Elder Sign: Omens – Team “Changelings”

Yes, this is yet another post about the Elder Sign: Omens app, a game I’ve been playing for about four and a half years now, mainly because so many character combinations are possible.

Immunity Deal
My previous post described four themed teams I’ve used in 2018, and one new theme idea. I’m happy to report that the fourth team, “Immunity Deal,” finally managed to beat Ithaqua, the mission rated as Insane difficulty. One character died early on, but the other three amassed enough supplies to survive Alaska long enough to collect enough equipment to face the ancient one and overcome him, with gear to spare.

Of course, it helped that the Elder Signs all fell my way, with a couple gifted as unusual bonuses (instead of sending the team’s horses over a cliff near the end and leaving the team to starve, as usual).

Changelings
Last night I assembled the new team, with one difference in the previously imagined roster, under a new name: Team Changelings.

Included are Harvey Walters, who changes terror glyphs to lore; Michael McGlen, who changes terror to peril; Wilson Richards, who changes the yellow glyph to whatever he wants; and Wendy Adams, who changes terror to whatever she wants.

Of the four, Wendy is the most versatile, but she’s a fragile little thing and she starts with only one token—a clue—compared to everyone else’s two tokens and more robust sanity and/or stamina.

On their first foray, the team spanked Yig so fast the ancient one barely had a chance to accumulate any doom at all. (The secret is, of course, to send the best team member for the specific mini adventure—Harvey to lore-heavy ones, for example.) I suspect this team will give team “I’ve Got Your Back” (see my previous post) a run for their money. After the repeated disappointments of team “Immunity Deal” this is a welcome change—very enjoyable!

Elder Sign: Omens – Teams 2018

Elder Sign: Omens - Android screen shot

It’s been four-and-a-half years now that I’ve been playing the Elder Sign: Omens app. That’s fairly astounding. I’m not apt to play anything over and over and over—this and the Vampire: Bloodlines PC game are notable exceptions.

What gives Elder Sign: Omens its longevity on my phone and tablet is partly its portability: I can play a turn or three while riding in the car, for example. But the main reason is undoubtedly the tens of thousands of permutations for building a four-person team from a pool of 32 characters.

In previous posts I’ve discussed strategies for using different teams against the seven different “ancient ones.” And even a few instances of playing a single character instead of a team. This year I’ve taken a slightly different tack, assembling teams by theme. Allow me to introduce you to the four so far—and one in the wings.

“Charlie’s Angels”

This team was assembled on a whim, based on the fact that there’s a Charlie among the 32 characters, and that the game has so many female characters with kick-ass special abilities. For this team I chose Jenny Barnes, Amanda Sharpe, Diana Stanley, and Charlie Kane—in that line-up order.

Jenny and Amanda have long been two of my favorites: Jenny almost always has the bonus red and yellow dice at hand, and Amanda isn’t limited to one task per roll—if she’s got the results to solve several, she can. I added Diana because she’s a monster hunter, sort of a combat specialist, which seemed legit for the theme. As for Charlie, I’ve always thought lame his special ability to gain extra trophies by helping an investigator who failed a task; I plan for characters to succeed. But his name’s Charlie, so there you go.

It’s a very good group against pretty much any of the ancient ones. But I’ve played those three ladies in so many other teams that “Charlie’s Angels” didn’t hold many surprises. What did surprise me was Charlie’s effectiveness—which brings me to team two …

“I Got Your Back”

In this case I chose four investigators I’ve never really liked. But it occurred to me that they each have a “help someone out” ability, so why not band them together? Dr. Carolyn Fern restores sanity and Dr. Vincent Lee restores stamina; Charlie Kane and Rex Murphy chip in similarly on a failed task, but while Charlie gets extra trophies, Rex gets an extra clue.

This team-up proved surprisingly effective! Carolyn and Vincent prevent team members from wasting turns and trophies in the first-aid station. Charlie and Rex proved helpful in making failed tasks yield the team at least some repayment. The only trouble was that while Charlie and Rex were always well-equipped, Carolyn and Vincent were often left with empty backpacks. At times I even let them spend a turn in the lost-and-found department to reequip while Charlie and Rex faced down the toughest tasks.

