Coliseum Morpheuon

Hej everybody here at NERD TREK!

I figured for the second review here on the site, I’ll introduce those of you who don’t know about it to one of the sourcebooks/modules that defines for me what third party publishers are capable of and which, imho, is one of the best high-level modules for any iteration of d20-related systems, namely Rite Publishing’s 

 

Coliseum Morpheuon

Jason Rainville's beatiful cover artThe pdf is a whopping 127 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD. That leaves us with 123 pages.

A quick glance at the cover and interior shows you that CM is a full-color book, and a beautiful one at that – both the full-color artworks and the formatting is beautiful to behold and easy to read. That being said, let’s jump into the action.

The pdf kicks off with an informative introduction on the subject matter of the plane of dreams in literature and gaming that serves to provide both nice recommended readings as well as lead into the first chapter.

Chapter 1: The Plane of Dreams (4 pages) – This chapter has some information on the plane of dreams, e.g. how to temporarily change gravity, the altered effects of the dream spell as well as 5 sub-regions of the plane of dreams, all evocatively written and full of possible adventure seeds. I especially enjoyed some subtle nods to Lovecraft in “The Ghoulish Cliffs” and the disturbing nature of the “Idle Isles of Daydream”, where one may literally dream one’s life away.

Chapter 2: Dreamburning (5 pages, one of which is an artwork of the spell Dream Stealing in action) – Dreams are power in the plane and subsequently three levels of personal dreams are introduced: Hopes, Aspirations and Goals. These three are determined via 3 simple questions

if you don’t want to design tailor-made questions or need some guidance. Why use dreams, you ask? Well, you might burn dreams to gain all sorts of benefits and the practice of dream-burning is simply role-playing gold for any players. Players may even permanently sacrifice their dreams or lose them – as everyone knows who ever had one of his/her dreams squashed, a significant loss. Being presented mostly mechanically, we also get the influences of high-level magic like limited wish and Restoration on degraded and/or destroyed dreams. Plus, we get an interesting moral choice: Via the destruction of other people’s dreams, one may regain a lost dream – this being, of course, an evil act shoots close to home is a hard choice and somewhat reminiscent of the choices one may have to face throughout life. Furthermore, we get new dreamburning-related traits that might be converted to feats, Designer’s notes (with which I wholeheartedly agree) on the reason for using dreamburning and some additional pieces of advice on how to expand/change or eliminate parts of the rules.

Chapter 3: Denizens of Dream (7 pages) – This chapter kicks off with 2 pages on how the different kinds of creatures are represented on the plane of dreams, what can e.g. be encountered and so on. 4 new monsters are introduced, all of which are cool and have some nice twist or cool ability. Even one of my favorites, the Denizen of Leng, has been upgraded to PFRPG – very nice.

Chapter 4: The Island of the Coliseum Morpheuon (8 pages) – The Island in the plane of dreams that contains the Coliseum is detailed herein in Gazetteer-style and depth: We get notes on the strange society within, on the Pagodas of Patricide, Regicide and Deicide, the Voracious Visitor (a strange, black moon orbiting the Coliseum), adventure seeds for going beyond the Coliseum Morpheuon, more than one page of rumors and seeds to kick off whole campaigns centered on the Coliseum.

Chapter 5: Denizens of the Coliseum (28 pages) –If you’re looking for a high-level adversary, this chapter alone is worth the price. Some of the Evocative City Sites – pdfs by Rite Publishing featured extremely complex, cool stat-blocks. This chapter is chock-full with them. But you undoubtedly want some examples, so here you go: We get Auberyon (also known to the Warhammer-crowd as Oberon), master of the wild hunt. His bodyguard IS a part of the hunt, a hound-creature that can split up into smaller hounds. (This statblock also features 2 new weapon qualities). We also get adversaries/benefactors like “The Dragon of the Ghost-Dance”, “Lady Puzzledeep, the Witch of Stolen Hopes”, several others and also notably “The Pasha of the Swirling Ashes” whom you can take a look at in the free Rite Review- magazine.

Chapter 6: An Overview of the Epoch (6 pages) – The contest of the Damnation Epoch is given an overview for the DM here, including several possible reasons for the PCs to participate in the contest – each and every one sets a different tone for the epoch and thus greatly increasing the replayability of the scenario. We also get short comprehensive summaries of some of the potential benefactors. There are also some other teams of contenders for the DM to develop upon as well as information on how to roleplay the Khan of Nightmares.

After this chapter, we get to the adventure section of the book and thus MAJOR SPOILERS. PLAYERS, PLEASE STOP READING HERE:

Chapter 7: An Invitation to Damnation (11 pages) – How to get your PCs into this adventure? Well, several interesting ideas, from In Medias Res to foreshadowing dreams and the like are given. After the synopsis, we get 5 trials for the PCs to best both with brains and brawl to earn the privilege of participating in the contest itself. This is where all the stops seem to have been pulled – take a look at the cover to see what PCs may witness and cackle with glee. The riddle contest has 3 clues for any given riddle, which is nice for the people who don’t enjoy them. This part also features 3 pages of handouts for the players.

