February's Exceptional Story: Borrowed Glory

[spoiler]At the gallows in Ladybones Road, when you were acquiring parts for the thing. Did you take the expensive meat or the cheap meat?

It was signposted that the cheap meat was pro-sabotage. I feel it did not adequately signpost the stakes. I was expecting other opportunities, with a cumulative effect, not a single quality that varied so greatly.[/soiler][/quote]

Seriously? A single choice that wasn’t signposted enough was your only chance?
And it would still be RNG dependent even if you had made the &quotright&quot choice (which was morally repugnant)?
I don’t get it. The reaction to Fine Dining showed clearly that a great portion of the playerbase (probably the majority) is frustrated by this type of gameplay. The Last Constable was also an indication of the same frustration. Not diminishing the experience of those who enjoy it, but why repeat what clearly was an unpleasant experience for many two times in a row?

I’m also confused by why this was so short. Like everyone else, the RNG failed me twice at 60%. Even then, I was surprised that there wasn’t another chance to sabotage him later, after he got into the thing. Unless the story that concludes the season trio provides some further resolution (and it might, because this is the last story of the season), I’m going to be disappointed with this month. It looked really great, and then it just…ended. I can accept it being an RNG (this is FL, after all), I can accept me failing an RNG twice, but it looks like everyone’s failing it twice, and that looks like a bug. (However, the title of the result for if you help the prince unwillingly, AKA “you tried,” suggests that the game does make a distinction whether you meant to help or not, even if the Courtier can’t tell.

Hah! I successfully !$#@$d up the Prince.

I always oppose anyone fingerking-related.

I agree that it’s a little weird that whether you could oppose him at all or not was entirely determined by what cut of corpsemeat you chose… especially since given the ritual, I totally didn’t get what made one cut better than the other for the ritual/better for sabotage. Felt pretty arbitrary. And it gave only a 60% chance of success at best? (Though apparently you got two tries, so 84% chance of success overall?)

Shouldn’t sabotaging the ritual be easy if you want to do it? You should be able to substitute as many of the ingredients as you want for fakes, since you’re supplying them all…

So actually, why DID the cut of flesh-and-bones matter to the ritual? Did anyone get it?

As I understand, the “cheap” meat was recently murdered human, sliced up by a deviless, whereas the expensive meat would have been hanged men from before the fall? Not sure why old would be better than fresh for the ritual - what did the ritual actually need?

This was my least favorite story of the Season. I don’t understand exactly what the Prince was doing, other than that he was working against the Parabolan Tigers, and since I chose to side with him and the Seneschal I think I missed out on a lot of exposition. The story had good imagery in regards to the Prince’s court and his creations, but it never gelled for me as a whole.

One thing I thought was that

Hell had something to do with the Prince’s ambitions, since that’s the only thing that connected the Regretful Soldier, Virginia and Feducci. I guess it was obvious that the Fingerkings were involved, though.

Heh. I even got that part RIGHT, in that I intentionally bought a cheap cut to, if not outright sabotage, at least enrage and offend the Prince, and STILL failed the two 60% checks necessary to do so.

I don’t mind the RNG, actually. But I DO mind being forced to placidly continue the ritual after I failed both checks. I’m a stubborn asshole (AND in the game), and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where, having entered into something specifically to end someone, my character would meekly allow that ritual to complete successfully without intervening. I mean, canonically, I’ve thumbed my nose at the Red Queen; the Prince is not the scariest thing I’d ever face.
edited by Tom Davidson on 1/31/2020

I was lucky. I picked the cheap meat and succeeded on my first try. But I agree with wanting to do more to sabotage, if nothing more but for spite.
Honestly, I was surprised The Gift didn’t get referenced in this story. . .

I loved the writing (&quotthe dusty timbre of his voice gilded abruptly with an unexpected richness&quot is both ridiculous and delicious).

I appreciated the sprinkling of little items throughout the story for flavour, especially the intangibles which always make me smile: why yes, that Tale was one of Terror, that description did evoke a Vision of the Surface, those Secrets could be Appaling, oh I hope that last letter wasn’t the Touching Love Story, etc. Obviously I don’t play Exceptional Stories for EPA, but with Enigmas and Night Whispers less tricky to acquire these days, padding their value with some trinkets is always nice.

