Tabletop Games

Eldritch Merges Cosmic Horror & D&D With Dread, Madness Mechanics

It’s an all-too familiar sight: the light of divinity answering the call of a lowly warrior whose broken sword is the only thing standing between him and the insurmountible evil that surrounded him, where the inexplicable radiance of good reminding any threat – the staple undead, zombies, and even the occasional goblin horde – that the shadow they cast on the Mortal Realms could not hold a candle to the fiery luminescence of the divine. 

Stewie Black’s Eldritch: The Book of Madness poses a horrifying alternative: what if a force older than time itself has been hard at work trying to peer into our universe, with an incomprehensible power that neither light nor dark could ever resist its call?

What if it is already here – with no way of knowing what it looks like, what it wants, or what exactly is at home that made it so desperate to leave it?

With a threat as unknown as whatever is “beyond” the domain of magic and gods, how exactly would a lowly warrior survive? 

But First, The Setup

Compared to other sourcebooks that bring D&D players to grander and more mystical realms outside traditional settings of dragons and magic, Eldritch: The Book of Madness positions itself as a way of integrating cosmic horror into any campaign table. 

Threats are no longer staple liches and necromancers but rather creatures of shadow who look no different than anyone else heroes meet on the street. Cults and sects and churches become the same, with schemes serving one hidden purpose after the next. Beneath them all are forces of nature so incomprehensible they can drive anyone mad with their presence. 

The tome is divided into 13 Chapters, each taking readers deep into the clutches of the Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror. They could be grouped into the following subjects:

  • Dread and Madness: Chapters 2 through 4 and 9 reveal the setting’s central mechanic, Dread, and how fear can affect not just heroes but the creatures chasing after them. As Dread pollutes the soul, it can manifest through Madness, Corruption, Addiction, and magical Insanities.  
  • The Lands of Nightmares: Chapters 1, 10, 11, and 13 showcase the horrorscape of the Dark Place and the entities and factions that try to live with the madness around them. As players learn more about the Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror, they will discover the Nightmare Realm in their sleep and the Dread Wastes that serve as a buffer between physical reality and the Dark Place.
  • Cults and Monsters: Chapters 5 through 8 introduce the terrifying monstrosities hiding within the Dark Place, the evil Lords of Pain and Madness they serve, and the Cults through which they exert their influence in the Mortal Realm.
  • Escape from the Dread Wastes: Chapter 12 is a full-fledged campaign taking players deep into the Dread Wastes. They have to escape its clutches no matter the price. 

Eldritch Solves The Problem Of Horror in Fantasy

The Dream Realm in Eldritch the Book of Madness
The Dream Realm in Eldritch the Book of Madness

With the power of gods at a character’s disposal, it makes sense for fantasy settings to find it difficult to include the unknown – much more so in Dungeons & Dragons where a Fireball can be an immediate, and sometimes effective, reaction to the sight of Lovecraftian terrors. 

To the TTRPG’s credit, it did have close equivalents to cosmic horror courtesy of the enigmatic and maddening instability of the Far Realm and its Abberrant denizens, such as the Mind Flayers and the Beholders. Their defiance of the “natural order” is chiefly due to their terrifying mastery of mentality, which likely led to the popularization of Psionics as an extended mechanic for players who dare face their machinations. And true to a hero’s epic journey, back up against a Mind Flayer threat usually came in the form of Githyanki, psionically-tuned realm-hoppers known to hunt Illithids to ensure no other people would suffer at the hands of their former slavers.

Unfortunately, in a game where a Mind Flayer and their minions can go down with a bigger and brighter spell, it’s understandable how the slick otherworldly aesthetic of D&D‘s Aberrants simply feel “Villain of the Week” instead of more compelling threats. With good prevailing over ultimate evil being a classic D&D ending, this gives the impression that the TTRPG is incompatible with darker narratives that take a darker turn.

The pages of Eldritch: The Book of Madness attempt to turn this concept on its heel by manipulating the premise entirely. This time around, it’s about victories that come at a great cost, the glory of barely surviving the clutches of death, the satisfying sigh of relief after ending a nightmare that doesn’t seem to end… 

… and the sinister breathing down their neck. 

Cue credits.

