Putting the power in willpower, Part Two

Spoiler warning: This article has encounter card spoilers for Night of the Zealot, Dunwich Legacy, and the Path to Carcosa. Except for noting the number of appearances of Frozen in Fear in the “General Observations” section, all spoilers for each campaign are contained within their respective section.

In Part One, I covered the “how” and “why” willpower becomes an important skill within the games design. In short, willpower only becomes useful when it is (a) tested at a sufficient rate with (b) significant penalties for failure; if either is false or remote, then willpowers significance fades. In Part Two, I will be looking at the actual encounter cards and statistical probabilities of drawing said encounter cards in each of the three campaigns at time of writing (Night of the Zealot, The Dunwich Legacy, and the Path to Carcosa).

I will begin first with my “methodology” for what data I used to make up the charts. I will then cover some general observations about the data, namely the general odds of drawing willpower testing consequences and some of their notable penalties. In the main section, I will provide several charts for each campaign that breaks down (a) the willpower testing treacheries, (b) the extent that they are present in each scenario, (c) a breakdown of their penalties, and (d) the median odds of drawing these treacheries across the campaign.

Table of Contents

1.0 Methodology & The Charts

Due to the shear number of charts generated for this article, for readabilities sake they can be found in this Google Sheets link. There are three worksheets/tabs (one for each campaign), and each one has four charts:

  • Scenario Overview: lists the following
    • Composition of the encounter deck, and the number of treacheries that test each skill
    • Percentage of willpower testing encounter cards that deal horror
    • What willpower testing treacheries are in each scenario
  • Encounter sets: summarizes all the willpower testing treacheries across the campaign
  • Willpower Test Type Breakdown: loosely categorizes all willpower testing treacheries in a campaign based on their penalty
  • Median odds of drawing a willpower testing treachery: displays the median odds for the number of willpower testing treacheries you will draw over X rounds in the campaign

A few notes on the Scenario Overview charts. Arkham Horror frequently provides us with weird setup instructions that makes accurate probabilities difficult to pull. For this reason, I have chosen (a) the encounter deck at its most “willpower-ist”, and/or (b) the most “likely” choice by players. I have noted any presumptions in the discussion. A few other notes:

  • The charts do not factor Surge (except the Surge keyword)
  • The charts count the total number of copies of each card. For example, there are 7 willpower treacheries in The Gathering: 3x Rotting Remains, 2x Frozen in Fear, 2x Crypt Chill.
  • The bottom row displays he percentage of the total encounter deck of all campaign scenarios that comprise each skill testing treachery
  • The far right column displays the percentage of encounter cards that (a) test willpower, and (b) deal horror on failure
  • Some treachery cards allow the players to choose a skill to test. I have counted these treacheries towards both skills.

A few notes on the Willpower Test Type Breakdown charts:

  • The percentage displayed is calculated by: [eligible cards across all scenarios] divided by [total number of willpower testing treacheries in the campaign]. For example, in The Dunwich Legacy, there are 72 willpower testing treachery cards across all 8 scenario decks, 24 of which can deal horror, so 33.33%
  • Some treacheries have multiple consequences or a choice. These treacheries will count towards multiple categories.

2.0 General Observations

2.1 Number of treacheries drawn

When you look at the data for any of the campaigns, the starting point is probably the last of the series of charts: the probabilities of drawing a willpower testing treachery. Odds are you will draw one eventually; there is an 80+% chance you will draw at least one by Round 6 regardless of campaign. Where the data drops off is the number of these you will draw. By round 6, there is roughly a 35% chance to draw one, 35% to draw two, 13% to draw three, and 2% to draw 4 (+/- 2%). The odds of drawing your third and fourth willpower testing treachery go up by approximately 5% and 2% respectively every round thereafter.

What the data tells us is that an investigator will realistically draw 2-3 willpower testing treacheries over the course of the scenario, and that the odds of drawing fewer are greater than drawing more. Drawing 2-3 is enough that you cannot ignore their existence; it is something that is going to happen. However, it is also not a dominant part of the game; while some may place a premium on Agnes Baker and Akachi Onyele’s ability to rebuff the encounter deck with their 5 base willpower, the odds show they will not get that much milage out of their willpower for this reason alone (conveniently they are Mystics).

