Eldritch: The book of Madness

It is no secret that I am a large fan of Cthulhu, eldritch mythos and spooky things when it comes to table top gaming. Stewie Black of Black Vault Limited reached out excited for his new book in the works titled Eldritch: The Book of Madness which is a 5E D&D sourcebook. This book is a work in progress for a Kickstarter.

Placing everything from the shadows in the realm of "Kra-Xalar" this book helps explain why we should fear the dark and the dangers of summoning things that you don't understand to cross the Veil and come play with the mentality and will of humankind. I was lucky enough to be given a preview of this soon to be published sourcebook that helps brings a touch of horror and the unknown into your game. This type of game play will not be fore everyone, but if you are a Call of Cthulhu fan or just love playing darker themed TTRPG the mechanics, creatures and cults found in Eldritch: The Book of Madness may be of interest to you as well.

Mr. Black was kind enough to send me previews, and when I get a complete copy I will add more details at the end as well. Through email correspondence I was told that the finished book will be "a minimum of 296 pages depending on how the Kickstarter does on the 30th of August" and that what I got was the basic rules though there is to be additional world-building and a reworked beginning to a more subtle "a darker world."

Initial Preview

The first piece I was given to look at was a 29 page preview of what the book is to look like. The cover is quite impressive with a multi-eyed eldritch creature with 3 rows of teeth in front of some red robed cultists. I love that it is a full page of artwork for the cover done by Will Liu. In this preview is the table of contents that tells what the full 160 page book will have within the 10 chapters. This is what helped peak my interest as not only are there new mechanics such as Dread and sanity checks is a lot of new lore and cults that you can bring Eldritch terror to your ttrpg table. According to the table of contents there will also be two chapters each dedicated to a specific cult with pages filled with datils pertaining to them. I also am hopeful at the promise of 23 different new eldritch monstrosities ready for 5e D&D in chapter 8: "The Monstruum." New spells from cantrip to level 5 will be in chapter 9 "The Grimoire" and the last chapter is titled "The Dread Wates" which gives a location to use all these new things produced in this book.

This very brief intro gives you a page introducing the Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror Kra-Xalar, a page showing Dread as a mechanic, types of madness for your 5e table (with tables for triggers & DCs for quick reference), corruption as a mechanic with sanity checks. There are also some types of insanity with some examples . This also has a sneak peak at Valelich and Chanaguur with deity information, great lore and details such as goals/motivations.

All of this information definitely peaked my interest and it was fun to page through this small document to see the spell names for what would be available in the Grimoire and the promise of darker magic.

At first the title of chapter 11, "The Dread Wastes," made me think of something post apocalyptical but rather the Dread Wates is a realm where the party will be surrounded by fog and face a dark fantasy eldritch campaign in which they experience horror, powerlessness, and what ever nightmares you have in store for your party. This chapter preview made it seem that you may even get a whole "world" in which denizens, NPCs, and numbered locations are provided for use.

Eldritch May Preview

I was given both the April and May copies to download through Drive Thru RPG by author Stewie Black. Currently there are no products under Black Vault Publisher on Drive Thru RPG but I can guess that this may be where you can get your own copy of the book when it is finished.

Going back and forth between the April and May editions it is clear that there were additions, changes and some name differentiations showing that this book is still being worked on and things are in the fine tuning stage. I will be focusing on the May version of the book I was given, as it is the most recent and the table of contents match that of the final book preview mentioned above.

Diving Deeper Into the Dark

I was given the 160 page version of the book to read, enjoy and review. It starts with a well laid out table of contents. This book is broken into smaller parts:

  • Forward

  • Chapter One: The Endless Darkness

  • Chapter Two: Dread

  • Chapter Three: Descent Into Madness

  • Chapter Four: Profane Addictions

  • Chapter Five: Profane Cults

  • Chapter Six: Vaelich

  • Chapter Seven: Chanaguur

  • Chapter Eight: The Monstruum

  • Chapter Nine: The Grimoire

  • Chapter Ten: The Dread Wastes

There is also a handy glossary at the end that is alphabetized to help you keep your avatars, lords, and horrors in check.


These two pages introduce the idea that there are realms surrounding us that hold horrors beyond imagination. There are many realms across the multiverse and this book introduces us the readers to places such as the "Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror." This realm, Kra-Xalar, is the main focus of this book giving us lore, cults and horrors that can bring eldritch goodness to your D&D 5e game. The forward was written in the voice of Vander Hallow - a druid of the Irroeleon. I also like the Chapter Guide found on the bottom of page 2.

