March Exceptional Story: Noises from Upstairs

Although I found the mechanic of “repeat these same options several times” kind of annoying, I enjoyed the first half of the story; interacting with the locals, exploring the haunted house, learning about the Debunker… there was an exciting sense of mystery! But the moment I got into the mystery itself, I felt everything fell flat.

The Upstairs world felt heavily underused. There were glimpses of the world, but as we didn’t explore it beyond what we happened to land our eyes on in the house, there really wasn’t much. The final confrontation didn’t give much insight into that world or the Debunker’s conflict either.

A bit of history about the real world counterpart of the Debunker, which I felt added more to the story:

[spoiler]&quotThis was the period when Houdini began hanging upside down from skyscrapers in straightjackets and nearly drowning himself in his “Chinese water torture” box. Audiences who admired Houdini’s daring little suspected the sadness that underlay his performances. In letters to his brother, Houdini wrote that “I can’t seem to get over it…my heart will always ache for our darling mother…my heart of hearts went with her.” &quot

&quotAt night, he would sometimes wake up calling for her. He had all of the letters his mother had sent him over the years retyped and bound in a book that he would pore over incessantly, crying. (He saved the original letters, directing his relatives to use them as stuffing for the pillow in his own coffin when he died.) Houdini also found himself unable to dwell in the Harlem house he had shared with his wife and mother. The memories of his mother in the house were too overwhelming.&quot

&quotStill, Houdini craved contact with his mother, so he continued to seek out mediums that offered the possibility of allowing him to talk to her once again. However, the quest to find an honest medium inevitably turned Houdini into an anti-fraud crusader, and he went public with several books condemning the practices of charlatans.&quot

Of course, in this timeline, Houdini grew up in the Neath and not the US. Here’s one last anecdote:

&quotHe bought a dress that had been made for the Queen of England, had it tailored to his mother, and asked her to wear it. At the dinner party, “Queen Cecilia” received her guests while perched on a throne obtained for the occasion.&quot

Quotes from His Lost Sweetheart: Harry Houdini and His Mother.[/spoiler]

Let me start by emphasizing that I really enjoyed the premise, the potential for rationalism and mysticism outlooks to color the story, the Debunker (the game gave me a great reason to help him), and learning about the new areas.

I picked the same option and have the same feelings of abrupt incompletion. I’ve echoed it here. I didn’t feel like I needed to base my decision off of gaining him as a companion (stats unimportant for me and still mourning The Intrepid Deacon), and I’d warned him off the stuff earlier (I am Cut With Moonlight). He still wanted it, despite all logic and despite all warning. It struck something in me about self determination of one’s fate (related to irl goings on with end of life elder care). So I helped him try what he wanted, a contrast to last month where I Did What I Felt Was Best for the Whole of the City to the Dismay of a Master.

[spoiler]I got a Searing Enigma and some text that he has a revelation - when it said &quothelp him with the ritual&quot, which is what I seem to recall the option saying though it’s very possible I’m misremembering already, I thought there might be a bit more to it than opening boxes.

The text says it concludes the story - I assume there is no follow up card to pull from the deck, then? I’m confused. Did we stop the trade or is that what I gave up in favor of &quotthe ritual&quot? Did we just leave the Debunker in that tunnel down there, vulnerable for a stabbing from whoever was in that boat? I would not have done what I did just to leave him to die (I quite liked him!).[/spoiler]
Did we learn any further lore about the Upstairs that we didn’t know before (honestly can’t remember and there’s no ability to search my journal for the Cut with Moonlight stories)? Did the rationalism/mysticism come into play for anyone except at the very end (where it seemed to make no difference, at least for my Rational option)? I feel like there was another moment but I can’t remember it and looking over my journal isn’t helping me recall.

I’m very curious about the other options, if anyone’s journaled them.
edited by kimeekat on 3/1/2019

I chose to save the Debunker, first profile in my signature. It felt lowkey on the surface, but there’s a struggle in there. I thought it was a nice ending overall with a sweet final note.

His outfit is a little upmarket for this neighbourhood, and his profile a little too handsome. His eyes burn with a fierce intelligence. You notice a floral brooch on his lapel – an aster?

