- Norman’s ability doesn’t kick in until the game actually begins play, so the top card of his deck should be revealed after setup is complete (including setting up the scenario and drawing your opening hand).
Play with the top card of your deck revealed.
Once per round, you may play the top card of your deck as if it were in your hand, at -1 resource cost.
Forced - After a weakness is revealed while on top of your deck: Draw it.
effect: +X. You may swap the top card of your deck with a card in your hand. X is the resource cost of the top card of your deck.
Norman Withers - Back
Deck size: 30.
Deckbuilding Options: Seeker cards () level 0, Mystic cards () level 1-5, Neutral cards level 0-5, up to 5 Mystic cards () level 0.
Deckbuilding Requirements (do not count toward deck size): Livre d'Eibon, The Harbinger, 1 random basic weakness.
When Norman Withers was first released, my initial reaction was disappointment. He's a Seeker character with the Miskatonic keyword, but he can't use Higher Education! It's such a good card for Seeker investigators that I almost immediately dismissed him once I learned he didn't have access to it.
After using him once through The Path To Carcosa campaign, I've changed my mind and I think that he's a very capable investigator - possibly one of the best.
Norman technically has one of the smaller card pools. In addition to the Neutral card options, he can take level 0 Seeker and level 1-5 Mystic cards, with up to 5 level 0 Mystic cards that can be splashed into the deck. This essentially means that he has access to a little more than one class's worth of cards, which is less than the pool of cards available to most investigators. For reference: as of this writing, this is only a little better than the card pool of Father Mateo (all Mystic cards plus 5 starting experience) and on par with characters like Mark Harrigan (all Guardian cards with some low-level Tactics cards). At face value, Norman's card pool is not quite as good as most core set investigators since they get one full class's worth of cards plus 2 levels' worth of cards in a secondary class, and it's also not quite as good as the Dunwich investigators who get a full class's worth of cards as well as any 5 level 0 cards.
However, in my opinion, level 0 Seeker cards are some of the best level 0 cards in the game. You get cards that amplify Norman's strengths like Magnifying Glass and Dr. Milan Christopher. You also get cards that shore up his weaknesses like "I've got a plan!" and Mind over Matter. All in all, there's some solid options.
Similarly, Mystic cards are generally some of the best experience options in the game as well (barring Blood Pact, which doesn't quite stack up to its counterparts in other classes). Shrivelling (3) and Shrivelling (5) are powerhouse combat options. Grotesque Statue is great for improving critical tests and working around the token. Ward of Protection (2) and Ward of Protection (5) are great counters to some terrible encounter cards. Again, there's a lot of solid options.
For the level 0 Mystic cards, Norman has access to the regular Shrivelling as well as Holy Rosary. Players who are feeling bold can even use these slots on Delve Too Deep. However, I personally think the best use of these slots is for 2 copies of Arcane Research since it lets him power-level Shrivelling and makes getting Ward of Protection (5) much more viable.
Overall, I think he's got some good choices.
I think that Norman Withers might have one of the best stat lines of all investigators. He has:
- 4 - this stat matches that of many Mystic investigators. It means he can cast spells with the best of them and avoid most nasty Treachery cards that deal horror.
- 5 - the same as Daisy Walker. This stat is very strong and means Norman will be able to gather clues very effectively.
- 2 - this stat is not very good. However, it's a shortcoming that Norman can work around with his card pool. Most tests are against monster enemies, and Norman can normally handle those with Shrivelling, Mind over Matter, or "I've got a plan!" All of these cards key off of his stronger and stats.
- 1 - This is probably Norman's most glaring weakness. Conventional wisdom says that low can be managed around if you have good combat options, because fighting is often better than running away. However, there are some Treachery cards that deal damage for a failed test, and Norman only has 6 health. It's best to pack some Painkillers or bring a Ward of Protection for those kinds of situations.
Barring some unusual scenarios, most of the tests Norman makes will be either tests or tests, and those stats are very good for him. His and are low, but he has cards in his pool that can work around those shortcomings so he can ignore those flaws rather than try to improve them to a passable level. This lets Norman focus on his strengths: investigating and casting spells. He is the first investigator to have a base stat of 4 and a base stat of 5! His focus on having 2 strong skills makes him very specialized and very powerful in his areas of expertise.
