Dealings in the Dark

Encounter sets in this scenario: Dark Veiling, Agents of Yuggoth, Ancient Evils, Dark Cult, Locked Doors, Midnight Masks Treacheries
Available experience: 5 (locations) + 1 (Umbral Harbinger) +1 (Emissary of Yuggoth) = 7XP

Location: Istanbul/Constantinople
Involved Coterie Members and Keys: Ece Şahin, The Twisted Antiprism
Time spent: 3 or 2 time, depending on whether you have Ece accompany you or not
Nearest other scenarios: Alexandria (1 time), Marrakesh, Tunguska (2 time)

Size of the Encounter Deck33
# Enemies8
# Willpower2
# Agility4
# Doom14
# Damage7
# Horror6
# Concealment12
# Hollow0
Note: The cultists in this scenario collect clues instead of the usual doom. I still counted them under the Doom category here because the purpose is much the same: Provide a timer to race against.

Synopsis: The investigators arrive in Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) and meet with Red Coterie member Ece Şahin, who asks the team to help her find The Twisted Antiprism before more sinister forces do. The group can either accept, deny or deceive her. Whatever the choice, the scenario itself plays out the same, as a race for clues between the players and the opposing cult. There’s three distinct parts to Dealings in the Dark: First just a few locations around the Hagia Sophia are available. Then, the search leads towards the Great Bazaar. Finally, with the Key found by either faction, the cultists and the players try to secure the key by bringing it to the docks of Galata.
If successful (depending on their initial choice on how to treat Ece), the players then hand over the key to Ece or keep it for themselves. They also either make an ally out of Ece or not.

My take on this scenario: This is a brilliant scenario driven by great mechanical interactions. Alongside Sanguine Shadows, it’s the one most heavy on concealment, but it uses it in an interesting way to shield the otherwise comparatively fragile cultists from the players. There are basically two timers, with the cultist clue count taking the role of what the doom timer usually does. Meanwhile, doom takes a backseat while still being relevant because it spawns more waves of cultists. The result is a scenario that for most of it similar to Carcosa’s Echoes of the Past, but working much better in terms of creating urgency and making the cultists a credible threat. The third act can get quite mad, with the key changing hands until one faction finally gets out of the city with it.
This is a scenario that feels very long and exhausting to play due to how much is going on. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, but after playing Dealings i am definitely ready for a break in a way that i usually only get from The Secret Name…
This is easily my favorite scenario from the Scarlet Keys, i enjoy it both for the relentless pacing and the unique structure. If i had to make a complaint, it would be about how this scenario isn’t really able to be done with evasion based character as enemy handler. The ability to “evade clues away” from cultists is mostly a trap, you really need to be able to defeat these guys. Of course it’s nothing new that evasion is weak against cultists because it doesn’t do anything against their doom, but the way this scenario spawns wave after wave of them means that even someone like Tony or Mark is going to have to work overtime to wipe all of them from the board. Most unfortunate though is that Kymani, who is actually a TSK investigator, gets hardcountered here. The cultists go back into the shadows after being evaded, so Kymani never gets an opportunity to use their double evade to defeat thing.

Scenario specific encounter sets: Aside from the usual locations, acts etc., the Dealings in the Dark set adds four different cards that are shuffled into the encounter deck. One of them, Shadowed, is actually a reprint from The Forgotten Age, where it already was a quite potent card that combines doom, horror and surge to a package that one is never happy to see. In this scenario, it also gets a damage counterpart in Accosted. Light Out of Void piles on even further, adding more doom, damage and/or horror. Each of those treacheries gets 2 copies. Finally an enemy is added to the deck with 3 copies. The Sinister Aspirant collects a doom every turn, similar to Wizard of the Order (although with different timing) and brings a relevant 3 health to the table, making him less trivial to wipe from the table as most other cultists.

Chaos Tokens: In comparison to some of the nonsense this campaign gets up to, the chaos bag is actually almost tame in this one. Still, that’s only when compared to the rest, this is not an easy bag at all. The skulls scale with the amount of tokens on cultists, capped to -3 (-4 on Hard/Expert). Tablets are pretty rough, with a -3 (-4) and if you fail you have to place one of your clues back on your location. Elder Things are only -2 in all difficulties. On Easy and Standard, failing a test with an ET will add a doom to the nearest Cultist. One Hard and Expert, it will add the doom no matter the outcome. This is a massive ramp up from E/S to H/E. On E/S i would prefer having ET in the bag, but on H/E the tablets seem a bit milder. Finally, the cultist tokens that are added over the course of the campaign are -5(-7), but can be brought down to -1(-3) by putting a doom on a cultist. That is actually fine by itself (at least on E/S), but will potentially stack up with the Elder Thing. In theory there could be 7 tokens in the bag that all add doom to cultists…

Act/Agenda: The scenario is divided into three parts and this is reflected in the act deck, of course. Act 1 covers the hunt for the first 4 clues per investigator, among the initial four locations. When advancing from act 1 to act 2, the two big set aside enemies enter the deck and all players and enemies are moved over to the bazaar, a separate set of six locations. During act 2, the players will have to bring their total clue count up to 8 per investigator. No additional abilities are mentioned on the act cards, but a separate story card handles how doom added to cultists is added as clues instead and how they can collect permanent clues when more than 3 clues are on one enemy. During these first two acts, only one agenda card is active, with a small doom threshold of 4. When met, new cultists will spawn or the cultists will outright gain clues to their story card. Each time the agenda flips, it will trigger an additional time, severely ramping up over the course of the game.
For act 3, the previous act and agenda cards are removed and replaced by a single card, “The Chase”. During the chase, the story card is also flipped to its other side with a new ruleset for moving cultists and them trying to steal the key away from the investigators and fleeing with it. Like agenda 1, the chase resets itself when its threshold is met and increases the pressure on the investigators.

