On the Ecology of a Nightmare

"You can die in your dreams; to actually walk in the realm itself is the height of foolishness" - Ui-teh, Taurian Speaker

"I beheld a nightmare from up close upon the tree pits of Haly Karoek. I admit, beheld is not the right word ... It smelled so noxious that my eyes watered ceaselessly!" -Nightmare survivor, Phrain Tharbos

Nomenclature: Nightmare, Hell horse, Darkfire mount

Description: A dark horse, often aflame

Things that are known:

  • When seen, they appear as horses
  • They are often highlighted or colored with flame
  • They are known to fly

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:

  • Nightmares are regular horses, raised on a special diet of salt, from the paraelemental plane of salt, collected near the negative energy side. 
  • They are the dreams of demon lords that have settled into darkness and then race out as steeds of flame, each one an ember or spark designed to engulf the world
  • They are souls of those who have failed their demon master, bound to the corpse of a horse, condemned to serve someone more competent
  • They are the results of drunk bets made between wizards
  • There are no stallions, they are birthed from the raw detritus of creation, warped to only destroy
  • They seek tragedy and ruins, decayed battlefields and mass graves, because that is where celestial and infernal stallions carry the dead to the afterlife.
  • Sometimes wishes are horses and beggars do ride. Witches are responsible for binding infernal energy into a stable mount capable of reproduction. This product of internal wishes reproduces my mating with the terror dreams that are inspired by its existence
  • They are a status symbol of the wicked, those who have torn free a piece of fire and ambition used to flee hell itself. They believe they've acquired freedom, when in fact the escape was a test. Those who do are horrific enough to lead demons against the last bastion of good on the prime
  • They are capable of bearing a rider while leaping into the dream of a victim
  • They are the used up, cast-off casualties of horses from the chariot that drew the sun across the sky. Burned and worn, they smolder still. They are tangentially real, disconnected from the divine, malicious, yet still able to travel between dimensions
  • A nightmare is a witch's infernal bond. When she bargains with demons from the underworld the nightmare is created, but the demon chooses the master of the horse, not the witch. Slaying the nightmare severs the witches infernal power
  • They are fallen Ki-rin
  • Nightmares are the beasts created when wendigo attack horses instead of men
  • Nightmares are actually the souls of children who died in a fire set intentionally for malicious purposes. They feast on the wicked, insane beasts driven by madness and eternal burning flame
  • They are bred by giants in a remote land, fed only human flesh and blood to obtain a precious human soul. They are then killed and the souls sold to demons, who ride them for eternity. The horses are quite intelligent and constantly seek to escape
  • The nightmare is a dream of a wicked man, potent and unfulfilled. They lack control and their personal ambitions release ethereal miasma. This mist can become different kinds of aberrations, those related to majesty and freedom become mares of the night. They are ridden by champions of evil, because they seek those who have the drive their creators lack. 
  • They are loyal, cruel and don't feel any remorse to leave a master who is a failure
  • Nightmares, hell hounds, and smoke raptors are all created by the lord of the hunt - when cultists found his avatar and corrupted him from a hunting god, to a god of death
  • True nightmares are only born on the field of battle. Enraged spirits of the slain, trapped by their fury, pour into wounded horses, setting them ablaze with their wrath
  • They aren't evil, just elemental. They have escaped from the stables of a volcanic titan. Their skin is cracked and folded like fresh lava. The flames at their hooves are from the objects they touch, not the horse itself
  • They are the adolescent form of a night hag
  • They can only be tamed by someone who isn't a virgin
  • Sometimes when riding through the dreams of victims, they leave their riders behind. Other times they never leave preferring to possess their victims instead
  • Nightmares are unconcerned about sexuality. When they refuse to be tamed by 'virgins' they mean those who have never slain another sentient creature
  • They will thoughtlessly abandon a rider for a more cruel rider
  • They are the smouldering remains of the hopes and dreams of a valkyrie while transporting a soul to Valhalla
  • Nightmares are literally nightmares of slumbering titans. Killing the titan will slay the nightmare. This is of limited utility
  • Nightmares are only corporeal in the dream realm. They are the shades of innocent horses that are slain by cruel riders
  • They are neither intelligent, nor alive. The sage Gno Ko No asserts that nightmares are the infections parasitised bodies possessed by larval efreeti
  • According to Wagghy Baroeka, savant and najib of the Nazraheem, the nightmare is a vampiric horse. The vampirism is caused by a blood curse of the seven fates of the three crystal moons, and increases the strength, speed, and blood lust, but only mares attain the full stature
  • The stallion counterpart to the nightmare, is the zombie stallion, rotting and possesed by a lust for herbivores brains. Carnivores have nothing to fear
  • Daymares are worse, they are not bound by night
