|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: There’s a lot going on in this scenario. The first thing that should be mentioned is how much this scenario attacks the investigator’s sanity. There are a lot of sources for horror around and low sanity investigators like Roland will struggle a lot here.
Second, there is a lot of enemies around. Mostly they aren’t a big problem to defeat, but the Lunatic enemies all have abilities to deal a point of damage or horror along the way. Only the cockroaches from Decay and Filth are just regular cannon fodder. Once the final acts are around, big enemies from the monster deck enter the encounter deck and can provide challenging obstacles while the investigators try to flee the asylum.
Third point of interest is the presence of not only Corrosion, but also the scenario specific Straitjacket. These four cards wreak havoc on your assets if you let them and any investigator who relies on certain hand slot assets will need to keep the impact of those cards in mind. Of course many of those investigators are the fighters who need their weapons to deal with the slew of enemies that was mentioned before…
These things all come together to make up a very tense and challenging scenario. It doesn’t help then that this scenario plays for high stakes: Anyone not making it out of the asylum is permanently defeated. After the somewhat lukewarm that is Echoes of the Past, this is where the Carcosa campaign starts kicking its themes and its challenge into high gear. An all around great scenario.
Cancel these: Straitjacket, Corrosion. If playing Return: Sign of Hastur! Most of the treacheries in this encounter deck aren’t too troubling as long as players manage to conserve their sanity against the enemies. This allows focusing the cancels on the asset destruction cards to keep the enemy handlers in the game.
When playing Return To, Sign of Hastur is just utterly disgusting in this scenario. Keep it away from the board at all costs.
What it does: Gorger is an enemy that looks mighty dangerous at first glance. Above average combat stats, 5 points of stamina, Hunter and dealing 3 damage and horror on an attack all come together to form an impressive enemy. However, this monster does neither deal attacks of opportunity nor can in attack after moving from Hunter.
Asylum Gorger spawns in the Basement Halls and will start hunting the investigators from there.
My take: A lot less dangerous than it looks at first glance, but if it engages you, you do need to come up with a plan. Its evasion is high enough to be out of reach for many investigators and its stamina is high enough that killing it in one turn also isn’t a given. The best way of dealing with it then is to never engage it in the first place. It spawns in the Basement Hall, so if you already finished all your business there, you should already be on your way out towards the garden.
This is the enemy i’d prefer to draw out of all the cards in the Monster deck. Well… unless i am aiming to slay something for Victory points, i guess.
Threat level: Mid. This enemy stops players from backtracking, but should usually not be engaged. Of course, if it does come to that, things are becoming more grim.
Dealing with it: Make sure to finish all outstanding business in the Basement and the connecting cells as soon as possible. Once done there, you can start putting distance between those locations and your own, giving yourself a headstart on the Gorger once it appears. If you do end up needing a way past one of these, investigators with high evasion do have a much easier time of doing so, as evading these is a much bigger deal than against most other Hunters, basically buying one extra turn before it can damage you again.
What it does: The Mad Patient would be a minor enemy without much impact if it weren’t for her ability to deal a point of horror to anyone attacking her. While her fight and stamina values are low, that ability will cause at least some grief for whoever is trying to defeat her. She has three evasion, making it at least not trivial to pass her that way.
Mad Patients spawn at an Asylum Hall instead of on the investigator.
My take: Sanity is a very precious resource in this scenario and any card that deals testless horror deserves some respect for that fact alone. It doesn’t help that the investigators who go around defeating enemies are usually also the ones who have the least sanity to spare. Something else to consider is that they have a spawning location and that there are three of them in the deck. This can lead to have two or even all three of them pile up in one place, waiting for the investigators to backtrack through that location on their way out.
Threat level: Low to Mid. In any other scenario these would be Low, but that point of horror matters a lot more in Unspeakable Oath than usual.
Dealing with it: There are three major ways of dealing with the Mad Patient. One, you can just eat the horror and defeat them. This has the advantage of taking the least actions and resources and it solves the issue permanently. Two, you can evade them. They are slightly harder to evade than to attack, but nothing that is too difficult for a prepared investigator. This doesn’t remove the enemy from the board, so it may need to be evaded again at a later point. Three, using non-attack damage to defeat it will not trigger the horror retaliation. Cards like Blood-Rite or Dynamite Blast can take care of the problem permanently and still conserve the investigator’s sanity, but at a cost of resources and cards.
What it does: Straitjacket goes into the threat area of the player who drew it and then also occupies that investigator’s body and hand slots. Any assets that were in those slots before are returned to the player’s hand. The only way to discard Straitjacket and free up those item slots again is spending a double action.
My take: One of the worst treacheries the cycle (and maybe the game) has to offer. If this card comes down at the wrong time, it can undo a whole lot of actions and spent resources. And then it also asks for another two actions on top just to be able to spend your resources and actions again… what a beating. I wish this at least came with some sort of saving throw or condition. As is, this just comes of the top of the deck and screws you over without having much of a say in it.
