I Put a Spell on You
An In-Depth Look at the Mystics of Arkham Horror: The Card Game
“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far."
–H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
The world of Arkham Horror: The Card Game takes ordinary men and women and pits them against maddening creatures that threaten our world from beyond the reaches of reality. Only by uniting with fellow investigators to discover clues, defeat monsters, and bind the power of the Mythos to your desires will you be able to face the forces of darkness and survive long enough to see the dawn.
From the Core Set to The Forgotten Age, the five factions that fill your team have evolved, gaining new investigators and tools for combating the Mythos. To gain a deeper understanding of how these factions have changed over time and how they contribute to the investigative team as a whole, we turn to our guest writers Peter Hopkins and Frank Brinkley. As the founders and hosts of the Drawn to the Flame podcast, Peter and Frank have combined their loves of gaming and all things horror to share their insights into the arcane and unknowable with the gaming community. Today, they will be giving us an in-depth look at Mystics, the spell-casting investigators who manipulate the world around them with their arcane gifts.
Peter and Frank on the Mystic Faction
The world of Arkham Horror Files teems with twisted, eldritch creations. From beyond time and space, ancient beings issue forth to touch our world—and their caress brings with it darkling tides and monstrous revelations. In the course of this series, we’ve looked at investigators who seek to comprehend the threats posed by the Mythos or to combat those threats directly. But what of those intrepid few who do not fear the encroaching dangers? This week, we’re looking at a faction that draws strength from contact with the Mythos and investigators who find themselves drawn to the flame: the Mystic faction.
Sitting down to look at the investigators doesn’t give you too many clues as to a Mystic’s strengths. Jim Culver (The Dunwich Legacy, 4) has reasonable intellect and combat skills of three each. Meanwhile, Akachi Onyele (The Path to Carcosa, 4) and Father Mateo (The Forgotten Age, 4) sport a skill of three for both combat and agility. Even Agnes Baker (Core Set, 4) has three agility. While these stats aren’t meager, they’re not exactly inspiring either. Of the four stats, intellect is used to investigate, combat to fight, and agility to evade, and these investigators go no higher than a three in any of those skills. It’s when you look at willpower that a pattern emerges, as Jim’s and Mateo’s four willpower and Akachi’s and Agnes’s impressive five willpower draws the eye. So, is Mystic simply a faction geared towards handling the more dangerous treacheries lurking in the encounter deck? If you aren’t skilled in intellect, combat or agility, where do you fit in?
A Spell for Everything
Fortunately, when playing as a Mystic, you can use your affinity with the Mythos to turn your willpower directly to your advantage. The purple card pool is filled with all types of Rituals, Relics, and Spells. Strikingly, many Spells allow you to use your willpower in place of other statistics. Hunting for clues? Conduct a Rite of Seeking (The Dunwich Legacy, 28). Need to fight? Hit them with Shriveling (Core Set, 60). A tricky enemy breathing down your neck? Blinding Light (Core Set, 66) is just the thing. With Spells at your disposal, you can easily match other factions’ core strengths and specializations.
As you invest experience in your Spells, they grow in potency. A Guardian will raise an admiring eyebrow as your upgraded Shriveling (Lost in Time and Space, 306) blasts enemies apart with much the same efficiency as their weapons and tactics. And that’s before you switch to picking up clues just as well as a Seeker with an upgraded Rite of Seeking (Undimensioned and Unseen, 233). You have an entire arsenal of spells at your fingertips, so playing as a Mystic can feel both focused and expansive at the same time. You’re all about channeling your attentions into your spells, but once you’re set up, you’re incredibly flexible. One Mystic might be a streamlined offensive spell-caster, another a diverse all-rounder. Your role in the team can range as wide as the spells you have to choose from.