I found the story rather short (my imprecise log shows 49 Actions), and while I enjoyed it, there’s definitely one big structural issue I found that others have touched on: [spoiler] The story strongly feels as if the treacherous among us should have applied An Alien Unguent during the preparation of the New Skin, rather than during the Presentation. This would make the only other decision point (whether to buy Cheap or Expensive Charnel) more obviously a decision point, but more importantly it just feels like the decision was supposed to be there and got shifted at some point.

~20 Actions into the story the Courtier arrives and offers us &quotAn Alien Unguent&quot, which was a wild enough name to be instantly memorable to me (although this might not be a universal reaction). We’re told to use this &quoton whatever he tries to take next&quot. We spend ~10 Actions at the Dinner, and then we make The Prince’s New Skin, with three steps, the third titled &quotGive the Seneschal his unguents&quot.

This, again, might not be a universal experience, but the word &quotUnguent&quot is eccentric enough that its occurring a second time within 10 Actions is, to me, an intentional pattern. The icon is even a stoppered glass jar to mirror my Alien Unguents (the colour is different, but so are the Unguents). The description in the storylet header reads: &quotA knot of esoteric unguents that have little to do with one another.&quot The Seneschal assures me just before this that &quotThe Prince never bothered to learn the details.&quot All of this together made me think &quotIt’s time for the Unguent and using it shouldn’t be immediately obvious&quot, and thought I had done something incorrectly when the option didn’t come up.

If we take the first step in the list we enjoy a 3-Action detour with an option which suggests of itself, &quotmight make any ambitions of treachery later that much easier&quot and reinforces the idea that this is the time to make treacherous preparations.

About 10 Actions later we are even afforded a chance to warn the Prince about the Unguent, which would make sense if this decision was made back in the Preparation. But as it stands the Unguent gets applied literally 1 Action before we’re allowed to warn the Prince of what we have just done. It is, if you’ll pardon the language, bananas!

I like this sad, handsome, seductive tiger on the cover, so that I don’t care too much about what the prince wants to do, and what people who want to stop him do. I only know that I want to kill anyone who threatens my handsome tiger, and I am very happy that I succeeded.
Story Rating: 8/10
Handsome tiger 7
Story 6
RNG -10
I am lucky 5

Loved the writing, hated the structure, like many I thought it was too short.

For much of the story we have storylets of a structure we’re very used to, where there are a number of options to explore, the order doesn’t matter, and we need to explore them all to succeed. Then at the market we again have three options but if you take the one to buy a cut of meat and you already have certain other resources in inventory, you never get a chance to take the other two and miss that content completely. The one decision you can make isn’t strongly signalled, but getting it wrong leaves you with no chance of success or even an interesting failure.

I don’t think I got value for my subscription with this one.
edited by Josiah Thimblerig on 2/1/2020

New poster, I created an account here to gush about how much I thoroughly enjoyed the writing in this story. I started it a little bitter from last month’s kitchen nightmare, and was pleasantly surprised at the how much the --more personal-- horror between the Seneschal and the Prince drew me in. The mounting sense of dread throughout the narration was palpable, only strengthened by the characterization of the core cast. I often feel ES’s stretch themselves too thin between characters for how short they typically are, but this month I felt it was perfect. The new characters are supported by ones we’re reasonably familiar with, and it gets across not only what the Prince wants, but the scope of it as well. It makes the realization of what I’ve failed to prevent all the more horrifying. I love it.

I’m certainly going to try for a better ending when I get the chance, but I feel the overall lack of control you had only adds to the atmosphere the story is going for. It has the added benefit of making me feel a little better about a certain choice in last month’s ES, too: You can engage with others in good faith, but not everyone will be honest with you. And sometimes, no matter what you feel about it, there’s little you can do to help.

Thank you so much for such an engrossing story. I sincerely look forward to next month’s tale.

I am now officially a fan of Cassandra Khaw’s writing, and hope she does more Fallen London work in the future. This wasn’t amazing like The Ceremony, but it was great, and her writing really fits the mood of Fallen London: slightly unreal, macabre, the horror parts stuff feels transgressive, and the characters tend to have this feeling of yearning that I believe completes everything else. The mechanical issues detracted from the story, but I’m still left with my overall positive impression because of the writing (granted, I got a good ending: the &quotright&quot choice, and a lucky success after 1 failure).