Threat level: High to Very High. Every investigator uses their hand slots and most also use their body slot. Straitjacket undoes all of the setup turns used to fill those slots and forces them to do it all over again. This can potentially cost the equivalent of multiple turns of actions and resources.
Dealing with it: Between Straitjacket and Corrosion, this encounter deck is just very hostile towards assets. In a scenario with as many enemies as this one, losing your weapons can be a huge deal, so this is another advantage for the evasion based investigators. Since there are no conditions or tests attached to this card, the only thing that a player can do to prepare for Straitjacket is to be mindful of the existence of these cards and don’t play assets that they don’t need right now. And maybe be friends with a Mystic that has Wards in their deck…
What it does: Following a willpower test, the investigator has to take one horror for each point they failed by. Instead, they can choose to add one of the set aside Monster cards beneath the act deck, to be shuffled into the encounter deck at a later point. The difficulty of the test scales with the location’s shroud value.
My take: Again, sanity is precious. That means that horror from this treachery can be a huge issue even if its only a point or two. I usually end up shuffling the monster card into the deck when confronted with taking more than one horror here.
Threat level: Low to Mid. Potentially deals a lot of horror, but the option to add a monster to the deck will at least remove the really bad cases.
Dealing with it: In lower player counts, adding the monster enemy is a lot more attractive due to drawing a lot fewer encounter cards. The added monster might never show up in the first place. But even in higher player counts, it’s certainly debatable if Asylum Gorger, Screeching Byakhee and Spawn of Hali are really *that* much worse than a treachery. This certainly depends a lot on the party composition.
As for shroud values in this scenario, most are at the standard 3 or even 2, but they do go from 1 to 5. So there’s a good bit of variance to the card, even though the average shroud for this scenario is probably a bit below what is usual. Note that Ooze and Filth from the Decay and Filth set can potentially add to the shroud here.
What it does: The two Gifts or Madness, Misery and Pity, are singleton cards that are added to the players hand as a Hidden card. While a player carries one of these, they are no longer able to trigger location abilities (Misery) or to attack Lunatic enemies (Pity). To discard these cards, the player will have to spend an action and add a random monster card beneath the act deck.
My take: I generally find that adding monsters beneath the act isn’t too troubling, so i rarely have a problem with just spending the action to get rid of these as soon as possible. That being said, the Pity version is one that i often keep around as not every investigator wants to attack Lunatics (or other enemies) anyways. The Misery version has to be discarded eventually anyways, so i’d rather do that sooner than later.
Threat level: Low to Mid. Costing an action and the addition of a monster that may or may not become relevant later is fine.
Dealing with it: For the Pity version, some investigators might be fine to keep it. Usually, you’ll want to get rid of these as soon as possible, though.
Return to Unspeakable Oath
My take on the modified scenario: Sign of Hastur. Jesus. I could end this take on those four words, but let me elaborate. In a scenario that makes every point of sanity count and throws source after source of horror at the players, Sign of Hastur makes all of those sources deal an extra point. Meanwhile, it’s only discarded when the agenda or act advances, and this scenario has acts and agendas that stick around for a long time. Big yikes. Cancel it or Alter Fate it. Otherwise you might just lose to that one card.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the rest of Return to Unspeakable Oath. Only one copy of a card is shuffled into the encounter deck itself and it’s not a particularly scary one. Much more important is the addition of Radical Treatment and Host of Insanity to the possible results of finding Daniel Chesterfield’s cell. Host of Insanity is a much more dangerous enemy than the transformed Chesterfield from the unmodified scenario. And Radical Treatment puts enormous extra pressure on the sanity of whoever is shepherding Daniel along at the time, making the option to pass him from investigator to investigator much more relevant (unless you manage to remove the card at the Infirmary, which is also quite difficult and requires a detour).
In terms of replacement sets, there are three sets that are affected: Delusions becomes Maddening Delusions and that is a very impactful change here. Where Delusions only costs some actions or restricts some options, Maddening Delusions does exactly what this scenario is all about: It deals horror with every single one of its cards. This change makes up a huge difficulty spike. The switch from Decay and Filth to Decaying Reality removes Corrosion from the picture, which i am grateful for. It does however add another source of horror in the form of Bleeding Walls. It’s just one point of horror, but every bit counts here. The Maggot Swarm also has more potential to combo with Walls Closing In than Ooze and Filth had. Finally, Agents of Hastur becomes Hastur’s Envoys… Sign of Hastur. Jesus.
What it does: A single one of these is in the encounter deck. When drawn, the investigator has to either undo a piece of progress towards act 3a or take a horror and surge into the next card.
My take: Sure, i’ll take the extra horror and just draw the next card. While there are situation where i may want to take the first option instead (mostly when i am already at the correct location and can just spend another action to recover the memory), this just means that when playing Return to Unspeakable Oath, you take one more horror along the way. Completely fine.
Threat level: Low to Mid. Worst case, you are being dealt one extra horror for playing Return To. It’s still testless horror and that is relevant here, but as far as worst case moments from special Return To cards go, this is rather benign.
Dealing with it: Would recovering the memory take more than an action or maybe two? Take the horror and see what you other encounter card you draw instead.
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