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The Nightmares Underneath Free Edition

The Nightmares Underneath Free Edition


The Nightmares Underneath is an old school role-playing game with a strong horror theme, set in a fantasy Middle East where dungeons are invading nightmares intent on the destruction of civilization.

In the Kingdoms of Dreams, all is right with the world—except for one thing. Even though the Law has triumphed over the powers of Chaos, banishing idolatry and superstition in favour of science and reason, humanity is still threatened by a dangerous, otherworldly force. The Realm of Nightmares invades the physical world, sending incursions in the form of dungeon to undermine and destroy society.

The Nightmares Underneath conforms to the following common assumptions of other old school games: six attributes, 3d6 in order, class and level, xp for treasure, spells are memorized, and there is a simple system of rolling under your attribute scores for saves and skill tests.

Some aspects of the game are less common:

  • Initiative is rolled again each round, but only by the players—monsters always use the same initiative scores.
  • There are 5 alignments, instead of the usual 3 or 9, and they affect the way a character interacts with magic and social institutions.
  • Instead of hit points, this game uses a Disposition score, which you roll for each day of adventuring. Once your character runs out of Disposition, instead of dying, successive damage reduces your attributes, and may cause you to be crippled, maimed, or knocked unconscious before being killed. The special attacks of monsters may also reduce your attribute scores instead of causing normal damage.

So what is unique about The Nightmares Underneath?

Nightmare Dungeons
The justification for dungeoncrawling in this setting is that adventurers are raiding nightmare incursions, to find the treasure that keeps an incursion anchored to the physical world. Once the treasure is looted, the incursion is destroyed, and the adventurers profit. Individual creatures made of nightmares can be killed, but as long as the incursion exists, it will continue to spawn more. This is reflected by a countdown die, used in addition to encounter checks for wandering monsters.

The rules also include procedures for creating nightmare incursions, the creatures that stalk them, and how they grow larger and more dangerous the longer it takes adventurers to deal with them.

Nightmare Curses
The terrible experiences adventurers face inside these nightmare incursions can leave lasting damage in the form of nightmare curses. When the darkness creeps into your soul, the result is madness, or supernatural restrictions, or even physical changes.

The players’ characters only suffer these curses when they are severely injured inside an incursion, while normal people can be driven mad simply by being inside an incursion to long. Be careful what hirelings you take into the dungeon with you!

Social Institutions
Once the dungeons have been looted, the carousing chapter includes guidelines for investing money in social institutions that can then provide favours and much-needed services to adventurers later on. Once you’ve spent enough money in town, you can attend classes at the local university to become more intelligent, the local druggist starts stocking the good stuff, and the geographical society lets you use its maps of the wilderness.

Characters can also turn communities against them, by committing crimes or leading villagers to their deaths inside the dungeon. Settlements have resentment ratings with each of the players’ characters, which may cause them to be forcibly driven out, if they get too high.

Any character may cast spells, though wizards are much better at doing so safely. There are 100 spells, and though they have levels, this does not restrict them to characters of specific levels, it only makes them harder to control. Beginning characters have the same chance of knowing any spell.

But you can always read it for yourself: this version is free and contains the entire text of the game.

And you can watch a flip-through video of the full version, in print, below:

Check out the latest Red Box Vancouver release: The Nameless Grimoire! A magic supplement for The Nightmares Underneath.

