I wrote a huge post exploring this question, and then it all got deleted when I hit preview. But basically, I wanted to open up a discussion with players about where they feel the strongest influences in the game come from, and whether or not the game actually has real Lovecraft influences. I think it does superficially, what with -
Rubbery Men, Flukes, alien gods, a language that drives you mad
But looking more closely at the lore, I think Fallen London and Sunless Sea have more of an underlying message of hope and romanticism than any of Lovecraft’s work, which is very doom and gloom. After all -
The Bazaar is a fool in love. The Rubberies just want to be more than they are. The Revolutionaries are basically the people against Cthulhu
What do others think? edited by Ocanthus on 7/24/2016
Lovecraft is about going bonkers when confronted with the insanity that is the universe. FL is about confronting that insanity and then flogging off its appalling secrets for hard cash. It’s a very different proposition, philosophically; I’ve yet to see anything in the game that suggests the universe is basically not understandable, even if you don’t understand it yet. That being said, the whole "bodily transport yourself to another plane in dreams" does have a familiar smack in Lovecraft (even if he’s borrowing from Lord Dunsay in turn).
On a related note, I’m finding Dickens’ "Dombey and Son" to be surprisingly familiar territory. Bits of vocabulary - "amalgamation", "bombazine". Most of the action takes place either in Ladybones Road or Wolfstack Docks. And there’s a side character whose coming-of-age results in his enthusiastically attempting to become all things to all of London society immediately (and acquiring a Dangerous Patron as part of this - one rejoicing in the gloriously silly name of the Game Chicken).
Also, there’s a very strong theme of love up and down the chain generally, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out. edited by Teaspoon on 7/24/2016
I’ve talked about this before… Lovecraft’s work is shot through with fear of the unknown. The civilised world is a thin facade hiding a vast, uncaring universe, populated by great and terrible beings before whom we are but ants, and the only reason they haven’t destroyed us is that we are beneath their notice. Plus, it’s all generally influenced by Lovecraft’s own fear of other races and cultures.
The Neathyverse has its great and terrible beings, but they’re as busy maintaining the thin facade of civilisation as anyone - moreso, even - and they’re taking a keen interest in our activities, and even joining in. There are greater and more terrible beings behind them, but they’ve got their own lives going on, y’know? And the different races and cultures all get along relatively okay - it’s our own rich and powerful who are the real menace. There are genuine monsters to fear out there, but they’re less cosmic horrors and more 18th-early 20th century folk tales and gothic novels - sea monsters, wicked fairies… hypnotists.
There is a Lovecraftian feel here and there either because of tentacles (sorry, uncle Howard, but you will be forever remembered for tentacles), or because there are old things from space in this setting, and so on.
Thematically speaking, I agree with people above: FL is closer to a gothic Victorian romance like Dracula, in which the monsters can be defeated with science, cunning and a sufficiently sharp kukri knife, than it is to Lovecraft, in which the characters often end mad, dead, powerless to avoid a major tragedy, or everything at once.
Lovecraft doesn’t work well for a traditional game, since he basically wrote ANTI-power-fantasy fiction, and power fantasy is a major point in most games. I mean, most people feel cheated if they spend a whole day pressing a button under the promise that it would unlock something interesting in a game, just to discover that your character is actually insane, your effort is pointless and nothing will be unlocked, but that’s Lovecraft to you. The closest FL offers to a Lovecraftian theme is SMEN, and even SMEN had to reward the players in some way, or they simply wouldn’t follow it just for the experience of feeling cheated and powerless by an uncaring god.
(Am I the only one that always think that a player is totally NOT getting SMEN every time they complain that this thing is difficult to raise, or that one takes too long? I mean, you are warned multiple times that SMEN is frustrating, than you complain that you are frustrated? But it’s what makes me feel that we would probably never get a very popular, money-making, truly lovecraftian game, only indie and artsy ones.) edited by Professor Strix on 7/24/2016
I feel the same as most of you. Fallen London is, to me, a game about hope. Hope that you will learn the big secrets and use them to change the world, hope that things will work out -
Hope that the Bazaar will succeed in it’s mission (whatever that is, I’m a little fuzzy on the details
Lovecraft’s writing is all about hopelessness. It has a vein of extreme pessimism, coupled with some weirdly xenophobic ideas.
