The Balance Patch, Helicon House changes, and future changes to Social Acts

By Bruno Dias, December 3, 2020 · Fallen London

The winter balance patch is going live today; you can find the initial explanation of the motivation behind those changes in the preceding post.

It’s probably worth saying something about balance patching in general, and why this is currently part of our process.

This year, we’ve been working hard to make Fallen London more sustainable in the long term.

We had a number of sustainability goals, including

  • organise extant content better
  • address power creep
  • develop more differentiated gameplay in place of simple grinds
  • build extensible wheels, where fresh story elements and mechanics could be added after the original design, and we could easily splash in seasonal content
  • introduce more variable stat checks so that a given piece of content can continue being challenging even while a player levels up
  • combat the sense of a static game world that never responded to the player’s adventures, finding ways for the player to change London or their own experience for the long term without locking us into intolerable content debt

Several of these objectives were things Fallen London had not really tried to do before. That meant we’d need to understand player preferences around this kind of content, learn how to signal it effectively, and upgrade our internal tooling and best practices to make it easier to build.

There are a couple of options when doing this kind of systems design work. On one end of the spectrum, one can design tightly, tuning and balancing precisely at launch, and hope you don’t need to disturb the delicate instruments at any future time. This approach tends to work best with well-known player preferences, a system that’s been designed holistically from the outset, and backend tooling that makes it easy to analyse stats and do internal testing prior to release. Several of us have worked on that kind of project before – and we knew that Fallen London wasn’t in that category.

The other end of the spectrum is to design more loosely but more experimentally, pay close attention to player feedback, and expect to make revisions as you go.

The latter method has resulted in a few rocky patches. But it has also enabled us to try out different design patterns, learn a lot about player preferences (including several distinct styles of player engagement that we were not aware of at the start of the year), and lean into the things that players seemed to enjoy most. The aim of this kind of iterative, responsive design is ultimately to arrive at something that’s much more of a living collaboration with the player base.

As we’ve gone, we’ve also been changing the side of FL that doesn’t face the players: tools to support the writers better, provide better analytics and data reporting for system designers, and enable us to build more accurately in the future. But we expect that some amount of iterative design and rebalancing will remain part of the process.

Helicon House

With the above in mind, there are a couple of additional changes that were not originally planned for the balance patch, but have been rolled into it, that we’d like to further explain. We’re making some adjustments to numbers on Helicon House, and somewhat revising the Hinterland Scrip economy to go along with those changes.

Helicon has been pretty far outside the band of value per action we are targeting in new Fallen London content. We recently made some tweaks to make it more consistent with the rest of the game while we studied what deeper changes to make. Those deeper changes are now live.

This slate of changes is aimed at doing two things. First, reduce the overall value of Helicon visits. This is across the board, though changes are targeted to mainly affect the most efficient routes, narrowing the band between those heavily optimized runs and the baseline.

A player with a relevant Spouse, Ambition reward, and the Pendant of Helicon Amber will still get significantly more out of Helicon House, but the difference relative to a player with none of these things should be less marked. Ambition rewards are still relevant and valuable at Helicon, but their overall impact has been lessened. This should help make other new content more appealing relative to Helicon, rather than making it unreasonably superior.

The second point involves the Pendant of Helicon Amber. Ultimately, we want to reach a point where we can use Fate sales as a good signal for what content players want to see (and fund). Because the Amber was so mechanically strong, however, we suspect some players bought it more because they wanted the buff than in order to signal interest in Rubbery Man content.

Given that some players likely did buy the pendant for this reason, though, we’ve aimed to keep it mechanically strong, albeit slightly less overwhelming than before. We find that the action saved by the Pendant on most Helicon House runs is itself already extremely powerful.

In recognition of the players who do want more story content tied to Rubbery Men and Helicon House, this patch also adds a new area to Helicon House that is only accessible for those who have the Pendant. That area introduces new flavour and story elements but is not intended to make the Pendant more profitable.

Station buildables

We know that the reason players were so invested in the Helicon House grind was to generate Hinterland Scrip, and one of the main drivers here was the cost of building railway stations.

The original design for the railway specified that no one station building would be required, and that players would pick and choose how to develop their stations to express how they wanted to customise their hinterlands. Completing all the station buildings to the maximum level would be possible, but expensive and unnecessary. Choosing to upgrade everything would be a roleplaying choice in itself. (This parallels the way that some players choose to maximise the number of board members in their GHR board, while others streamline the board mechanically or go for a particular roleplaying flavour from among the available characters.)