Ece Şahin: This coterie member is on our side for once. During setup, Ece asks for our help in retrieving the Twisted Antiprism and we have the choice of either promising her our help, deceiving her or outright telling her that we will want the key for ourselves. In either of the first two choices, Ece will start in play under an investigator’s control. She is quite powerful, with a significant amount of health and an ability that basically draws an extra card per turn as long as you have keys to shift.

The Umbral Harbinger: This is one of two victory enemies in the encounter deck (the other one being the Emissary of Yuggoth) and the only enemy without Concealed. With 5 health it takes a couple of actions to take out, but its most important ability is putting doom on cultists whenever its being hurt. This will usually result in two or three additional doom tokens. It has low agility, so evading it is an option especially if you are already in act 3. Of course, doing so will forfeit the victory point…

The Cultists: There is seven cultists in the deck. While that doesn’t seem like very many, the scenario also has Mysterious Chanting to fetch them up, several cards that cycle when no cultist is around and of course the recurring effect from the agenda that finds more. So these will constantly enter play and the players will want to stay on top of this threat, defeating these enemies whenever they pop up. Instead of doom they collect clues in this scenario, but ultimately that’s still very similar in that it’s a counter for the players to race against.
The scenario offers players the ability to evade cultists to steal one of their clues, however doing so will return that cultist to the shadows. However, that ability is a bit of a trap. You end up spending many actions on exposing and evading an enemy for just 1 clue which you could’ve gotten easier from a location. And after that you still have that cultist running around which will gather more clues or come after you in the final act.

Treacheries: This is a scenario with Ancient Evils in it, but thankfully it doesn’t (directly) stack up with the cultists. There’s also no reshuffling of the encounter deck, so Evils is rather tame in this. It still does move you towards more waves of cultists, of course.
The encounter deck has quite a bit of damage and horror in it, mostly from the three scenario specific treacheries, but also from Hunting Shadow which is often a difficult choice to make. Of note, the four initial locations have 4i clues among them, the exact number required to advance the act. If you spend a clue on Hunting Shadows, you will need to make up for it either through the ability on the Hagia Sophia or through evading cultists. While we are on the topic of the Midnight Masks treacheries, False Lead is an absolute pain in this scenario and can set you back severely, especially when you have to drop 3 to 4 clues on a shroud 5 or on a Locked Door. I’d argue that the two treacheries from Masks have never been more impactful than in this scenario.
Aside from the doom/clue shenanigans, Dealings of the Dark is of course dominated by the concealment mechanism. Both cards from Dark Veiling are basically just more sources of damage and horror for the pile. Tenebrous Eclipse is more interesting, stopping you from exposing more cards after your first. This is usually only relevant after exposing a decoy, but this scenario has enough enemies in the shadows at the same time that it can matter.

Locations: There’s a lot of locations in this one, at least for a Scarlet Keys scenario. It starts out harmless enough with 4 locations for the initial act. For the second act, another 6 (out of seven possible ones) is added. And for the final act, yet another location comes into play. Since you have to go through all of the bazaar and then also back again, you are going to travel quite a bit in this scenario, making cards like Pathfinder or Sled Dogs very valuable. Of special note is the Hagia Sophia which has the capability of giving you more clues in case you had to give some up to treacheries. This becomes very difficult very fast though. While the first clues are easy to pick up at difficulty 2, the next ones are at 5. And then 8, 11, etc. Realistically, getting more than 2 clues per investigator out of the location will require testless ways like Drawn to the Flame, The Weeping Lady key or Grete Wagner.

Reward and Failure: Depending on how you answered Ece Şahin’s request, your rewards are a bit different. If you decided to help her, the Twisted Antiprism will go to her but you will secure her help for the finale (both the vote and the scenario itself). She’s a rather good ally and she will of course bring her key to the finale as well, so that’s definitely worth considering. Taking this route will make the scenario take 3 time.
If you deceive her, you will steal her key after she helped you in this scenario. In that case she still won’t vote against you in the finale, but she will abstain. Again, this makes the scenario take 3 time.
If you outright refuse her offer, you go into the scenario alone, but are of course able to keep the key for yourself if you succeed. Ece will still vote in your favor this way. Also, the scenario will only take 2 time because you can embark straight after fleeing the Galata docks without having to meet up with Ece first. So this version let’s players sort of have the best of each world, but it will mean that they have to play Dealings without Ece’s support which can be tricky early on.

The Twisted Antiprism is one of the better keys, offering card filtering and draw that is super useful during setup. Shifting it back to Stable requires putting a doom on one of your cards, which can often be done without repercussions if you have assets that you want to get rid of anyways. You can put the doom on an encounter card at your location as well, so if you are about to defeat an enemy or discard a treachery from your threat area, you can get a free flip to Stable out of it, too.
This is also one of the very few scenarios that offers a reasonably high XP payout of up to 7. Getting all of these can be tricky, though. Two VP are hidden inside the encounter deck and you have to find them first. One of the bazaar locations is removed from the game at random, this might bring your possible total down to 6. Finally, the Galata Docks can be very awkward to clear because at that point you are likely already fighting tooth and nail to get out of the scenario. Clearing a 5 shroud location might not be in the cards for you then. Keeping a Drawn to the Flame or Intel Report in your backpocket for that can be a good idea.
Thanks to the decent XP, a useful key, possible support by a powerful ally and the lack of a highpowered coterie enemy, Istanbul makes for a great first scenario after Riddles and Rain.

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