Mansions of Madness (some spoilers, but trying to go light)

This scenario collection, released in 1990, was updated in 2007, was built around the theme of mansions as settings, large houses largely designed as residences. The first release had five scenarios, a sixth was added in the later release. While they are all good reads, there are aspects to several that create, for me, a mixed message. Here we go.

Scenario One: Mr. Corbitt

This mansion is the residence of a neighbor of one of the investigators, and the party has cause to question his behavior after seeing him unloading his car one night. Corbitt’s backstory is intriguing, and I have found that the scenario could be played out without ever uncovering parts of it. (to be fair, I find this true of many scenarios, and it isn’t a complaint, it’s just an interesting comment.)

Corbitt’s sanity is long gone, after an encounter with an avatar of Yog Sothoth, which led to his becoming a servant of the entity, a course of events leading to the death of his wife, madness of a nurse, and a secret lurking in his basement. Using arcane skills and medical knowledge, he has created odd little creatures that are agglutinations of body parts in improbable configurations. In part this was practice to assist said secret in the basement. In addition, abnormal and monstrous plants fill his greenhouse and gardens.

If Corbitt becomes suspicious of the investigators, he will use various toxins and subtle attacks to protect himself and his secrets.

I have a bit of an issue with creatures compiled out of random body parts, though it can create an interesting creepy feel, so this lessened my fondness for this scenario.

Corbitt, however, is an engaging villain, who does not see himself as a villain, and the overall flow of the scenario is very good. The secret mentioned above does have some grafted parts on, but that is not as unsettling to me, as the creatures mentioned above. I’d give this one a B.

Scenario Two: The Plantation

This scenario is one I have a fair issue with, though I admit it’s a great read, and most players can get through it without having the issues with it that I do. An npc ally of the party encounters a small child from his ‘home grounds’, and the party gets drawn into a deep south plantation in major decline, with sharecroppers who are largely cultists of the Great Old One Yig. The core of this scenario is a bit of an investigation, with the party gradually learning of a pending ritual and trying to head off a human sacrifice. Things are not as they at first seem, however, and herein lies the story’s depth, and also its problems.

There are two npcs that the party will be trying to save in this scenario, a brother and sister, and as written, the odds of both being saved is very small. (There is a third npc, their mother, but she is gone pretty much before the players have a chance to interact with anyone at the plantation). This is a bit frustrating, but not unworkably so as a Keeper, though it may annoy the players by the end of the scenario.

The cultists all are devout servants of Yig, and unaware that a third party (No I won’t tell you who or what) is intercepting the power generated by this cult’s ceremonies (this presumes that these ceremonies do generate some form of power or energy that the respective entities can use, a good rationalization). Yig has decided that enough is enough, and he has set in motion plans to reclaim what is his, using the investigators, and a third party, a serpent man who is a servant of Yig and faithful, though by no means a hero and only tentatively an ally to the players.

The secrets, the history, the story, all play out well. The clash between Yig and the unseen entity is to some extent interesting and a good read. However, the conclusion of this part of the story is fairly passive, the players enable the climax, but once it begins they are witnesses to the final course of events. This is a point I tend to find frustrating in scenarios, the players’ impact becomes less important as the scenario resolves, and this is a bit of a problem for me personally. (though I also concede this particular ‘ending’ is fascinating in its way)

Can’t go above a C for this one.

Scenario Three: Crack’d and Crooked Manse

A house with a dark history is in the middle of its last chapter when the investigators get drawn into the story, and they find themselves dealing with a strange mystery involving a hungry an alien creature hiding in the shadows, the aftermath of a disastrous expedition by the last resident of the mansion. The story hooks are not overly strong but they are viable. The players have a good chance to explore and research in town and in the mansion to learn the backstory, and the creature is a nice creepy monster, the ability to fight and beat it given in the clues they uncover. It is an atypical creature, hopefully a unique encounter for the players. I also like that this scenario touches on something that many scenarios gloss over or leave to the Keepers (and sadly, many Keepers overlook)—the aftermath.