Overall, I would say Norman's power is just OK. Being able to see the top card of the deck is normally useful, and having the option to play it effectively means Norman has one extra card in his hand at any given time. Being able to play that card at a one-resource discount is nice, but it's not as strong a benefit as Jenny Barnes, who is granted one extra resource a turn by her ability. I say this because Norman will not normally be able to benefit from his discount every turn, so the savings are not enough to rival what Jenny Barnes would make over the course of the game.
I normally measure the usefulness of an investigator's ability based on how it saves actions over the course of the game. Finn Edwards has an extra action, but it has to be used to evade. Jenny Barnes gains an extra resource, and gaining a resource is normally an action. Roland Banks discovers a clue when he defeats an enemy, which effectively saves him one action. Using this metric, it's hard to see if Norman's ability saves many actions by comparison. Like I mentioned before, it's essentially a constant +1 card with the occasional resource saved on that card's discount. I would say it's a situationally useful ability, but not one that's worth building the whole deck trying to leverage it.
There is sort of the unfortunate side effect that Norman can be hit by his Weakness cards immediately after he draws his opening hand. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it can be quite difficult. Being subjected to Paranoia or Amnesia before getting to play any cards is really, really brutal, and any enemy cards you draw will hamper your first few actions. If you choose to play as Norman, you need to be aware that it can happen - I would say this makes him slightly more vulnerable to Weakness cards than the average investigator.
In multiplayer, Norman's ability does improve communication a little bit. While players can't share what is in their hands, everyone is able to see Norman's revealed card. This means everyone can plan around it and discuss the best way to use it. It's not a big benefit but it's kind of neat.
Norman's ability is relatively unremarkable. It will normally just provide a bonus to succeeding. Being able to switch the card will let Norman take advantage of his top-card discount slightly more frequently, but it doesn't usually make that big of a difference.
I think Norman Withers compares fairly well against other investigators up through The Forgotten Age. His 5 means he can investigate with the best of the Seeker investigators and his 4 means he can cast spells on the same level as Mystic investigators. His card pool is a little smaller than normal, but it's focused enough to support him to do what he's meant to do. Once he earns enough experience, Norman Withers is a force to be reckoned with.
tl;dr - Norman is a Mystic, not a Seeker. Build him like a Mystic who can find clues whenever he wants. Norman is the best Mystic, not the worst Seeker.
Wanted to write a new review, as some of the others are older and I want to drive one particular thing home. Despite the color on his card, Norman is primarily a Mystic , not a Seeker . If you came for Higher Education, Deduction (2), or Cryptic Research you are looking at the wrong guy (somewhat obviously), and you should compare him to Mystics instead. Before Luke Robinson, Norman was the closest approximation of "Mystic 5/Seeker 2", but not quite. Norman's deckbuilding (0-5 Mystic 0's, Seeker 0's, Mystic 1-5) is primarily the alternate to Mystics (instead of 's):
- Jim Culver - At 0-5 and up to 5 level 0's of any other class, Jim trades Seeker 0's for Mystic 0's, and can be more flexible about his 5 cards.
- Luke Robinson - At 0-5 and 0-2 Luke's deckbuilding is just a straight upgrade then.
Why then play The Astronomer? To maximize your , and have a good ability during gameplay.
- Has (in my opinion) the superior 6 Health/8 Sanity to Luke's 5 Health/9 Sanity. This is somewhat a survivability wash, because Luke starts with Gate Box to disengage from enemies, and has a better to avoid some treacheries that do damage. Even still, it's worth noting, and once Norman is going enemies are a complete non-issue.
- Has (in my opinion) the superior 0's to Jim Culver's 0's.
- While Norman requires some set up to deal with monsters, he requires almost none to Investigate. With a simple Magnifying Glass (0) and his 5 , Norman looks for clues very reliably, while his competitors are risking themselves playing Drawn to the Flame. This really sets him apart from other Mystic investigators.
- High "Accuracy". The two things Norman does regularly, look for clues and cast huge spells, he does with very large stat numbers. Generally speaking, something needs to go very wrong for him to fail at these activities.
- Norman is quite squishy, particularly early in a Campaign. With only 6 Health, no and no Norman is going to be terrible against Grasping Hands, and will need rescuing from On Wings of Darkness before that's the last he's heard from. Later on, monsters will become a non-issue as you use them to move around with Mists of R'lyeh (4), or absolutely demolish them with Shrivelling (5), but before then it's tricky. You'll always be terrible against Grasping Hands et al., and I'd consider some Painkillers for that eventuality.
