The Search for Kadath

Other encounter sets in this scenario: Agents of Nyarlathothep, Corsairs, Dreamlands, Whispers of Hypnos, Zoogs

Size of the Encounter Deck17+*
# Enemies8*
# Willpower2
# Agility3
# Doom4
# Damage2
# Horror6
“Size of the Encounter Deck” does not include enemies. The enemy count fluctuates a lot throughout the scenario. The count above is the number at the start of the game, but each time the locations change, there are new enemies added, and sometimes others removed. Nightgaunts are also entering the deck through location effects. For the most part, the encounter deck size will float around 25, give or take 2 cards.
The other numbers include all of the encounter cards used throughout the scenario, including all enemies.

My take on this encounter deck: This scenario has a lot of enemies to fight all over the place. Not only is about one third of the deck made from enemies, but there are also various other ones scattered all over the islands as part of the midgame setups. As a result, the investigators will find ways to get past those without losing time, because time is exactly the resource they don’t have enough of. As one of the scenarios where the goal is not a binary “fail/pass”, but doing as much as you can, every action and every point of doom counts. The enemies are very varied and the players will need to evaluate each one if they want to rather defeat or evade it. The correct answer isn’t always obvious, either. So that’s very well done and interesting.
Almost the whole rest of the encounter deck is made up of cards that try to stall out the player’s investigation and of cards that accelerate the doom clock. This is reminiscent of previous scenarios like Threads of Fate, which has a deck that follows a very similar base structure. The specific cards used are very different, though. The Search for Kadath has a noticable theme going on of making tests harder, with Dreamlands Eclipse impacting investigations and many of the creatures coming with abilities that modify their combat values. Whispers of Hypnos fits into this quite well, too.
Something else to note is how often the deck reshuffles. On advancing the first agenda or any of the acts, all cards from the discard go back into the encounter deck. This increases the variance of the draws a lot, which is meaningful for the four doom cards and means that no enemy stays defeated forever.
The scenario has a lot of intriguing things going on with the encounter deck that are quite cool. However, they are bought with significant administrative overhead, as you will need to go through extra setup steps in the middle of the game for each island. This severely impacts the flow of the game and (in my opinion) turns what could have been a fantastic voyage into a tedious affair that seriously taxes my patience and straight up ruins the fun for me. And what good is a great premise and well thought out mechanics if they aren’t enjoyable to play? For what it’s worth, i think that Devil Reef does the “multiple island” gimmick a lot better. While certainly less ambitious than Search for Kadath, it is just more fun, at least to me.
Cancel these: Song of the Magah Bird, Wondrous Lands. With two Evils-like cards in the deck and the doom clock being the primary restriction of how far you can get in this scenario, the most important cards to cancel are fairly obvious. Both of those cards can also be discarded with Alter Fate. So if you have that at the ready, your priorities might shift to something more generally impacting but outside of the two cards Dreamlands cards, there isn’t really a whole lot else worth cancelling here. The main threat are certainly the enemies.

Number in the encounter deck: 3

What it does: Priest of a Thousand Masks starts out as a lowly 2/2/2 cultist that only deals a single point of horror on attack, but as the players progress and gather more Signs of the Gods, the cultists get stronger. First, their fight and evade are increased by one. Then, it gains 2 stamina. Finally, it gains a point of damage and Retaliate, making the final form a 3/4/3 with one damage and horror.

My take: These guys are quite the nuisance and with three of them in the deck and frequent reshuffles of the discard pile into the encounter deck they are bound to show up again and again. While not particularly dangerous at first, their first two upgrades are both significant. The final one isn’t all that bad in comparison.

Threat level: Low to Mid. As far as cultists go, these feel fairly impactful.

Dealing with it: This is a straightforward enemy that can be dealt with in the usual ways. Killing and evading are both equally worthwhile here, although the stamina increase once the players collect 4 signs does shift it a bit towards evasion. This is offset a bit by the setup of the locations, which usually lend themselves to a lot of backtracking to the Port locations and by the mid-game setups which mean that you can’t just evade them early and then not care about them for the rest of the game. When advancing the act, the reshuffling of the encounter discard into the encounter deck happens before the next island is set up (and therefore before cards in play are discarded), so evasion will get keep the enemies out of the encounter deck for longer than defeating them will. Something to keep in mind for this scenario in general if you want to minimize the chance to run into certain enemies.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Nightriders enter play with one swarm card. They do have a very high evasion, but this evasion drops significantly once the Nightriders have no swarm card under them. If Nightriders is evaded, it is discarded immediately.

