Dead Heat

Encounter sets in this scenario: Scarlet Sorcery, Spreading Corruption, Ghouls, Striking Fear
Available experience: 1 (Amaranth) + 1 (Khalid) +2 (more civvies saved than dead) + 2 (twice amount of saved than dead) = 6XP

Location: Marrakesh
Involved Coterie Members and Keys: Amaranth, Razin Farhi, The Last Blossom
Time spent: 1-2 time (2 only if you restore Amaranth to her real self, 1 in all other cases)
Nearest other scenarios: Alexandria, Havana, Istanbul (2 time), Anchorage, Buenos Aires (3 time)

Size of the Encounter Deck32
# Enemies8
# Willpower7
# Agility3
# Doom2
# Damage5
# Horror3
# Concealment0
# Hollow0
Note: These numbers do not include the two copies of Ancient Raider and the unique Khalid elite enemy. Those three cards do start out of play and enter the deck as the acts advance.

Synopsis: Following reports of dead people walking the streets, the investigators arrive in Marrakesh to confront Amaranth, the likely source of the troubles. What follows is straight out of a zombie movie, with risen dead and ghouls feasting on the remaining survivors. It’s the group’s job to fulfill two goals at the same time: Stop Amaranth, gaining control of her key. And save as many civilians as possible before they are slain by the enemy horde. Sounds simple enough, right?

My take on this scenario: You know how the scenarios have some sort of dossier coming with them and how those have a sort of threat rating at the top? For Amaranth, the dossier says “Subject Class: Red.” and they aren’t kidding around. This is basically your only warning to not just stumble into this scenario right after Riddles and Rain on your blind playthrough and get absolutely slaughtered.
Marrakesh takes a break from what is going on everywhere else in Scarlet Keys mechanically, with not an Outsider or concealed enemy in sight. Instead we are getting the first real zombie apocalypse scenario (unless you count The Gathering) and its a doozy. It’s actually a really simple scenario in concept and mechanisms, just put a bunch of small enemies in a cramped arena and add an Elite or two. And voila – panic in the streets of Marrakesh and on the table in my house as well. This is a stressful scenario to play that pushes fighty characters to their limits. With the amount of enemies around, even the usually less combat-ready characters are sort of expected to chip in – even if it’s just throwing a few Blood-Rites, Toe to Toes or Improvised Weapons around to take some of the heat from the dedicated fighters that have to deal with Amaranth, Khalid and Razin.
What makes this scenario really stand out as so difficult is two things. For one, the encounter deck has some nasty treacheries in it. Striking Fear and Spreading Corruption work together very well at disabling players and making them struggle to even find the actions to fight back. Two, Scarlet Keys is generally just not that heavy on fights. So Dead Heat asks for a skillset that many other scenarios don’t need, at least not to that extent.
This is one of the scenarios that has the potential to really make an incredibly bad first impression as it blindsides the players with a hefty difficulty spike and also incredibly punishing consequences for failing. I do like that this scenario exists now on replays as it provides a certain challenge that i might want to overcome but the first play is potentially just very frustrating. I wish the resign option was more viable, similar to how The Last King in Carcosa also offers a very early and difficult combat challenge but allows players to bug out if it gets too much.

Scenario specific encounter sets: The encounter set contains several unique enemies that are set aside at first: Amaranth, who is the main antagonist. Razin Farhin, who Amaranth is trying to bring back from the grave. And Khalid, her … pet zombie lion. Yep, you read that right. Also set aside are two copies of Ancient Raider, who join the undead horde in the final act. Immediately into the encounter deck go 4 copies of Thrall, who is rather weak by itself (and even comes with an ability that lets players evade it for free), but an enemy with Surge is never good news. Since there’s 4 copies, you will see these a lot. Two copies of Famine provide a bit of redundancy for Striking Fear’s Dissonant Voices, making it harder to play your cards. It’s on the tamer side of cards in this deck, though. Finally, we get two copies of Cornered!, because apparently having both Grasping Hands and Rotting Remains wasn’t enough and we needed another scaling source of up to three damage.