The story felt briefer than average but not overly so. Trial Error felt tiny. This one just felt like I was missing a few cases where I should have been able to explore. There are also some things that feel like open threads, that should have had callbacks or resolutions that were more explicit. Like the kitchen scenes–the oddness of the first was emphasized, and the contrast with the second was apparent. But I guess that was just the point. I was expecting another interaction, or some follow-up afterwards, that would close that thread. It’s fine as it is, I guess… I just sometimes see things like this in stories that feel a little short, and wonder if something had to get cut during editing.

The concept reminded me a little of Daylight, especially in the particulars of things around the edges being half-finished. I don’t mean this as a criticism. I kind of like that we’ve encountered Fingerkings enough that there’s a pattern to some of their plots.

Now, the mechanics…

Maybe this is Cass not being familiar enough with Fallen London, or maybe this was the editing again and there was originally a different vision, but for better or worse there are certain expectations about how story elements in Fallen London translate to mechanics and this story did not follows those expectations. If you tell me a choice might affect my ability to do something later, we expect that means I have more opportunities to affect that thing later. Usually two more opportunities, but anywhere between one and four. A couple different ways it could shake out in the end, but generally one &quotwrong&quot decision isn’t a complete lock-out.

That’s not written in stone, it’s not written at all, but it’s an expectation. That’s how Fallen London works, based on the fact that it always works that way. I get that you can, and should, break the mold sometimes. But expectations are powerful things, which really affect how you experience a game. So, yes, there should have been more than just the one cut of meat.

If Cass writes for Fallen London again, I hope it’s in the context of Devils, because I think her writing would be ideally suited to explore the seduction of Abstraction and their addiction to souls. And also because I like Devils.

[quote=Lord Garuda] I don’t understand exactly what the Prince was doing, other than that he was working against the Parabolan Tigers…

One thing I thought was that
Hell had something to do with the Prince’s ambitions, since that’s the only thing that connected the Regretful Soldier, Virginia and Feducci. I guess it was obvious that the Fingerkings were involved, though.[/quote]

Actually, curiously enough, Feducci explicitly states that not one guest is alike. It seems that the Prince is looking to consume a breadth of experiences/knowledge, rather than one type. Which makes the party even more horrifying, because everyone there would have been devoured if not for a fluke of Parabola.

It seems to me that the deal with the Fingerkings was to consume the Princes of the Court, but the Rapacious Prince failed to get all of them, considering the existence of the Banded Prince. Considering the party lore above, it seems that the Banded Prince was unwilling, or the Rapacious Prince was unable to do so, but the other Princes were willing to be devoured.

I think the Oblique Courtier is lying about the Waking Court knowing of what the Prince has done. Considering he did something to the Princes (potentially extinguishing the entire royal line) and dealing with the Fingerkings, if it was open knowledge they’d likely want his head on a plate, and not sending one tiger alone to handle it.

Honestly, it seems almost everything the Oblique Courtier says is in question, appropriately enough. Judging by the Courtier’s text if you successfully sabotage the Prince, the friend he wanted to avenge was the Seneschal, and yet on his initial appearance, he rudely dismisses the Seneschal as a &quotbroken thing&quot, possibly as a cover or his true emotions, or both. It’s possible he’s letting the Seneschal die as a sort of mercy kill while at the same time avenging the tiger he knew.

There’s a lot of lore hidden in the alternative choices and results of this story, so you can’t get the full picture of everyone involved in one playthrough.

Cassandra Khaw’s writing is fantastic as always, and it hits the right notes of melancholy, beautiful, and disturbing. Mechanically it felt a little disjointed, with some decisions (not being able to warn the prince until after you poison him, the poisoning itself being a check without much way to influence it rather than a decision point, exploring the dream causing you to wake up automatically, etc) feeling perhaps left over from a different story shape or context that was changed in later edits.

I would also like to say that the image of a tiger getting folded up into a little parcel and carried away is very, very funny, and I really enjoyed it.

This story and the one from last month were both uncharacteristically bad. For the first time I find myself questioning the value of my exceptional friendship.

I know that nonconstructive criticism isn’t helpful, so let me try to be more specific.

In both stories the player wasn’t given enough information to make and informed decision. What’s worse, the final outcome was dependent on pure chance (with bad odds). Cumulatively this robs the player of a sense of agency and immersion.

