Announcing new social actions, and retiring old ones

By Bruno Dias, January 26, 2021 · Fallen London

On January 28th, we will be retiring certain social actions from the game, and releasing new ones.

It will no longer be possible to initiate the following social activities:

  • Chess
  • Dining
  • Sparring

If you’re already in one of those social acts, you should be able to complete it.

In their place, we are adding two new social actions to the game: Letter writing and social slights.

Why are we doing this?

Originally, social actions were very straightforward interactions that allowed you to send something over to another character; gifts, short messages. Fallen London was never intended as primarily a social game, but those social features helped promote the game.

Over the years, however, we designed increasingly complex social actions. This culminated with activities like chess and sparring, complex, multi-stage activities that tie together several social actions.

Unfortunately, those activities have long caused problems. The social action system in Fallen London wasn’t really built to handle them, creating persistent problems with players being stuck inside social actions or unable to send or receive invitations. We still periodically receive support requests to “unstick” someone from an ongoing social action. Most existing social actions can’t gracefully handle failure conditions such as one player quitting mid-activity and not logging back on for a while, or ever.

This is a pretty bad state of affairs for us; we’re a small team, and time we spend answering support emails to fix characters being in a broken state because of a social activity is time we don’t spend building new content. We explored putting more development time into making this system more robust, but came to the conclusion that the effort involved would not be justified by the number of players it would help.

So we’re retiring these activities and replacing them with activities we’re more comfortable with having in the game given the feature set of the tools as they are now.

What are we replacing them with?

Social Actions currently have two roles in the game:

  • Depending on what else you have access to, they can be the most efficient ways to do certain things – Generate Making Waves, reduce Menaces, and increase attributes being the key ones.
  • They allow players to interact with other players through the game, which we know a subset of the playerbase really values, for the social and role-playing aspects that it adds.

We are trying to tease out those two things from one another. We don’t want players who don’t enjoy the social aspect to feel like they have to use social actions to play the game, so we will be looking at the availability of things like Menace reduction in the future.

But we know some players enjoy social actions, and we didn’t want to remove these without providing some kind of replacement. These new social actions are meant to tune the complexity down to avoid the pitfalls that befell the ones that are being retired. We are deliberately avoiding creating any situation where a player can be “in limbo” waiting for a reply or action from another player.

This update will come with two new activities: Letter writing and social slights.

Letter writing

Letter writing is intended as a mechanically relevant social action that players can make heavy use of. From their lodgings, players will be able to compose letters and send them to acquaintances. There are ten kinds of letters that players can compose, which carry different effects for the receiver: Share notes on past cases to raise their Watchful, share gossip to increase their Persuasive, offer spiritual consolation to lower their Nightmares, and several others. The Crooked Cross, Midnighter, and Correspondent professions have access to unique letters.

Letters are designed to be largely asynchronous; you can send them to an acquaintance as long as they are in London and don’t have too much unread mail of a given type. They can open and read the letters they have at their leisure.

Social slights and assassinations

This is a more experimental social activity, aimed at the subset of players who care about social interaction for its own sake.

At several activities in London, players will find opportunities to slight their own acquaintances for gain. Badmouth your friends to Mr Slowcake’s Amanuensis. Publish their indiscretions on your newspaper.

Victims of these slights don’t have to retaliate. But if they choose to do so, London is a great city for hiring assassins. Sending an assassin after another player will insert a card into their London opportunity deck; an encounter with your chosen assassin.

Mechanically, assassinations are not adversarial; like past social actions, they benefit both players. Slighting other players will give you a mechanical benefit, and fending off attempts on your life is dangerous, but more profitable than other opportunity cards. Sending assassins after someone will generate Making Waves, and allow players to become temporarily more Dreaded than they otherwise could.

One last thing: If you have accumulated Sanguine Ribbons or Chess: Mastery of the Game, you will no longer be able to keep gaining those qualities but you will be able to trade them in for new qualities that can be obtained in other ways, including through the new social acts, and used to obtain London’s Sinew and London’s Nerves; so your existing progress will still be there.


Leave a reply

Mister Vanishment Jan 28, 3:11am

A typical day in Fallen London. The ministry for public safety has outlawed chess, because too many people were getting stuck inside chessboards.

