Mansions of Madness is a fun and atmospheric game by Fantasy Flight Games. It plays well and does not need any house rules.
However, its rules do require one player to devote himself or herself to the role of "Keeper" and only manage all the monsters, obstacles, and hinderances faced by the heroic Investigators. This allows interesting, story-based exploration as the Investigators follow clues and find items that have been carefully arranged by the Keeper.
But my friends and I do not enjoy playing that role as much as we do the role of Investigator. Why spend 20-30 minutes preparing a narrative board game when I could use that time to prepare a role-playing game story?
So I invented a version of the game that creates a story and provides clues through random die rolls instead of one player's choices. Now we can all be Investigators!
Discuss these house rules at the Board Game Geek forum.
Should Old Traditions be forgot,
and never thought upon?
The altar flames all extinguished,
time fully past and gone:
Thy chanting Breath now grown so cold,
that things untold will dine?
When Great Old Ones the world have wrecked,
remember old long syne.
- Robert Burns the Elder
A Skill Point may also be spent to change from discarding an item to placing the item card at the bottom of any pile of Exploration/Lock/Obstacle cards that has not yet been fully explored.
A Skill Point may also be spent to add +2 to certain die roll tables used during the game.
At the start of the game no player knows any victory conditions. Not even the Keeper!
The Time Tokens are not used normally. Instead, each time an Investigator discovers a clue he or she gains one Time Token. Time Tokens may be traded during the Investigator Trading Step of the Keeper turn. They are affected by Mythos cards as if they are equipment. An Investigator may discard Time Tokens to roll on the Objective Table below, to reveal new victory conditions to all the players.
Clues occur using die rolls, not cards. Continue reading for details.
The game board will have five piles of cards topped with a Lock Card. Prepare these piles now. Then set them aside until the map is assembled.
Three of these Lock topped piles are very important. Prepare them first.
Next shuffle togther the twenty most-random Exploration cards: Axe, Brass Key, Colt .38, Crowbar, Fire Extinguisher, Knife, Magic Phrase, Nothing of Interest (x7), Saturnian Wine, Sedative, Silver Key, Shotgun, Sledgehammer, and Whiskey.
Note: These twenty cards do not include any spell casting potential because my two young sons enjoy exploring and fighting monsters with weapons much more than the game's clever spell card mechanic. Feel free to replace any cards except for the five "keys" (Axe, Brass Key, Crowbar, Magic Phrase, Silver Key) with cards that provide spell casting potential.
Make two more Lock topped piles.
Finally, make sure no player knows which of the five Lock topped piles are which. One player moves the five piles around as if playing the "shell game" but all the other players look away. Then the next player does so. Repeat until every player takes a turn moving the piles while all other players look away.
Note: The final two Lock topped piles contain false obstacles and wimpy locks because my two young sons enjoy exploring and fighting monsters much more than solving puzzles. Feel free to include more challenging Obstacle and Lock cards in the final two piles. However, if you do so while playing with kids, you may wish to set aside the five "keys" (Axe, Brass Key, Crowbar, Magic Phrase, Silver Key) until after these two piles are created. Shuffling those five "keys" into the final sixteen Exploration cards randomly dealt one per room ensures young Investigators do not need to solve a difficult puzzle to completely explore the first three Lock topped piles.
Set up the game board according to the diagram.
Thank you, Henning Ludvigsen, for making this art available online.
The youngest player picks which player is "first player". (Picking yourself is allowed.) Players then take turns finishing the board setup.
1. The first player picks any room that does not yet have a starting map feature and places a hiding place token.
2. The next player picks any room that does not yet have a starting map feature and places a second hiding place token.
3. The next player places a Lock topped pile on a room with an altar.
4. The next player places the second Lock topped pile on the other room with an altar.
5. The next player places the third Lock topped pile on a room with a ladder.
6. The next player places the fourth Lock topped pile on the other room with a ladder.
7. The next player places the fifth Lock topped pile on any other interior room.
8. The next player deals out the remaining 16 Exploration cards, one per room.
Note: There are at least three rooms that only contain Nothing of Interest. But no more than seven.
The role of Keeper is initially very simple. Summon cultists and merge them into bigger monsters until other objectives are revealed! Surplus Threat tokens can be spent adding Darkness tokens to the map.
