Metaphysics of the Wake

July 24, 2017 - 4 min read

I’ve run two sessions of The Wake for people. Here’s a run-down of some metaphysical concepts I introduced for the game, and some elaboration on what they mean.

Fighting Mr. Teddy

During a freak Wake storm, the PCs were huddled in a cave with several NPCs, including a mother and daughter traveling together. The girl had a stuffed teddy bear with some rents and tears in it. The mother, trying to soothe her own nerves, took the bear away and started to mend it, not realizing that the girl needed it too. The surge of emotion resonated with the storm, bringing Mr. Teddy to live as a giant bear that attacked the group.

The Wake isn’t simply potential power that turns will into reality. It’s a bridge between the material and the oneiric universes, a place where dream becomes real and vice versa. Dreams have their own rules, their own “physics”, and so on. One of those rules is that lucid dreaming is possible: if you know you’re in a dream, then you can change the dream. But the Wake is also a shared dream.

One of the players asked, “can I try to force my will on the Wake?” The answer was “yes, but…” So here’s an analogy of how that would work, and what it can or cannot do.

You can hit a body of water with your hand and make a splash. But the significance depends on the amount of water in play. A splash in a soup bowl of water will dominate the water supply. A splash in the ocean is nothing, an inconsequential moment compared to the natural ebb and flow of waves and tides. So while it is possible for you to affect the Wake, it’s also affected by everyone else, and by the rules of the Wake itself.

There’s a sort of metaphysical Judo that you can try: instead of going against the dominant paradigm of the Wake, you can work around it, or use its strength against it. In this case, the PCs won the fight with the help of the mother, a seamstress, who used a dream drop that let them fight with their weapons as though they were sewing the bear back together. Repairing the bear broke the spell that brought it to life, in essence concluding and completing the dream.

Prophecy and Significance

Wake Prophecy

Dreams and prophecies are connected. One of the PCs has prophetic dreams, in fact. So how does this work? How do we predict momentous and significant events?

The Wake can be thought of as literally a separate dimension, perpendicular to time and space. By analogy, imagine that someone sets a toy boat floating from left to right across a pond. This boat is the progression of time: it will only move in one direction. Now throw a rock into the center of the pond. The ripples of the impact will flow outward in all directions around the rock. Our boat is the passage of time: past to future. The rock is our significant event.

On the left, we’ll see the outermost edges of the ripples meet the boat. At this moment, the way we experience the impact is half-glimpsed omens and enigmatic dreams. As the boat sails through the stronger waves, closer to the center, the manifestations become more and more obvious: unexplained magical happenings, mysterious symbols, strange coincidences. Eventually we reach the event itself and experience it. If we survive it, of course, we’ll keep sailing. The moment becomes a memory, then recedes into myth and legend as the boat reaches the far right edges of the wave.

Of course, the boat could be sailing well clear of the rock. Or the rock could capsize the boat. Our individual journeys through time can take us closer to, or further from, manifestations of the dream world. We can live staid, boring lives, or lives of high adventure and great sorrow. We must steer our own ships through the sea of time, and try our best to stay afloat.

Sigils and Significance

Wake Symbol

The characters have encountered a strange symbol, pictured to the right. It materialized on a book one of them is carrying, and is also one of the 49 symbols on a gigantic metal ring they passed in their travels. It seems to hold some immediate significance for them.

They encountered an old sage on a hilltop, who has been studying the ring his whole life. He explained that the symbol seems to refer to “the cost of rebirth”. By analogy, imagine a military company that is decimated in battle. They rebuild themselves, becoming stronger, but their loss was significant. This symbol would be representative of that loss.

From the Bible, the story of Job would also be relevant: a man who loses everything and experiences a lesson then goes on to regain what he had, and more.

The meaning aside, why that particular symbol? The NPC sage didn’t explain it during the session, but you could ask similar questions of anything. Why are snowflakes shaped like multi-pointed stars? Why are mountains often shaped like cones? Why is the heart on one side of the chest, not the other?

There may be explanations for all these things, but they aren’t obvious. Why is this the symbol for a costly rebirth? It’s not obvious either, even though there may be a reason. It’s enough to say that this is what such rebirth “looks like” when made manifest by the oneiric symbolism of the Wake.

The appearances of these symbols, of course, are the “early ripples” described above, as the characters move closer to the point in time where some momentous event takes place. The prophetic PC foresaw something like this, and the courier PC bears a book with this symbol. Both of them know halves of a song that made the symbol appear on the ground at their feet as well.

The symbol has no name, for now. It’s just a trail marker on the path of destiny.