The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1970)

Lovecraft is listed in Gygax’s Appendix N, something I have long thought was a strange choice. Dungeons & Dragons’ relationship with the horror writer is, appropriately enough, a weird one. Lovecraft’s stories largely focus on the meaninglessness of life, the unknowableness of the universe and the fragility of the human mind – not exactly the stuff of high adventure. Yet there is something of Lovecraft’s of haunted ruins, dark magic and tentacles that got intertwined in the DNA of D&D early on. The Kuo-Toa are an obvious riff on the Deep Ones. Carrion Crawlers, Mind Flayers, Grell and Otyughs could all appear in his stories. Bruce Cordell’s Far Realm is obviously inspired by cosmic horror. And of course, Lovecraft’s creations even graced the first edition Deities & Demigods for two printings.

While there are plenty of tentacles in D&D, the game necessarily subverts the mind-bending horrors that lurk at the end of every Lovecraft story (well mostly – exception being mind flayers, quite literally). In D&D, a good sword arm and a well-timed spell must always be able to win the day.

Lovecraft’s Dreamland stories are probably the most obviously D&Dish, the novella “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” perhaps the best example. Here, the sleeper visits a fantasyland of sorts, populated by strange creatures, magical sunsets, zebra riders and the occasional sword fight. This 1970 Ballantine paperback collects most, but not all, of the best Dreamlands story and wraps them in a sweet cover by Gervasio Gallardo. Don’t cross those cats!

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