&quotI noticed you in action earlier. Quick thinking. Have you a moment to talk?&quot

So did he see me stealing some poor tourists maps or is this about that time I literally sent a deacon to hell?

Hmm…I didn’t love it. It’s a bit of an action-sink (ate up about a day’s worth of actions) with a limited amount of story involved. There also didn’t seem to be any meaningful decisions to be made, apart from the very last card where you choose a reward – so far as I can tell, my decisions leading up to the final card didn’t didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the story or the ending.

I enjoyed it. I’ve realized that one of the things I like in these stories is stories that about London, and Fallen London’s weirdness, but not deep lore. Visiting Parabola gets old, but I’m always interested in honey-dens. In this case, the fact that the light has to do with Judgements isn’t what I want to read about all the time, and in this case it doesn’t come up. It’s about the fact that in Fallen London, sunlight and moonlight are weird, imported drugs, and that living underground turns out to be psychologically hard.

I don’t love the mechanics of stories that involve being stuck somewhere and wandering around, although this wasn’t as bad as some. But the story told in the area is nice, even if it is linear, and I found it worthwhile.

I enjoyed this story for the most part, but I think one of its bigger flaws was the lack of a reflection choice at the ending. There’s no opportunity or breathing space for the player to consider their major choice, and no follow-up on the culprit. Thus, a feeling that things cut off without catharsis. One more action at the end might have smoothed it out much more.

There were also a few areas where the game assumed that you would read certain storylets in the order they were presented to you. So you’d go to one location, then another, and the story would say ‘hey your should check out this place you’ve just been’. So there was a bit of a break in agency there.

Thirdly, I thought there was a strange shift in the Debunker’s character after you leave the prologue. Before, he’d been showy. But then later he’s lonely and morose. Perhaps that first change in setting really got to him? There’s also a forced binary choice at the start, supposedly because of a lack of time to be thorough. However, the player doesn’t feel that rush, since they can literally take all the time and actions they like before moving the story forward. More in a moment on what I thought the game did nicely.
edited by Lemonadeon on 3/2/2019

A few more thoughts on the Dashing Debunker, his mother, and the importance of Brinehouse (and an overarching hypothesis connecting certain story elements and inconsistencies) are below the spoiler tag. I’ve said this earlier, but what I’ve really enjoyed about the story is the way it leaves things unspoken. It doesn’t give catharsis for everything, but its story and mysteries are well thought-out, and I hope to give an example of what makes me love this story:

[spoiler]Lemonadeon’s notes on Harry Houdini as the Dashing Debunker are worth a read, and it remains nicely consistent with the developments in Houdini’s life. In our history, Houdini’s career in magic had begun by this time (March 1898) but hadn’t yet taken off, and it’s worth noting that his life in the Neath rather than the United States means he never met his wife and stage assistant Bess. Likewise, the accelerated death of his mother to an assassin’s bullet (as opposed to 1913 from a stroke) brought forward his debunking career.

Notably, the Debunker drops his flashy facade once the story proceeds to Brinehouse, revealing a more melancholy man. To an extent, this is because he no longer needs to appeal to high society and its expectations, but there are what may be a few story inconsistencies that are worth noting.

The first question is &quotWho asked the Debunker to investigate Brinehouse?&quot This individual or organization is never revealed to us in the story, not even if we save the Debunker, the only person who would know. The Constables appear to turn a blind eye to every debunking - they allow high society to take its own vigilante justice. There is no hint that the Debunker knew of the moonlight ring. And why would a resident of Brinehouse draw attention to themselves?

And at least a few locals are quite aware of the moonlight ring.

[quote=Loosened tongues][url=]&quotWe might be remote,&quot says one drunk local. &quotBut trade of a sort still comes through— ow!

