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Friday, May 22, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Nightmare

Today we're going to take a look at another classic D&D monster - the Nightmare. It's an evil, flying black horse with flaming hooves. A nightmare is the perfect mount for the main villain of your campaign.

Real Life Origin

There doesn't seem to be one main source that nightmares were taken from. There's a bunch of theories as to what might have inspired their creation:
  • A "mare" is another word for horse, so it could have been just a creative connection someone came up with.
  • The french word for a nightmare is "cauchemar", which translates as "a spirit that tramples". In 3rd edition, there's a tougher version of a nightmare known as a cauchemar.
  • The Greek god Helios had a chariot driven by "fire-darting steeds" named Pyrios, Aeos, Aethon and Phlegon. Others claim the horses to be named Abraxas, Aethiops, Eous, Bronte and Sterope. Bronte and Sterope are known as "Thunder and Lightning".
  • "Nightmare" in italian translates to "incubo", or "incubus", which leads to this next point...
  • They may also be linked to sleep paralysis, where the victim claims to have encountered a "nightmare" (a night hag). Check out this article on sleep paralysis and the incubus.
AD&D 1st Edition

This is one powerful creature. It has an AC of -4 (for newer players, in 5th edition terms that's an AC of around 24)! It has three attacks and is highly intelligent.
  • They are ridden by demons, devils and night hags. Sometimes they are also ridden by spectres (?), vampires or liches."...gaunt and skeletal with a huge head, glowing red eyes, flaming orange nostrils, and hooves which burn like embers."
  • During combat they create smoking clouds that cause a penalty to hit and damage.
  • They can fly, become ethereal and travel the astral plane.
  • Without a rider, they attack material beings out of pure hatred.
Escape from Thunder Rift

I don't have this adventure, but I was able to dig up some information. The lesser nightmare 3e stats are here. Apparently the lesser nightmare was also in the 3rd edition Planar Handbook, which I also do not own.

From what I can tell, the elesser nightmare has little in common with a true nightmare. It's actually undead and, from what I can see, can't fly. It might just be an undead horse.

AD&D 2nd Edition

In 2e, nightmares were detailed in the outer planes appendix and then updated slightly in the Planescape Monstrous compendium.
  • They communicate to each other through "empathy". They can understand commands from evil riders.
  • They don't need food or air.
  • While they will gleefully serve as a mount for any mission involving evil, nightmares will do what they want, sort of like an evil, intelligent magic item.
  • Calling on a nightmare can be done of wizards 5th level and higher. The wizard has to cast mount, then monster summoning III, and then wall of fog. Then the nightmare must be fed oat-like flakes of platinum worth at least 200 gp. Then the wizard is its master for 72 hours.
  • Once per decade in the plane of The Gray Waste (aka Hades), there's a Gloom Meet - a gathering of lower planar creatures to plan evil deeds. Nightmares have the job of spreading the word of a Gloom Meet. The nightmares "ride the planes in a terrifying charge that notifies all that the Gloom Meet has started."
  • When nightmares die of 'natural causes', they travel to the Hill of Bone in the Gray Wastes to die. There, the skulls of the dead nightmares call out to their living brethren.
Secrets of the Lamp

Steam racing Eversmoke
This is a boxed set about genies that contains an awesome adventure involving nightmares. I love this adventure (and boxed set), and it is the main reason I wrote this article. The scenario, called "In the City of Brass", is in the adventure book.

In the City of Brass in the Plane of Elemental Fire, the sultan of the efreet has an annual event known as The Sultan's Steeplechase. It is a race on a racetrack where any mount is can be ridden (no flying, though).

The race includes some really weird mounts:
  • A djinn prince riding a snow-white buraq (a "horse of heaven" with a human face).
  • A dao riding a black lamia (yes, a woman with a lion's lower half.).
  • Other genies riding giant, red-headed lizards.
The heroes end up the guests/prisoners of a genie named Miraz, who is in love with one of the party. Miraz owns an albino nightmare named Steam. "Steam is a magnificent silvery-white, albino nightmare. When the foal was born white, Miraz knew that he should give the animal to the Sultan, who prizes such animals greatly. But he couldn't bring himself to do it, despite his better judgement."

There's a whole convoluted escape scenario. Things are meant to end up where the Sultan decrees that a hero must ride Steam and race Miraz, who rides a nightmare named Eversmoke, through the City of Brass.

We are given a pile of fun race rules and situations, including obstacles to be jumped, crowded streets, and "slippery trash". Spells are allowed, so of course the jerk Miraz casts wall of fire in front of our poor PC.

I ran this way back when, modified. I actually had a PC participate in the steeplechase, and it was really great - one of the best sessions of the whole campaign.

