Rules of The Marvellous (Heart's Desire Spoilers)

Again, Spoilers for the Heart’s Desire Ambition may lurk ahead.

I’m a massive board and card game fan, and as absurd and silly as this idea is, I’d like to try to piece together everything we know about the Marvellous as a game. Not what it does, or why it is, but what it is, and (as best as possible with something so completely crazy) how to play it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have too much to offer yet. As best I can tell, the place to start would be a two-player poker. The betting and the building of hands both suggest to me that it is

Any and All info is appreciated, even if it is just the existence of a so-far unmentioned hand.

As best I recall, we know this:
Everyone enters with the same stake: 77 first-city coins.
A player may offer A Chance, which is a non-coin wager. I think they can only do this once, though if that is once per opponent or in the whole tournament, I do not know.

There are suits and ranks. Bats and Cats are known suits.

Suits: Cats, Hats, Bats, and Rats

Cards used for the game.

Ascension of Suit: A Hand of 7 sequential, increasing cards of the same suit.

All Manner of Things: If one were to look at the Marvellous deck, each 7 of each suit has a part of the phrase (All Shall Be Well). It can be presumed that having all of the 7s would result in an All Manner of Things

So we do have confirmation that that is the deck used for the Marvellous? It seems that way, admittedly; but do we know if the parabolan bits change the deck?

Just a few bits of original text…

[quote=The Yearning Custodian][i]&quotThe cards are a recent convention. It changes with the fashion of the cities. It was a game played with tiles once, and I remember a terrible box of scales and searing glyphs… But some things are immutable. Seven players, always. Every five or ten years – the date depends on certain astrological conjunctions, written in the roof. It has been so since the First, when the Lords first devised the Marvellous.&quot


Briefly, the Custodian sketches out the basic rules. Each hand you pay an initial ante (7 coins) and are dealt a hand of cards. You then choose to call (pay the current bet), raise (double the current bet) or fold (lose your current stake, and the hand, but bet no more coins).[/i]
Each game is played in a series of hands, during which you stake some of your First City Coins. Hands are compared, with different combinations of cards having different values. At the end of each hand, the winner takes the loser’s stake. When one player’s coins are gone, they lose the game. In its essence, it is not dissimilar to poker – a fact which the Custodian claims is no coincidence.


Gradually, you learn about the legal combinations of cards. How First Fall beats Second, but both are trumped by the Perfidy of Sisters. About the complex interactions between the Parliament of Rats, the Tragedy Procedure, and the Four Crowns.

[…] the forbidden hand: the Thing in the Well, which loses to all other hands but one.

Then you move on to the esoteric rules that govern as yet undiscovered combinations. The Conspiracies: the matching of key cards to increase their value – or decrease the value of an opponent’s hand. You learn to avoid the Treachery of Seven, which renders aces lower than sevens. You struggle to understand the Footsteps of Salt, a rule which has never been interpreted the same way twice.[/i][/quote]
edited by phryne on 8/27/2020

More combinations. The first ones are particularly important, as they are the only ones (I think) that are explained. You might try and deduce the others from them.

The thread already has a spoiler warning, but I still put the most juicy bits in a separate spoiler box down below.

Your next hand is better, a potential Triumvirate of Factions (the triple faces of the three of cats, bats and rats.)

It calmly puts down a straightforward Ascension of Cats: the three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine.

It had an Ascension of Bats – the two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight.

a full Conspiracy of Rats – knave, queen, king and ace

The best she can manage is a Brace of Hats, then a String of Rats.

A lucky Jack of Cats permits the Banishment of Queens, reducing his Perfidy of Sisters to a mere Disparagement. Your opponent’s sunny smile falters.

You bid, and the Bishop folds. He bids, and you fold. According to the Rule of The Third that Walks Beside You, you must both play on the third.

You smile, with insouciance, as he wastes a Unity of Bats on your trifling Bargain’s Fickle. He bids heavily against your Parliament of Cats and comes undone against a simple three card Succession Crisis.

He stakes all he has left on one final hand: a Conclave of Cats. You play a Procedure of Bats, and he is done.

