|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: This is a very busy encounter deck that keeps the players occupied. Of the 12 enemies in the deck, many are pretty weak but there are two additional huge Hunter enemies that enter play from outside of the deck as well to keep fighters engaged. Cluevers also have a lot to do in this scenario. Not only do the catacombs themselves ask them to gain clues to progress, but there is also a very unusual amount of encounter cards in the deck that either ask for intellect tests or manipulate the shroud values of locations. Willpower tests take a step back and are less prevalent than usual. Grasping Hands is the only agility testing encounter card in the deck. There is both horror and damage treacheries around to keep in mind if fights went bad, trauma was already earned in the campaign or the investigators just go low on health or sanity for other reasons. Crypt Chill is in the deck, so that as well should be kept in mind during the first turns. I really like this encounter deck. It puts pressure on all players from various angles and the high number of scenario specific cards means that this scenario is full of stuff that was specifically designed to interact with each other. The Pallid Mask is my favorite Carcosa scenario and a contestant for favorite scenario overall. The incredibly interesting encounter deck is a big reason why.
Cancel these: Obscuring Fog, The Pit Below. There is no real standout treachery in this scenario, which one to cancel is very much dependant on the circumstances. If there’s no way around the shroud increase, then Obscuring Fog can be a huge pain here because of the number of high shroud locations and how reliant the players are on grabbing the clues. Pit Below can additionally force players to backtrack which can be awkward with all those Hunters skulking about.
What it does: The Docent is a weak enemy that spawns at an unrevealed catacomb. It can be killed fairly easily, but players can also take advantage of its parley action first. By passing an intellect check the player can use him to peek at one of the nearest unrevealed locations. The Docent is a regular enemy, so he will engage the player and attack in the enemy phase, dealing one horror.
My take: One half of a neat combo from the encounter deck, but the Docent also has interesting things going on when taken at face value. The intellect check is difficult enough to require a dedicated clue getter to pass reliably, at the same time that player may need an escort if he’s not a hybrid character like Joe. This may take some time to set up, but there is reason to try and deal with the Docent somewhat fast… Lots of interesting decisions to make here.
Threat level: Low to Medium. This is not a dangerous enemy by itself, but depending on how you want to deal with them, they could take a surprising amount of actions away.
Dealing with it: To get rid of this enemy, the players have to: Get to the unrevealed location it appeared. Then decide if they want to interrogate it. Then finally, kill it. All these steps do take at least some time, with the last part actually being the easiest one. Keep in mind that you might want to take this guy out early because otherwise you may find yourself staring down this fellow:
What it does: If a Catacomb Docent or any of the ghouls are in play when a player draws the Corpse Dweller, one of them is discarded and replaced by this much scarier threat. Note that if playing without Return to Carcosa, the Corpse Dweller can also break out of the Man in the Pallid Mask, discarding but not defeating him. Corpse Dweller hits fairly hard and with five health he will usually take at least a full player turn before he is defeated. Retaliate makes him even more risky to fight and Hunter makes sure he needs to be dealt with somehow eventually.
My take: The interaction with Man in the Pallid Mask is a really unfortunate oversight and i highly suggest that anyone uses the updated wording from Return to Carcosa that fixes it. Aside from that, the Docent/Dweller combo is just fun, i really like how these two cards play off each other. Removing Docents becomes somewhat of a priority because Dwellers are a pain to deal with. But the whole process of getting to the Docent can burn a number of actions as well, so players have real decisions to make here. Even the fairly unimpressive ghouls can turn into a dweller, so they should be killed as well instead of just evaded.
Threat level: High. These are large, hit hard and even if a fighter is right on hand to dispatch them, they will keep that player busy for at least a turn.
Dealing with it: The best way to deal with them is clearly to get rid of any potential hosts before the Dweller can even spawn. If playing with the broken interaction with Man in the Pallid Mask, preventing these becomes a lot more difficult as he can spawn on the other side of the map. Once Dwellers are on the board, it will take a fighter with a weapon to kill them. They have only three fight, but the amount of health leaves little room for failed attacks.
What it does: The investigator affected by this treachery has to discard either all of their resources or all of their cards at the end of the turn. The only way to prevent this from happening is by spending an action, however that will cause the effect to repeat on the next turn. Only once the player chooses to discard either resources or cards, the treachery is discarded with them.
My take: The line “Action: You look behind you.” is amazing. It’s not just a great flavor piece, though. Often, investigators can not afford dropping their hand or all of their resources and delaying the decision becomes a serious consideration.
Threat level: Low to Mid. Usually, all of the player choice that is part of this treachery can be used to make the actual impact of the discard minor. However, at that point the treachery might have already done its job by costing multiple actions.