- If you like flashy elder sign results, this ain't it. Sometimes you can swap something on top of your deck you want to get a discount on, but if you've already played your card from the top for this round that won't work. While you can swap a more expensive card there, that's rarely better than another +1. The only thing Norman gets from the elder sign is a (small) positive number.
- As one of the other reviews states, Norman can feel a bit...slow. He is very likely to succeed, but lacks the click compression of Rex Murphy, Deduction (2) and while he could play Drawn to the Flame and Rite of Seeking, he is unlikely to as it's a waste of his 5 . Just call him Ol' Reliable.
- You might hit your weaknesses a lot. You go through your deck quickly, and as soon as they're on top you draw them. Your signature weakness is VERY tame, so this mostly will matter for any other weaknesses you have.
The Five 0s
For my money, there aren't actually that many options for this, as some are just perfect fits.
- Delve Too Deep - Best to get this out of the way immediately. Norman loves XP cards, and so he loves XP. Likely not worth in solo, at which point I would put in Shrivelling. While normally Shrivelling feels like a terrible use of one of your 0s, in the absence of a friend, you're going to need more than just Mind over Matter. I would play 2, until you can swap them out later.
- St. Hubert's Key - Gives a bonus to your two stats in a slot you otherwise don't care too much about. It's somewhat expensive, but you'll get a discount on it sometimes, and when things are going really poorly it heals you for two horror. Not a sexy pick, but a reliable one. I would start with 2.
- Ward of Protection - Sometimes you're going to read a Treachery card that will make your whole turn go sideways, and you need to cancel it. This may be because it preys on your low or all the usual suspects that annoy everyone. You want 2, but you don't have the space, so play 1.
- Open Gate - Honorable mention to this card; it's an awful selection to start with but after you take out your Delves and upgrade your Ward of Protection you will have 3 Mystic slots again. Filling those again (with whatever you think is best) would cost you 3 XP. Instead you can fill all 3 for only 1 XP and get a triplicate of Open Gates. You can play them as fast off the top of your deck for free as well! It's effectiveness can vary quite a bit between scenarios, but I find it to generally improve later in campaigns, right when you add these in.
- Arcane Initiate - At 0 XP you likely don't have spells to find, and they certainly aren't worth the XP to add the level 0 versions later on. You could put them in as dead draws, but that seems risky, and frankly unnecessary. I never seem to have the XP for Arcane Initiate (3) either, and Norman's deck goes by fast so they aren't really needed (though shuffling could show you a new card to play with your ability). I would rate this choice as "Fine", and you could certainly make it work, but I think there are better options.
- Arcane Research - Gets brought up a lot with Norman, but it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, you're definitely going to be upgrading spells, on the other it makes you a scary 6 HP/6 Sanity, and it will take 1 or 2 of your 5 slots forever, even when you're done upgrading spells. I think this is definitely a build, but not the way I would go.
Watch the Stars
In addition to his good stats, and good deckbuilding, you want to leverage his ability during play. Every time you use it you have effectively drawn the top card of your deck, and unless that card was free you also generated a resource. This in some ways makes your deck a proto-version of Joe Diamond's Hunch deck. Skills are a waste as you can't commit them from the top, and cards that are flexible (and ideally Fast) are king.
- Knowledge is Power - This might as well say "must be included by Norman". Fast, free, gives you charges on your stuff, cycles duplicates out of your hand, effectively gives you extra actions. A++.
- Working a Hunch - Good early in a Campaign as it's click compression, and a reasonable cost for 1 if you play it from the top. Later on it's less thrilling, and you're unlikely to want to play it for 2 from your hand.
- Shortcut - Compression, and basically always playable. You don't generate an effective resource when you do it, but it's still great.
- No Stone Unturned - This card is "fine" for Norman I would say. You can have most of the six cards in your "hand" by next turn if you play a fast card off the top of your deck and take the draw action once. I just don't find it to be worth the money and action for your own purposes. Your actions are usually very high quality (because of your high stats), and you don't want to waste them doing "support" except in the first (or at most second) scenario. If you want to use it on your allies to help them out, that's fine.