Bet half your stake on a Sister’s-in-the-Well? Why not? Forgo a Bats-in-Flight for a speculative combination that has only ever been played once, three hundred years ago? Of course!

Later, he reveals a Marigold Doctrine against your Collusion of Violets, and it takes half a day of arguing over which of their prevailing Conspiracies holds sway in order to work out who won the hand (it goes to you).

The two of you call upon half the obscure variations and questionable precedents in the long history of the Marvellous. The Fall’s Audit, a Kingeater’s Sacrifice, the never-discussed exploit of the Lump at the End.

Pages lays down a Stone Pig and a Conspiracy of Kings. The Monkey blinks. Sheepishly, it reveals its Murder of Queens. A losing hand.

He wins one round with a Conclave of Cats; you take the next with a Polythremian Regret.

[spoiler]Your hand is as strong as it can be: a perfect All Manner of Things. […] The Monkey breathes out, long and slow, and turns over its own cards. It had The Thing in the Well: a useless combination which loses to all other hands but one: yours.

The Topsy King invokes Jochi’s Reversal, which has been outlawed since the Fourth City, and swaps his hand with yours. Then he plays one of your rats, making a Parliament, and uses it to swap the hands back. But what’s this? Somehow his Knave of Cats seems to have found its way into your cards. You play it, making a Parliament of your own, and reverse the reversal’s reversal. &quotHop the bowsie!&quot Tristram cries, in feigned disbelief.

You reveal first. A solid hand: a Tragedy Procedure, with an accompanying Treachery of Seven. Opposite, the Monkey grins and lays down his cards: Four Crowns and a full Conspiracy of Rats – knave, queen, king and ace. Ordinarily, the Tragedy Procedure would beat his Crowns, but his Conspiracy undoes the Procedure, leaving his Crowns to take the prize. For a moment, he thinks that he has won. […] The Monkey frowns, and looks back to the cards. You sit back, and watch his face as he remembers your Treachery of Seven. The Treachery means sevens beat aces. His Conspiracy of Rats unravels, and your Tragedy Procedure reigns supreme.[/spoiler]
edited by phryne on 8/27/2020


If four Sevens make up a perfect All Manner of Things, what constitutes a Treachery of Seven?

What’s The Thing in the Well? (which loses to every hand except All Manner of Things)

We know a Conspiracy consists either of one suit’s jack, queen, king and ace, or e. g. four Kings (Conspiracy of Kings).

There’s a Murder of Queens. Does it exist alongside the Conspiracy of Queens, and if so, what’s the difference?

If four kings are called a Conspiracy of Kings, what’s Four Crowns?

What might Unities, Procedures, Conclaves and Parliaments be made of?

Mind that Procedures seem to beat Conclaves, and Conspiracies beat Procedures.

That said, which combination might make up the Tragedy Procedure? Mind that it beats Four Crowns.

Seven sequential, increasing cards of one suit are called an Ascension. A Brace would be two sequential cards. How many might a String be?
edited by phryne on 8/27/2020

My understanding is that the Chance can be anything you choose (e.g., Tristram Bagley’s mind), and you offer it when you’re completely out of coins. Your opponent can refuse, and simply win, or he can risk all his coins against whatever you offered. If he loses, he gets to offer a Chance of his own. It’s unclear whether two players could keep going back and forth with that. We never see anyone offer a Chance and win until the final round, so if there is a limit, we don’t know if it’s per-round or per-tournament.

It’s not a single &quottake-it-or-leave-it&quot offer, either, since when Mr Pages ran out of coins he named various things he could offer, including the cloak right off his back, in public for all to see.
edited by PJ on 8/27/2020

As far as I understand it, the deck is consecrated at the Root of Need to respond to the players’ desires and prevent any of the players from rigging or marking the cards for an advantage. The cards still retain their appearance, but they can be understood as somewhat sentient and capricious until they are de-consecrated by Mr Hearts should the player let Beechwood win.

The tournament and game is structured so that none of the characters are allowed to cheat in the actual card game, like they can’t suddenly make up their own rules or mark the cards in any way. However, players are allowed to use their abilities and influence to rattle their player’s focus and minds, to mess with their surroundings, or otherwise prevent them from entering the match in the first place.

