Echo Bazaar
Fallen London

What is Fallen London? A browser-based game of seeking your fortune in Fallen London and the Echo Bazaar. A Victorian gothic fantasy. An experiment in interactive narrative. A hundred stories waiting to be told. A harmless pastime that is highly unlikely to do you permanent damage.

Fallen London, formally Echo Bazaar, is an interesting on-line game created by Failbetter Games. It is a mock card game somewhat comparable to various meatspace collectible card games, but my knowledge of such games is limited, and I cannot think of a very good analog. Cards appear in your deck and give you opportunities; it is up to you to choose which cards to play. Perhaps the best comparison I can give you is to a choose-your-own-adventure book, with a points system and marketplace.

1889 -- Three decades ago, London was stolen by bats. Dragged deep into the earth by the Echo Bazaar. The sun is gone. All we have is the gas-light of Mr Fires. But Londoners can get used to anything. And it's quiet down here with the devils and the darkness and the mushroom wine. Peaceful. But then YOU arrived. Welcome. Delicious friend.

In the game you are a criminal in Fallen London -- a post-apocalyptic Victorian London that has fallen beneath the surface of the Earth. The remains of the city crawl with thieves, demons, squid-men, clay men, orphan gangs, intelligent rats, the mysterious Masters, and the undead... among others. And through this you must choose your path, aligning yourself with the Church or the Demons, the Masters or the Machiavellian 'Cheesemaker', High Society or the Revolutionaries. As you gain skills and move up in the world you discover new parts of the city, open up new quests, and learn many secrets.

Rattus faber: The rarer and cleverer of the city rats - the dangerous ones - employ their tiny hands to marvelous effect, making tools and clockwork of unparalleled precision. They use these chiefly to set cat-traps, but can sometimes be employed by humans. Formally, one of these exceptional rats is rattus faber.

The world of the game is very well developed -- you can visit various neighborhoods, and there is a backstory for each. There are hundreds of storylets, many of which branch depending on your choices. For the most part gameplay is very straight-forward, as the goals are clear and the story carries you along. You cannot die in Fallen London, but if you are sufficiently wounded you will be sent to a purgatory while you body heals enough to return to the Earthly plain; there is a corresponding netherworld for the socially outcast and the insane.

The Heron Tower: The marshes offer fungus, mud and seclusion. Few would dare cross them without a guide. Maps more than a few weeks old are unreliable, as mud-pits shift and fungus colonies roam. Unscrupulous naturalists have been breeding enormous lizards in the marshes. Some have escaped or been cast out. The marshes are dangerous enough without carnivorous reptiles: something must be done!

You are not presented with a standard game interface, but rather a deck of cards and a short set of active stories. You have a limited number of actions, and must choose what adventure you want to undertake, playing a card to further its story or discarding it and trying a new one. Aside from the cards and the stories, there is also your inventory of items, the Bazaar where you can buy and sell items, a combat arena of sorts, and various ways to benefit from friends who might also be playing the game. And yes, this is very much a social media game; you can sign up through either Facebook or Twitter, although neither are required, and once you sign up the game will not intrude on either of these unless you explicitly tell it to 'echo' an item. As with most social media based games, there is a way to buy game points (Fate or NEX) that allows you to open up special stories or other treats. I do not buy such things, so I cannot speak to how this may or may not improve game play.

A dream about a night flight: You sit in the gondola of a dirigible, looking out through the thick glass of the window at the moonlit scene below: utter devastation. A wreck of sand and mud, punctuated by splintered palm trees and floating scraps that might be bodies. But very calm in the white of the moon. You are safe above it in the luxurious cream and gold of the gondola. But it would be nice if there were someone else there. The dirigible purrs on, into the north.

I like this game particularly because in addition to it being reasonably interesting, you can abandon it for weeks at a time without missing anything; the story moves at your pace, and there is no penalty for moving too slow. I must admit that while the world is interesting, the stories are not particularly inventive or involved; you slowly learn more about the Great Game, the Rubbery Men, and all the other interesting tidbits -- but as far as things like a plot or character development, it's just not that type of story. It still beats all other social media games that I have sampled, hands down.

Fallen London, formerly titled Echo Bazaar, is a text-based Choose Your Own Adventure-style online role-playing game oriented around Lovecraftian themes and a Victorian Noir and steampunk aesthetic. Fallen London is produced by the Failbetter Games company, which also produces the games The Silver Tree and Sunless Sea, which are set in the same story universe as Fallen London. Fallen London is hosted on the StoryNexus website, which also allows users to generate their own Choose Your Own Adventure-style games using the same software as was used to develop Fallen London.

The premise of the Fallen London story universe is that throughout Earth's history, five major cities have been swallowed up into the bowels of the Earth, becoming part of the Bazaar. London was taken during the reign of Queen Victoria, and it has maintained its Victorian social norms and sensibilities in the time which has elapsed. Thanks to London's newfound proximity to Hell, the city is populated not only by humans, but also by demons, squid-like Rubbery Men, sapient rodents known as the Rattus faber, and the mysterious and alien Masters of the Bazaar. London also now sits at the borders of Death and Dreamland, so dying is not a permanent affliction, and dreams are real enough to be deadly. London is connected to all the other fallen cities by the Unterzee, a massive subterranean ocean filled with gargantuan monsters, such as crustaceans the size of a house.

Fallen London allows the user to play as a male, female, or nonbinary gender character, which makes the game especially popular among tumblr users, who generally favour transgender and gender-nonconforming representation in media. Rather than developing tabletop RPG stats like speed, dexterity, and strength, the Fallen London player develops useful personality traits and other qualities. The four major qualities are "Shadowy," referring to skill at criminal activity and stealth, "Persuasive," referring to social aptitude, "Dangerous," referring to physical prowess, and "Watchful," referring to intellect. Other lesser qualities are also available, such as Subtle, Forceful, Hedonistic, Magnanimous, Melancholy, Bizarre, and Dreaded. All of these qualities affect gameplay by making different story opportunities available to the player.

Players are able to interact within the game, assisting, betraying, or even marrying each other's characters. During the end of October, the "Feast of Hallowmas" allows players to make confessions to each other, and these confessions can later be used as currency or event triggers in the game. Gifts can be exchanged during the "Feast of the Exceptional Rose," and other holidays occur which have significant influence on an individual player's experience of the game. There are thousands of available "storylets" or "living stories," some of which are experimental art pieces by the developers rather than conventional components of the game. Players can, for example, pursue a storylet called "Seeking Mr. Eaten's Name," a task which can take months of dedicated play to complete, and which usually involves the player character dying, going insane, being exiled from London, and being held prisoner repeatedly before the final objective can be reached.

The Fallen London player base is very dedicated to avoiding spoilers for newer players, and they take extensive measures to make sure late-game content is not leaked onto public areas of the Internet. The fan base produces a great deal of fan art and fan-fiction which the developers themselves often review and incorporate into the canon of Fallen London.

The game is dynamic; the world-building is elaborate and skillful. The community is helpful and full of good-natured macabre humour. If you have the time, give it a look!

Iron Noder Challenge 2014, 5/30

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