Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Monday, June 14, 2004

HPL's Dreamlands (Semi Final Draft)

H.P. Lovecraft's Dreamlands is a sourcebook about H.P.
Lovecraft's Dreamlands (oddly enough) for Chaosium's Call of
Cthulhu game. For those that don't know, H.P. Lovecraft (HPL) was
a pulp author in the early 20th century (writing from about 1915,
until he died in 1937). HPL basically wrote two sorts of stories
- horror stories about the Cthulhu Mythos (though not all his
horror stories really fit into this), and some dreamy fantasy
stories inspired by Lord Dunsany. They were tied together, but
the Dreamland stories have a more adventurous feel to them. Still
sort of creepy, but more fantasy than horror.

This is the 5th version of the Dreamlands sourcebook, earlier
versions had slightly different names. Apparently this is very
close to 4th edition (based on what the credit section says,
anyway), but with some additional material added (monsters and
gods) and some character generation (almost making it a stand
alone book. Almost. You should be okay with Cthulhu Dark Ages, or
just about any version of Call of Cthulhu, at least for the
character generation part). Also all the adventures that have
appeared in any of the previous Dreamlands rulebooks.

Despite the name of this book, it's not entirely H.P. Lovecraft's
Dreamlands that this book describes. It also is based on the
works of Brian Lumley, who wrote several Dreamlands novels (and
also novels and stories about the Cthulhu mythos). And some of
Gary Meyers works are also used, but I've never heard of him
before (or read his stuff). But apparently it's mostly Lumley
that is borrowed from.

Lumley has a somewhat different take on things than HPL, though.
Both in the Dreamlands and in the Cthulhu Mythos. I've just
recently read 8 HPL inspired books by Lumley - 2 books of short
stories, plus the 6 "Titus Crow" novels, which don't
really star the title character (actually most star Henri Laurent
de Marigny, son of HPL's character Etiene Laurent de Marigny),
but do fit together to form a coherent plot. They change quite a
bit in tone from book to book, though.

For instance, the first one, "The Burrowers Below" is a
fairly standard modern day mythos story, dealing with the
Cthonians. The next is sort of a continuation of the first.
"The Clock of Dreams" is set entirely in the
Dreamlands, with de Marigny having to travel there to rescue
Titus Crow and his girlfriend. "Spawn of the Winds"
deals with Ithaqua stealing a party of investigators from Earth,
and putting them on an ice planet, and stars Hank Silberhutte,
who is a Texan and could have been torn from the pages of a 30s
pulp adventure magazine (I suspect he's a Robert Howard

The last two "Titus Crow" novels almost have a Doc
Smith Space Opera-ish feel to it, with the hero (de Marigny)
zooming around the universe in his Tardis like spaceship
(basically, it is the Tardis, but a clock, not a police box.
Though HPL seems to have invented it in the first place),
blasting Hounds of Tindalos with his laser beams.

The short stories are creepy enough, some fairly derivative,
others very original and horrific on their own, not because of
Mythos elements. Lumley seems to take a more Derlethian view on
the Mythos (that is, based on August Derleth's Mythos stories) -
the elder gods are quite benevolent, and Cthulhu, Hastur and
company are almost child-ish in their thoughts and motivations.
Ithaqua seems mostly motivated by his desire for women. (There is
a quote from Blazing Saddles that would fit him quite well.)

But don't be too alarmed if you're a purist - neither the
Derlethian aspect of his stories, nor the pulpy/space opera-ish
style of his novels shows up in this book. Basically, this book
seems to borrow 3 things from Lumley - a vampire lady and her
vampire nemesis, that the "eidolon Lathi" is a termite
lady, and "Xura" should be spelled "Zura".
Probably enough to drive purists batty, but probably not enough
for most people to notice. Meyes mostly seems to contribute
"The House of the Worm", which I don't know enough
about to explain, and an Athena-ish god of the Dreamlands.

"Why does it seem
that's it's all just a dream?

And why do they say that life is never what it seems to be?"

"Catch my hand and
come with me.

Close your eyes and dream.

No words, no talk.

We´ll go dreaming

No pain, no hurt.