Bartosz Szafarz Jan 27, 1:03pm

I'm actually excited about letter writing. You see, if there was a little more back and forth in the conversation, repeatedly sparring, playing chess and visiting Caligula's quickly became awkward to the point that I used them more as an excuse to write a message and get some in-game benefit along with it (as opposed to the "write letters" option) but ignoring in my message the very activity the social action was to represent. If there was a lot of exchange with one person it just became too repetitive and contrived to mention the same social action each time, so it was in essence, more of a letter in the end. Also I really like when players share, in an RP way, what they are currently up to, and again, having to come up with some description of the current social action kinda distracted from the goal. And Covid aside, I also get the impression that some players are unaware just how much bigger role correspondence had in the time period and how different it was from social apps of today's internet age, since the messaging was far from instant and required much more time and effort and thought. That's why so many people had their correspondence published and it is often quite readable, because it was more like journalling. Hell, even the e-mail era feels old and different than now. I am not too keen on the adversarial interactions however, unless I develop the adversarial interaction from the start of making contact with somebody. Which I might as well do, poking strangers with "find contacts" until something sticks, which has always been the best tactic. But not having "friendly" counterparts is indeed a little bummer, I agree. Just remember for psychologist Danie Kahnehman says - losses loom larger than gains. If we loose something it is more upsetting even if we get something better in return (not implying this is exactly the case here but you can follow that logic). We will adapt and realise this is not as scare a change as we once thought.

Tsar Koschei Jan 27, 1:01pm

I would very strongly urge you not to fully remove all trace of our sanguine ribbons and chess wins with the "trade-in", some of us are really rather attached to our record of past triumphs. Perhaps they could be replaced with respective qualities of no further mechanical relevance? A remembrance of chess games and duels past?

Verya Jan 27, 10:46am

I'm excited about letter writing, though like others I'm a bit disappointed their won't be a special letter for each profession. The badmouthing/assassination bit feels awkward to me, though. I get that it can be mechanically beneficial, but I think it would be hard for me to initiate some form of betrayal, icly or ocly, after years of cultivating friendships. The mechanics of it sound interesting - but there has to be a better way. Will we still be able to play chess with the boatman? I'm not horribly sad to see chess or sparring go away. I know what it's like to feel stuck for ages in a match, waiting. I am sad, however, to see dining go away. It's one of my most favourite interactions and it's a valuable tool for roleplay. There's also the issue with all the points I've accrued toward different dinners and haven't used yet. Will we be getting a return on these in some form, perhaps in the original currencies used to buy them? I'd love to see letters and dining - perhaps even an expanded dining interaction. These really fit what FL feels like to me, and by the looks of the comments I'm not the only one that feels this way. P.S. Restricting letters by location feels a bit odd, doesn't it? Thank you for all these years of a game we love. I hope you can take our honest feedback to heart.

Agreeablewitch Jan 27, 6:20am

I am so excited about having menace reduction actions that don't require friends :D

An Annoyed Socialite Jan 27, 5:10am

I will not add on to what has already been said so well as I will just do it in all caps & uncouth wording, so instead I will just say: Maybe I am stupid, but did we not already have letter writing? Have I been mistakenly writing in some text box that goes nowhere? Or what was the option "write a letter" doing? I assume, I was writing letters which means YOU ALREADY HAD BLOODY LETTER WRITING! Pick something else. What a ridiculous... if this is because you can accidentally kill people due to crossing the streams, as it were, during certain social actions, this is the worst way to fix it. If people are truly getting stuck... PUT. A. TIMER. ON. THEM. No response after 48 hours? Times out. I don't know what kind of a mess your coding is, but having made text & story based games, sticking a timer on something is not that hard. We made it so players errored out if they were idle to long in game because it took up coding space to have them in game. Error out the invitations. Surely, you're able to write that code? If not, I am in agreement with others. Please stop removing content that brings joy. While some people show love through attempting to kill their friends, others do not. Do better.Or go whole hog & force everyone to start seeking.

Heavencry Jan 27, 4:21am

To KK, I say: HEAR HEAR. Hear [expletive] hear. Removing the dining now is in poor taste indeed (forgive the pun.) I finally scraped up enough extra cash to renew an Exceptional Friendship for two of my accounts for a few months, and you know what? This announcement has put me right off it. I don't want to, and I'm not *going* to, because this royally sucks. Hate to say it, FailBetter, but you might've gone and lived up to your name this time. You seriously think everyone wants to slander and assassinate their friends instead of playing chess and having dinner with them? If I wanted that, I'd be seeking the Name. Have a heart, you stone-cold spirifers.

dan Jan 27, 4:17am

i don't understand how people so great at creating new content are so consistently terrible at managing the content they already have. every time you change mechanics or rebalance things or do whatever you're doing here it's to the game's detriment. please just stick with adding cool stuff and stop making what's already there worse.

Louis Jan 27, 4:17am

Having read the other comments, I hope that dining may be retained. While I don't use the social interactions myself, I hope the least intrusive and problematic mechanics may be maintained by the team. I have generally nothing but praise for the game. I hope the streamlining leaves few people behind.