Chapter 8: The Tests of the Coliseum Morpheuon (5 pages) – This chapter provides the basic outlines for 34 encounters a DM can use to give life (or in some instances un-life) to some of the denizens of the Coliseum. The encounters also serve to personalize the experience of choosing different benefactors and, once again, increase the replayability-value.

Chapter 9: The Tests of the Damnation Epoch (21 pages) – Herein lie the different tests the PCs will face in the contest “Damnation Epoch” , a contest not only for the lofty price, but also a challenge to preserve one’s moral compass within the tests. All of the tests have mechanically very interesting themes and are laden with symbolism: In “The Chains of Guilt” the PCs have to bear the chains of their guilt (which get consecutively heavier) up some stairs while defending against the other team in the contest. In another test, one of the PCs becomes a dragon and PCs have to catch rings while riding their comrade through a lightning storm. While I don’t want to spoil all of the goodness, let me give two further examples: Ever wanted to put your PCs on a piece of a broken planet that is rapidly falling into the sun? Or battle their way through a WHOLE ARMY to escape the dreaded Tarrasque (or turn around and face the beast)? All of this and more can be found in CM. And that is not even the furious finale.

Chapter 10: Secrets of the Coliseum Morpheuon (5 pages) – This chapter has 6 possible sample campaigns for different benefactors in the Coliseum Morpheuon, including different plot secrets and climaxes, further cementing the potential for several wildly different scenarios in CM.

Appendix 1: The Dirges (8 pages): This chapter contains the undead, evil team that is one of the opposing teams for the PCs.

Appendix 2: The Gray Feathers (5 pages): Written by yours truly, this is another team of adversaries, albeit not one as villainous.

Appendix 3: Pregenerated Characters (5 pages): This contains 4 pregens, 2 Ironborn, 1 Jotun Paragon and 1 Wyrd – all of which are cool races and make nice NSCs, too.

 

Conclusion:

If there has ever been a premium product, this is one. Formatting and editing is top-notch, wording is concise, I didn’t notice any typos or glitches, the full-color artwork is just beautiful and in some cases even on Paizo-level. The prose as well as the crunch is extremely imaginative, chock full of brilliant ideas and the whole book just oozes creativity, originality and, most important, fun. The plane of dreams and its mutability are fully utilized to provide some awesome battlefields, cosmopolitan (or rather cosmoplanar) encounters, adversaries and allies. Patrons also got a several map packs and paper minis for the opposing teams – I’m not entirely sure whether they are included in this deal or not. The maximum amount of replayability and the sheer amount of potential ways the whole storyline can be portrayed by the DM with the information contained herein is another major plus for me.

I tried very hard to be nitpicky with this one, I really wanted to find some fault. The only possible criticisms I could offer is that some maps are used for more than one encounter and beyond that, (because I’m a sucker for those) that I’d love to have seen a fully written dinner-scene within, not just some guidelines and seeds and ideas for the DM to develop.

If you for example liked the adventure in Malhavoc Press’ “Hyperconscious”, you will LOVE this – it just goes one step further. If you are looking for a new way to carry your campaign beyond the AP-lvl 15-cap, this is a perfect way to do so.  If you just want to play something completely different, this is for you. If you don’t want to stat x high-level villains, give this one a shot. And finally, if you just like scenarios that have not been done x times before, check this out.  There are not that many modules featuring Lillend-liches, Solstice-Kings and so many more interesting characters. This is not only an excellent resource for DMs, but also a great module. What else is there left to say but “Buy this now?”

My final verdict is 5 stars. Not 4.5, not 4.75, but round 5 stars+ seal of approval. One of the best modules/supplements out there.

And if you’re like me and want to know more about the plane of dreams and enjoy a great read to boot, why not check out the short story collection

 

Coliseum Morpheuon: Anthology of Dreams

Cover of the short fiction anthologyThis being a fiction anthology, I’ll break the format of my usual reviews and instead try to provide a kind of teasers of this selection of short stories inspired by one of the best RPG-supplements of the last couple of generations. that being said, very minor SPOILERS abound.

Still here? All right! After an aptly-written introduction by editor David Paul, we dive right into the first short story: In Jonathan McAnulty’s “Living Legend”, we meet Tarl Dron – a hero, but also a man and as a man, he is wont to exaggerate: To impress women, to gain social status, to bask in admiration…but when he gets an introduction to the Coliseum to face his own accounts, will he live up to the legend he crafted?

