Puffin Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-032238-8
Beneath Nightmare Castle is a thing of beauty. It is by no means perfect, but it is an exquisite horror fantasy romance with clear influences of HP Lovecraft’s The Call Of Cthulhu.
The campaign starts out simply. You are an accomplished warrior who decides to pay a visit an old friend, Baron Tholdur. He happens to be the Margrave of Neuberg Keep. But upon your arrival, it isn’t long before you fall into a trap laid by mysterious robed figures, probably Southerners up to no good. Before long, you realize that there is something more sinister than Southerners on a rampage – your friend is under some kind of foul spell and worse, something evil is stirring in the depths of the Keep. It is up to you, naturally, to save the day, if not the world.
Peter Darvill-Evans can be quite an exacting campaign designer as there is only one correct route that allows you to achieve victory. You can explore the Keep to your heart’s content, but if you don’t find that correct route, you won’t succeed even if you manage to survive all the foul fiends thrown your way.
Still, finding that one route is as enjoyable as it is entertaining, because this campaign has strong and evocative atmosphere that makes the whole affair a creepy and intriguing adventure. The influences of Cthulhu aside, this campaign also has some deliciously twisted situations to plunge you in – from fighting homicidal children to the death to not saving damsels in distress, the whole campaign is just too fiendishly delightful for words. The campaign can get into some detail about the suffering of your character as well.
The challenge level of this campaign lies in discovering the necessary Special Items needed to succeed – and the path to success is never laid out clearly. The combat encounters by themselves aren’t too difficult unless you start out with below average stats – the only genuine challenge is the big bad Cthulhu-wannabe himself, and even then, you will need to find a way to get to him, heh. It is very easy – some would say, too easy – to die or fail in this campaign, but with “bad” endings like entry 386, sometimes failing is a reward in itself. You will need to do a few runs before you get to the happy ending unless you manage to be very lucky the first time around, but chances are, you will love every minute of every attempt because this is one truly fun campaign to play.
Beneath Nightmare Castle is exactly what the doctor ordered: a terrifying campaign in a nightmarish setting that genuinely sends chills up the spine.