DMs Guild Review – When Madness Calls

Rescue a famous horror writer from a cult in this Lovecraftian adventure for level 6.

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A review copy of “When Madness Calls” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Isaac Mandagie and Cita A F

Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and cosmic horror are popular sources of inspiration for horror and mystery-themed D&D adventures. When Madness Calls revels in its Lovecraftian tones – even using the author himself, in this cult-filled mansion adventure for level six.

The adventure revolves around a popular horror fiction writer, Hubert Pierre Lorentz, aka H.P. Lorentz. Lorentz has recently gone missing, though it’s more that he hasn’t left his opulent mansion in some time. His latest manuscript is long overdue, so the players are hired to travel to his home in Croft Vale, located in the Dessarin Valley, though easily dropped in any town or city.

The only place of interest in the town, besides the mansion, is the tavern, where the PCs can pick up a side quest to find the owner’s missing partner, last seen in the neighboring forest, where they can battle a Star Spawn Hulk in the pond and find a hidden sewage entrance into the mansion.

The party also meets Arabella in town, the cult leader for the Hermetic Order of the Dark Spiral, an old one-worshipping cult who have set their sights on Lorentz, seeing him as a prophet.

It’s a bold move introducing the main villain so early. She comes off as nice if overly inquisitive, asking the players a series of rapid-fire personal questions and inviting them to join their order, letting the party waltz right through the front door of the cultist-filled mansion.

I love the approach of humanizing the cult and letting the PCs mingle, learn information, and explore. Unfortunately this chapter feels underdeveloped. The potentially interesting social encounters and scripted events are reduced to a bullet point list of information the cultists know, with the only DM advice as “make sure that the discussions are delivered well.”

dms guild review

The mansion is huge, encompassing two full stories and a basement, for a total of 22 rooms, depicted in beautiful detail by the full color maps. Cultists can be found everywhere, having dinner, making food, or just hanging out in the lounge – but no events or notes on how to run any social or combat encounters.

The secret entrance to the hidden cellar is in the pond outside, while the party could find a treasure room and a nice loot cache in Arabella’s private quarters. If they don’t have a rogue to nick the key from her, or pick the locks (or a Knock spell) they’ll be far more limited in where they can go.

The mansion seems innocuous enough, while the cellar holds the real evils: star spawn manglers in crates, mutated cultists, and an altar where Lorentz himself waits behind a magic barrier. Whenever the party encounters a horrible creature or act, they must make a WIS save or reduce their sanity.

The Sanity rules adopt and expand the rules from The Heir of Orcus Verse 4, starting each PC at 5 and reducing the sanity with each failure (and sometimes even on a success). These sanity rules effectively separate combat ailments with more long-term problems depending on when the character was stricken.

The only scripted event ushers the story into the third chapter, as the cultists, led by Arabella, perform the ritual to transform the willing writer into Tharizdun. There isn’t much mystery or investigation, and the only real twist is that Lorentz believes his visions are the call of Tharizdun, and he’s more than willing to become the god’s avatar, with zero chance or skill checks for the party to convince him otherwise.

There’s a lot I enjoy about When Madness Calls, from the use of Star Spawn and non-hostile cultists, to the amazing maps and original character portraits. But the story needs a few more pages to make the cult, and thus the dungeon, more dynamic and interesting.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous original character portraits for NPCs (Artist: Cita A F)
  • Beautiful battle maps of the multi-level mansion.
  • Expanded sanity rules and tables for multiple levels and forms of insanity.

Cons:

  • Missed opportunity for more scripted scenes and social encounters with the cult.

The Verdict: Though short and a bit underdeveloped, When Madness Calls hits all the right notes for a Lovecraftian dungeon crawl.

A review copy of “When Madness Calls” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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