Therefore one player can play the Keeper, as usual. But it also works for every player to have an Investigator, and players take turns doing the role of Keeper.
The Keeper cards used in this game are now set up on the table.
Five Keeper Action Cards: Creature of Night, Summon Worshippers, Dark Ritual, Darkness, Summoning
The Keeper Action Card named Command Minion can replace the card Creature of Night. This changes the feel of the game significantly.
Deck of Thirteen Mythos Cards: A Reflection, Baffling Voices, Bottomless Sinkhole, Caught in the Open, Confinement, Decaying Weapon, Eyes in the Dark, Gun Jam, Locked Behind, Low Ammo, Low Grade Manufacturing, Sudden Heat, Who is There?
If a Player feels that having his or her equipment attacked is Very Much Not Fun then feel free to add an attribute check to weaken appropriate Mythos cards.
Deck of All Trauma Cards: use any or all, being respectful as normal regarding cards only appropriate for multiple Investigators
Note that initially it is a waste of Keeper energy for monsters to chase and attack Investigators. Let the Investigators chase the cultists or woe the hour they allowed so many big monsters on the board! The Keeper should wait until he or she has rallied some big monsters (or Investigators have found the Lantern or Torch, making Darkness less effective) before using surplus Threat tokens for Dark Ritual.
Players should pick Investigators before rolling on the tables below.
Two increase the replay value of this version of the game, roll on two tables to determine elements of the game's story.
When a Cultist or Cult Leader dies something odd happens. This depends upon what the cultists worship. Roll the die to determine which cultist death throe happens this game.
Cultist Death Throe
1 or 2 They worship fire. When a cultist dies its room is on fire until the end of the Keeper turn.
3 or 4 They worship air. When a cultist dies all other creatures in its room must pass a Strength check or become stunned.
5 or 6 They worship confusion. When a cultist dies all Investigators its room must pass an Intellect check or suffer 1 horror.
7 or 8 They worship darkness. When a cultist dies in a lit room, that room changes to darkness.
9 They worship death. When a cultist dies all other cultists in that room heal all damage.
10 They worship misfortune. When a cultist dies all Investigators its room attempt two Luck checks. An investigator that fails both checks may be assigned one of the Keeper's Trauma cards.
Clues are not found as cards. Roll the die to determine which action provides a clue this game.
Source of Clues
1 or 2 Clues are everywhere if you pay attention. Each time you complete the exploration of an interior room, pass an Intellect check to roll on the clue table.
3 tor 4 The tower creaks with ancient secrets. Roll on the clue table each time an interior room with a starting map feature (altar, ladder, vent, blockade, or hiding place) is completely explored.
5 or 6 The cultists carry eldritch items and pages of prayers. Roll on the clue table each time a Cultist or Cult Leader is defeated.
7 or 8 The cult protects its secrets. Roll on the clue table twice each time a lock card is completed.
9 or 10 The monsters hiss strange phrases. Roll on the clue table twice each time a Hound of Tinaldos is defeated, and thrice each time a Shoggoth is defeated.
An Investigator may spend a Skill Point to add +2 when using these tables.
When an Investigator finds a clue, roll on this clue table to see what is found.
1 or 2 You only find depressing signs of approaching doom. When the Objective Table is used, the number of Threat tokens the Keeper may spend (initially zero) to reduce the die roll by 1 is increased by one.
3 to 5 You find more evidence of the cult's evil and depravity. Roll on the table named "Something Dreadful".
6 to 8 You learn more about cultists. Roll on the table named "Cultist Lore".
9 or more You discover another way to damage their magic altars. Roll on the table named "Altar Destruction Methods".
The cultists can hold hand while chanting to turn themselves into monsters. At the start of the game the cult can create monsters quickly. Investigators can learn about the cult to interfere with its evil rituals and disrupt the effects of its sinister magic.
Something Dreadful (for a roll of 3-5 on the Clue Table)
1 Dreadful chanting drains your vitality. Suffer 1 horror and 1 damage. The cultists gain another death throe.
2 You experience a dreadful waking dream. Suffer 1 horror and 1 damage. Gain 1 skill point.
3 You scan a dreadful inscription. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth the Summon Worshippers card may summon a Cult Leader or Witch.
4 You smell a dreadful stench. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth the Summoning card may exchange two cultists (Cultists or Cult Leaders) for a Mi-Go.