As with anything in Arkham, contact with the power of the Mythos brings with it a host of dangers. Mystics rely on finding the right spell and getting it into play more than any other faction. If you don’t have your spells to hand, you may find yourself left stranded and helpless. Yet even the spells themselves threaten punishing drawbacks, often triggered by the special symbols of the chaos bag. Draw one such token while using Shriveling, and your own sanity will suffer as the spell writhes out of your control. Blinding Light can cost you precious actions and Rite of Seeking will send you into a catatonic stupor, forfeiting the rest of your turn! These spells are powerful, but they are dangerous to the user, too. Reach into the chaos bag at your peril!
Fortunately, some Mystic investigators and their cards alleviate or even celebrate those hazards. For example, two Relics: Jewel of Aureolus (Where Doom Awaits, 269) and Grotesque Statue (Core Set, 71), mitigate the risks of the chaos bag. The jewel provides card draw or resources whenever special symbols are revealed, while the statue is an insurance when you can’t afford to take another horror or have your turn terminated—or it can be another way to go fishing for any special symbols you’re hunting for. Playing as a Mystic, you care about exactly which tokens you draw, for good or ill.
One investigator who can turn turn the disadvantages of Spells to her benefit is Agnes Baker: horror that's placed on her becomes damage dealt to enemies. If you're playing as Agnes, you should certainly consider Forbidden Knowledge (Core Set, 58), which pays out four resources but requires four sanity in exchange. That’s a hefty price to pay for many characters, usually at least half of their sanity pool. In Agnes’ cursed hands, though, four horror can just mean four free damage! You’ll also want to look at cards that heal horror, such as Fearless (Core Set, 67), to balance this out. Agnes's sanity pool can be a resource to use against enemies, so it makes sense to keep it topped up! Nothing feels more Mystic then riding a wave of horror close to the abyss but using the strength you gain to fight back against the Mythos.
Yet the Mythos and the Mystic faction goes darker still, as it’s not just your Spells that bring drawbacks for you and your compatriots. Drawn to the Flame (Core Set, 64) is a potent way of grabbing clues, but comes at the cost of drawing an additional encounter card. Meanwhile, Delve Too Deep (The Miskatonic Museum, 111), means an extra encounter card for every member of your party, in the pursuit of additional experience. If all goes well, your team breathes a sigh of relief, happy that your risk paid off. But every time you play one of these cards, it feels like you’re dabbling with danger; you cross your fingers that your flirtation with the fell powers will pay off!
The most dangerous Mystic cards add doom to themselves, endangering not only yourself, but your comrades. Arcane Initiate (Core Set, 63) arrives with a doom on her, which means playing her immediately pushes you closer to defeat! David Renfield (Echoes of the Past, 112) gives you an option to add doom to this card in exchange for resources, which quickly add up if you’re willing to risk brushing up to the doom threshold. Just before the agenda advances, all it takes is a Moonlight Ritual (Where Doom Awaits, 267) to purge these characters’ doom. Or you may be Calling in Favors (The Unspeakable Oath, 158) to replace their services with someone less risky, keeping you from jeopardizing your entire team.
If you're in sync with the agenda deck, you can reap the benefits from toying with doom. But, you have to ask yourself: “How long do I dare risk a stray doom slipping through and cutting my time short?” Lose the action or card you needed to deal with the doom on your own cards and you may have cost your team a handful of turns—and they’ll be sure to let you know.
This cuts to the heart of the Mystic faction. There is such power here: Spells that let you do anything, even bending the frame of the game itself by ignoring encounter cards, pulling resources from nowhere, or rewinding time itself. Yet this power is never without its cost. To succeed as a Mystic, you need to understand how far you can push things and to grasp the flow of doom. And when you do, you will truly feel like you have embraced the dark power of the Mythos.
Some fear the power of the Mythos, but perhaps by controlling these dark forces, you will be able to overcome them. How close can you stand to the void before you are consumed by it? There is only one way to find out. Give in to the darkness, make monsters kneel before your cosmic power, and lead Arkham to a new age of light!
To battle the forces of the Ancient Ones as a Mystic, you can order your own copy of Arkham Horror: The Card Game (AHC01) at your local retailer or on the Fantasy Flight Games website here!