Call of Cthulhu: Carnival of Madness – RPG Review

Hello Internet. Seth Skorkowsky, and today we’ll be taking a look at the Call of Cthulhu adventure Carnival of Madness. Written by Alex Guillotte and Ian Christensen in 2021, the scenario was published through the Miskatonic Repository community content program. Unlike a lot of Call of Cthulhu adventurers that are set in the 1920s or set in the present day, Carnival of Madness is set in 1970 on the night before Halloween. And it’s meant to emulate the old grindhouse movies from that time. Coming in at 90 pages, it initially feels monstrously huge. But once you remove the pre-generated

characters, and the handouts, that drops that down to a very large 76 pages. Even then, despite that length, the adventure is intended to be playable in just a single 4-5 hour session. And it provides us with 6 characters, and hooks as far as what brought them to this carnival, and even more potential hooks and character ideas for other characters that you could use. We get a few new spells with this, some new artifacts, and a custom Bout of Madness table that’s tailored specifically for this adventure – which scenario-specific Insanity Tables are something that I always

enjoy because it just feels a little bit more personal for whatever the adventure is. And as a word of warning, this scenario is very much intended to be for

an adult audience. Though most of that can easily be toned down if the Keeper desires. Now I didn’t run this game myself. I played through it under the author Alex Guillotte. And our group consisted of Bud from Bud’s RPG Review, Pookie from Reviews From R’lyeh, Scott Dorward from the Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast and numerous Call of Cthulhu writing credits to his name, and Jon Hook

– also a prolific adventure writer, and my partner on the Modern Mythos podcast which you should totally check out. It was a great group to play with, and as promised, we managed to complete the whole thing in just a single session. So now that I’ve played through the adventure, and I’ve read the scenario now, I do have a few criticisms and suggestions for any Keepers out there who might want to try their own hands at running it for themselves. And I’m Jack the NPC. I’m mostly here to tell jokes and recreate Seth’s experience going crazy

with a bunch of carnies. But before we go any further, I must warn you that there will be Spoilers. So any players in the audience, please stop here. But send your Game Masters this way to see about running Carnival of Madness for you. But if you keep going, and you spoil yourself, you’ll be trapped on a broken Ferris wheel forever. Okay Game Masters let’s dive in. The backstory is several pages long. But the short of it is that in the 1800s, Simone Lacroix was driven insane during a Paris performance of The King In Yellow. After

the mysterious death of her parents, she inherited this carnival that they operated, and after she had made a pact with Hastur, she was granted renewed youth and unnatural longevity. An unexpected side-effect to this is that her sister, Aurora Lacroix – a blind fortune teller – inadvertently gained this eternal youth as as well, despite her not worshiping Hastur. But because the blood that bound these sisters together, she also benefited from it. In 1870, Simone – who’s taken up the carnival named Lady Sari – begins a century-long ritual to release the King in Yellow upon Our world.

In 1958 Lady Sari gave birth to her daughter Alice, whose sole purpose is to be sacrificed at the end of this 100-year ritual. Alice was then given over to a pair of cultists to raise in Dunwich as Lady Sari was preparing the ritual site for the final part of this ritual. But Alice’s adoptive parents were later arrested for child abuse and Alice became a ward of the state. And she was eventually committed to an asylum because she was so strange and quite insane and violent. Then, 15 days ago, flyers and radio commercials across Massachusetts began

promoting this Carnival that was coming to town. And subtle magics that were in the advertising appealed to some of the more susceptible people for this ritual. Then, five days ago, Alice was kidnapped from the asylum and she was sedated with magical psychoactive drugs to keep her complicit until this ritual could be performed. But a side-effect of that is that people local in that area began experiencing disturbing and prophetic dreams. The adventure opens on October 30th. Now the Player Characters might be coming to the carnival for several different reasons. They might be police that are investigating

an anonymous tip that had come from Madame Fortunae about this child being at the carnival. They might be paranormal researchers that are investigating a sudden cluster of strange dreams that have begun affecting the residents. Private investigators that might be looking for the missing girl as well. Or a group of Meddling Kids – a rock band that’s looking for just a night of fun at the carnival, while also passing out flyers to promote their coming gig they got the next night. So while they all have their own different reasons for coming, the Meddling Kids group –