We´ll go dreaming "

Anyway, enough background. The book starts off with a 12 page
or so overview of the Dreamlands and dreaming - that is, how to
enter it and leave, then a very short section (3 pages) on the
"atmosphere" of a Dreamlands game. One suggestion I
like, is to use real dreams you've had. I happen to keep a dream
journal/blog, and while most of my dreams probably aren't suited
for Dreamlands adventures (because of the technology), there is a
fair amount of weird stuff that would work. Often very surreal
stuff. Better yet, would be having your players keep a dream
journal, and borrow bits from their dreams (though this is
probably asking too much of them). And it discusses the
difference in tone and style between HPL, Myers, and Lumley.

There are some special rules for the Dreamlands and dreaming,
but pretty sketchy ones, in keeping with the rules light nature
of CoC. Basically, there are two new skills, "Dream
Lore" and "Dreaming". "Dream Lore"
basically works like any other knowledge skill.
"Dreaming" is somewhat different than most skills, it
allows the character to alter the dreamworld on a successful
skill roll. In theory, they can do just about anything, but it
will cost them magic points (the more gradioise the dream, the
more points), plus POW to make it permanent in the Dreamlands.
The rules for the point cost of the dream creation is actually
very vague. Just a couple examples - a beautiful woman (or man or
sheep) would be 36 magic points, because it would be 18 points
for its most important attribute, appearance, being 18, times two
because it's a living mammal. So sort of back of a cocktail
napkin rules.

The Gazetteer of the Dreamlands is about 45 pages long. It covers
the major cities and features of the Dreamlands. Most places get
a paragraph or so. Important places may get half a page. It often
uses a zoom in view of the pull out map, but in some cases, there
are maps of actual places, though these tend to be very crude.
For instance, the map of Celephais looks like it was sketched on
a cocktail napkin in about 45 seconds. While this style may suit
Call of Cthulhu (though I never liked it much), it doesn't fit
the Dreamlands.

People of the Dreamlands gets about 10 pages devoted to them.
Although it uses the Lumley version of Zura and the eidolon
Lathi, it doesn't present any of Lumley's own original Dreamlands
characters, as far as I can tell. (Maybe their permission doesn't
go that far?). There is probably one big variance from HPL -
whatever he meant by href="">eidolon,
he probably didn't mean ahref="">
lecherous termite lady
. Zura is also probably a lot different
than HPL, though I'm not entirely sure. In Lumley's version,
she's sort of a lecherous necromancer lady.

The Bestiary is about 40 pages long. Most of them are fairly
icky, suiting a Call of Cthulhu supplement. There's a variety of
minions of various Gods.

3 types of cats - regular cats, Cats from Saturn, and everyone's
favorite, Cats from Uranus. Only one sort of llama (apparently
Chaosium doesn't love Alpacas), who are surprisingly tough. Some
other odd real world animals, like yaks.

There are a couple of rodents: Zoogs, which are famous prominent
in HPL's stories, which are basically rats with tentacles on
their mouths; Snouters, which are basically fast, long nosed
squirrels. Well, you get the idea. Lots of fairly odd critters,
plus the usual icky stuff. Actually, a lot of the names remind me
of Lewis Carrol's Wonderland stuff (which strangely, other than
those 2 AD&D modules, doesn't seem to have made much of an
appearance in the RPG world).

The Gods of the Dreamlands take up about 15 pages. In several
cases (10), it simply tells you that the god is unchanged from
the entry in the main Call of Cthulhu book. This is probably the
only place where Cthulhu Dark Ages might not be enough -
unfortunately, I had to sell my copy, so I can't look it up, but
it had something of an abbreviated god list.

Many of the gods in this are "Great Ones", which are
apparently gods of the Dreamlands. These are somewhat human
looking in some cases, but some are fairly grotesque. To a
certain extent, the Dreamlands doesn't seem to have a coherent
pantheon. For instance, there's a god of fungus, a god of holding
spears (really. He just holds it). But no god of the sky, or god
of the sea, or the typical sort you find in real world cultures.
Probably because the world was developed in stories - when
someone needed a god for the story, they made one up.


