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The Nightmare Lands (2e)
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The Nightmare Lands (2e)

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It's just a bad dream - a very bad dream....

Beware the night, for sleep provides another path to the Demiplane of Dread. In the unique domain called the Nightmare Lands, darkness offers not blissful but ultimate terror. Heroes enter this realm at the bidding of the night, drawn from their dreaming bodies and captured by an enigmatic figure known only as the Nightmare Man. Trapped in this region of psychological fear, heroes face their worst nightmare in strange, surrealistic terrain. If they escape the treacherous clutches of dark slumber, they'll be safe - at least until the next time sleep overtakes them....

This boxed set contains everything necessary to adventure among dark dreamscapes and twisted nightmares, including: The Journal of Dr. Illhousen: 32 pages of notes and information on the Nightmare Lands, compiled by the chief physician of Nova Vaasa's infamous Clinic for the Mentally Distressed. Rules of Dreams and Nightmares: 64 pages full of rules dealing with adventuring in dreams and nightmares, setting up nightmare scenarios, and translating player characters into dreamscape versions of themselves. Book of Nightmares: 64 pages of ready-to-play nightmares that incorporates all of the information in this campaign expansion into one full-length adventure. New Monsters: 16 pages of never-before-seen creatures unique to the Nightmare Lands and the dimensions of dreams. Poster Maps: Two full-color, poster-sized maps of the Nightmare Landss and other locations described herein.

Product History

The Nightmare Lands, by Shane Lacy Hensley with Bill Slavicsek, is a boxed set for the Ravenloft line. It was published in October 1995, just in time for Halloween.

Continuing the Ravenloft Line. After the publication of the Ravenloft Campaign Setting (1994), the Ravenloft line mostly consisted of adventures, with the occasional Van Richten Guide to keep things interesting. The publication of the Nightmare Lands boxed set was thus a big event for the line.

The Nightmare Lands was the seventh boxed set for Ravenloft, but if you exclude the three campaign setting boxes (two for Ravenloft and one for Gothic Earth) and A Light in the Belfry (1995), an adventure that was boxed just so it could contain a CD, the Nightmare Lands was actually the third boxed supplement for Ravenloft. It followed Forbidden Lore (1992), a box of rules, and Castles Forlorn (1993), a setting and adventure.

The Nightmare Lands feels like a hybrid of the two previous boxed sets because it contains rules, a setting, and adventures. They're spread out across poster maps and a set of four different books:

  • The Journal of Dr. Illhousen. In-character background material.
  • The Rules of Dreams and Nightmares. Rules book.
  • Book of Nightmares. Adventure book.
  • The Nightmare Lands. Monstrous supplement.

Expanding D&D. The Nightmare Lands contains the first-ever set of rules for dreaming in D&D. Besides detailing multiple levels of reality, the supplement also provides new rules for how characters work in dream realms. Not only are physical characteristics (like Strength and Dexterity) replaced with mental characteristics (like Intelligence and Wisdom), but characters also get new attributes such as Inner Strength and Mental Fortitude. The latter is also the key to awakening special dream powers.

Adventure Tropes. The Nightmare Lands contains a small set of four adventures that are mainly intended as an introduction to the rules and settings of The Nightmare Lands. Thus the first introduces dreams, the second the Nightmare Court, the third Dr. Illhousen, and the fourth the Nightmare Lands themselves.

They're all primarily event-driven, in the manner of many AD&D 2e adventures, but there are also some constrained dungeon crawls, including crawls through warped dream realms. The last adventure is the most open, allowing exploration of the Nightmare Lands … but it's still managed primarily through a series of planned encounters.

Adventure Tropes: What Dreams May Come. The idea of exploring dreams was little used in D&D prior to the release of The Nightmare Lands. D&D's only major nightmare adventure to date had been DL10: "Dragons of Dream" (1985), the legendary exploration of an elven forest warped by dreams and fraught with prophetic (and sometimes deadly) nightmares.

Seeing a world warped by nightmare was just one way to explore dreams in roleplaying. The other major path was to explore a wholly new reality, as Chaosium had done in their H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands (1986), which was based on similar ideas in Lovecraft's own The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943). The Nightmare Lands uses both concepts: there's some warped reality in the adventures in this box, but also an original realm of terror.

Exploring the Great Wheel. The authors didn't just create a nightmare realm within Ravenloft, but also laid out an entire theory for how dreams work within the multiverse of the Great Wheel. Not only is the demiplane of dread confirmed to be in the Deep Ethereal plane, but the dream realm is said to be there too as part of the Wall of Color that separates the Border Ethereal (where it touches Prime Material Planes) and the Deep Ethereal.

Exploring Ravenloft. The Nightmare Lands are a domain of Ravenloft that was first mentioned in Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990). However, the concept of the realm had changed since its earlier descriptions. Originally, it was said to be an ever-changing and chaotic realm (not a place of dreams), and it was said to have no rulers. Later, MC10: "Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix" (1991) suggested that a ghoul lord might be the Nightmare Lands' ruler.

The Nightmare Lands largely sweeps away the earlier concepts about this domain with the exception of its inhabitants, the Abber Nomads. It then spends most of its attention on the actual rulers of the Lands, the Nightmare Court. However, it also details both floating dreamscapes and the "Terrain Between" that makes up most of this island of terror. As described, The Nightmare Lands is one of the more interesting (and intrusive) domains in Ravenloft because it leis between waking and sleep and so can become a part of any adventure … if the PCs just close their eyes.

The Nightmare Lands also provides some new details on Nova Vaasa, previously the setting of "The Awakening" (1994). It describes Dr. Illhousen's sanitarium there, which is a base for his secret war against the Nightmare Lands.

Monsters of Note. The brief monsters book in The Nightmare Lands spends several pages on a new category of D&D critter: the dream spawn. Though they haven't been used extensively, they have reappeared in White Wolf's Denizens of Darkness (2002) and Denizens of Dread (2004).

NPCs of Note. Another large chunk of the monster book is spent on the Nightmare Court, a group of unique (and horrifying) NPCs.

Meanwhile, Dr. Illhousen is also introduced as a foe of the Court. He seems a bit like a poor man's Van Richten.

Neither the Court nor Illhousen has appeared since.

Future History. "Something Wild" (1996) used the idea of dreamscapes in the Planescape setting.

About the Contributors. In 1995 Hensley was a freelance author contributing to West End's Torg line and also TSR projects such as Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales (1994). In just a year, he'd release what would become his most famous product, Deadlands (1996).

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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Reviews (3)
Discussions (2)
Customer avatar
Eric S November 03, 2017 12:45 pm UTC
I am interested in purchasing this but would like to know if it comes with printed maps and if all 4 book are printed separately of if they are compiled into one book....
Customer avatar
March 23, 2016 1:48 pm UTC
I bought this box set many years ago for $25 and it was worth every penny. Although set primarily in Ravenloft, most of it works fine in any setting (including the modern world). The Nightmare Court, as they are called, could appear anywhere to haunt anyone's dreams. Obviously, the AD&D rules make it very suitable for use with retro-clones like Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, LotFP, Swords & Wizardry, etc.
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File Last Updated:
November 01, 2017
This title was added to our catalog on May 20, 2014.