Video Game: Sunless Sea

Explore an underground ocean. Battle sea monsters. Discover strange lands. Go insane. Eat your crew.
Die.

Sunless Sea is a Role-Playing Game from Failbetter Games, the creators of Fallen London, following a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Set in the Fallen London universe, the game casts the player as the captain of a steamship, exploring the Unterzee - the colossal, largely uncharted underground lake that surrounds the sunken city. Noted influences include roguelikes with action elements, like FTL: Faster Than Light and Don't Starve; Wide Open Sandbox exploration and trading games like Sid Meiers Pirates, Elite and Taipan!; The Crimson Permanent Assurance; and immrama.

Following a period in Early Access, the game is available through Humble Bundle, GOG.com and Steam. An expansion pack allowing underwater exploration has been announced.


This game contains examples of:

  • Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: Mostly averted; the prices of various commodities and essentials varies between ports with reasonable justifications (e.g. London has fair, manageable prices, but provisioners on a distant backwater island charge twice as much for fuel and supplies as elsewhere). Invoked, however, in Khan's Heart, where you don't have a licence to trade in the city's proper market district, and can thus be extorted - if you're that desperate (though if you managed to get a proper trading license, their price becomes reasonable, and you'll also get access to wider variety of trade goods)
    "The Khanate merchants grin when they see you coming. An unlicensed foreign captain?They'll pick a price and triple it."
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: Even in the Neath, London and its surrounds still have their fogs. Their practical effect, if zailed through, is to impede aiming, and to thoroughly spook your crew.
  • The Alcatraz: Wisdom, a prison in the midst of a sea of enormous lily pads, guarded by huge, multi-eyed toads called knot-oracles. To get someone out, you'll need to either pass a ridiculously difficult Iron challenge or pay an exorbitant bribe.
  • Alien Geometries: Neath's geography is...weird. Alteration is one, then there's the fact at trying to go sufficiently north anywhere in the zee will get you to a single place: Avid Horizon, and that the zee stretches to the east without end.
  • Alien Sea: The Neath does not follow all of the same physical laws as the Surface, and its zee is coloured between black and green.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Like in Fallen London, the player can choose to not declare a gender for their Captain. The game's writing style also likes avoiding gender specific pronouns unless absolutely necessary leading to a lot of characters with genders technically unattributed. A conundrum perhaps lampshaded by the very definitely ambiguous Alarming Scholar.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You: It might not pay so well as exploring distant kingdoms or hunting pirates, but most captains will spend at least some time ferrying goods and passengers between ports.
  • Arc Number: As in Fallen London, the number Seven comes up rather frequently.
  • Ascended Meme: Ratsending. One Fallen London player decided to amuse themselves by using that game's basic gifting system to send the lead dev thousands of rats, fifty at a time. The mythos of transported rats expanded by degrees and infected the spinoff game; a Pneumatic Ratsender is now available as a ship component. And then there's Nuncio, where said player designed the place.
  • Brutal Honesty: The "Wounding Truth" quality counts how many times you've chosen to tell people the truth, no matter how painful it is.
  • Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": Your ship's stats are all named for Fallen London's mysterious rulers, the Masters of the Bazaar - Iron for attacks, Mirrors for observation and illumination, Veils for speed and concealment, Hearts for healing and morale, Pages for knowledge and diplomacy.
    • Also, your Hull score is essentially a hit point meter; in combat it's usually what soaks up attacks, and when it hits 0 your ship sinks.
  • Chain of Deals: The "Your Father's Bones" legacy quest. Bring something to someone in London; they point you somewhere. Go there, you'll be asked to retrieve something from someone else, who in turn asks for several singular things from around the Zee...
  • Church Militant: Abbey Rock, the coastal convent-fortress of the martial Sisterhood, and Godfall, home to the boisterous pirate-monks who follow the ways of "St Stalagmite."
  • City on the Water: The New Khanate's cities are variations on this style: Khan's Heart and Khan's Glory form a stately City of Canals on a series of artificial islands, while the other side of the Enemy Civil War, Khan's Shadow, is a colossal assemblage of ships roped together.
  • Cool Boat: Several, including the trimarans of the New Khanate; the partly-organic Cladery Heart; the submarine Irrepressible, with its irrigo-cannon and breakfast-pit; and the dreaded Tree of Ages, crewed by giant spiders. Even your own ship might count, if you buy enough upgrades.