"They keep me in a
dark room

Where I can have my visions

And show them to the treasure


There are 6 adventures, taking up about 70 pages (plus 15
pages of handouts in the back). At least two of these are
basically pointless, being very very short, and little more than
tourist excursions. One from a point of view of dreamers from the
waking world, the other from Dreamlands natives. The rest of the
adventures are for Earth dreamers, and are all pretty much
standard CoC scenarios - must foil bad guy from evil diabolical
mythos plot. Though in this case, using the Dreamlands is

Pickman's Student is one of the better ones. A famed painter is
possessed, and the PCs must save him by entering the Dreamlands
via his paintings. The PCs apparently are involved in this
adventure to help his girlfriend.

The Land of Lost Dreams is interesting, in that it comes from a
version of the Dreamlands before it was Lumleyized, and so has a
different take on Xura, including spelling it the proper way
(Xura). It's also a case of possession, actually. And also they
seem to want to help because of the victim's girlfriend.

Season of the Witch is also a case of someone being possessed.
But in this case, it's a female college student, who based on the
illustration, looks a lot like Rhea Pearlman, only with a bigger
hair. (Though the adventure text gives her an appearance stat of
16 - I guess the drawing was by Danny Devito)

Captive of Two Worlds is thankfully, not about possession, but
the most straight forward Call of Cthulhu scenario. Basically,
the PCs are captured by a Mythos cultist, who also happens to be
a dreamer. So they have to go to the Dreamlands to kick his ass
and make him let them go in the real world.

I think this is the first Dreamlands to be a hardcover. The cover
art is just okay (sort of a generic seascape with a ship), but
the end papers are absolutely gorgeous. The inside pages are
fairly well illustrated, if you like Earl Geier's work (though
there are some other artists). The paper is very very thin. In
many cases, the backside art or map, where heavy black is used,
bleeds through, which can make it difficult to read on a few
occasions (mostly the page on the other side of the map of

There is a very nice pull out map by Andy Hopp, who I seem to
have heard of from somewhere, though I'm not sure where. At any
rate, he did a wonderful job on the map. But like most pull out
maps, I managed to rip it, as the perforation was not perforated
enough, I guess. I doubt it's because of my incredible strength.


"Dream a little dream,
this dream is over"

Where it really fails (for me) is in how it views the
Dreamlands. It basically looks at the Dreamlands from the point
of view of the Call of Cthulhu game. That is, the Dreamlands
exist as a way for the PCs to foil schemes of Mythos Cultists and
other baddies.

While that's okay as far as it goes, that's not really how HPL
viewed them - I think the Dreamlands needs to be a fantasy
setting first, not simply an add-on to Call of Cthulhu. On the
other hand, running a fantasy game set in it will require a lot
of work on the part of the GM, because the information in the
book is scant at best, and the chances of this seeing any support
from Chaosium (other than a reprint in a few years) is only
slightly less likely than Cthulhu rising from the sea.

Also, I think the original Dreamlands, as envisioned by HPL, and
maybe Myer's version of it, is reasonably well suited for
Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System. But the Lumley version of
the Dreamlands is probably better suited for D&D/d20. Or
maybe something cinematic like D6 or Storyteller. (Not quite
Exalted's level of Storyteller, but close).

I personally have no problems with Lumley's version of the
Dreamlands, but I can't help but think it would have been better
to have one sourcebook devoted just to HPL's Dreamlands, with a
follow-up sourcebook covering Lumley's stuff. Especially as only
a few things from Lumley appear in this book, missing some of his
more interesting characters and places.

I really have no idea how to rate this. It's not a bad book, but
it's almost just like an overview. There really should be entire
sourcebooks for most the cities and regions of the Dreamlands,
and full fledged monster and character books. But that will never
happen (for various reasons). So it's like a tantalizing glimpse
of what could be. Which perhaps captures the essence of the
Dreamlands, something vague and unrealized, but ultimately, like
dreams, unsatisfying. Still, it's a good overview, good enough
for its intended purpose, that is a sourcebook on the Dreamlands
for Call of Cthulhu. It's just a shame there couldn't be a
Dreamlands RPG.

If you have 4th edition, it's probably not worth upgrading,
unless you want a hardback and a really nice map. Might be worth
the jump if you have a 1st-3rd edition, and aren't bothered by
the non-HPL stuff.