Murder at the Excelsior Hotel

Encounter sets in this scenario: Murder at the Excelsior Hotel, Alien Interference, Excelsior Management, Dark Rituals, Vile Experiments, Sins of the Past
Available experience: 5 (locations) + 1 (Mr. Trombly) + 2 (“Boss”) = 8XP
Cost to run this as a side scenario: 3XP

Size of the Encounter Deck25
# Enemies11
# Willpower4
# Agility2
# Parley7
# Doom4
# Damage2
# Horror4
Note: The above numbers are with the police in the deck, but before the cards from the variable sets come in.

Synopsis: The players find themselves in a hotel, with just a handful of locations available at first. There’s been a murder, the lead investigator is a suspect and the players have just a few turns before the police show up. Their choice: Either cover up the evidence or get on discovering clues towards the true culprit right away. Once the police are on the scene, they do their own investigation, represented by moving clues from locations onto their cards as doom. Player can parley them to turn those doom back into clues for themselves or they can go an start murdering people… there is in fact a large number of “enemies” in the deck, most of them marked as innocent. The decision on whether the players kill innocents or not is on them. While investigating the happenings in the hotel, the players find two out of five possible leads and assign clues to them by using abilities at the correct locations. Should they manage to do so before the police finish their investigation (=before the doom clock runs out), they get to confront the final baddie, either with help of the police or not. There are 10 different final agendas, depending on the combination of leads. As a final bit of weirdness, the scenario allows you to reset it once if you lose through investigator defeat or the agenda running out, keeping only gained trauma from the first try.

My take on this scenario: Murder at the Excelsior Hotel is probably the most replayable of all the Arkham scenarios. For one, the ten different permutations of how the second half of the scenario plays out do change up the scenario significantly. But aside from that, there are also a decent number of decisions to make about how to approach the first half: Are we avoiding innocent deaths at all costs? Do we cover up the evidence or not?
All of this makes for an excellent experience, Hotel is among the most well-crafted scenarios around in my opinion. Provided you don’t go on an actual murder spree, the focus on parleying and evading enemies gives the scenario a very different feel from most others. Picking up clues is important as always, of course. But to apply the clues to the leads you at least need to be in the correct location and fulfill some condition or another. On your first play, you do not know where to go, but the flavor texts of the leads and locations actually have hints for you. So there’s even a small meta component to the thing where you as the player are looking for clues in the card texts. Of course, on replays you might already know which lead belongs to which room, so things get a bit easier.
If i had to name one gripe with the scenario, it’s that the encounter deck sometimes feels a bit repetitive. Especially before the deck size is upped to full, you are somewhat likely to end up drawing the same cards over and over, due to the below average deck size and the fact that most of the cards have three or even four copies. It’s a very small gripe, though. And as soon as the lead specific cards enter the deck, it’s no longer an issue anyways.
Excelsior has a large number of available experience points for a standalone scenario, up to 8 in total. However, it’s not all that easy to actually get them. The second half of the scenario usually won’t afford the time, as you need to act towards shutting down the big bad. So you would need to go after those XP in the first part, however doing so will open up more crime scenes with clues, which the Arkham Officers will gladly move into.

The Murder at the Excelsior Hotel: The primary encounter set has the policemen, the hotel staff and the hotel guests for enemies. The guests and police aren’t openly hostile, but need parleying to not add doom. The staff are aggressive and have Hunter, but are not all that dangerous. The unique Mr. Trombly is a bigger pain, though. In terms of treacheries, the main theme here is making those innocent “enemies” engage and attack the player, making it harder to not respond in kind. Around the midpoint of the scenario, two of the following five sets are also added to the game:
Alien Interference: Adds a treachery that deals horror or damage when the player fails a willpower test. Also adds doom to the final boss of this set, a Mi-Go that accumulates doom and uses it to shield from damage.
Excelsior Management: Adds the Hotel Security enemy, who is stronger than most other enemies in this scenario and seeks out Guests. The boss here is a Shoggoth that lures guests to its location and feasts on them, adding doom.
Dark Rituals: A couple cultists are added to the deck. These have a chance to add doom to the agenda with each attack. The Dimensional Shambler is a tough Hunter enemy that can possibly defeat attacked players instantly.
Vile Experiments: Something sinister comes out of one of the rooms. The treachery added by this set deals horror to players failing a willpower test that gets more difficult the closer the investigator is to that room. There’s no boss enemy here, instead there’s a brain in a jar that deals horror and damage to everyone for every turn it is around.
Sins of the Past: The specter of the first victim has taken hold in one of the rooms. It’s resilient to damage from anything that is not a spell, relic, charm or encounter card. The treachery from this set works like Rotting Remains, but passing the willpower test will actually damage the specter.

Act/Agenda: Before the finale kicks in, two acts and two agendas are present. The first agenda represents the time before the police show up, the second one the state of their investigation. Before they finish, the players need to find the two leads (first act), then assign clues to them (second act). If they manage to do so in time, both act and agenda are replaced by one out of ten possible final agendas that determine how much time you have to deal with the big bad. That agenda will also give some sort of ability to the clues you collected on the leads, to help with your goal.

Notable enemies: The first half of the scenario is dominated by the need to do something about the policemen working their way through the clues and the nosy hotel guests peeking into crime scenes. This can easily be a fulltime job for one investigator with high willpower (or Fine Clothes) who just spends his actions moving around and parleying. At any time, Mr. Trombly can pop up from the encounter deck, presenting an immediate challenge. As a silver lining, he appears in the Foyer, where Sergeant Monroe is able to help out.
The final boss enemies are of course quite dangerous as well, but can often be reined in with whatever ability the agenda is giving your lead assets.

Notable treacheries: Driven to Madness and Violent Outburst, both of which have 3 copies in the deck, make otherwise Aloof enemies engage and attack you. If you want to keep a clean conscience, evasion is going to be necessary here to get of it. Thankfully, the aloof enemies all have an evasion of only 2, but for someone like Leo Anderson that can still be an issue. Four copies of Blood on Your Hands are ready to punish you if you do end up becoming a murderer. Three of the five optional sets add three copies of a treachery, and all of them deal damage or horror in some way. Should you get two of those three sets combined with each other, that can make for some significant pressure on your stamina and/or sanity.

Rewards: At 3XP, the buy-in for Excelsior is relatively high. In exchange, there is a good amount of XP to gain back, allowing players to go out of it with a net win of 5XP. This isn’t all that easy, though. Expect having to leave some crime scenes (and therefore victory points) unattended, unless you plan on murdering your way through everything…
No matter the outcome of the scenario, the lead investigator will earn the Bloodstained Dagger and the What Have You Done? weakness. The dagger is a reasonable weapon. Nothing to get too excited about but can allow you to run one fewer secondary weapon in your regular deck. The weakness is usually not a big deal… but when it is bad, it’s a huge pain that drains card draws, actions and/or cards from your hand. Luckily parley is often not that relevant and it does affect only the lead investigator.
Should the players manage to get the police on their side, the reward for that is pretty great. Sergeant Monroe is expensive to play, but offers both soak and a damage ability and even works for other players at his location. Pretty sweet if you can swing the resource cost.
If you do end up killing innocents, be aware that killing a policemen will add a random Madness or Detective weakness to the lead investigator’s deck. There’s a couple nasty ones there that it’s worth trying to avoid that. On that note, the same happens for losing the scenario through having the agenda run out.


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