Truly A Multiverse Of Madness

The divinity of the gods holds no sway over the Profane, and the melody of the Weave degrades into primordial wails in its presence. This isn’t because the Profane “just so happens” to be a force greater than the very beings that created the universe. Rather, the pages of Eldritch explain this phenomenon as a matter of incompatible cosmology.

Put simply, the pages of Eldritch place the physical universe as the Mortal Realm within a larger realmscape, much like how the Forgotten Realms have Toril and the Prime Material Plane within their cosmological models. A short interlude hints that the terrors within Eldritch are but a fraction of the grandeur and macabre of its larger and more maddening multiverse – locations Stewie Black hints might be explored in future releases. 

Introducing The Dark Place

The horrors of Eldritch come from the Dark Place, an infinitesimal Void outside the physical universe whose nature and purpose are not meant for finite minds. Only the nigh-impassable Irraeleon Veil blocks its eternal corruption from ever gracing the Mortal Realm, except for blotches of profanity that allow its entities to temporarily influence the rest of the multiverse. If not feeble minds, the Dark Place corrupts through dreams in the Nightmare Realm, or through unfortunate wanderers of the Dread Wastes.

This setup is a key part of how Eldritch establishes the horrors within its pages: not with heroes fighting monsters out of gory slasher flicks, but rather heroes facing the very fact that these horrors pose such a threat that even their home in the Dark Place has to pull them back to its shadowy embrace. 

Enter The Profane

The pages of Eldritch explain that the denizens of the Dark Place fall outside the norms of alignment. That, while intrinsically evil, these creatures exist only to consume, corrupt, and bring ruin to others. For this reason, they are classified as a separate “alignment” known as Profane.

The Profane strikes at the heart of its victims, infecting their sense of self like a disease that eats at the core of their being. All semblance of traditional Good and Evil are replaced by a sense of wrongness that one cannot immediately fathom. Nowhere is safe from this corruption, as these dark whispers can come from anywhere – intrusive thoughts, temptations, calls from a darting shadow past the corner of the eye, and even one’s very dreams.

It’s only a matter of time before heroes realize two things: that their gods can’t save them from a force outside their control, and this sense of Dread that screams “Something is wrong” is right all along.

Dread Unburdens The Weight Of The Unknown

The early pages of Eldritch introduce readers to Dread – that overwhelming feeling of fear and uncertainty often attached to the unknown. As heroes are slowly exposed to the Profane and its machinations, they gain this feeling of “wrongness” just eating away at the core of their souls. It’s this Dread that heroes carry that constantly attracts the forces of the Dark Place to their direction, and not learning how to overcome this Dread can lead to their ultimate undoing.

A Mechanic For Not Knowing

Mechanically speaking, Dread is a condition heroes possess that describes primal fear, doubt, and agitation towards the unknown. Interactions with most Profanities – be it merely witnessing a horrific event, casting a Profane spell, or being affected by a Profane ability – can make a hero gain more Dread. Eldritch elaborates on the mechanical nature of Dread as follows:

  • Dread is exclusive to the Profane. Heroes who encounter Profane creatures and other horrific events gain Dread. 
  • Dread is permanent and is regained every dusk. Dread can only be removed through specific Spells.
  • Dread is only used on all things Profane. In turn, Profane creatures can spend (Burn) a hero’s Dread against them, resulting in advantages in combat. Likewise, heroes can trade in Dread for permanent penalties through Madness. 

The Thrill Of Knowing And Not Knowing

Due to the rather horrific nature of Dread, it is easy for players to feel overwhelmed by the time they realize their heroes are always susceptible to its effects. It’s for this reason that Eldritch encourages storytellers to try their hardest not to let players in on the nature of the campaign until the last second – to give hints that their heroes somehow feel exhausted much faster, that otherworldly creatures have begun a more vicious pursuit against their party, and spells and powers affecting them are of a nature that is unfamiliar to even their most experienced spellcasters.

By the time Dungeon Masters pull the rug from under their feet, heroes are already knee-deep into the Profane. The book’s advice on keeping Dread a secret adds much-needed tension and fear in stories, especially when heroes become desperate to manage Dread during and outside combat. This taps deep into one’s natural fear of the unknown – and by the time they do know, one might wonder if they were better off not knowing. 