Furthermore, if you on average draw only 2-3 that also means you’re not drawing the other 5-7 willpower testing treacheries.  If the willpower treacheries in a scenario frighten you, you can take small comfort knowing you will only see a fraction of them. You may also conserve your willpower boosting and cancellation effects for whatever treacheries you are worried about. Indeed, you may not even see it; a point I will address below (2.3) regarding Frozen in Fear.

2.2 Dealing with Horror

 On the subject of what those nasty treacheries can be, I do want to share some words on two types (well, one type and one card). First up, horror. Horror is consistently among the top penalties dealt by willpower testing treacheries, accounting for some 33.05% of all willpower testing treacheries across all three campaigns (7.05% out of all encounter cards). Horror is, however, not the exclusive domain of willpower testing treacheries. In this list of horror dealing treacheries, 9 of 25 (discounting stand alone scenarios and cards unrelated to horror) do not test willpower. This also doesn’t include chaos token effects, scenario effects, and enemy attacks that may otherwise dish out horror. Recalling that you are likely to only see 2-3 willpower testing treacheries, odds are only one of those will deal horror. Willpower therefore represents only a small part of your defence from horror.

Furthermore, as far as effects go horror can at times be one of the least threatening effects because it does nothing. Yup, nothing. It doesn’t slow your tempo, it doesn’t de-stabilize your board state, it just sits there waiting for you to “win” the scenario at which point it’s as if it never happened. Not just that, but it is also readily addressed by horror soaks, player cards, and it can even help you via Fight or Flight or the Desperate neutral skill cards.

Horror is only truly threatening where (a) it causes you to be defeated, or (b) an encounter mechanic references the amount of horror on you; for example, the Skull chaos tokens in Curtain Call receive -X where X is the amount of horror on you. Clearly, taking a lot of horror will have a negative impact on your success chances. Obviously horror is something that cannot be entirely ignored, but it is also the encounter type that can occasionally be taken on the chin.

2.3 Frozen in Fear

The second card I wanted to raise is Frozen in Fear in the Striking Fear encounter set. This card has traumatized many an investigator with its action suction. This card is found in roughly half of the scenarios, or more precisely: 2/3 Night of the Zealot scenarios, 4/8 The Dunwich Legacy scenarios, and 3/8 Path to Carcosa scenarios.  The effect itself is quite nasty but on further inspection it’s not that nasty. First, if it causes you to lose 2-3 actions over 2-3 rounds then it isn’t all that different from defeating an enemy. Second, it’s possible for the treachery to whiff  if you spend your turns investigating, managing your board state, or maneuvering around the effect via Shortcut or Cat Burglar(1). Third, its effect can be mitigated through action generation. Fourth, it’s only 2 out of roughly 30+ cards; by Round 8 (presuming no encounter deck reshuffling), there is a 40.46% chance of drawing one copy and 6.44% of drawing both. Those aren’t insignificant, but look at it from a glass half full perspective.

3.0 Night of the Zealot

3.1 Chart Notes

See below notes and presumptions for the Night of the Zealot charts.

3.1.1 Presumptions

  • Devourer Below: either Agents of Hastur or Agents of Cthulu was selected

3.1.2 Other notable Willpower tests

  • Midnight MasksGraveyard location. After you enter it, test willpower 3, if you fail either take 2 horror or move to Rivertown.
  • Devourer BelowArkham Woods: Old House location (1/6 random six locations) is investigated using your willpower (note: cards like Lockpicks(1) are still eligible)
  • Devourer Below: Agenda 2B forces all investigators to take a 6 difficulty taste, failing which they must draw a random basic Madness weakness.
  • Devourer Below: Act 3A requires investigators to take a 3 difficulty willpower or agility test to place 1 clue on the act (the current objective).

3.1.3 Median campaign odds of drawing a willpower testing treachery

Below shows the odds for the Devourer Below, as there isn’t enough data for a meaningful median. Midnight Masks is also a huge statistical outlier in that only 9.52% encounter cards are willpower testing treacheries in contrast to 26.92% and 31.03% in The Gathering and Devourer Below respectively.

