Jul 31, 2020
Dream Askew is a game that centers around community, both within the fiction of the game, and for the people playing it. There’s no other game quite like it.
Dream Askew is a game of Belonging Outside of Belonging, which uses a system called “No Dice, No Masters.” True to the name, there is no Game Master, and no dice rolling of any kind. There is also no predefined setting; building the world, creating NPCs, and managing outside threats are all done collectively, in what the book calls “Idle Dreaming.” This idea can be both incredibly liberating and intimidating due to the lack of structure involved. However, we found that being open about your discomfort level with your group helps with that. At its best, Dream Askew feels like a real conversation, with players bouncing ideas off one another without even having to look at a rulebook.
We found the playbooks the game uses to be highly engaging; like Apocalypse World, they embody archetypes, but give you many ways to bring your character depth. Dream Askew encourages players to play to find out who their characters are by asking guiding questions rather than setting down strict rules. However, each playbook still has “moves”, and the triggers and uses of these moves were often a bit unclear. Some of these moves didn’t feel like mechanics at all, they simply looked like normal character behavior. While these are helpful for coming up with ideas, referring to them as “moves” feels a little misleading.
Another unique thing Dream Askew has are the Setting sheets. These are an alternative set of character sheets that represent things beyond the characters’ control, such as The Earth Itself, Outlying Gangs, or the Psychic Maelstrom. Players don’t claim these, but instead give and take them. When you have one, you are in essence the GM for things related to that sheet. The mechanical reasons for giving away and taking these sheets was a bit unclear, and we found the use of them a bit polarizing. Some of us really enjoyed the power that comes with them, and the ability to add complications to the characters’ lives. Others felt a bit uncomfortable with that aspect of the game.
The theme of Dream Askew is “queer strife amidst the apocalypse”, and in the time we live in today that feels all too real. Some people may find this game comforting, a way of coming to grips with our unstable world and getting some catharsis, but others may find that it hits too close to home. It is certainly the most explicitly queer game we’ve ever seen, which is a huge mark in its favor.
The book of Dream Askew comes packed with amazing features beyond the game itself, including recipes, essays, and a guide to making your own game of Belonging Outside of Belonging. It is also paired with Dream Apart, a game using the same system that focuses on Jewish fantasy in the shtetl.
All in all, Dream Askew feels important. It felt good to play, and made us think and feel things. If you enjoy games that are mechanically light but thematically heavy, then Dream Askew is right up your alley. If you're interested, you can purchase it at buriedwithoutceremony.com