Sunday, September 22, 2019

Review & Commentary On 'The Nightmare Lands, by Shane Lacy Hensley For 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons

"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..."

There was a time in '95 when I grabbed just about everything with the word  'Ravenloft' in the title except this box set was worth it. '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.' The box set had everything I needed to set games in the other reality of dreams in Ravenloft. Dreams in Ravenloft are dark, forbidding, & can easily get PC's killed in little order & this box set was the first time that dreams got rules.

In the box set was a complete package of second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons goodness: 

"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."

"The Nightmare Lands" offered a whole cloth realm ruled over by a brand new Dark Lord & followed in its wake a dream realm something akin to both Fraud & Poe mixed with the nasitness of the Ethreal. Ravenloft is in full effect here allowing the dungeon master to run & rule their game settings with all of the dreamy goodness of the second edition AD&D setting. There's a light in the darkness in the form  Dr. Illhousen's sanitarium here, & his battle against the Nightmare Lands. The 'Nightmare Court' is almost fully detailed & the Dream Spawn is presented for the first time. They would come into full effect in White Wolf's Denizens of Darkness (2002) and Denizens of Dread (2004).

Dream spawn

We get lots of insight into the monster NPC's of the Nightmare Court & then we get lots of connections into the dream worlds of Planescapes & other 2nd Advanced Dungeons & Dragons products & settings. But here's the weird thing, 'The Nighmarelands' set is the only time that we really see this Ravenloft setting ideal.  Later on many of the setting conceits of the dreamscape as adventure location would appear in the "Something Wild" (1996) adventure  which used the idea of dreamscapes in the Planescape setting.

Are there problems with the "The Nightmare Lands"? Only some of the usual 2nd Eiditon Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting issues & problems: 
  1. The box set is a self contained enviroment & there fore fully detailed. The DM is gonna need to customize the 'The Nighmarelands' set to fit their games campaign. 
  2. Fully fleshed out monster NPC's mean that there is lots of opportunity screw over ermm interact with the PC's. 
  3. Take the Gothic Appendix N route with the 'The Nighmarelands' set & don't go the modern horror movie route. Also one of the best resources might be the Roger Corman Edgar Allen Poe Cycle of films for inspiration. 
  4. "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."  These adventures can & should be customized by the DM to fit their player's & the campaign's needs. 
  5. I strongly recommend Tales of the Grotesque and DungeonesqueBy  Jack W. Shear for use with 'The Nightmare Lands' box set. Many of the Gothic inspirations from his books are perfectly suited to up the stakes for the Nightmare Court. 
  6. May I also recommend the New Ravenloft Monsters Net book for even more Ravenloft Nightmarelands monsters. 
  7. This box set is a perfect segway into using dreams & nightmares as a part of your PC's adventures in 1st edition AD&D. 
  8. There is far more room to work in the Nightmare Court as a way of bringing over 1st edition AD&D adventurers into the world of Ravenloft. 
  9. The Nightmare Court should be far more powerful in Ravenloft then only the 'The Nighmarelands' box set. 
  10. 'The Nighmarelands' box set could theorically be used for other OSR games such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess or other game with a bit of work on the DM's part. 
So many people might think that I loath 'The Nighmarelands' box set & nothing could be further from the truth. The box set is up to the high standards of the classic 2nd AD&D edition era. My main issue with many of the 2nd edition campaign box sets is that these settings were self contained, they had issues with campaign customization, & there was a ton of Ravenloft setting details. 'The Nighmarelands' box set doesn't suffer from any of these concerns & in my estimtion was a cut above some of the Ravenloft adventures & titles of the Nineties. Because these were often a cut above many of the second edition adventures & sourcebooks. 
Do I think you should get 'The Nighmarelands' box set if your a Ravenloft fan? In a word, yes! This is one of the more indespensible campaign box sets if your going to run dreamworlds in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st or 2nd edition. 

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