When it comes to the Chance is that each player is allowed 1 Chance per round if they are about to lose, and the Chance offered must be something that they are known to possess or own, which is up for interpretation. For example, you are allowed to use your own soul for the Chance, but you cannot bet the soul of the Traitor Empress as you don’t own her. The most controversial Chance offered and accepted was when Beechwood bet YOU as it does not explicitly own you and because you are also a player (the finalist in fact) of the Marvellous. My guess is that Mr Pages conveniently interpreted the Monkey’s stay at your lodgings as it owning you, which was apparently enough for it to be considered a ‘valid’ Chance (though the other Masters would not approve if they were present).

What I’m seeing, from a game perspective, is that we have a hand-building game based(ish) on poker, with some sort of play element, either of non-used cards once hands are built, or of possibly used cards on the table. After all, the SPOILER plays one of your Rats to build a Parliament. From the same hand, we know that a Parliament allows a knave, as one is built with the Knave of Cats.
Alternatively, he could (perhaps as part of the rule invoked), play cards on the table to lock them into his hand. However, that means he had to have already done the same with enough Rats to make a Parliament, because his hand was (at the time) yours, and presumably your hand didn’t contain a Parliament of Rats he could play (else you’d have done so, probably, and it wouldn’t be that he played only one Rat to get a Parliament).

Speculation on Hands:
My thought is perhaps multiple &quotFlushes&quot are allowed, with a 6-card outweighing a 5-card. Or perhaps a flush containing certain cards (much like an Ascension) gains a different name and value.

Perhaps 4 Crowns is 4 of Kings and Queens? Perhaps a pair each, or perhaps 1 and 3 is allowed. It would explain why there could also be a Conspiracy of Rats, though it also implies that it is unlikely, though not impossible, that a Tragedy Procedure or a Treachery of Seven has a King or Queen in it.

EDIT: Also, perhaps some hands have something to do with who is on the card (for Face cards, such as Victoria on the King of Hats) or what (in the case of numbers).
Also, remember: there are Jokers in the deck, and those might well be used in the game and/or making up some of the hands.
edited by Shadowatcher on 8/28/2020
edited by Shadowatcher on 8/28/2020

Judging by descriptions, it’s another Draconian poker, with the only rules explained and making sense referring to the matters outside of the cards - number of players, bets, Chances, while card combinations and their relations are pulled out of one’s as… I mean, thin air.
edited by Aro Saren on 8/28/2020
edited by Aro Saren on 8/28/2020

I mean, yeah; I get that. I think we all do. It’s intentionally vague and confusing for the sake of seeming… well, fitting with the setting.

But that’s not really the point. The point is a) what can we figure out, and b) what game can we actually put together that emulates it.

We all know it’s a fool’s errand, I think. But with Fallen London? There’s an outside chance it isn’t, to be honest. And it’s fun, at least for me.

The only betting card game I’m aware of is poker, and for me it sounds close enough, actually, just with more rigid rules regarding the conduct.
It’s mentioned that, first, the game was transformed multiple times over to be recognizable to players over centuries, and second, it’s an entertainment for Masters.
So, yes, it makes sense to be based on poker, but stuffed with nonsense to the gills and further to make a better show.

Is hand size fixed, or known?

Are there descriptions of players discarding cards or drawing new ones?

Most of the interesting hands played seem to be a &quotscoring&quot set of cards, plus a &quotshenanigans&quot set of cards off to the side. My interpretation, based on very thin evidence, is that in contrast to poker, a given set of cards could be played in multiple ways. This, combined with the meta-game element of certain hands, makes the psychological aspect more important.

It’s definitely the case that a nominally &quotweaker&quot hand can beat certain &quotstronger&quot hands, so the viability of cards is not its straightforward &quotranking&quot like in poker. The big question is whether the same set of cards might win or lose against a single other hand depending on how it’s played.

The fact that precedent and interpretation matter mean that the rules may not be definable with the precision we expect in modern gaming…

If anyone is in the official discord, asking around there could help. I remember a similar discussion and a FBG staff member popping in to say the rules were inspired by a real life game.