In the Scarlet Keys campaign, the investigators have to decide how to best spend their limited time on moving across the globe. The first one to three plays of the campaigns should be spent exploring and i strongly urge you to not immediately consult a guide like this to make your decisions. But once you have seen most the campaign has to offer, you will be aware of certain goals that you might want to go for and/or want to spend a bit more time planning in advance to get the most out of each play. This guide is meant to list things that you might want to be aware of when making your preparations.
Time spent per location
Just because you have 35 time to spend, doesn’t mean that you get to visit 35 locations. Many places take multiple time away from you. In fact, even the initial Riddles and Rain can either take 1 or 2 time away depending on your choices. In many cases, the time spent at a certain location varies depending on conditions, so i can’t really give a great overview of everything here. At least not one that would be particularly useful. I’ll try to mention time spent on things in any of the following sections.
The scenarios – General information
Out of the 10 scenarios in the Scarlet Keys, six are readily available on the map if you travel there. They take up a varying amount of time (in addition to the travel time) and some might vary in how they work depending on total time passed.
Dancing Mad: Havana. Takes 1-2 time. If players arrive after 20 time have passed, the first part of the scenario changes.
Dead Heat: Marrakesh. Takes 1-2 time. Has various stacking penalties that apply during setup after 11, 15, 18 time. If you arrive after 25 time, the scenario is no longer available. Offers a better resolution if you went to San Francisco before and acquired intel on Amaranth.
Dealings in the Dark: Istanbul: Takes 2-3 time. The cultists you race against do get an increasing head start if you arrive late during your campaign, the breakpoints are 11, 18 and 25 time.
Dogs of War: Alexandria. Takes 1-3 time. There are 3 versions of this scenario. Arriving before 20 time gives players the choice between v1 and v2. Afterwards will lead to v3.
On Thin Ice: Anchorage. Takes 3 time. For each 5 time that passed before coming here, Thorne gets 1 doom worth of a head start towards reaching the key before the investigators do.
Sanguine Shadows: Buenos Aires. Takes 1-3 time. No special time scaling or requirements.
The other four are special cases. Let’s start with the two easy ones, the start and the end of the campaign. These two don’t factor into the details of your your travel prep, but there are some useful things to know:
Riddles and Rain: London. You always start your campaign here, so it can neither be missed nor skipped. Takes either 1 or 2 time, leaving you with 33 or 34 for the rest of the campaign.
Congress of the Keys: Tunguska. This is where it ends. The scenario unlocks after 15 time, from that point you can visit it at any point and end your campaign there. If you hit 35 time at any point during your campaign, you are immediately transported here (with a complimentary Cultist token for your chaos bag), so anything you want to achieve in your run will have to happen in the first 34 time. There are three different versions of this scenario and how to get to each will be covered in detail later.
To get to the Shades of Suffering scenario, you need to go through several locations. This is still somewhat straightforward and you are guided through it by the Campaign Book, but it is going to take up some more time than usual.
Shades of Suffering: Shanghai > Hong Kong > Kuala Lumpur. Getting to this scenario starts by talking to Flint in Shanghai, then following the story. The scenario itself takes 1 time, but you spend at least 5 more time getting from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur. Depending on how late you arrive, the Shade Reaper key starts with an increasing amount of bonus charges. The breakpoints are 12, 19 and 27 time (which does of course include the 5 travel time, so if you want to play this one without any penalty, you need to reach Shanghai before 7 time. Since moving there from London takes 4 time and Riddles and Rain also took at least 1, this barely allows for stopping in Istanbul for Dealings in the Dark (and only if you do it without Ece’s help because otherwise you spend 3 time there instead of 2).
Finally, there’s Without A Trace aka “The Secret Scenario”. To gain access, you need to do several specific tasks. I’ll go into this in detail in its own chapter:
Without a Trace
To be allowed access to Without a Trace, the players need to do five specific things.
Step 1 and 2: Visit Kathmandu and Sidney. The order in which you visit these two doesn’t matter. This will have you meet Aliki who gives you a whistle and will unlock the return visit to London. Note that accepting the whistle will give everyone a point of trauma (while refusing it gains an XP instead), but accepting it is mandatory if you want to do Without a Trace.
You will need to visit Sidney before 20 time have passed, otherwise Agent Quinn won’t be around anymore to unlock the London location for you.
Step 3: Visit London. If the cell told the truth to Taylor way at the beginning of the campaign, you can do no wrong here. Otherwise, you will need to tell the truth to Agent Quinn here to proceed towards Without a Trace. You also need to arrive here before 30 time. If you did everything right, you should now have “the cell is off-mission“.
Step 4: Visit Rome. As long as you are “off-mission”, going to Rome will unlock a special location in the Bermuda Triangle that you can reach from either of the surrounding locations: Ybor City, San Juan, Bermuda.