His friend studiously avoids eye contact as the fellow rubs his ankle and changes the subject.[/url][/quote]
For those who are aware of the moonlight ring, they should be keeping people as far away from Brinehouse as possible. For those who aren’t, there’s still no reason to bring outsiders into an otherwise insular and self-sufficient community. It doesn’t make sense for a Brinehouse resident to ask for the investigation. This becomes additionally suspicious when we consider the odd behavior of the Debunker:

The Dashing Debunker appears to have an ulterior motive to the Brinehouse investigation apart from his distaste for frauds, and it’s worth remembering that for all his debunking, Houdini still held out belief in true spiritualism. Consider this response when you give the &quotrational&quot response to his question of motivation, saying &quotThe search for truth. You share his hatred for fakes and charlatans.&quot

And then his continual staring out into the darkness of Brinehouse. In nearly every interaction with him at the Pip and Pickle, he’s brooding or staring out into the blackness, a remarkable shift from his flashy demeanor in London or even his more conversational demeanor during the hansom ride. At the end of the night, though, we receive a very intriguing piece of information:

This is foreshadowing, but in fairness, it’s pretty forced foreshadowing. It doesn’t follow naturally from conversation in the Pip and Pickle - rather, it follows from one point of conversation from the hansom ride there. The Dashing Debunker is slightly drunk, but here, he remembers that party and the vision of his mother.

This brings us to the other unresolved mystery of the story, &quotWhat happened in the Brinehouse mansion?&quot After the Fall, it was abandoned, but we can try to find information from the visions of the Upstairs.

[quote=Out of time][url=]The men and women on the wall have been captured with the spare strokes of a court artist, attention given to distinguishing or unattractive features. You can only assume the crossed-out people have been eliminated or captured, and the remainder are targets. They are divided between two headings: MARCH and SEPTEMBER.

The Debunker freezes in front of one drawing in the latter group. He looks directly at you and taps it. &quotThis— this is my mother.&quot[/url][/quote]We get the revelation that Cecile Weisz was, in moonlit London, a Septemberist. The artist was likely once a courtier, and the residents of the mansion appear to be killing revolutionaries as part of the reactionary movement. As a note, this is also behavior that the Coldstream rebels conducted in &quotCut with Moonlight&quot. Observe the newspapers, and we see more clues.

[quote=A city divided][url=]it reserves its condemnation for Coldstream counter-revolutionaries, with horrifying stories of civilians maimed in explosions or trampled in riots.

Nearby, a map of London is peppered with green pins corresponding to older explosions. There are also several red pins which do not seem to match any reported incident.[/url][/quote]The lore of this Sunless universe almost always associates revolutionaries and anarchists with explosions, but moonlit London is a world turned upside down. While the veracity of those condemnations is called into question by the Council’s implied suppression of freedom of the press, it becomes clear through further investigation that this mansion was a base of operations of the Coldstream counter-revolutionaries.

So, what we’ve seen so far:

1. There is little credible cause for someone to have hired the Dashing Debunker to investigate the mansion at Brinehouse.

2. The Debunker has an ulterior motive travelling to Brinehouse, and his personality changes as he melancholically appears to be searching for something.

3. In moonlit London, the Debunker’s mother was a Septemberist revolutionary. In the Neath, the Debunker’s mother was permanently murdered by an assassin’s bullet.

4. The abandoned mansion was a stronghold of the Coldstream Guard in moonlit London, assassinating Marchists and Septemberists.

We are at the climax of the story, about to confront the moonlight smugglers. One problem with this climax is that the moonlight ring is beside the point - there’s no real emotional stake for your character. This, I think, is intentional. The smuggles don’t matter. The fight is meaningful insofar as it advances the Debunker’s character.

[quote=A world away]&quotWhere is she?&quot The Debunker gives a blood-curdling yell. &quotWhat have done with her?&quot[/quote]This, I believe, encapsulates the whole point of the story.

Assassins in Fallen London tend to be for people of prominence, but we have no reason to believe Cecile Weicz was one such person. What we do know is that she is a Septemberist in moonlit London - such a political position is grounds for assassination in both worlds. We know that in the Upstairs, the mansion is a stronghold of the Coldstream Guards, indicating that its former owner was a dedicated royalist with connections in high places willing to get their hands dirty. The Fall separated Brinehouse from the rest of London, leaving little reason to stay, leading to the state of ruin seen today, but we don’t get a timeline for that. Taking into account some of the Debunker’s behavior in Brinehouse, I’d argue the following:

No one hired the Dashing Debunker to investigate Brinehouse. He was there to learn more about his mother’s assassination by investigating the abandoned home of its instigators, seeking personal catharsis and the chance that he might see his mother’s spirit again.