Dread Saves, Willpower Makes Players Not Entirely Powerless

Reading about Dread at first glance can make it extremely overwhelming. After all, even if a Profane creature Burns a hero’s Dread, it returns in the next dusk. Aside from interacting with specific NPCs, the only real ways of removing Dread include particular spells, a WIS Save while watching the sunrise and taking a Long Rest on blessed and holy ground. 

With Eldritch promoting a continuous struggle against the Profane, it seems the weight of Dread is a no-choice for players. However, the sourcebook does offer ways for heroes to steel their resolve and use the purity of their souls against this corrupting force. The game offers: 

  • Dread Saving Throw: A CHA Save with a DC based on a Profane creature’s Charisma, allowing players to avoid having this shadowy presence from beginning to infiltrate their lives.
  • Willpower: Should Dread become too overwhelming for players, Dungeon Masters can adapt a Willpower system. This is a Save based on the average attribute bonuses of a hero’s INT, WIS, and CHA rounded up or down to the nearest whole number. The number can be added to checks related to Dread, possession, and other Profane effects. 

Madness As A Roleplay Mechanic

More beings of cosmic horror in Eldritch The Book of Madness

The fragility of a mortal mind amid the vast and infinite knowledge of the cosmos is a key component of cosmic horror. Represented as Madness, Eldritch uses this to reflect the changes heroes experience when they witness something truly horrific. 

In the sourcebook’s context, Madness is not cruelty to a player character but rather the Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror rewriting a hero’s perception of reality. Eldritch emphasizes the importance of communication with players in this regard, as the game’s themes will feature heroes being affected – sometimes damaged – by forces beyond their understanding. With the blessing of players, storytellers can use the game’s new Madness mechanics to enhance a character’s roleplaying potential. 

As their feeble minds encounter the Profane, its effects can range from immediate to long-term, to truly permanent. Elaborated in a Chapter Three, should players fail a special Sanity Check, effects their heroes experience can be divided across the following: 

  • Short-Term Madness: Encounters with horrifying events can prompt players can afflict them with a Short-Term Madness. This moment of panic, grief, or hysteria is translated in-game as a short-term penalty that lasts for an encounter, usually in the form of attacks having Advantage against characters (Horrified), hero attacks having Disadvantage (Unnerved), or being forced to attack a creature at random (Blind Rage).
  • Corruption: Players can lessen their Dread by purchasing Corruption, a condition that is triggered whenever they encounter the Profane. When activated, a Corruption imposes temporary penalties on specific parts of a hero’s performance. While succeeding a Sanity Check can resist the compulsion of a Corruption, it slowly increases in difficulty until the player succumbs to its temptations – after which the Sanity Check’s DC resets. 
  • Insanity: A more horrific manifestation of Dread, an Insanity results from a mortal’s repeated exposure to the Profane. When a hero purchases an Insanity to lessen Dread, its effects worsen based on its Rank, and its duration may extend based on how often players fail their Sanity Checks to succumb to its call. 

The Dark Place: Cults, Addictions, Monsters, And Dark Powers

The highest of the Dark Powers within the Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror remain hard at work in their ultimate goal of consume the light of the Mortal Realm and the rest of existence. As they cannot indirectly act in physical reality, they exert their influence through Cults in the Mortal Realm 

The universe’s only saving grace against the all-consuming hunger of the Dark Powers is their ultimate nature to remain in the Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror. For this reason, they are hard at work in shattering the Irraeleon Veil, and as to why they can only exert their influence in the Mortal Realm through their Cults. Should unfortunate souls venture anywhere beyond the presence of light, then they are easy pickings for beasts within the Monstruum

Cults Play Smart, Players Should Play Smarter

The cult is an ever-present part of a D&D campaign, especially in stories where its members often hint at larger and darker powers in play. Instead of being a group wearing samesies on colored robes, Eldritch positions Cults as a more sinister force: they are smart, they hide in plain sight, and they scheme to ensure the heroes never figure out their liege’s plans. 

As a result, Cults in Eldritch can be traditionally suspicious groups, a seemingly innocent charity, a gathering of intellectuals, or even a large conglomeration. Mechanically speaking, an Eldritch campaign focusing on the horrors of subtlety can skip the appearances of the Dark Place’s entities entirely – giving Cults room to become the “perfect” foil to a hero’s journey. 