KK Jan 27, 3:44am

Why is dining to be taken from us? Let me rephrase that slightly. Why, in January 2021, in the middle of a pandemic, when many people are unable to dine out, or to dine with friends at home, or unable to return home to family in another city or country, would you take away your virtual dining experience? You are taking away so much more than an option for players. You are taking away this. “A Sunday roast! Never mind the calendar – it's a fine chunk of meat with a lavish serving of potatoes and gravy!” This is the only roast dinner I have had with friends and family for the past year. It will break my heart to see it go. I can see no clear straightforward reason in the above explanation as to why dining has to go along with sparring and chess. Chess and sparring get stuck, fair enough; I've had a lot of fun with both but I have also got stuck and had to put off one friend whilst waiting weeks for another. Dining, though, does not get stuck. True, you may go to a lot of trouble inviting someone and never hear back from them. Still, the worst that happens is their dinner sits on the table for months or years getting cold and possibly evolving into a new form of Neathy fungus. Apart from the psychological impact of losing another opportunity to dine out with friends, it is also sad that all the fun shopping and preparation and interaction with costermongers and the market that goes with dining has to go. The singing potatoes, the cheese without cows, the dubious venison are all to disappear because the staff feel it is unfair to players who do not have the time, resources and social inclination to dine. It seems unfair to me that only some professions benefit from the new social interactions whereas anyone could take part in the old. Why only the Crooked Cross, Midnighter, and Correspondent? Why aren't all top tier professions included at the very least? Furthermore, the choice of replacement seems tactless. To my mind, replacing dining with letter writing just seems to be bringing the COVID to Fallen London, the one place where it was not. We are already reduced to sitting at desks writing letters of consolation to other people and not being able to see them in person– go ahead and rub it in. Or what is your other proposed alternative - trashing a friend's reputation and setting assassins on them? Social slights? Not something fun and friendly we can do together? Not working together to stage a play? Not an excursion to the gardens? Not going to see an exhibit of palaeontology? Not fishing in the river? No. Where you could have given us a chance to do what has been taken from us, you give us more death and selfish behaviour. I am one of those above mentioned mysterious players who likes social interactions for its own sake. The operative word there is social. As in sociable. As in being nice to people and finding pleasure in meeting them. Why on earth would I want to slight my friends and set assassins on them where I once invited them in for dinner? I really admired Failbetter for its thoughtful messages and gifts of time and coffee and jellied mushrooms during this troubling time but I'd give them all back for one more Sunday roast.

R M Jan 27, 2:30am

Oh no - having friends over for dinner was one of my favourite actions in the game!

Annie Jan 27, 2:24am

The loss of in-person interactions really stings, and deals a blow to my roleplaying style. I want my characters in FL to feel alive, and having access to fewer ways for them to see others face-to-face drains that significantly. I don't want my characters to exist for other characters only behind a pen---there's enough of that going on in real life as it is. FL is a roleplaying game that offers wonderful opportunities to shape a character how I please, and I love expressing that character development in the form of interactions with others, imagining how the different experiences and items they've collected in Fallen London would affect, say, a duel. I seriously don't mind if I get stuck from time to time. A way for players to unstick themselves would be lovely, but regardless---is this really the only course here? I feel like this loss is going to take a lot of the expressiveness out of my characters, and with it, a lot of the fun.

Hadrian Jan 27, 2:17am

Pitching in at 2 in the morning because my little brother's still hacked off but won't sit still and write a comment. Not cool, FBG. Social actions are life. If I want to write a letter, I'll write my auntie edna, and at least she'll send me biscuits. Speaking of, whose idea was it that you can only receive letters in london? Like a few other people said, you're barking if you think that'll fly.

SevenPlath Jan 27, 2:03am

Is it possible to also record some messages written by players for posterity? Sometimes we write great role-playing stuff lol. As a non-English speaker, I hope I'm able to get through to you :)

SevenPlath Jan 27, 1:57am

When I respond to some social actions that require no further response from others, my friends are very likely to fail to receive the messages because they appear in the right column of the msgbox. I'm not sure if this will be solved, but for me, chatting with my friends is almost the best part of the game, so I don't want to lose any single message sincerely written by other players. I understand that maintenance is exhausting, Failbetter. Please stay safe & healthy and don't FAIL to be BETTER. Thank you all and look forward to the new social actions. We'll miss the old ones, though.

Florence Jan 26, 11:35pm

"Letters are designed to be largely asynchronous; you can send them to an acquaintance as long as they are in London and don’t have too much unread mail of a given type. " Why? I can send a letter to your London office even if you all pack up and take a collective team-building holiday in Moscow. Was this deliberate, or a matter of your system resting on bad old code? Either way, since you're rebooting this, please reconsider. You keep introducing new out-of-London content, but want to hamper social actions for those who engage with it.

Zeek Jan 26, 10:55pm

This hurts a lot to lose. Chatting roleplay over dinner and in between sparing bouts were some of the fondest moments I've had in this game and still are my best memories. The game is made less with their removal.

