Investigator Spotlight: Carolyn Fern

Hi there and welcome to yet another first article of a new series. I’m still going through the most voted suggestions on my poll and today I’m finally getting to the most voted option, investigator spotlights. If you’ve seen me around the community, you’ll know that I have two clear cut favorite investigators. They’re both pretty much tied for top spot but I have an extra special article in mind for one of them coming up. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the other one, Carolyn Fern.

In my deck building overview series, we took a quick look at Carolyn in part 6, special options. In that article, we focused on her deck building options, especially in the broader context of all the other investigators we looked at. She definitely has one of the most unique set of options but she also has a rich history and a lot of interesting design decisions built in to her. She’s also mostly seen as a support character, which is a very fun variant to the typical Guardian role. Even so, I think she runs a lot deeper than that and I’m excited to explore all the facets to The Psychologist. Let’s dive in!

History

Carolyn traces her origin all the way back to the original 1987 Arkham Horror board game as one of the original eight characters. She’s survived the test of time to feature in many other Arkham Files games and finally make it to the Living Card Game. She was always presented as The Psychologist in all but her earliest iteration, where she was pretty much just the blue piece. This has led to her focus on recovering her allies’ sanity, either through healing or dealing with their acquired madnesses. Her backstory was fleshed out further with each of her appearances. Initially she was just investigating one of her patient’s murder when she was a first year psychology resident. Later we found out that patient’s name, Malachi as well as the clues her left for her in his diary, an item that Carolyn starts off the game with in Eldritch Horror. In fact, her personal story in that game focuses on her finding the truth about Malachi’s death, either crippling her mind if she fails or boosting her convictions if she succeeds.

In all her iterations, Carolyn’s had two things in common; her natural gift for psychology and her use of hypnosis to diagnose her patients. In some of the more disturbed patients, the psychologist makes use of this strategy to delve deep into their dreams and also The Dreamlands, a very prominent dimension in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and also the Arkham Files universe. Her discovery of this realm as well as her studies of her patients leads her to the bigger mysteries that dwell in Arkham. Elder beings, universe-threatening monsters and dark cults all lay before Carolyn and she is determined to face these threats while keeping her companions safe. This, in addition to her close connection to the color blue, make Carolyn a wonderful embodiment of the other aspect of the Guardian class.

Carolyn was first introduced to Arkham Horror: The Card Game through her own novella, To Fight The Black Wind released in 2018. This novella really takes dive into Carolyn’s signature treatment method of hypnosis and her new patient, Josephine Ruggles who experiences dreams so intense, they leave her with wounds on her back. In this story we get a callback to Malachi, her first patient who was murdered and who Josephine has supposedly met. The hypnosis treatment leads both Carolyn and her patient into the dreamlands where they meet Foolishness and fight against a mysterious power known as The Black Wind. I’m a huge fan of novellas both for the thematic addition to the rich Arkham Files universe and the mechanical addition of replacement signatures. I recommend checking this out if you’re interested in Carolyn’s story or if you want to try out some of the strategies I’ll outline further down.

Our horror healing Guardian finally found her official release not long after her novella release, in The Circle Undone cycle. While she doesn’t have a huge thematic connection to the story of this campaign, she definitely fits very well here given the encounter cards and horror-heavy mechanics. Another aspect that I find very interesting is her inclusion along-side Joe Diamond, who is almost the opposite of Carolyn. She is a Guardian who pulls you towards a path of non-violence, while he is a Seeker who incentivizes you to fight, especially with his signature weapon.

Design

Slide left and right to see both sides of her investigator card

Now that we know Dr. Fern’s rich history in this game, let’s take a look at her design in the Living Card Game. In all her previous iterations she’s been focused on recovering her ally’s sanity and here she’s no different. Unlike her Eldritch Horror counterpart, she can’t discard Madness conditions since in this game, those are represented by weaknesses. Instead, we see her main ability is related to handing out resources along with healing horror. Thematically, there isn’t much to tie this back to, but as a support mechanic, it’s very strong. Resources are an important part of the game, as seen by investigators entirely focused around getting more of them, such as Jenny Barnes or Preston Fairmont. Her elder sign effect compliments this nicely, allowing her to not only heal 1 horror, but also get another resource. Notably, Carolyn’s ability is not limited to once per round, like other investigators, but it does only provide one resource each time a heal is applied.