Chaos Tokens: How bad this chaos bag is, depends wildly on your difficulty. The gulf between Easy/Normal and Hard/Expert is extreme on this one. It also scales quite heavily with how late you are doing this scenario in the campaign because coming later will not only add Cultists to the bag but also make the skulls start with a negative modifier instead of being a +0 at first. Skulls scale with slain civilians, so as long as you can keep a lid on that you are somewhat fine. Notably there is no upper limit for how negative the skull can go, so this does have the potential to escalate. On Hard, where the skull is worth -2 for each 1i slain civilians (i is number of investigators), the skulls are certainly a bigger concern than they are on Standard where they are only half as bad. The Elder Thing is a -3 (-4 on Hard) which is well within expectations, with a discard on fail which is also pretty regular. The Tablet however has a quirk that is nasty. On Standard the Tablet is just a -1, but the player has to either take 1 damage or have a civilian die. So it adds to the damage coming from the encounter deck and plentiful enemies, but it at least allows for a choice. This choice is taken away on Hard, where the Tablet is -2 and the player both gets a damage and has a civilian slain at their location. Especially that last part is incredibly punishing (i’d go as far and call it unfair) and i would recommend anyone who wants to tackle Dead Heat on Hard or Expert to make choices that remove Tablets in favor of Elder Things. The Cultist token is the highest negative modifier at -4 (-6) aside from the skulls so there’s value in coming here early to not have many of those in the bag. In addition to the modifier, the Cultist token will ready a non-Elite at your location and have it attack. On Standard, this happens only on a fail, but on Elite this again happens on every draw of the token. For most enemies in the scenario this “just” means an additional point of damage and/or horror, but both Khalid and the Ancient Raider are also viable targets of this token’s effect for additional pain or slain civilians.

Act/Agenda: There are two agenda cards, for a total doom threshold of 15. Their fronts modify the spawn abilities of all Risen and Ghoul enemies, making them spawn in random locations instead of engaged. Once the first agenda advances after 8 doom, a number of Risen and Ghoul enemies are spawned depending on how many civilians were slain so far. Also, each player has to either have a civilian at their location be slain or they have to let every Elite in play heal 2 damage. Note that if there is no damaged Elite in play, you have to pick the other option which especially in high player counts almost guarantees that civilians die here (Note: This was confirmed by lead designer Duke. The card is missing the word “must” here and will be errata’d to do so.)
The act deck consists of three cards, one for each stage of the confrontation with Amaranth. The first has the players search for her by finding clues and spending them at the Ritual Site. This will spawn Amaranth, shuffle Khalid into the deck and put the story card “Save the Civilians” into play and start act 2. Once either a certain amount of civilians died or Amaranth was defeated, the fight escalates. If the civilian threshold was met, Razin Farhi joins the fight alongside Amaranth. If she was defeated, she is flipped to her second form instead and moved to a random spot. In either case, the Ancient Raiders are finally also shuffled into the deck. Act 3 simply states the final goal: Neither Amaranth nor Razin may stay in play.
Parallel to the act and agenda, the story card “Save the Civilians” handles everything related to saving and slaying the people of Marrakesh. It provides an action to save a civilian at an investigators location for a cost in clues. Saved civvies go onto this card until the end of the game when the card is flipped for a sort of endgame scoring. If more civilians ended up saved than dead, then everyone gains XP. Even more if it’s twice the amount saved. However, if more civilians were slain, then everyone gets trauma. If it was twice the amount slain, it’s even two trauma.

