Designing a fan-made Return to the Dreamlands #4: Returning to No Return


After taking a small break for Hemlock Vale related things, let’s get back into figuring out this Dream-Eaters Return thing. Today, i want to go into The Unofficial Return to The Point of No Return, which is the unwieldiest title for a scenario ever. While last weeks look at Waking Nightmare was mostly a status report on what i consider to be pretty much done, URt No Return is a scenario that still requires a fair amount of work on my end and where your input can help a lot. So if you come up with anything interesting for the scenario after reading this article, please let me know.
The other half of today’s article is going to be about how the Unofficial Return box tries to tie the campaigns closer together by introducing some extra payoffs for things that happened on either side of the campaign. Actually, let’s start with that part.

Of Wells, Cats and Cadets

There are basically two things that i had planned for introducing some more inter-connectivity within the campaign. You have actually seen one of those before, in the second article of this dev diary i talked about the Victory Display theme and how i cut those out of the project. Part of that theme were two cards, Guarding Presence and All Alone, that were supposed to increase the depth of the decision around the Black Cat some more. While I did scrap those two cards due to their fiddliness and variance, this leaves two cards in the card budget for the custom expansion that can either go towards something else or towards another attempt at doing something with the Black Cat. Here’s what I currently have in my design file:

One copy of this card would be shuffled into the encounter decks of any scenario past the first one and just give that little bit of extra oomph behind the Black Cat decision. I would put two copies of the card into the set, so that the two campaign halves can still be played simultaneously. But i am by all means not married to this idea yet and could easily see myself using the card slots for something else instead.

What is more set in stone at this point however is that i want there to be something in each campaign side that pays off for a decision or result from the other side. Let me introduce you to Cadet Maheswaran.

You do of course all remember Doctor Maheswaran, who you meet during Waking Nightmare and who, depending on your choices and scenario result, can end up missing, dead or alive. If she ends up alive, she will stay with the investigators that are laying asleep in the hospital and in the original campaign is never heard of again, her campaign log entry not mattering in the slightest. Now, the dreaming investigators from side A will meet Maheswaran during Dark Side of the Moon because they unconsciously pick up on this person that is in a room with them in the physical world while they wander the dreamlands. There is some scenario text in the little booklet of course, but i won’t bore you with my hacky writing here. The gist is that the dreamers, Virgil and Carter run into this woman that like them got lost on the moon. She is part of the crew of one of the many ships around the place, got sent to scout and after getting turned around, ran into the investigators. She suggests joining the group and help them get off this rock.

Aside from being a cool and flashy payoff, she also mirrors slightly what happens in Point of No Return, where the party meets Upton Pickman. I thought giving the other side a story ally as well would be neat. Her abilities are supposed to help with either alarm or the for some investigators quite difficult agility tests in this scenario. The limitation through her health pool is significant but of course healing can help her do more.

That takes care of one side of the campaign, but i also wanted something on the other side. Some sort of payoff in Point of No Return for something that happens in scenario 1 of the other side, Beyond the Gates of Sleep. This ended up being a lot less flashy and much smaller than the whole Maheswaran business, because for one No Return already has a lot going on and you also already have a story ally there so handing out more story assets felt wrong. The only campaign log entry you make in Gates of Sleep is whether you stayed on the path or not and i didn’t want to use that as a trigger because while I do remove the heavy XP penalty for staying on the path (we’ll talk about that in a later post) I do not want to reward it either because frankly it’s kinda boring. So I came up with something completely new.

During Gates of Sleep, you can run into the Wishing Well, which triggers an interlude. Again, i will spare you the details for now, but the idea is that the well calls to the investigators, beckons them to throw something in (a non-signature Item asset card from their hand or play area, to be specific) and make a wish. Throwing the card in will Exile it and make it so that the card can not be re-added to an investigators deck for the rest of that campaign half. They can either refuse for an immediate payoff that helps during Gate of Sleep and the whole thing is done. Or they can throw something in … without getting anything in return there and then. However, during setup of No Return, the Item that was thrown in will fall at the feet of one of the investigators on the other side and they can start with it in play.

So for both sides, there is something in scenario 3 that does something depending on choices made in scenario 1 of the other mini-campaign. I am pretty set on these and response from playtesters has been quite positive. So I don’t think i want to change them anymore, chances are they are going to stay the way they are now (except maybe for some details around how exactly the Wishing Well works). What’s more in the air is the whole deal with the Black Cat. And actually, completely scrapping that idea and using the two cards for something completely different is still on the table. Would just be a shame about that art, I really like it.

The Unofficial Return To The Point Of No Return

Going into the design for this Return scenario, there were two things that I knew i had to do: Fix the Vale of Pnath which gates progress behind several Intellect(4) tests which can actually be an unpassable barrier for some investigators or even groups. Also, people were clamoring for more spiders because aside from a few tar spiders in the end, there wasn’t really anything like that in the scenario. And apparently people like their spiders. I do too, so that’s something to do as well.

