Nightmare King

Old version of the Nightmare King

The Nightmare King
Black Manta; Dark Mirror; Diamond Heel; Father Styx; Nimbleshanks; Old Man of the Sea

Symbol: A crystal left foot
Home Plane: The River Styx (various planes)
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Cleric Alignments: Any Evil
Portfolio: Forbidden secrets, lightless waters, nightmares, madness
Worshipers: Evil aquatic creatures, seekers of occult knowledge, evil secret societies, liches
Domains: Knowledge (Thought), Madness (Insanity, Nightmare), Rune, Void (Dark Tapestry)
Favored Weapon: Net

Physical Description:
The Nightmare King usually appears as a withered old man with green skin and gills, draped in a tattered bit of sailcloth, and with an artificial left foot made from a strange crystalline substance in which can be seen flickering images of one’s worst nightmares – his original left foot was cut off by Umnos himself with his Reaper Scythe. Another favored form is that of a truly massive, inky black devil ray with searing red eyes that absorbs light into its undulating wings wherever it goes. However, his true form is formlessness itself – a nightmarish vortex of twisted visions and deranged dreams that envelops all who come near, battering sanity and reason into oblivion, and stealing secrets like fine dainties from the naked brains of those so overwhelmed.

Description of Nature, Personality, and Dogma:
Were the Nightmare King a collector and teacher of any other sort of knowledge, he might be welcomed into the ranks of the other gods, and perhaps be a rival of Hawl for collecting esoteric lore. But the Nightmare King is instead interested, not in knowledge that benefits and edifies and improves, but in the vast, dark secrets and forbidden mysteries that challenge reality itself simply by existing. Most of these secrets are so vast that they cannot be fully understood by mortals, and extraplanar creatures can only barely comprehend some of them. Only the insane, mortal or immortal, can properly grasp these dark and twisted concepts, though the depth of their insanity may not be immediately apparent. The Nightmare King himself is an eager advocate of opening up others to his version of enlightenment, and firmly believes that his dark secrets should be made common knowledge. Since even casual exposure to these dark secrets can be dangerous to people's sanity and sometimes their lives, however, most intelligent creatures actively oppose the Nightmare King's endeavors and those of his worshipers.

The Nightmare King is the god of the forbidden lore hidden beneath the waves, where the cleansing sun has never shone, and of hidden secrets found only in ancient grottoes and forgotten caverns where only the dark water that he rules has touched. He is a subtle deity, and very cunning, with plans to overthrow all that breathes the clean air of the surface that extend for many millennia into the future. All that is blasphemous is considered free game to The Nightmare King and his followers, so long as they continue to collect and disseminate forbidden, forgotten lore and gradually, subtly spread their influence over the whole world, like the creeping tentacles of a grasping octopus, not noticed until it is far too late. All knowledge is power, and power should be used to gain more power, or so runs his credo, but subtlety is his strongpoint, and he does not tolerate the foolish. And the more of such forbidden knowledge there is spread in the world, the weaker the barriers between worlds becomes, which means more opportunities to acquire even more lore and power.

Clergy, Places of Worship, Important Rituals, and Servitor Races:
It is expected that the clergy of the Nightmare King be intelligent as well as wise. After all, they are intended to be keepers of lore as well as spreaders of the faith, to be scholars as well as clerics. The Nightmare King only selects those for his clergy with sufficient intelligence and force of will to have read and understood some of the lighter dark works and still retain their sanity. When he selects a new cleric, the Nightmare King appears to that cleric in one of his less sanity-shattering guises and offers the cleric a reflective surface of some sort, be it a dark mirror, a smooth surface of dark water, or the crystal foot of his old man's guise. When a cleric-to-be looks into that mirror, they see the answers to all their questions of forbidden knowledge finally revealed in full. The sheer magnitude of this revelation is so intense, however, that no cleric of the Nightmare King ever quite remembers what they saw, and most spend the rest of their lives trying to find out the answers that they had but lost, which serves to increase their devotion to the Nightmare King all the more, in hopes that they will get another chance to see their answers and remember them this time.

The Nightmare King’s clergy are known as the Ephialtes. Unholy scripture holds The Nightmare King had twin sons with a mortal woman, terrible giants nine fathoms tall. Fierce as they were, the twins Otus (He Who Pushes Back) and Ephialtes (He Who Leaps Upon) were intelligent and taught many secrets to men. Otus mastered the arcane, while Ephialtes mastered divine magic, drawing power directly from his father. The twins were eventually punished by the gods, not killed, but bound to pillars in the deepest reaches of the earth. Nimbleshanks' favored son and first High Priest, Ephialtes, was of such renown that his name became the word for "Nightmare" in older common dialects. Otus and Ephialtes were not without progeny, and it is believed these two are the patriarchs of the eldritch giant race (see Monster Manual 3__).

The Nightmare King’s holy sites are places where the water meets the earth, in places where the sun has never shone. These are places of great evil in the depths, where whole islands have sunk beneath the waves, or forbidden, forgotten caverns hollowed out by the actions of millennia of water action. The temples of The Nightmare King are storehouses of ancient, forbidden lore and repositories of hideous secrets, as well the as the headquarters for some of the most subtle and vile conspiracies to be found on the face of the planet. Many of these conspiracies allow veneration of various infernal powers as well as The Nightmare King without prejudice, for The Nightmare King is a pragmatic deity above all, and he does not mind sharing his power and secrets with those who may prove useful in gaining him still more of both.