Chapter Five teaches storytellers how to design Cults and capitalize on their advantages in numbers, resources, and contacts. This extends to Cults being able to foil the heroes’ plans through bounties, interpoliticking, and even rumours. Imagine the shock across the table when they figure out the very church they have treated as a safe space is the base of the same Cult they have been trying to stop. 


In Eldritch, the inescapable clutches of Madness often begin with the comforting touch of convenience. These may come in the form of drinks at just the right warmth for the harsh winter, elixirs that grant formidable resistances, and trinkets that do exactly what users need them for. They arrive at just the right time for people who need them, and their owners seem to be just the right kind of people who will depend on them… perhaps a bit too much.

Chapter Four on Profane Addictions outlines items that are true to their word in their promised benefits, except that their raw materials have come from the Dark Place and are often peddled by the inconspicuous (?) merchant. As items never meant for mortal consumption, they come with penalties and the chance of gaining Dread per use. Examples of such items include:

  • Dusk Ale: A comforting drink that can increase Maximum Hit Point, with a hidden penalty towards Ability Checks and even auto-failing their first Death Saving Throw.
  • Jalarian: A special raw material whose products grant Resistance to the next damage its consumer takes. It comes with a hidden penalty of losing extra Hit Point damage based on how much Jalarian they consume.
  • Ravoria: A smoke that gives Advantage against Fear and Charm effects in exchange for taking extra Spell Damage per unit consumed.

Monsters In Cosmic Horror Shouldn’t Be A Power Creep

The chapter on creatures in Eldritch makes the correct and unfortunate assumption that Player Characters found themselves desperate to escape the clutches of their nightmares made flesh. It’s probably for this reason why the Chapter Eight forgoes the name “Bestiary” and adopts the more appropriate name Monstruum.

This Chapter in Eldritch takes up a solid 80 or so pages, all collecting monsters of varying degrees of decay and dismemberment. The Monstruum showcases twisted takes on creatures, horrific creepy crawlers and horror flick slashers, and even the outright bizarre: gigantic worms of stone, beings of shadow, and masses of flesh and tentacles – all designed to spread profanity to those the Dark Place hadn’t already broken.

Unique to the Monstruum’s creatures are their capabilities of resonating with malice and fear within their victims. This is mechanically represented by Dread Abilities, or temporary special powers designed specifically to counter a hero’s individual strengths.

Mechanically, Dread Abilities consume a target’s Dread to use their special effects. Unlike traditional attacks or effects that “harm” characters, Dread Abilities impose disadvantages to them: disabling Reactions or Bonus Actions, overtaking their Initiative, bestowing Disadvantage, or even Armor Class deduction.

Dark And Darker Powers

The pages of Eldritch position the Dark Place as an infinitesimally maddening alternate plane of existence, setting the stage for the practical modularization of its lore. Choosing to ignore the greater lore of Eldritch could simply result in its chaotic gods ruling their pocket realities, with the Dungeon Master’s cosmic leviathans instead serving as incomprehensible powers ruling the Dark Place. 

Meanwhile, players who want a pre-made darker universe could simply follow the book’s established mythos: the Dark Place is controlled by its dark powers, two of which are responsible for some of the most horrific attacks inside and outside the Mortal Realm. 

Their intentions are mostly unknown, except perhaps for spreading corruption across the cosmos. Chapters Six and Seven of Eldritch are dedicated to such powers, each with themes and descriptions, possible intentions and motives, and creatures and monsters loyal to their machinations. Perhaps more interesting is that these villains also have Avatars, or alternate personas, who approach their ultimate missions differently. For instance:

  • Vaelich, the Lord of Pain, appears in two forms in the Mortal Realms. He can appear as the enigmatic Lord Crucius, whimsical in his ferocity and cruelty. Alternatively, he exerts control as Aelvan, the Lord of Dusk, whose organization known for charitable acts has some corrupt souls among its higher-ups.
  • Chanaguur, the Lord of Madness, wants nothing but to consume the minds of the pure. As chaos incarnate, Chanaguur can manifest as Varrak-Nuur, the Amethyst Wizard popular as an arcane scholar. 