My take: This is a cute mix of mechanics that push players towards using a mix of evasion and combat. It’s not a very dangerous enemy as such, but being hit by it while it still has its swarm card will cost 2 sanity. Pure evasion characters mind find themselves with a bit of a problem here, should they not be able to pass the 5 evasion. Without a weapon, it takes two hits to remove the swarm card, so for such an investigator it could be a full turn to get rid of the beast. On the other hand, some investigators like Rita or Winifred might actually just evade the whole swarm and instantly defeat it.

Threat level: Low to Mid.

Dealing with it: What the card wants us to do it attack it once to defeat the swarm card, then evade the enemy itself to discard it. Which is fair enough, it’s going to be the most efficient way to deal with the card in most situations. There are some investigators that might want to try and evade the whole swarm, but it’s at least risky.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: This Nightgaunt is very similar to its brethren from the Core set, sporting high fight and stamina values, but very low agility. It is also a Hunter, of course. They have a unique ability to follow the investigators to the next island whenever they advance the act: Instead of being discarded like the other enemies that may still be in play, these are set aside and then returned to play in any City location. Often (but not always) the port where the players land is the only city location, so the Nightgaunt would be able to engage someone right away.
Something else to note about these enemies is that they don’t enter the encounter deck the same way the other enemies do. Instead of being added when doing a midgame setup, these are added as part of the veiled effects on some locations.

My take: This is a relatively tough enemy that you will need to defeat eventually. While its low agility score invites evading it, it will catch up with the investigators soon enough. At 4 combat and 4 stamina, defeating it is a fighter’s job for sure.

Threat level: Mid. The low agility keeps it from being able to pin down vulnerable investigators, but it is still a rather large threat.

Dealing with it: Whoever is capable of defeating the Nightgaunt should probably do so proactively whenever there is time for it. Having big Hunters skulking about impact everyone, especially in small grids of locations like in this scenario.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Vooniths are small swarm creatures. While very easy to defeat and evade at first, they do get a bonus to their fight and evade once their swarm card is gone.
One of these is put into play at the initial setup and the other one is in the deck. Once the act is advanced for the first time, these are both removed from the deck and never seen again.

My take: Should you ever get hit by a swarm of these, that’ll be 2 damage and 2 horror. That’s a lot. However, this realistically shouldn’t happen. If it does, someone screwed up horribly. These are easy to evade and don’t have Hunter, so that’s the preferred way of getting around them for sure. It’s not like they stick around in the game for long anyways.

Threat level: Low. Very easy to deal with, but could in theory hurt if they get to attack.

Dealing with it: Evade and move on. The first island is completely linear with no backtracking at all, so there is no reason to clear them from the board.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: This curse attaches to the location until it either triggers its effect or is discarded. To discard it, an investigator has to spend an action and pass a difficult test against either willpower or strength. If a player moves out of the location without discarding the card first, that investigator is dealt one horror and they have to play 1 doom on the current agenda. The Song of the Magah Bird is then discarded as part of the effect. The doom from this card is able to immediately advance the agenda.

My take: Yuck. Obviously, placing doom on the agenda is bad news and that is even more true in this scenario where the players race against the doom clock to get as many locations investigated as possible. The card does offer a way out, but the difficulty on both tests that are offered are high enough to pose a problem and possibly waste actions and/or cards. The frequent reshuffling of the encounter cards doesn’t make this card easier to bear either.

Threat level: High to Very High. While the attached test is a significant concession in the players favor when compared to Ancient Evils, the scenario punishes additional doom very harshly.

Dealing with it: This card is enough reason on its own to bring Alter Fate into the campaign. If that is not available, Guts or Overpower can offer the necessary skill value to get past the test.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Wondrous Lands attaches to the player’s current location and gives it -2 shroud. However, when that location is investigated, Wondrous Lands is discarded and the player who did the investigation is dealt 1 horror. Also, 1 doom is placed on the agenda, possibly advancing it immediately.
Should there be no clues at the player’s location when drawn from the encounter deck, Wondrous Lands surges.

My take: Great, more doom. This is even worse than Song of the Magah Bird, as it offers no way of discarding it without triggering the Forced effect. Depending on the location, this can mean that there is no way around it. Or it can mean that it just sits at the location, not doing a whole lot. That’s a wide gap of possible outcomes for one card.

Threat level: High. The card can whiff by attaching where it isn’t hindering much, but when it is relevant, there is little that can be done to avoid it.

Dealing with it: Again, Alter Fate comes to the rescue. Other than that, it’s probably best to just take this as a straight up Ancient Evils and take it on the chin.

3 Replies to “The Search for Kadath”

  1. For me, the fundamental problem with Search for Kadath is that *thematically* it’s supposed to be a meandering multi-month adventure where the investigators go on a tour of the Dreamlands, but *mechanically* it’s a stressful race-against-time like Midnight Masks with a strict doom clock. Song of the Magah Bird and Wondrous Lands aren’t just stealing time from you like Cultists do — they’re also stealing *adventures* (and they’re much less of a game than putting-out-Cultist-fires is).

