Monday, December 10, 2012


It's official - I have an Overgoat! For a long time I couldn't even imagine raising the funds for such a beast. One thing led to another, though, and here we are.

I've become a regular reader of the Fallen London forums, and have been fascinated to discover the various ways fans connect with the game. There are different threads of fan-dom. Some are particularly interested in the lore: they want to know more about the story, the characters, the history behind the Neath. Some are role-players: they enjoy creating characters and inhabiting them, interacting with other humans in the shared fictional space that Failbetter has created. Others enjoy hitting the in-game achievements: collecting lots of Echoes, getting the highest-level items and pets, "beating" various storylines. Others are tinkerers, and enjoy analyzing the way the game works, figuring out the math, calculating odds, and trying to discover the "best" way to play the game.

Of course, most players are some combination of the above. Personally, I mostly play Fallen London for the lore, but the nerd/engineer part of me has been inspired by some of the analysis on the forums. This involves calculating the rewards for various storylines, figuring out the optimal way to complete those storylines, and analyzing the relative levels of risk or randomness involved.


The current consensus is that the most profitable way to earn echoes is via the "Case of the Fidgeting Writer" storyline. This is a story that will progress through up to 7 stages, starting with a 50-pence item (a Tale of Terror!) and ending with the reward of a Coruscating Soul (currently the only so-called "Tier 7" component in the game), worth 312.5 echoes. The catch: each stage has a chance of failure, leaving you with nothing. The odds of each individual stage succeeding are good (somewhere between 50-75%), but the odds of passing through all 7 stages successfully are miniscule, only about 3.75%.

Interestingly, the major challenge of Fidgeting Writer is psychological. As humans, we are more pained by failures than we are elated by successes. So, even though you may know intellectually that it's worthwhile to keep plowing through all the failures, it can still feel profoundly disheartening to suffer 26 failures for every 1 success.

Thus, the strategies around Fidgeting Writer are driven more by a desire to keep our emotions in check than anything else. Specifically, the most successful people approach the task with large batches. You'll convert all of your Tales of Terror! to Senses of Deja Vu, then all your Senses of Deja Vu to Glimpses of Something Larger, and so on. That way, all your failures are mixed in with your successes, and it's easier to keep your spirits up. (By contrast, in my first crack at this storyline a few months ago, I banged my ahead against the wall many times before calling it quits with a single Brass Ring and a single Night-Whisper. This attempt took much longer, but felt better on the whole thanks to the new approach.)

There's still ongoing discussion over exactly how much Fidgeting Writer can be expected to return over the long run; a variation of just a few percentage points for a single step can have a big magnifying influence on the progress as a whole. It's further complicated by the requirement for intermediate components. If you already have them lying around, then you can calculate your profit by just subtracting all your component costs from your eventual earnings; if you're missing any, though, then you need to factor in the time it takes to acquire additional pieces, which essentially extends the number of actions you're spending on the batch. This has also led to some in-depth discussions around the best sources for such components.

All that to say: there's a lot of math, which is a nice combination of complex and comprehensible: you just need algebra and statistics, so even my rusty many-years-out-of-college self can take a crack at it. I found myself doing similar calculations when I was creating high-level components to craft special items, and when I was spending an extended time on Polythreme. I eventually filled out several pages of a Google Docs document cataloging my experiences.

And, I'm enough of a nerd that I actually enjoy this stuff, which I think it a big part of what's kept me coming back to Fallen London for so long. It fires all parts of my brain: the analytic part, and the part that enjoys reading a story, and the part that enjoys collecting baubles, and the part that wants to imagine another world.

Speaking of another world: it keeps getting bigger! I'd put off the experimental Heist content while wrapping up the Overgoat, but I finally ran through it this morning. It's pretty fun! It has some superficial similarities to the Dinner Party, which I had quite enjoyed, but feels more game-like. You can spend as long on the heist as you want to, and can do preparation before the heist; once on the heist, there's some nice deck-management to take advantage of, and some risk analysis. I haven't done enough to be very confident, but right now I'm leaning towards this approach for my next attempt:
  • Get just two Inside Information; I brought along three on my initial trip, and didn't need the third. I didn't need a key, and if you don't mess up you shouldn't need an escape plan.
  •  Try to start the heist when you have a full deck of six (undrawn) cards. Like the Dinner Party, starting the content doesn't just clear your hand, but it also resets the timer on your deck, so if you only had 1 minute left for your next card to arrive, you would essentially lose 9 minutes' worth of time. Try to have just one or two actions available. This ratio will basically let you be choosier about what cards you play, without ever risking "wasted" actions.
  • As with Polythreme or the Sea of Voices, only play a single card at a time, and draw after each play. This will let you avoid wasting draws on "bad" cards.
  • What are "bad" card? For my money, they're the ones with only luck-based options.
  • As far as I can tell, most of the non-luck options will either give you 2 progress points (if they take Inside Information or have a non-luck challenge) or 1 progress point; the 1 progress point may also increase Noise. To get the best reward, you'll need 7 progress; so you can get there by, for example, spending your two Inside Information, passing 1 skill check, and taking 1 other non-luck challenge.
  • You need to draw a card to end the heist, but in my game it popped up as soon as it was valid, so I think it has a higher weighting.
I've also started my first of the new cases, the Honey-Addled Detective. I'm taking my time with that one - I was seeing a bunch of faction cards last week that would advance the story, but now that I have it, they're not showing up, and I'd rather wait for the cards than take the slower path through.

Overall, it sounds like the goal of Failbetter with the new content is to add some new stories that don't rely on grinding, which I think is a fantastic ambition. I love spending time in their world, and look forward to having newer, more fun things to do in there.


On a sadder note, the Kickstarter for Below has been canceled. It never took off the way the Silver Tree one did. I'm a bit curious why, although there are several factors that may have contributed. Unlike The Silver Tree, it wasn't connected to Fallen London's lore, and so the fanbase probably wasn't as inclined to support it; it was one of the first Kickstarters to be funded in Great Britain Pounds instead of US Dollars, which may have made some Americans wary; and the rewards seemed a bit pricier than the Silver Tree's (though some of that might be due to currency conversions).

However, Chris Gardiner, the lead designer of Below, has decided to press ahead with Below as a personal passion project. I'm rooting for him! They're taking influences from all the best places (Tolkien's Moria, Beowulf's cave), the writing has been very strong so far, and the gameplay has been pretty fun. I'll be checking in as the project progresses.

In other game news...


I've completed the Dark Brotherhood questline. It's been fun! There's actually a bit of choice involved here, more so than the Thieves Guild, although the only choice is how many optional murders you commit at the end. Still, the overall arc was pretty impressive. I'm glad that I still got to assassinate the Emperor, although the fact he was so blase about the whole thing still weirds me out. The final visit to the original Sanctuary was really creepy and impressive. I was sad that Astrid died - next to Karliah, she's probably my favorite character in the game so far - but at least she died in an impressive and meaningful manner.

I'm currently progressing along the Dawnguard expansion. I rescued Serana and returned her home to Castle Volkihar. I actually like her a lot more than I like Isran, but I don't have any desire to become a vampire, so I didn't accept the offer of blood. (It is kind of funny how her dad offers to show you how amazing vampires are, and then proceeds to turn into an incredibly ugly beast. Um, you're not exactly selling it well.) I also keep meaning to pick up the main Thu'um quest, but am endlessly distracted.


That's it for now! Game on!

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