In Tim Hitchcock’s “Focus”, we meet Ergasin, a champion, a bitter man once taken by the seers of Black Mountain, has once lost someone and memories may be among the worst foes one can have – especially when in the Coliseum…

“The Sleeper Awakened”, by T.H. Gulliver, is perhaps the most abstract, far-out of the short stories. Taking the strange landscape of dream into full account, we meet a royal couple unwilling to live up to their destiny, a singing girl and a fate that is both cruel, poetic and hopeful – all in the fluidity and ephemeral creepiness of dreams, where fiction and reality not only blur, but become one and the same. I’ve said it time and again and I’ll repeat it here: T.H. Gulliver gets horror, gets creepiness and this is the final proof that he needs to write some kind of far-out mega-adventure!

Jess Carson’s “Full Circle” is more straight-forward – a team of individuals is after a trader of stolen dreams and apart from the uncommon protagonists and locations, this narrative is perhaps the one that could also happen in a regular setting with minor modifications. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read and after the dream-like awesomeness of the last short story, a more down-to-earth reading experience, though my least favorite one in the book.

In Rob Manning’s “With Intent”, we learn abound the denizens of dream, meet perhaps one of the most relatable protagonists herein and learn about the Denizens of Leng and their dread plots in the land of dream as well as about the political landscape around the Coliseum. This is also one of my favorite stories herein, thus no more spoilers on this one.

John C. “Valdemar the Mad” Rock provides us with a nice little story called “The Invitation” about the seductiveness of the Coliseum and how, among other things, good people may be tempted into joining the games of the Khan – should Vallah risk her life to grant her father another shot at glory, perhaps even a second life? And is he, is he, is anyone who they appear to be?

“Oneirobound”, by Matt Banach recounts a clever and woeful tale of one lost into dreams – among the stories herein, it is perhaps this one that has the clearest language and its conclusion is touching and serves as both a warning and a bleak outlook – the epilogue has one gulp.

In Ewan Cummings “Needlework”, we meet Bess, apprentice and sewer – but not only of cloth, but of corpses. Thrust into an intrigue in her guild and starting to get glimpses of the truth, will she be able to keep her precarious social standing and come out of the intrigues alive?

In Neil Spicer’s “The Dreams we keep”, Kanen, brilliant fighter and perhaps last of the Olosani is clinging to dreams of past happiness, addicted to them and has to face the facts of past, present and future, learn to trust and fight alongside an angelic ally and also brave two of the racial enemies of his kind – terrible, psychic vampires that feel alive, but certainly not mortal – will he prevail?

In Steven E. Schend’s “Threshold” an archmage has a heavy duty – returning to the Tarnished Souk after a long absence, a  showdown awaits with his former protégé – here, he was taught the art of dream-theft and burning and thus, if one place may see the demise of the former apprentice’s dreams of grandeur and dominion, it is here, in an exciting showdown of battle, rhetoric and wits.

And finally, there is L. Jagi Lamplighter’s “Foot-sore Angel”  – a disillusioned angel walks in trench-coat through a desolate dreamscape, igniting cigarettes with his flickering halo and seeking redemption. And as dreams border all worlds, not just fantasy worlds, a bit of dream bleeds over to our own world in this particular story. Of all the protagonists, this one is perhaps the most tragic one, but the story’s stellar humor and dark wit alleviates what could have easily become a gloom-fest. This vies  with T.H. Gulliver’s contribution for my personal rank one – a touch of Dresden Files suffuses this one.

 

Conclusion:

Editing is very good, though I noticed the odd typo here and there – generally, though, the anthology can be considered mostly free of glitches. Formatting adheres to and easy-to-read one-column standard and the overall quality of the narratives is good. While not all of them get the ephemeral, subtle wrongness inherent in dreams that I personally love about the Coliseum Morpheuon and its FoTS-series, I think that each of the stories herein adds a different facet, a different flavor to the mix and much like a well-rounded meal, each spice, each flavor adds to the overall recipe, resulting in a final experience that is larger than the sum of its parts. I’ve written it once and I’ll write it again: I’d definitely love a straight sequel to the Coliseum Morpheuon,  perhaps other islands in the vast dreamlands and this anthology once again has me clamor for more. In the end, “Anthology of Dreams” is an enjoyable read that, much like dreams, ranges from joyful and almost nostalgic accounts of past and present events to formless nightmares where signifier and signified start to mix and lose cohesion to dump the reader into a vortex of emotional responses and associations. This book, at least for me, has been vastly more enjoyable than almost all stripes of other fantasy I’ve read in the last year – thus, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 due to being imaginative, full of awesome characters and variety as well as due to the low price of admission.

All right, that’s it for now – as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Disclaimer:  I’ve been a part of this patronage project and have contributed some minor pieces to it. This review takes a look at the pdf version as the print version has not yet been released. If the print version is somewhat different from the pdf, I’m going to edit and expand my review accordingly.

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About Endzeitgeist

Reviewer without a cause