Monday, January 8, 2018

Odam's "Of Dreams And Magic" Review (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I tend to mainline Pathfinder. In fact, I even went so far as to write a post titled Why Pathfinder is My Game of Choice to clarify my feelings and opinions. However, while I doubt I'll ever get tired of Golarion, I do play other games. Sometimes it's because I want to do something new, and sometimes it's because a new game plops in my lap and I decide to give it a read.

And that's kind of how I ended up reading "Of Dreams and Magic".
If you're not familiar with Odam Press's game "Of Dreams and Magic", it came out around 2015 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. In this game, the world is controlled by a force called the Doubt, which has convinced humanity that magic isn't real. Of course some people awaken to this lie, and embrace the truth of magic. These dreamers, known as Anima, can channel the power of their dream self into the real world, taking on extraordinary powers. They can also walk in the worlds of dream, fighting great battles in realms their fellow sleepers would never even guess exist. This has angered the Doubt, though, and it sends its agents to undo these Anima at every turn, spawning nightmares and reavers to crush their spirits, and force them back to sleep.

The Good

First things first, let me say unequivocally that the concept behind "Of Dreams and Magic" is a knockout. The idea that regular people can embrace the pure magic of dreams, and use it cast off the chains of a nebulous, gray, uncaring enemy feels like a modern fantasy version of The Neverending Story. With laser rifles and fireballs. Or, for World of Darkness fans, it feels like what you'd get if Mage: The Awakening knocked up Changeling: The Lost. It's flowing, free-form, and it allows you to bring a huge variety of concepts to the table. It also means you might have a party made up of a caped superhero, a fire-breathing demon prince, a shape-shifting hunter, and a haunted detective with a possessed gun.

In addition to the game's flavor, "Of Dreams and Magic" uses fairly simple (and unique) mechanics. You roll two ten-sided dice, one that's positive, and one that's negative. You figure out the result of your roll, add it to your bonus, and that determines whether you succeed or fail. There is also a unique mechanic called CAP, which is used to allow players more narrative control over their character. If you exceed the difficulty of the check, then every point you exceed it by is a point of CAP. You can then spend that CAP to modify the results. This might make attacks hit harder, make spells go further, or even allow your hacker to penetrate a firewall in seconds rather than minutes. As a mechanic for rewarding player success, and letting the table pick up the narration baton, that's quite unique.

The Bad

With that said, everything is not all rainbows and gumdrops for this game. There is a lot of number tracking, including your conviction (the stuff you use for powering your magic and abilities), your CAP, your wound penalties, and dozens of other factors. It's fairly reminiscent of the World of Darkness in this regard, but rather than keeping track of half a dozen hit boxes, and between 1 and 10 points of magic, you've now got hundreds of points to keep an eye on and maintain. It's not a deal breaker, but it is an annoyance.

The game also uses roll-off combat, which is an adjustment for a lot of gamers. Simply put, if you want to roll to hit an enemy (or to take any kind of contested action), that enemy also rolls to dodge, duck, block, etc. your attack. If their parry/dodge/whatever beats your hit, then you miss. Additionally, for every additional action you take, you suffer a cumulative -5 penalty. So you might be unbeatable on your first attack, but if you get mobbed and have to roll several defensive blocks, then you're going to go down fairly quickly. Again, this is not a deal breaker, but it is important that DMs who are used to systems like DND or Pathfinder where you roll against a static defense number keep very careful track of who is doing what, and in what order. Otherwise it's extremely easy for one bad guy's defense to get mistaken as their turn, and screw up the initiative order entirely. If you've ever run a Pathfinder or 5e game where someone had the parry ability, you're pretty much running a game where everyone has that now. As a result, combat is going to involve at least twice as many rolls, and can easily turn into a slog.

The Ugly

There is no nice way to say this... the base book for "Of Dreams and Magic" is in desperate, dire need of an editor. While the game's mechanics are fairly straightforward, the actual text of the rulebook is confusing, poorly laid out, and tends to use game jargon and abbreviations that haven't been clearly explained instead of clear-cut examples and simple language. The glossary is a joke, and if you want to answer basic questions about things like magic items, dreamscapes, etc., you're going to have to look in five or six places before you find the answer you want.

If you're the kind of gamer who doesn't mind doing a few cover-to-cover reads, and who is okay asking the empty air, "what the hell does that even mean?" twelve or thirteen times while trying to find an answer to a question, this won't be a problem. But the book's dense, unintuitive layout is a serious hurdle players will have to get over before sitting down at the table.

In The End

"Of Dreams and Magic" is a game with a lot of potential, but it has some serious flaws in its presentation. If you can overlook the lack of polish, and occasional head-scratching denseness (since I'm sure it made perfect sense to the designers and play testers, but I had hour long discussions with the Dreamweaver over what certain rules actually meant, and how things work), then the sheer flavor, freedom, and gonzo concept makes the game worth trying out. But if you're used to more mainstream games like Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons, or even most World of Darkness games, there is going to be a fairly hefty adjustment period. Take a deep breath, and remember, you only have to learn a new system once. It's always easier after the first dive.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday update. Figured I'd spread the word, and try to leave a complete, balanced review. If folks liked this, let me know, and I'll consider doing it for other games I come across. For more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to bring the world of Evora to life. To stay up-to-date on all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help me keep Improved Initiative going then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a little love in my cup. Even $1 a month goes a long way, and it will earn you some sweet swag as a thank you.


  1. That actually sounds exactly like a concept I had for a game setting. How's the "fluff" part of the book? While I probably wouldn't be using the system itself at first (my group just got the hang of GURPS, so I don't want to start yet another new thing), but inspiration for dream world and dream based mechanics would be nice

    1. The fluff is almost exactly as I described it; the bastard child of two White Wolf games. The specific terms have been changed, but it feels almost exactly like what you'd get if Changeling and Mage had an illicit child.