Dragon Magazine #234: Bazaar of the Bizarre - Lich Magical Items

This article details a pile of lich magic items, including this:

Nightmare Harness: This is a magic harness that summons a nightmare in d4 rounds, who willingly serves as a mount. If the nightmare is slain while summoned in this way, the harness crumbles to dust.

The harness is studded with platinum and precious gems which burn with an inner fire. If you try to steal a gem off of the harness, you're plagued with dreams about being chased by a nightmare. Each night you lose 1 point of strength and constitution! This happens every night until you hit 0 in one of those stats and die.

D&D 3rd Edition

There's two types of Nightmares in the monster manual. There's nightmares, and there are "cauchemars".

Regular nightmares are similar to older versions. Here they now officially have flaming hooves that set "combustable materials alight".

A caushemar is bigger (huge instead of large). It has a 26 AC and +15 to hit. Wow.

Fiendish Codex II. Tyrants of the Nine Hells
In this book is a monster known as a narzugon. It's human-sized and wears spiked plate armor. If you see a narzugon's face, you see your own fears (giving you the "shaken" condition.

Narzugons are the elite cavalry of the devil army. They ride nightmares, who they captured and tamed. The narzugons have cold iron lances, which he charges with. Narzugons often go on missions to recover evil items or to destroy temples of good.

D&D 4th Edition

In the 4e cosmology, nightmares dwell in the Shadowfell. Mortals who survive a nightmare attack actually suffer from bad dreams... or nightmares.
  • They gather in packs and hunt in the Shadowfell and "lonely roads of the world". 
  • A powerful evil creature who wants a nightmare for a mount needs to defeat it in combat. 
  • Riders gain the nightmare's fire resistance.
If killed, the nightmare's flames gutter out and all that remains is a mane and a tail of ash that quickly disperses.

D&D 5th Edition

The nightmare's AC is down to a reasonable 13 now. It continues to grant fire resistance to its rider. It can take a rider and up to 3 willing creatures to the Ethereal Plane.
  • Summoning it now requires "a worthy sacrifice". 
  • This is very disturbing. Where do nightmares comes from? They are created from a pegasus! Transforming a pegasus into a nightmare involves "...the torturous removal of a pegasus's wings".
Using Nightmares in Your Campaign

How weird is it that Venger from the old D&D cartoon rode a nightmare? He has wings! What is he, lazy?

It seems like Nightmares are under-used. I dug quite a bit, but this was all the material I could find on them. Here's some ways to use nightmares in your game:

  • Rescuing a pegasus from some dirtbag who wants to turn it into a nightmare seems like a really cool session.
  • The whole concept of the Gloom Meet begs for exploration. The nightmares rampage across the planes alerting everyone of the impending meet. Maybe your heroes need to trick a nightmare herd into taking them to the meet?
  • A trip to The Gray Waste to explore where nightmares go to die seems like an awesome idea for an adventure.
  • I would highly recommend the "albino nightmare" concept. Nightmares are already special, the idea of one even more special makes it very valuable.
  • An honor-bound narzugon riding a nightmare tries to take down a church of a good deity. Perhaps the whole thing culminates in a joust.
  • I get a kick out of the idea of the PCs riding pegasi battling people riding nightmares. Maybe throw unicorns in the mix somehow?
  • Having your villain ride a nightmare seems like a good idea. This allows the bad guy to fly and look super-cool.
Hack and slash has a great article on the ecology of nightmares which is overflowing with cool ideas here. My favorite idea from this is the concept of "Daymares". Just the name alone makes me laugh out loud.

This thread on enworld provided me some information on the origins of the nightmare.

Thank you for reading!


Timothy Brannan said...

Excellent post as usual.

Love the in-depth looks you do.

Jake Mitchell said...

Not a fan of putting firey manes on my nightmares. Other than that, a good article. I have to admit it was one article I skimmed over in the monster manual.
I really hope they release another soon (they aren't necessary and I reskin all the time, but damn do I enjoy them)

Sean said...

Timothy Brannan: The day that I wrote this guide, I first sat down and thought about what I felt like writing about. I remembered that you like the monster guides, so I went through a 2e Monstrous Manual and settled on the Nightmare.

Jake Mitchell: Yeah, the 5e strategy is very interesting. Will there ever be another core book? I guess Wizards of the Coast felt burned by the 4e strategy of releasing a steady stream of splatbooks (to diminishing returns, I assume). All I can say is that I really like how 5e has turned out, so I have no complaints! I assume that in each new adventure, more new monsters will be rolled out..? Though, so far the books have mostly been full of NPC stats and variations on cultists and bandits.