which is what we played when we played the adventure – has the least hook to do this adventure. I mean they’re going to hear about the missing girl and the reward money before they arrive at the carnival, and they should see see some posters here and there, but there’s not really a direct call to action for them. Well that’s easy. The reward for that girl is $10,000. That’s like a billion dollars in 1970-teenager money, right? So if you want to maybe give some sort of sense of urgency of why they’ve got to get that ten

thousand dollars, and why that little girl needs to become their number one priority, you say that maybe the night before, somebody broke into their van and stole all their instruments out of the back. But they got to do a show tomorrow night, and they ain’t got no instruments to play with. So they showed up at this carnival to sell some weed and maybe get a little bit of money in order to buy some used guitars and amps. But then they find out that there is this golden opportunity right here. Not only to get their names

in the paper and become big damned heroes, but get enough money to buy enough instruments for tomorrow night’s show. They ain’t doing this to save the world from the Mythos. They’re doing this to save Rock and Roll. My biggest criticism with the backstory, is while it’s awesome and highly detailed, there’s no real way for the Players – and therefore the Characters – to really learn what’s going on or what’s happened before. If they break into Lady Sari’s wagon they can discover a journal. But only on an Extreme Spot roll are they even going to be

able to find this thing. So that’s going to make it pretty unlikely. It then requires 15 minutes to learn 1 of a D12 clues, and requires that they be able to read French to even read it, which none of the pre-generated characters – the ones that were made for this adventure – none of them know how to read French. Meaning that there’s a very slim chance that they’re even going to find these journals to begin with, and even if they do, the characters that are made for this adventure can’t even use it. So my suggestion

here is in order to incorporate the backstory, maybe have the Player Characters they could be journalists that are coming … Maybe one of the Meddling Kids could be a History student at Miskatonic University, and they’re researching the history of this carnival. Meaning that before they arrive, they’ve gotten access to some old photographs and maybe newspaper articles of the different carnival locations over the years. And then once they arrive there, they can realize that Lady Sari and Madame Fortunae look exactly the same as the ones from the 19-teens and the 1940s – they’re not just different

people that are taking on these roles, but they look exactly like the same people. Or maybe if they research the carnival beforehand, they can discover some weird trends of some strange reports that always seem to be happening around it over the years – missing people, suicides, people going insane every time this carnival comes to town – and that shows that there is a definite trend of strange things going on with this carnival. And also, maybe instead of the standing stones that have been erected here just to do this ceremony by Lady Sari, maybe they could

already be here. Maybe they’ve been here for centuries, just like the standing stones outside of Dunwich, which is just 8 miles away. So maybe the site itself could also have a troubled past because it’s on this little island in the middle of a river, and you could have different reports over the years of various things that have happened at this site. The adventure opens as the character arrive at the carnival site. For it, we get both a Keeper Map and a Player Map. However, because experienced players might easily spot that the layout is a Yellow

Sign, the adventure also offers us this double-sided program handout, which looks great, but also includes a less obvious map, along with a schedule of events. I absolutely love this handout. My only complaint with it would be is that I’d like to have a printer-friendly white background version of it, because Keepers could print this out and fold it down those lines and pass them out to your players as they enter the carnival. The whole scenario takes place on the carnival grounds and has 33 pages devoted to just what all is here – games, rides, a huge

cast of NPCs. However, because it’s just so much, Keepers might want to have some additional notes that they make just so they can quickly navigate through this when they’re running the adventure. Maybe you could use cards for each of the locations – just different cards numbered one for each one with different notes about as far as who is manning each station and which ones are cult member and which ones are not cult members and might be potential allies. And getting to play carnie games for cheesy prizes is something that players find irresistible. There is just

