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Review: Nevermore by Expeditious Retreat Press

We are such stuff as dreams are made…” ~ Prospero (The Tempest, Shakespeare)

In much of fantasy literature, Dreams have real substance.  Whether they bring prophecy to a character, or act as a window to see events far away, Dreams are often used as vehicles to move a novel or short story along, and to drive the plot in a mystical sort of way.

But some authors take Dreams a step further, and make the act of dreaming like entering a world, a fantastical realm of beautiful sights, and wondrous creature, but also in which there is danger and possibly death.  The famous American horror author, H.P. Lovecraft, introduced the “Dreamlands” in what some call his “Dream Cycle”.  In this series of short stories and a novella, we are introduced to a strange and mystical land that really exists, where humans go when we dream.  There are even some talented dreamers can actually dwell and adventure there, and Lovecraft devoted many stories to the Dreamland quests of Randolph Carter, and his journeys in that perilous realm.
nevermore cover
Now in Dungeons & Dragons 4e, the Manual of the Planes has introduced Dungeon Masters and Players to the Plane of Dreams, a strange realm lying perhaps somewhere in the Astral Sea, and is a repository of all the dreams that have ever been dreamt.  Being a realm made of dreams, it holds untold dangers from nightmares, and the influences of powerful and ancient entities who have long gone, but whose dreams remain luring in the heart of Dream.  However, the authors of Manual of the Planes offered us only a single page to describe this wondrous place, leaving the astral realm of Dream very under developed in the cosmology of Dungeons & Dragons. 

But now, it seems that Expeditious Press has taken inspiration from Manual of the Planes, and a myriad of other sources, and has crafted a setting for the realm of Dreams – called Nevermore.

Nevermore
  • Designer: Joseph Miller
  • Illustrations: Joan Guardiet (cover), David Esbri, Joan Guardiet, Scott Purdy, Jeremy McHugh, and V Shane (interior)
  • Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
  • Year: 2009
  • Media: PDF (161 pages)
  • Price: $15.00

Nevermore is a massive setting that can be added to any Dungeons & Dragons 4e campaign, and details the realm of Dreams and Nightmares.  This book contains background information regarding the dreamlands, including the history and geography of the dreamlands, complete with maps of the various lands that adventurers can travel through, and rules for handling “dream shifts” – the surreal changes in the land that are often experienced in dreams.  Nevermore has detailed information for creating heroes that can operate in the dreamlands, including four new backgrounds, twenty-eight Aspects to represent a Character’s dream-form, thirteen new Feats, ten new Paragon Paths, and a new Epic Destiny – the Greater Dreamlord.

There are also rules in the Nevermore campaign supplement for a new type of Character power, called a Dream Surge, that allow Player-Characters to directly manipulate the realm of dreams in a variety of different ways.

The Nevermore Campaign Setting has detailed information on the flora and fauna of the realms of dream, including over a dozen new obstacles, and over twenty new monsters, including three new templates.  And finally, there are twenty-five new Magic Items specific to the dreamlands to add bestow upon heroes in their adventures.

The production quality of the Nevermore Campaign Setting is very good, with excellent presentation of information, and in formats typically used in “official” game products.  The art work in the supplement is also quite good, with numerous illustrations and drawings to assist the reader in visualizing the nature of the realm of dreams.

The Author draws the history of the Nevermore Campaign setting from Celtic folklore and other sources, and mainly concerns a group of entities called the ethereals.  These ethereals seem to be an offshoot of the fey, and founded the realm of dreams as a way to escape the mundane realm:

Nevermore was created for the ethereals as a refuge from the mortal world. Over untold years, it provided a place of rest and reverie for the ethereals, producing a golden age among them. However, envy entered the world with the sin of Queen Mab, and the seeds of discord she sowed thereafter fractured the ethereals into two conflicting courts. Open strife between the courts intensified as more and more ethereals shed their mortal coils, seeking a new life in lands unsullied by human hands.

