What can I learn from An Intimate of Devils?

or: Anchovies Gets Very Personal

I played through the &quotAn Intimate of Devils&quot story shortly after joining Fallen London at the end of this past February. This was well before I’d developed a particular story/RP concept for my character, so they were basically acting as a self-insert. I liked the devils and I liked seeing them, and so I allowed my character to be pressured into trading away their soul. I (and my character as a proxy of me) did not want to sell my soul; an offer from any other devil would have been immediately rejected, but I continued to hear out the Affectionate Devil and Quiet Deviless because I enjoyed and trusted their attention and affection. From the moment that my character gave in to their request I regretted the loss of my soul, and wanted to get it back. It wasn’t a huge deal for me at the time because I knew a soul could be recovered, and by the time July rolled around I’d played &quotone’s public&quot enough times to recover my soul (on my real-life birthday, no less). I was quite pleased to be done with the matter, and didn’t spare the events much further thought. A few days ago I was reminded of the storyline, something about it stuck, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since.

Setting aside the fantasy elements, it’s a mostly straightforward story about emotional manipulation. Once the character has been enticed and pressured into an exploitative and harmful activity, the story abruptly ends. Like many real-life abusers, the devils up stakes and scarper as soon as they’ve got what they wanted. No authority comes to the player character’s aid, because what they suffered was dishonorable and detestable but not criminal. There can be healing, with the passage of time (i.e. enough bundles of oddities) or with substantial expenditure of player and character resources (i.e. the fate-based routes to soul recovery), but there is no justice, no vengeance, no closure. The best a player and character can hope for is to never see the devils again. You’ve been taken advantage of; now get on with the rest of your time in Fallen London.

The option to throw the devils out and be done with them persists through to the very end of the story. My character’s soul was taken because I allowed it to be taken. I fell hook, line and sinker for the devils’ manipulation, and that raises some deeply upsetting implications which reinforce anxieties I’ve held about manipulative and abusive relationships since well before joining Fallen London. I don’t have a problem with the story itself, because the story it tells is very real and very much deserves to be told. Although the events within the story take a turn for the unpleasant, I want to be able to look back and feel okay with having played through it, or glad to have gotten something out of the experience. When I think back on it now I just feel hurt and frightened and weak. Has anyone else here felt this way as a result of the story? Are there any lessons I can take from it that won’t make me feel afraid for and disappointed with myself?
edited by Anchovies on 11/16/2017

The options to throw them out don’t actually remove the story from your deck; they just reduce your progress in it. As far as I’m aware, there’s no way to get rid of them other than going through with it, or making your soul unappealing in some way.

My personal reaction was “would you just take the friggin’ soul already” after considerable impatience with the relevant card.

But that’s just me.

Okay, since you asked, here’s my advice:

Think of this as a very cheap way to learn from your mistakes.

A lot of the stories in Fallen London get dramatic tension by exploring issues of trust, and especially by dragging out that feeling of &quotI’m trusting somebody that I’m not sure I should be trusting.&quot That’s why I loved the &quotLong-Lost Daughter&quot story (I know I’m in the minority there.) But even, say, the Keen-Eyed Lapidary acts just like a user would - she shows up, borrows a bunch of glim, and promises vaguely to repay you later. Then she does it again, and again. So you trust people, or you don’t, and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s life, I guess.

Tanith Wyrmwood went through &quotAn Intimate of Devils,&quot and I was definitely role-playing her, so I felt everything at a remove, but it was still affecting. The Affectionate Devil didn’t seem trustworthy, but the Quiet Deviless really did seem different, so vulnerable and lonely. So Tanith went with her all the way up to the first scary near-miss experience. Then she didn’t know what to think. So she sought the advice of a trusted (PC) friend, one Maxwell Bradford, who advised her based on his own bitter experience: “They don’t care, lass. They don’t.” So the next time the Quiet Deviless came over, Tanith told her that she didn’t want to sell her soul. And the Quiet Deviless’s sudden flash of frustrated rage told her everything she needed to know.

A lot of times, feeling weak and foolish is a side effect of getting stronger and smarter. Emotional manipulation happens to everybody, and playing through one story isn’t going to make you immune to it, because nobody’s immune to it. But it can make you just a little more alert, a little more aware of the danger signs, a little bit better able to tell a real friend from a user. When someone proposes something you’re uncomfortable with, and you hesitate, how do they react? Do they turn cold and vanish, only to show up again a few days later and act like nothing happened? Well, now you know why. You’re just a little bit wiser.

Is that optimistic? I hope it is! Sometimes I try to comfort people and I sound like a huge downer!

Personally I have both devils constantly showing up with their serious offers, and I just don’t answer the door (aka binning cards). Maybe I’ll hover over the accept button a bit first. Take that devils, see how you like torment. Maybe that’s just me though.

Totally OOC, that’s how a lot of people work. It’s particularly something a lot of women face when they are young. Knowing someone just wants something from you but they seem so convincing…

Live and learn, and try to help others not be tripped up. Grind your teeth a little when devils show up. Be polite when you have to. There are much worse ways to feel those emotions. It twists in your stomach though, doesn’t it?