Amaranth and Razin Farhi: Immediately after finishing act one, Amaranth engages the investigators at the Ritual Site, with the Lost Blossom attached to her. She hits fairly hard and the small circular location layout makes it difficult to stay far enough away from her to not be threatened by her Hunter keyword. If you have a damage dealer that can reliably deal 3+ damage in one action, you could burst her down fairly fast, but otherwise she can take a decent amount of punishment… enhanced by the healing she gets from her flower. She’s also rarely going to be the only enemy on the table, making her a lot more dangerous in practice than her card text and stat line would immediately suggest.
Defeating Amaranth during the second act will flip her into her second form which sees her horror and damage values inversed. But more importantly, she will now trigger the flower on every attack, healing herself more often. And she will gain a point of combat and Retaliate… which of course is yet another venue for her to attack you and heal herself. This version of Amaranth is incredibly dangerous and to defeat her you will pretty much need to be able to repeatedly hit her hard or at least to keep her evaded all the time so she can’t outheal the damage you put on her. If your modified skill on attack isn’t comfortably high, then evading her somehow can be worth it just to prevent Retaliate from being a factor. Missing her, being damaged yourself and seeing her heal is the worst! Note that when flipping her from Lurking Corruption to Corruption Revealed, you keep every token and attached card on her. This includes the damage tokens from act 2 that you used to defeat her in the first form! Of course that gives her something to heal away with the Last Blossom, but you are at least not starting from zero again.
If you didn’t manage to defeat the first version of Amaranth in time and the act advances because too many civilians were killed, then Razin Farhin joins the fight and the group now faces both Amaranth and him. This will keep Amaranth from flipping to her stronger version, but Razin is arguably worse as you will now face two Elite enemies at the same time which is harder to control through evasion and any healing triggers from the Blossom (or other sources) will pull double duty. Hopefully, Amaranth is already at the brink of defeat when Razin shows up so you can concentrate on him after quickly finishing her off…

Khalid and the Ancient Raiders: Khalid is yet another sturdy and dangerous Hunter enemy and gets shuffled into the encounter deck as soon as Amaranth shows up for the first time. From that point on, you can draw it at any point and whenever you do, things are sure to get rough. Kahlid hits just as hard as Amaranth does and also has Hunter. It doesn’t scale its health with player count which means that when playing solo and arguably even at two players, Khalid is tougher than Amaranth herself. Dealing with both Amaranth and her cat at the same time (while the encounter deck also heavily taxes your actions) is very hard and likely going to be the most difficult part of this scenario overall. Again, the ability to deal big chunks of damage at once is essential. Without that, you need to at least be able to keep Amaranth from triggering the heals from her key while you whittle down Khalid. As a small silver lining, Khalid is not Elite. So you might be able to use some potent cards on it, like Waylay or Disguise. Its ability on entering play is a bit random in what it actually achieves, but notable consequences are possibly pushing enemies into your location and more importantly, turning a location into its “Abandoned” version.
A pair of Ancient Raiders only enters the encounter deck during the final act, so small groups might not even draw one before the scenario is over. These simply serve to bring up the number of undead bodies in the deck a bit. At 3 health, they are stronger than most others, but not outrageously so. Their most potent feature is the ability to cause civilian losses on attack, something that can even be triggered on Retaliate if you are unlucky.

Other enemies: Except for the big Elites, the encounter deck throws only small enemies at the players. They do however come in impressive numbers, with the Thrall even surging into another encounter card. While these aren’t dangerous by themselves, the investigators are already occupied by one or more dangerous Elite enemies and possibly shackled down by treacheries to the point where they will find it difficult to actually deal with these creatures. Only Ravenous Ghoul (and the two Ancient Raiders in the final stretch) have more than 2 health, so these mostly go down in one swing and you can save your big guns for … well, the enemy’s big guns.

Treacheries: In terms of treacheries, the encounter deck mostly does two things: One, deal damage and horror. Two, take away player actions. This is only the second scenario since the Core that has both Rotting Remains and Grasping Hands in it (the other one is Point of No Return) and it actually triples down on the theme with Cornered!. Remains is the only horror treachery in the deck, but of course Amaranth herself deals plenty of horror on her attacks – enough to make Remains relevant as a thing that can either put you on the brink or finish you off. Low willpower investigators have more to fear than Rotting Remains, however. Public enemy #1, Frozen in Fear, is back to torment us. Whats worse, it gets significant backup from both Compulsion and Distorted Reasoning as cards that stop players from reacting to what’s happening to them.
Finally, the Scarlet Sorcery set has two potent cards for this scenario. Bound in Red can absolutely not be allowed to stick around on any of the Elite enemies as it takes their damage/horror up to eleven while the fight increase makes especially the Retaliate on Amaranth a huge threat. Key Charge is a heal with Surge (triggering the Blossom) and can range from simply annoying to utterly frustrating when it affects multiple enemies.

