Is it just me or...

Are the Dangerous and Shadowy story sets cash cows, whereas the persuasive and watchful ones get the shaft?

If I had to rank them:

Dangerous (see: Black Ribbon dueling aided by the countless + to running battle cards)
Shadowy (see: all of the various heists- btw any advice on which are most profitable would be appreciated. Ditto for the dueling, I guess).

Watchful (until you finish the University storyline its decently profitable, but once you do you cannot give lectures or whatever anymore and you are left with terribly unprofitable options)
Persuasive (have fun grinding endlessly until you can enter the court… I’m not sure if there is anything really profitable to do once you’re there but I’m guessing that everything there will be “an almost impossible” challenge and that I won’t get much out of it…

Is it just me? If so, what am I doing wrong?

Once you get to Mahogany Hall, Persuasive becomes much more lucrative. But yes, the Court is a slog, although you do get a large bump of resources once you finish each masterpiece.

Wow, shroom hopping seems pretty good… or does it just FEEL that way because you get a variety of rewards? Has anyone actually done the math and found out if it is efficient or not?

It is actually pretty good - for people with balanced stats of about 50-60 or so. It’s easy to get the odds of winning down to low-risk - you just need to play around with the options until you get it, which doesn’t take many run-throughs. The goods for winning are about right for that stat level and you get bonus cp, which means that you’re far better off than if you took riskier options, since you get both goods and cp together. It’s also the only realistic source of venom-rubies until you become a PoSI, which will matter for a certain lapidary and if you want to gift gems to someone.
It’s not vastly better than the alternatives for that level, but it’s good enough to be the better choice for a while. I’m not sure what the straightforward level is for the challenges, but they’re high 40s to 50 or so. And the rewards are outclassed by 60 or so, but for that period in between? A good, solid way to pass the time.