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Approaching the end of the Railway, and what comes next

Whitsun has ended – I hope you all had an eggcellent time hatching perfectly adorable friend-shaped creatures.

We are closing in on the end of the Railway storyline, and with it, a story that has taken over a year to play out, from conception to completion. This is an opportune time to talk about its culmination and the stories that will follow, including a few surprises.

Marigold Station

The next and final station on the Great Hellbound Railway: Marigold Station, where you will visit the Very Walls of Hell, and meet the story conclusion for Fallen London: Railway.

The Railway has been an ambitious experiment, a learning experience for the entire Fallen London team, and in most respects a huge success. For the following cycle of Fallen London updates, we are going to be doing some things differently; but one thing we’ll be keeping is the periodic addition of new locales for you to visit.

It was also very gratifying seeing you all become invested in the story of Furnace, Mr Fires, the Creditor, Cornelius, the GHR, and the Tracklayer’s Union. As we bring that story arc to a close, we hope you enjoy the conclusion.

I won’t go into a great deal of detail about what awaits you at Marigold, but it’s unlike anywhere else in the Neath. Expect to be able to start laying track towards Marigold Station next week.

After Marigold launches, we’ll also be doing a balance pass of the Upper River, now that the entire thing will be in your hands. Mostly this will be about bringing different activities closer together in terms of rewards and difficulty, with an eye to getting everything into a place where we’re happy with the overall balance as we add even more things to do and places to go. This will also be about making sure the impact of certain updates to the Bone Market is relevant, but not broken. But before I talk about those updates, let me go over the next two months of major Fallen London events.

New and improved Zee voyages

Ever since we made the new map of the Unterzee we’ve wanted to fill in the blank spots on the map and expand on zee voyages, but we’ve been reluctant to do that immediately because we know the current zee voyage experience isn’t overly popular.

Partly this is because it feels like too much of an action tax to visit places by ship; partly it’s because the experience of zee travel isn’t very rich in itself. So, before we added new islands and ports, we wanted to overhaul the voyage experience entirely.

I won’t reveal yet all that’s in this system, but here’s what you can expect:

  • Chart a course to your destination: Fallen London loves to abstract time and causality, but we’ve found that the way the Zee works felt like going too far with that. Unterzee voyages now begin with choosing a destination on the map.
  • Zail the zeven zees: The Unterzee is now split into seven regions, each with its own wonders and deadly dangers. You’ve already seen the waters near London and the Sea of Voices, but new surprises await in the southern waters of Shepherd’s Wash and the northern reaches of Stormbones – not to mention the two yet-uncharted areas on the eastern edge of the Unterzee, and the pirate-infested gyre in the centre.
  • Consequently, long voyages are long and short voyages are short. It takes more actions to get to Polythreme than to take a quick trip over to Mutton Island. New destinations that are very far from London will have certain rewards for reaching them that will make it worth your actions to zail all the way there. Overall, expect zee voyages to take up fewer actions than they did before.
  • No, you won’t lose all your progress qualities simply by getting on your ship.
  • Become a master zailor, and uncover the mysteries of the Zee: The new advanced skill, Zeefaring, will be available to all characters who have a ship and can zail. We’ll keep adding more mystery and more strangeness to the Zee over time – but when the new unterzee experience launches, there will be certain events at zee that will be able to follow you ashore into London…

The new zee voyage experience will launch with the start of Zeefarer, in the last week of June. What is Zeefarer, you ask? Well...

Fallen London: Zeefarer

A poster for Fallen London: Zeefarer, showing a ship sailing towards the Khanate.

Zeefarer is the next cycle of Fallen London updates; it’s not a story sequel to the Railway, but it’s our follow up to that. It will contain several new ports that you will be able to visit with your ship, each with their own stories and activities. While this is a theme that we’re hanging new locations on like we did with the Railway, it’s substantially different in structure.

Like we did with the Railway stations, we will interweave new zee ports with festivals and new activities and stories in London proper. But expect a bit more emphasis on London and on locations and activities that are relevant for midgame players. We want to balance continuing to expand the setting and letting you visit new, weirder parts of it with not pulling the focus too much away from London.

Also, we are slowing down the volume of new content (specifically in terms of word count, or number of branches). Partly this is because we know some of you are still catching up or have felt overwhelmed by the pace of new releases. Partly it’s because we ourselves have struggled to keep pace with just how much stuff was added to the game. By our own accounting, as much as 30% of Fallen London was written in 2020. But this is not going to be a drought, or a return to the slowest pace of updates in Fallen London; we are going to keep adding to the game regularly, but at a more sustainable volume. So expect a similar pace of updates, but some updates will be smaller.

I’ll get into more detail about our future plans for Fallen London updates in another blog post, towards the end of summer.

We’re excited to go back to the unterzee and explore those places from a different perspective; exploring the Unterzee in Fallen London lets us tell stories that we couldn’t have told in Sunless Sea.

Fallen London allows a greater diversity of tones, features a very different kind of protagonist, and delves into some deeper secrets of the Neath that weren’t featured in Sunless Sea. And of course, in the Neath, there are always questions that remain unanswered. So while we may return to some familiar places, they will contain very different stories – and there will be new secrets to uncover, too.

