Upon arriving at [Name of Town], the party discovers everyone is looking incredibly exhausted and moving at a sluggish pace. Of course, players can take advantage of this by swindling barely-awake shopkeepers who are having trouble counting change, or they can try to earnestly figure out what’s going on.
If the party asks, they are told that no one is getting much sleep these days because of a tabaxi that’s terrorizing the dreams of their children. He calls himself Freddi Cougar.
“The local PTA pooled funds together to hire a sleep specialist,” one concerned parent tells the party, “but even she is struggling to come up with a solution.”
If the players ask to speak with this sleep specialist, they will be directed a local tavern where she is staying. There, they find her: a female drow sleep doctor named Dr. Drow Z. (Zzzephira). If the party has already completed the encounter “Nothing Bleats a Good Night’s Sleep”, then they will already be familiar with this NPC.
She is busy at the bar but not because she’s drinking; Zzzephira is studying assorted notes in journals and on clipboards, jotting down ideas before scribbling them out again in frustration.
“I’ve tried all of my usual tactics,” Zzzephira comments, “but it seems this ‘Freddi Cougar’ character is more than just some city-wide delusion…he’s something very real in the ethereal plane. If we want to help the people of this town, we need to eliminate that tabaxi.”
Zzzephira reaches into her medical bag and pulls out a small glowing artefact. “This is a special Totem of Dream-Walk. It allows those connected to the totem to enter into a shared dreamspace. I’m not one for fighting, in planes material or ethereal, so I’m going to need some brave warriors who are willing to enter into the dream realm and take care of that tabaxi. Are you all up for the challenge?”
If the party agrees to help put an end to this literal nightmare, then Zzzephira will give them an address and a time to meet.
Assemble the Dream Team
The party arrives at one of the homes in town. A worried mother with dark circles under her eyes answers the door. She takes a little longer than usual, in her sleep-deprived state, to process who she’s greeting. Then, suddenly, she nods, and gestures the party into her home and directs them upstairs.
Her son, an 8-year old boy, is already fast asleep in bed. He squirms a little and whimpers, indicating that things aren’t too pleasant in his dream. Zzzephira is also in the room, setting up chairs around the child’s bed.
“Please,” she says in a whisper, “each of you find a seat.”
Once the party settles in, she removes the Totem of Dream-Walking from her bag and sets it on the boy’s nightstand. At this point, the worried mother has also appeared in the doorway, leaning against the frame for support as she struggles to keep her own eyes open.
“We have to hurry,” Zzzephira says, “he only nodded off about 10 minutes ago, and he might be jolted awake soon. However, before I send you in, there’s something else that I should show you…for the sake of transparency…”
Zzzephira lifts the boy’s hand and pulls back his pajama sleeve, revealing small cat scratches all over his forearm.
“It seems that what happens to you in that ethereal plane will also happen to your bodies out here,” the doctor says grimly. “Fortunately, this ‘Freddi Cougar’ seems more interested in scaring the children of this town rather than actually harming them physically. You all, however,” she pauses to glance over the players, “You are fully-grown and going in to destroy that demon, so I’m sure he won’t go so easy on you. Just promise me that you will be careful.”
Once the party is prepared, Dr. Drow Z. will mutter an incantation that causes the totem to glow. A translucent silver cord manifests from the glowing artefact before settling into the young boy’s forehead; he wrinkles his brow a little in response, but that could also very well be from the uneasy contents of his dreams.
Now, additional silver cords begin to appear, looping and wriggling through the air, all manifesting from the totem. The sleep doctor whispers “good luck” one more time as the new cords press into the foreheads of the players. They feel a soft pressure and, then, their vision begins to blur, and their eyelids become impossibly heavy. After only a few seconds, they are all sound asleep.
Only in Your Wildest Dreams
The party opens their eyes again to find themselves standing on the bottom floor of the house. As the world comes into focus, they hear a child screaming from the bedroom upstairs.
Running upstairs, they see why he is screaming: the ceiling above his bed is contorting into a frightening face of a tabaxi and a pair of clawed paws, reaching down toward the boy who is trying to bury himself in his blankets. As he does so, the blankets shrink and shrink until they disappear completely, leaving no place for him to hide.
The party can choose to strike the ceiling. One successful hit will cause the ceiling to snap back into place, with the face and paws of the tabaxi disappearing.
The boy looks at the party, momentarily confused at the strangers standing in his bedroom. Then, as though suddenly acting on autopilot, he leaps out of bed and races over to the window. He looks outside at one of the strange melting clocks on a nearby tree branch and yells, “Oh no! I’m running late for school!”
The boy leaps out the window and begins to fly across the unsettling dreamscape to a school building in the distance. At this point, the players can also try to fly by rolling an acrobatics check. If they fall short of the DC 15, they will forced to race across the strange terrain or find another means of travel.