  • Cool Gate: Avid Horizon, a literally Cold Gate, sits at the frozen northern reaches of the Zee, and is flanked by two winged sculptures that represent something not totally known. Strange stars twinkle above despite being underground, and it extrudes an unnatural stillness. It remains closed for the moment, and perhaps that is a good thing... And it apparently leads to outer space, somehow ...
  • Creepy Cathedral: The Chapel of Lights, lit only by millions of candles spread about the island. Congregants tend to stick to the shadows between the candles, often only half-seen by those who visit, the temple offers visitors the opportunity to eat from their red bounty, and there is a well there that eats dreams and wounds the soul...
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Several officers' storylines involve making such discoveries. Sometimes, you'll have the choice to help them pursue it, with all attendant risks, or to take a safer, less rewarding option.
  • Darkness Equals Death: In a similar system to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, extinguishing your ship's lights can help you hide from enemies and creep past zee-monsters without waking them, but the darkness prevents you from navigating or seeing foes clearly and drains your crew's Sanity Meter.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Several recruitable officers first appeared as Hallowmas visitors in Fallen London.
  • Early Game Hell: In the beginning, just making enough Echos consistently to keep your ship fueled and provisioned can be a challenge, with a degree of luck required to find the opportunities to break out of that state.
  • Eldritch Location: The Iron Republic, freed from all laws including the laws of physics and reality. Writing a port report has your captain trying to navigate ever-changing roads while the ink on your paper is constantly shifting. When you go to submit the report, it may be completely blank or explosive.
  • Elephants' Graveyard: The Gant Pole,note  a place "where things go to die".
  • Fantastic Drug: Red Honey, a proscribed substance described as "too dangerous to be even properly illegal." It is produced by lamplighter bees who feed on the nectar of a particular flower that drives them to madness. It causes them to enter the minds of humans and eat memories, distilling them into the red-staining honey they produce. Needless to say, the Ministry of Public Decency will wish to have some very harsh words with anyone attempting the (highly profitable) practice of smuggling it...
  • Final Death Mode: Unforgiving Mode only allows a single save, which is automatically overwritten upon death.
  • Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon: Several larger ships are capable of mounting a "forward" class of weapons. It is typically much more powerful than deck guns, but has a much more limited firing arc. Some ships can mount a fixed aft-facing gun as well to discourage chasers.
  • Flare Gun: Flares are used in naval combat - not as weapons, but to light up the enemy and allow a ship's gunners to aim.
  • Fragile Speedster: Cutters are the smallest, lightest and least well-armoured ships available - which makes them terribly fast.
  • Fungus Humongous: One of the major life forms of the Neath. The Iron & Misery Company have a station on Demeaux Island dedicated to harvesting them.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Leadbeater & Stainrod are the Neath's largest, cheapest, least reliable provider of ships, ship components and ship repairs. It's entirely possible that they actually want you to drown.
  • Human Cannonball: The Icarus in Black has one purpose: To shoot suicidal human Monster-Hunters at giant zee beasts. The monster hunter does not survive. Usually, neither does the beast.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Always a risk when lost at sea, with limited supplies and a cook who's going quietly insane. And then there's Unaccountably Peckish...
  • Infinity+1 Sword: The Memento Mori and the Serpentine are Infinity+1 Forward Gun and Engine, respectively. The Fulgent Impeller is Infinity+2 Engine.
  • Interface Spoiler: The trading interface shows the existence of certain items and trade goods before you're likely to find them in play. Notably, the end reward of the Genial Magician's storylet is shown, even before you recruit him.
  • Island of Mystery: Would be more straightforward to list the ones that aren't. Irem probably the pick of the bunch for being literally inexplicable.
  • Istanbul Not Constantinople
  • Joke Item: The Stymphalos-class Steam Launch, a One-Hit-Point Wonder of a ship with a tiny hold, no crew quarters, and a massive stat penalty. Normally, you'll only ever get one if you somehow survive losing your existing ship, but you can buy one in London if you really want to.
  • The Law Firm of Pun, Pun, and Wordplay: Many firms in the naval industry have such names; Cotterell & Hathersage, Leadbeater & Stainrod, Iron & Misery Company, Soothe & Cooper...
  • Literary Allusion Title: To Kubla Khan. Doubly appropriate, as Xanadu is of established importance in the setting's lore.
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Dawn Machine is an artificial sun that gives the only day-bright light in the entire zee. Anything associated with it causes your crew to get extremely nervous, and the false dawn it creates is always grounds for an Oh, Crap reaction from them, not to mention that Failbetter has said it will be the source of an enemy faction at some point. Justified, given how sunlight is actively hazardous to Neath dwellers (hence why going to Naples is a gamble).