Still Room For Adventure: The Dream And The Dread Wastes

The presence of the Profane and the Dark Powers are just some of the otherworldly things heroes can encounter throughout their sessions in Eldritch, with such a perilous journey promising rewards ranging from untold riches to unimaginable power and even mere salvation from the clutches of Dread and Madness. 

A darker motif and the focus on cosmic horror places Eldritch adventures in locales never-before-seen in ordinary D&D settings: cities ravaged by an unknown plague, towns suddenly deserted by their residents, and farmlands rendered infertile after the presence of a mysterious plant. These are only citing examples of settings in the Mortal Realm, as heroes may take a misstep that would take them deep into the horrors of the Dark Place – with no way of escaping but to traverse its terrifying horrorscapes. 

Stewie Black and Eldritch introduces the idea of planes beyond the Mortal Realm in the latter’s interlude on the setting’s cosmology, but locations and concepts elaborated in the book are the following:

The Nightmare Realm: Dreams Are Not Safe

Souls of sleeping mortals transform into Dreamers that enter the Underrealm and the manufactured Dream Realm. Should they be fortunate, they can share the Great Dream with other Dreamers or end up in their blissful personal dreamscape within the Bright Dream. However, lost Dreamers become targets of dark stalkers who wish to drag them within the Dark Dream – the Nightmare Realm, where the Profane await to eat their minds.

The Nightmare Realm is implied to be one of the many ways through which the Profane can directly influence heroes, and one that can easily be accessed. Dungeon Masters are encouraged to ensure heroes are not fully aware of their sleeping and waking moments, transforming journeys in the Nightmare Realm into nightmares of their own.

When players venture into the Dream Realm, their heroes become Dreamers. A hero can be the main subject of a Dream shared by the party, dreamscapes can change owners in an instant – and with it are changes to landscapes, imagery, and even laws of physics. Dreams are allegedly ruled by Dream Lords, whose rules are never broken. However, Chanaguur’s DreamStalkers also constantly search for souls to torment in the dark god’s name. 

The Dread Wastes: Retrieving The Light Of Vanos

It can surprise readers to realize that Chapter Eleven is dedicated to the Dread Wastes and an entire campaign in it. According to Eldritch cosmology, the Dread Wastes are the physical remains of Vanos, a god of light who once attempted to rein in Chanaguur and Vaelich during a time before time. The eternity that had passed since the incident had transformed the Dread Wastes into a corrupting realm, serving as a mid-point between true horror in the Dark Place and the fragile Mortal Realm. Beings who venture into its barren wasteland are said to fear not necessarily death but their personalities eroding into pure evil.

The Eldritch campaign in the Wastes largely revolves around an attempt to escape it, primarily through the collection of Light that transforms players into Champions of Vanos. Despite being more or less a straightforward campaign, it offers twists and turns that will force players to make bargains and alliances with questionable parties, all of which affecting not just the outcome of their adventure but what happens in their return to the Mortal Realms. 

Factions Of The Realm

It is precisely because Eldritch depicts its settings as barren and terrifying horrorscapes that the mere prospect of allies can bring unprecedented joy to heroes braving the corruption of the Dark Place. Countering the machinations of Cults serving the Dark Powers are factions who want nothing to do with these Dark Powers, sometimes even coming to the player’s aid in times of need:

  • Druids of the Irraeleon: These are benevolent spellcasters from the Midnight Realm of the Higher Planes. They help the lost and the fallen find their way back to the Bright Dream, making them an opponent of the Nightmare Realm’s residents.
  • The Lonely Chapel: Among the few refuges of the light in the Dread Wastes, the Lumare within the Lonely Chapel can help heal the corrupting forces of Dread within heroes. 

The pages of Eldritch also depict other smaller factions with their agendas. And while theirs don’t involve a similar grandiosity to the ultimate corruption that Chanaguur and Vaelich desire, they remain threats that players can face in their adventures.

Bringing It All Together: Madness Defeats Madness

It only takes a mere glance at Dread, its impact on Madness, and how creatures of the Monstruum can abuse their Dread Abilities, for players to easily feel overwhelmed by the impossibility of even fighting the Profane. Why even bother, when it is clear that the odds are stacked against the heroes, right?