5 You feel a dreadful trembling. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth the Summoning card may exchange three cultists (Cultists or Cult Leaders) for a Chthonian.
6 You hear a dreadful chant. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth the Dark Ritual card requires spending one additional threat.
7 You think a dreadful phrase. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth the Summoning card options all require one additional Cultist.
8 You learn a dreadful ritual. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth the "run" action provides one additional space of movement.
9 You discover a dreadful secret. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth you may spend Skill Points to add +2 when rolling on the Objective Table.
10 or more You read a dreadful tome. Suffer 1 horror. Henceforth you may spend an action at an altar or campfire to stun any monster.
At the start of the game the cultists are dangerous. Investigators can learn about the cult to discover tricks for dealing with the cultists. These benefits do not apply to Cult Leaders.
Cultist Lore (for a roll of 6-8 on the Clue Table)
1 to 2 You learn more about how the cult came to be. Henceforth all Cultists have their horror rating decreased by one.
3 or 4 You learn more about how the cultists dress and move. Henceforth all Cultists have their awareness decreased by one.
5 or 6 You learn more about how the cultists fight. Henceforth all Cultists have their damage decreased by one (to a minimum of 1).
7 or 8 You learn learn a weakness of the cultists. Henceforth all Cultists have their health decreased by one.
9 or more You learn more about how the cultists worship. Henceforth all Cultists lose their special death throe.
At the start of the game the Investigators may not damage altars. Some clues provide a new way to destroy an altar, removing it from the game. Investigators may share this knowledge if they end their turn in the same space (as if they were sharing an item). For this table only, reroll if the result has already happened during the game.
Altar Destruction Methods (for a roll of 9+ on the Clue Table)
1 Someone of noble heart may use cult items to weaken an altar's connection with the cult. An Investigator carrying the Cultist Robes may use two actions to destroy an altar.
2 The relic of the cult's former High Exalted One undoes their accursed magic. An Investigator carrying the Ceremonial Skull may use one action to destroy an altar.
3 or 4 The altars are disenchanted by benevolent ancient magic. An Investigator carrying the Elder Sign may use one action to destroy an altar.
5 or 6 The death of a cultist drains away an altar's fell power. An altar is destroyed when the corpse of a Cultist or Cult Leader is dragged into the altar's space.
7 or 8 A pure flame from the outdoors will unravel an altar's dark magic. An Investigator may carry fire from the campfire (use a fire token). It is affected by Mythos cards as if it was Equipment. An Investigator with campfire fire may use one action to destroy an altar.
9 or more The altars are only stone and will eventually break. An Investigator with an Axe, Crowbar, or Sledgehammer may use two actions to destroy an altar.
At the start of the game no player knows any victory conditions.
Each time an Investigator discards three Time Tokens, he or she may roll on the Objective Table.
Feel free to reduce that number three. A smaller number might add some time pressure, but allow a shorter conclusion. A larger number might allow the investigators to become overwhelmed with large monsters.
Only an Investigator that has benefitted from a specific clue may spend a Skill Point to add +2 when rolling on this table.
Only after the Keeper has benefitted from a specific Clue Table result may he or she spend Threat tokens to subtract from the die roll when this table is used. The die roll is reduced by one for each Threat token spent.
1 Time is running out for us! At the start of each Keeper turn all Investigators suffer 1 horror.
2 The cultists are summoning a Great Old One! The Keeper may use the Summoning card with three or more cultists at an altar to win.
3 The cult sends out assassins! The Keeper wins of a Cult Leader or Witch escapes off the edge of the game board.
4 The stars begin to fall! The Keeper gains an additional Threat token each Keeper turn.
5 The altars must be destroyed! The Investigators win if both altars are destroyed.
6 We have interfered with their altars' dark magic! The next time the Keeper uses the Summon Worshippers or Summoning cards, the Investigators win.
7 We can defeat them all! The Investigators win if no Cultists or Cult Leaders are on the game board.
8 The cultists will flee to their more secret location! The Investigators win if every room is completely explored.
9 We must burn down the tower! The Investigators win if Investigators carrying the Lantern or Torch spend three actions in the Furnace Room to set the basement fiercely ablaze.
10 or more Time is running out for them! Unless the Keeper wins first, the Investigators wins after four more Keeper turns.