Nightmares of Mine
A game review by S. John Ross

Price: $14.00
Components: 176pp Softcover (Small Format)
Designer: Kenneth Hite
Publisher: Iron Crown Enterprises

Nightmares of Mine. In tiny print, the subtitle on the cover reads "An in-depth examination of horror suitable for any role playing game." The "Standard System" logo on the back marks it as a Rolemaster book, but it isn't. The two or three pages that even mention Rolemaster mechanics feel more obligatory than anything; the book lives up to it's subtitle. This is a GMing book, a practical guide to scaring the hell out of your players, a book on running a horror game.

From the start, it becomes obvious that this is a book written by a man who loves horror, and a Game Master who's run a lot of it - and made a lot of mistakes, and learned from every one. Nightmares of Mine is friendly, GM-to-GM advice on the pitfalls and potential of of one of the most rewarding, but often intimidating, modes of gaming. Unfettered by system-related clutter, every chapter is another, deeper look inside what frightens us, and how to tap into the fears of your players and bring them into the drama of your game.

Nightmares of Mine is the work of Kenneth Hite, veteran writer and editor of supernatural gaming material, including work for Call of Cthulhu, Nephilim, and In Nomine (and the recent Cainite Heresy book for Vampire: the Dark Ages). He's also a prolific columnist, author of the conspiracy and weird-history feature "Suppressed Transmissions" at Pyramid magazine, and the weekly review feature, "Out of the Box," at Mania. In Nightmares, he's put his experience in these and other forums to work, distilling years of GMing and game-designing experience into an entertaining, practical, and thought-provoking work.

The book leaves no stone unturned, no crypt uncracked, exploring the many differences between horror gaming and more adventure-oriented modes, the roles of NPCs in horror, methods for building terrifying scenarios (and pacing entire campaigns), tricks and techniques to enhance your ability to create mood and atmosphere, to bolster your powers of description . . . In every chapter, Hite's love of the genre and genuine experience come through. The book is written with honesty - the work of a GM who acknowledges his own past missteps, and shares them with the reader as an equal, along with concrete methods of avoiding the troubles and reaping the benefits: players who jump at loud noises and prefer that the lights stay on!

So, it's a great GMing book. But it's something else: a milestone. Every year, GMing guides are published for specific game-systems. Some of them are good, but, bogged down by the responsibilities of system-specific writing, they aren't useful to the general gamer. Worse still, even the brilliant ones with lots of useable ideas aren't noticed by the general gamer, who has every reason to ignore books that look like a supplement to a game he doesn't own. With Nightmares of Mine, Iron Crown has taken a courageous risk on something rare: a GMing book that has the guts to be just a GMing book, for anyone who loves the thrill of the darker side of the supernatural. If the book does well, I hope sequels will follow, both general GMing books and more explorations of specialized styles.

I love horror, myself. I've been GMing it, in many forms, for fifteen years. Nightmares of Mine put a lot of what I already knew into sharper focus, giving me perspective on things I've observed, and making my own experiences more valuable to me. It also introduced ideas I hadn't thought of at all. More to the point, it got me in a serious mood to get some friends around the table, confident that I can scare them better than before.

Copyright ©1999,2007 by S. John Ross

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