Yes, the bane of horror movies, the survivor of the horror makes it back to society and questions come up, and answers are hard to present that others will accept.

Very short review, but this one is, for me, an A.

Scenario Four: The Sanitorium

This scenario is also a good read, and a worthy one, a good one to play, though it shuffles several of the established tropes of Call of Cthulhu out of the deck in one very playable hand. We have the mansion, an asylum, we have a lighthouse, we have a hidden monster from beyond, we have an insane servant of it, and to fill in the blanks, we have a cast of characters who are essentially a re-enactment of Poe’s Dr Tarr and Professor Fether. (not really, but the similarity is clear). The final of the tropes is the scientist/psychiatrist who stumbles across secrets best left unexplored. Unlike man of the manifestations of this last trope, the scientist in question is not evil by the end, simply misguided, and he is, while the story hook for the investigators, dead before the investigators arrive.

A member of the staff serves the creature, the inmates are wandering free, and the member of the staff, seriously insane, is stalking the occupants of the island as the creature seeks nourishment from his victims.

There are a large number of lighthouses in scenarios (the isolation makes the location a natural), some better than others. To be honest, the lighthouse could be replaced with virtually any building and the scenario would not suffer. The island location does encourage the lighthouse, but depending on how you feel about other lighthouse scenarios, a substitution would not be unwelcome.

The players can get very caught up in the action here, the cast is a wonderful gathering, and even though as I said, standard tropes are dragged out for this one, nothing suffers, a great scenario, very playable. My only quibble in this is that we have one real core bad guy in the action of the scenario, and the monster stays largely hidden until the players either seek it out or fail to find it before it gets major league nasty after it gets ‘full.’

Another A.

Scenario Five: Mansion of Madness

I will admit that I had this book for several years before I read this scenario, in no small part because there is a Dreamlands component, and my issues with the Dreamlands setting are known (I guess I should explain that someday in my Keeper’s blog, but its’ just a personal thing). As it turns out, the Dreamlands component does not require using the Dreamlands setting, just dreams as a means of the ultimate entity communicating with and controlling its victims/servants, and an alternate dimension that the final monster lurks in. Ultimately a component more than a setting, and that makes this a very acceptable scenario.

A missing persons case leads to a conflict between two insane parties struggling over an item and their desire to serve the extra-dimensional entity that the item is bound to. One a gangster who is no longer human, the other a cult leader/serial killer, the party has to deal with them in turn, along with the possibility of confronting the entity itself.

A good scenario, ending with a nasty conflict with the gangster and his inhuman spawn, and the party has a good chance of getting through this…well I won’t say intact, you can expect a few rather grisly deaths here and there in this one if you’re not pretty careful, and if a bit of luck plays into it as well.

I’d put this one at an A-.

Scenario Six: The Old Damned House

The new scenario for this volume is another family with a dark secret, an eccentric family in decline, victims of a curse lingering from the 1700’s, along with the nearly immortal recipient of the curse. The mansion is crowded with its cast, and the players, called in to solve a burglary, find themselves confronted by much more than missing jewels.

Tsathoggua is the baddie at the source of this, and while the scenario is written very free form, there is a chance the party may have to actually confront it at the conclusion. Inspired indirectly by the “old house” mystery films of the thirties and forties, we have no shortage of odd relatives who support each other in spite of their differences, we have innocents on the cusp of learning their dark heritage, and he hierarch of the family, who is a deadly little monster himself. Filling in the corners (somewhat literally) are other family members who keep themselves hidden, with their own hazards.

It would be very easy for most of this scenario to play out without violence, but when it hits the fan, no punches will be pulled. A suggested flow of play is included, but hey admit there is room for investigators to take the course of events in other directions. I wanted to like this one more, but its still fun, and a good read.

We close with a B+, I’d say.

I have tried to avoid spoilers as much as I can in this, compared to my earlier posts, I would appreciate feedback on if I should stick with this direction or revert to my earlier style.

 

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