To support a design that discouraged but didn’t absolutely prevent building out stations maximally, we charged a multiplicative cost that made each additional building substantially more costly than the last.

As the railway grew, however, we found that players strongly preferred buildings with extensive functionality. But, of course, the more fictional and mechanical depth we gave to each building, the more players felt that every one was non-optional. For recent stations, we’ve designed with the assumption that buildable parts of a station may be allowed to tie into progression and that each building should have significant content associated with it.

The new content design with older scaling has meant players spending in the area of 3000 Scrip on each new station. Helicon House’s overpowered grind became even more critical to players as the main way to offset the heavy station development costs.

So as we’re making Helicon less productive, we’re also lowering the cost to build station buildings. The price of new station buildings will now scale linearly: the first building will cost 50 scrip, the second one 100, the third 150, and so on. This is a greater than 75% reduction in the cost of fully building out a station.

Lodgings cards, and opportunity deck tuning

Most lodgings can now be loaned out or otherwise shuttered, which will cause their cards not to appear in your opportunity deck.

You can only do this to a lodgings you are not living in, so you should still always have at least one Lodgings card in your deck. If you ever want to reclaim a particular lodgings to put it back into your deck, you can do so from its key item, same as if you wanted to move in.

We’ve been conscious for a while of player frustration with Lodgings cards. We don’t want players to feel like they have to go to extreme lengths to rid themselves of unwanted lodgings keys. Fixing the deck refresh bug makes individual cards feel more important, and most lodgings cards are not valuable enough to feel like a relevant draw for high-level players. So it is now possible to clear out your deck of most lodgings cards.

We have also tuned various cards in the opportunity deck over the past two weeks and in this patch; increasing some rewards, adding scaling rewards, or making it so they no longer appear for high-level players. There are still cards in the London opportunity deck that are not very valuable relative to other cards, but we want to see how this set of changes settles in before making further moves.

Ultimately, there has to be some gradient of value in the opportunity decks. We can’t make every card equally good: everything is relative, so for there to be powerful cards there have to be weak ones. However, some cards are too far below the band of relevance for endgame players, and the overall value of the deck was too low. Those changes should hopefully bring it up. Fixing the deck refreshing bug enables us to be more aggressive with how we tune opportunity cards overall.

We’re also keeping an eye on how the Upper River deck is shaking out. It’s starting to have a volume of content comparable to the London deck, and so we’re making a few changes to manage the variance and value, and looking towards future ones.

Future changes to social acts

Finally, we wanted to announce some changes we are making to social acts. These are scheduled to happen in January, and are not going live with today’s patch.

Currently, the underlying mechanics of social actions are fairly brittle, and they don’t support the complexity of the content that we have built with them. It’s relatively common for players to get stuck on particular stages of a complex social activity. We are still getting support tickets asking us to “unstick” a character from a social action. They simply don’t gracefully handle common failure conditions of online play, such as one player abandoning the activity partway through.

As a rule, we don’t want to have bugs in the game that create ongoing demands on support time; we’re a small team, and time spent doing that is time we’re not spending actually improving the game or adding new content. We’ve already spent a substantial amount of developer time trying to resolve issues around certain social activities, so that now they work most of the time. But “most of the time” isn’t good enough.

After considering our options, we came to the conclusion that we can’t really support complex social activities in Fallen London without even more feature work, and we don’t want to put that feature work ahead of other things we are working on to support future content, respond to player feedback, or solve other bugs.

We considered radically simplifying activities that cause problems, but it made more sense to design new ones to replace them instead. In January, we will be retiring the following social activities: Chess, dining, and sparring. We will also be releasing new social activities meant to replace their mechanical functionality while being more robust and convenient for players.

We’ll get into the details of what those activities are in a future post, ahead of their actual release.

Full Patch Notes

Deck refreshing changes

  • Entering and leaving an infinite-draw area will no longer refresh your opportunity card deck.
  • Entering and leaving the Laboratory at the University no longer costs actions.

New Favour Sources

  • Added several new sources of Favours:
    • Bohemians and Tomb-Colonists at Mahogany Hall
    • Constables at the Labyrinth of Tigers
    • Criminals and Urchins through A Boxful of Intrigue in Spite
    • Hell through Heists at the Flit
    • Rubbery Men in Bullbone Island
    • Revolutionaries at Doubt Street
    • Society in Port Carnelian
    • The Great Game in Wilmot’s End
  • All tier 2 and 3 professions now grant two Favours of varying kinds with your weekly Professional Reward.