Fixing the location is relatively straightforward. Just make it more costly to use events and skills here instead of prohibiting their use completely. Nothing terribly exciting, so let’s move on from that.

Since the two custom Returns to Waking Nightmare and Thousand Shapes both focus hard on the swarming aspect of spiders, i figured that I would use No Return to bridge the gap between those crawlers on the one end of the campaign and the big spider momma on the other side of the campaign. To that end, i threw some monster spiders in here.

Scourge of the Peaks would be in the encounter deck twice, probably not from the start but shuffled in at a later point when you actually put those Vale locations into play. This thing’s textbox is based on the interaction with location traits that is present on a couple of the original scenario’s treacheries. It’s a relatively tough enemy for being non-Elite, i am aiming for a point here where it is a credible threat but doesn’t overshadow the Dhole which is the real star of the show during that point of the scenario.

And then there’s this thing. During the development of the Unofficial Return to Innsmouth, we were joking about how we have all these locations in our design with all these various backsides. Some were Tidal Tunnels, some were regular locations, we had a location with encounter back and some other special locations as well. That whole discussion led to the creation of location weaknesses with player backs which will be on the player side of the URtTDE set, but also to me sneaking an enemy on the back of a location here. The whole Veiled location thing is pretty much predestined for such shenanigans. Now granted, the wording on the Revelation trigger of the Tar Tyrant needs a bit of work, but the idea is that you unveil the Sea of Pitch you just cleared and then – BAM – giant spider! You are pushed back to the Vale of Pnath with the spider in your face. Hilarity ensues.

Between the Tar Tyrant and the two copies of Scourge this adds enough eight-legged menace to the scenario to tide you over till Weaver.

On the side of the encounter deck, Whisper of Hypnos is switched for Song of Hypnos and Ancient Evils is swapped for Looming Evils. Overall, the encounter deck doesn’t really change all that much. Combined with the length of the scenario that means that this is probably the one right now that plays the most like the original. That doesn’t have to be bad, i quite like No Return. But if we can find a way to give it just a bit more spice, that’d be great. Since there is only 5 cards from the card budget allocated towards this scenario for now (1 scenario setup card, Vale of Pnath, Tar Tyrant, 2 Scourges) i could see tossing another 2 or 3 cards its way. Just needs to be a better idea than randomly swapping out a location or two which in my opinion does very little here.

Next Up

And that’s what I have for you today. Looking forward to any comments or insights you might have, maybe we can find something that gives Return to No Return that last kick it needs?
Next time, I will give you an overview of the custom Return to Weaver, a scenario where i used very few cards but for a rather big effect. That’s going to be another scenario that is pretty much done already, but that shouldn’t stop us from talking about it!
For the second half of the article i will… actually i have no idea yet. Maybe there’s enough ongoing development that i can show you another set of changes to cards you have already seen? Maybe i head straight into the other side of the campaign? We’ll see, i guess. Cheers o/

4 Replies to “Designing a fan-made Return to the Dreamlands #4: Returning to No Return”

  1. For Scourge of the Peaks, just a heads up, the “Vale” in “While at a Vale location” in its text box is stylized like a trigger keyword instead of a Trait.

    For the Black Cat… maybe something like Teachings of the Order from Innsmouth, a permanent with some 1/campaign abilities? (Also, the Black Cat’s a she? I always thought it was a he.)

    1. The campaign log refers to the Black Cat as an “it”. I’ve been using she mostly for two reasons. One, i am german. Cats are female in german. And two, the Black Cat is sort of Maxine Newman’s author self insert.

      But going strictly by what’s in the campaign book, the cat is referred to an an “it” consistently. I suppose that means I should do so as well.

  2. Hi There,

    First, let me thank you for all of the great information you have posted on this site. I only recently got into Arkham, and while I am not exactly taking your advice word for word, you insights have been invaluable for me to make my own purchasing decisions. I also love what you are doing with the fan-made “Return” boxes, so I want to support those, and I hope my musings might spark a new idea or two for you.

    Second, as mentioned before, while I don’t have any experience with the Dream-Eater Scenarios…I do have thoughts about how to make the Black Cat more interesting because it is the most prominent character in the campaign and deserves a spotlight (I swear on my Black Cat that I am totally not biased :)). Forgive me for the lengthy post, but I believe explaining my thought process would be more helpful to you than, saying “This would be cool”.

    1. A single encounter card would be perfect for the Black Cat, save that extra card for something else. However, your current iteration of the card is too wordy in my opinion. Those are a lot of words to say “Ignore me or draw another card”. Which in itself is kind of boring to be honest as I agree with your saying “This is a card game, more cards = more fun”.

