Article Spoilers: Dunwich mechanics and encounter sets (all scenarios except Lost in Time and Space)
The Dunwich Legacy is the standard for full 8-scenario campaigns and served as our introduction into how the LCG model would handle Lovecraft’s mythos. It’s the cycle that drew people into the game and converted the core set from an expensive board game into a deep and rich hobby.
Dunwich is not without its problems, however. It was designed before the core set was actually released and so was still only created with the playtester’s core set experience to build off of. While there were several interesting ideas that were explored, there are some mechanical flaws that hold back some classes and investigators from having success in specific scenarios. A multiplayer group can sometimes patch these problems, but occasionally these issues become glaringly obvious and make a detrimental experience.
We will soon see Return to the Dunwich Legacy on shelves, and within lies the hope that some of these holes are patched. Here are the problems I’m most eager to see addressed in Return to Dunwich.
In part two of this article, I review Return to Dunwich and give you what’s what on if you should buy it. I also revisit these predictions and touch on what’s addressed and which issues are still present.
Overuse of Striking Fear
This one might seem nitpicky, but half of Dunwich’s scenarios have the Striking Fear encounter set. How many dead bodies do I have to see before I start becoming jaded and stop taking so much horror? I don’t have a problem with an emphasis on Willpower tests – that’s something that makes Mystics viable and Finn interesting – but if I get hosed one more time with a Frozen in Fear + Conglomeration of Spheres combo I’m gonna scream.
I’m under the impression that the Return series of expansions will make heavy use of alternative encounter sets, and I can only assume that Striking Fear is the #1 candidate for such a substitution. I’m hoping for other Willpower tests, other ways of taking horror, and maybe more “punisher” or choice mechanics.
- That Sinking Feeling: Test WP(4). If you fail, you must either take 1 horror for each point you fail by or discard the top 5 cards of your deck.
- Feed on Fear: This terror treachery goes into play in your threat area. Hunter enemies ignore investigators that don’t have a copy of Feed on Fear in their threat area. Action: Test WP(3) to discard this Treachery.
- Hesitation: This terror treachery goes into play in your threat area. Playing events costs an extra action. Discard Hesitation if you have no cards in hand. Action: Choose and Discard any number of cards from your hand.
Difficulty in Miskatonic Museum
A fascinating idea that missed the mark, Museum leans into “the ultimate hunter that never dies”, a concept straight out of the best horror stories. If you indeed attack this monster right away, it comes back stronger and stronger, leading to a pretty interesting but still manageable experience. If you have a character that can evade, however, this scenario goes from, “oo, this could be kinda bad maybe,” to, “huh. that was easy.”
I’m the kind of player who loves finding ways to play that are not straightfoward. Evasion as a mechanic is fascinating and fun to me. Rogues where I can either evade an enemy or shoot with limited Derringer ammo for a chance to do 2 damage is really fun, and I like evaluating what is the best course of action given several options. Basically, I don’t like to smash everything in sight because I’m a big blue guardian bruiser. So I’m all about giving evade characters a time to shine. But they do make Museum very linear and a bit boring.
I think the solution is two-fold: up the difficulty of the scenario by adding more challenging encounter sets, and disincentivize evading the Hunting Horror.
I’d love to see more treacheries that damage you, or linger in your threat area and force you to do something or else dish out horror. Basically, if there’s only one monster, you’re rarely taking damage or horror, and usually it’s only one person at a time being beat up. Would really like to introduce different kinds of threats besides Crypt Chill taking away my assets.
- Fly-By Attack: Revelation – If Hunting Horror is in play, it moves to your location. Whether or not Hunting Horror is in play, test AG (3). If you fail, take one damage for each point you fail by.
- Paranoia of Shadows: Revelation – Put Paranoia of Shadows into play in your threat area. Forced – At the end of your turn, if you did not move, take 1 horror. Action: Test WP(4). If you succeed, discard Paranoia of Shadows.
- Imminent Demise: Peril. Revelation – If Hunting Horror is in play, each investigator takes 1 damage. If Hunting Horror is not in play, each investigator takes 1 horror. Forced – After resolving Imminent Demise’s Revelation effect, you may choose to discard Imminent Demise instead of adding it to the Victory Display. If you do not, immediately resolve its Revelation effect twice. Victory 1.
