There seems to be a lack of strategy articles for the Overlord players in Descent Second Edition. Many of the articles are simply "Battle Reports" of scenarios that have been played and following in the steps of successful Overlords in those cases can lead to a win, but they are not comprehensive guides. I recently played through The Shadow Rune campaign over a course of several weeks with my regular group and then had the opportunity to play the entire campaign again, in six straight days at a week-long gaming convention that I attended. These tips are meant for campaign play and are based on the awful mistakes that led to my crushing defeat in the first campaign (Won 2 out of 11 games) and the resounding defeat that I handed the group I played with at the convention (Won 7 out of 9 games).
1. Hero Selection
This isn't normally part of the OL's job. However, reading over the hero character cards and the cards for whatever classes they choose are important. Do not just look at their starting cards. Read the whole deck and see what they are capable of after spending a few XP. Make notes if you want to. The next thing to pay attention to is each of the heroes Attribute scores (Might, Knowledge, Willpower, and Awareness). Many of your OL cards will trigger Attribute tests and you will want to know who to hit for the best effect. I suggest writing them on a note card and keeping it in your play area for easy reference. Finally, make note of the movement, health, and fatigue of each Hero. These can be affected in several ways by monsters and OL cards. The Heroes abilities later in the game frequently have a fatigue cost as well. Finally, make a note of what kind of party you will be facing. Is it the "Classic" party with one of each class, or is it lopsided in some way either because your players are trying to create some sort of advantageous combo later on or they have just chosen what they liked and didn't care about party composition. Whatever it is, start planning now on how to best exploit it with your cards and monsters.
2. Overlord Card Selection and XP.
It takes some time to finely tune your OL deck to do what you want it to do. Because of the restraints on how you can spend XP on new cards, it may be into Act 2 before your deck really begins to sing; especially if you haven't won enough to get bonus XP to spend.
I suggest waiting until you have played at least TWO quests before you decide what set of OL cards to spend your XP on. Watch how the Heroes work and how the players run them. Do they frequently max out on fatigue? Are they relentless Searchers that try to grab all of the treasure? Are they weak in hand to hand? All of these factors can help you decide what to buy. The only cards that I would say are essential to every OL are cards that let you work through your deck." Plan Ahead" and "Unholy Ritual" are both good and they each cost one XP. I prefer "Plan Ahead", but if you are going to buy into the Magus set, you may want to spend your XP there.
In terms of spending XP on cards, I suggest spending into one set with most of your points. Having a deck that is too broad, doesn't really make it tough enough and it denies you the ability to really trim out the fat and know for sure that your meanest and most useful cards are going to be present during a game. On that note, Trimming your OL deck is very important. Try to keep it to a lean 15 cards. Spending most of your points in one set will allow you to drop Basic cards that are not as useful later on and create a strong theme in your OL deck that you can rely on. Do not be afraid to get rid of cards. Sure "Critical Hit" is useful, but if you are avoiding fighting with the players in a given quest, take it out. Keep the Objective of the quest in mind and take the best cards for that game when you can.
Saboteur - This set has the broadest application as the cards trigger off on Move, search, and Open Door actions. These are frequently taken actions. They also combo with a few of the basic cards to create a trap heavy deck. These cards carry a good psychological effect and can scare the party into making sub-optimal choices or keep them from acting altogether. Denying heroes the ability to search is a very powerful tactic that will be discussed in another section.
Warlord - This is the most direct set of OL cards. It does one thing well, it beefs up your monsters. The cards grant more Attack actions and the ability to hit harder with attacks. There are couple utilities in there as well, but these cards are primarily concerned with Attack actions. This set has the least amount a versatility and as such, you need to focus on attacking as much as possible to really derive the benefits of these cards. As the Heroes acquire better gear and powers, attacking them isn't always your best bet. As such, the Warlord cards become less useful as the campaign progresses.
