Short story “The Knight of Dreams” and a look at “In Dreams” (a solitaire journaling RPG)

I wrote a short story, The Knight of Dreams, and you can read the free PDF below.

Journaling Games

In the wide world of RPGs, there is a huge variety of games and things that question the definition of a game. Journaling RPGs, as they’re called, are the latter. They’re typically solitaire and instead of offering rules of play, they offer a framework of prompts with which you will write. They’re elaborate writing exercises, in essence, using RPG-like structures, and sometimes components. In Dreams is a new journaling game, designed by Jamie Thul and Mike Berg, where you will use cards to create a character, set scenes, and generate events. It’s available to try out for free here. I had never tried one before but decided to take look at this one (largely because it was free).

The Framework

To begin, you turn over two cards and use the numbers on them to generate a character one piece at a time with a table found in the rules. For example, it begins with, “I am…” and the first table tells you who you are or what you’re doing based on the two numbers. My character turned out to be, “I am on a long journey and am jaded but coming around, and before the dream ends, I must seek something lost.”

From there, you set up the first encounter by reshuffling the deck and using the number on the top card to dictate how many cards are in the encounter. You display these cards in a row, and the arrow of one card points to a prompt on its neighboring card. You’ll then add one last card and turn it over to its location side. This side has no prompt, just an image where the encounter takes place. If two adjacent encounter cards have the same suit, you turn over the top event card (a separate deck). The arrow on one card points to the event and the arrow on the other card points to the tone of the event. How many encounters you go through is up to you. You keep going until your character has completed their goal.

My Results

As mentioned, my “character” came out to be, “I am on a long journey and am jaded but coming around, and before the dream ends, I must seek something lost.” I immediately liked “on a long journey” but was worried “am jaded but coming around” would be a challenge to work with. I only had a vague idea of where to go with the character, but the first encounter made it much easier.

Encounter 1: Three Prompts (and an event)
  • United against a foe, strength in body, walls to defend. Location: A stone structure featuring a dark figure that looked like a knight.
  • Event — Your goal is at odds with that of someone you meet. How do you deal with that? (tone: predicted)

The prompts and the location fit with my first instincts, so it was easy to put it all together. Again, I was worried about the event and how to interpret it, but I managed to work it into the encounter in a way that didn’t feel obtrusive. The scene would be a castle that was about to be besieged. My character was a traveling knight that was being asked to fight, but he did not wish to fight anymore. The captain in charge of the castle’s knights demands that my character join them.

Encounter 2: Four Prompts (and an event)
  • Moment of truth, bound by love, hope of home, solution revealed. Location: A hall with vines/greenery.
  • Event — The sun begins to move faster in the sky; day and night speed after each other. (tone: mysterious)

The fact that “moment of truth” and “solution revealed” both came up meant this was clearly the end goal for my knight. He will find something that was lost in this encounter. “Bound by love,” “hope of home,” and the location also all fit together nicely. My knight was returning home to find the place in ruins, but he would have a chance encounter with loved ones. The event also offered an interesting element that was fun to include.

To read the full story, download the PDF here.

Final Thoughts

The structure is easy to work with and has a variety of prompts that explore different ideas and themes. The events worried me as they’re much more specific than the main encounter prompts, but at least for mine, they weren’t too difficult to integrate into the scene. That said, you have a great deal of freedom when it comes to interpreting the prompts. Which ones you use, and even how many of the images you use, are up to you. The point of these exercises is to write. If something is stopping you from writing because you can’t figure it out, then don’t use it.

Each card also features an image created with WOMBO, an AI-driven illustration site. Each image has the strange fluidness and distorted shapes of AI-altered imagery. I assume the effect is meant to be dreamlike (and inexpensive to produce) but I’ve always found this “style” of artwork more nightmarish and unsettling. Your mileage may vary. Some of the pieces look fine, but many of them are a little too weird and funky-looking for me. Maybe at some point, they can save up some money and hire an inexpensive illustrator to create the art instead.

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