Need Psychiatric Help? A Review of The Dreaming Ward

The Dreaming Ward

A Convention Scenario for Call of Cthulhu

Author: Matthew Sanderson
Cartography: Matthew Sanderson
Development/Editing: Mike Mason
Layout: Nicolas Nacario
Published by: Chaosium, Inc.
Page Count: 29

Available Formats: PDF 
PDF (DTRPG) – Free for Cult of Chaos GMs

The Dreaming Ward begins in January 1926 in a psychiatric ward at a university hospital in Albany, NY. Each of the investigators is suffering from horrifying dreams brought about by recent mental trauma. Hearing of a dream therapy study at the University, the investigators seeking psychiatric help. The head of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Randall Thorne, believes he might be able to help them.

The investigators arrive at the university hospital as participants in the sleep study and treatment program. Living in the hospital over the course of the next three days, they are exposed to a variety of therapies to include group sessions, hypnosis, and drugs with elicit results. While all seems pretty straightforward, what happens at night and between therapy sessions is where the investigators will come to find out that all is not what it seems.

The Dreaming Ward is well-written and your players should find it engaging and exciting. I have had the opportunity to play this scenario and to run it at a regional convention. In my experience, Matthew Sanderson writes great scenarios that are always fun; The Dreaming Ward is no exception. The underlying hook that draws the investigators into the scenario is well thought out. It doesn’t feel like a forced situation, as it is common for people to develop sleep disorders as a result of trauma.

The scenario does not take place in the Dreamlands but it does interact with it slightly. Knowledge of the Dreamlands is not required to run this scenario. The sourcebook “H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands” is helpful but not essential. What little you need to know is provided to the Keeper within the scenario itself. Sanderson does encourage Keepers to be familiar with Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” which explains many of the references within the scenario. Again, not required reading but will server Keepers well if they are familiar.

The scenario comes with six pre-generated investigators (3 male and 3 female), each with a well-written backstory that outlines the specific trauma they have suffered and the very specific sleep issues that have led them to the university in the care of Dr. Thorne. The traumatic experiences in the investigator’s backgrounds are not overly detailed, but Keepers might do well to keep in mind that some players might be uncomfortable with some of the details. Yes, this is a horror game and the traumatic experiences of the investigators are crucial to the scenario, but they should be easily adaptable to any group.

During the game, the scenario has lots of “downtime” for the investigators to chat up other patients and to explore their surroundings. If players are not overly active in their surroundings these scenes can drag on. Having played out some of the “downtime” scenes, I am now of the opinion that they should be played out, but only to the point where the Keeper feels the scene is done and not worth dragging it on any further. Once that point is reached, end the scene and move to the next scene in the scenario. As I mentioned above, I have run this at a regional convention and ended scenes on as needed basis so as not beleaguer the scenes any further and keep to my time constraints. In the end, we were still very pressed for time. Twice now, I have run The Dreaming Ward and both times I have had to modify the ending on the fly to stay within the constraints of a four-hour time slot. Although it’s not hard to modify this scenario in a variety of ways, it’s frustrating as the scenario is billed as a 4-hour convention scenario. In reality, it should be billed as a 5-hour scenario.

The last thing I would like to point is that the scenario is relatively linear by design. As with most linear scenarios, Keepers would be well served by doing a modest amount of game preparation to ensure they are able to present the scenario in such a way that softens that linear feel. Being a convention scenario and designed to be played out in 4 hours, Keepers are somewhat pressed for time. So long as the Keeper ensures the required scenes are played out, they can make it feel like an immersive story and not be too pressed for time.

While the scenario is not widely available to the public, it is available to Cult of Chaos GMs through the scenario library at the BRP forums. I think this scenario is well written and worthy of being run as a one-shot at conventions and other game events. I have enjoyed playing the scenario myself as have the others in all my games. Bottom line—get it! run it! play it!  One final thought, if you’re going to run The Dreaming Ward, I would plan for a 5-hour game if possible. If you’re running it at a convention, just keep an eye on the clock, otherwise, play it up to its fullest!

Chaosium has a variety of what they call convention scenarios for Cult of Chaos GMs to run at conventions, game days, and other such events. Scenarios range from demo-style that typically take 1-2 hours and are a great way to introduce new folks to Call of Cthulhu. Other more fully crafted scenarios that take 3-4 hours to play to completion. The Dreaming Ward falls into the latter category. For those curious, the Cult of Chaos is Chaosium’s organized play program. While it’s not as robust as similar fantasy based programs from other publishers, it is well run and serves to help promote Chaosium’s line of games at public events and gatherings. If you’re interested in learning more or becoming a Cult of Chaos GM yourself, please visit their website.

~ Modoc

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