Magus - This is the least focused set. Where Saboteur and Warlord both clearly define what they do, Magus has more varied effects. There are cards that let you draw from your OL deck, pull specific cards out, do straight damage to the players, and one that affects your monsters. There are some cool effects, but it is not as strongly focused so building for a certain effect in your OL deck isn't possible. It would certainly be satisfying to pull off a win with some of the tricks in this deck though.
Punisher (From Lair of the Wyrm Expansion) - This set uses the Heroes abilities against them. There are cards that let your monsters move when Heroes spend Stamina to move extra spaces, cards that hurt the Heroes when they heal, and other fun activities that take advantage of the things they do in game to get advantages. It has a psychological tax like the Saboteur set and can cause the players to second guess themselves or stop them in their tracks.
Universal - These are all good for 1 XP, but do not dilute your deck with too many.
3. Searching and Items
Acquiring treasure and buying new gear is the fastest way for the Heroes to become more powerful. Relics gained from quests play into that as well, but Heroes will acquire most of their increased damage and defenses from New gear. That said, it is important to deny them the ability to search as much as possible. Read the rules in quests carefully and do your best to keep the players focused on the Objective of any given scenario. I have found that with enough pressure on them, they cannot spare the actions to Search. There are some scenarios that end when a certain condition is met, if you are losing a quest, try to make that condition happen in order to end the quest. Once the End Condition is met, there are no more actions. Keep your eyes open and try not to give the players an open ended period of time that allows them to search every token on the board.
4. Monster Selection
The first thing to keep in mind is the Objective of the scenario. Do you need to move fast, block access, kill villager tokens, or run with an objective. This should be your first consideration when selecting monsters for your open groups. Secondly, keep in mind the Heroes Attributes, Stamina, and Health scores. If you can use monsters that have abilities that are able to affect the heroes without performing attacks, that is very useful. Use those abilities on the most vulnerable heroes as often as you are able. Scare them with something other than the monster's attack dice. For instance, the Barghest "Howl" ability can be used to damage Heroes that frequently end their turns with their Fatigue maxed out or to slow down the party's movement. Free Damage and taxing the Heroes resources are good outcomes. Abilities like this can be used to confound and affect the Heroes without getting into direct combat with them.
Using your monster to block doors, corridors, and other narrow passages is a basic strategy that all OLs should use. There comes a point in time, where the Heroes have spent enough XP and gained powerful gear, where blocking is no longer viable. When a Hero can drop a tough Act 2 monster with One Attack, you have reached the end of the Blocking phase of the game. Blocking is still useful in terms of making Heroes use actions to get by them, but it is far less effective later in the game. Instead, focus on harrying and disrupting the Heroes. I used the Goblin Archers more than any other monster in the game. They are fast, have ranged attacks, and in Act 2 they can do a significant amount of damage by spending surges. Keep the composition of the Hero group in mind too. If they are weak in Melee, get in there and pound them. The opposite goes for when they are melee heavy. Stay away, plink at them, annoy them, and keep your eye on the objective.
5. Quests and Encounters
The advice here is simple; read and understand the quest and all of the little details. Focus on your objective. Sometimes Heroes and OLs have different objectives in a scenario. Select monsters that will help you obtain the objective. Tune your OL deck to help you obtain the objective. Every action you take should be in service to gaining the objective. Do not ignore the Heroes though. If you are working toward your objective and you have monsters to use against the Heroes, do so. If attacking the heroes does not help you obtain your objective, leave them alone and focus your attacks on killing your objective. If, during play, it becomes clear that you cannot obtain the objective, make the objective difficult for the players to obtain. If they are going to walk over you, do what you can to deny them the opportunity to search. If it is Encounter 1 of a quest and you are clearly going to lose, let the players screw around and grab treasure and heal themselves and do whatever takes multiple turns. Players are greedy and weak-minded <wink>. You just sit back and draw OL cards. Build up a real nice hand to punish them with in Encounter 2. Then in Encounter 2, do all the same things mentioned above, but use your nice big hand of cards and take every advantage you can grab. Always work toward the objective. Nothing sucks worse than moving in on what appears to be an easy kill and leaving your objective under-guarded to provide an easy win for the Heroes.