Of the many teams I’ve assembled, “I Got Your Back” is distinctly the most effective. (I suspect there’s a life lesson in that.)

“Greed Is Good”

This team was built of investigators who got a little something extra each time they completed a chosen task. Monterey Jack gets a bonus unique item (red die) when landing a unique item. With Bob Jenkins it’s common items (yellow die), and with Dexter Drake it’s an extra spell. Joe Diamond gets to use each clue twice, which is more stinginess than actual greed, but he’s closer to the greed theme than the remaining 27 investigators.

The results from this team swung between extremes. On the one hand it meant that the investigators each quickly built a stockpile of items. The trouble was that it meant an overabundance of one particular type for each and a paucity of others. For example Joe often had more common items than he could ever actually use, but other items suffered. Even Joe tended to load up on clues more than anything else.

In situations where the game locked out one type of item, that investigator was screwed. (Especially painful in the Dark Pharaoh adventure, where nearly every day blocks out one thing or another.) I began to send the affected investigator to first aid, lost and found, or souvenir shop that turn. It proved to be a fairly effective strategy.

Joe’s clue ability proved to be the most effective of the four, followed closely by Dexter’s spells (a surprise), then Jack’s unique items. Bob’s common items definitely lagged behind the others, though the food and drink common items kept him in relatively good shape.

I’ve since replaced Joe with Tony Morgan, who gains an extra trophy when he kills a monster—which feels more suited to the theme. That extra trophy comes in handy for buying elder signs and equipment against the lower-powered ancient ones, and ally aid against the Dark Pharaoh.

Although not as effective as the “I Got Your Back” team, “Greed Is Good” turned out to be exciting. The team either scored wild success or crashed and burned. Mainly crash and burn against Ithaqua. That final ancient one was felled eventually, but it took more than half a dozen attempts.

“Immunity Deal”

The theme with this team—which I’m currently playing—is immunity from one game effect or another. Sister Mary is immune to locked glyphs. Amanda Sharpe (mentioned earlier) is not limited to one task per roll. Kate Winthrop is immune to terror effects, and monsters cannot appear on her turn. Rita Young is immune to Sanity and Stamina losses from hazardous attacks.

This one has been tougher to succeed with, except (surprisingly) against the Dark Pharaoh! After losing several times to His Lordship, it occurred to me to try different allies. Instead of the Mender of Flesh (spend two trophies to heal two Sanity and Stamina) and the Guiding Spirit (spend two trophies to ignore daily restrictions on one type of equipment or another), I used the ally who adds a red die and the one who adds a yellow die (can’t recall their names). With that change I defeated Nyarlathotep prettily handily.

Ithaqua I’m still battling, having already failed a half-dozen times, many without even leaving the museum for Alaska!

“Ch-ch-ch-changes”

Next up will be a team of characters who can modify dice icons and midnight doom effects: Michael McGlen (changes a Terror to a Peril), Wilson Richards (changes the yellow die face to whatever he wants), Jacqueline Fine (changes the nightly mythos effect), and Wendy Adams (changes a terror to whatever she likes).

Other Possibilities?

I’d love to try a monster-hunter team, but there are only two investigators with related abilities, and it’s a minor aspect of the game, meaning they’ll almost certainly fail again and again. But maybe with a couple of investigators whose illustrations include guns?

Any ideas you can think of?

Why I Am Who I Am



At 13 years of age my dad worked 10-12 hour days with his dad, wearing blisters on his hands hoeing tobacco fields and cutting trees with a two-man crosscut saw. Dad was kept out of school to work fields the first six weeks of classes and the last six weeks every year. He never had a chance to attend junior and senior years.

This was what it took to keep his younger brothers and sisters fed, clothed, and sheltered. And sometimes the food was only water biscuits and water gravy. Water carried by hand from a spring down the hill.

(Note: My relatives had owned two farms and a general store until the Great Depression.)

At 18, Dad left home and took a job in a canning factory. He and a few other fellows just as poor slept nights in a nearby bean field, with a canning knife always at hand to keep from being robbed. At 19 he landed a job at a General Electric plant, married my mother, and had his first son—me.