As someone who has dealt with mental health issues, the note form the author was kind and appreciated. Mental health is indeed something that many secretly deal with and knowing that this book was written in a fantastical way without many real world conditions was comforting as it is not taking away from the severity of something real. There was also a gentle reminder that you are never alone.

Stewie wrote a note stating that this just the beginning and that "Eldritch is designed to be a slow burn" (pg 3). In good Cthulhu/Eldritch fashion this book is a great foundation with names, cults and things for your players to slowly discover. The things that can be found in this book is to bring your table down a dark path where hope is gone and not everything will be understood. I find that at my own tables this type of slow to discover also brings out more satisfaction to your players who have to put pieces together and enjoy that not everything is within the realm of comprehension.

Chapter One: The Endless Darkness

Learn about the "Realm Beyond the Dark Mirror" where nothing but malice and darkness wait hiding in the shadows. Your player perhaps will come to face some of these beings of chaos as they force these profanities force their way through into the mortal realms. This chapter tells lore and a bit more on how these creatures are corruptors. Page five has a nice parchment box with the short facts and details a Dm or player should know about these profane (outsider) creatures from Kar-Valaklc. I personally love that there is not only pages of great information but that there is also a box at the end that can help those who may be trying to quick reference information.

Chapter Two: Dread

Just like in real life Dread is something that will creep up and slowly chip away at your hero's will power. As your hero's Dread pool is depleted the profane creatures become more powerful against your PC as they can "burn" dread for advantages. I found it interesting and a nice choice to make Dread neither magical nor a cures making a long rest one of the few easy ways to regain their composure. The DCs listed on page 6 to gain dread depends on the situations occurring , but the interesting part is Charisma is the stat used against Dread. The reason I find this as a compelling choice is I would have used Intelligence to reason with one's self. Charisma saving throws in 5e however are used to combat against calm emotions, seeming, dispel evil and banishment. The way I look at it is you are using the Cha save to use your brain to command your reality with your winning personality.

I also liked the Dread optional rule on page 8 where if a hero already had dread and then rolls a natural 1 when making another dread saving throw, that PC also then gains a random short-term madness. Throwing random madness/ phobias at the players is one of the things that I love about Call of Cthulhu as a ttrpg as it brings out great role play opportunities and shakes things up. I would personally opt to use this optional role as it brings more chaos to an Eldritch game and brings a proper despair for a Natural One roll.

As for getting a rid of Dread I appreciated that there are some spells, long rest and even watching the sun rise as possible options to heal and remove some or all Dread from a player. The ability to allow many options to heal, was in my opinion a great choice.

Chapter Three: Descent Into Madness

Eldritch Horror is something that mortal minds weren't made to easily comprehend. Fears, the dark grotesque and some of the horrors from Kra-Xalar will put your PC's under enough stress to creep to madness. As a DM I appreciate some of the pieces that were written "This isn't an opportunity to cruel by "messing" with your players... but considered an opportunity to push a player toward ever-greater roleplay." (pg 10). Madness is its whole own category in my eyes when it comes to roleplay as there is short-term madness, corruption , and insanity. Wisdom saves can be called upon to see if a player has the mental strength to push through or if the mind breaks to madness. Page 11 has two charts in which the first has 16 short-term madness triggers and their sanity check DC followed by a percentile chart with the effects.

This DM enjoyed that the corruptions found in this chapter had a mixture of real words (such as mumble, skittish, amnesia, pensive, fearful, Etc.) along with corruptions with fantastical Eldritch titles (Torpor's Woe, Darkfell, Fell Flesh, Sour Scourge, Etc.) to bring something new, interesting to the table. There are also Major Corruptions, Dread and Madness listed as well.

What I love is all the names are on easy to read tables and after each table is the detailed paragraphs on what they do. The minor and major corruptions are organized by the type of stat affected by it and then dread/madness is in alphabetical order for easy reference.

Reading through the descriptions there was quite a wide variety of different misfortunes that can be placed upon your players such a s disadvantage, penalties to AC, abilities or DC’s to your spells change. I found that the lists were balanced between the different minor/major corruptions of that category. I also rather like that the dread and madness section have three ranks to each piece to make things get worse as things progress and there are even suggestions on what one may Roleplay if your character gets the misfortune of receiving one of these curses of the profane. Remember, death of your heros as you know them is always a risk when dealing with Eldritch entities.