The ethereals inhabit the dreamlands of Nevermore, and it is possible to create an entire campaign of inhabitants from this realm.  However, the Author makes sure that the campaign is usable in a vaiety of ways.  And because mortals from the mundane world can travel there and seek adventure, sometimes willingly and sometimes not, this allows Nevermore to be used not only as a stand-alone campaign setting, but also as a supplemental setting to an existing campaign world.  Dreaming Player-Characters may adventure not only in their own world, but in the wondrous world of Nevermore whenever they slumber.

The dreaming is the most common way for mortals to enter Nevermore and can bring them just about anywhere in the world, from a quiet tavern in the Eye to the haunted mires of the Dreadlands. The dreaming can come as a daydream, a fainting spell or something else entirely. Consequently, there is a constant stream of mortals who flow into this wondrous world, and no two tales of their arrival are ever alike. Regardless of the pathway taken into this world, when the threshold is crossed, the awakened are filled with surreal energies and an innate knowledge that they are no longer in the mortal world.

Since the world of Nevermore is the land of dreams, it experiences a different set of natural laws, and the most important of these are Dream Shifts during The Turning.  The Turning is the last moment of an 8-hour period called a Cycle, which counts as a “day” for the purposes of record-keeping.  At the moment of The Turning, dreaming Characters can actually force themselves awake and leave the land of Nevermore, but those who remain bear witness to the effect called a Dream Shift:

The last minute of each cycle is known as the turning, and during this moment, the entire world of Nevermore undergoes an amazing transformation. The sky, the ground, even some of the inhabitants change, some slightly, others completely.

During this moment of turning, all creatures are frozen in place and unable to do anything but watch the metamorphosis of the world before their very eyes and perhaps under their very feet. After the turning, creatures regain their ability to act, though perhaps under entirely different circumstances.

It is this particular phenomenon that can really make for some exciting role-playing opportunities, and the Author did a good job of making the act of questing in Nevermore a very surreal experience.

The world of Nevermore is divided into five domains: The Dreadlands, The Eye, The Heartlands, The Hedge, and The Wyrd.  As one might imagine, the Dreadlands is the realm most associated with nightmares, and is inhabited by foul demonic like creatures of all kinds.  The Heartlands are most like the Feywild in nature, and are divided between the two fey courts of folklore – the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.  And the Wyrd is a fantastical dream-realm, filled with strange and surreal lands which defy reason at times.

I particularly enjoyed the Author’s treatment of the Wyrd, drawing in elements from mythology and folklore, and even modern fairy tales to make up the realms of this dream domain.  Players and Dungeon Masters will recognize a number of these realms, such as Idavoll, which is the world of Asgard, reborn from the ashes of Ragnarok and ruled by Balder the Reborn.  And two other realms of the Wyrd deserve particular mention, Oz and Wonderland, being fantasy realms based upon modern fairy tales, but given new life in a D&D 4e campaign. 

And the Wyrd is just one of five domains that heroes can explore, giving the Nevermore Campaign Setting immense possibilities for questing and adventure.

And like the world in which they adventure, Player-Characters will find that in the land of dreams, their very natures are different and often surreal.  Characters choose from four different backgrounds in order to interact with the world of dreams:

  • AwakenedPrerequisite: Humans born outside of Nevermore – Awakened are humans brought into Nevermore from the mortal world via the dreaming or by summons
  • DreambornPrerequisite: Humans born in Nevermore – Dreamborn are the descendents of those men who forsook their ties to the Mortal Realm
  • EtherealsPrerequisite: Non-human humanoid creatures – The ethereals are creatures of folklore and myth who have made the dreamlands into their home
  • Half-EtherealsPrerequisite: Any dual heritage character with human blood – Half-ethereals are the offspring of human and ethereal unions and esteemed for their unmatched imagination

Obviously, most Player-Characters will be of the Awakened background, particularly if Nevermore is used in addition to another setting.  But whether Dreamborn or Awakened, each background grants new abilities to the Characters while they travel in the dreamlands.

There are two new conventions that is introduced in Nevermore and are completely unique to that setting: Dreaming Surges and Aspects.