Swinginess in Essex County Express
Spoilers in this section: Scenario cards from FFG’s first Return to Dunwich preview article
We’ve all heard the stories. A bad – but technically legal – shuffle of the encounter deck involves some nasty combination of Acolytes and Ancient Evils that ended the game in the first train car. What was supposed to be an exciting and cinematic train scenario ended up being the biggest let down your game night group has ever endured.
We already know from the spoilers in the release article that this has been partially addressed in Return to Dunwich with an Agenda 0, giving us 2 rounds of buffer against the terribleness that is the encounter deck.
First of all, this scenario gets swingier the more investigators you have. An easy fix might have been to make agenda 0’s doom threshold 1 per investigator. I think they went with a static 2 doom because of the adjustment of Ancient Evils (now going to be Resurgent Evils, which lets you draw two encounter cards instead of taking the doom) and assumedly a Yog-Sothoth cult that will surely replace the vanilla acolytes.
Secondly, the singular threat of this scenario is time. If you linger too long in any given car, you simply lose. This puts characters that don’t investigate traditionally at an extreme disadvantage. Didn’t draw Rite of Seeking? Good game, pack it up. I’m hoping that the spoiled flying monster provides an additional angle of attack so the scenario doesn’t have to lean so hard into the time limit. By giving us a monster, Zoey can contribute to the group and, if the time limits have accordingly been extended, Silas can dig for his “Look What I Founds”.
Adding Locations in Where Doom Awaits
This one might be the community’s most maligned scenario design. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of playing Dunwich with only investigators of 2 intellect or less, you’ll have run into this problem. The starting location, Base of the Hill, has a shroud of 3 and an action to investigate, which brings in more locations. There is nowhere else to move and nothing else to do besides that investigate action. Because it’s an action to investigate, you cannot use Flashlight, Lantern, Otherworldly Compass, or anything else you may have been reliant on for investigating thus far. Evading enemies is almost useless when you have nowhere to move to. You simply must pass that investigation check.
This pretty much narrows you down to needing a high-intellect character with permanent Intellect boosts (Dr. Milan, Magnifying Glass), Streetwise, or cards to commit. If you have one of those, great! Where Doom Awaits will be an interesting challenge. If you don’t? Your start will likely be very bad and very hard to come back from. Combine this with the fact that needing raw Intellect in this way is unprecedented in the campaign (you can get this far with Flashlight, Lockpicks, Drawn to the Flame, and other enigma cards) and that the cost of failure is campaign-ending, and you have a very unfortunate scenario indeed.
Now, I’ve got a lot of issues with Where Doom Awaits, mostly in that it’s boring. You climb a spooooky hill! Wow! There’s no events, no plot development, no narrative decisions until the very end. But let’s focus on the location thing first.
- Making that investigate an Action means that you can’t combine it with other investigate actions, namely Flashlight. One solution could be to change it to simple text, like, “When you successfully investigate Base of the Hill, instead of discovering clues, put a set-aside Diverging Path into play.”
- Another option could just be to lower the shroud to 1. Although that looks painfully easy to the Daisy in the group, you have to design the location with Solo Zoey in mind, and she needs that shroud to be 1 in order to have a shot at it. So much hinges on getting those locations into play that I don’t think it can be any higher.
- So then, another approach would be to make it so the whole scenario doesn’t grind to a halt if you can’t pass that investigate test. Dealing a horror if you fail the test to put a location into play would be a workaround. Or an additional Action on Base of the Hill to discard the top two cards of your deck to put locations down.
Oh, and all of these suggestions apply to Ascending Path as well. Basically, too much of the scenario rides on passing the raw intellect test. I’m not saying raw intellect shouldn’t matter, but auto-failing a win-or-die scenario isn’t a great place to be.
While we’re talking about my least favorite scenario of them all, why don’t we brainstorm some ways to make it more interesting as a whole? I think an added plot point would be in order, where entering the Ascending Path triggers some kind of significant narrative decision. This event would then send you in one of two paths for the remainder of the scenario. Some ideas:
- Some Whateley shows up and makes you an offer. Do you trust them? Are they of the Decayed or Undecayed branch of the family? Are they actually trying to stop Seth’s ritual, or are they just causing a distraction to buy him time?
