I’m still trying to work out a methodology for having the PCs’ deities communicate with them in a number of ways. Going back to the subject of dreams (there’s still omens, visions, and voices to consider, among other things), the obvious choices to me so far were:
1. Occasionally announcing that a character remembers their dream. The players will assume that this announcement must have some larger meaning in the game, otherwise why mention it to them? The advantage with this approach is that we don’t spend a lot of time on the mechanics of actually having the dream and simply deal with its consequences in the game. The disadvantages are many though - we implicitly ignore an ongoing creative potential of dreams in the game as as source of confusion, inspiration, and spontaneity. I would think a medieval setting filled with monsters and magic would imply that characters there would be a much more superstitious lot than ourselves. They’d be more attentive to their dreams, particularly if they worshipped a god (or more than one) knowing that their dreams may be windows into other worlds. They’d also be more likely to share their dreams with one another for help in deciphering them.
2. A more methodical approach that involves randomly determining whether a character remembers their dream and/or randomly determining whether the dream really is of any consequence - a message of some kind from the gods. I say “and/or” because allowing for unremarkable (from the DM’s point of view) dreams to be remembered enlarges the role playing possibilities. Key to this is making mention of the characters’ dreams more often so that they’re seen as a regular feature of the game, rather than as a game hook suddenly dropped like a lead weight. Every time they wake up, they roll dice. Even then, a balance would have to be sought of course, so that the players don’t become overly suspicious or paranoid. I can see the fantasy setting deepening with the surrealism that the greater presence of dreams in the game would bring, but I wouldn’t want them to become a primary focus. It might be best to be open about why the players are rolling dice, and that just because they can remember their dream, it doesn’t mean that it’s a sign from their deity. Of course, the whole discussion so far implies that only those that have chosen a god can play this game within a game - not necessarily so. Sometimes gods or demons make the first attempt at communication.
This happened in our S&W game. We play with clerics having no magic at first level - at this stage they’re similar to mystics; spiritual seekers looking for direction. The cleric character named Agnal began to have dreams where he saw a swirling cloud of darkness. At first, he thought that the swirling dark mist of unknowing might be the actual form of a god he should worship. Eventually, he reached second level. His player expressed some interest in the gods of thieves. Later, in a departure from his regular dreams, the small form of Corrno stepped out of the mist, dressed in his ragged clothes but still somehow managing to awe Agnal and make a worshipper of him.
Since I want the abilities of clerics to include a greater likelihood and ability to communicate with the gods, I’m going to factor that into any random dream calculations. I was thinking something along the lines of any character being able to remember their dream by making a saving throw. This way, as they grow in experience they’ll have a better chance. Since the d12 is so neglected, we’ll use it for our dream rolls - if they make their save and remember the dream, on a roll of 1 in 12 the dream has significance and is some kind of a sign from a god. This chance goes up at each level for clerics, ie. 1-2 on d12 at 2nd level, and 1-9 at 9th level. In the case of clerics, any significant dream remembered is specifically from their god. The degree of the dream’s significance and its content will be entirely the DM’s prerogative.
This seemed all well and good until today when I hit upon the idea of the gods communicating via dreams in correlation to the PCs location and not just random chance. What if dreams were treated something like wandering monsters? In a pantheistic culture, gods have areas of interest and influence. Maybe their presence should be felt by PCs more easily in the kinds of places or situations that correspond to these areas. I could ditch my random chance roll in favor of this, or else I could modify the dice rolls when appropriate. Agnal sleeping across the street from a bank might cause him to be more likely to have a dream where Corrno somehow helps to reveal a key’s location - if only he can remember it when he awakens. Or perhaps if Agnal sleeps across from a bank he’s more likely to remember a dream by making his saving throw, but whether or not the dream is relevant will not be affected.
In the example given, I can see how tactics, role playing, and player discussion might be stimulated by the desire to more fully consider a situation where they find themselves. The benefits of worshiping a certain god might come into play and therefore a player’s more serious consideration when choosing one.
Though I’m tempted just to hand wave the whole thing and make rulings on the fly, I think if I can come up with a fairly quick dice rule about it, I’ll be more likely to take the various possibilities into consideration. The end goal will have been served - the players will be taking a greater interest in their gods and their relationships with them.