If you are present at a Faërian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World. The experience may be very similar to Dreaming…J.R.R. Tolkien
“Dreaming” is the first half of the name of the blog you are reading.
To me, playing an RPG is acting out a dream that you share with one another. You’re not hallucinating or asleep, but through the power of imagination, you’re somewhere in-between.
Maybe it doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch, but through conversation all participants are drawn into the magic circle, crossing the threshold and held captive by the fiction. It demonstrates the power of both words and cognition, sending transmissions of information about what’s happening around you, what you see, and what happens and then interpreting those signals to construct a common understanding of what is going on in the game.
It’s an escape from as well as an escape to somewhere. But these worlds are built with laws and rules like our own. These worlds are altered, incomplete shadows of the creation we inhabit, filled to the brim with potential. The depths of dreams can tell you something profound about the real world, whether or not you state the lessons aloud. Maybe you’ve learned something more about the themes of war, good and evil, and companionship in your games. I know I have.
When we game, we dream. But as the GM, I’m dreaming before the game starts. Figuratively and literally.
GM prep is something I avoid. It has the same appeal as reading for class. I may find it interesting, but it feels like a chore because I have to do it. It’s the same apprehension before writing a blogpost or essay. But then I start.
And things keep coming. There’s a flow, a rhythm that relates and connects the experiences of stories I’ve seen and read and things I know to be frightening, dramatic, and interesting somewhere deep in me. I draft lists of bad ideas, good ideas, and mix and match them. Things are crossed off, told “maybe later,” or circled in red ink. There’s a sense of trust you can begin to build in your intuition. It whispers to you “maybe I’m not as full of stupid ideas as I thought.” Some divine spark moves you to create in pursuit of something, though you might not be able to put your finger on what that is. So far they’re just thoughts, jotted down and completely untested.
Then, when apprehensions are highest thirty minutes before the game starts, I take a nap. Twenty minutes of lying down. Eyes closed. No phone. Maybe some white noise. Definitely an alarm set.
I have nowhere else to be. I have nothing but time to think.
And I dream.
Almost every flash of inspiration for my gaming table has come from this. It seems silly, but it’s a practice I’ve kept for years now and I always learn something new from this practice. It’s a form of meditation that allows me to fall asleep thinking about the game, the session, and the players at my table.
Never doubt the number of connections and moments of brilliance that can come from basking in darkness and listening to the flights of the unconscious.
Then I wake.
My anxieties are quieted, my speech is slower, clearer. I can set up my table calmly, collect the resources I need, ready my laptop, and play the overture. I greet my players, chuckle at their clever remarks, and choose the monsters tokens I’ll be needing for the night. The dice are out, the players are set, books are open.
And we dream.
“Dear Sir,” I said — “Although now estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
though whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons — ’twas out right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.”J.R.R. Tolkien
Dream on, fellow traveler. Happy Easter!