|Size of the Encounter Deck||26|
My take on this encounter deck: The Gathering sets the standard for what we expect from a ‘typical’ encounter deck. About one in four cards test willpower and threaten harmful effects for those who can not deal with that. Grasping Hands reminds us that agility is a stat that can also be tested. Speaking of Grasping Hands, both that one and Rotting Remains are in the deck, showcasing the often used concept of scaling by how much the test was failed. Chilling Cold and Striking Fear offer some asset hate and stalling cards that stop players from advancing their game plans. The enemies from the Rats and Ghouls sets are little more than a combat tutorial, but there are two unique ghouls that act as a preliminary test before the players are let loose on the final exam: The Ghoul Priest.
The Gathering is a well crafted scenario, walking the fine line between being the tutorial for the game and being a scenario that is replayable over and over again. Achieving this is downright admirable considering the encounter deck is built almost completely from the generic building blocks that came with the Core Set.
Cancel these: Ancient Evils, Frozen in Fear. The doom clock isn’t super tight in this scenario, but having some more wiggle room in the end can certainly help when preparing for the Ghoul-Priest’s appearance. Frozen in Fear can cost a lot of actions, so that’d be my second pick for keeping a cancel card up.
What it does: The only scenario specific cards that are added to the encounter deck is this pair of large ghouls. They are considerably dangerous enemies that hit hard, have decent fight stats and enough life that it’s going to take multiple successful attacks to take them down. They both have spawning restrictions to a specific room in the house, so if they are drawn from the encounter deck during act 1, they are discarded. This specific interaction is changed in the Return to The Gathering, which has a clause that will spawn the Attic or Cellar alongside their ghoul, if necessary. Killing either will award a victory point, introducing players to the concept of earning additional experience for taking out significant enemies.
My take: These guys were a huge deal back when we were playing the pre-constructed decks from our one core set, clutching the Baseball Bat in Wendy’s hands as we are wondering what we are supposed to do about that thing in the cellar. But even by today’s standard and with decks that pull from the larger card pool, these monsters aren’t exactly push-overs. The Flesh-Eater is easy to evade at least, and since it’s bound to stick to the attic, that’s not a bad idea if picking up the victory point is not a concern. The beast in the cellar is a more straight-forward fight, the evade value out of reach unless the investigator is focused on evasion in the first place.
Threat level: High. Don’t be fooled by the ghoul type and them appearing in the very first scenario of the game, these pair of enemies could appear unchanged during a current campaign and would still be worth worrying about.
Dealing with it: Flesh-Eater can be evaded for a turn or two while the players hover up the clues from the 1-shroud location that its sitting in. For Icy Ghoul, that’s less of an option. For one, it has a strong evade value. Also the Cellar has four shroud, making a quick pickup of the clues more difficult.
Return to The Gathering
My take on the modified scenario: For all its additions to the scenario itself, the modifications to the encounter deck are only minor. The Ghouls encounter set is changed to Ghouls of Umôrdhoth, a very minor upgrade. Arguably even a downgrade because it takes Grasping Hands out of the deck. Two more big ghouls are added to two of the new rooms. Also, a new treachery threatens to deal damage and horror or causing discard to everyone at the table, chipping away at the team’s available resources. These additions don’t change any of the foundations of the encounter deck, which is fair considering how well the original deck works.
What it does: Two more unique ghouls are added to the house, each in their own room. Like the ones from the base scenario, both of these have respectable combat stats and award a victory point for killing them. The Ghoul from the Depths deals the least damage of all of the ghouls, but has Retaliate to threaten bonus attacks should the investigator slip up while attacking it. The Corpse-Hungry Ghoul spawns in the bedroom, but is the only one of the bunch that will follow players around with the Hunter keyword. It deals both two damage and horror on every attack, which means that players should be proactively hunting the Ghoul and killing it.
My take: This set of enemies fits just fine to the two from the base set. Most of the threat in terms of combat comes from these four ghouls throughout the scenario, at least until the Ghoul Priest shows up. Ghoul from the Depths seems a tiny bit weaker to me than the original two, while the Corpse-Hungry one has me very afraid of its combination of Hunter with that much damage and horror.
Threat level: High. With four high caliber enemies in the scenario before we even get to the final boss, there is plenty to do for any investigators looking for a fight.
Dealing with it: Don’t wait for Corpse-Hungry Ghoul to come to you, seek it out actively and try to move into its location and kill it in one turn. Something that can deal three damage in one action is very helpful with that. As for Ghoul from the Depths, it has low evasion which can be exploited to stop the Retaliate from working. If that is worth doing, depends on how confident you are in your attacks being successful.
What it does: This treachery hits every investigator, not just the one who drew it. Depending on the current number of cards in hand, each investigator will either have to take a damage and horror or have to discard two random cards. The discard can be prevented with a saving throw against willpower at difficulty 2.
My take: I think this card is weird and feels out of place. It clearly has some respectable effects, hitting everyone at the table for relevant effects. But the card doesn’t really play into anything else the scenario or the encounter deck are doing and as a result the card feels disconnected and just a bit like random filler. Sure, it’s another willpower test and sure, it’s some more damage and horror to stack up with Rotting Remains and Grasping Hands, but I would’ve expected a Return To card to be more tangible in what it is trying to fix or enhance.
On a less serious note, I also can’t help but be amused by the flavor text going on about the third seal that is supposedly the last one … and then only two copies of the seal being in the encounter deck. I guess we got lucky there.
Threat level: Mid to High. Applying the effects to everyone at the table gives the card some potential, but the fairly easy willpower test can often mitigate the more impactful side of the card.
Dealing with it: There’s only two of them in the deck, but between all the dangerous enemies and both Grasping Hands and Rotting Remains the players should make sure that they don’t die to this. That means either keeping a healthy hand size or having the health/sanity/soak to take the damage and horror. Especially investigators with enough base will to reliably pass that Will(2) test should try to keep enough cards in their hand that they can just do that and not suffer any effects from this card.