A certain degree of risk is fine, if the failure is amusing, or provides lore, or a unique reward, or if the stakes are low - these did none of this.

Honestly I expected a lot more from the Season of Animals. Insight into slug racing was great - but the other two were huge disappointments. I’d love to have seen more about weasels, bats, or ravens, (or moles, hounds etc).

Let’s hope for better next month.

I unfortunately feel the need to add my voice to the chorus of dissatisfaction. This story felt abbreviated and I felt woefully uninformed as to the consequences of my choices. Why even bother giving me a choice to sabotage if a singular, minor decision earlier had reduced my chances to null? And why would a player’s shadowy skill not affect the outcome of something so obviously shadowy as sabotage?
The fact that your attempts aren’t even acknowledge just added to the unfinished feel.

To end on a positive note: the writing unto itself was lovely and I enjoyed the characters/settings.

I suppose my intense sense of disquiet is a tribute to the quality of the writing, but I feel extraordinarily disappointed in my character’s inability to do what I wanted (sabotage).

I didn’t mind the probability in Fine Dining. One can’t succeed at everything! Still, this story provided no out whatsoever, which feels unfair.

I’m also presently involved in trap/neuter/release in my neighborhood and spending a lot of time with scraggly down on their luck feral mogs and the Seneschal hit a little too close to home! Again, definitely a mark of quality writing, but I would’ve liked a better shot at sabotage.

In my opinion, the varying probability challenges in Fine Dining worked because they were woven in very thematically with the narrative and theme of ambition vs practicality and there was enough variety and flow that it was at least interesting whether you succeeded or failed. With the Last Constable v Cheery Man finale controversy, the RNG odds helped create the sense of the deadly final game, driving home that if they really cannot just reconcile or reason with one another, they may as well just leave it to chance as to who has to go. They become irate if they find you’ve tried to fix the odds as well, which helps justify it too. The Luck challenge, or lack of a 100% success challenge, is part of the narrative in both stories.

Here, however, it very much just feels thrown in or tacked on, either to create tension or give the impression that the Rapacious Prince is somehow more horrifying/dangerous/powerful than any number of the eldritch abominations and individuals you come across otherwise in this universe. I, like many others, failed two consecutive 60% chance checks in a row, which just left a very bad taste in my mouth about the whole experience and killed any sense of dread or tension with simple frustration and disinterest. It was a stumbling block in the story, it interrupted the flow with an arbitrary and inappropriate challenge where previously there had been nothing but largely linear story. I agree with previous posters, had it been something like a Shadowy challenge, it would have made more sense. Perhaps further efforts could’ve been made in the procurement of the ingredients for the ritual to make the odds of sabotage even greater, if you absolutely must have that Luck challenge involved.

I do hope this isn’t becoming a trend in Exceptional Stories to try and force players to use more Fate to reset them for a more favourable outcome. I hate being cynical like that, but I do feel I need to stress, there are so many other, more worthwhile and less underhanded ways to encourage Fate purchase, at least from my perspective. Tactics like that, intentional or not, really make me draw back in fear that Fallen London will start on the slippery slope towards typical freemium game model.

Putting all that aside, I do agree the writing is top notch, unsettling and vivid. Characters were all believable and interesting. I do kind of wish this story featured another animal besides Tiger, given we had Tiger last ES, and it was my impression each story this season would feature a different kind of animal, but that’s just another peeve of mine. I’ll see how the seasonal tie in goes.

So I messed up the cut choice earlier in the story too, which forced me into an ending I didn’t want. I’m not a fan of the recent RNG gating and obscure choices which we have to make uninformed ending up being so decisive. Things like this make me want to go to the forums and read the disappointed reactions so I can avoid their mistakes instead of just playing the story blind. I think the writing on this story is great again as expected from this author but the mechanics were a disappointment again.
The worst part, in my opinion, is that after failing to sabotage twice (yeah, 0% chance, but what else am I supposed to do?) I was completely stuck with the only action available being to just continue helping with the ritual. I would have even preferred a refusal option that was extremely damaging in some way than getting forced into something I would never do if it wasn’t the only way to get my character out of this story.

I also bought from the wrong corpse merchant and failed twice at the 0% check. Oh well.