6. General Advice/Thoughts and House Rules
Get the latest FAQ/Errata and apply it to your game. Print it out and have it on hand for reference. It is important. Get it here http://www.fantasyfl...on FAQ_v1.2.pdf
There is a point in the campaign were the heroes are well geared and have spent XP to increase their abilities. The End of Act 1 and the Interlude were the points in both of our campaigns where the heroes seemed very powerful. That changed in the first game of Act 2 when the monsters receive a bump up in power and the defenses of the Heroes are not up to snuff. However, this lasts for one Quest before the heroes get access to Act 2 gear. That stuff is crazy powerful. By that point you need to be well on your way to a focused OL deck and be able to spend a little time really considering what monsters to use in each Encounter of a quest. Strategies that you employed previously will begin to be altered by the level of power the Heroes display. It is rough. The Heroes will continue to gain power and you, as OL, just get a few XP to add cards. This is where a long term plan on spending XP and acquiring certain sets should begin to really pay off. Trim out the useless cards by paying attention to how the Heroes are being played. Refresh your memory on their new abilities. Listen to their table talk and use it against them. That is one advantage you have that they cannot avoid giving you.
If you have Lair of the Wyrm Expansion (LotW), the temptation to throw in those Rumor quests is mighty strong. However, it really tips the balance of the overall campaign. Regardless of who wins the first Rumor quest, they now have a powerful new Relic that was not factored into the Shadow Rune campaign. More important than that though, the Heroes have a whole extra board worth of Search tokens to grab treasure from and they get another shopping step in between the Rumor and the next quest. This is bad for you as OL. Gear is the main way that Heroes become tougher in combat. In Act 2, you play the second part of the LotW Rumor quests and that is a two Encounter quest with two more boards worth of search tokens and another shopping step in between. This is even worse for you as OL. The Rumor quests add nothing to the main story, but they add a whole mess of gear to the Heroes that you will have a hard time coping with. We played the rumor Quests in the first campaign and the Heroes were so powerful from acquiring tons of extra gear at the end, there was nothing I could do to deter their victory. Fantasy Flight put out rules to run LotW as a mini campaign. It is far more satisfying that way. You get a whole story and you get to play more of those quests. Far more bang for the buck.
We implemented a few House Rules in the second campaign.
1. Fair Play - There is a lot going on during the game on the board. There can be several figures of different sizes and shapes and tokens that remain unseen and a variety of other things that are subject to errors just based on point of view. It is the responsibility of each team (Heroes and OL) to double check that everyone's figure has been moved and every action that can be taken, has been. Reminding the OL that there is goblin behind the Dragon that he may not have seen before he stops moving his goblins is just fair play. This is not a tournament and there is no money or prize on the line. You don't prove yourself smarter or more superior because you can see something from your chair. Hopefully you are playing this with people you like. It really boils down to the simple missive of "Don't be a ****".
2. Timed Hero Turns - We played one scenario (The Dawnblade) for over six hours to a drug out, near standstill. The longest parts of each turn were those in which the players debated every minutia of every move for many long minutes. Some of their turns took over 20 minutes in just the discussion phase; before any figures were moved or dice rolled. This was intolerable and could not be allowed to occur again (partly due to one member of the group having to work very early). We instituted a 15 minute long player turn. It goes into effect after the First quest of Act 1 is complete. By then the players have had the Intro and one quest to figure out how to play their Heroes and work together. After that, when the OL turn ends they get a minute or so to prepare and the timer is started. The OL calls out each five minute increment as a running countdown. If the players have not moved and acted with all pieces by the end of the turn, they lose the actions for whoever has not acted. They can finish with someone if they are in the middle of acting. It has worked well and we have yet to run out of time without everyone acting. It isn't a perfect solution, but it does keep the players on task rather than endlessly debating each person's perfect turn.
I hope this helps.
Edited by GamePunk666, 02 August 2013 - 12:17 PM.