While it seems part and parcel to Eldritch’s cosmic horror appeal is the cementing of the fact that there is no “true way” to purify the Profane, its mechanics also emphasize something else: perhaps the only way to defeat Madness is to dip one’s toes in its corrupting waters. 

When what it takes to prevail against Madness is to become one with it, just how much Madness is one willing to take in for the sake of survival?

This question poses a moral and philosophical dilemma that both players and Dungeon Masters may tackle throughout the course of their adventures in Eldritch. Perhaps more interesting is how the tome translates such a notion through its mechanics:

The Grimoire: Dread-Empowered Profane Spells

When any being outside the Dark Place experiences Dread, it is as though a crowbar is lodged into their fragile mind as their psyche is slowly wedged open to the horrors of the Profane. It is for this reason that encounters with the Profane are enough to thrust a person into the bowels of Madness. However, exposure to the Profane can open resilient minds to knowledge and powers beyond what the known universe offers. Ramblings of madmen start making sense, and bloodied scribblings on walls start crawling to form magical equations.

The mechanics of Eldritch allow anyone with significant exposure to Dread access to the Grimoire in Chapter Nine. This is a Spell List accessible only to heroes who have at least 1 Dread. Spells are made available at a Spell Level + 1 basis, meaning Cantrips are accessible at Dread 1, 1st-Level Profane Spells at Dread 2, and so on. Likewise, access to Profane Spells is slowly cut off as heroes lose Dread. 

However, the otherworldly nature of these powers makes the Grimoire a jealously guarded secret by Profane Cults. There is no magical way to translate the contents of a zealot’s spellbook with Profane Spells, unless the Dungeon Master allows heroes to do so. 

Players having access to a powerset similar to Dread Abilities give them an incentive to maintain and accumulate Dread, not unlike how desperate times may force one to use their mortal enemy’s weapon against them. Should Dungeon Masters let players learn spells from a spellbook, there is usually a terrible price.

Dread Abilities: Monstrosities Are Only As Powerful As The Fear In Its Enemies

While the creatures in the Monstruum also contain unique attacks, their horrific nature stems from their Dread Abilities. As explained, they Burn the Dread existing in heroes to use these Profane attacks, afflicting heroes with penalties and even more Dread. As these horrific powersets can provide these creatures with tremendous advantages, they can only use a limited number of Dread Abilities daily. 

Separate sections for Dread Abilities allow Dungeon Masters to bestow them upon traditional monster stat blocks. The resulting amalgamation transforms creatures into more horrific counterparts – a perfect introduction to an Eldritch one-shot, or a way to ease players into a nightmarish campaign.

Regardless of how Dungeon Masters choose to apply Dread Abilities to Profane creatures, players can rest assured these attacks have limitations: the fact that these powerful attacks burn through a hero’s own Dread, and that they can only use a set number of Dread Abilities per turn and day. 

Overwhelm The Mind: Dread And Tactical Roleplaying

Tabletop roleplaying games are a collaborative experience: they are only as fun as the table makes them out to be. Cosmic horror isn’t any fun when Dungeon Masters only use Eldritch to punish players, and players out to power-game may only see the Monstruum as more horrific reskins of creatures. The pages of Eldritch state very early on that part of truly unlocking the appeal of Madness is to relish in the idea of roleplaying a hero’s struggle for ultimate survival, and mechanics around Dread make this iteration of cosmic horror a well-thought-out balance between roleplaying and strategy.

Just like how everyone is affected by fear differently, so does a character suffering from Dread. An initial struggle with a Profane creature could slowly open up players to the realization that they are vulnerable through Dread and may start to find ways of slowly lessening its burden. Some may choose to reflect its effects by “offloading” Dread through Corruptions and Insanities, much in the same way the psyche adapts to situations we cannot comprehend.

Other characters, such as anti-heroes, may choose to take Dread and relish it. Outlasting Profane acolytes can force them to leave tomes in their wake, motivating heroes to attempt to use the very dark energies they are exposed to against their enemies – regardless of the price.

With the right approach, Dread becomes quite the innovative mechanic representing both the roleplay and gameplay effects of an otherworldly sense of fear. 

Understanding Madness Remains A Challenge

It would only take a cursory reading to realize the maddening depths of Eldritch as a reinterpretation of cosmic horror for fantasy tabletop, much more D&D. The sourcebook is by no means a light read, and fully immersing in its pages is perhaps the recommended way to see its concepts blend as one harmonious unit.