I personally never understood why someone would even consider selling their soul to actual devils, but I do understand what it feels like to be manipulated like that in real life. Unlike the fictional, campy devils in Fallen London, there are real sleazy human beings out there willing to lie and cheat without shame, and that’s something you have to take into account when dealing with society. It’s a shame, but that’s the reality we live in.

Back to the game, selling one’s soul does not sound like a good investment, even if I did not see the direct consequences on the wiki. While a person can technically live without a soul in the Neath, the fact that the devils with all of their wealth and power are willing to go so far to import (never export) souls speaks volumes about their value. Devils are an interesting sort of company that is enjoyable in its own right, but one must always keep in mind that their first, second, and third priorities are collecting souls and nothing else. I work with them in order to amass power (and access to the Iron Republic), but I draw the line at selling my own soul, thank you very much.

Unsurprisingly, Passionario learned the worst possible lesson from the story: namely, how to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Having lost his soul to the Deviless on the first luck check, he proceeded to manipulate, betray, abuse, lie (and worse) his way through the Neath. In the Chambers of the Heart where a little voice begged him to stop, in the greedy claws of the Masters rifling through the Cheesemonger’s dossier, in the eyes of the Consumptive Cryptozoologist as she was dragged to the gallows, he saw only a chance to finally gain the upper hand, the sense of control, the all-too-fleeting rush of strength. Instead of escaping from his personal Hell, he sought to become the one with the pitchfork.

( Spoilers: It didn’t work. It never does. )

Just want to comment and say that I think your analysis is bang-on. Building on Aberrant’s point, I’d also say that the Quiet Deviless’ subtlety at manipulating the player (and the reader) makes the sub-plot one of the best-written in the game.

Yeah, the writing is just phenomenal. I KNEW that all that devil wanted was my soul, but I just couldn’t say no. I thought I had it all under control. “I’ll just hang out with him until he tries to take my soul and then I’ll tell him to get lost.” But when that time came, the thought of our “relationship” coming to an end made me sad and so I just kept tempting fate by hearing the devil out without promising him my soul. I got burned eventually…and it STILL hurt :P and even now, after I’ve gotten my soul back…I wish he’d start pestering me again :P

It’s just the most obvious case of emotional manipulation and yet I went along with it anyway knowing the consequences…and in the end still felt violated. I honestly can’t praise the writing on this story enough. It’s just fantastic :D

About the writing - a point that jumps out at me in looking at these posts by Daedalus and Kukapetal is how the story presents you with a choice of temptations. The Affectionate Devil makes you feel desired; the Quiet Deviless makes you feel needed. One pursues you ardently; the other shyly allows you to approach her. A lot of players seem to find it easy to reject one of these forms of manipulation but not the other. So that may be another thing that you might learn about yourself and/or your character.

(In my case, probably both. The Affectionate Devil immediately struck me as a creep, but the Quiet Deviless seemed much more sympathetic at first. Tanith was coming from a background as an Urchin, and her impulse when pursued was to flee. But she had rarely felt needed, like she could take care of someone else instead of being the object of pity, and she really liked the feeling.)

S.F. sort of looks on the whole thing as a wasted investment of time in a period where every second was crucial, but if they remember any part of it with something close to emotion, it’s probably the feeling of powerlessness they had around the Quiet Deviless in particular. They’re heavily scarred, so would be difficult to pick them out, but there are probably burn scars from her fingers on their arms in there somewhere.

Even if you ween’t really RPing, but playing as kinda yourself, it doesn’t mean you were foolish. As a player, no matter what sort, we all naturally want to see our numbers rise and lots of delicious content, so you did what is basically the sensible thing and took an almost sure bet when it turned up. It even tells you its long odds in your favour and as a player you’re aware that even if you fail its recoverable. That the cosmetic of the story was of being manipulated doesn’t mean you were, just the character. You character falling for the infernal whispers makes you know more foolish than the same character failing a 98% Shadowy challenge makes you clumsy, or ultimately even than reading a book about a protagonist being exploited. You experienced media about it, it’s no reflection on you. That it was able to affect you like this speaks well of both the quality of the text and of you, for the emotional intelligence, empathy and sensitivity you show. I know thinking ‘it’s only a movie’ doesn’t help much when one has really unsettled you, but it really is just text and doesn’t reflect on who you are.

I think you already outlined the big lesson to learn from it: There is no inherent justice, or &quotkarma&quot in the universe. YOU have to be your biggest advocate. Put yourself first, if only by a little. No one (in most cases) and no cosmic force is going to swoop down and keep you from being used. Only you can prevent that. If you’re not comfortable with something, or being asked to sacrifice something, and they’re pressuring you into it, think twice about whether they have your best interests in mind or not.

It’s an easy and wonderful thing, to get lost in caring about someone else’s feelings, but you always have to keep in mind that you deserve the exact same consideration as them. It’s unpleasant to shift out of that blissful state of mind, of thinking that they care about you the same way that you care about them and consider things critically every now and then, but being used is far more unpleasant.

Not exactly a happy lesson, but an important one to learn, I think.
edited by Addis Rook on 11/18/2017