- 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.
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.