The tome contains its fair share of unsettling creatures, challenging but manageable mechanics, and concepts all geared towards pitting heroes against their notion of morality and sanity – all with accompanying flavor that, unfortunately, at times can get overwhelming. 

Cosmic Horror Packed In A Heavy Tome

Compared to other sourcebooks where the setting’s history often takes a bulk of a player’s reading, Eldritch can feel bloated from the perspective of elaboration. Segments explain what happens when heroes from the Mortal Realms are constantly challenged by forces that seek to corrupt them – be it in the form of encounters in exploration and combat, the machinations of profane Cults, and even the burden of Dread and Madness slowly creeping from the inside. 

The way the book positions its terminology to be an integral part of deciphering its contents can make it feel an overwhelming read. It is easy for players to miss a seemingly-random word in a paragraph, only for it to mean a great deal throughout a Chapter. In the same way, a seemingly-important term can become a minor detail – “minor” insomuch as it’s not too relevant in the grand scheme of Eldritch, but still helps to know if not for the sake of context.

The tome’s hefty nature also extends to yet another challenge Eldritch readers may encounter with the sourcebook:

The Burden Of Knowing

Knowing the unknown remains an integral component in the allure of cosmic horror, where timeless classics within the Lovercraftian mythos often tackle the futile efforts of mere mortals to resist the calls of forbidden knowledge, much more witness their laughable attempt to comprehend it. When one gazes into the abyss, it feels more horrific to not know what happens next. 

Fans of horror media will fall in love with Eldritch for being the abyss that stares back before releasing its ungodly tendrils and dragging readers into depths from which they can never return unscathed. Readers become emissaries of terror, carrying the heavy burden of imparting the profane to foolish souls willing enough to step beyond the safety of the Irraeleon Veil. 

This presents a point of no return for horror fans: being a presenter of eldritch terrors means no longer becoming the playthings of the forces of madness. For fans who love being in the front seat of frights, knowing what happens behind the scenes can break much-appreciated immersion. But perhaps such is the price for being a storyteller.

As a sourcebook, it makes sense for Eldritch to give Dungeon Masters everything they could possibly need to integrate cosmic horror into their stories. The depth of elaboration in Eldritch does this well: entities from Beyond the Dark Mirror are given numbers to quantify their powersets, Dread is elegantly explained as a debilitating mechanic, and forces of corruption are given plentiful exposure to elaborate on the depths of their machinations.

While not a big deal for seasoned Dungeon Masters, it’s worth warning that deep diving into Eldritch entails surrendering the exhilaration of stumbling upon forbidden knowledge in exchange for the burden of knowing – or perhaps, the burden of imparting this terror unto others.

A Strong Gateway Into Cosmic Horror

It is precisely due to the depth and scope of Eldritch: The Book of Madness that makes it perfect for players and Dungeon Masters looking for opportunities to make their campaign worlds more horrifying without sacrificing D&D’s fantasy element. Dealing with cosmic horror and its domains related to the maddening unknown can become a worthwhile reprieve from the staple undead, mad liches, bloodthirsty vampires, and even bickering gods.

When it slowly dawns upon players that their enemies are in the form of an otherworldly force they cannot comprehend or reason with, sessions become more frightening: they always have to take everything with a grain of salt, always have one foot out of the water, and always have to watch their backs.

Moreover, perhaps one key strength of Eldritch as a sourcebook is its modularity – its concepts stand on their own that they can be seamlessly integrated into campaigns without completely changing their premise. The nature of Eldritch’s setting as that of an otherworldly realm of existence can make its world standalone inclusions in a story or the entirety of a story. 

Dread As Part Of The Grand Design

Of all the mechanics and concepts included in Eldritch, it’s Dread that is perhaps among must-haves for any story – especially long-term campaigns that aim to make roleplaying encounters with villains more compelling. Setting whose Big Bads dwell on absolute terror and corruption are likely incapable of being reasoned with, and their vast powers could be described beyond the superficial ideas of Spell Slots.

