Taint of Madness, subtitled “Insanity and Dread Within Asylum Walls”, is a sourcebook on asylums and the treatment of mental illness over the years. Since ending up in the loony bin is a fairly common occurrence in CoC, something like this is quite useful if you want to inject some realism into the proceedings. While it’s a Cthulhu book, it’s actually more a general sourcebook on asylums for general gaming use, there isn’t all that much Cthulhu-specific here. The book examines three time periods: 1890, 1920 and 1990 (“modern” at the time the book was written), and gives an example asylum / mental hospital from each era – real historical ones for the older eras, a fictional one for the modern setting. The sections also contain some story hooks and a short scenarios set in the given locales, but these are of minor import; the meat here are the historical notes on the treatment of the insane over the years, including a ton of information on various actual mental institutions: cure percentages, etc. With this book, a GM can place a PC in a real historical mental hospital, and have instant access to general statistics about the place.
Given all that, it’s a slightly dry read, but not overly so… the horrific and by modern standards inhumane treatment of mental patients in historical times makes for some quite shocking reading. The book presents the facts fairly objectively, but doesn’t sugar-coat the fact that mental patients were treated like animals during the earlier eras… and things weren’t always exactly sunshine and flowers during more modern times, either. Even though the situation is probably better now than it has even been, the heavy use of medication to “treat” patients (especially when staff resources and money is tight) makes for some horror stories even now. Sure, it’s a far cry from the old horrors of “Bedlam”, but in some ways it’s just exchanging chains for drugs.
Overall, it’s a great resource for anyone wanting a look at historical mental illness treatment. Not every game will need this amount of detail, of course, but if you do want it, here it is. As noted, it’s a great general resource, it’s not just for Cthulhu.