Dealing with it: If drawn in the Mythos phase as usual, there is a whole turn of time to set up being able to choose one of the discard option without it hurting too much. Most of the time that means spending all but one resource (or close to it) and then choosing to discard resources. If not able to, the delay action can be considered, but that should be the exception.
What it does: It deals horror for failing a Willpower test, just like Rotting Remains from the Core. There are limitations applied to how the horror can be distributed, preventing to soak all of it with just one asset.
My take: Mostly this will just work like Rotting Remains, which of course is a perfectly fine and even sometimes scary card. There’s three of them in the deck, but the only other set dealing in horror is Hauntings, so there’s not much danger of horror stacking up on a player just from the encounter deck. The card itself is perfectly fine, but feels a bit random in this encounter deck because it stands almost completely on its own, without contributing to what is going on mechanically in the other places.
Threat level: Low. The horror can be mitigated, even with the extra clause to distribute evenly most players should not need to take more than one horror from this card directly on their investigator. The pressure from sanity loss is fairly low unless the investigator only has 5 sanity in the first place or went into the scenario with mental trauma.
Dealing with it: The Willpower test isn’t too hard and even partial success lower the horror that is dealt, so that’s the first step in keeping the impact low. The remaining horror can be dealt with in the usual ways, by soaking with assets and having some sanity to spare.
What it does: The Pit Below attaches to the investigator’s location and threatens to deal a big chunk of damage if they are still present at that location at the end of the turn. On top of that, the location’s shroud value is increased by one.
My take: Dreadful, this card has been a wrench in my plans a couple of times. The shroud increase makes it so you have a harder time just blowing past the location and moving forwards, so it can force the players to move back, something you really do not want to do in this scenario which sees you followed by several huge Hunter enemies. I have taken the three damage to my investigators before, just so i don’t waste so many actions moving back and forth. Maybe i was just unlucky, on paper the card doesn’t even sound that bad. But i certainly have a lot of respect for it due to the experiences i had with it.
Threat level: Mid. The location it attaches to is the important factor here. On a low shroud location the +1 increase can turn out to be not too bad and if there is no clue left there anyways the treachery can feel like it doesn’t do at all as the group just pushes forward. But the chance to block off a place for a turn is certainly there and can translate to a whole lot of wasted actions because every player is affected by it.
Dealing with it: Try blowing past it by picking up the clues that are needed to do so. If you can not, then moving back a spot might be required to avoid the damage. One way to protect from the card is reserving spare clues so even without getting to investigate at that location the next catacomb can be opened in a pinch.
Return to The Pallid Mask
My take on the modified scenario: I like it. Return to the Pallid Mask is largely unchanged from the original, and i do appreciate that because it is after all one of my favorite scenarios. I think it actually doesn’t need anything, there is already so much going on for every kind of investigator that additional mechanical bits might have just been too much. The only thing added by Return to Carcosa is the errata that makes Corpse Dwellers ignore the Man in the Pallid Mask, a couple new locations to freshen up the catacombs deck and this fellow who goes straight into the encounter deck without any bells, whistles or explanations:
What it does: It’s another huge Hunter enemy, joining Haruko, the Specter of Death and the Corpse Dwellers in herding the investigators through the tunnels. With a statline of 4/4/1 it’s easy to evade for anyone and for dedicated fighters it’s not unreasonably difficult to take down. A special ability of the Malformed Skeleton makes sure that the investigators can never keep very far ahead of the Skeleton, so even after a successful evasion this enemy will stay on target. When hit by this enemy, the player gets to choose if they want to take horror or damage, however it’s a chunk of three points.
My take: The incredible artwork and those six damage icons make this enemy look a lot bigger and tougher than it actually is. Any competent fighter set up with a weapon should be able to take this monster down without too much of a problem. Shuffling only one new card into the encounter deck feels a bit random, but the card fits perfectly into what the scenario is already trying to do. Cool enemy, but i wish FFG had saved the jaw-dropping artwork for an enemy in a bit more prominent role in another scenario or something. Feels almost like a waste hiding only one copy of it in the Return of a specific scenario.
Threat level: Mid. Of all the Hunter enemies crawling in the catacombs, this is the weakest one. It has the fewest hit points and while it hits for three, the player choice of taking horror or damage means that it’s very unlikely to be life threatening by itself. It does set up the damage and horror treacheries perfectly, though.
Dealing with it: Its teleport ability means that evasion is only a very temporary measure, this enemy should be killed off permanently by the team’s fighter. If it manages to land a blow, at the decision on whether to take the horror or damage, remember that the encounter deck has three copies of Eyes in the Walls in it, which can deal 3 horror unannounced if things go really bad. However, there are also three copies of Grasping Hands in the deck that deal up to 3 damage, so keep those in mind as well!
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