicious and very healthy, and he has been known to carry people across the icy cold water when there is desperate need. Despite his small stature and apparent age, Old Man Frost is surprisingly strong.
If approached kindly and politely, and befriend over a period of weeks, the old Stranger will teach someone to fish if asked nicely. Anyone taught by Old Man Frost will always be able to fish in the River of Ice, and catch enough fish to feed themselves and anyone with them. The fish are nourishing even if eaten raw, and will sustain a person for a couple of days without any other food. There are only a few who have been taught and they keep their knowledge a closely-guarded secret.