- The forest around you gets weird. You either follow the weird path (normal locations) or enter a weird cave (new Tunnel locations).
- An otherworldly Arbiter – perhaps an ancient Whateley spirit – approaches you. You can heed their advice and ignore the revelation effects on Vortex of Time and Rite Howled, but give all Cultists and Abominations +1 Combat and +1 Health.
XP Gain across the Campaign
Now that we’ve gotten a feel for how much experience the average deck wants, I think it’s safe to say that Dunwich is incredibly stingy on XP. My decks usually are in the mid-20s for experience after 7 scenarios, and I’m lucky if I break 30 without help from Delve Too Deep or Charon’s Obol. My Carcosa decks are often around 40 experience, and Forgotten Age is usually over 50. If Forgotten Age has taught us anything, it’s that higher difficulty leads to greater XP rewards, and, if Return to Dunwich increases the difficulty of the campaign, I think Dunwich would benefit from a few more ways to power up our decks.
From what I can gather, players going through Dunwich for a second or third time can probably rack up about 4-5 experience through each of the first 3 scenarios. From then on out it drops to around 2-3 for most of the rest. Using Carcosa as a benchmark, I think an approximate 2xp-per-scenario-increase is right, as that would bring us around the 40xp mark after 7 scenarios. So where could the design team squeeze in those extra Victory points?
- Extracurricular Activites – This scenario is already flush with monsters, but maybe one of the replacement encounter sets will have an extra Victory 1 enemy. Also, if you play EA second, perhaps Faculty Offices (The Hour is Late) could be worth some xp to soften the punishment of not knowing if Professor Rice is in the house (think of the Abbey and the Chapel in Black Stars Rise).
- The House Always Wins – There’s two Victory 1 enemies and three Victory 1 rooms, one of which you have to refer to an FAQ in order to understand how to get the clues off of it at the end. I don’t know how this scenario would add in more VP locations – maybe through adding additional rooms in the first half – but maybe another tough mobster or two would be appropriate.
- Miskatonic Museum – This one is more or less fine. I talked about how this scenario is already very easy, making it very conceivable to farm XP off of all the Exhibits. Maybe making the Hunting Horror worth XP and adding the Void to the Victory Display at the end. Or maybe the first two times you knock out the Horror, you earn XP, so you’re more incentivized to attack it instead of evade it.
- Essex County Express – My simple solution would be to double the amount of random train cars to choose from, and have each of the newly added cars be Victory 1 locations. I wouldn’t complain about a pair of Victory 1 monsters either. Anything that you add to make this scenario less-strategically-linear would be a welcome addition.
- Blood on the Alter – I think the best addition here would be Victory 1 enemies. The toughest enemies here are Nightgaunts, which are super annoying, but right now the biggest threat is being swarmed by Whippoorwills and a Nightgaunt. Someone’s gotta be doing the kidnapping, after all. Also, I’m not sure why there’s an enemy who helps you by picking up clues. So maybe fix that dude.
- Undimensioned and Unseen – Another one of my least favorite scenarios. Either you spawn a bunch of Broods and they swarm you, or you don’t and you basically pick them off one by one. There’s also Ruin and Destruction, the Treachery that compounds the bad situation of being stuck with a Brood by piling on damage, but does nothing if you’re able to dodge the broods. So how do you add XP here? Maybe some Victory 1 locations is for the best. I also wouldn’t mind a Victory 1 Treachery that offers you a risk for more XP, so if you’re in a bad place you don’t choose the option to get the Victory point.
- Where Doom Awaits – I’ve already proposed multiple changes to WDA, and the story event I’ve suggested could grant experience if you choose one of the options. More Victory 1 paths would be the obvious choice here. I think a Victory 1 cultist in the Cult of Yog-Sothoth encounter set (which I’m assuming will be present) would be appropriate as well.
With Return to the Dunwich Legacy nearly here, I’m excited to see how the community receives it. There’s a lot of rough edges in TDL that I would love to see polished, and a Return box is the ideal way to do it.