In both 2021 and 2022 I went over all of the scenarios from released campaigns and ranked them. The way i did it was by first assigning every scenario one of five tiers, ranking them within their campaign and finally within their tier to get a complete list. This year i am not going to go through all of the process again, the only relevant new product since the last time almost one and a half years ago was Scarlet Keys and I don’t think that my thoughts about the other campaigns have changed significantly over the time either.
So as a reminder, here’s the criteria for the five tiers and the complete list from last year:
Also, here’s the link to the final article for the 2022 rankings (with links to the others): Irregular Evils #40: Scenario rankings 2022, part IV
Also a reminder: Any scenario in the above list that has an official “Return To” available assumes the “Return To” version.
The Scarlet Keys
I intentionally waited a bit before trying to sort TSK into those rankings, because some of my thoughts about these scenarios evolved quite a bit over multiple replays of the campaign. But now that i feel reasonably confident about my take on them, let’s check out the individual scenarios and what i think of them:
Riddles and Rain: A solid tier 2, maybe even on the upper end of the tier. Like many first scenarios before it, Riddles and Rain manages to make a good introduction into the themes and mechanisms of the campaign. Curiously, it even manages to be a good intro into the game. If the rest of TSK wasn’t so completely hostile to new players, then R&R would’ve made an excellent alternative to The Gathering or Extracurricular Activities for introducing new people into the game.
Dancing Mad: Lower tier 2. It’s better than average for sure and i appreciate that it manages to feature both of the primary mechanisms of TSK and having both of them matter.
Dead Heat: Once again, middle to upper tier 2. This is the scenario that i changed my opinion on the most. I had an absolutely awful first impression of it, but it managed to make a better and better impression with each replay. Having a full on combat scenario around is pretty great once you can prepare for it and not get blindsided. This is a fantastic benchmark for your fighters, it requires evasion in addition to combat and also keeps your seekers busy. The only thing that keeps it out of the upper tiers for me is its dumb encounter deck. I hate the action tax BS that Scarlet Keys gets up to soooo very much. Let me play the game, burying me in Distorted Reasonings, Frozen in Fears and Compulsions is just miserable.
Dealings in the Dark: And what do you know, another middle to upper tier 2. Look, i know it’s looking like high praise for TSK here, but somehow the good scenarios all start with a ‘D’ and i am doing these alphabetically… it’s only going downhill from here. Dealings and Dead Heat are my two favorites from TSK. Dealings does a great job of being “Concealment: The Scenario” and there’s a lot of tight moments in this scenario. It could stand to be a little bit shorter, but the race with the cultists is unique and mechanically well done.
Dogs of War: Lower Tier 3. Just a middle of the road scenario, in any of its versions. I appreciate it as a reasonably easy scenario that can be done early so i will usually play it in my campaigns, but nothing about it particularly excites me.
On Thin Ice: Upper Tier 3. The bossfight is interesting in concept, but doesn’t really get to shine fully once you know what’s coming and that it’s always correct to put tokens on every Wilderness location (but one) before advancing. The first half of the scenario is somewhat generic, too. It’s slightly better than average but probably not enough to break into the next tier.
Sanguine Shadows: Solid Tier 3, saved by its final act from sliding to the lower end of the tier. The other scenario that is mainly about concealment. It’s … fine. Just very repetitive. I don’t mind that too much, but i am obviously also not excited by doing the same thing three to five times. The encounter deck is also very one-note, throwing horror and damage at you like crazy. The possibility of getting the extra act with the Watcher is pretty cool though, and is a suitable motivation to try and ace the repetitive part.
Shades of Suffering: Upper tier 5. Ugh, this one. This is a variant on Wages of Sin, my least favorite scenario due to randomness, difficulty and unfair nonsense. All three of those things are still present in Shades. The randomness is dialed in a bit and you do get the opportunity to face umbrella girl even if you bombed the ghost hunt and both of those things definitely help Shades to be better than Wages. Ultimately that’s the lowest bar i have available though and Shades still repeats most of what i despise about Wages. It also has that insufferable encounter deck that does the same action tax mobbing that Dead Heat does. Due to how scenarios work in Scarlet Keys, chances are i am not going to play Shades of Suffering ever again because i can just choose to skip town with Inspector Flint instead.
Without a Trace: Solid to upper tier 2. The “secret scenario” wins me over with finally making Hollowing matter, something i missed all campaign. It also has some really fancy unique enemies and a novel location mechanic. I am a sucker for novel location mechanics.
Congress of the Keys: Upper tier 5. Oof, this is bad. I am used to campaigns suddenly taking a dive for their last scenario (shoutout to Lost in Time and Space for still being the best finale, six and a half years after release of The Dunwich legacy), but Congress of the Keys is just an incoherent mess. Basically, i love all of the voting stuff and how it ties the campaign that went before it together… and everything that involves cards i sort of look down on. It starts with one of the most infuriating setups (two encounter decks, one of them used for like two turns… talk about wasting my time). It opens with a decent start in the coterie hideout, finding some clues, exposing RGM and fighting a coterie member or two. Fine, but that was literally done in Riddle and Rain already. Then it goes on with a taste of the location mechanics from Without a Trace, but watered down to the point where you don’t get to explore it much. Then some weird memory game that has nothing to do with anything. And a boss fight that offers a final spin on concealment. That boss is actually not bad, but a) it’s pretty much everything the scenario has going for it and b) it’s way too easy to cheese, it even gets completely neutered by one of the Keys you can earn in the campaign.
It’s not the worst finale we’ve seen (i find it hard to imagine that something dethrones Devourer Below there), but it’s not a whole lot ahead. I suppose it’s at least over quickly and so ridiculously easy if you got some keys and/or coterie support that you might as well just skip it because it’s just a foregone conclusion.
So, what do we have? Here’s the ranking within the campaign:
A couple standouts, but nothing that breaks into the highest tier. Some middle of the road scenarios that are perfectly servicable. And two scenarios that skip all the way past tier 4 into “actively offputting”.
I put Dead Heat before Dealings in the Dark here, but those two can pretty much switch places depending on when you ask me.
Full rankings 2023
Integrating these into the full list from 2022 leads to this updated full list:
Dead Heat and Dealings in the Dark go near the top of their tier, between Untamed Wilds and Greater Good.
Riddles and Rain joins The Gathering and Extracurricular Activities, but below those two.
Without a Trace isn’t far behind, i put it between Point of No Return and Secret Name for now.
Dancing Mad goes near the bottom of the tier 2, between Shattered Eons and Boundary Beyond.
In tier 3, On Thin Ice places over Union and Disillusion, but after Black Stars Rise.
Sanguine Shadows is another couple ranks down, between Dim Carcosa and Doom of Eztli.
Dogs of War isn’t actually that far behind, just two ranks down from Sanguine Shadows.
The final two scenarios are easy enough to slot in as there were only 3 of them before in that tier. Both Congress and Shades are better than Devourer Below. Undimensioned and Unseen is better than Shades, but worse than Congress. So there you have it.
The Scarlet Keys is quite controversial in the community as a whole, and just looking at my own rankings that is also reflected in my own opinions. There are some really nice scenarios in it, but when it missteps it does so hard. One of those scenarios isn’t mandatory and the other one is at least over quickly. So that doesn’t impact my opinion of the campaign too much and i’ll still be happy to replay it, at least as far as the scenarios themselves are concerned. I need to be in the mood for all the bookkeeping around the scenarios as well, of course.
In any case, that was the scenario rankings for ’23. Hopefully we will have more to talk about than just one campaign in a year’s time? Cheers o/