Since Fallen London has retired the mobile app now…
I cheated. I cheated mercilessly. I could guarantee I’d pass any roll, and explore several moves in advance before committing to a decision. I could even conjure up extra actions. Not by hacking - just by exploiting the way the app worked by design (except that last part, which was a bug).
I don’t regret it. I spent more subscribing, and buying Exceptional Stories, than I have on most games, bought Sunless Sea and backed Sunless Skies. It’s not a competitive game, kind of infamously grindy - so Grundy I probably would never have played as much as I did if I couldn’t cheat. Failbetter have acknowledged that the grind is a bit much, but it would be too much work to redesign the game’s economy. So I think it was probably morally OK to cheat - it didn’t ruin anyone’s fun or cost the writers.
I always wanted to explain how to do it, but I guess I was a coward, because if it got fixed, I’d be back to that grind. So I never told anyone. But now they shut down the app to focus on a responsive version of the website, so…
Here’s how it used to work. Fallen London is a web game where you get ‘actions’ every 10 minutes. You spend these actions to do things which often have a chance to succeed or fail, depending on your character’s stats. You can bank up to 20 actions, or 40 more if you’re a subscriber (Exceptional Friend). When you can pay money in their online shop for action refreshes, or just come back a few hours later. (Sometimes the devs would also gift all the players 'darkdrop coffee’ to refresh their actions once.)
Fallen London had a mobile app, as well as its browser version. The app has a backup of the entire game text, allowing it to be played even without an internet connection. However, after every 10 actions or so, it would require you to sync your actions and their outcomes to the server.
When you logged into the app, and whenever you synced, it would download the latest updates to the game, and check your subscriber status, current action status and so on, put your character in the appropriate location, etc. This would put your account in a state of being logged into the app.
If you tried to log in to the website in this state, or indeed take any action in the browser if you were already logged in, the game would display a warning that this would invalidate any unsynced actions taken on the app. And indeed, if you clicked through that warning, then synced in the app, it would restore you to whatever state the game was in just after you last synced.
Having explained it like that, you can probably see where this is going!
Suppose you take an action, and you don’t like the outcome - you fail a roll, or regret the decision you made, or are simply curious about 'what happens if’. Well, until you sync, it doesn’t count. You have as many retries as you have patience.
As simple as this is, this breaks the game wide open. For example, there is a thing you can do called the Case of the Fidgeting Writer, basically a double or nothing game. Starting with a cheap item - a Tale of Terror - and you can repeatedly choose to essentially flip a virtual coin to double its value and get some prose, or cash in and get some appropriate items and different prose. The story is that you are either relentlessly pursuing a dangerous secret, or abandoning the search at the behest of devils, the Masters etc. If you get very lucky, and invest some fairly cheap items at certain points, you can turn your .5 echo item into a Brilliant Soul worth about 300 echoes. As designed, it’s generally worth pursuing only by late game players with a vast stock of ToTs to risk.
If you can guarantee you win every roll, you can spend about eight actions to conjure up a Soul. Or you can cash out early for other valuable items hard to get otherwise. This is a vastly better option in terms of Echoes per Action than any of the money making 'carousel’ options that are the standard ways players try to make money, which usually give a couple of EpA at best.
But it got worse. Because sometimes, when I synced the app, I noticed I had an extra action. At first I just thought it was more than ten minutes since my last sync, but at some point I realised I was getting more actions than I could account for this way. Somehow, there was a bug that meant every time I synced, I had a chance to get an extra action. So I started syncing over and over whenever I ran low on actions, and watched them climb.
Now the time economy of the game totally disintegrated. I wasn’t totally free to do what I wanted - syncing took some time and didn’t always give me a free action. But I had vastly more actions than I was supposed to, so I could basically click around almost at will.
The last thing that Fallen London players do is a storyline called Seeking Mr Eaten’s Name. The storyline is one of your character embarking - against the best advice of everyone ever - into an obsessive, self-destructive search for the truth. In its increasingly surreal course, it calls on you to throw away the most expensive items in the game if you have them, destroy your character’s relationships and social standing that you worked so hard to build, burn away your stats, and pour vast resources into a quest that will ultimately make your account permanently unusable. Your only reward is joining the short list of people who have read one of the short and cryptic endings. It’s probably the best piece of writing in the game, and the one thing that really makes full thematic use of the game’s relentless acquisition grind. (A reckoning will not be postponed indefinitely.)
There are points in Seeking the Name, such as Winking Isle, that depend heavily on getting a good run of luck, and facing many setbacks that put you back. I breezed through them. There are points that ask you to sacrifice expensive, difficult to acquire items, spouses, etc. I could summon up Echoes and zoom through the grinds.
I got into Fallen London precisely so I could one day Seek the Name, yet my course as a Seeker was a relatively short and blessed one, as these things go. Perhaps it cheapened the experience to know that, rather than the product of years of virtual labour and failed dice rolls, all I was throwing away was a few boring hours of syncing the app. I don’t know, I don’t think I’d have the patience to Seek the real way.
I still had an incredible experience Seeking, and getting deep into the game’s fiction. It’s a wonderful writing project, and one day, I hope it will be released in a non grinding based form.
I sometimes wondered if I’d be 'caught’ - someone would see my Seeking posts and realise “hold on a minute, no way you could get through it that fast”. Nobody did of course - who would care? I think I almost wanted them to though, so I could tell someone about this cool trick I found, and they could judge me, or maybe share in the fun.
I’m sure I can’t be the only one who found this exploit in the app, and exploited it. But I never saw it discussed. So here you go… the sorry story of a silly exploit. Not quite the world shattering secret of what happened to Mr Eaten. But a secret I’ve been holding, nonetheless.
I feel like, it’s a story still. Like the anarchists she associated with, who aspired to end the tyranny of sunlight, and the zee-captains I played who wielded the Red Science to rend the Great Chain of Being as the Zee made them more and more alien, my character broke the rules of her universe in her quest for an end to the Masters’ rule. Did she succeed? Well, ultimately, I selected the most cryptic ending, so I have no idea. “Who is Salt?” indeed.
I thought I would roll a new character in FL after she found her ending. But going back to the start just felt hollow. Her story is done.