|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: A thick encounter deck that is pushed past the usual 30 cards by the optional Naomi’s Crew. A good amount of these is enemies, but most of them are human enemies with somewhat low combat stats. Or even Whippoorwills which aren’t fighters at all. During the non-Return scenario, the Nightgaunts are really the only standouts for dedicated fighters here.
The treacheries cover a lot of different ground, with the usual focus on willpower tests and horror. Rotting Remains which does both of those things was even reprinted here to be included without the rest of its encounter set from the Core.
Players have a lot of time in total before the last agenda runs out, but there is at least some motivation to finish as fast as possible to save as many as possible of the potential sacrifices. Ancient Evils and the two scenario specific cards Kidnapped! and Strange Signs support this theme.
The rest is somewhat standard. Some damage, some horror, some agility test, some willpower tests. All in a mix that makes preparing for any of them somewhat unnecessary.
I’ve always liked this scenario for its wide variety of challenges and because the location grid of Dunwich is appealing to me. The one thing that puts me off is how much of a role luck plays in getting a good result from this. Finding the chamber and key only with the last two locations can mean that you will be guaranteed to lose several of the unique allies.
Cancel these: Kidnapped, Ancient Evils. Kidnapped can be a very mean card that has its consequences echo through the rest of the campaign. If it can be stopped with a Ward, that’s an opportunity i would always take. Ancient Evils is the other card that plays straight into the main challenge of the scenario which isn’t necessarily just reaching a resolution. It’s reaching that resolution before too many sacrifices were made.
What it does: Servant of Many Mouths is a fairly weak enemy, but engaging him is risky nonetheless. He deals 2 damage on each attack and with a fight value of 3 and Retaliate there is a chance for him to get off an extra attack when players fail their test while trying to defeat him. Evading him is easy enough and his Spawn instructions can put him in remote spots, so players don’t necessarily need to fight him. However, defeating him awards a free clue from any location.
My take: Such a helpful guy. At this point in the campaign, whoever is on enemy duty should have little trouble taking this enemy out and the reward of a free clue is easily worth the extra risk from Retaliate. I am usually happy to see him coming from the encounter deck.
Threat level: Low. Would be Low to Mid if not for his free clue trigger.
Dealing with it: Between spawning at any empty location and his evade value of 1, fighting him is pretty much a thing that a player chooses to do, not something that a vulnerable character gets roped into. So defeating him can wait until you are confident in your fighting abilities to pass the difficulty 3 test. Or until you have some sort of damage for him that bypasses his Retaliate, like a Blood-Rite or Sneak Attack.
What it does: Kidnapped plays into this scenario’s unique mechanics with the potential sacrifices. At reveal, the player can pass either a willpower or agility test. If they don’t one of their allies from play is added to the potential sacrifices and Kidnapped is attached to the agenda. When the agenda advances, an extra sacrifice will be made.
Should the player fail their test, but have no allies in play, they are simply dealt 2 damage and Kidnapped is discarded.
My take: What a nasty card. Even if we forget about the kidnap mechanics for a moment, this is a treachery that will remove your ally from play. Seeing how most players will only have one of those in play, there is not necessarily any player choice in what to discard, either. Allies are among the most impactful assets, so this will always hurt. But of course the asset isn’t just discarded, it is kidnapped. And that can be so much worse. As detailed in the resolution of the scenario, each unique card sacrificed is removed from ALL player decks and can not be rebought for the rest of the campaign. Aside from stripping key allies like Milan Christopher or Lola Santiago from decks, this can even remove signature allies like Duke or Molly Maxwell.
Kidnapped will lead to an additional card being added to the sacrifice pile when the agenda advances, so even if this doesn’t randomly choose to remove the player’s ally, it will remove an additional story asset.
Threat level: Very High. This is a card that can damage player’s deck even past the scenario it is used in. That’s an exceptional trait for a card.
Dealing with it: Cancel it if you can. Pray you pass the test if you can’t. Hope you have a non-unique ally to sacrifice. Those are pretty much the things that the player can try to leverage in trying to combat this treachery. If the risk of losing a unique ally that is vital for the deck is too high, not playing it in this scenario can be a real consideration. Ashcan Pete’s best boy starts in play, but doesn’t take the ally slot, so Pete can play some “sacrificial” ally to get kidnapped in Duke’s place. Loosing Madame LaBranche sucks, but it’s certainly preferrable to losing the dog. Players who use Charisma can do a similar thing and for example protect their Milan by satisfying Kidnapped with an Art Student.
What it does: Hey, we already know this card! This is a core set staple, from the Striking Fear encounter set.
My take: It makes a lot of sense for this card to be here, both thematically (Dunwichers are sacrificing people to Silas, investigators stumble across remains of the victims) and for its gameplay effect. Apparently the designers felt they wanted Rotting Remains here, but not the rest of the encounter set. The scenario asks a good amount of mobility from the players and Frozen in Fear would be a massive pain, especially if it were to pop up while players are dipping in and out of Silas’ chamber. So lets all be thankful we don’t have to deal with that for once.