Dad paid rent for the house we lived in by working the owner’s fields each evening after factory hours. He bought a used car to get back and forth from the plant that winter. Turns out the dealer had packed sawdust in the oil pan to keep it from leaking, just long enough to sell it, and the car broke down, leaving Dad in a financial quagmire.

The dealer tried to garnishee my father’s wages; GE threatened to fire Dad if that happened. A local lawyer heard the situation and intervened so my mom and I wouldn’t end up homeless that winter. (He didn’t charge anything, just made my young father promise to never assume everyone’s word was their bond.)

GE was not a pleasant place to work back then. A worker could be fired without cause, and there were no safety laws on the books. Dad risked his job to help establish a labor union in the plant, the AFL-CIO.

My brothers and I never had to worry about food or clothes, or even schooling. Dad’s work ethic saw to that. But we also learned something of that labor ourselves, hoeing vegetable gardens, snapping beans and shucking corn for canning until past midnight many school nights.

I kept exemplary grades from elementary school through high school, partly through innate curiosity about the world, partly because study was just another type of labor, and work was a fact of life. But college was a foreign concept to people of our working-class roots. As inconceivable as traveling to a foreign country. (Except perhaps in the Armed Forces; my family has always included soldiers and sailors.)

So I married young (to a tenant farmer’s daughter) and went to work in the same factory as my dad, working alongside the guys who had fought beside him for the union representation I now enjoyed. I spent 8 1/2 years there, proud to be a laborer, but wishing for more education.

My wife encouraged me to join the National Guard, and I went in as a medic. Spent a year in nursing school, became an LPN, and started college classes for a Physician’s Assistant license. I worked part-time jobs between classes, and Jenny managed our household of five while also caring for state-sponsored handicapped kids. It was a “tough row to hoe,” as Dad would say. Sometimes we resorted to food stamps.

In college I fell in love with writing and fixed my sights on a publishing career. Contract work led to a salaried position at Game Designers Workshop, which led in turn to TSR, and even a bit of European travel. With TSR’s demise I settled for writing in educational publishing—though I continued freelance game work on the side. Now in retirement I still do for the sheer love of it.

I never made a fortune, sometimes barely kept the family housed and fed. But I learned to never stop learning, taught my daughters the same, and encouraged them to pursue their own dreams. One owns a farm (where I now live); one lives in Belgium (speaks four languages); one has started a film career as a sound engineer; and one helps care for her aging parents (and my self-publishing).

Why tell you all this? Because it explains why I identify with blue-collar labor and migrant workers, social workers and teachers, nurses and wait staff, and rank-and-file Armed Forces members. Education has only made me more aware of how they’ve always been taken advantage of. How they still are. How little difference there is between inherited wealth and inherited royalty.

Read Jack London’s The People of the Abyss. If you never read anything else in your life, read that. And then Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money.

People who make things make the world. If they get rich doing so, wonderful!

But people who make only money do so through the sweat and suffering of others. They wield the most political power while contributing the least to human civilization. They make the world their casino. And the house always wins.

These are my considered beliefs. This is who I am.

The Mythical Muse

I don’t believe in muses. I believe in a creative child mind.

You don’t sit and wait for your muse to arrive on a whim. You coax your creative child mind out of hiding. You do it by talking about how much fun a project will be. And by telling it what a genius it is. How the world will be enriched by its art.

The “you” doing the coaxing is the other half of a writer’s brain. It’s the parent, the manager, and the critiquer. That side is rewarded by a sense of satisfaction with a job well done.

Sometimes the parent side has to discipline the child to keep going.

“Yes, I know this part is harder than the rest. But look at this wonderful part you already did! That wonderful part deserves a wonderful whole. You can do it. Nobody else can. Because you’re a genius!”

And sometimes the child side has to encourage the parent, who feels, “Why even bother. The world is already full of other people’s art. How can I expect mine to even get a glance? And ultimately what’s the point of doing anything in the shadow of Ozymandius?”

To which the child side says shyly, “But it’s fun to play.”

Without both, there’s no success. I’ve met people with utterly phenomenal talent who can’t pull themselves together enough to produce. And I’ve met people who can only critique other people’s work, because their child side is too beat down to risk disapproval.

Coax and polish. It’s how I edit other people. I measure myself with the same stick.

Because you know what? I’m a genius! (At least that’s what I have to keep telling myself.)