3.2 Commentary

The Night of the Zealot emphasizes willpower a fair bit, not least in part because of the Devourer Below. Agenda 2B of that scenario requires you to perform a 6 difficulty willpower test (failure of which will result in you drawing a weakness), and Act 3A’s objective asks you to pass a series of willpower or agility tests. Clearly, you will need to be fairly strong in one skill or the other.

As for the campaign itself, NOTZ, much like with combat, may have imparted some lessons that are now less relevant. The Striking Fear encounter set is one of the most awful in the game and its presence in 2/3 scenarios can be… annoying; Chilling Cold being in 2/3 is just icing on the cake. In the Devourer Below, you have a whopping 31.03% to draw one of Rotting RemainsFrozen in Fear, or The Yellow Sign/Dreams of R’yleh. At that point, the the encounter deck is pummelling you with tough willpower treacheries that you need to muster some serious mitigation against. If you want a campaign that emphasizes willpower, this is your campaign.

That being said, it’s not impossible for “Skids” O’Toole to crack this one; indeed, Skids is still my best solo Hard run of NOTZ. However, you need to bring something to counter the onslaught of treacheries and have some high tempo to reduce the number of encounter cards drawn.

4.0 The Dunwich Legacy

4.1 Chart Notes

See below for any notes and presumptions for the Dunwich Legacy charts (be sure to choose the Dunwich Legacy worksheet/tab).

4.1.1 Presumptions

  • The House Always Wins: the investigators are at Agenda 3A with a freshly shuffled encounter deck (before Agenda 3A there are no willpower tests).
  • Blood on the AlterNaomi’s Crew encounter set is shuffled into the encounter deck
  • Where Doom AwaitsHideous Abominations encounter set is not shuffled into the encounter deck

4.1.2 Other notable Willpower tests

  • Undimensioned & Unseen: Willpower used by the Estoric Formula, the only way to damage the Broods of Yog-Sothoth
  • Lost in Time and Space: Agenda 2B: each investigator tests willpower X, where X is the number of names recorded under “Sacrificed to Yog-Sothoth.” For each point you fail by, take 1 damage
  • Lost in Time and SpaceSteps of Y’hagharl location, when you leave test willpower 2. If you fail, shuffle the location back into the encounter deck instead of moving (sending you to Another Dimension and taking 1 horror)

4.2 Commentary

Horror technically has the largest share of penalties but only because it is overrepresented in Blood on the Alter, though Vast Expanse in Lost in Time and Space can be pretty horrific. Otherwise, while horror remains a steady threat, you will more frequently face deck milling. The Sorcery encounter set is featured in half the scenarios, which of course comes with the terrifying Beyond the Veil. Yet, milling is probably the least threatening penalty in the game and the Path to Carcosa cycle has belatedly bestowed players with a plethora of silver bullets; Cheat DeathQuantum Flux, and Devil’s Luck are some of the ways players can overcome it along with good old fashioned treachery cancellation.

Interestingly, Sorcery alternates almost scenario for scenario with everyones other favourite encounter set, Striking Fear. On a deeper look it’s not as bad as it may seem. Frozen in Fear’s presence in The House Always Wins is restricted to Agenda 3A which means you have at most 6 rounds to draw it (approximately 36.55% in solo). In Where Doom Awaits, the rare scenario where Striking Fear and Sorcery collide, Frozen in Fear finds itself in probably the largest encounter deck so far (44 cards) which dilutes the threat. Instead, the Striking Fear encounter set is probably at its most dangerous in Undimensioned & Unseen, an encounter that demands your willpower like no other no thanks to the Broods of Yog-Sothoth. Thankfully, it’s also a scenario that you’re free to Resign at the starting location (even during Round 1). In other words, the threat is mostly by choice; there is no shame in Skids resigning on Round 1 and agro’ing through Where Doom Awaits.

5.0 Path to Carcosa

5.1 Chart Notes

See below for any notes on the charts for Path to Carcosa (be sure to pick the Path to Carcosa worksheet/tab)

5.1.1 Presumptions

  • Unspeakable Oath: the set aside Lunatics have been shuffled in, but no Monsters have been shuffled in.
  • Phantom of Truth: the investigators have more conviction than doubt. If the opposite, there are two more Intellect treacheries and 1 less card in the total encounter deck.
  • Black Star Rises: it is Agenda 1a and 1c

5.1.2 Other notable Willpower tests

  • Last King: Parley tests for Ishimaru Haruko (2) and Sebastien Moreau (3)
  • Unspeakable Oath: Kitchen location has 2 difficulty test to set Kitchen on fire (1/6 actions to fulfill 4/6
  • Phantom of TruthNotre-Dame location has a 6 difficulty test to add/remove 1 doom from the agenda
  • Pallid MaskCult of the Sepruchal Lamp is investigated using willpower (note: cards like Lockpicks(1) are still eligible)
  • Black Star RiseCloister location has a 3 willpower difficulty Parley test. Required to move to the Chapel of St. Aubert (objective location in the Flood Below)
  • Dim Carcosa: one of four options on Agenda 1B is a 4 difficulty willpower test
  • Dim Carcosa: one of three copies of Hastur (The King in Yellow) has a X difficulty willpower test (X is Hastur’s fight value, default: 4) to exhaust Hastur.

5.2 Commentary

I don’t think anyone will be surprised with the finding that horror is the most common treachery penalty in Carcosa. Besides its notable absence in Echoes of the Past, it maintains a steady presence in every scenario that amps up during the last half of the campaign. The good news is it is usually limited to 2-3 cards in the encounter deck and, as far as willpower goes, it is often the most threatening willpower testing treachery type. You are also unlikely to find yourself running into two of these. The odds of drawing 2 of 3 cards in a 30 card deck over 8 rounds is only 15.17%; even in Black Star Rises, a scenario with 5 horror dealing, willpower testing, treacheries, the odds are “only” 30.26% (9.08% of drawing 4, 1.08% of drawing 5). Willpower is consequently only part of the Path to Carcosa’s horror onslaught, and willpower likewise should only be part of your defence. A notable exception is Phantom of Truth where almost a quarter(!) of the encounter deck is devoted to dealing out horror via willpower tests.

Outside of horror, a lot of the other treacheries are quite lame. Twisted to His Will discards 2 random cards from your hand which is probably the most gentle penalty you could ever take on the chin. Dance of the Yellow King is easy to whiff (especially in solo) and its impact is highly contextual, though when the stars align in The Last King it can bring a lot of hurt. Walls Closing In is technically a horror dealing treachery, but I think most people (especially solo players) will choose the option that usually does nothing, that is, placing an enemy beneath the Act deck. Deadly Fate from Phantom of Truth forces you to either draw an enemy or eat their attack; I think the latter option will generally always be better. The enemies in Phantom of Truth deal either 1d/1h, 2d/1h, or 1d/2h; unless you really can’t afford the damage/horror, it will almost always be worth avoiding tempo hit you would endure from drawing a Hunter enemy.

Speaking of Phantom of TruthTorturous Chords is frequently touted as one of the most threatening treacheries in Phantom of Truth but a couple points help mitigate its power. First, its power drops substantially after the player gets their key assets out, and becomes a shadow of itself in in the twilight days of the scenario. Second, it does not affect resource spending boosters (including Permanents) nor skill cards. Third, if the investigator(s) are of Conviction, running away is inherently less resource intensive than scenarios otherwise are; you can simply run away and let the agenda advance itself. That being said, the continuous drain on your resources can be… troublesome, especially if you are hit with two Torturous Chords and the Clasp of Black Onyx (yes, this happened to me). It also happens to be featured in a scenario with an inordinately high proportion of willpower treacheries (40.00%) including everyones favourite, Frozen in Fear.

Willpower tests outside the encounter deck are mostly strictly optional or easily mitigated. Fine Clothes solves a lot of problems in The Last King and anyone who isn’t packing them is either confident or crazy; it’s less clear how necessary it is in Black Star Rises, however. There is only a 50% chance the willpower test in the Cloister is necessary, and even then it’s just one test that can also be reduced via Fine Clothes.

Overall I don’t think willpower is as horrifying in the Path to Carcosa as it may initially seem. The willpower testing treacheries are frequently quite manageable and very few would ever qualify as a “must pass” test. What “must pass” tests exist are easy to plan for; did I mention Fine Clothes yet?

←Part One

4 thoughts on “Putting the power in willpower, Part Two

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