[Rosebush] Behind "The Bloody Wallpaper"

Another new article: here’s something to read after you’ve cast your final IFComp votes and are waiting (patiently? impatiently?) for the results…

Chandler Groover discusses the design of The Bloody Wallpaper, Fallen London’s 100th Exceptional story: how it plays into and against the usual mechanics of Fallen London, and how it evokes the grind and frustration of menial labor without actually being frustrating.

Behind “The Bloody Wallpaper”

As usual, feel free to discuss here.


“The Bloody Wallpaper” is designed to evoke feelings of disorientation, exasperation, and powerlessness. It’s also designed to be entertaining, with engaging gameplay, clear mechanics, and—perhaps most importantly—comedy.

Reading this article was fascinating because the intended experience was utterly unlike my experience of actually playing through the story. I only got around to it last week, so the memory is still fresh in my mind, and it just - was not like that at all.

Disoriented? No, it was obviously a dream and followed dream logic. Powerless? No again, the same dream logic; also, despite the length of the story I was at all times barreling through it at high speed. (Despite taking time to copy all text down so I have a record to look back on!) Exasperation? A bit - the sleight of hand where all the storylets were hidden in the opportunity deck and took extra clicks to use was and obvious pretense and felt entirely pointless, which was exasperating. But other than that, no.

The mechanics were clear, I’ll give it that. And every visit to Downstairs with the servants was darkly hilarious - a version of the “present in front of the class with no pants on” nightmare, applied to the service industry, where the ‘fixed smiles’ become literal and there are baby demons in the bathwater. But at the same time, because it was all so dreamlike, it had no impact; I was driven forward by curiosity, barreling through at high speed to see how the dreams would get more dreamlike and where it would end.

At the same time, I didn’t want players to come away with the impression that their job at the Royal Beth was the worst London has to offer. If this Exceptional Story is funny, narratively and financially rewarding, and mechanically easy to play, then it can’t be anywhere close to the worst! This is why, when you clock out and leave the hotel, the text explicitly establishes that you were working during a slow night. All of the troubles that your character experienced are trivial to the lower-class servants.

This, too, failed utterly. I came away with the impression that my experience was disastrously bad, a night far worse than anyone working in London has ever had to suffer. It was a “slow night” because nothing I experienced ever happened. The hotel was empty because it was just a dream, and none of those people were present. (Also, even while taking the dream at face value, it was obvious that I was only one of many people serving guests, and that many more filled the hotel, making the lives of those others Downstairs more hectic, with the other interactions elided for game purposes.)

It wasn’t a bad story, it was fairly interesting. I have a second account which will play through it, and I don’t expect to be bored the second time either. But it was completely different from what the author expected me to experience.