Dreaming Surges are a new concept and each Character has a fixed number of Dreaming Surges each Cycle that can be expended both in and out of combat.  The number of Dreaming Surges is based upon the Tier of the Character and the Nevermore background they have – for instance, a Heroic Tier Dreamborn has 18 Dreaming Surges, while a Paragon Tier Awakened has 30 Dreaming Surges. 

These Dreaming Surges can do a number of remarkable things within the dreamlands, ranging from granting additional actions during a combat turn like an Action Point, to imploring the dream realm to actually assist you, causing it to change in small or even profound ways.  Dreaming Surges can be used to create both temporary and permanent items, heal, make saving throws, resist forced movement, or even invoke a Dream Shift. 

Aspects, on the other hand, are reflections of the Character’s psyche in the dreamlands, and range from the fantastic to the surreal, and even to the monstrous in nature.  Each Character can choose an Aspect when they enter the realm of dreams for the first time, and this becomes a permanent part of their design.  Several of the Aspects are divided between Body and Spirit types, with the Body type actually changing the physical external characteristics of the Character.   Some Aspects have alignment and class prerequisites, but all grant Characters a new 1st Level Encounter Power, 2nd Level Utility Power, and 10th Level Daily Power, in addition to certain Aspect features.

Examples of Aspects include:

  • Aberrant Body Aspect – Your body manifests aberrant features, such as eyestalks or tentacles.
  • Angelic Spirit AspectPrerequisite: You must be good or lawful good – You have the fearless and protective spirit of an angel within you.
  • Fiendish Body AspectPrerequisite: You must be evil or chaotic evil – You take upon yourself the physical form of the fiend.
  • Lucky Aspect – You are lucky beyond all belief.
  • Totem Aspect – Your body takes on the animalistic features of your chosen totem.

The Author’s addition of Dreaming Surges and Aspects does a marvelous job of adding that element we all recognize from our own dreaming experiences – where we actually take control of a dream or nightmare for a few seconds or when we appear as someone or something else in our dreams.  These concepts will add much to a Nevermore campaign, both in combat and in role-playing, and are well designed for making the dreamlands a fantastical and surreal setting.

The Paragon Paths are specifically designed to work well within the dreamlands of Nevermore, but might not work so well if Characters are splitting their time between a mundane world and the realm of dreams.  But  the Paragon Paths are well designed, and could be used outside the dreamlands with the DMs permission.

Obviously, I could go on about the monsters and flora obstacles of Nevermore, as well as the marvelous magic items available within the dreamlands.  But for brevity’s sake, suffice it to say that there is some amazing material in this supplement to challenge and reward Characters of all level.

The Nevermore Campaign Setting by Expeditious Retreat is an truly amazing supplement, and well worth picking up.  Whether played as a single campaign, or used as an additional setting for an existing campaign world, Nevermore has a lot to offer adventurers of all levels, and Dungeon Masters will have no trouble creating quests and hooks to get their Players involved in this exciting realm.  Given the volume and scope of the work in the Nevermore Campaign Setting, the price is definitely right, and gaming groups would do themselves a favor chipping in to help their DM pay for this supplement.

It was a pleasure to read and review this setting, and I certainly hope we will see more releases for the Nevermore campaign world in the future.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

Comments

2 Responses to “Review: Nevermore by Expeditious Retreat Press”

  1. Joseph Miller says:

    Michael,

    Thank you for your thorough review of the Nevermore campaign setting. I enjoy recieving feedback on my books, both positive comments and constructive criticisms, because they help me to grow as a designer/writer. I’m glad you enjoyed the book’s rules and themes.

    If you or anyone else has a question or comment about this book, then feel free to post them here. I’ll bookmark the page and check on it when I can.

    Best Wishes,
    Joseph Miller
    Designer/Writer of Nevermore.

  2. Teresa Crumpton says:

    Hi Joseph–

    I saw your post on the SCBWI list serv. The review is terrific. Finishing such a complex book is a great accomplishment. Way to go!

    Teresa
    Grand Blanc

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