    (The fact that the deck reshuffles so often and you can see those cards again and again and again (or conversely, never see them once) is also very swingy.)

    Furthermore, the actual agenda resolution (and therefore the intended ‘threat’ of the scenario) doesn’t match the mechanics. The Corsairs are barely a presence in the scenario (half of the four Corsair cards aren’t even in the deck until the second half of the scenario…), aren’t much of a threat when they do show up, and don’t have any scenario-specific cards or mechanics associated with them — they aren’t spawned in numbers or in a coordinated way, they don’t interact well with the island-hopping mechanic (they’re pirates, but they can’t even chase your boat?) as they don’t gain the Tenebrous Nightgaunt ability, …heck, they don’t even have Hunter.

    I’ve been pondering a solution to both of those problems in the form of new agendas. Instead of a it’s-midnight,-the-scenario-is-over agenda flip, I would make the agenda have a very low doom threshold — but upon flipping, it would tell you to remember that “the Corsairs have caught your trail” an additional time and tell you to flip the agenda back to the front side. Additional effects would occur based on the number of times that “the Corsairs have caught your trail” — either via instructions on the back of the agenda or via a separate card (like the infestation-test card in Waking Nightmare). Back-of-the-agenda instructions could shuffle the Corsairs in, or search the encounter deck for Corsairs-set cards and draw them (with some penalty for the cards already being in play – direct damage/horror, additional encounter cards, removing cards from the game, adding swarm cards to the Corsairs, etc), scaling up the threat based on the number of times “caught”. A separate card could do even more, like adding abilities like Hunter to the Corsairs, giving them the Tenebrous Nightgaunt ability, making them tougher, giving them swarming and swarm cards, and I’m sure many more options.

    There’s a LOT of potential “knobs” to tweak in that idea, so I don’t know what the best mix of options would be, but I do think that such a setup would make Search for Kadath more like a swashbuckling adventure where the investigators have to balance adventuring in new locations with the growing presence of pirates on their tails. And the damn Magah Birds and other doom effects would be more interactive, since increased doom wouldn’t directly make the scenario end sooner, but instead indirectly escalate the threat, forcing investigators to survive-or-resign. (An escalating threat also probably makes being defeated more likely, as you could find yourself in a situation where getting to a Port to resign isn’t doable.)

    I’ve only played NotZ and the first half of Dream-Eaters, so I don’t know if some other scenario has already explored that “agenda flips over, does an effect, and then resets” mechanic, but it seems very feasible. Also, it seems like most scenarios *vastly* favor speed-of-act-progression over agenda/encounter-deck-survivability (since the agenda deck will eventually end with a defeat-by-fiat resolution). Having a scenario where slow-and-steady survival is a bit more viable as a strategy seems like a good idea.

    Pet peeve: I hate how Wondrous Lands deals horror. Flavorwise it should actually *heal* horror, as the schtick is that the Dreamlands can be so warm and inviting that you just want to stay there forever. Moreover, healing horror would mechanically fit with the Shroud-reduction, encouraging investigators to make subtly-dangerous decisions (by getting a good thing right now in exchange for the long-term very bad doom).

  2. That is a well put together opinion for someone who has only played NotZ and a bit of Dreameaters!

    I agree with your initial two points about the Corsairs and about the disconnect between doom mechanics and the voyage theme. I honestly have no idea what the solution is or if there needs to be one, it’s not like the scenario is completely broken right now. From a pure gameplay perspective, Search for Kadath is quite okay. I just replayed it last week and had a pretty good experience with it. This time, Dark Side of the Moon was the annoying one. I suppose the investigators you bring to the table have something to do with it … don’t know.

    Agenda cards flipping back and forth is indeed a thing. Actually, Dark Side of the Moon does something exactly like you describe, with the final agenda increasingly putting pressure on the investigators instead of just spelling game over immediately. There are some other similar examples around in other campaigns, i think Curtain Call is the earliest one. Would probably have been appropriate here as well.

    I think that favoring speed over resilience is baked into the game pretty hard. If you are faster, you draw fewer encounter cards, so speed *is* resilience. You’d have to design your scenario very specifically to counter this somehow.

  3. There are several ways to deal with “Wondrous Lands” other than you’ve written. Any card, that discovers clues without investigating (4 of these are in the core set: Roland Banks, Evidence!, Working a Hunch, Drawn to the Flame), moves clues around (Luke could make his “Dream Gate” his “Vantage Point”) or discover clues from other locations (Seeking Answers, Connect the Dots) can potentially help with bypassing triggering this treachery. Note, that cards, which let you investigate “as if you were on another location” (Sixth Sense, Pocket Telescope) won’t help.

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