That’s what he’s looking for in the dark. It’s why he brings up his mother time and time again, even when unprompted: she is at the forefront of his investigative mind. It’s why even in the one ending that the Debunker returns to London, we hear nothing about payment or compensation. This story thread ties together every chapter of the story, from the hansom ride to Brinehouse to the Pip and Pickle to the mansion and the Upstairs to the fight with the smugglers. This is the story of investigating the paranormal and unmasking criminals, but the heart of the story is a man facing and coming to terms with his mother’s death.[/spoiler]

That, Azothi, was amazing. Thank you. The +1 did not seem enough. It all makes more sense to me now.

It may also interest, the aster is the birth flower for September. It represents emotional love, elegance, remembrance, and faith.

I’m very curious about the other options, if anyone’s journaled them.
edited by kimeekat on 3/1/2019[/quote]
Departed, giving a Night-Whisper

This is puzzling - I very definitely remember posting a reply to this thread a few days ago, but it is not here.

Very strange. Anyway, to sum up what I wrote then is that this was an enjoyable story, but not as much as last month.

However, I feel the lack of the third option, which Echo Bazaar had so very many of in the start.
Here you can choose “rational” or “faith” - but you cannot accept the scientific method and at the same time also maybe want contact with the other side, or have faith and also wish to find proof. Mechanically, it doesn’t seem to matter, but I dislike when I have to choose an option where it says “You share his hatred for charlatans.”

Where is the room for doubt?

Huh. It ate my answer too, which was, essentially, exactly the same as yours: we needed a third option.

Not a bad story. The Debunker struck me as a decent sort, though his evidently severe mommy issues did somewhat erode my respect for him (I didn’t realize the Houdini connection while I was playing as I’m not very familiar with his personal history, that certainly does make it more interesting so thanks for that Lemonadeon). I did opt to save him in the end even though he’s mechanically useless to me at this point.

I was a little confused though, since having previously played through the Cheery Man / Last Constable content, I’d come away with the impression that even a small amount of sunlight is pretty much instantly and permanently fatal to Neath residents? How exactly does this work again?

[quote=Tsar Koschei]Not a bad story. The Debunker struck me as a decent sort, though his evidently severe mommy issues did somewhat erode my respect for him (I didn’t realize the Houdini connection while I was playing as I’m not very familiar with his personal history, that certainly does make it more interesting so thanks for that Lemonadeon). I did opt to save him in the end even though he’s mechanically useless to me at this point.

I was a little confused though, since having previously played through the Cheery Man / Last Constable content, I’d come away with the impression that even a small amount of sunlight is pretty much instantly and permanently fatal to Neath residents? How exactly does this work again?[/quote]

Most of this is from Cut with Moonlight, so spoilers if you want to play that one and learn more youself. Just know it’s in there. And some of it is from Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies, inferences from other stories, etc.

[spoiler]For people who have lived too long in the Neath or even died down here, sunlight is a gamble. Small amounts can be survived, especially small enough to fit in a box. It’s not an exact science how much it takes to kill someone, so it’s always a risk. Consistent exposure to sunlight, like that crypt full of it, will absolutely kill you. A box of it? You will probably be fine… unless you drop dead, which does happen!

But there’s also moonlight, which is mostly what’s in this story. Moonlight’s risk is madness. The story &quotCut with Moonlight&quot (or was it BY moonlight? I forget) was named such because the sunlight was being sold &quotcut&quot with moonlight to… well, it’s the same principle behind any drug being cut with something else to make it weaker. Same way it ends up with very variable side effects, too. Sunless Skies has more about moonlight. I’ll be vaguer about that one for reasons, but moonlight might be showing you an alternate world or an alternate history that is not our own.[/spoiler]
edited by MidnightVoyager on 3/13/2019

Did the rational/spiritual choices do anything to the story? I loved it overall but these inputs didn’t have obvious effects

They affected your options when battling the smugglers. For instance, my playthrough had only &quotrational&quot choices, and so I was unable to play every option in the final confrontation.

Ohhhh, the magnifying glass icons. Sure, that makes sense. I had one point and wasn’t sure how or why I had it. My answers were a mixture of realist and open-mindedness.

Less than 26 hours to unlock this story if you haven’t!