- Preposterous Sketches - This is better. Same cost, you're often going to be sitting places with clues and puts it all in hand.
- Anatomical Diagrams - Fast and free off the top of your deck, the main drawback here is "at your location". Early on you'll have a babysitter, and you can help them out. Later on when you handle your own problems, you likely don't need it. Even still, worth mentioning.
- Connect the Dots - Expensive, but amazing compression. This will depend on the cost of your deck (and the presence of Dr. Milan Christopher).
- Seeking Answers - Slight compression, but requires a specific board. Decent.
- Mind over Matter - Critical at 0 XP. Less important later (as it doesn't help with treacheries, and you don't need it for the other stuff anymore. Just play it for 0 off the top of the deck even if you don't need to.
Other Notable Cards
- Magnifying Glass (0) - Fast and good. All you need to investigate most things trivially.
- Hawk-Eye Folding Camera - Not fast, but easy for you to activate and gives you a bonus to your other stat.
- You can use Versatile (A Thousand Shapes of Horror, 167) to reload your Mystic 0's, (and give you 2 slots back if you used them on Arcane Research), but you have better things to do with your XP!
- Mr. "Rook" - Finding cards is good. Bonus points for having 2 Health.
- Dr. William T. Maleson - Can help you with the encounter deck. Bonus points for having 2 Health.
- Dr. Milan Christopher - Good for most Seekers, and good for this Mystic. Gives you pseudo-compression by combining clue gathering with making money.
- Crack the Case - Gives you resources at speed, and you're not afraid of high shrouds.
- Protective Incantation (1) - I've found Norman to be both poor (particularly without Milan in play, always playing things off his deck), and to have better things to do with his Arcane slots. While you can make a sealing build you have traded away all your stats for two great stats, and then abandoned those stats for Support duties. Make someone else do this!
- Bind Monster (2) - I've used this as another monster answer. At times it's excellent, particularly in parts of Dunwich, but without a bonus to like Mists of R'lyeh (4) gives you, it can be tough to leverage. Fine, not amazing.
At the time of this writing, Norman is still only available from his Novella, so I cannot comment on his "regular" Signatures, only his replacements. I do anticipate Livre d'Eibon will be a "Tome", so potentially some synergy with KiP.
- Split the Angle - This has two actions on it. One to look at the top card of the Encounter deck, one to get rid of it as a . People have rightfully pointed out this is not actually very good (it's too slow). You basically never want to waste time taking the slow action (your time is too valuable), and discarding cards at random from the encounter deck is meaningless. Using Alyssa Graham to make this faster is throwing 4 money and a valuable ally slot after a mediocre combo with a single card in your deck - very not worth. I like Scrying (3) to assign everyone their best chance to succeed, but any combo with this is...tangential at best. I do however think most people are sleeping on this card slightly. I would reframe Split the Angle like this: " Exhaust Split the Angle and discard the top card of your deck: Draw a Card." This obviously isn't EXACTLY analogous, but close enough for horseshoes I think. With Norman able to play the top card of his deck, revealing a new card is potentially giving you new options. Late in a scenario, it has good icons, but I've drawn it early and used it to speed through my deck.
- Vengeful Hound - Even if Split the Angle is underwhelming, I'm curious if after his cards come out the Replacements might still be king, and this is the reason. This weakness is one of the easiest weaknesses in the game. It has 2 Fight and dies to a single hit from any 2 damage weapon. It has Prey, but not Hunter so you can just evade it and leave (assuming you never have to go back). This often takes only a single action to resolve.
Not a ton to say here - buy expensive Mystic cards. Shrivelling (5), Mists of R'lyeh (4) (particularly good as it comes with action compression!), Grotesque Statue (4), Ward of Protection (5) or Ward of Protection (2), I've seen people argue for builds that don't devolve in to Spell Combat for Norman (token sealing, etc) but that seems too cute by half and requires you to be rescued all the time. Get tough! Rescue the Guardian!
Yes. Very yes. Casting huge spells is awesome. Doing everything super well is awesome!
My basic claim for Norman is that, if you aren't buying the 4-5 XP mystic cards, then you're better off with Daisy Walker (who has access to Higher Education and tome-shenanigans). Norman's strength is that he can go big - so do it. Go Big, or Go Home.