Step 5: Visit the Bermuda Triangle. This is where the scenario is. Doing it will take 1-3 time, depending on how well you do. Best plan for 3 time.
If you wanted to just go straight from Riddles and Rain to do Without a Trace, that would take you a total of 17 time: 3 to get to Kathmandu, another 3 to move on to Sydney, then 4 to get back to London, 1 from there to Rome, and finally another 3 to get to the Bermuda Triangle and up to 3 to play the scenario. That leaves you with another 15-ish time to spend on other things either along the way or before/afterwards. Notably, the route will lead you through Buenos Aires and Istanbul and closely to Havana, Shanghai, Marrakesh and Alexandria. Only Anchorage is a bit out of the way, but you could easily incorporate it into your route as well. So while the logistics around Without a Trace do take up half your available time, there is still a decent amount of freedom left to do another 3 or 4 scenarios before having to go to Tunguska.
The scenarios – Early or Late?
One of the guidelines you might want to apply when thinking about in which direction to go after Riddles and Rain is how the different scenarios change if you arrive there particularly early or late.
These are the scenarios you can move towards the end because they either don’t change or don’t necessarily change for the worse:
Dancing Mad: While the scenario has a more tense opening act if you arrive after 20 time, most of it is unchanged. If you do want the Mirroring Blade, do allow for the collection from the safehouse in Ybor afterwards, but otherwise Havana isn’t terribly urgent.
Dogs of War: The easiest version of the scenario (v1) is no longer available after 20 time, but if you are shooting for the key, then the difference between v2 and v3 isn’t huge.
Sanguine Shadows: This scenario doesn’t scale with time, so you are free to do it whenever.
These are the ones you’ll want to tackle early because they get considerable penalties as the time goes on:
Dead Heat: Depending on when you arrive, a number of civilians are already slain, Amaranth starts in play or the scenario isn’t available at all. The Marrakesh scenario is one of the hardest ones in Scarlet Keys in the first place, so this is a priority if you do want to go for it.
Shades of Suffering: Speaking of hard, the Shanghai/Kuala Lumpur scenario is right up there with Marrakesh. Arriving there late puts initial charges on the Shade Reaper which makes chaos tokens harder, scales some treacheries and increases the danger during the final confrontation with Tzu San. All of these things are very bad for your health.
These are the ones that are somewhere in the middle between the two extremes:
Dealings in the Dark: The head start that the cultists get makes the first part of the scenario more difficult, but not extremely so. And even if they get to the key before the investigators do, stealing it back from them in the final part is an option. This one can wait, if you want to.
On Thin Ice: Do you want to claim the Sable Glass for yourself? If you do, you will probably want to go here early because if Thorne beats you to the key, you will have to fight them for it … and Thorne is a terrifying enemy. If you don’t care about the key, then On Thin Ice can wait at least a bit. You do get some initial doom, but the total doom threshold for the scenario is fairly generous. It’s just the first agenda that determines if you find the key before Thorne does that is very tight.
The other consideration to make when deciding on scenario order is the relative difficulty of them. Now, this is of course a bit subjective and changes with investigators you use as well, but as a rule of thumb:
Easier: Dancing Mad, Dogs of War, Sanguine Shadows
In the Middle: On Thin Ice, Dealings in the Dark
More difficult: Dead Heat, Shades of Suffering, Without a Trace
Usually, you’d want to go for easier scenarios first and build up your deck and XP for later ones… however as you can see the difficult ones are exactly the ones we tagged as scaling with time earlier. And the easy ones are those that can be done near the end of the campaign without much of a penalty. There’s not really a great way to solve this tension, it just is what it is and you will need to make a decision which criteria is more important to you. This is where you also consider that you will likely not be able to do every scenario and for example skipping Dead Heat and Shades might become a necessity if your investigators aren’t strong enough on just a handful of XP.
Istanbul > Alexandria > Marrakesh
One constellation of locations that i want to highlight is the one between Istanbul, Alexandria and Marrakesh. These are all scenario locations and they are not only very close to each other, but they are also right next to London. This makes them an attractive set of places to visit at the start of the campaign. Moving from London through these 3 locations takes only 4 time in total. The fourth location you move through is either Lagos (where you can spend another time to pick up Intel that needs to go to Tokyo) or Rome (whch gives a 1 resource bonus for the next scenario). Istanbul is particularly well suited for a first scenario because while it can be somewhat challenging, you can employ the help of Ece Sahin who is quite powerful. The scenario also gives a decent amount of XP that will help jumpstart decks. Alexandria is not particularly difficult, especially if you pass on the Light of Pharos. Marrakesh is a tough nut, but if your team has the ability to handle enemies well, doing it this early should be doable. Remember that you can go through Rome when moving from Alexandria to Marrakesh to collect a bonus resource that will apply to Dead Heat, making iteasier to get set up which is desperately needed.
