The Mountains of Dreams (OSR)
This hex-crawl clocks in at 20 pages, minus one page overview of relations with other hexcrawls in the series and a paragraph of editorial, leaving us with roughly 19 pages of content.
Okay, so I’m gonna slightly alter my format for this series: As many of my readers out there, I was duly impressed by Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa-book; it left me wanting more; more depth, more weirdness. Well, after a friendly hint by one of my patreons, I started searching the interwebs and found on the author’s lulu-page not one, but four different hexcrawls (of a planned series of 8) depicting the lands of Carcosa. Well, obviously, I got them asap.
As per the writing of this review, there only are saddle-stitched print versions of these modules, which means that I won’t be commenting on electronic features.
All of the Carcosa-hexcrawls in the series share a couple of peculiarities, which I’ll sum up right now (in case this is the first review you happen to find); after that, I’ll go into the details of the respective hexcrawl.
Okay, first of all, these hexcrawls employ AD&D rules, NOT the rules posited in LotFP’s hardcover. This has a couple of drawbacks, but also some benefits. On the plus-side, this means we won’t have to contend with the sucky, sucky classes or the asinine, extremely random HP rules that contributed nothing to the experience. This also means that the VAST amount of twisted rites to bind, enslave and banish Great Old Ones and similar entities has absolutely no place here. For some, this may constitute a plus, as the requirements for these rituals often were rather grisly; on the downside, this eliminates one of the best narrative tools the hardcover provided; the rituals, tied to exotic components and places, were a built-in reason for the PCs to explore this weird realm.
There is another aspect you should be aware of: See that cover image? It’s the only graphical element you’ll find in the whole module-series. There is no interior art, not even a pretense of a basic form of aesthetically-pleasing layout – the modules, basically, are blocks of text. While Hex-headers have thankfully consistently been bolded, and spells are italicized, you e.g. won’t find complex spell-lists – much like the hardcover setting by LotFP, this is basically an overview and toolbox for experienced GMs to expand. The back cover sports the respective hex-crawl map, with per se solid cartography by Dion Williams. There are two problems with the maps that extend to all the maps in one degree or another: Landmarks are noted with graphical elements and so are settlements; there is no redacted, player-friendly map to hand out to the PCs. There also is one annoying component: The hex-numbers and borders are WHITE. While this works with e.g. green swamps, as soon as you try to decipher white numbers on a light blue or yellow background, it becomes annoying.
In case you’re wondering: All of these components imho are significant detriments; if the like bothers you, then you may want to reconsider getting these. You should, depending on your priorities, detract at least 1 star from the final rating if you consider this to be an issue. However, if Carcosa calls and left you wanting more, then read on – personally, while I enjoy a beautiful book as much as the next guy or gal, I am, ultimately, here for content. Considering the niche-appeal of these adventures, my final verdict will assume that you can look past the pretty underwhelming aesthetic aspects of these modules.
All right, all of that out of the way, let’s start with the third of these, The Mountains of Dreams! From here on out, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great!
One look at the hexcrawl map may disappoint some of you: Only the upper fourth of the map actually contains land – the rest is the endless expanse of the K’naanothoa Ocean. This is really deceptive, though, for this Carcosan hexcrawl has the highest density of evocative things to find: There are very few dead hexes herein. There is also a more diversified array of themes here: Instead of the constant barrage of dinos, Shubby-spawns etc., we get variations – you see, there are actually a couple of benevolent places here.
The influence of the Elder Gods is still felt – atop the mysterious plateau of Leng, a truth remains to be found; various lamaseries peddle their own brands of mystic truths; there is a hidden paradise to be found: Mt. Kadath looms…which brings me to one aspect: Many serious critics of literature consider Lovecraft and his heirs to be best when they embrace the true weirdness. This module embraces this aspect wholeheartedly and manages to provide wonder and beauty alongside Carcosan horrors. There is beauty galore to be found in these mountainous regions.
Massive cities may be found within this region, for example mighty Kadatheron – a gloriously beautiful metropolis, that strangely seems to sport a unsettling tradition regarding the fusion of men with the Pharos. There is a town, rendered infertile, that now employs a disturbing fertility rite using a bronze serpent and strange orgies to counteract the curse of darkened stones. Within the ranges of these mountains, a garden of marble-like stone can be found, where a goddess offers a risky wager for those seeking fortune and fame. Incense groves can be found…and there is an imprisoned white thing – it heals when prodded and the blood that gushes forth can be used as oil, providing a strange and inspiring local economy.
There are all the trademarks of Carcosa here, but they are combined with a truly inspiring diversity that breathes wonder in the best of ways; it almost feels like the author has synthesized the aesthetics of Carcosa and the Isle of the Unknown, with the exception that he uses infinitely more and varied wondrous components.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect. I noted the formal shortcomings before, so I’m not going to reiterate them here.
This hexcrawl is pretty much the best thing by Geoffrey McKinney I’ve read so far; it blends the wonder of the “Isle of Wonder” with Carcosa; it is deeply entrenched in a blend of sword and sorcery aesthetics, while fusing them with Carcosa’s unique identity. It manages to provide more diversity and creativity in settlements, spawns, etc. than not only in previous hex-crawls in the series, but as a whole. The vistas depicted herein inspired me – I could picture their hazy, fragile beauty; sense the uncanny strangeness underlying everything. The leitmotifs of the region set it apart; the strange resources and places provide enough small and big stories to develop – in short, this is pretty much an excellent example of what the series can be. If you can look past the formal shortcomings of the series, then at least check this one out – if you’re looking for a truly wondrous mountainous range, this delivers in spades. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get this great hexcrawl here on lulu!