Chapter Four: Profane Addictions

I too agree with the other that addictions can be indeed quite tragic and in this chapter you will find some Eldritch based addictive substances that will give your heros “benefits” at the sometimes hidden or masked cost to your characters. Some of the addictions provided in the book include types of alcohol and herbal substances but there are also clever additions such as the addition to magic with the use of Dyne or the addiction to complete a task or challenge as with the Orb of Xeris.

Chapter Five - Seven

Let’s talk about Cults! Eldritch creatures from the shadows are usually welcomed into mortal realms by cultists or fanatics looking for a boon gifted by such creatures. Rituals and secret motivations of these unique beings are presented through detailed lore in these three chapters.

Chapter 5 reminds us that there are many cults and forces in the world, some hiding in plain sight, working for the creatures of the dark. This means there are endless cults that you can bring forward to your table to have your characters face but this book gives you two specific cults in chapters 6 & 7. Many cults are dangerous as they are masked by good deeds and never refer to them as a cult or evil. “The cults operate in and out of cities, utilizing the magic of the Shadow Shroud to hide in plain sight” (pg 37). There are many ways this book presents options for your cults to gain more followers from recruitment, corruption, abduction and more. This chapter also has many great sidebar tips for GMs on how to run an evil cult and how to use them in the game in a way that does not give all of their secrets away at first glance.

What do I like about chapter 6 & 7 is you get facts about:

  • What the entity wants

  • The cult’s mission

  • Mortal Realm avatar

  • Visages/manifestations

  • The cult’s info including but not limiting to vestments and how they make money

  • The favorite types of followers

  • Cult actions that players can come across/Gm’s can use

  • The active faction against this cult

  • Amazing artwork, lore, and stat boxes for some of the enemy cultists

  • NPCs and possible “ins” for your players to discover these cults and plot hooks.

There is enough detailed information on both of these cults that reading through the pages I felt confident that I have enough information to run a campaign and implement these cults and beings smoothly into the game.

Chapter Six is all about Vaelich. This seventeen page chapter details Vaelich, The Lord of Pain, an entity whose only goal is to consume the pain and fear of linking things. I just want to take a moment to appreciate the art work and the character that is Lord Crucius (pg 42). He is the epitome of a classic villain who you love to hate. Wealthy and influential in the “bad” ways he causes so much trouble in the 1-2 days that he’s in the mortal realms. Out of the six “favored of Vaelich” presented int eh chapter you are able to find three at the end of the chapter with more lore, details, some dark yet stunning art work and full stat blocks to run them.

Chapter Seven introduces from the deepest and darkest part of the void Chanaguur, who waits in a formless shape broiling in madness and insatiable hunger. This was an amazing “bogeyman” type Eldritch entity and the “quote” from Soren Vane at the top of the chapter was intriguing enough to that I want Chanaguur to come into play at my own table. “The Endless Nightmare” and “Lord of Madness” is found in the nightmare realm plotting to merely consume the minds of so many and take the essence of sleepers. One of the pieces of Chanaguur’s lore that I enjoyed the most was the Celestruiuum; a giant chamber of minds. It is the ultimate mind palace. I also love that he (Chanaguur) appears as the Amethyst Wizard and that he has a reputation of renown at many arcane universities, but we the readers (or your GM) know the truth behind the old man facade.

Chapter Eight: The Monstruum

These unnatural and nightmarish Eldritch entities each have unique pieces to add into your game. There are new Dread abilities and creature features that are explained on page 73. Another new piece introduced is the condition of Terrified. This is a charisma-based saving throw and is quite resistant as those immune to fear are not immune to the terrified condition.

The Bound-Dead is another thing introduced through this book, which are undead creatures that were made from something that was still living instead of the traditional dead being the ones turned undead.

Explore creatures and creepers of the dark from pages 75- 114. Each comes with a description, colored art and a stat block. Many of the entries also come with lore for that entity as well. Actions, Bonus Actions, and Dread Actions are all easily found for each creation as their action options are well labeled and a quick to find heading. Some, such as the Void Wraith (pg 108) also come with their own missions. Doing a little bit of a deep dive into each of the monsters, most of them have a variety of actions (most have 3), a rechargeable bonus action or reaction and then many come with a Dread action as well. I like that each monster does truly feel unique. I also like that they got rid of the CR system in this book and that each monster is presented as is. Many of these creatures come in natural armor. Those creatures with spell capabilities have them listed as well. Some of my personal favorites from the list include Brokiri Doll, Fellshade and the Vivimancer.

