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The Nightmares Underneath Free Edition

The Nightmares Underneath Free Edition

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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. This product includes both the first edition and the newly revised second edition.

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 dungeons to undermine and destroy society. Perhaps you might recover items of great magical power from the ruins of the Ancient World that will help you banish these nightmares. But can you trust these devices from the Age of Chaos?

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 (but not magic items), 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. Disposition does not increase with level, however. Only a good night's sleep and a hearty meal will give you a high score.

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.

There are 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. The rules also include procedures for creating ancient ruins that may or may not be plagued by nightmares.

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, leading villagers to their deaths inside the dungeon, or using chaotic magic items in public. Settlements have resentment ratings with each of the players’ characters, which may cause them to be forcibly driven out, if they get too high.

Players must roll to control a spell they cast. A failed roll makes that spell harder to cast and may result in unexpected results. 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.

The 1st edition rules are somewhat different and feature spell memorization, similar to many other old school fantasy rpgs, but still require a roll to cast spells properly.

The Second Edition
The revised edition includes better explanations of the rules, some more setting material, more support for normal dungeons and looting them of their magic items, and perhaps most significantly, the spellcasting system no longer uses memorization (you can still use those rules from 1e if you prefer them). I have also removed the bestiary and the wilderness exploration rules, both of which will be expanded into full-sized supplements to be released in the future.

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 first edition, 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 (2)
Discussions (11)
Customer avatar
Ja D December 07, 2020 5:55 am UTC
I see people mentioning that this is the second edition - is it still possible to get the first anywhere for comparison?
Customer avatar
Ja D December 07, 2020 7:38 am UTC
My bad, after grabbing it I see both are included.
Customer avatar
Stephen L May 30, 2020 4:09 am UTC
Hi Johnstone,

Was looking at the second edition page on Exalted Funeral and I noticed one of the preview pictures is from the (now removed) bestiary. Not a big deal, but just in case you wanted to have that changed. Thanks for your excellent products!
Customer avatar
Scott B May 21, 2020 8:44 pm UTC
Hello! I am very intrigued by what I see! The style and concept are both great.

I wanted to verify: In multiple places (this page, and the paid version), it is said this should contain both the first and second editions, but the download of this product seems to only contain the second edition. Am I missing something, is this intentional, and/or can I find the first edition to compare?

I appreciate it.
Customer avatar
Johnstone M May 22, 2020 8:23 pm UTC
Hi Scott,

You're right, it's missing! This is a mistake, I guess I must have accidentally deleted the 1e file by mistake at some point. I've added it back into the downloadable files, so now there should be the 1e pdf along with the 2e zip file.

Sorry about that, but thank you for letting me know.
Customer avatar
Janice M November 29, 2019 4:35 pm UTC
Since the PDF has been updated to 2e now, Can you use The Nameless Grimoire as written or do certain things need to be modified?
Most sections I have glanced through seem ok but damage x caster level spells seem pretty crazy with the changes to disposition.
Customer avatar
Johnstone M November 30, 2019 5:29 am UTC
Excellent point! Revising the Grimoire is the next project I need to finish. Most spells are fine, though ones that deal with memorization need to be changed (ie they cause spell corruption or they let you cast a spell once). I've been revising each spell on its own, but I've followed a general pattern of downgrading damage. Most spells that used to cause 1dX + caster level damage are now just a die (or two) without level bonus, and 1dX per level is now a die (or two) + caster level. Fireball and Lightning Bolt are 2d6 + caster level, but Hammer of Doom is 1d8 + caster level and deafens the target. Autoexplosion is still up to 1d4 per level, though.
Customer avatar
Janice M November 30, 2019 9:08 pm UTC
Thank you
Customer avatar
John S October 14, 2019 3:23 am UTC
Do any fellow fans of this fine game know if the author has shared updated information about when we can expect the second edition?
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
Andrew 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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File Last Updated:
May 22, 2020
This title was added to our catalog on November 03, 2016.
Chthonstone Games
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