Review System: I base my review scores on a scale of 1 to 10 sanity points. The more sanity points lost, the better the book is. For example, a rating of 1 sanity point means the book didn’t even make me raise my eyebrows. A rating of 10 sanity points means the book has driven me to indefinite insanity.

Review of Asylum and Other Tales

Chaosium, 1983

By Clegg, Hargrave, Harmon, and others

I should begin this review by noting that I purchased this book, sight unseen, on eBay. More for collection purposes than anything else, I still thought this book of seven unconnected scenarios would be a good buy. Alas, I was proven wrong. Lucky for you, dear reader, you have me to tell you not to make the same mistake with this book that I did.

The book itself is staple bound down the center, with a rather stunning cover painting by Tom Sullivan. Printed on the inside front and back covers are maps of Austria, Maine, and Arkham, which certainly is handy. Handouts for all of the adventures are in the middle of the book. Considering the staple binding, this is probably the best location for the handouts if the owner wants to photocopy them.

The adventures start well, with “The Auction” taking the investigators to Austria to attend an auction, where there are, of course, some rather malignant items up for bid. Set up as a classic whodunit with Mythos overtones, this looks like a fun one to run. I always like it when an adventure presents something new for the Keeper and the players, and in this case, staging a real auction is a nice twist.

Next up we have a short scenario called “The Madman”, involving a small town called Black Knob, and the split personality of Adam Smythe. The Good Adam is as gentle and as nice a person as can be...but the Bad Adam has a plan to get rid of the Good Adam by summoning Hastur. Naughty. One interesting twist to this adventure suggested by the author is to have one of the investigators take the place of Adam. This will probably require a more experienced Keeper to pull off, not to mention a willing player, but it makes for a nice little conundrum for the players to solve.

“Black Devil Mountain” is next, and is easily the worst of all the scenarios written in the book. It starts off with “Someone’s brother has died...” Now how many bloody times have we seen this plot device used as an excuse to get the investigators involved? And it only gets worse from there. One of the investigators has inherited some land from the deceased brother, and of course, all is not what it seems. I won’t bore you with the details, because they don’t make sense anyway, but this scenario has the adventurers going up against Ghouls, bears, skeletons, wolves, a shaman, zombies, an evil owl (I kid you not), and if all THAT isn’t enough, two Cthonians tossed in for good measure. Simply awful.

The title adventure, “The Asylum”, is an adventure that shows promise, but never really goes anywhere. A deranged psychiatrist and head of a mental hospital has discovered a way of creating proto-shoggoths. Naturally, to do so requires live humans, and who better to use than the insane? Again, the Keeper is presented with the possibility of getting the characters involved by making one of the group insane, and thus needing to be committed. One thing I don’t understand about this scenario is why it doesn’t take place in Arkham Sanitorium? With a great resource like that, why not use it?

“The Mauretania” is probably my favorite out of the seven, for two reasons: 1) the adventure takes place aboard an actual historical luxury passenger liner; the fact that it takes place on a liner in of itself makes it stand out; 2) the Keeper is presented a number of ideas and plot hooks to use, but they are completely at the Keeper’s discretion. In fact, this adventure could probably have been included in “Fearful Passages”. Kinda makes me wonder why it wasn’t.

At any rate, this scenario gives the Keeper more than enough material to handle when the investigators travel via ocean liner to England or other such far off destination.

After such a great piece like “The Mauretania”, I almost don’t want to mention the next adventure, “Gate From The Past”. To sum up as quickly as possible, some Old Ones want to open a Gate back to their world, and this Gate happens to be located in Arkham. But because the gate “distorts the space/time continuum” (sounds like a direct Star Trek ripoff), dinosaurs get into the mix, tromping through Arkham. If that isn’t enough, the author tosses a bunch of shoggoths at the adventurers for good measure. Talk about overkill. Utter crap here.

Rounding out the book is “Westchester House”, an adventure I really wanted to like, because, like the “The Mauretania” adventure, it takes place in a real historical site- well, okay, they changed the name to Westchester from it’s real Winchester, but the history behind the house and the construction of it matches the real Winchester house- and involves spurned lovers, a sizable treasure, a forged painting, and the West/Winchester house itself. The reason I just couldn’t like it at the end was that the premise behind the adventure was that someone was pretending to be a haunted spirit so that they could get their hands on this lost loot. It’s supposed to be a way of fooling the adventurers. But I didn’t buy into it at all.

Overall, I can’t recommend this book. The two really good adventures don’t overcome the other mediocre-to-terrible ones. There are much better books to spend your money and time on.

Rating: 4 Sanity Points