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.
The pdf is a whopping 127 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1page OGL. 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 fray.
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 questionsif you don't want to design tailor-made questions to determine goals, hopes and aspirations of the PCs 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 both the hunt and a part of the hunt, a hound-creature that can split up into smaller hounds. (The statblock of Auberyon also features 2 new weapon qualities - several creatures feature new crunchy abilities, but there are too many to mention them all.). 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 called 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 extremely cool, undead 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.
If there has ever been a premium product, this is one. Granted, it's not cheap, but you do get an awesome product that is, at least in my humble opinion, worthy of an ennie. 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 faults in order to balance this review. The only possible criticisms I could offer would be 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. But that is really looking for dust-motes and scrapes with a microscope.
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"?
That's it from me for now, I'll get back to writing reviews.
Next time: Some stuff by Raging Swan Press.
As always, thanks for reading,