More About Sleepwalkers
Here you can read a little more about the Sleepwalkers setting. Want more? I’d be happy to run it as an online RPG!
Sleepwalkers is set in a world where special people can travel to a place called the Fringe. This alternative dimension is halfway between life and death, a kind of purgatory where the souls of dead people sometimes get stuck on their way to the afterlife. The Fringe can look like our world or totally different. The Fringe also has its own groups, magic and monsters. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the book (not final copy):
The Fringe is a dimension layered over our own, home to many strange things but chiefly the spirits of the dead (referred to henceforth as Spirits), those who have been unable to move on. Anchored to our world by an obsession, unfinished business or sheer stubborn will to live, these Spirits spend achingly long years wandering the Fringe until, for reasons not quite understood, they pass on to another reward or are destroyed utterly by the creatures living the Fringe. This place is created by all that chaotic human energy, literally bound to our plane by unearthly, pure desire. When your emotions no longer come from chemicals or organs, they develop a certain autonomy; they become force. The Fringe is not a solid world like ours and powerful notions like those are capable of shaping it.
This makes the Fringe a place where metaphor is stronger than physics; without the limitations of the living world it begins to reflect the minds of both the living and the dead.
Practically speaking, the Fringe appears very similar to our world as it naturally reflects the contents of our minds. For example, there is probably a copy or echo if your house and your street in the Fringe. Instead of all of the usual colours, everything there looks grey, drab and ghostly, as if the colours had drained from the world. The rough shapes of the buildings are the same but windows might now be marble sheets, or the pavements might be thick with a curious glowing red vine that illuminates dark corners; the Fringe is not beholden to our world, it just follows a similar shape out of habit. Occasionally something shifts or alters as perceptions of it change; sometimes buildings that no longer exist in the real world remain in the Fringe, a testament to their weight of presence. The World Trade Center in New York, for example, has a still standing counterpart there; parts missing, parts solid; a relic and a memory.
The substance of the Fringe is solid to the touch but malleable to the mind; so much that a Spirit or Sleepwalker can step through them. Other times such things are not so possible, like flying off into the air. From both, every man and woman knows intrinsically that man cannot fly and gravity pulls us down; overriding that subconscious, innate knowledge is an almost impossible feat of willpower. Besides, not only are you fighting your own preconceptions, but those of a billion other souls, alive or dead, for the Fringe is a mass hallucination.
The Fringe is the staging ground for much of this game. When Sleepwalkers collide and feel the need to fight each other, they almost always do so in the Fringe, where the eyes of the public cannot see and bystanders are far less likely to get hurt. Those residing in the Fringe find it very hard to affect those in the solid world, though it is possible to still see through to the real world, which ironically appears ghostly and insubstantial to someone standing in the Fringe. With added irony, it becomes much easier to affect the living through manipulation while standing in the Fringe; whispering in the ears of the living from a vantage point that only the subconscious can detect.
Entering the Fringe without being dead is another mystery and different Sleepwalkers– living humans who can temporarily visit the Fringe, just like the shaman of ancient days- have different talents for it. The most common method is the source of their slang name, for travelling to purgatory becomes easier when the mind is unfettered by rationality and closer to the soul- during sleep. Fringe space and the world of dreams (referred to in this game as the Dreamscape) are very close to each other.
Long story short, the Fringe is a grey copy of our world populated by Spirits and monsters and Sleepwalkers (the afterlife equivalent of tourists), where magic is possible there because the normal rules don’t apply.
Explore the grey veil at your own risk. The Fringe is not just the space between life and death- it is the difference between life and death- a very thin line to walk.
We know now that the Fringe (or Fringescape), is an alternate world that resembles ours but is in fact a kind of border between life and death, where the mind is god and the rules of reality only work because people believe they do. The dead sometimes get stuck in the Fringe, post mortem but not gone. Presumably, there is a world of the dead on the other side of the Fringe, but nobody has come back to give us the skinny on that. That is not to say that there have never been incursions in the Fringe by things that did not originate in our world, but more on that after the basics.