I think the great and terrible beings you’re talking about are given a lot more human qualities in FL. They fall in love, they make mistakes, they fight among themselves. They just do it all on a large and terrifying scale.
I agree with this, although I don’t think of Failbetter’s games as traditional "power fantasy" games either. There are always consequences for your actions, and your choices can’t matter unless they have the potential to hurt you. SMEN is one of my favorite stories in the game for this reason, it’s just so unlike anything else out there. But even that, horrific as it is, is about choices and empowerment. You are destroying yourself because you want to, not because you’re being manipulated to (arguable I guess). I haven’t finished that story yet with my Seeker alt please warn for spoilers.
Do people feel like Sunless Sea might be more in the vein of Lovecraft’s fiction? It certainly has more sea monsters. One thing about Sunless Sea that I liked, and maybe this is because the great Meg Jayanth was involved, is how they subtly made it more postcolonial. The many cultures of the Unterzee are complex, powerful, ancient, and probably will be around ins some form long after London is gone. Lovecraft’s stuff was always very Western-centric, or Orientalist (like the Dreamlands stories).
I would argue that the background setting of Fallen London is definitely Lovecraftian, but the stories that the players experience are (mostly) non-Lovecraftian stories that take place within that setting. In a sense, this reinforces one of Lovecraft’s themes: That the deep, dark unknown is not actually very far from us, but human experience continues unabated because most people are generally ignorant of said deep, dark unknown.
Lovecraft’s works are undoubtedly one influence on the setting. But they’re not the only influence. Whether that makes Fallen London technically “Lovecraftian” is a question of semantics.
I always felt that Jorge Luis Borges was the second-largest influence on the setting, and a larger influence on the player’s experience of the setting. Borges’ works play with reality and causality and subjectivity. Some things, like Parabola, and the Correspondence, and secrets-as-currency, would seem at place in some of his more fantastical writings. SMEN also seems Borgesian, in a certain way: the fact that Mr Eaten’s past creates echoes in the present, and that the player discovers the past by re-living it (I think, I haven’t seeked myself). I could name more than one Borges story that deal with that them directly.
Really, they’d be more at home in Greek myths and legends than in Lovecraft’s 'verse. They -could- devour the world, or at least arrange for it to be devoured, but they’re more likely to turn someone into a whelk for beating them in a whistling contest.
There are several here who know Lovecraft better than myself, and who have given well thought-out and well articulated general summaries, but I will say this:
In Lovecraft’s works, the greater, more terrible, unknowable powers cannot be challenged, cannot be touched, cannot be harmed. When Cthulhu is rammed with a boat, it does nothing, because no mere mortal could hope to challenge the Great Old Ones. In The Neath, and its universe, that is not necessarily so. Hell can be challenged; The Mountain can be reached; Night can bring Liberation; The Great Chain can be Ascended; Love can supersede Law; Or at least, we hope so. But we have that hope. The world, here in the deep darkness, is bleak, and we are adrift on a sea of misery. But, on the horizon, there is hope. That is something a character of Lovecraft’s cannot lay claim to.
I think the FL universe does share some similar signs and symbols with Lovecrafitian world, but the core is different.
For FL, secrets of the universe are high above and deep underneath, but not completely beyond the reach of intellect. This is somewhat like the “Ignoramus et ignorabimus” versus “Wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen” (but with some sacrifice). We must know. We will know. After we burnt. After the price has been paid.
We must pay for our desire, and that is the price. We can pay everything for curiosity, and that is the obsession. I don’t know if it is really hopeful, but it is as fair as a bazaar. You will probably get what you are seeking, as you are aware. You are the willing guest for this terrible world of beauty and wonder. You are delicious.