Threat level: Low to Mid. There is a reasonable amount of horror coming from other encounter cards, but not to a point where it becomes a major theme of the scenario.
Dealing with it: As usual: Pass the willpower test as good as you can, soak the rest. Cards like this only become an issue once the sources of horror (or damage) reach a critical mass and that is not necessarily the case in Blood on the Altar.
What it does: The player who drew this treachery has to add it to any players threat area. Psychopomp’s Song then surges into the next encounter card.
The next time a player with this treachery takes damage, they take an extra two damage on top, then discard it.
My take: Two testless damage on a Surge. Ouch. The saving grace here is that you are able to choose who gets it, so it can either be put on someone who has a lot of stamina and/or soak or on someone who might be unlikely to even trigger the card. There are only two other damage cards in the deck (On Wings of Darkness from the Nightgaunts set), so as long as the player can stay away from enemies, that can even work reasonably well. When it triggers, it can often be a bit of a problem, as this card will of course always stack with some other damage source, putting a player’s stamina into dangerous areas with one blow.
Now, this is pure speculation on my part as i don’t play solo… but this seems ridiculous once you play solo, because you remove the player choice aspects and can see it as just a testless surging two damage.
Threat level: Mid to High. The choice of who to give the card stops it from being absurd and makes it okay to mitigate. It’s still a rather significant effect for a card that surges. High in Solo.
Dealing with it: Whoever is stuck deciding on who to give this should usually find someone who can take it. Aside from fighting enemies, there is not a whole lot of pressure on player’s life totals, so taking this hit should be fine for someone.
What it does: If the player fails an intellect test, an additional clue from the token bank is added to the location. This card is also one of the few sources of player scaling in this scenario, adding an extra clue when playing with 3 or 4 investigators.
My take: This card does not only force players to take another successful investigation action to clear a location, it also adds another clue or two to the total that are moved into the Hidden Chamber in the final stage. So in a game with 3 or 4 investigators, this can equal 4 (or even more) actions. On the other hand, drawing it on a location that already had the card underneath it pulled out will lead to only the extra clues in the chamber. I usually find this card to be a bit of a relief when drawing it. While it does put some extra pressure on the timer (kinda like a mini-Evils), it does not do anything immediate, giving me some breathing room to either put towards dealing with other problems or just to directly adress the extra investigations from this card.
Threat level: Low to Mid. Can cost the team an above average amount of actions, but lacks immediate threat.
Dealing with it: For this card to be particularly bad, it needs to be drawn at a location that players did not clear out yet. Otherwise it is not much of an issue. The intellect test is very much worth throwing multiple cards into it as this one test can prevent multiple ones later on. Groups that can routinely pick up multiple clues with one action will be bothered by this card even less than others.
Return to Blood on the Altar
My take on the modified scenario: Return to Dunwich fixes two things about the scenario. It “repairs” the broken location connections on the original central location which led to having several one-way connections that made little sense and were likely unintended. It also makes sure that having the Syndicate around here is not a favorable thing. In original Blood on the Altar, the cards from Naomi’s Crew were usually diluting the power of the rest of the deck. Return To Blood on the Altar removes this issue by not including the cards from that encounter set in the ones that potentially get put under the locations and by introducing the Hired Gun. Hired Gun is a reasonably strong enemy that gives bonuses to all cards from Naomi’s Crew. At the same time, Naomi herself is available as a reward for anyone who did not cause the syndicate to have a bone to pick with you. So there is now sufficient motivation to maybe go out of your way and save Peter Clover during The House Always Wins.
The only encounter set that is swapped out for a replacement is Ancient Evils which becomes Resurgent Evils. It’s not a terribly relevant switch, as the doom counter gives a lot of time to the players. Should the agenda be just about to flip when the players are ready to finish the scenario, the option to draw extra encounter cards on Resurgent Evils might be able to rescue an extra potential sacrifice, i guess. I don’t think it’s very likely to happen.
All things considered, the scenario doesn’t play very different from the original. The fixed location connectors are welcome and the little bit of extra punch to the criminal cards is appropriate. But the scenario was already one of the better ones from the campaign, so no complaints from me there.
What it does: Hired Gun is easy to evade, but relatively tough in a fight. While he is in play, he adds Hunter to every Criminal in play, including himself. Hunted Down, the treachery from Naomi’s Crew gains Peril and Surge while a Hired Gun is one the board. One of these guys starts already in play, the other one is shuffled into the encounter deck.
My take: I like this way of scaling up a somewhat weak set to a power level that is more suited to a scenario that comes a bit later in the campaign. Hunter plays very well on the Criminals, since it gives some extra motivation to actually defeat them despite their low evasion values. Of course, Hired gun himself continues the trend started by Mobster’s and Thug’s statline.
Threat level: Medium. A tough enemy on its own that also enhances several other cards. Already starting in play is the cherry on top.
Dealing with it: That evasion value of 1 is a trap, these should be killed fairly quick. The upside for doing so is being able to evade the regular criminals later. Hunter would put a stop that plan. With 4 health and 3 fight, these guys are tough enough that this is a job for a proper fighter, but at this point of the campaign, that should not be too difficult.
Continue reading here: