Nightmares of Mine

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell, Copyright ©2000

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

Nightmares of Mine is a role-playing sourcebook written by Kenneth Hite and published by Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE). It is 180 pages long in "digest" format. Let’s dispel one illusion immediately. Although ICE’s Rolemaster system is sometimes maligned as "Chartmaster" et al., and there are some specific guidelines for using this sourcebook with Rolemaster, there are no charts and no rules in Nightmares of Mine. Instead, this volume is a sequel to ICE’s Gamemaster Law, with the focus on creating horror stories, building horror scenarios and campaigns, and making horror work as a great role-playing experience, rather than yet another rules supplement.

After a brief introduction, the book provides answers to the big questions first, defining horror as dread, terror and gore, and describing the "Bad Things" that create fear. Horror is shown as a goal not a genre, which is good news if you are keen to run scenarios in settings other than the Victorian, pulp or contemporary eras. The tour of potential campaign backdrops encompasses most of the fantasy, historical, modern, and science-fictional possibilities.

This is followed by a chapter on character creation, presenting a selection of character concepts and hooks appropriate for horror campaigns. Suggestions are made on how to map these archetypes to Rolemaster professions and training packages. If you are not running Rolemaster, converting them across to your system of choice should be painless. This is also the only part of the book where you will find any serious references to Rolemaster concepts.

The next two chapters plunge into the heart of the matter with scenario design. In a single page, a normal wilderness interlude that you might use as filler in a conventional game is transformed with a few deft touches into a full-blown horror story. Each of the key components of a horror scenario is then examined in depth, from the unnatural elements, through pace and timing, to the motives of the villains. Non-player characters are important elements in good horror adventures, and a section is devoted to guidelines for employing them to dramatic effect, and not just as the inevitable victims.

Having constructed a suitable scenario, attention turns to the details of running a horror session. The emphasis is on what makes a night of horror different from an evening of normal adventuring, namely creating and maintaining fear. For instance, usually you encourage the players to send in the scouts first to reconnoitre a location because this is simply good tactics. When running horror, splitting the party is something you should avoid because you cannot terrify players whose characters are away from the action. Instead you have to strengthen the "safety in numbers" instinct by bending the rules and punishing solo actions to keep the characters together.

The penultimate chapter covers the design issues of complete horror campaigns. Using examples from fiction, television, and film, campaigns are divided into categories depending upon the level of supernaturalism and unreality present or needed in the milieu. More mundane aspects such as scale, scope and the taboo subjects of religion, politics and sexuality are noted as requiring attention. The chapter ends with helpful assistance on how to involve the characters in a believable fashion as opposed to straining your players’ credulity by having the monstrous hordes turn up on the doorstep in every scenario.

The final chapter concentrates on techniques for making a horror campaign successful. The need to direct story development from behind the scenes is stressed, and there is an illuminating discussion of how to reward and persecute characters as well as how you can handle the tricky issue of introducing new characters. The common pitfalls of horror are revealed (such as "The Scooby Doo Syndrome" where all scenarios are identical), and more importantly, there are hints on how you can salvage the game if you do find yourself in a mess.

Nightmares of Mine is rounded off with a comprehensive set of fictional and non-fictional sources which you are encouraged to plunder for ideas, and this bibliography neatly complements the quotations interspersed throughout the book.

In conclusion, Nightmares of Mine is a compelling read, and an essential addition to your role-playing library if you want to do justice to occasional or ongoing horror games.

Editor's Note

Nightmares of Mine is produced by Iron Crown Enterprises, Inc. Their contact details are as follows:
Iron Crown Enterprises, Inc.
P.O. Box 1605
Charlottesville,
VA 22902
USA

Web: www.ironcrown.com

All trademarks and copyrights are acknowledged. Please post your comments on this review on the General Discussion Board.

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