Locations: The map consists of five locations arranged in a circle, so it’s a small and intimate encounter with very little room to run away from one of the Hunters in this scenario. At best, you can be two locations away from wherever they are.
Each location exists in two versions, with the regular being swapped out for the Abandoned version once all civilians there have been either saved or slain. Note that Khalid showing up is going to turn its random spawn location into the Abandoned one as any remaining civilians are scattered to the two connected locations.
Of special note is the Bahia Palace Gardens, which is the Ritual Site. The investigators need to go there to spend the clues for advancing act 1 and it is also where Amaranth will appear (and likely immediately engage whoever is there).

Reward and Failure: Up to 6XP can be earned here, but they are earned indeed. There are no handouts in this scenario. No locations have Victory on them, you do need to defeat Amaranth and save the city to walk out of this scenario with anything to show for it. In addition to the XP, you do get the Last Blossom which is a very powerful key. Just using it first turn when everyone is still in their starting location can wipe away a lot of trauma. It would be worth using it just for that, but it’s also able to flip back as long as there’s an enemy with damage on it around that you can heal. (Note: You do need a damaged enemy in play to be able to shift the Blossom back to Stable. A very strict reading of the card could imply that ALL enemies in play need to be damaged for the ability to be usable, but this is unclear for now. Duke suggested playing it as if only one enemy needs to be healed until this is resolved.) Unless you knew Amaranths real identity and restored it, the group will “not have seen the last” of her. When randomly encountering her later, she retains much of her abilities but thankfully is lacking her high health then. So she can be dispatched reasonably cleanly with a Vicious Blow or something like that.
It’s possible to avoid the unpleasantness that is Amaranth following you around by getting the “best” resolution where you restore her to her real self and make her shake off the evil influence she was under. Doing so requires getting the intel on her from San Francisco before going here and then finishing the scenario successfully. This will stop her from randomly appearing in later scenarios and also remove her from the vote in the finale. Since this game doesn’t just hand you things (not even things you already payed for in time by jetting around the world to get this intel), this resolution will however for some reason cost you an extra time.
Failure has dire consequences in this scenario. Not even resigning will protect you from them, as all remaining civilians will be counted as slain when everyone resigns or gets defeated. If more civilians were slain than rescued, a mental trauma is dealt to each investigator. If twice more civilians were slain than rescued, everyone even gets another mental trauma. That means that if you got defeated, you will likely leave Marrakesh with 3 trauma, zero XP, no key and with either “the lovers united” (which has both Amaranth and Razin vote against you in the finale) or with Amaranth on your tail, still wearing the Blossom. Yikes!
Marrakesh is only 1 time away from London, so together with Istanbul it’s one of the more inviting places to go right after Riddles and Rain. A bit of a trap, if you ask me! So you will only want to come here if you feel confident in your ability to handle several big Elites at once, something that is a big ask at the start of the campaign. Don’t wait too long though, after some time the scenario starts with some civilians already slain and Amaranth already in play. Yet some time later, and there’s not even a scenario in Marrakesh anymore, only a description of the carnage, a few pity XP and some mental trauma. The sweet spot would be arriving in Marrakesh at 9 time. At this point, you don’t have any additional cultists in the bag yet and also don’t have to start with slain civilians. That’s enough time to do Istanbul and/or Dogs at War first to get some upgrades that help you deal with the carnage in Marrakesh. Alternatively you could use that time to go to San Francisco for the intel on Amaranth and do either Anchorage or Havana on the way back.

4 Replies to “Dead Heat”

    1. Every card has only ever one side active at a time. This does extend to out of play zones like the Victory display. So no, you only get 1XP.

      The reason that the front has a VP on it is because depending on how the scenario goes, you end up fighting either her back side on its own or her front side plus Razin in the end, so she could go into the victory display on either side in the end.

  1. I recently started TSK and was searching the web for some confirmation regarding mechanics in Dead Heat (the first location I chose) when I discovered your site. I quickly realized I had found the holy grail of Arkham information. I did not dive in but waited until I was done with being slaughtered by Dead Heat before absorbing your content on the scenario. I feel much better now as you confirmed that my frustration with the Dead Heat experience is not unique and that I may have started TSK at one of the more painful locations.

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