(P)Review: Black Vault – Eldritch: The Book of Madness (Dungeons & Dragons)

Eldritch: The Book of Madness
Eldritch: The Book of Madness is a fantasy horror campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons, written by Stewie Black and published by Black Vault.
By Aaron T. Huss

Learn more about, and back, Eldritch: The Book of Madness here on Kickstarter.

In the current state of the industry, it’s difficult to standout from everyone else when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons (and Pathfinder by extension). Many settings feel familiar or very similar to existing setting with various twists and tweaks thrown in, but overall it often feels like everything’s been done before. What that in mind, Eldritch: The Book of Madness attempts to overcome that familiarity by creating a setting that plays by its own rules. I don’t mean the core mechanics, but rather it creates a new setting based in fantasy horror (borderline cosmic horror) that stands on its own with a type of energy that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Eldritch: The Book of Madness, currently campaigning on Kickstarter, is a bit like the chaos aspects of Warhammer Fantasy by twisting and warping your characters due to its very wrongness and depravity. This isn’t just a fantasy horror/dark fantasy setting, it’s an entire realm that wants nothing more than to break down your PCs and corrupt them indefinitely. But let’s take a look at the book itself.

First, Eldritch kicks off with a setting introduction that is way too short. Granted, this is the DM’s book, but man there are so many things about the setting that could be touched upon in this introduction. After you get through that, the book flexes your creativity in the darkest ways. It starts with the weight the setting places upon the characters due to its darkness and broodingness (is that a word) in a new mechanic called Dread. I’m not going to explain further as it would give too much away. Then the books delves into Madness; yeah, that’s the horror parts kicking in. But not in a Call of Cthulhu way… in a Dungeons & Dragons way. Madness corrupts your PC and inflicts various mechanical hindrances. Dread and Madness are a beautiful blend of fantasy and horror.

After this the book gets into all those aspects necessary to flesh out a setting: cults, the setting’s major players, bestiary (properly creepy), and magic. Pretty standard, but all quite fittingly matching the setting. And of course, in proper D&D fashion, it ends with a short campaign. I will say that besides Dread and Madness, the bestiary is my favorite. I love adversaries that are true monstrosities!

The book itself looks great. The artwork is cooling and dark, the writing is great, and the layout is clean. But what really sells the book is the setting and how it pushes the boundaries of fantasy in unique ways (well, at least unique to D&D). I am aware that other dark fantasy and horror-inspired settings have been published, but this one just really places the party in a dark, horrific realm that is quite uncommon in these epic fantasy systems. The only thing I can see as an issue is “Why would the PCs be here?” However, it’s possible that bringing them to this shadowy realm is half the fun and the DM can really flex some creative fingers to start somewhere familiar and take the team to someplace they never imagined. In all the worst ways.

Color me biased, but I am not a big fan of vanilla fantasy. I love horror-inspired and horror-infused games and settings, dark fantasy and fantasy horror are my favorite genres; Eldritch: The Book of Madness is perfect for the games I would run or play in. It does an incredible job of bringing in those dark, horror themes into Dungeons & Dragons, creating a unique, shadowy setting.

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