Chapter Nine: The Grimoire

Want magic created by the profane entities of Kra-Xalar? The Grimoire as you covered. These spells were created “to be more formidable than other spells of their levels.” The corrupted incantations can be found all across the mortal realm and are tainted by the shadows. The thing I like about thes spells are they are not on first look or visually evil. This book provides 4 new cantrip, 11 first level spells, 16 second level spells, 16 third level spells, 10 fourth level spells and 5 fifth level spells. Using profane making has a price and they are not written with the intention of your heroes easily obtaining these secret spells. I am glad that these spells are for a darker campaign and not created as another list for players to easily pick from. I also liked that in the spell description there are the written verbal components that are needed along with the other things needed to cast the spell; having a verbal component is a nice touch and can add more role play elements to casting these particular spells.

The last big of this chapter details the Weave Shadowshroud which is a 7th level evocation spell, which introduces shadowmancy and a whole page devoted to the Shadowshroud and Moth-Kra.

Chapter 10: The Dread Wastes

This chapter is filled with the information needed to run an Eldritch campaign, introducing the Dread Wastes as a terrible realm filled with atrocities and horrors. As stated by the author “This is not a campaign for wicked characters or for those with darkness in their hearts” (pg 132) and I rather agree with that. This book is very much for creating challenging situations for those who are “Good” to defeat. I love that pages 134 & 135 are all about the origins of the Dread Wastes and are filled with short but detailed lore. This lore includes a tie into Chanaguur and Vaelich from the earlier chapters as well.

The Wastes are made up of a few locations such as the Dread Underrealm where no one can travel, lest their life be stripped of them by the Void, or the foggy suffocation of the Grey Wastes to “The Safe Road” which are the paths named safe (but you can center be too sure). No matter where you are in the Wastes something is waiting for you heroes. Page 136 has some possible examples of what your heroes may find.

The idea is once a hero is put into the Wastes they are at the mercy of it’s Profane residents. I personally enjoy the creation of “The Trapped” (which can be found on 137). Nothing like crushing your heroes' hopes right off the bat. There are six ways this book provides as explanations to how your heroes make it to the Wastes.

I also found it interesting how magic works inside the Wastes differently and it majorly nerfs magic users as it brings also a sense of realisms that magic can’t be relied upon to cure everything. Some of the magic pieces make sense, especially when it comes to Detect Evil and everything in the Wastes fall into this category and renders the spell useless. There is also no elementals or vegetation on this plain making nature based magic impossible. On page 139 there is a list of Banned spells in the Wastes. I do feel bad that it takes away so much from magic users, if I were to run a one-shot or game in the Wastes I would probably tell my players about this lack of magic in a session zero to avoid player frustration. It does pose a challenge for vetted players.

We are also given a few details of areas equipped with DM reading boxes for “The Finger of Vano” which is where all heroes start off in the wastes and the first encounter with “the Mourners of Toth''.” There are also denizens of the wastes that have been given descriptions. The Lonely chapel is another well detailed part of this chapter and the individuals your players may find there.

Upon reading this chapter it is clear that this could be turned into an adventure, as Fera of the Lonely Chapel on page 149 seems to be designed as a quest or information dealer. There are also “The Light of Vanos” which have been given 32 locations of where the pieces have been scattered to with descriptions for the first 22 locations. Returning them, the players can “buy” abilities based on how any light points have been brought to the chapel. There are also written examples on how your heroes can potentially escape the Wastes, giving the book potential as a campaign guide.

Thoughts from the Fox

Given both the April and May previews to download I did see that there were changes being made within that month's time. Granted, I did not have a completed cover to cover book to review but it did have a professional and good look to it. From the blood splattered around page numbers and matching headers, a parchment look to the pages and full colored pictures on many of the pages of Eldritch: The Book of Madness, the book was quite pleasing on the eyes. The language used was also complementary to that which you may find in Eldritch books without being to overly academic. There was some minor editing that would still need to be fixed before being a final product (such as a miss labeled chapter title) but I do believe that this is on it's way to becoming a great asset. I enjoyed the mechanics and thought that everything was quite ready to jump off of the pages and ready to be introduced to a game filled with players. I overall enjoyed Eldritch: The Book of Madness by Stewie Black and am looking forward to when it will be fully available. There is a lot of potential to bringing some new dark horror to you games using the materials in this source book. I also love and appreciate the art that is in the book.

If you are looking to back this project here is the link to the Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/531104581/tbom?ref=am8yh5&token=a10168da