For the Nightmare King's followers, the most sacred rituals that they can perform are not dark blood sacrifices or froth-mouthed sermons to whip up the faithful into a mad frenzy. Instead, the most sacred of acts is the discovery and recording of dark and forbidden lore. Everything learned by any worshiper of the Nightmare King is expected to write it down, and many of his temples look more like libraries, with rows of scribes hard at work, rather than the worship site of a dread cult intent on tearing through the barriers between worlds.

Krakens and liches serve the Nightmare King, as do many intelligent aberrations, and a great many dark and terrible beings of the Prime Material and other planes that seek to profit from his forbidden knowledge.

History and Relations:
Not long after Umnos was first brought to full sentience, the Divine Machine sought to attempt dreaming as a method for organizing its thoughts and allowing it to approach problems from new and creative directions. This had nothing to do with mental health, since Umnos has no need of sleep. However, something terrible happened after only a short while of dreaming behavior: Umnos had a nightmare. Its own mind turning against itself, dark powers from places beyond reality itself creeping in during this time of open thought, corrupting the data present, Umnos took up the Reaper Scythe and cut out the corrupted parts of its own brain. Eventually Umnos was able to replace and repair the lost parts of its mind, but the true damage was already done by that point: the Nightmare King had been born.

As one of the most subtle and patient of the Forbidden Gods, the Nightmare King seldom attracts attention, at least not directly. A deliberately placed tome of dark lore, a formerly lost scroll of forbidden knowledge in an unknown script, the ramblings of a streetside madman to anyone who will care to listen, all can easily be the work of the Nightmare King, seeking to spread the tiniest tidbits of the dark lore that can tempt in those who feel an affinity for its lure, giving them the incentive to seek out more. This tendency causes the Nightmare King to be alienated from the rest of the society of deities, though a few of them have relations of one sort or another.

Hawl and the Nightmare King have a complicated love-hate relationship. The Nightmare King is convinced that Hawl should share the Nightmare King's dark secrets along with everything else. Hawl, in turn, while not opposed to the idea in principle, recognizes that in practice, learning such forbidden lore tends to ruin a learner's ability to acquire any other sort of knowledge. Still, the Nightmare King knows some things that are useful, and so Hawl and his followers do not generally molest the Nightmare King, and while they might seal away records of the lore of madness that the Nightmare King espouses, they don't destroy it, and some even study it, in small doses, and with great supervision. Grimrose and the Nightmare King get along just fine, and they and Hawl are known to play games of strategy or riddle contests. Baba Yaga and the Nightmare King are known to be occasional lovers, though Baba Yaga's foul moods and the Nightmare King's primary passion in his secrets regularly cause them to have fallings out. Umnos, on the other hand, regards the Nightmare King as the evidence of its single failure of function, and seeks to annihilate the Nightmare King and all his works at every opportunity. This need becomes especially urgent for Umnos' followers when it becomes apparent that the Nightmare King fully intends to erode every barrier between worlds as a part of the quest for secrets, and it is almost solely because of Umnos that the other gods occasionally hunt the Nightmare King and he remains a forbidden deity. If they understood the full extent of the Nightmare King's desires and ultimate aims, they would surely be at least as committed to his destruction as Umnos.

Favored Offerings and Justifications for Direct Intervention:
After a tidbit of dark lore has been acquired by the Nightmare King's worshipers, they are expected to record it in meticulous detail, and then to store that knowledge so that it can be accessed by others. Multiple copies in different locations are recommended, since there are a great many do-gooders who, recognizing the dangerous nature of such knowledge, are likely to destroy any copies of it they might come across. Every bit of information so recorded by his worshipers also becomes part of the Nightmare King's body of ever-growing knowledge and lore. As for sacrifices, while the Nightmare King's worshipers might perform various blood sacrifices, including the sacrifice of intelligent creatures, for sake of getting the aid of extraplanar creatures, the Nightmare King himself does not demand very many sacrifices for himself. He does appreciate a particular sort of offering, however: that of a live bird of any sort, snared in a bit of netting woven from the highest quality thread, and cast into the sea or drowned in a sacred vessel with a lid. One of these sacrifices may be prepared in advance by killing any avian creature in the latter fashion, mummifying the remains, stuffing it with incense and spices, and then burning it at a later time. Followers of the Nightmare King make this sort of offering when they are about to undertake some especially dangerous task, or feel they require additional assistance or protection from the Nightmare King in any fashion.

The only time that the Nightmare King is inclined towards direct intervention is if a particular piece of forbidden knowledge is actually wiped from the Prime Material Plane, but is known to the Nightmare King. In this case, the Nightmare King will either inspire one of his followers or an especially susceptible mad genius to rewrite the lost lore, or else will take the time to write it himself, though reading anything written directly by the Nightmare King tends to be detrimental to the sanity of even the most jaded and ghoulish-minded of readers, and so this is not the Nightmare King's first choice. The Nightmare King may also make a direct appearance to keep such lore from being destroyed in the first place, though an appearance is generally the extent of what he will do, generally in his most unassuming of shapes, with just enough effort to redirect those who would destroy such information, or direct those who would preserve it. In emergencies, he may also reveal his true form to those who would destroy forbidden knowledge, driving them mad, at least temporarily (depending on the strength of their wills and their hold on sanity), to give him or his worshipers time to seize the most precious of lore and flee to safety. This protection may extend to individuals who have such knowledge within their brains, should they be unable to transcribe what they know in time.