However, it is easy for Dungeon Masters to get so hung up on making fear all about desperation, which can bring players to exhaustion when interacting with these mechanics. Sometimes, the impression of “making a monster scary” simply means increasing their Hit Points or boosting their damage, but parties might see this more as a punishment than an actual challenge meant to improve the story.

In contrast, Dread fits the need for Dungeon Masters to make the overwhelming powers of their Big Bads known – especially when their presence can affect the very mechanics of the game. While it’s true that Dread is more parts debilitating than helpful for players, it stays a relatively “fair” mechanic in terms of manageability: monsters consume a player’s available daily Dread, more Dread means more access to Profane Spells, and Dread can be voluntarily surrendered for Corruptions and Insanities. 

Maddening Modularity

Even opting out of Eldritch’s core setting and lore will still allow players to integrate the sheer terror in cosmic horror in their one-shots, short-term adventures, or even campaigns. The sheer thought of encountering a Profane Cult and only getting a horrifying glimpse of their incomprehensible “grand design” could leave players wanting more – or perhaps glad there isn’t “more” to this encounter. After all, with the potential worst-case scenario of being dragged to the depths of the Dark Place, a Cult seems a relatively manageable threat.

Regardless of whether or not players go full blast in the inclusion of Eldritch as part or even the entirety of their campaign, the tome offers fully-fleshed out concepts ready for insertion in any campaign. These include:

  • Cults: Despite being staples in D&D settings, the more nuanced approach Eldritch offers to Cults allows Dungeon Masters to make them into menacing and worthwhile opponents. Trips in towns become social mini-games as players try to weed out who they can trust or who is messing with them, all the while trying to stop an unimaginably horrific event.
  • Dreamwalking: Even if players don’t necessarily commit to Eldritch’s cosmology, its deep-dive into mechanics when exploring dreams allows Dungeon Masters to make the downtime of heroes even more worthwhile. A threat can be chasing them through their own dreams, allowing them to risk the recovery of their Long Rest if it means gleaming more insights towards (and perhaps rewards from) an otherworldly threat.
  • Dread Micro-Mechanic: Instead of fully-integrating Dread in the whole campaign, a section of the story could only impose this stat on players. As only specific Profane circumstances generate Dread, suddenly jumping “gain one Dread” on players can transform any seemingly ordinary session into a horrific story.
  • Madness, Corruptions, Insanities: Even without taking the full extent of Dread, DMs can integrate concepts from Madness, Corruption, and Insanities in their horror settings. Dread Saves and Sanity Checks are straightforward enough that they can be integrated in sessions without bloating resources. 
  • Monstruum: Creatures in the Monstruum offer a change of pace compared to stereotypical opponents in the Monster Manual. Encountering foes without regard for rhyme or reason can make sessions against these creatures terrifying, perhaps more so than villains with complicated backstories.
  • Dread Abilities: Most creatures in the Monstruum have special Dread Abilities that feed on the hero’s Dread. As they are located in separate segments of a stat block, DMs can easily pluck these items out and integrate them into existing monsters or new monster ideas, creating horrific amalgamations perfect for their campaigns.
  • Grimoire: Profane Spells requiring a certain level of Dread can make them worth coveting, with DMs setting penalties for spellcasters who even attempt to use these otherworldly powers to their advantage. The idea of attaching a price to forbidden knowledge fits right into the purview of cosmic horror. 

Save The World From Corruption – No Matter The Cost

Despite its bleak premise, Eldritch stays true to its purpose: to champion the resilience of the mortal spirit and the potential of those in the Mortal Realms to achieve more than they could think of. 

Stories in Eldritch lean heavily towards themes of intrigue and distrust, corruption and forbidden knowledge, and absolute power that corrupt all imply bad endings – as expected in any horror experience. And while some party relish the idea of a desperate battle to spice things up at their table, Eldritch’s offerings showcase how sessions about cosmic horror can bring out one’s inner Madness – be it through actions that show a character’s unfortunate descent into evil, or one last heroic effort to 

The idea of incomprehensible threats from other worlds so desperate to breach into our realm implies something is worth saving in the realms of light. While the prospect of a mere mortal coming face to face with an entire universe of darkness seems impossible, Eldritch pushes the hopeful soul to try saving the world anyway.

You can get the sourcebook on Amazon, DriveThru RPG.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Images taken from Eldritch: The Book of Madness for 5e

Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.

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