Other Favour Changes

  • Favours are no longer needed to up-convert the following items:
    • Visions of the Surface
    • Surface-Silk Scraps
    • Brilliant Souls
    • Memories of Light
    • Scraps of Incendiary Gossip
    • Strangling Willow Absinthe
    • Partial Maps
    • Zee-Ztories
    • Compromising Documents
    • Mysteries of the Elder Continent
    • Correspondence Plaques
  • Getting into the ball during A Name Signed with a Flourish no longer requires Society favours
  • Call in Favours at the Flit:
    • Revolutionary favours now grant a fixed amount of resources
    • Criminal favours now grant more resources
  • Various opportunity cards have been adjusted
    • A Consideration for Services Rendered has been made slightly less efficient
    • Visiting the Regretful Soldier now grants two favours.
    • Accepting a damp gift from Rubbery Men is now more efficient.
    • City Vices: A Rather Decadent Evening now grants more resources and Making Waves.
    • Rewards from two faction conflict cards have been adjusted up:
      • Amber in the Well
      • Crime or Punishment?
  • Buying Expedition Supplies has been adjusted; now costs 50 Rostygold and 3 Favours, gives 7 supplies.

Ambition Rewards Rebalance

  • Bag a Legend:
    • A Winged and Taloned Steed Formerly Mr Veils now grants more Dangerous.
    • A Vast Network of Connections Wherever the Bazaar’s Influence can be Found and Society of the Three-Fingered Hand now grant more Dangerous.
    • The Long-Dead Priests of the Red Bird now grants more Dangerous.
    • Adding April to your laboratory staff (After the end of Bag a Legend!) will no longer consume April’s promissory note.
    • Dismissing April from the laboratory will now return her promissory note, if you don’t have it any more.
  • Light Fingers:
    • A False-Star of your Own now grants more Shapeling Arts.
    • Lyon Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinaire is now a title you can be addressed by; find the nearest urchin to change your Addressed As: quality.
    • Tatterskin Shawl now grants more Shadowy.
  • Nemesis:
    • Your loved one, returned now grants more Kataleptic Toxicology.
    • A new, powerful item can be gained from opportunity cards by players who have completed this Ambition.
    • Two less powerful items have been added as intermediary rewards for this ambition. Players who have already completed it can obtain it through opportunity cards that should appear soon in London.

Helicon House

  • Those who have a Pendant of Helicon Amber can now access a new area, the Sculpture Garden, in Helicon House.
  • Entering Helicon House with the Oneiric Key or Location of an Underground Organ now grants +2 Fitting in and a small extra reward.
  • Attracting a companion at Helicon House now costs 210 change points of Fascinating but grants greater rewards.
  • Accepting a commission now costs 300 change points of Inspired. It now pays out in Hinterland Scrip and Warm Amber.
  • Flirting now grants 6 change points of Fascinating.
  • All options involving ambition rewards now require at least 4 Time Remaining at Helicon House.
  • The option using Your Very Own False-Star now grants 8 change points of Inspired and +2 Fitting In.
  • Various options using Your [Loved One] Returned now grant +2 Fitting In and +8 Inspired.
  • Drawing tentacles below stairs now grants +2 Fitting In, +3 Tentacles.
  • Modeling now gives 18 Hinterland Scrip, or 20 with a companion.
  • Stealing in the upstairs honey-den now grants scrip as part of its rewards. Rewards have been slightly lowered.
  • Entering Helicon House without a companion now grants a small boost to Fascinating.
  • The Glasswork option in the Mirrrored Salon now grants +2 Fitting in at Helicon House.
  • Grabbing Incorruptible Biscuits or Solacefruit on the way out of Helicon House now costs 1 action.

