Actual Play: The Art of Madness Part 1

The Art of Madness is an adventure from the anthology The House of R'lyeh, written by Brian Courtemanche. Featured heavily in this adventure is the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Living fairly close to Boston, I've been to the Museum many times. It's been neat playing an adventure with a familiar place...

Setting: Boston, Mass. Wednesday, December 1, 1920


  • Earl Crowley - Antiquarian settled in Arkham
  • Jordaine Furst - Strasbourg-born Great War spy for France
  • Fredrick Tardiff - Great War veteran, Kingsport artist

Fredrick Tardiff had been constructing a new series of contacts to assist with investigations into the bizarre, with the last of his Great War compatriots moving back to Harlem. He had begun meeting with Earl Crowley, an antiquarian who had uncovered one too many things that couldn't be explained by science. Jewelry from Innsmouth of metals unknown to science. Reviews of a French play that had made its audience go mad. He'd also made the re-acquaintance of Jordaine Furst, hailing from the Alsace region of France, recently taken back from the Germans. Furst had assisted the Entente during the Great War, having been raised by French patriots within German Alsace. She had encountered strangeness during the war as well as in the tomes of the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire and had traveled to Massachusetts in search of more information from libraries in Boston, Cambridge, and Arkham.

The three went into action together on December 1, 1920, when Tardiff received a phone call from the head of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Mr. Edward Walfo Forbes, asking for his help in investigating a series of disappearances.

The three visited him in his office. He explained that three members of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts had vanished. A new professor, Jason Davies, was last seen on Sunday, October 31, at the Boston Art Club. About two weeks later a second year student, Helen Wilson, vanished. And finally just recently a third, a first year student, Ruth Hall, went missing. The school was participating with the Boston Police but in the wake of all nearly officers being fired after the Police Strike, the force was way over its head.

From talking with instructors and students they learned all three had a bit of a taste for the macabre - Wilson, for example, always carried an Edgar Allan Poe book with her and her work was inspired by him. She was friends with Hall who shared her interests to a lesser extent.

A janitor followed them around and finally approached them. It turned out he, Roberto Silva, knew much more but was nervous to involve the police for fear of getting himself or the school in trouble. Silva explained he saw all three, on different occasions, meeting with a heavyset man, middle aged but not looking well. He thought he might have been a relative of one of the young ladies or perhaps a major donor to the school interested in students. But he also saw Davies on the 31st of October, after his meeting at the Art Club. This is where he feared getting in trouble, as Roberto had used his key to enter the school to listen to a radio broadcast from the AMRAD station, 1XE. Silva was a radio aficionado but had not been able to afford his own set. Hw liked listening to 1XE as well as the station that sometimes broadcast out of Kingsport. Davies had seen him enter and, not having a key of his own, asked to be let in so he could prepare for his Monday class. Afterwards he saw Davies leave on Fenway and run into the heavyset man - going off with him somewhere - willingly it seemed.

Their investigations got some traction when they went to the Boston Art Club - an exclusive club that was beyond Tardiff's means - or ability to find a sponsor for. Between the charm of Furst and wealth of Crowley they got admittance to the "Ladies' Room" where some of the club members agreed to talk with them - Joeseph Minot and Walter Eliot. They explained how Davies, of limited means, had been sponsored by Franklin Thurber. They'd not seen much of Thurber lately - perhaps he had been upset by the disappearance of Davies. He'd been hitting the bottle hard over the past year, often talking of another member, one not seen in ages, Walter Pickman. Thurber had claimed that Pickman was convinced monsters were living under Boston - and he'd apparently convinced Thurber as well. A photo of Thurber matched Silva's description of the heavyset man perfectly. After much wrangling and threats, they got Thurber's address from the Club - a brownstone in a wealthy area, just off Louisburg Square. They also saw some of Pickman's art, in the Club archives (certainly not for display). Tardiff recognized the near-human canine-things in the art - ghouls they were called - at least in many of the volumes he read. They had a taste for human flesh - often long dead, though they'd go for fresh meat for the occasional treat.

A disheveled Thurber answered the door and quickly confessed that he'd been forced by someone named "Peters" (they were certain he was lying about the name) forced him to bring him art supplies - and students. Willing students, he assured them. In return he was given jewels and other valuables to pawn off - which helped support his drinking habit. He had to do an art supply dropoff in a North End basement and was "convinced" to take them along.

In the basement they saw a closed shaft in the floor. Hiding for some time they saw the shaft open from below, a rubbery hand emerging and grabbing it. As they ran to the shaft to attempt tracking it, it heard them and leapt back up - a hideous ghoul, about to strike!


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