Famous fictionists the world over have experienced the phenomenon: what begins in a dream inspires a tale that becomes a part of our collective culture. It’s happened for centuries, as can be testified to by Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan,’ and more modern cinematic stories like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Inception.’ This final example even dedicates the story, itself inspired by a dream, to the power our dreams can have over our reality.
The inspiration for this post has a similar origin, even if the dreamer isn’t quite as famous as the list above. We had just sat down to dinner last night when my wife turned to me and said “I had a really strange dream last night.” She related a pretty vivid account of what unfolded, which didn’t conclude until we were clearing the table and putting dishes in the sink. As I started loading the dishwasher, she shouted from the dining room, “You know, this would actually make a really cool game idea.” Little did she know, I was already writing it down.
Loyal readers may remember the last story about my wife on this blog, the one in which she referred to my gaming passion as ‘nerd stuff.’ Hopefully this brief anecdote demonstrates two important things: first, with enough effort you can open someone’s eyes to the possibilities of RPGs. Second, always have something handy to write with while you’re sleeping. You never know when your subconscious will spit out an inspired game idea!
When she started the story, my wife described it as “sort of like ‘Lord of the Rings’ meets ‘Firefly’ or something.” (You can see why I married her.) I would add to that equation ‘Star Wars’ meets ‘The Fifth Element’ meets ‘Stardust’ meets ‘Game of Thrones.’ Of course, it starred my wife, as it was her dream. (“I was pretty badass,” she insists.) For the purposes of sharing it with you, however, I’m going to make up new or different names; because, you know, I’m going to eventually use this for a game so I might as well get it ready!
It is an age of unchecked space travel and exploration. Mankind’s ambitions can take them wherever they aim their starships, and new missions leave Earth daily to seek out new frontiers. There are already countless colonized planets, which have been discovered and settled by various interests and governments. There is no one up there to block their progress. Ironically, after years of questioning and searching the stars, it had become evident that humans were, in fact, the exclusive life forms the universe had to offer.
This is not to say that the race to the heavens has been entirely harmonious. Each new settled planet or inhabited moon becomes a law unto itself; that is, if they can afford to, or bother to, pay for law. Many, however, discovered that their good intentions of keeping the peace simply proved too expensive for a struggling settlement. With a nigh-infinite universe to explore, limited resources almost always went to pay for new missions. Law and order became an exclusive commodity of large, rich colonies.
No unifying government exists in space, but two are struggling- almost racing- to come to power. One is stern and authoritarian, born from a global corporation that rose to prominence by selling their protective services to colonies who could not attain law and order without them. Even some richer settlements, who feared that the drive to claim more heavenly bodies would threaten their established way of life, saw value in the corporation’s highly disciplined, fiercely protective approach to keeping the peace. This power had simply come to be known as UNION.
The other player rising in this political arena was a remnant of the democratic governments that had been in vogue on Earth at the dawn of the quest for colonization. While their resources and influence no longer ran as deep as UNION’s, this movement was seen as far more humanitarian. They sought partnership with, not power over, the various settlements. Their goal was to rebuild an assembly where any colony- large or small, rich or poor- could find a voice and a purpose within their ranks. This assembly of the people took on the name Republica. While their unwavering faith in humanity empowered those who joined their movement, Republica’s leaders would find out before too long that it may yet prove their undoing.
As support for their campaign grew, it occurred to Republica’s governors that they could only realize true legitimacy throughout all of the human colonies with a strong, visionary leader at their helm. The current director was a man named Jordan Shepherd, who had almost single-handedly created the technology that made faster-than-light travel possible for his entire planet. Unfortunately, Shepherd was near the end of his days, which caused much confusion throughout Republica’s faithful as to who should carry on his legacy. The natural choice was his only surviving heir, his daughter Windsor. As the need for her guidance reached critical mass, however, Windsor’s whereabouts were a mystery. She had to be found, or it was feared that the party would collapse.
Far from Republica’s general assembly, on a remote planet that most pilots couldn’t find, the starship that carried Windsor Shepherd has crashed like a fallen star. Tragically, the girl has no memory of who she was, where she came from, or who she was traveling with. The insular population was naturally suspicious of her identity, and how she came to be on their world. Had she been fleeing her growing responsibilities? Or had she been making the pilgrimage to the general assembly, to take on her duties as leader of Republica? Some began to speculate that she had been banished to that far-flung world on purpose, to allow UNION to finally take control over all the colonies. Some even rumored that Windsor had been kidnapped, but that her captors had crashed here while attempting to escape the authorities. Whatever path she had taken, it soon became the consensus among the colonists that she needed to return from whence she came; if not for her own safety, then for their own.
The more calculating minds among this rustic settlement quickly realized that, no matter the circumstances leading to her arrival, any attempt to convey her home to the seat of Republica’s power out in the open would prove dangerous. Between tense planetary politics, the watchful eye of UNION, and the abundance of less-than-reputable travelers who would no doubt take political or finical advantage of Windsor’s situation, her trip would need to be discreet. Further, in her vulnerable state, she would need some hardy, dependable escorts to see her safely to Republica’s assembly hall. In short, Windsor Shepherd needed to be smuggled across known space.
[Now, this next part is optional. It explains the end of the dream that inspired this post, and may give you some ideas for character creation. However, at the end of the dream version, I'll suggest some other plot hook ideas.]
Windsor’s crash site was first discovered by female pioneer named Mags Holden. What most of her fellow settlers couldn’t tell you, or wouldn’t if they knew, was that Mags wasn’t your normal stellar settler. Instead, she was a former UNION official who had gone into hiding years before. Mags was a law-breaker, having stolen some of UNION’s exclusive technology to benefit a colony that desperately needed, but couldn’t afford, their aid. As soon as her transgression against the universal power was found out, Mags was forced to beat a hasty retreat to the isolated world where Windsor had crashed. Since then, she had scraped out a decent living by thieving and smuggling in nearby galaxies.
After much discussion, Mags was volunteered to lead the operation to return Windsor to her father and Republica’s assembly. The Shepherd girl seemed to trust her, as she had basically rescued her from the wreckage of the crash site. In addition, her criminal experience, network of contacts, and inside knowledge of UNION operations would make her the best tactical choice to pilot Windsor to safety. After all, who could be better than a thief at avoiding detection and attention on such a sensitive mater? Given little choice to the contrary, Mags set about selecting a crew for her new mission.
Possible Group/Mission Templates:
- The party plays as Mags (or some other similar scoundrel) and her new crew
- The party plays a search and rescue team sent out by Republica to locate Windsor
- The party plays a UNION ‘justice squad’ who are still trying to retrieve their rogue operative
- The party plays a group of enterprising explorers trying to recapture Windsor for their own gain
- The party plays a delegation of Republica leaders who want to fill the power vacuum created by Windsor’s absence
- The party plays a band of brave travelers who meet Mags and her crew, and offer to aid her mission