Next up we can take a look at one of the more criticized aspects of The Psychologist, her stats. If we compare her to other investigators, she has one less total stat point than the average, but also one more point to total health/sanity than the average. I’ve talked a lot about stats as a balancing mechanism towards strong abilities or card pools. I think Carolyn’s primary ability, along wit her role as a support character is often overlooked by most players and it can be very important in certain campaigns. Despite that, I think Carolyn’s secret strength comes from a somewhat unrestricted access to 3 classes in addition to a complete pseudo-trait access. As we’ll see soon, Carolyn can definitely leave her primary role behind and pull her own weight in scenarios. Overall, her stats do sometimes lack a point in agility to evade, or a point in willpower to cast spells and avoid the mythos, but she easily makes up for that with her other qualities.

We’ve already looked a bit at her deck building, but I want to stop and revisit some of the concepts a little bit. First of all, how broad the “heals horror” criteria is for her. It’s very much any card that heals horror from you, a card you control, itself or anything else you can think of. It doesn’t matter if it’s a secondary effect of the card, like Cheat Death or if it’s something the card might not do every time, like in Deny Existence (5). This means that any future card that heals horror will get a look from Carolyn players. It also means designing cards for her is very easy, as long as it heals horrors. The second part I want to focus on is Carolyn’s secondary class access. While she doesn’t get full Guardian access, Carolyn is the only investigator in the game besides Lola Hayes to have total access to three classes’ upgraded card. It’s only Seeker and Mystic level 1, but there’s still a big difference these cards and level 0 cards. The tarot cards are all level 1, as well as cards like Pathfinder and Stargazing. Overall, the limit imposed on these seems fair and probably keeps some completely non-guardian builds out of the equation. Lastly, the lack of upgraded weapons isn’t too much of a restriction for Carolyn as she misses out on the high end at Guardian levels 4 and 5. It does make building her as a fighter harder, but not impossible.

As I mentioned in the first section of this article, Dr. Fern was first introduced in a novella but we’ve since seen her official release. Her main signature asset, Hypnotic Therapy, symbolizes her main psychological treatment strategy and it plays very well into her focus of horror healing. This card is amazing all around, providing built-in horror healing with card draw (which will also come with a resource) and also horror healing buff in case you’re in need. The only downside of this card is that it can’t be found easily by existing search effects in Guardian. Rational Thought, the weakness that comes with it is not the worst as it mostly prevents you from healing horror, which, if it’s something you’re wanting to do, you’ll probably have the means of getting rid of it. Her replacement signature, Foolishness, was definitely a confusing first look at Carolyn since it rewards a much more selfish style of play, focusing on healing and rewarding yourself only. Meanwhile, the accompanying weakness To Fight the Black Wind might be one of the worst in the entire game, as it almost always adds at least one doom, being comparable to something like Dark Memory with the possibility of escalating even further. Overall, I’m still glad we got such different signatures for such a unique investigator because it encourages looking at her in a different manner in addition to adding a neat thematic tie-in to her personal story.