  • A nightmare can teleport through the bad dreams of anyone who has ever beheld it
  • Shulao of Chuffre claims the nightmares were an abortive experiment by the Vilai who sought to create telepathic horses
  • Shulao of Tancra disagrees, the nightmares were originally created from several species of animals, including donkeys and beavers, as familiars to permit the wizard Li Vilai Kreisers to communicate at a distance through their dreams. The mares eventually got loose, but some creatures, such as the nightbear and the nightskunk remain docile
  • It is a corruption of their proper name, Knightmare, the gift of the moon goddess to her paladins
  • They are the spirit of wicked riders who have trampled to death the innocent and then burnt at the stake as punishment
Vipersbite - DA
  • People riding on nightmares are all too commonly controlled by the nightmare. They are not the steed but the rider
  • The dreamstuff nightmares are made up ignites in the waking world. Anyone who weathers the most terrible dream a nightmare can deliver is immune to any harm.
  • They come from the stable of Oneiroi, gods of dreaming, found on the wild plane of dreaming and the astral plane
  • Dwarven efforts to create a rideable nightmare pony have only resulted in delicious new barbecue sensation
  • They are composed of ash and flame, when it is slain it falls to smouldering coals
  • Fire giants, famed hell hound trainers, also train nightmares expertly. The prices are exorbitant of course
  • They are invisible, translucent and colorless. It is only the fear of the victim that colors them black and flame
  • Nightmare herds graze on the far side of the moon, trapped on earth they are driven to madness
  • Alzamrum, the antimage of Chuffre, nightmares are demons that possess animals in the night. They ride them through the air, scaring people
  • Nightmares have hooves of pure gold. They use fire-jet nostrils to melt rare metals out of ore, which sustains them. They are aurophages, eating gold in preference to all other substances
  • They are all female, and mate with other equine (unicorns, pegasi, and celestial mounts preferred) and bear only female foals
  • They go into heat only during the hottest part of summer. The female subsumes her flame, becoming a plane majestic black mare. Her beauty attracts mates. After birthing the foals are abandoned, they must find sentient raw flesh to eat in order to survive
  • A paladin's mount is an ordinary horse transmuted atom by atom into celestial matter. Hell, ever original, copied the idea. These lustful hell steeds mated with everything they could mount. Their offspring were all nightmares
  • Greater nightmares grow wings not unlike those of crows, which they then use to fly. Ordinary nightmares simply stride across the sky, slower than actual flying creatures, like pegasi, rocks, and the screaming stars of Phelogeon
  • They are actually shapeshifting goblin shamans
  • They are all created by the ritual "Nightmare" which targets a single individual, or the powerful "Plague of Nightmares" which the Academages of Askamandria claim was responsible for the fall of Gloaming Empire of Suskandahar
  • They are the steeds of fallen paladins. They have no immunity to their flaming hooves. They are tormented by them
  • They are possessed by a fiery demon, because hell creatures need steeds too.
  • Nightmares can torment victims by taking the shape of "psychic smoke" and invading the dreamers mind. The creature feasts on the terrors of the sleeper, leaving a dried out fear-stricken husk
  • They are actually a species of sheep
  • Hairshirts made from their hide remind all those akashics and pain seekers of the ultimate fire that waits 'pon all flesh
  • The aquatic nightmare had flippers instead of hooves and gives off steam instead of fire, called "notte di mare" in 'Talish
  • Each nightmare has only one eye, the other a soul gem, hiding trapped behind the dreamer who dreamt it. All nightmares have a blind side because of this
  • They seek damned souls of the troubled and disturbed. Souls are carried to various planes of torment or enslaved by the gods of horror to spawn new monsters to torment the waking world
  • There is a whole realm of nocturnal horror fauna, but only a few leak into our world. Pre-human races and damnable cults try to call them
  • There is a rare unicorn/nightmare hybrid. It poisons water with it's toxic horn and enters the dreams of virgins to tempt them to death
  • Nightmares are obviously and frequently used as riders to traverse the planes
  • Those that suffer from sleep paralysis often feel an unsettling or threatening presence in the room. This is a nightmare as is the sleep paralysis. Any person who wakes from sleep in the presence of a nightmare is unable to move until it leaves
  • Their teeth are stained pink
Special Nightmare Combat Attacks: 

Flaming Hooves: Their hooves may burst aflame! This means they do flame damage in addition to normal damage
Flaming Stampede: Nightmares may overrun their opponents. Either use CMB, or if playing in a system without CMB, use the grappling rules to see if a trample is successful. On a successful stampede, the target takes damage from both hooves, as well as double flame damage (usually 2d6)
Flame Stomp: By slamming their hooves into the ground, Nightmares may produce a flaming burst. This affects all opponents to the front or front sides of the nightmare. They take 1d6+8 damage from the flames, a saving throw versus breath weapon (Or Reflex, Dex based) will give 1/2 damage.

The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  

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