‘Sleepwalkers’ is a Fringe slang term (there are many) for people who have the ability to explore the Fringe, despite not being dead. There are four known types of these extra dimensional tourists:
The most simple and human type of Sleepwalker is known as a ‘Seer’. Seers are people who have developed the ability to enter the Fringe by pushing their mental development to the nth degree, usually by first mastering their dreams. Seers have a twisted mind-set that disobeys the natural order of things and lets them visit the Fringe with their minds, walking beyond the real world (Sleepwalkers just call it the Real or Realscape) and beyond the borders of death itself. Seers are renowned for being able to manipulate themselves or the Fringe with the aforementioned mental combustion engine and mastery of the Dreamscape.
Then there are Shepherds, so called because they are naturally talented at working with Spirits and native creatures. Shepherds are an advanced type of psychic or medium and gain their powers at an arbitrary moment in their lives. It starts with minor psychic abilities concerning visitation from the dead; hearing the voices of the deceased is the most common example, just like the dubious characters on television who use Ouija boards and crystal balls. These people are thrust into a position where the dead entreaty them for aid and they are granted the power to speak back. In a curious position, these naturally talented Sleepwalkers can be saviours or masters of the Fringe’s spectral refugees, and with the aid of Spirits they can walk in the Fringe with their whole body instead of only the mind.
Next we have Shifters who are also people with an unexplained natural talent for going to the Fringe (usually just called travel). These individuals seem to have their power from birth, though it rarely manifests until puberty. They can walk between the Real and the Fringe with laughable ease, with their whole bodies, by making portals. For reasons unknown, Shifters can make portals between the worlds fairly easily, making a kind of wound in the fabric that separates the planes, making travel between the two much simpler. Shifters are known for their natural aptitude with the Fringe, from resisting its draining mental pressure to manipulation of objects within the Fringe or the Real. These people stand with a foot in both realms.
Finally there are Strays. These are people who have died and been returned to life, thus gaining the power to go beyond the veil of death and back again. The power comes from a native beast of the Fringe that restores their life force, saving them from death, but binds the two together in a Faustian pact. The symbiotic beast is one already a master of going between the worlds, a mystical creature that has no regard for the normal order of life and death, worshipped for its mysterious nature; the domestic cat. Yes, Strays are brought back to life by a magical soul bond with one patron cat, which becomes known as his or her Sib. Together they bend the rules of nature and in the Fringe the Stray benefits from bieng able to channel the power of their Sib, growing claws or teeth and suffusing their being with luck and charm. The cat gets a bipedal bodyguard out of the bargain, a slave who would die without their aid.
There we have the four types of Sleepwalker, more or less in order of how common they are, with Seers being the most often encountered by far but the one type unable to take their whole body to the Fringe, limited to travelling in mind alone. All Sleepwalkers of any type can be further divided into two groups; those who have been recruited and those who are being hunted. We will come to that soon.
These people are not the ones who have to live in the Fringe permanently. They would be the Spirits; ghosts of dead people that have not passed onto their final destination, stuck in purgatory. The reason is unknown but they certainly have something in common; all Spirits have some kind of grievance with their death or a desire to return to their lives, unwilling to pass on. Spirits can remain in the Fringe for a very long time without any resolution, even centuries, making their knowledge invaluable to Sleepwalkers provided the Spirit in question has not lost their mind through boredom or torment- this happens to the majority of Spirits and they soon kill themselves or each other.
Spirits are quite hard to kill though, having died once already. Their bodies are really just a projection, a Fringe manifestation of their personality. Cut a Sleepwalker’s finger off and he loses a finger. Cut a Spirit’s finger off and he just repairs the mental template. The true nexus of a Spirit’s life force is in his or her Sigil, discussed shortly. Spirits tend to haunt the living, seeking answers or retribution. Now, affecting the Real is almost impossible from the Fringe, but subtle effects can be achieved- like banging on the glass of a fish tank. Besides, there is always the place that bridges the Fringe and the Real- the Dreamscape, a crack through which Spirits can possess the living in order to breathe real air once more.
