- We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight.— H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond
It is 1926, and the museums exotic curios and occult artifacts open barriers between our world and the elder evils lurking between dimensions. Other Worlds begin to leak through and terrifying creatures of increasing strength steal through them. Animals, the mad, and those of susceptible minds are driven to desperation by the supernatural forces that the portals unleash. In the midst of this chaos, a handful of Investigators must race against time to locate the eldritch symbols necessary to seal the portals forever and stop evil Ancient Ones from reducing humanity to cinders.
Elder Sign is a fast-paced, cooperative dice game of supernatural intrigue for one to eight players by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, the designers of Arkham Horror, for which this is a sister game, both sharing Investigators, items, and artwork. Players take the roles of Investigators racing against time to stave off the imminent return of the Ancient Ones. Armed with cards for tools, allies, and occult knowledge, Investigators must put their sanity and stamina to the test as they adventure to locate Elder Signs, the eldritch symbols used to seal away the Ancient Ones and win the game.
Tropes present in Elder Sign:
- Adaptation Distillation: The game can basically be described as a wholesale version of this to the original Arkham Horror; one Ancient One, simplified abilities, less emphasis on character backgrounds and lore, and tasks and events are more straightforward. And while the expansions have added back in some of the complexity, it is still nowhere near as crazy as Big Sis.
- Anyone Can Die: One of the biggest differences between this game and Arkham Horror; whereas it took a great deal of effort (or really bad luck) to die there, here it simply takes a reduction of either stat to zero, something that can happen very easily and very frequently. It's not uncommon for the players to go through multiple Investigators over the course of a game.
- Badass Bookworm: Part and parcel for the Mythos, especially since the Museum is run by Miskatonic University. You can even have a full party of them, using Harvey Walters, Mandy Thompson, Kate Winthrop, Carolyn Fern, and/or Amanda Sharpe.
- Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Just like the home game; you can stop the Ancient One, sometimes even personally, but unless you've been having a perfect game, there will be casualties.
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist / Continuing Is Painful: Both examples. Dying lets you start fresh with a new Investigator, with full health/sanity and a set of starting items. If you had nothing, you're better off than you were before. However, dying means you forfeit everything, so if you had a collection of dice, rerolls, and allies, dying can be very painful.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Duke, Pete's Canine Companion, exists solely for this; he can save Pete from a single failed Adventure at the cost of his own life.
- Nintendo Hard: Tasks are difficult and the toughest ones come with nasty effects, monsters can appear that make them even tougher, failure often incurs severe penalties, every four turns a new Mythos card leads to both a bad thing happening and a penalty that lasts until the next mythos card. Ancient Ones have game-long effects and incur a very difficult boss battle with Final Death incorporated if it awakens (except for Azathoth, which is outright Game Over if it awakens,) Other World cards can offer significant rewards but are even harder than normal Adventures, and there are a handful that can penalize the players for having uncompleted Other World cards. Players can build up a repertoire of items, clues, and allies that can provide extra dice, re-rolls, and useful passive and active effects, as well as trophies from their victories that can be traded in for valuable rewards...but Investigators can and will drop like flies, and with few exceptions players lose everything and have to start fresh when it happens. Finally, there are tasks and monsters that can lock up die, preventing them from being used until dealt with and making both themselves and other events FAR more difficult, potentially even leading to an Unwinnable situation.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A University professor, a professional author, a psychologist, and a college student who is actually a Deep One, just unaware of it work alongside a gangster, a hobo, an Adventurer Archaeologist, and a military veteran. Most of them will die.
- World of Badass: A whole slew of Investigators who face up to eldritch horrors without hesitation, and a range of Allies who can back them up. Unfortunately, this IS a Cosmic Horror Story...