The first destination in Zeefarer will be the Khanate. The Khanate you will meet is a little different from what you may remember in Sunless Sea – it’s been a few years.

The Khanate is a city that rivals London in beauty, power, and wonder. It’s a place where the deep shadows are banished by electric light – most of the time. It’s a jewel that all the powers of the Neath grasp at, but can’t quite hold. Like London, it is one of the battlegrounds of the Great Game. And if you want to visit, you will have to wager something and sit down at the table.

The Khanate is a port meant to give endgame players a new reason to go to zee; it is most interesting to anyone with access to Balmoral. But expect us to mix in more midgame content alongside new endgame locations in the future; for now, even if you don’t have an advanced railway you will be able to enjoy the new zailing experience. And the Unterzee is a sea, not a rail line – expect to be able to visit the new zee ports more or less in any order.

Zeefarer kicks off with the Khanate on the 24th of June, alongside the zee voyage update.

A New Festival (and an end to elections)

Around this time of year, you’ll all be anticipating the Election for 2021. But the Masters have decided they’re not so fond of this whole ‘electoral system’ thing.

More to the point, we’ve felt like elections have not been as rewarding for you all as we’d like an event to be. They are hard to design and run, and have often left the community more disappointed or puzzled than engaged. The results of each election changed our plans for updates and events in London; but that took a long time to be visible to all of you, which often felt disappointing.

The election event relies on an all-new story each year. And that means it’s hard to sustain if we’re not, ourselves, excited about writing a new iteration of the election story. And the truth is, we’re not; as a group, we’ve been doing it for a very long time, and a lot of the creative space has been mined out.

And while we love the community mobilization that comes with an election, we also know that it has a higher-than-normal potential for unhappiness and hurt feelings. Even though we aren’t deliberately writing election candidates to resemble real-world political figures or movements, there are always going to be parallels and subtext that bubble to the surface. This, combined with the adversarial structure of the event, has tended to turn usually good-natured discussions in the community sour – something that we really don’t want.

We don’t want to run away from writing about real-world issues in Fallen London, even if we do it humorously, metaphorically, and in the context of a city within which walk people with the faces of squid – squid! But this particular combination of subtext, theme, and mechanics has created too much tension.

However, we’re still going to have a late summer event in the same time frame, and we want it to be another event that mobilizes the community in a similar way to the election – but more collaboratively and less adversarially. Expect to see this new festival around mid-July. (And fear not: it’ll “inherit” old Election items and make them available in a similar way to how the other festivals make items from past years available.)

And one last thing: Palaeontology Updates and the Living World

This is a small update, but it portends big things.

It adds three new qualities to the game:

  • Zoological Fads will make certain skeleton bodies more rewarding than usual
  • Fluctuations of the Bone Market will make certain skeleton “flavors” (antiquity, menace, amalgamy) more rewarding from buyers who seek those out
  • Occasional Buyers will unlock a special buyer with very particular needs. Some of those you have already seen – the Enterprising Boot Salesman and the Zailor with a Propensity For Skulls – though they have been substantially uptuned to be competitive with normal buyers. But there are also three entirely new buyers that you will gradually come to know…

All three of these qualities will shift randomly between possible values – every Tuesday, at 11AM UTC. Conditions in the Bone Market will change week to week, suggesting a type of skeleton that’ll be more rewarding and offering a unique buyer. Oh, and they’ll be the same for all players.

This new mechanic, World Qualities, is an important part of the future of Fallen London; it opens up new design space and new possibilities for us. It will help grow the game’s community-driven aspect, and it will make Fallen London feel like more of a living world that gives you new reasons to keep coming back each week even if we’re not launching something new that week.

These new qualities will not appear on your Myself tab; they are not attached to your character but to Fallen London as a whole. You won’t be hoping to get a good roll for your character; rather, everyone will be dealing with the same Bone Market, but it’ll be a slightly different Bone Market each week. A new storylet in the bone market will allow you to see what the state of the Bone Market is, and some new text in Assemble a Skeleton provides a reminder of what’s sought-after this week.

This small palaeontology update is an experiment; it’ll help us see how the feature works in a live game setting and how all of you react. That way, we’ll feel confident before we hang bigger and more complex events and stories on this new feature. Very deliberately, we are attaching this to an activity that is already complex and already appeals to those of you who like to optimize! But there are other ways to use world qualities; I’m sure you can speculate on them. We hope you’ll be excited to see what we do with this feature in the coming months.

Expect to see the Palaeontologist Living World Update… now. I enabled it fifteen minutes ago.

A summary of everything we’re announcing or adding today:

  • Marigold Station, the next and final chapter of the Railway, comes in the first week of June.
  • In late June, we are launching Fallen London: Zeefarer, a new update cycle that follows up on the Railway, but is not a direct sequel. It will include new ports and zee destinations, as well as an all-new zailing experience.
  • In July, we will not be having an Election event. Instead, there will be a new seasonal event in its place.
  • Today, we are updating the Bone Market with new World Qualities that will change how it works from week to week. This is a new feature that we will use in many places in upcoming content.