Every Sleepwalker has a Sigil and every Spirit has a Death-Sigil. A Sigil is a visual representation of a person’s true name. These symbols are the crux of a person’s being and while in the Fringe, every Sleepwalker has their Sigil emblazoned on their chest (or wherever), glowing with red light. The symbol can be anything from a random mixture of lines and slashes to an actual recognisable symbol like a cross; it is simply a visual metaphor for the person bearing it. In a world where metaphor replaces physics, names and words are terribly powerful; hence, it is very hard to hide your Sigil, which is the essence of your being in a world where flesh is a foreign substance. Spirits have Death-Sigils, which appear when they pass over and take the form of the thing which has defined and dominated their thoughts- their death. These special Sigils are not two dimensional symbols on the chest but three dimensional shapes that match the fatal wound of the Spirit. If they slashed their wrists, they will have a bright red line on each wrist- if they were crushed in a car accident, they might have a large red tear across their abdomen with a tail shooting up their spine. Death-Sigils follow the rough shape of the fatal wound and can be seen going through the Spirit’s insides by their faint glowing. Yes, Spirits are defined by their deaths. Such is life.
Sigils have magical power and thus keeping your true name secret is very important. Anyone can see the visual component blazing on your chest, so tell nobody the verbal component- John Smith or Mohammed Khan. Use a nickname. Furthermore, names are only the tip of the magical-symbol-berg. There are sacred words that tie up meaning and power and turn it towards magical acts; manipulating reality in this way is called Logos magic and the spells are known simply as Words– for example, the Word of Spear will drive a man into a killing frenzy.
Then we come to the other things lurking in the Fringe, monsters and creatures native to the Fringe and known by a variety of names. These beasts have grown to exist in the between-world and as such do not conform to the normal physics of animals in our world. There is a plant too, a vine called the Bloodvine, similar to ivy but with thorns, found almost everywhere in the Fringe. Each vine can be massive with tendrils reaching over the tallest buildings. It gets the name from a glowing red pulse that flows through it, actually providing much of the light in the Fringe.
The other beasties are many and varied, but here are the common ones:
Cats have been mentioned already. It is not quite known whether Cats first existed in the Real but developed a talent for travelling to the Fringe, or vice versa. What is known is that most cats are capable of travel and find it effortless, disappearing to explore the Fringe and seek out small helpless beings to kill and eat. Cats are vampiric, able to store more life force than they need to exist, thus expanding their lifespans. When they return to the real world they seem to lose much of this power.
Snapflies or Snaps are small, translucent flying beasts that sap the life of the living and move so fast that one blink can be fatal.
Nods are large lumbering creatures, vaguely humanoid in shape but grotesque and possessing unpredictable animal minds that can be docile one moment and ferocious the next.
Figs (a Fringe-folk vernacular of Figments) are beings that have leaked out of dreams, from boogymen to angry grandmothers. They act how they acted when they were actors in the subconscious- usually violently, being divorced from any reasonable mind.
If you’re unlucky, you’ll meet the Phagi. In the world of Sleepwalkers, these are the great threat, the creeping horror that makes the Fringe so much more vital that just being a ghost realm.
Nobody knows where they come from, just that they consume almost everyone they come into contact with, save for those that they possess for their strange purpose, which seems to be to reach the Real. Many believe that they are already here, breaking through one agent at a time through the minds of unprotected dreamers.
Every day rumours in the Fringe tell of a new incursion and hint at an invasion of the living world of earth, meaning that the Fringe is both the front line of the war and the last line of defence. Phagi have the bodies of serpents and they stand out from the crowd; the usual red glow of a Sigil is replaced by a baleful green glow. What kind of alien energy fuels their hatred of mankind is a mystery to all but a few Sleepwalkers. Beware of They Who Eat.
