The Heart of Madness, part I: The Great Seal

Encounter sets in this scenario: The Heart of Madness, The Great Seal, Ancient Evils, Locked Doors, Miasma, Nameless Horrors, Penguins, Shoggoths
Available experience: 5 (Active Seals) + 1 (Rampaging Shoggoth) = 6XP

Size of the Encounter Deck29
# Enemies7
# Willpower7
# Agility5
# Doom5
# Damage5
# Horror7
# Tekeli-li9

Synopsis: Reaching the final destination of their journey, the team decides to investigate the gate that locks away the ancient evil closer. They discover magical seals that can be turned active to aid them with defeating the thing behind the gate. Those seals have to be handled with care, having multiple active ones in the same place would have cataclysmic consequences.

My take on this scenario: Heart of Madness #1 is an optional scenario that allows preparing for the finale by acquiring a couple of seals that will prove quite useful in Heart of Madness #2. Considering that this is near the end of the campaign, this scenario isn’t all that difficult, so you’ll absolutely want to do this one.
Handling the seals is interesting enough to do. Especially the first half of the scenario when you are still exploring the locations, hoping to find matching pairs that allow securing a seal is good fun and rewards the sort of mobility that you needed for previous scenarios as well. Note that this scenario uses a total of 16 locations and that they are arranged in a way that will bust most kitchen tables, though 😀 This might be the Arkham scenario that requires the most table space.
This is a rock solid scenario that i don’t have any major complaints about. The encounter deck is a bit generic and the low amount of enemies can lead to a couple of turns that are somewhat uneventful. But the locations offer enough of play to make this scenario worth visiting for sure.

Scenario specific encounter sets: The first of another multi-part scenario, Heart of Madness #1 uses an encounter set that is shared between both Heart of Madness scenarios and an encounter set that is unique to it.
The shared one (aptly named “Heart of Madness”) adds two treacheries that provide yet another variant on the template provided by Rotten Remains and Grasping Hands back in the Core: Test agility or suffer damage, test willpower or suffer horror. The unique twist this time is that the difficulty scales with the distance from the central location.
The encounter set for this specific scenario adds another treachery that deals horror and damage in Electrostatic Discharge. It surges and makes it just a bit more dangerous to hold those seals for too long. Protoplasmic Mass from the same set is one of the few enemies in here and it’s actually quite dangerous, especially for anyone with an activated seal in their possession.

Act/Agenda: Both the act and agenda deck are fairly straightforward. The act deck states the goal of the scenario: Find seals, activate them and place them on the central location. The first seal placed this way gives a special bonus, depending on the seal.
The agenda offers a total threshold of 17 doom, distributed over three cards. On advancing the first agenda, yet another mid-scenario interlude tries to kill off a random team member. This time, the loss can be averted if a specific other partner is around, though. When the agenda advances again, everyone who holds a seal is being punished for it – even more so if they hold an active seal. Similar to the bonus on the act, the exact penalty depends on the specific seal. If the agenda runs out completely, everyone is defeated and has to either take a mental trauma or shuffle three Tekeli-li into their deck for the finale. So make sure to resign in time.

Enemies: There is only few enemies in this scenario, but they all have considerable impact. The scenario specific Protoplasmic Mass fits in very well with the rest of the Shoggoths from their set. Together, they are five tough enemies that can hit hard and present a challenge to the fighters in the group. The Mass does have less hit points than the other Shoggoths, but its impressive fight value of 6 makes up for that easily.
The only non-Shoggoth enemies are the penguins which do a good job of being a pest. You need to move around quite a bit in this scenario and especially if you are trying to avoid running into the hunting Shoggoths, the locations that are held by a penguin might as well be barred completely. Having a way to kill them from a connecting location is worth a lot here, for example through the Dynamite campaign asset or a player card like Marksmanship.
Be aware that all of these enemies start in the encounter deck right away, so you might want to brace for drawing Rampaging Shoggoth in your first Mythos phase…

Tekeli-li: Nameless Horrors and Shoggoths are the two sets dealing with Tekeli-li. While there certainly have been scenarios that put a bigger emphasis on these weaknesses, you will probably start playing with a few of them already in your deck, making Blasphemous Visions very relevant right from the start.

Seal locations: All of the play around seals is done through location abilities. There’s a set of five locations like Undercity Altar that bring the seals into play and allow investigators to take control of it. They then have to carry that seal to another location like the Forsaken Temple where they can activate the seal. Finally, the active seal has to be brought to the center location, the Gate of Y’quaa. Due to the size of the map and the locations all starting face down, this requires some initial exploration first to find out what the players are supposed to do and where.