So I like Shrivelling(5) and Grotesque Statue, two of the biggest and most powerful mystic cards. That's 18 XP right there (assuming you don't Arcane Research), and the core of your power. It means you're a Seeker who can drop the pain on enemies if needed, as well as guarantee key passes on Seeker activities with your statues.
Beyond that, my second point is that every time you use Norman's ability, its the equivalent of drawing a card and possibly gaining a resource, so its almost 1-2 bonus actions (ish). In other words, you want to use it as often as you can, every turn if possible. This means he favors events and assets over skills (you can't use his ability to commit cards), and favors lower cost "stuff" that can be played in most situations.
So Working a Hunch, Mind over Matter(don't save it, just use it), Magnifying Glass(0), No Stone Unturned - all these are better for him than for others. Even Emergency Cache and Shortcut are better, as they are playable from the top most of the time, netting you +1 card. Value.
Beyond that you've got St. Hubert's Key and Dr. Milan Christopher or Alyssa Graham. Dr Milan is the best, as always, but Alyssa is still pretty good for Norman, so you could be generous and let a teammate run Dr Milan (maybe even Finn if you are feeling very kind) . The Holy Rosary I feel is a bit of a trap. Despite all the Purple, Norman is still a Seeker at heart and will be Investigating a lot. +int is more valuable to him than +will, and therefore the Key really delivers for him. Plus you're probably not running Arcane Research and your mind is still healthy (ie, the Key sticks around longer).
All of this is standard Norman, irrespective of the campaign. For FA and others where the encounter deck can be rough, I do like Scrying(3), though Mists of R'lyeh is also a fair call for the second Arcane slot. Between them, Ward of Protection, the Statues and potentially other cheats like Counterspell and Time Warp, you should be OK. Dr. William T. Maleson and Seal of the Elder Sign are possibilities too, though you sacrifice a lot for them in terms of the Ally slot or XP. I do also like Protective Incantation just to burn some of the Dr. Milan Christopher money (no Higher Education remember) and FA, on any difficulty, has some pretty horrible tokens in the bag worth sealing. I'm less keen on the Spirit Athame or Crystalline Elder Sign. The latter is a solo card for me, no good for 2+. The former is for pure mystics... Norman should be using his Intellect for searches 75% of the time, with his spells coming out to save the day at key times.
Mystic splashes for me are then Ward of Protection, St Hubert's Key and Delve Too Deep (rotating out once you have XP). Alyssa could sub for one of these if needed. Ideally you want 2 of all of those, so you have hard choices at the start which to drop to 1. It gets easier once you drop the Delves, or on Standalone where Delve is not needed. I try to avoid starting with Shrivelling, as then you are paying XP to bring in your level 0 purples once you upgrade the Shrivelling (which you surely want to do). This means you are probably leaning into Shrivelling(3)/Shrivelling(5) as your very first upgrades then, and running a couple of games building up to "Maximum Firepower!".
I haven't talked much about his Signatures - and to me, they are not that important. His unique deckbuilding and game ability are far more defining. Split the Angle is a bit iffy. If you run Scrying(3), or Alyssa Graham, it sometimes has value, particularly in encounters with obnoxious cards, but even then it's often worth chucking. Without either of those, its just not worth it, and you should never be using the first "waste an action" effect, even on solo. The Vengeful Hound is extremely annoying yes, and you can draw it in the first turn before any actions (truly as horrible as it sounds), but beyond that it's just a bad-guy. Kill it or get your friends to help kill it, then move on.
My one complaint with Norman is that he can feel a bit slow-and-steady. As he often spends a lot of time dropping assets and events, and as he doesn't have access to Higher Education, Pathfinder, Shortcut(2), Deduction(2), In the Know, etc, he doesn't dash around the board hoovering up things really quickly like Ursula or Rex (or Daisy/Minh if you build that way). You just need to let your teammates know that. But he makes up for it by turning up to boss-fights and times of stress with virtually unshakable destruction, as well as being efficient and value-driven in his cards. I really like him, he's quite unique.
I feel Investigator reviews should put their money where their mouth is with a sample deck, so here is my Norman that I've been using for Standalone scenarios.
To be honest I kinda wish this deckbuilding option was for Harvey Walters, but it's taking him long enough to appear - heard that FFG doesn't want to use him as regularly as he was a Chaosium invention (I remember him being listed in the CoC rulebook back in the 80s, but he was a journalist then...)