The environment resembles a desert with a strangely painted sky, like something out of an oil painting. Feel free to include some light combat with whatever desert-native creatures you’d like to throw at the party (especially if they failed to take flight and are hoofing it).
Once they arrive at the school building and step through the front doors, each player rolls a straight d20. Depending on what is rolled, that player is teleported to a different corner of the school and subjected to a ridiculous childhood “nightmare scenario” that they must solve (either independently, or with whomever else rolled in the same category):
- Rolled d1-7: Unprepared for a Final Exam
- Rolled d8-14: High-Pressure Talent Show Performance
- Rolled d15-20: Losing All Teeth and Mean Girl Bullies
Scroll down in this encounter for expanded details on these scenarios. Additionally, consider casting “Reduce” on all players for the duration of the dream, so that they feel “elementary school kid” size and better blend in to the school environment.
Scenario #1 (d1-7): Exam
These players end up in a classroom where Freddi Cougar, now dressed up as an elderly schoolmarm, stands at the front of a classroom filled with students; the boy from earlier is nowhere to be found.
He tells the class that the exam to decide their fate is happening today and that he hopes they all studied hard. To complete this exam, players need to either roll high enough history/intelligence checks to see if they can work their way through the exam. Alternatively, you can actually ask the players trivia questions and see how well they perform.
If a player is clearly struggling, they can find ways to distract Freddi and cheat off their neighbors’ tests (or somehow rummage through/look inside Freddi’s teacher desk for the answer key).
Attempting to fight Freddi directly will simply cause him to erupt into paper airplanes that fly around the room. Any players in the space roll a dex saving throw or are dealt 1d8 slashing damage from papercuts. After darting around for a bit, the paper airplanes gather in a corner and reform/refold, origami style, into schoolmarm Freddi.
Players must pass the exam to be able to leave the classroom (or wait until they are rescued by another party member who teleported to a different room in the school and found their own way through the challenge).
Scenario #2 (d8-14): Talent Show
These players end up backstage before going on for a school talent show…they are also completely naked. After finding something to use as clothing backstage, they need to figure out an act that they can perform to earn the appreciation of a large, dark audience.
In order to satisfy the crowd and not be mocked or booed, they must be creative, rolling performance checks and reacting well to any potential setbacks (for example, Freddi makes the stage floor suddenly slanted 45 degrees or instantly covers it in ice…could make for an extra challenge/disadvantage if your party is attempting a dance routine or something that requires lots of movement).
By pleasing the crowd and earning cheers, the auditorium will suddenly illuminate, revealing a completely empty space. The players can then go down the aisles and exit back into the main hall of the school.
Scenario #3 (d14-20): School Bullies
These players end up in a bathroom, facing a mirror, while all their teeth immediately come falling out of their mouths. If they leave the bathroom, they find Freddi Cougar dressed like a “Mean Girl” and leading a pack of school bullies.
In order to beat this encounter, the players must stand up for themselves, perhaps fighting back or perhaps just being forced to use their words to try and insult Freddi (think: rap battle, except maybe without the rap).
If they can get the crowd to laugh at Freddi and his “Mean Girls” crew, then the audience of shadowy students will disband and disappear along with this manifestation of Freddi.
DM Note: The dream world is incredibly malleable. If a player wants to try and manifest some object or morph an aspect of the environment (regardless of where they are teleported to in the school), they just need to roll for wisdom against Freddi Cougar’s wisdom roll. If they lose, Freddi maintains the dreamscape to his liking. Every attempt made by the players to transform Freddi’s world (through sheer willpower and not through legitimate spell use) results in Freddi receiving a +1 to his next wisdom roll against the players. This continues to accumulate, so the DM can narrate how Freddi is getting more effective at resisting the players’ efforts to “terraform” his world.
Time to Wake Up
After the party is reunited in the halls of the dream school, they can go back to the front doors where they first entered and find the young boy (the one whose dream they’re inside): he is locked away in the school’s trophy case, banging against the unbreakable glass.
“You won’t be taking my prize,” snarls Freddi Cougar as he slinks around the corner to face off against the party.
Roll for initiative and begin the battle; the stat block below suggests a possible build for Freddi.
Once Freddi has been defeated, he erupts into cursed flames and burns away completely. The trophy case unlocks and the door swings open, letting the boy fall out onto the tiled school hallway, safe and sound.
Walking outside, the party already notes a difference: the surreal wasteland is now blossoming with new life, rolling fields of green, and lush trees.
At this point, you can have them return to the dream version of the boy’s house or simply wake up from here. Surprisingly, quite a bit of time has passed, and it is now morning in the waking world. The mother and boy are very grateful, as is Dr. Drow Z., who can offer the party rewards, possibly even a Totem Shard of Dream-Walking. This reduced-power version of her own totem can allow the holder (1 player) to briefly enter into the dreams of another, either to spy/gather information from their subconscious (Inception style) or to plant an idea (persuasion/intimidation/deception roll to determine its effectiveness).