something great about playing a game within a game. While they’re wandering around they’re going to see some posters for Alice, and maybe pay a visit to the fortune teller Madame Fortunae, who can give them some little clues and kind of cryptic hints about how they’re in danger and how they need to stop a looming threat, before her sister silences her. And then Madame Fortunae kind of disappears from the adventure altogether. As the night goes on, the madness begins taking hold. And the characters are going to suffer automatic Sanity loss every hour as this ritual is

sort of feeding on madness as it’s gaining its power. Many things here, such as the Fun House Asylum and the Freak Show are all geared to cause Sandy loss and enhance this madness. And some of it feels like it’s a bit much. I understand the story’s reasoning why it’s doing this, but Keepers might want to tone it down the Sanity loss just a little bit – especially for things like jump scares – because you don’t want to render the Player Characters just unplayable before they can even get to the end. As the night wears on,

the characters are going to start seeing hallucinations. Some large, like grotesque mutations while others are going to be very subtle. Like subtle misheard things that they might hear. My favorite one of those is hearing a hawker saying like, “Step right up. Everyone’s a killer,” instead of, “everyone’s a winner.” But nobody else heard him say that. So it’s like, did they hear that right, or is a little bit off. Now, characters, if they decide to leave the carnival, are going to find themselves unable to leave it – getting turned around and always popping out and unable

to locate where the exits are. If they venture out into the woods trying to get out of here, they might encounter the Wolves of Carcosa that are patrolling in the shadows. Which this picture does not even give justice to them because these things are gloriously creepy. I absolutely love these monsters. Keepers get to play around with time in this scenario. Either speeding it up or slowing it back down. So the Player Characters, they could spend a couple minutes at one of the rides or one of the games, and they turn around they realize that a

full hour has gone by. Or you could use time dilation – if you use those journals that we mentioned earlier, the ones where it takes 15 minutes just to get 1 out of the 12 possible clues that are inside of ’em. So the Player Characters, they could spend two hours reading this journal learning everything about the history and what’s at stake and why they’ve got to stop this ceremony. Then they step back outside the wagon and they realize that only half-an-hour has gone by. Now one area that I suggest adding to this, is incorporating the

cult’s in the carnival’s history here. So maybe this ritual, since it takes 100 years to perform this whole thing, have it be where there were certain parts that had to be performed every year, or every decade, or something like that. So as the night goes on, you can have the patrons and the characters from all the different decades that this ritual has taken place, show up kind of wandering around in the crowd, sort of like becoming more substantial as midnight is drawing closer. So they might see sailors from the Second World War, or 1920s Flappers,

or maybe even 19th Century Europeans wandering the grounds. And the ground beneath them, instead of it just being dirt, sometimes it’s cobblestones or other times it’s asphalt. And maybe beyond the trees they can see a subtle hint of different skylines. Like at one part it might be the Eiffel Tower and another time I might be Edinburgh Castle they get a glimpse of, or the New York skyline or Chicago. And as the night goes on, these ghosts or these phantoms that they kind of keep seeing – they’re intermingling all at the same time, maybe they can

give some certain clues to the Player Characters as far as what is going on and what this is all about. Now among this confusion, the Player Characters should also get some glimpses of Alice who’s in this drugged state where she’s been hidden, but she’s sort of astrally projecting herself out there. Now Alice has two personalities. There’s the Good Alice and the Evil Alice. And the Player Characters might be able to find out from her where she’s being kept. And I like the idea of Alice having these two personalities because in a lot of ways it’s

like the sisters themselves – you have the good one and the evil one. So maybe we could have it where instead of Alice actually being just the child of Lady Sari, somehow she’s actually the child of both women. Something about this magic, she needed to have these two women involved in her birth, and that’s why the sisters both were given this long life, even though one of them doesn’t worship Hastur. It kinda adds just a little bit more of am unnatural edge to her. Now as midnight approaches the crowd begins shuffling toward the main tent.