As a result of doing these three scenarios, you will have collected a good amount of XP, at least one excellent key (the Blossom) while only spending a minimum amount of time on travelling. You are now only two time away from Havana or can move through South America into Oceania to continue.
If your team includes investigators that are able to consistently evade Amaranth (and her lion) while also killing undead on very few XP, you might even consider going through these locations the other way round. This is harder to do, but with a strong setup like that you can probably also claim the Light of Pharos from the Claret Knight and/or take the Twisted Antiprism for yourself in Istanbul. This will set you up very comfortably for whatever else you might want to do. For example, you could head to Kathmandu next and get started on the Without a Trace storyline or just move into Moscow and take a ticket to wherever you want.
Other notable locations and things to earn
Doing scenarios is not the only thing that you can do while traveling the map in The Scarlet Keys. There are several mini-quests scattered around that reward you with XP, story assets or even just information.
Tuwile Masai/The Bale Engine: Getting Tuwile Masai on your side and your hands on the Bale Engine key is a questline that starts in Nairobi. If you arrive there and have already proven yourself to be an ally to the coterie (by getting favorable resolutions with at least three out of La Chica Roja, Claret Knight, Aliki, Desi, Thorne, Ece), then Tuwile will immediately be on your side and hand you the key. In that case, the whole ordeal only costs 1 time to resolve, but of course you had to do the legwork beforehand. If you didn’t, Tuwile will flee to Bermuda. In Bermuda, the condition for a positive resolution will invert: You will get him as an ally and get to claim the key, but only if you didn’t make more than one of the previously mentioned coterie members into an enemy. If you did, that’s still not too bad… while you won’t get the key or the support from Tuwile, you do at least get 3XP for your troubles.
The Bale Engine is a rather weak key and not really worth the trouble, but if you care about the resolution of the vote in the finale, then Tuwile is an important ally to gain. He will by default vote against you, so swinging that in your favor does double duty in gaining a majority in your favor.
Moving from Nairobi to Bermuda takes at least four time, a considerable amount. It doesn’t even lead through particularly worthwhile locations, so this is a prime opportunity to use an Expediting Ticket if you have one.
Dr. Dewi Irawan/The Ruinous Chime: To get the Ruinous Chime and secure the support of Dr. Irawan, start in either Perth or Rio de Janeiro. This will have you meet Dr. Irawan for the first time and point you to the other city next. Arriving at the second location will then unlock Manokwari in New Guinea where you will finally finish this scavenger hunt and gain both the key and Dr. Irawan as a story asset.
There are some time requirements to this one. You need to arrive at the second location before 25 time went by. Once you do, it starts a timer of 10 time. If you fail to move to Manokwari in those 10 time, you will get neither the key nor the story asset as both will have vanished from existence.
Unlike the Bale Engine, the Chime is actually worth getting and can be a huge help in scenarios with powerful Elites, like Dead Heat or Dogs of War.
Dr. Irawan is not a member of the Red Coterie and therefore doesn’t have an influence on the vote in Council of the Keys.
Moving from Rio de Janeiro to Perth takes 3 time, continuing from Perth to Manokwari takes another 2 time for a total of 5. If you start in Perth, you need to backtrack an extra location on your way from Rio to Manokwari, for a total of 6 time.
Inspector Flint: The inspector has his own story asset and if you get on his good side, you can add him to one of the investigator’s decks. To do so, you have two options, the hard way or the easy way. The hard way is doing Shades of Suffering, although you don’t need to actually finish it, you get to add him at setup. The easy way is open to you if you opted to hide the truth from Taylor after Riddles and Rain. This will allow you to convince Flint to drop his case on Tzu San when you first encounter him again in Shanghai by going with the “Forget her. We need your help” option. This will lock both Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, but will add Flint as a story asset to your decks with minimal fuss.
Agent Ari Quinn: Agent Quinn is a very powerful story ally, but getting her is easier said than done: You need to start Without a Trace and throw away the whistle during the introduction to the scenario. This will add Quinn as an ally (instead of Aliki who get hollowed now…). For the details on how to get to Without a Trace, see above.
Foundation offices: The Foundation has offices in Moscow and San Francisco and making a stop there gives three options: Collect an XP, gain an Expedited Ticket or get intel. Stopping at the office doesn’t take time, so you might as well do it if you move through the location. Gaining the XP is unlikely to be worth it, as the Expediting Ticket does translate into enough extra time that it will likely allow playing an extra scenario which is worth a whole lot more.
The Moscow office has intel on Desi, allowing the team to tell the fake Desi from the real one in Havana. This is particularly useful if they count on Desi’s vote in the finale for one of the non-standard resolutions of the council.
