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Most cooperative games have methods of altering the difficulty listed in the rulebook, but Arkham Horror doesn't (although it does mention that Cthulu tends to be harder than the other ancient ones).

  • What are some good ways to tweak the difficulty?
  • How does each one alter the game difficulty and strategy?
  • Are there any methods of changing difficult in the expansions that you don't need to have the entire expansion to use?

There's a lot of obvious things, like drawing more mythos cards, taking away character abilities, having more monsters come out of gates etc. But I'm afraid to just start tinkering away. Which methods tend to work best?

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

A couple of these I'm pulling straight from Richard Launius' House Rules (My favorite of which is Rule #12)

If you want an easier time of it:

Drawing a Mythos card every other turn is the way I've done it. It allows the players to wander around Arkham and have encounters they normally wouldn't take the time out to have.

You can also make traveling through gates (for those standing on them) during the encounter phase optional rather than mandatory.

Monsters standing on a location that contains a gate when that gate is closed are drawn through it, in addition to all those that would normally do so due to their dimensional symbol.

To make the game harder:

Have Investigators randomly dealt out to players or randomly dealt two and pick, etc.. My group usually hates playing spellcasters, and with good reason! They weren't particularly impressive before the later expansions and the spells use precious Sanity. This forces players to pick people they wouldn't normally play as and prevents games from being filled with powerful characters.

Place gates face down on the board. This makes it more of a surprise when you find yourself plummeting into R'yleh after jumping into an unguarded gate, or fighting through a horde to end up in the Dreamlands. It also makes it harder to come out of a gate that you didn't enter through (as they are facedown, you don't know if there is another exit on the board). When I do this, I usually allow the exiting Investigator to look at one facedown gate, and if it wasn't the one they were looking for, they get LiTaS and the gate stays facedown.

The Heralds and Guardians that made their debut in later expansions (King in Yellow and beyond) also help make the game harder (or easier with Guardians). Hastur paired with the King In Yellow Herald have made games so painful my group refuses to play with either one of them anymore.

Personally, I've never found it necessary to take away a character ability. None of them are that broken. Some are close, but there's always a drawback to them.

Additionally, (though I've never used them myself) there are difficulty modifying cards in the Black Goat of the Woods expansion. Two of them make the game easier, two of the harder. I think they do things like 'everybody starts blessed/cursed, more/less mythos per turn', etc.

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In terms of rule tweaks (as opposed to expansions), Richard Launius' house rules (pdf) are as close to canonical as it gets (he designed the game). They're linked in the accepted answer, but there's a lot more, so I think it's worth having a summary here. The document is organized by rule type; to help make it easier to find rules to tweak the difficulty how you want:

  • Much harder: rule 9 (no victory for sealed gates), rule 10 (with >4 players, two gates per mythos with >=6 doom tokens), rule 11 (modified Great Old One combat)

  • Harder: rule 1 (two monsters on first gate), rule 2 (semi-random investigators), rule 3 (gate locations unknown), rule 5 (lose spell/skill on insanity), rule 7 (lose sanity for harming another investigator)

  • Easier: rule 4 (choose to travel through gate), rule 8 (one free evade)

  • Much easier: rule 6 (monster guards sucked through closing gates)

Rule 1b (two monsters per gate with >4 players) makes it harder, but was already added by the Dunwich rule revisions. Rule 12 (game master draws two mythos cards and chooses one) can make the game either easier or harder.

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To make the game slightly easier, deal either the double of cards or one extra than the investigator needs and pick the one(s) that the most thematically appropriate to the character and discard the rest. This makes trading items in the first few turns almost redundant thus allowing to focus on monsters and/or gates.

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I have always liked the injury/madness cards from the Durnvich horror expansion. In my mind the make an defeat a bit less painful. I prefer getting an injury most of the time to lose half my items.

An other way to make the game a bit easier would be to let each investigator take an extra item, unique item, spell or skill in during the setup.
On the other hand placing an extra portal and monster on the map during setup would give you a harder, more hectic and possible shorter game.

The number of investigators are also a way to adjust the difficulty. If you're only two playing for instance consider playing two investigators each to make the game easier.
If you are four investigators adding a fifth or maybe only use the rules as if there was five players would ramp up the difficulty. With five investigators for instance you should add two monsters per opened portal.

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