Other notable locations: Aside from the central Gate, two other locations are worth mentioning. The Vaulted Corridor allows investigators to save on actions when moving around, as long as they can pass the agility test. The Subnautical Sprawl offers up a good amount of clues at a low shroud value, ideal for survivors (and investigators with a flashlight) to get some easy clues for use at the seal locations. There are three Corridor and two Sprawl locations on the map.

Suggested partner assets: At this point in the campaign, you should probably just bring whoever fits your deck most and/or who is best at covering up some glaring weaknesses of your investigator.
Both Eliyah and Cookie can be very useful for dealing with the Shoggoths. Especially in their resolute versions, being able to defuse a situation like a bad Tekeli-li (-1 action, discard critical asset) on engaging Forgotten Shoggoth can be a life saver.
Ellsworth can interact with Locked Doors and Miasma, but i wouldn’t think that either of those sets is really worth bringing a silver bullet for.
For the rest, your campaign status is going to be the deciding factor. So sure, bring Danforth or Claypool if you are swamped with weaknesses or Frost tokens.

Reward and Failure: This is another optional scenario, but there’s little reason to skip it. The only price you have to pay for going into Heart of Madness #1 is having to go through another interlude that might make you lose another partner asset. This can be an issue if you are dependent on someone but didn’t have the opportunity to turn them resolute yet. But otherwise, this scenario should definitely be played. It’s rather short and you have the option of resigning through the Gate at any point.
As a reward you can get a handful of XP to buy yourself a last minute upgrade before the finale, but most importantly you gain access to the seals in the final scenario and those are really powerful. Getting three or more active seals here downright trivializes a lot of Heart of Madness #2.

5 Replies to “The Heart of Madness, part I: The Great Seal”

  1. The map is indeed absurd as presented, but I found a good way to massively condense the space it takes while retaining the connection-geometry between locations:

    Arrange the locations into a grid: 3 rows of 5 locations each (the top row is the outer ring, the middle is the middle ring, and the third row is the inner ring). These locations are connected to each location left, right, above, and below them — and the leftmost and rightmost locations of a row are connected to each other. (This can be thought of as a periodic boundary condition, or like a map projection.)

    The Gate of Y’quaa is placed beneath the third row (I usually place it in the middle, under the third location of the third row), connected to each location in the third row. (Alternatively, this setup could be inverted, with the Gate of Y’quaa being placed above the three rows, and the top row being the inner ring.)

    Speaking of maps, Hemispheric Map is unironically AMAZING in Heart of Madness — it’s fully-powered everywhere except the outer ring, where it’s still always active in its “pretty good” mode. (It’s also pretty good in City of the Elder Things). This janky card finally found a home! The only location that it’s not active on is the very final Hidden Tunnel location, but you don’t need to actually do anything there except wait/survive, and ideally you’re there for less than a single round before you advance.

    1. Just be Luke Robinson, play Hemispheric Map and Pocket Telescope and the world is your oyster 😀 But yeah, Innsmouth and EotE both have given Map some legs. Still not sure i’d throw 3XP at it, but it’s looking a lot better today than when it was released… during TFA of all things.

      I did read about alternate ways to arrange the board before on the Mythos Busters Discord. I suppose it’s a good tip for people with small tables, but for this scenario especially it would take away too much flavor. This is really crafted around being a ring and while it *does* look ridiculous, i kinda do appreciate the visual, too.

        1. It’s also much, much easier to see and ‘feel’ which locations connect where. The map as presented in the book has the locations so far apart that connected locations don’t even truly ‘feel’ connected, and it can be downright difficult to see where the actual concentric rings are and make sure you’re not accidentally skipping rings when moving around the circle (not to mention actually be able to inspect/see the locations/art). At minimum one needs some string or likewise to thread between connected locations along the rings as “pathways.”

  2. An important tactic to be aware of re: Heart of Madness 1 because of the way it pays off in Heart of Madness 2: you should only place seals that you’ve activated or absolutely-plan-to-activate-in-HoM-2. This is because of the cultist token(s) getting much, much worse if you control a seal, and there being no way in HoM-2 to get rid of seals you don’t want. Personally, I think one should just not bother with placing unactivated seals in HoM-1, because of the likelihood of just being preoccupied with other things in HoM-2. It’s very easy to end up having to lug an unactivated seal all the way through the end of the ramp, making the cultist token(s) a constant bonus frost token instead of just a somewhat-rare hazard.

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