Hajo Jan 26, 10:11pm

Let me begin by disclosing that I understand why you are doing this. Theoretically - highly so, mind you - I even agree with it. A system which was not designed for use and abuse in such ways will inevitably disappoint in its performance. The maintenance can be burdensome, and the whole affair a headache. To reduce that can only be... Efficient. Now allow me to append a statement not practical, but fully honest. Though I understand it, this is the saddest I've been about any Fallen London update since I first began. I play the game with my best friend, who lives some thousand miles away; part of the greatest fun for both of us has been roleplaying chess and sparring matches between our characters. The dynamic may be friendly, it may be a rivalry, it may be deadly serious, or anything at all - and dining can be made alternately romantic, businesslike, or casual to suit the purpose. It is an excuse for our characters to interact "face-to-face", as some small but delightful substitute for what we must necessarily lack. Neither letter-writing nor assassin-sending carries that same weight, narratively: as if now, even by proxy of the game, we are held to a faceless distance - a quarantine, one might say - once more. For characters not romantically involved, there is only so much that can be discussed over endless rounds of coffee. (Assuming, of course, that you don't decide by the mercies of Efficiency to come for that next.)

Michelle Jan 26, 10:09pm

I agree with Sey - please make receiving letters possible for those who are outside of London as well! (Narratively, that also would make way more sense...? That's what inboxes are for, aren't they. To receive stuff when you're not at home/immediately at the door?) But I do like the "there can only be so much unopened mail" idea. If the mailbox is full or the pile behind the door so large that no more letters will fit - very well, no additional mail! (And as the recipient, it could also get exhausting if there could be a potentially endless amount of mail waiting for you when you get back to your lodgings... I feel reminded of my e-mail accounts tbh). I liked the social actions but not being able to send or continue them when your "partner" was away from London proper was always the biggest issue I've had with them. (I never got "stuck" in a social action in the way that was described by the devs.) When I'm in the Lab these days, I always leave it again before exiting the game, for fear of missing out on an invitation. It's rather tedious. And that's *within* London! I won't even get started on this issue when it comes to e.g. zee voyages and Parabola which really do take you away for longer and further! TL;DR: Letters should be receivable when you're outside the Fifth City. Sidenote: I hope these new letters will also include (the option of) gaining Second Chances? To me, that was the main point of playing Chess for isntance.

Kaunisenkeli Jan 26, 8:45pm

With Chess and Sparring going away, how will the Watchful and Dangerous options for their London's Viscera be affected?

A. Perlino Jan 26, 8:29pm

I like the idea of in future, having more access to menace-reduction that isn't social. I originally did not want to pursue any social actions. Eventually I had to create a second character in order to get the help I need, because I didn't know anyone who played regularly. In fact, from reading posts and comments it seems as if almost everyone has a secondary character and most players use their own characters to help each other. I didn't think you guys intended for people to have to do that. Anyway, my only concerns here are that players without social connections will still be at a disadvantage, and the loss of ways to get Second Chances. I couldn't play satisfactorily without them.

James Nox Jan 26, 7:40pm

While I'm intrigued by these changes, I'm a bit disappointed that sparring will be going away. I enjoyed it both as a way to show off the ribbons as well as a quick way to visit the boatman.

Asbestos Jan 26, 6:58pm

I, for one, am really interested in the mailbox for POSI idea from Sey's comment. Failbetters, you should make that happen! Love the update) Will miss the dinners(

Acer Pseudoplantatus Jan 26, 6:20pm

Any chance to bring back Knife and Candle, though? I loved it after the final update and have been missing it quite a bit. It was my favourite social action.

Dani_x Jan 26, 5:55pm

Im sad that i wasnt fast enough to try chess, but honestly, i love this update! Not really a social actions player, but i love the new ones and assassins which arent just harmful but can be used with no hard feeling sounds good. Good job ꟻ guys!

Gareth Jan 26, 5:23pm

So as an old-timer, will I be able to leave my Sanguine Ribbons on the mantlepiece, and accumulate the replacement quality the hard way, if I choose to brag? What if I send assassins after the fifty dead-players in my social network? And then unfriend them, and send more assassins to the already perma-dead?

Sey Jan 26, 5:19pm

"you can send [letters] to an acquaintance as long as they are in London..." So you wanted to make the zee voyages more attractive, work constantly on the railway content, but letters are only for those who stay in London, and those who want to send those are damned to wait for the zailors to return. Well, I'd recommend to insert a questline for an extra POSI mailbox? (Letter possible if 1.) user in London or 2.) user has mailbox)

Lyke Jan 26, 4:22pm

Well conceived. I, for one, enjoy sharing the game with other players.