Strategy

Hypnotic Therapy by Reiko Murakami

Hopefully you have a good idea of how Carolyn works in general and we can start looking at strategies for playing her. I want to start off by giving a shoutout to Andy Cotgreave over at Deciphered Reality for the amazing tool he built for figuring out which investigator most uses a certain card. This data comes from published decks on ArkhamDB which is definitely the best insight we have into the community as a whole. I want to use this here to highlight some of the most used cards for the psychologist. A big one is Peter Sylvestre, which combined with his upgraded version, features in almost 58% of all Carolyn decks. St. Hubert’s Key features in a whopping 70% of decks, giving her a boost to two important stats. First Aid is in 53% of decks while Liquid Courage features in around 45% of decks. Lastly, Deduction features in 54% of decks while Magnifying Glass is in 58% and Fingerprint Kit is in 35%. Overall, this shows up players usually build decks that focus on healing allies while also boosting intellect to get clues and willpower to survive the mythos. Lastly, I also want to mention a card that is only present in 14% of decks, but that Carolyn also loves, Shrewd Analysis. As I mentioned in my deck building article, this allows us to upgrade from Ancient Stone: Unidentified into Ancient Stone: Minds in Harmony twice for the price of once due to the latter being the only option our psychologist can take. This does cost her one of her 15 secondary faction slots, so if you’re planning on doing this, keep that in mind!

The cards above show a pretty good picture of a strong Carolyn strategy. Notably, because of her potential resource gains along with cards like Peter Sylvester and even Forbidden Knowledge, our resident shrink can take the more expensive options like Fingerprint Kit to accelerate clues alongside something like Dynamite Blast (included in 47% of decks!) to raise her efficiency in a way other, less well-off investigators can’t. Speaking of the explosive tactic card, another strong addition to these decks is Stick to the Plan. This card gives us direct access to Dynamite as well as “I’ve got a plan!”, Emergency Cache and its upgrades as well as a staple in Carolyn decks all around, Ever Vigilant. As you may have noticed, many of the most used cards for Carolyn are assets, making the act of playing 3 of them at a discount very appealing for Dr. Fern. In fact, using this tool, also designed by Andy over at Deciphered Reality, we can see most Carolyn decks feature between 15 and 18 total assets. To wrap up this approach to playing the psychologist, here is my favorite Carolyn deck that took my 4 player group through The Circle Undone: Carolyn Fern Heals Everyone. You’ll also see a some decks that inspired me in the notes, so any credit goes to those great lists.

Now, playing a support role with clue-gathering abilities is great in multiplayer, especially higher player counts, but this doesn’t mean it’s the only strategy we can focus on. Since we already know Carolyn likes assets and she has access to a lot of ones with passive boosts, we can play what is called a stat-ball strategy (check out Rite of Seeking’s article explaining this concept). With access to Ever Vigilant and cards like St. Hubert’s Key, Peter Sylvestre, Hawk-Eye Folding Camera and also her alternate signature, Foolishness, Carolyn can really make up for her below average stats in short order. Not only that, but she also has access to some of the best generic skill cards in the game such as Inquiring Mind, Take the Initiative and the new Promise of Power. Putting this all together, Carolyn can make a pretty good all-rounder especially factoring in that she can make up for her shortcomings with Mystic spells like Mists of R’lyeh. This means that despite seeming like a dedicated support character, Dr. Fern has the potential do excel in solo games. Here is a deck that got me through a solo run of TCU: Solo Carolyn.

Lastly, I want to go over some strategies or cards that don’t fall into either of the ones I mentioned above. First of all, building a fighting focused Carolyn deck is hard but not impossible. Funnily enough, Carolyn makes decent use of Meat Cleaver, especially if she can get her sanity low enough, which is admittedly a hard ask at times. Another strategy I’ve seen is the use of tarot cards and Anna Kaslow given she has access to three classes’ tarots. Check out HanoverFists’ Tarolyn deck for more on that. Another note is that this is one of the few investigators where we can activate Astounding Revelation with Stick to the Plan before even drawing your opening hand, letting us thing the deck of one card and start with two extra resources. I’ve also skipped over some Mystic cards, but it’s important to note that besides spells, Carolyn can also take generally useful cards like Ward of Protection (great with Peter), Delve Too Deep or Deny Existence which she can upgrade all the way to level 5. All in all, there’s plenty of options for Carolyn and I’m amazed at how many strategies people have come up for playing her.

That’s all I have today on Carolyn Fern, The Psychologist. Hopefully I was able to pass on at least some of the love I have for her. If you have any Carolyn decks or stories that I might enjoy, please let me know! Otherwise, if you have any comments, questions or general thoughts, leave a comment below or find me on Facebook, Discord or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!

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