In San Francisco, the team can pick up intel on Amaranth, allowing them to free her host from Amaranth’s influence and getting rid of her permanently.
Strange Architecture: If the investigators pass through both Bombay and Stockholm, they can pick up some extra XP. It costs an extra time at the second location, but is rewarded with 2XP for the whole team.
This isn’t worth doing even a slight detour for, but if you move through these, you might as well pick them up. Stockholm is a bit out of the way of everything, the only likely opportunity you will have to move through it is when moving between Reykjavik and Kabul on the search for your stolen key.
Intel Delivery: The Foundation needs some intel delivered between Lagos and Tokyo and will employ the investigators to do it for them. The intel is added as a weakness card to each players deck at the first location. The only way to get rid of it is moving to the other one and spending an extra time there. As a reward, the players get to nudge one chaos token’s modifier in their favor by 1.
I don’t think this reward is worth the effort at all, the slight improvement to one chaos token has very little impact on the living hell that is the Scarlet Keys chaos bag. It’s barely worth the extra time, not to mention having to deal with a weakness for a while. I suggest just moving through Lagos and Tokyo without resolving their location.
The quickest way from Lagos to Tokyo (or vice versa) leads through North America and takes up 5 time. The saving grace here is that if you move from Tokyo to Lagos, you pass through the San Francisco office where you can pick up intel on Amaranth who can meet in Marrakesh, right next to Lagos. So there’s some synergy there.
The wait for Desi’s Safehouse: After finishing the Havana scenario, you don’t immediately get the Mirroring Blade (if you earned it), but instead have to collect it from Ybor City, right next to Havana. The catch is that 6 time have to pass after finishing Havana before you can gain access to the safehouse, so you need to pass the time somewhat productively in the mean time.
There are basically five options on how to handle this: One, do On Thin Ice in Anchorage. Two, do Sanguine Shadows in Buenos Aires. Three, rummage through Quito and San Juan to hopefully get your stolen key back. Four, just move on and come back later. There’s no expiry date on the password, so you could just travel the world more and return for the key near the end of the campaign. Five, just move on and let the key stay in the safehouse. It’s a rather good one, so i would recommend picking it up, but depending on what your plans are, you might not be able to fit in the extended stay.
The stolen keys: After 20 time, a random coterie member will steal a random key from you. To get it back, the players will have to search the four possible hiding places in Quito, San Juan, Reykjavik and Kabul. Which one is the right one is random, so your chances are 25%, 33% and 50% on the first, second and third location you check, respectively. Searching the wrong places wastes a lot of time, but you do at least get an extra XP for each wrong lead… as long as you finish the whole thing. If you stop mid-search, you gain nothing.
This can be a very annoying event, depending on which key gets stolen and who gains it. The coterie member might use it against you in future scenarios and there are certainly some combinations that are absolutely brutal.
In some cases, accepting that the key is gone and not investing a crazy amount of travel time is actually the right play.
If i plan on hitting the Quito and San Juan locations, i like doing Havana first, as the time spent on searching for my lost key in those places nicely bridges the time before i gain access to the Ybor City safehouse.
Another thing that might be a factor in where you want to go could be that you are trying to achieve a certain version of the final scenario, Congress of the Keys. In total, there are six different outcomes to the vote that happens in the prelude to the finale that lead to three different versions of Congress of the Keys:
Version 1: The investigators are deemed enemies and/or a liability by the coterie.
Version 2: The investigators are deemed assets by the coterie and might even join their ranks or reform it.
Version 3: The vote isn’t carried out in full, because outsiders and the coterie clash directly with each other, either because he investigators managed to convince the coterie that the outsiders are an immediate threat or because the outsiders managed to infiltrate the coterie completely.
For more details on the requirements for these outcomes, refer to Scarlet Politics, which is its own article and will give you pointers on which locations to hit in which order.
There’s a whole lot of different approaches to how to plan your route. You can even go in and just wing it, with maybe just some loose ideas in the back of your head on things you might want to go. However, if you do want to spend some time on planning ahead, this page should give you all the tools you need to do so.
My suggestion would be to start with a central idea (like “Let’s do Without a Trace!” or “Let’s join the Coterie!”) and look at the minimum path required for that. Then expand from there with notable things along the way and maybe a detour or two to fit in additional scenarios (or even standalones). Personally, i’d aim for 5-6 scenarios in addition to Riddles and Rain and Congress of the Keys, to match the typical length of a campaign.
This page is part of my “Best-Laid Plans” series of campaign Deep Dives. For Scarlet Keys, i had to break it up into parts due to sheer volume. Find the rest of the Deep Dive and other articles about this campaign at my Scarlet Keys hub.