Miscellaneous Changes

  • If you are a Person of Some Importance, you can now obtain up to two additional outfit slots at your Lodgings. These slots are in addition to any you may have unlocked with Fate.
  • Scrip costs to build various station buildings now scale linearly with station development.
  • Obtaining various items at Wilmot’s End has been made more efficient; in some cases, twice as efficient.
  • Various Lodgings cards in London have had options to temporarily remove them from your deck added.
  • The Great Game (item) is now an Affiliation instead of a Home Comfort. Its stats have been retuned to +5 Watchful, +2 Shadowy. This stops it from fighting in its slot with the Shrine of St Joshua.
  • Bone Market: Ivory Humeri are no longer worth twice as much as they should be.
  • The price of Proscribed Material at the Bazaar now reflects the actual value of the item.
  • The opportunity card The Incident of the Honey-Mazed Bear is now (roughly) five times as likely to be drawn.
  • Heists now have an infinite draw deck.
  • Two new branches in the card ‘A Gift from the Capering Relicker’ allows players who have unlocked the Bone Market or the Railway to get more value from Someone is Coming.
  • A Gift from the Capering Relicker will now consistently appear if you have four levels of Someone is Coming.
  • The card ‘The Northbound Parliamentarian’ now has a scaling Persuasive check and reward.
  • Time, the Healer will now give you a single Favourable Circumstances a week, if you don’t already have one.
  • The card ‘A Parliament of Bats’ has a new branch that makes it more consistent to obtain a Bat with Attitude.
  • The story ‘Flowers for Peter’ now costs fewer favours to start and to complete.
  • A new store in the Bazaar Side-streets allows players without Railway access to obtain items that can lower their Bizarre, Dreaded, or Respectable, though at a significant cost.
  • A new storylet in the Upper River allows players to convert Surveys of the Neath’s Bones into Osteology items, though at a less efficient rate than they can through opportunity cards.
  • Some generic Upper River cards will new appear with slightly less frequency, to improve the rate at which players draw Statue and Faction cards.


Leave a reply

Yaroslav Jan 1, 8:55am

Greetings. No plans for returning to ios/android apps maybe?

PossibleCabbage Dec 5, 12:39am

"Lyon Pursuivant of Arms Extraordinaire is now a title you can be addressed by" First time I've felt like changing my title from "Si-, er, Mad-, er, yes". Best update.

Lienoth Dec 4, 12:04am

.. introducing an unlimited card deck for heists is a brilliant idea - but right now it sadly removes the advantage given by a (hard-earned) 4/5 card lodging .. and thereby makes heists far more luck-dependent than before ..

dan Dec 3, 8:57pm

Removing the deck refresh remains a terrible move, for all the reasons people already gave that you haven't addressed

VeryPeeved Dec 3, 7:28pm

so how long will the Bone Market Crash card be available? i think i can snag enough Humeri for the 50 Humeri option in about a day if i hurry.

Vael Victus Dec 3, 6:05pm

"This is a greater than 75% reduction in the cost of fully building out a station." Can we get 75% of our scrip back? lol, just bought out most of Burrow yesterday

Kala Dec 3, 4:11pm

These look really cool! I can finish my ambition in the more moral way now without feeling mechanically punished. @people talking about no docks favours- This might be because there already are grind able sources of Dock's Favours- the carousel at Mutton Island and, for late game players, killing Pinewood Sharks. I don't know how those compare in efficiency to these others though.

Anise Hunt Dec 3, 4:02pm

Really excited about these balance changes! Feels a bit odd that there's still no repeatable source for Docks favors that doesn't rely on the opportunity deck though, ESPECIALLY since they're still so heavily required late-game (heists for Justificande coins, supplies for Forgotten Quarter expeditions, getting Renown in other ways, the Jericho Locks plotline, etc.)

xKiv Dec 3, 3:35pm

This will take a *lot* of getting used to!

Frustrated By Lag Dec 3, 1:52pm

It's really hard to appreciate these changes right now. I am facing considerable lag.

made of magic and wires Dec 3, 11:09am

A lot of exciting news. Bit sad about the chess and other social actions as I never got to experience them much, but then again I guess that means they did need fixing.

Zorn Rose Dec 3, 10:38am

I am sorry to see the renown scaling in revolutionary favours go--it definitely was a balance issue, but it was cool to have a mechanical reason to pursue high renown. Overall I'm really happy with this, though, even though I'll miss my sweet sweet Helicon grind. I'm excited to see what the new Nemesis rewards are!

Nanako Dec 3, 10:23am

The ivory humeri changes are really brutal. There aren't enough high value bones to make fancy skeletons, we needed them for that. Please add new things to compensate. Arms, legs, and especially tails, with high values (2000 pennies or more)

Yang Yang Dec 3, 10:11am

Overall, these changes all seem solid. The ivory humeri tweak does make it slower to build tracks, but I suppose we'll just have to run more heists. Thanks for all your hard work!

Vocal Minority Dec 3, 10:03am

Will opti-focused players be offered a refund after the two nerfs of the (expensive) Helicon pendant? Otherwise, this seems like this change is very punitive to paying players.