And the magics here make resisting the call to go into the tent at the end just very difficult to do. Now there we’re going to have the final part of the ceremony, where unless the Player Characters stop it, the child is going to be sacrificed and the King in Yellow manifests upon his throne and the world gets pulled into the madness of his rule. Now personally I feel that this finale would have been a really good place for Madame Fortunae to make a final appearance or final defiance of her sister. Maybe even give a chance

for her to tell the Player Characters about the history, and what’s all been going on, and why this is happening – even if it’s just directing them where they can find her own hidden journals that she stashed away somewhere, where they can learn what the backstory is and how she’s been working against her sister this whole time, possibly even manipulating the events that way the Player Characters would come to the carnival in the first place, because maybe she had ‘read the cards’ and she saw that they were the best chance to stop this ritual’s completion,

and all of this has been manipulated by her as far as why they’re here. While we certainly had a lot of fun playing this scenario, and I’m really impressed with the amount of handouts and the information that this adventure offers, my biggest criticism is that there is just so much to it. I personally find it a bit overwhelming with a 76-page adventure that’s going to be played out over four hours. I mean, 76 pages if I was going to get three full-length sessions out of it, that’s one thing. But trying to do just a full

book like this over the course of four hours, that is a little bit much for me. So Keepers, they’re gonna have to be very familiar with all the material that’s in here in order to hit the various beats as the different levels of Madness take hold, and all the different locations, and all the NPCs. My other concern is that Keepers are going to need to ensure that there is a solid Call To Action for the players to do something. If the Player Characters do arrive at the carnival with a mission – such as the police

or the detectives, and they’re coming here specifically to hunt down this little girl, that works. You’ve already got it built in. But with the Meddling Kids, they can sort of end up wandering around as weird stuff is happening, and they’re not really forging their own path for themselves. They’re just going along with the flow, and more more of a reaction to everything than being proactive about it. So I like the idea that they are given a definite goal, something that tells them that they need to act. And that’s why I’m suggesting that you have it

to be where they desperately do need this money in order to find this little girl, so once they see her, that then becomes their primary focus and they have to act in order to find her. While the adventure does offer us the journals that Lady Sari has in her wagon, that allows the Player Characters – and therefore the Players – to know what all the stakes are, as far as also why all this stuff is happening around them, they’re then walled off behind it extremely difficult rolls in order to find them, and it requires that

they have a language that none of the pre-generated characters even know how to use. So it kind of makes them a useless handout. And I just find games much more fulfilling if the players have a way to discover why these strange things are happening and what’s at stake, rather than just simply reacting to these events and never really knowing why any of this stuff is going on. Now one fun thing here, is a few days ago I made a not-so-subtle hint on Twitter that I was working on this review. And the folks over at ZeroDead

podcast sent me some audio files that they had made of the children’s rhymes, and they gave me permission to share those clips with you, A chant will spread across the sky That causes all the stars to die And when the sky begins to roar It’s like the devil’s at the door And when your mind begins to crack There’s no way you can hold him back And when the crack begins to bleed The Tattered King will plant his seed. So any Keepers that are wanting to use this one, and a longer version of this clip, for

their own game, I do have a link down in the video description below. And a huge thank you to ZeroDead podcast. This is super cool of you guys to offer this for everybody. Now, despite the fact that we chose not to record our game when we played it, I decided to save a fun couple little memorable quotes from that night, and have Jack deliver those quotes to you with zero context at all. “I hope that dude has got pants on.” “Jon brings a knife. I bring a teddy bear.” “Hey have you seen the hitchhiker with

the knife that gave me drugs? He went to get food after he said he wouldn’t kill me.” “Catch ya later tuna dude.” “I’m just here for the mirrors.” “I spent all my Luck to punch a little girl in the face with brass knuckles.” You can find Carnival of Madness on DriveThru RPG as both PDF and print-on-demand. If you’re looking for a unique, highly-detailed single-session adventure, especially as we start getting closer to Halloween, I suggest checking it out. Hey, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed the video, please give it a Thumbs Up. If you want to

see some more of our stuff, such as Game Reviews or How To’s, just hit that Subscribe button. Until next time Gamers, you have a great day. You know, I can’t believe that we just did an entire video that’s covering the King In Yellow and Lost Carcosa and you didn’t even bother promoting your novel Ashes of Onyx, which is about the King In Yellow and Lost Carcosa. You are the worst at this self-promotion stuff.

%d bloggers like this: