VERMONT HORROR SESSION REPORT AND REVIEW
I’ve been looking forward to trying a full fan expansion after playing Arkham for two years now, and Vermont Horror certainly has all the feel and flavour I’ve come to expect from this love it or hate it game. I don’t like most fan creations due to the obvious reasons – characters with over the limit abilities, things that don’t fit the theme, poor wording, etc. I’ve hand picked a few heralds and guardians (I haven’t seen one AO or investigator I’d use) but this one really jumped out at me (together with Jacob Busby’s Lovecraft Country Horror, but that seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth like the haunted house fan board from a year or so back).
My players are certainly apprehensive about using fan created material, so it was something of a battle to get them to the gaming table, however I felt this would be a true acid test of the game. I’ve looked at the PDFs long enough, so the burning questions arise –
How does it play? Is it broken? Is it hard? Is it different? Is it fun?
Let’s talk about it.
So, the session was a 3 player game with Vermont Horror, Black Goat (just the cards) and another fan made guardian (although not by Airbone XO) “Karma”. This is a guardian that incentivises stable locations, so I felt it would be useful for the Prequel.
I cut out and laminated every card from Vermont Horror except the Mi-Go Scouts as I am an Mac user, and so can’t use Strange Eons.
I was Sister Mary (turned down Patrice) and my friends were the mighty Michael McGlen and the magically skilled Agnes Baker.
We added in the rule that if you went to the Ranger Station, you could buy one of the Vermont allies for the same cost as Ma’s Boarding House.
I was eager to try the Prequel, as I’ve always toyed with the idea of having a little break to wander around Arkham without constant fear of bursting gates. I assumed the idea of the prequel is to give you some time to visit the shop and tool up so you’re able to defeat Mr. Noyes and ultimately clear out the mine.
We played with a task allocated at the beginning of the game (a house rule – we also give the investigators one encounter in their home location before the resolution of the first Mythos card), so the players went about their business collecting all the clues, shopping and completing their tasks. We were members of organised crime, but evidently not very good ones as we lost our retainers within seconds. Sadly Mary’s Blessing went the same way.
However, a major complaint by the players was there was nothing to kill during the prequel as they were combat characters. As both characters required monster trophies to complete their stories, they were loath to beat up the Mi-Go as they are endless. The only monster that turned up was a nightgaunt, and Agnes rolled particularly badly. With no gates on the board, I believe that she would have been lost in time and space, so that’s what happened, which didn’t go down well. Then, as a Mi-Go Agent appeared in Arkham, everyone ran from it like the plague. Dutifully, Sister Mary blew him away with her Magnum and realised at that point a new threat had arrived in Arkham. I looked up at the mine only to see there were now five technicians there due to the mining operation. I was terrified!
I said to the players , “Look out guys, the mine is overrun! It’ll add doom every turn! We’ve got to clear it out!”
Nobody said a word.
I tried once more. “Seriously, McGlen, you could beat all of those technicans, you should get up there, the Mi-Go are going crazy!”
The players just glanced down at their character sheets and the vast amount of powerful items they’d accumulated in the prequel.
“Maybe I should” McGlen muttered, and Agnes said something about not getting anything for killing them. I pointed out that it was possible to get a tech by entering the mine as a soldier would attack, but there was no response. I considered pointing out that one doesn’t expect material rewards for forcing back a sinister alien invasion, and that the only reward one expects from facing the Mythos is insanity and death, but I realised there was no point. The others were not going to set one foot on that laminated board. With a sigh, I realised that no matter how good one’s efforts, some people simply cannot get past the home-made feel of fan material. It was as if the Mi-Go had already won, hiding behind their veil of mist on Dark Mountain oblivious to the eyes of the sane, and at once I realised just like the RPG, only Sister Mary was aware of the threat, even her friends didn’t believe that these monsters were real and that they would spell our doom, and if anyone was going to stop them, she was going to do it.
Of course, in game terms, I realised this was impossible. I had a Molotov cocktail and a Magnum, neither of which are suited for fighting multiple opponents. I certainly thought that clearing the mine out was a tall order indeed, and most characters would struggle to beat so many enemies who are hardly a pushover, five technicians, the Commander and the soldier that would jump out. At this point I hadn’t realised how the commander was designed, of course he is meant to fly into the sky to pose an early threat during the prequel, more on that later.
But thematically because Mary was the only one concerned with the threat, and mechanically because the other players were set in the mind that it was a normal game and weren’t going to help, I set off for Brattleboro Depot.
Imagine my surprise when, just after making a move, Sister Mary was abducted in the Mythos phase! I was quite glad it was me who went to the mine as it was awesome thematically, totally random that I was the first player.
I ruled I was delayed upon abduction, and struggled through the mine pretty easily. I thought the flavour was excellent but low on action, with great descriptions of the strange structures only to result in ‘no encounter’. I don’t think the other players were even listening to me as I read the cards, whether because it wasn’t their encounter or they weren’t interested, but they seemed unimpressed. I was just thanking the God Sister Mary holds dear that I wasn’t devoured. Upon moving from the second area I moved to Return from Yuggoth, I think the rules might require you to miss one more turn here but three turns is certainly enough, so upon leaving Yuggoth I was immediately called back to Arkham to deal with a Rumour as the prequel finally ended and Yig was revealed with two doom already on his track. I was a little disappointed it was Yig due to his low doom track, but we have a saying that if an ancient being really tried to force its way into the universe you couldn’t put him back and choose another one. As Yig is the ‘quick game’ AO I knew this one was going to the final battle, but I couldn’t think that way, I was obsessed now, I had to stop the Mi Go before it was too late!
The (short) Main Game
Upon arrival in Arkham Sister Mary had to immediately stop the stars being right by throwing Ryan Dean into the Easttown streets. It seems Agnes’ Tom ‘Mountain’ Murphy was too precious for the task. He would have been a vital ally in the mines. Yet I knew he would never reach there, unconcerned with the hidden horrors of Vermont. . Now truly alone against the threat, I moved Mary into Vermont for the first time A nice rest at the Brattleboro depot restored one Stamina to Sister Mary and I commented about the expansion not doing much, which the others agreed to. They must not have seen the cluster of yellow bordered monsters feverishly working towards our end. Racing up to the Monoliths, Sister Mary was called upon to make an impossible check, Sneak -1 (3), causing 3 Mi-Go to appear! Two of these were technicians, and as it says they are always placed in the mine, that’s where we put them, not in my space. I hope that was right but it seemed good both thematically and mechanically. The last monster was an Agent who quickly met the wrong end of a dollar in the form of the Magnum.
Comments were made about how the real game would have never had a check or an event like that in (it did remind me of the old Dark Pharoah to some degree), the Mist Generator environment was met with similar disdain for providing + 2 / -2 to checks rather than the usual 1, and this was interesting because it did feel a bit weird. It definitely felt different. Now to my mind, this is a gigantic plus. Surely you WANT this expansion to be different. Otherwise, why make it? I laughed when a monster burst out of the general store. When’s that ever happened? It really felt new, just like when you played Dunwich for the first time. It felt a little unrefined, a little alien, but also like I was in the clutches of the Mi-Go, and no-one could help me.
So Sister Mary rocked into the mine, and at that point I forgot the rules (ever done that in a game of Arkham?) and fought the Commander instead of the soldier who should have attacked because I forgot he would come out first. You see, we’d completely forgotten to move the Commander to the sky. So I took him on, failing his Horror check wilfully, Mary doesn’t care about Sanity loss. I saw then he was physically resistant and threw the Holy Water at him. Not good, it was five dice for three successes. I didn’t get one. I also forgot that he should have abducted me at that point so I went to the hospital and cracked my ribs (ouch!). I commented that I had to at least try to stop the Mi-Go before Yig awoke, which he would do very soon with seven technicians in the mine.
Nobody said anything. I stopped trying.
So the two ignorant warriors raced into gates, sealing three, as the Mi-Go added doom after doom. Annoyingly two of the gates that we sealed were the science building and Hibbs’ of all places, low frequency locations that were sure fire indicators the end was near. Once this was apparent, we made a last minute struggle for blessings and suchlike to counteract the imminent Curse of Yig.
Except Sister Mary of course.
For she had been repeatedly attacked by the Commander for the last four turns, constantly mucking up sneak checks and being smashed in the face for one damage, which for Sister Mary is quite a lot. McGlen could have taken him on at one point when he flew out of the sky due to equal Sneak scores and us both being in the street, but refused due to the Commander’s physical resistance and the fact he couldn’t be claimed as a trophy. I pointed out he would drop a tech, but sadly no interest. Even less interest in saving the world from alien lobsters or helping out a crazy nun. Oh well. We decided that he wouldn’t abduct you if you failed to evade him (it’s not a combat check), so it was back to the hospital for me. It was as if the commander had come to finish off the one person who knew of his people’s existence. I loved it! But the machinations of the Mi-Go had come full circle, and Yig awoke. It was time to end this in style!
Final battle! (it’s got nothing to do with Vermont Horror, but still)
McGlen and Agnes were ridiculously powerful thanks to the prequel. Agnes still had 10 clues. However, due to Yig’s curse, we were finding it tough to put a dent in him. The hopeless, destitute Sister Mary could barely lift her magnum as the jealous guardian that was Agnes had gone over to the cult of the goat and wasn’t giving money to a nun of all people. It seemed hopeless until we realised we’d forgotten another rule.
Sister Mary? Cursed? Whatever! She gets blessed when cursed!
With that surge of hope, suddenly McGlen and Agnes both shook off their curses. Yig was decimated in a hail of bullets and magic and the Mi-Go were defeated after all. Had it been anyone except Yig in the final fight, I suspect it may have been a different story. I was glad we won but also disappointed that we did so by ignoring the Mi-Go completely. It was late by that stage, I had work tomorrow and I was glad the game was over. We had a little debrief session though - I pointed out how full of flavour Vermont had been, especially extolling the virtues of locations such as the Crack’d Manse, which I assume is from the RPG adventure “The Crack’d and Crook’d Manse”, one of my all time favourite Chaosium books ‘Mansions of Madness’. Fantasy Flight seem to have forgotten to include the oozing slime creature in their unfinished product of the same name. The players agreed that a lot of effort went into the expansion and that overall it was a good idea, even going so far as to actually look through the tech deck. Sadly no positive comments were garnered, with the laser scalpel receiving derision and the weapons being criticised for “just being + 6” (for beating the Mi-Go in the mine, right?) I guess they didn’t see the really cool ones like the flying ship or the bacterial culture. Ultimately, they offered little comments other than McGlen’s player making it clear he would not be returning to Vermont.
How to feel about the whole experience? Let’s sum it up.
Flavour wise the expansion EXCELS. Everything from the Whisperer in Darkness and the Dark Mountain RPG adventure is in here. Mr. Noyes is sufficiently creepy and has a serial killer-slasher vibe to him. The way the Mi-Go cluster in the mine and send agents into the town is awesome. The researchers are a brilliant idea and add extra incentive to visit Vermont. When one appeared in Independence square, I squealed with delight and truly felt as though their invasion had begun.
Mechanically there’s one or two issues. Everyone felt the Prequel went on too long, and that they had nothing to do, although this was not actually true, they should have been fighting the Mi-Go in Vermont. I was just worried the game would drag and that the players would become bored. This is why I chose the Karma guardian, which allowed Agnes to buy a cheap skill. Perhaps if they had not have needed monster trophies to complete their stories they would have been more accepting. My friend commented that without gates opening he didn’t know what to do. I see this as a massive positive as this means that the game has been changed sufficiently to keep it interesting. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do anything, he just didn’t know what to do. I think other players will definitely revel in this aspect of the game, but my players were at something of a loose end here.
The Mi-Go do seem a bit tough, as short of McGlen I can’t think of many investigators who’d be capable of clearing out the mine, especially with the tendency of weapons to exhaust after use. The Magnum was useless. It seemed like the technicians were too tough at -2 combat. This is fine however, as nobody wants Arkham to be a pushover. Again, if a race of alien insects were really experimenting on human brains and waking up an ancient entity by accident, you couldn’t ask them if they could just do it a bit gentler.
The only thing that was redundant in my opinion was using clues to push the mining track back. It seems more sensible just to kill all the Mi-Go. Especially as you have to be delayed to disrupt the mining. We just ignored that. Clues would have made no difference to seven technicians.
I would love to battle them again now I know of their powers. So it seems that Vermont Horror will come down to the fact ‘do you accept fan material or not?’ I personally loved it. It’s the closest to a ‘proper’ expansion I’ve seen and will be surprised if anyone else puts this much effort into one. At least it’s based on a proper Lovecraft story. My friends said “I don’t really want to do the fan expansion again. There wasn’t really much to do.”
Fair enough the point of the game is for everyone to have fun. I did comment that I thought it felt a bit weird but how I liked that. As I expected, no response. Sadly, it seems that no response is worse than a bad response. My players aren’t looking for the Mi-Go.
Which is exactly what the Fungi from Yuggoth want you to think… The fools… You’ve doomed us all…
It seems that if you’re not keen on homebrew stuff, you won’t like this nor any of the
other fan creations. As I say, this is a million miles from an Outskirts expansion or
Indiana Jones or Naruto or some nonsense. It’s a proper expansion, and it is tough, and it
feels different, and you can choose to love it or hate it.
● Was it worth cutting and sticking for a sum total of 3 + hours (when I should have
been working)? Yes. I laminated every card and token. The board was difficult to make as I can’t colour copy onto A3 but I thought all the bits looked fabulous.
● Should the other players have made more of an effort to engage with it? Yes but their attitude helps me gauge what kind of game they will enjoy in the future and I thank it for that. You are now doing something different than just sealing gates. Games are made by the players, there’s no point playing a game you don’t enjoy, that’s the point of fan material and house rules. They are entitled to their opinion.
● Does it feel fan made? Yes but in a good way. Some people might think that some numbers are one digit too high. We didn’t fight Mr. Noyes but I’m sure he should be easier to sneak past. With one or two more playtests I think it’ll be perfect. It feels like a good medium between Dunwich and Innsmouth. There are some absolutely minor points like a missing letter here or there and the Communicatio nnode (sic) but who cares about that.
● How do the mechanics work with the base game? This is the thing I was the most impressed with. The mining track added four doom overall. If we’d have actually made an assault on the mine, it would have been more like one. Then, one investigator could have stayed in Vermont sweeping monsters while the other two sealed gates. After the prequel you will have loads of clues so you can easily catch up to the AO if he’s gained a couple doom. With a bit of teamwork it is very beatable but by no means easy. After all, you can finish the normal game with the Doom Track at 8 or 9 usually. This allows for at least 2 doom to sneak past (such as the rumours) so in this respect the balance seemed perfect. At no point did I feel the mine itself to be unfair. It’s better than Kingsport, anyway. (and also quite similar as it takes one character out of the ‘regular’ game of get five clues, seal gates, hum.) I thought all of the Mi-Go work and feel fantastic. Damn the commander and his scaly claws. Also, if we’d have had the Scouts, Arkham would have seen more monsters and it would have diluted the amount of technicians that appeared so that was squarely our fault.
● Do I regret playing it? Not for a second. If that’s how my friends feel then that’s their
opinion. Everyone has their own playing style and I am happy to accept that it’s not the
same as mine. I would recommend that you use this expansion only if your group
Well done Airborne, if you feel like cranking out that v4 you will definitely have the
best fan expansion out there. It just seems that some people will need the classic matt
Fantasy Flight Finish on their tokens and Richard Lainius to kiss the box goodnight
before they dive in. No problem, we’re all different. For the rest of us, game on.
● As I said I didn’t fight him but at least knock Mr. Noyes’ sneak down by one if not two. After all, you can’t really even go to Vermont if you can’t beat him (which does make sense as if you can’t beat him how are you going to beat a ton of technicians and soldiers?)
● Forget the whole clue tokens to push the mining track back thing. Maybe instead if you get delayed at the mine you can halt it moving at all for one turn, as long as you beat the soldier that spawns.
●Add in the encounters to get the other two allies. Consider my idea about being able to buy the Ranger at his station. I see no reason he couldn’t cost just one gate/5 tough or monsters seeing as you have to struggle there under hard going. (1 gate + 3 tough/8 tough? Too fan made?) I respect you can get the Mountain Rescue Volunteer thing there, wasn’t sure if you intended that to be bought or obtained in an encounter.
●How about reintroducing your Grafton Pond job but relate it directly to the expansion (it’s a special card that gives you a bonus to combat checks against Mi-Go only or lets you pass their horror checks automatically at the cost of your max sanity?) Or maybe you can buy tech there from a mysterious double agent?)
● Perhaps defeating a Mi-Go Agent could net you a clue or knock the mining track back one space. It makes sense thematically and would give an extra angle to Vermont.
I hope you have a lot of fun continuing to design excellent scenarios like this. As someone with a lot of interest in game design, I thought it important to help out a fellow enthusiast. I’d love to play Mansions of Madness with you.
I can still hear them whispering in the darkness….
I’ll take Dexter Drake anytime