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Reviews (1)
Discussions (6)
Customer avatar
JR F September 13, 2017 3:03 pm UTC
Can't wait to sink my teeth into this... wonderfully inspired concept. And you had me at "Kult" XD
Customer avatar
Adam R February 14, 2017 4:20 pm UTC
I am a big fan of Johns work and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS! But one question, are there character sheets or move sheets? I have read the free PDF and seen none.
Customer avatar
Johnstone M February 14, 2017 11:34 pm UTC
The full version comes with character sheets.
Customer avatar
Adam R February 16, 2017 4:12 pm UTC
I figured but wanted to ask. One more question: Does the full version have a Moves Sheet?
Customer avatar
Johnstone M February 16, 2017 8:33 pm UTC
There's no one-page quick reference sheets yet, other than the rules summaries in the text itself, if that's what you mean (it's not Powered by the Apocalypse, so there's no "moves" really; although a conversion guide for PbtA is also something I'm working on).
Customer avatar
Adam R February 24, 2017 10:02 pm UTC
Yep, that's what I was getting at. I didn't know if there would be a section on the sheets or a separate sheet for all the save, spell, fighting etc rolls that could be made in the game. In the old days I always made a cheat sheet for such rolls, in recent years PBTA has had me spoiled with their "moves" sheets. Great work as always though, I'll likely buy this as soon as my income tax refund hits.
Customer avatar
Zilar R February 04, 2017 8:09 pm UTC
Are you aware that this pdf is incomplete? Part Five, the index, is entirely missing, as are the last two pages of Part Four.
Customer avatar
Amado S November 26, 2016 11:08 pm UTC
Hello Johnstone, I had some magic-based questions too: do spellcasters automatically have magical formulae for the spells they mastered at character generation or from advancement?

It looks like without rolling randomly for starting equipment spellcasters can start without spellbooks (royal scholars even get two spellbooks), and even a spellcaster needs access to a formula or synecdoche to memorize their spells, right?

Finally, if spellcasters start with or gain magical formulae, can other members of the party memorize those spells at the same time?
Customer avatar
Johnstone M November 27, 2016 1:24 am UTC
Yes, spellcasters start with full formulas for their mastered spells. Or if the player wants scrolls and the GM agrees, that's okay too.

If players are rolling for money and buying their equipment, a book costs 40c but loose sheets of paper only cost 2c a dozen. If you want to be kind, say a spell only takes up a number of pages equal to its level. If they can't or won't spend the money, and no other PC is willing to give them a loan, well, that's too bad for them. You could let them begin the game with their spells already memorized I guess.

If the spellcaster wants to share with the rest of the party, any number of characters can memorize a spell from the same formula. I would rule that they have to take turns with the formula, spending 1d4 hours each at different times, though.
Customer avatar
Andy B November 08, 2016 12:12 am UTC
I picked this up. Its awesome. So great, that when I started going through it and seeing 422 pages in the table of contents but only 333 in my pdf, I became alarmed.

What? All of this... and there is so much more. The final page is listed as 409. That means there is a lot of content, almost 100 pages selectively unincluded, which is missing in this free edition. As long as it doesnt cost too much, Id love to pick up the 'not free' version you come out.

Looking forward to it... and Im about to check out your other products from this publisher.
Customer avatar
Johnstone M November 16, 2016 1:31 am UTC
Hi Andy,
The art has been removed from the free version but the page numbers remain the same. The actual text of both versions is the same. Sorry for the late reply.
Customer avatar
Kyle S November 07, 2016 2:18 pm UTC
I'm liking this, but I'd like a little clarification about how learning spells works. If you get mastery over a spell at a new level, do you roll randomly for that one too? Do you automatically learn the next spell you try to study from a scroll? Do you automatically receive new random spells, and any you learn through study are just 'extras'? Is there a limit to how many spells you can learn beyond those you master from your class? Can you try again if you fail to learn a new spell from a scroll?
Customer avatar
Johnstone M November 16, 2016 1:43 am UTC
Hi Kyle,
Yes, you automatically receive new spells when you level up, and you roll for them, same as starting spells (except Wizards must roll 1d100, as it says on page 83). And you can learn additional spells on top of those, but you have to create a formula even if you fail the roll, so it takes time and money to do so. If you fail, you can try again unless the GM rules otherwise. Sorry for the late reply.
Customer avatar
Kyle S November 16, 2016 1:32 pm UTC
Ah, I see. Thanks, and no problem.
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This title was added to our catalog on November 03, 2016.
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