When Madness Calls is an adventure for a party of 5 characters of levels 6, by Isaac Mandagie.
This adventure is a 5-hour one-shot set in the Forgotten Realms. It is inspired from H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos (more on that later).
The adventure begins with the characters arriving at a village called Croft Vale. The adventure provides three reasons why the characters would have decided to go there. They’re either looking for a missing writer called Hubert Pierre Lorentz, the draft of his latest book, or for a missing person.
They will have to venture into a manor near the village, where they will discover a cult, the missing writer, and a lot of things eldritch.
The adventure is divided into three chapters.
In the first chapter, the characters interact with the people of the village and are also invited to a looking manor that’s the current base of a suspicious group. The chapter ends with them reaching the manor but there are a couple of ways to do that. One of them is quite dangerous, because it may lead to an encounter with a CR 10 monster. There are ways to avoid that but things can get ugly.
Chapter two is all about the manor. It is inhabited by a group that is actually a cult of Tharizdun. Depending on how the characters reach the manor, the cultist can be friendly or hostile which means exploring it can have varying difficulty.
There are a lot of rooms to explore and the majority of them have something the characters can interact with. That can be an encounter, traps, NPCs, and treasure.
There are also some events that can occur, which are provided in this chapter. They don’t necessarily have to happen, since they depend on various factors, like the reason they’re here, the people they have interacted with at the village, and even how they got into the manor.
In chapter three, a ritual will start taking place. The cult wants to sacrifice Hubert Pierre Lorentz in order to bring the avatar of Tharizdun into the Material Plane. That can’t be good, especially if the characters need Lorentz alive. So they need to disrupt the ritual and escape. This is the most dangerous part of the adventure, especially if the players are used to just clearing the rooms of all the enemies (more on that later).
Again, the way characters approach situations in chapters one and two, chapter three can end up being a bit easier (like have the chance to ambush the cultists) or a bit more difficult (like beginning the chapter locked up in cages without their equipment).
Since there are so many variables in the adventure, there can be multiple endings. One of them is the deaths of the characters. Another one is having the characters succeed in what they came to Croft Vale, but with a hint of impending doom. I like that there are many possible outcomes.
Eldritch Elements & Sanity
I have somewhat avoided talking about the eldritch part of the adventure. It’s one of the major elements and I decided it needed its own section.
The adventure is meant to provide an eldritch horror experience, specifically a Lovecraftian one. It uses horror elements that, in my opinion, can’t work in D&D by default.
A way to tackle this issue is the implementation of a sanity mechanic. Basically, a character starts with a sanity score of 5. When they experience something a mortal mind shouldn’t, they may lose sanity. Losing sanity causes various types of insanity. Reaching a sanity level of 0 makes you permanently insane.
This is a mechanical way to make players understand they are under pressure and can’t implement the tried and trusted method of “Explore every room and kill everything. There’s loot to be had”. Exploring everything can end up making your situation worse. Fighting everything can get you into more trouble. And I mean into more trouble than usual.
And since I mentioned fighting, some encounters aren’t meant to be fought. At least they’re not meant to be fought until one of the parties involved is fully destroyed. Specifically, I am talking about a CR 10 encounter and the final encounter. There are ways to avoid both but the players need to understand they have options.
Which leads me to the final thing I want to mention in this section. A good way to enjoy this adventure is by having the players understand beforehand they are going to play a Lovecraftian themed adventure. This means avoiding open conflict with eldritch horrors that can turn your brain into jelly, at the least, is not just recommended but somewhat necessary if they want their characters to survive the adventure and keep their minds somewhat intact.
The art in this adventure compliments its theme. Apart from the cover, there are a few NPC portraits and monsters. All of the art pieces give off an early 19th century aesthetic, which adds to the Lovecraftian flavor. There are also a couple of maps that cover the manor and, since chapter two provides room by room descriptions, are very helpful. DM and player versions of the maps are provided.
Overall, When Madness Calls is an interesting adventure. We’ve seen other adventures in the blog where they try to add a horror element into the game, but this one takes a different unique approach, adding a strong Lovecraftian flavor. If you are looking for a horror adventure that requires from the players to think more like they’re playing a Call of Cthulhu session, but with D&D elements, you should give this one a look.
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