(5e) The Claws of Madness

By Chris van der Linden
Level 1

For centuries, Aelmor Monastery near the port town of Sestone was a safe haven for scholars, monks, and pilgrims seeking enlightenment, its renowned library home to an enormous collection of ancient manuscripts, tomes, and peculiar writings. After suffering a devastating attack at the hands of a possessed monastery elder, Aelmor fell into ruin, its troubled past forgotten. When villagers start disappearing and turn up horribly mutated days later, fear takes a grip of Sestone. What sinister forces are at work? And to what end?

This 36 page adventure details an island and dungeon with 46 rooms. It’s slightly better than the usual 5e garbage, as the page count to room number would indicate. It tries for a creepy vibe but, still, it’s nothing more than a sub-par hack with the usual thin plot to drive things.

Generic hooks and the usual setup: disappearances, bodies, etc. Must be coming from that old monastery on the island where bad things happened! Of course it’s an island, that makes it plausible why the villagers haven’t gone there and yet puts the party close enough that at first level they can make it there. Islands in the harbor: the new sewers. Anyway, hooks and plot are for fuckwits and can always be ignored. The real question is: is this thing worth my time to slog through? As is usual, the answer is no.

I wasn’t completely sure of that answer though, at least when I first dug in. The designers appears plagued by a certain rare form of mistakes. He clearly had a vision for this, and a couple of good ideas, but had no idea how to sustain it.

Lets us examine, for example, the opening scene. A sudden commotion in the town square full of people reveals guy with tentacles bursting from him. In most adventures this would be that well-known (and shitty) “start them off with a fight!” advice. But not here. He’s not hostile. You can even help him some and/or ease his suffering. It almost makes sense! He’s a villager, he’s come back to the village for help. Why would he eat his friends?

This was followed up by a keyed map of the village … that is just that, a key and nothing much else. OMG! NOT a long drawn out description of a general store! NOT a long drawn out description of an inn! Just a map and a notation of which building is which, essentially. It’s almost like … like … the designer knows that doesn’t add value!

Then there’s the “gather information” portion of the adventure. It’s one column with some non-odious headings to help you find information. Hmmm. Not exactly terse writing, but, still, it’s only a column.

Then there’s the NPC descriptions. Here’s the one for a guy who’s got some missing shipments: “his short and stout man is a cunning negotiator and expert appraiser, always on the lookout to make a profit. His left eye has been replaced with a sapphire that he usually keeps covered with a fine purple eye patch. When he gets excited about a deal, he cracks his knuckles and stretches his arms out in front of him. His braided brown hair has distinctive dark orange streaks in it.” I could do without that last sentence, and it could be shorter, but, still, the description is focused on meaningful things. Not his life fucking story, but how to roleplay him. Oh course, the next one is full of batshit studpid trivia like “he lost his beloved dog while fishing during a stormy night”, but, still, there are hints in these things that this is not a lost cause.

Then there’s this attempt at a kind of Lovecraftian dread. Whispers in the darkness, a little bit of subtle madness, the tentacle/corruption thing. Notes are scattered throughout to help the DM with this. I don’t think it really conveys the full impact of what he’s going for … but it’s not shit either. That vibe is hard as fuck to achieve, even in a CoC game, and then throw in swords, fireballs, and a “we kill it” attitude and you can get the sense of the challenge. But his heart is in the right place and while not super effective the advice is not shitty either.

So far, things are ok. Not terrible.

Then the actual adventure starts and it goes downhill FAST.

There’s this island, with a monastery and a couple of levels of dungeon under it. It’s just stuffed full of shitty encounters. I hate to sounds like an old grump, but it reminded me of the “If Quake was done today” video. “Shoot enemies to kill them!” as on screen advice. While walking up some stairs on a cliff were confronted with this little gem: “… One of the bandits is on guard duty, scouting the area about 200 feet ahead of their camp. The adventurers can attempt to make a Dexterity (Stealth) check against the scout’s passive Perception to move closer undetected.” Ok, everybody, make a Stealth check. Why? Uh … just do it. It’s this weird game-like vibe. If captured one of the bandits will relate that there’s this mean gnoll thats a tremendous fighter that took out two bandits single-handedly! Do you think bandits refer to themselves that way? As bandits? “Four of our comrades died when we were attacked a day ago by a pack of gnolls.” It’s all awkward.

The place is just stuffed full of meaningless boring old fights. There’s a ghost … that does nothing, tells you nothing, and is meaningless. And then there’s the text padding. There’s a room titled “Catacombs Antechamber” which gets the following description: “A small anteroom serves as the entry into the catacombs. On the left and right, two wooden doors lead into a U-shaped room filled with sarcophagi. A small flight of stairs directly ahead leads down to the Crypt of Anthomodus. A ghostly presence can be felt in this area. See the “Ghostly Presence” sidebar for more information. If the characters investigate the stone door, read:”

So … it’s an antechamber? And the room looks like it does on the map? The only interesting thing is the ghostly presence sentence. Just all padding.

Also, the adventure gets NO bonus points for putting in the Hand of Vecna. Oh, it’s not CALLED the hand, but it’s the hand. Why no points for the hand? Well, because you have to gimp it, of course. Putting it on means you instantly turn CE. Ug! I hate that shit! You want some curse and shit? Fine. But your moralizing with alignment changes are LAME.

Anyway, long boring room descriptions. Long boring read-aloud. Nothing much going on except for some things to hack down. (mostly.)

Just another boring adventure, with a little bit of window dressing and a faint glimmer of hope that the designer can get better.

This is $7 at DriveThru.https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/193826/The-Claws-of-Madness-adventure-5e?affiliate_id=1892600

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2 Responses to (5e) The Claws of Madness

  1. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Handing (heh) an artifact/relic like the Hand of Vecna to a first level character is pretty kinky, and would certainly determine the direction in which a campaign would proceed. Making it instantly turn its wielder CE is bullshit, though- this should be an insidious process of corruption, gradual urgings to do evil, environmental effects that pollute and decay one’s surroundings.

    There’s a right way to pull of a nasty DM trick like this, and a campaign centered around it might be very interesting.

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