Now, the Phagi are not confronted with just scattered Spirits and Sleepwalkers; there is a reason that they have not yet destroyed us all. This reason (it’s a thin one) is that there are factions of Sleepwalkers at work in the Fringe. These groups have been fighting each other a long time, but a pleasant side effect is that this means the Fringe is populated by trained and equipped fighters who will drop their infighting to deal with the Phagi. If they would stop fighting each other for control of the Fringe, they might actually be able to save us.
Thus we come to discussing the state of play in the game world of Sleepwalkers. The Real is just like normal; the world as we know it now, with a little going on under the surface. Technology and attitudes are just the same, but of course in a few cases the psychics really are psychics, the hauntings really do turn out to be hauntings and the shady mega corporations really do have some grounding in fact. This pertains to one of the factions, a human corporation that spans the globe and pours massive resources into discovering the one frontier that still remains hidden- the Fringe.
The company is called Thoth Group and their higher echelons spend every waking hour working out how to get into the Fringe and exploit it for financial or military gain. This is good news for humans as it means someone in the Real knows about the Phagi threat and is in a position to do something about it. This is bad news for Sleepwalkers and Spirits who are bagged and dissected to fuel Thoth Group’s search for knowledge. These people are the boogeymen for Sleepwalkers- wherever you go and whatever you do, if Thoth Group finds out that you’re an ‘extradimensional’ then you will spend most of the rest of your life running. You’re a recruit, hunting other Sleepwalkers… or you’re a specimen.
On the other side of the coin is a faction that largely resides in the Fringe and goes to the Real world only to protect humans from the dangers that occasionally leak from the between-space. The Gatekeepers are a global network of supernatural policemen and it is they who keep the public ignorant of the truth of the Fringe by silencing any witnesses. The Gatekeepers just want the Fringe to remain separate and secret. They fight the Phagi at every turn but are torn between that duty and stopping mad Sleepwalkers from tearing down reality (they try quite often).
A faction less divided is the Rapture of Bastet. These people are all Strays and place the credit for their resurrections at the feet of the Egyptian goddess, worshipping her and doing her work. Her work, to their eyes, means finding and destroying Phagi incursions. Operating in the Fringe and the Real, they persecute Phagi and anyone who gets in their way with terrible fervour. Holding women sacred to Bastet, these cells of feline warriors surgically remove the Fringe of opposition. That is not always the Phagi- they have little love for any people who try to control the Fringe.
The Legion of Babel is a church devoted to Spirits and Shepherds. These fanatical individuals destroy any Spirits that will not convert to their cause, which is a twisted version of Christianity preached by their mysterious leader. He teaches angry and confused Spirits that God has forsaken them in this endless purgatory and that he must be toppled from his throne by force. This medievally clad congregation brooks no opposition, focused on being free from the Fringe at any cost to the cosmos.
The Phagi are of course a faction, being a horde of voracious beings bent on our destruction, but they also have foot soldiers. There will always be people, Sleepwalkers or otherwise, who are willing to aid such beings in return for some perceived reward or standing once the worlds have been bled dry. They are known as the Diakonos– meaning servants- and are waiting to betray us all in the shadows.
Finally there are a horde of smaller factions, from groups of Sleepwalker friends who stick together for comfort, to large gangs comparable to those of the real world. The chief example is a kind of Sleepwalker alternative to the original motorcycle gangs of America and Europe, at least in structure. They are called the Nobodies because they take on board anyone who has no place and they all use a variant on the name ‘John’, for safety and to keep things impersonal. They operate in the Real and Fringe and each individual group has its own rules and style; some are vigilantes, some just look after those who are lost and some are downright criminal gangs.
This the state of play as it stands now; factions pursue their goals and fight each other while They Who Eat search for ways to enter the Real. Individual Sleepwalkers explore the Fringe, seeking power or refuge, helped or hindered along the way by the multitude of Spirits living in a damned purgatory state.
The Fringe is a busy place these days, as the Real grows and gets smaller at the same time. There are simply more humans than there has ever been before, putting their mental pressure on the borders between worlds. This is a time of chaos.