I tend to rag on Goodman Games because of their slogan that implies that all NPCs meant to be killed. Yet time and time again, they have these great NPCs in their adventure whom should not be killed. Whereas I could see their point that the NPCs I have pointed out before could go either way, Dungeon Crawl Classics #34: Cage of Delirium, is clearcut proof that there are NPCs in these books whom should not die, at least not by the PCs.
And it’s a great thing.
Regardless on if NPCs should or should not be killed in their adventures, Goodman Games does a great job with designing compelling characters that you can judge in an instance whether you love or hate. Cage of Delirium contains a good deal of such characters. Following the traditions of a classic Haunted House novel, the PCs are led to explore this Haverthold Asylum. Their goal is to survive while uncovering its secrets and defeating the evil entities inside. Whereas the grounds and first floor are pretty combat focused the top floor and the basement are very much role playing and puzzle oriented. This separation creates a very unique and appetizing style that is quite absent from a lot of genre adventures.
The story revolves around two brothers. One of which impersonates the other, performs sick experiments and imprisons the other inside the Asylum. Eventually all hell breaks loose and the Asylum burns, all the inhabitants were trapped.
The descriptions, traps and creatures are all creepily written and set a dark atmosphere. The writing style might not fit all campaigns. The setting is very Victorian and presumes that there are both clerics and doctors in your game world. You may want to place this home in a far off city that incorporates science along with your traditional magic.
The adventure itself is lengthy, and will take at least two six hour sessions if your PCs explore every nook and cranny of the asylum. The print version of this adventure comes with a cd of creepy music and you can’t help but wish that the cd was included with the PDF version as the book often points out track numbers that are appropriate for the encounter.
There are a couple of nagging features of the adventure. Most of the creatures you encounter are allips, which does not provide a lot of variety. I recommend buying a companion monster book and pop some creepier creatures into those places where you want to add a bit of spice. Delirium also did not include enough artwork. I wanted some more images of the creepy things that are disguised. My final gripe comes with the fact that the writers are so intent on keeping with the Goodman Games tradition that all NPCs are to be killed, that they nearly spoil the second floor encounters by including combat stats for them. It seems like such a waste to have these great puzzles and then give the pcs an option of ending it all with the tip of the sword. I do not think the combat options should have been completely removed, but lower rewards should be given for not freeing the ghosts.
The Iron Word
Haunted House movies are my favorite, and it is difficult to make a good one these days. Same with Haunted House adventures. In the Dungeons and Dragons world, it seems very difficult to scare a party who has to hack up dragons for a living. Cage of Delirium comes very close to capturing the fear of a Haunted House movie without taking too much away from the Dungeons and Dragons aspect. It may be difficult to fit the Victorian style into a tradition campaign city, but if you are aiming at a different pace of fear for your party, it may be worth it.