    Thus to save card space for more interesting interactions laid out below, I believe all you need to do is insert the following setup rules before scenarios 2A/B, 3A/B. & 4A/B. “Check the Campaign Log to see if ‘The Black Cat is at Your Side’. If so, shuffle ‘Under Her Protection’ into the Encounter deck for this scenario.” This way you don’t have to remember mid-game who the cat is with as it will only be with one group (or none) after the interludes per your choices.

    2. I also really like the idea of a “Nice” Encounter card that helps the player, since that would be what, 1 out of 1000 cards that bring the pain? The Outer Gods don’t hate us that much lol. In fact, what spurred on these ideas was playing through the Marvel Champions Mojoverse Campaign this weekend, where the special “Longshot Encounter Deck Ally” literally saved my butt against Magog, for I would have 100% lost without drawing him at that exact time & moment. I will remember that amazing draw forever now and adding a free ally to the encounter deck (but not knowing when they will show up) is a simple, fun, and thematic given certain contexts.

    So, I thought why not do this with your Black Cat card as it kind of fits that bill and then give it special abilities based on the Elder Thing & Tablet Tokens (Since they affect the campaigns differently)? Then I remembered, oh wait, that card already exists as a neutral ally! And since no one likes redundancy, I don’t think the “Ally Encounter Card” works for the Black Cat.

    3. Distraught, I kept thinking, what are the unique (or featured) gameplay elements of both campaigns? For A, I believe these are the hidden Nyar treacheries and For B, I believe it is the “Swarming” Spider/Rat Cards. Okay, but how can we combat both these problems via this encounter card? And then it hit me…a “Helpful” Hidden Treachery Card. Here is what I was thinking, although it might be a bit too spicy:

    Peril. Hidden. Surge.
    Revelation – Secretly add this card to your hand (Does not count against your hand size)

    Choose Either:
    (Quick Action) – Discard this card to remove all other treacheries from your hand, your threat area, and your current location.

    (Quick Action) – Discard this card to defeat a non-elite enemy with the keyword “Swarm” from your location or a connection location. Then return all attached player cards to their respective hands.

    Victory – 1.

    Ability 1 is primarily aimed at helping campaign side A with those hidden Nyar Treacheries which seem to be a nightmare to deal with, especially in 4A (But this does not mean you can discard Nyar himself since he is an enemy). Notice that I also included “your threat area and at your location”, to make that ability playable/useful in Scenario B as well, which seems to throw a few of those types of treacheries at you instead of hidden ones.

    Ability 2 is this aimed at helping with the B side campaign, with all the creepy crawlers, but since there are some Swarm enemies in Campaign A, you could technically play it there too if needed. Returning the cards to your hand instead of the bottom of your deck really makes that a unique/powerful ability I don’t think I have seen elsewhere in the campaign set.

    Lastly, why would one include a Victory -1 at the bottom of this? Not only to make sure this is a one-time per scenario card maximum, but to represent you losing out on experience having to rely on the Cat instead of yourself. Can’t you just imagine him mocking you and holding this favor over your head forever? -1 EXP is a fair trade off for playing a “Get out of jail free card”.

    And by giving negative experience to those who use the cat, that makes the two other scenario options (You Asked for It & the Hunches) technically a bit more attractive by giving them “extra” EXP, when you normally get nothing. I guess you could just not play the card if you do pull him to avoid the EXP loss, but that is why you have to make those abilities “tempting”.

    To me, this makes your encounter card a lot more interesting, with 2 abilities that can be used in both scenarios (At various degrees of usefulness), and will require some thought/good timing to make the most of them. Do I take out that swarm enemy before it gets to big? Or wait until it does, eliminate it, and rain cards back down into your hand? Do I get rid of this annoying treachery right away or wait until I have more to get rid of everything at once?

    Oh, and never forget being a hidden treachery card, like all our feline friends, The Black Cat is very fickle and will only show up when (if) it wants to. You are not guaranteed to draw this early and there will certainly be times when you draw it too late. Perhaps you even discard him yourself when messing around as a Mystic (Whoops). Which I believe this randomness ties in nicely to the theme, as well as it is “Hiding in the Shadows” (Well, technically in your Hand) via that Hidden Treachery. He’s there and involved, but never directly as the campaign lays out.

    Hope this helps plant a thought seed around the use of this card but feel free to throw this in the fire too if it is not up to par or make any edits you see fit. I think the idea of a helpful hidden treachery checks off a lot of boxes for this card; making your decisions matter more without being overly complex in it’s execution or setup, giving the players more choices to interact with the unique mechanics of the campaigns (both macro & micro), and the constant anticipation/excitement of when exactly he will come to your aid, if at all.

    All the Best!

    1. Wow, thank you very much for this detailed post. Lots of food for thought in there and i found myself nodding along to most of it. That hidden treachery is indeed probably a bit too spicy and Victory -1 is going to be a hard sell that attacks something that i am not comfortable with 😀
      But yeah, i will definitely return to your post once i get my head into thinking about how to proceed with this custom set again. Thanks again, very much appreciated.

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