  • Living Ship: The Cladery Heart, a colossal, living heart, clad in iron and set to sea.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Several challenges are purely luck based, but fortunately they are never mandatory and the player has an idea of their odds when choosing to try them. More generally, surviving the Early Game Hell requires a certain degree of luck in the zee's alteration, coupled with some existing knowledge of the game.
  • Macrogame: When a game ends, the player can begin a new game with a choice of bonuses, including skill boosts, maps, officers and weapons. Wealthy captains can also write a will, allowing their house and some of their wealth to be passed on.
  • Mad Artist: The Set, a group of highly eccentric and vicious artist-pirates.
  • Mega Maelstrom: Whirlpools appear as environmental hazards; they're not hard to avoid, but ships that sail into one will have their hull battered until they can overcome the currents and escape.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Strongly averted. While your generic crew don't have names, most of the gender-specific descriptions refer to them as female and they are quite likely to die at sea.
  • Mooks: Pirates and zee-beasts are always referred to by generic descriptions. Ships with names are almost always neutral trading vessels except for the Eater of Names and Mt. Nomad.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: You decide your captain's background, social title, and ambition at the beginning of each game. These influence a number of things throughout the captain's time - which of your stats is initially higher, your starting officer, victory conditions, and a handful of other story directions. You can, however, opt to defer these decisions until a later point in the game.
  • Mundane Luxury: For Londoners, foodstuffs produced from the surface such as rye bread, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables are considered to be absolute luxuries. If you resupply while in the surface port of Naples, your crew will all look hungrily at the surface food that you purchased.
  • The Mutiny: A ship's crew may mutiny against their captain if Terror grows too high. If they can't be talked down or beaten down, game over.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: If you're low on food, your crew may resort to eating each other to survive. Furthermore, there are several places where cannibalism is practiced, where you may be introduced to the practice. If you've partaken before, you can actively choose this resort should supplies run out. Some storylines clearly show this as a Moral Event Horizon.
    "Starvation walked the ship. We were merciful; our knives were sharp."
  • Non-Standard Game Over: There's several endings that's not part of your ambition that you can achieve. Unusually, these gives you items that will assist you in your future playthroughs. For instance: Going through the Avid Horizon with the Venturer, or stealing the Emperor's Zeppelin and going East. There are also some more traditional Non-Standard Game Over, like choosing to deliver the Monkey Emperor's Wrath (which is part of things you need to do to get the Zeppelin), but chose to return to London instead when you were warned to not go back.
  • Nonstandard Skill Learning: Secrets serve the role of skill points, but they're also a commodity that can be traded, or expended as a part of quests. To actually turn a Secret into a stat increase, one needs to trade it to an Officer who specialises in that stat. Oh, and the Pages stat increases the rate of Secret accumulation, but no Officer increases Pages higher than the beginner range - it can only be raised through questing.
  • Ocean Madness: It has less to do with the fact that the zee is inherently maddening and more to do with the fact that it is dark, monster-infested, and prone to rearranging itself, but Terror will be your constant sanity-draining bane.
  • Old Save Bonus: You can connect the game to your Story Nexus account, and doing certain new storylets in Fallen London with a linked account can give captains in Sunless Sea starting advantages.
  • Overdrive: Players can dump extra coke into their boilers to drastically increase speed for a brief time. However this is something best done only rarely, since it is very wasteful of fuel, and doing too frequently risks the engine running too hot and causing all sorts of bad things.
  • Piņata Enemy: Pirate Frigates net you 1-2 units each of supply and fuel, plus a random loot item like those you get from smaller & larger vessels, and sinking them takes little effort once you can afford a decent weapon + Iron skill. In the same vein, the Lifebergs commonly found in the northern areas can drop quite a lot - though they're much more dangerous than many other enemies.
  • Plunder: Fighting enemy ships to defeat generally leaves them in no condition to be captured, but something can usually be salvaged before they sink, especially their cargo crates. This also applies to large zee-beasts, which when killed usually float up for a while, allowing them to be harvested by the hunting ship.
  • Purely Aesthetic Gender: As is standard in Failbetter games, the Player Character can be addressed as male, female, or any of a number of other descriptors, without limiting their stats, portrait, or options in dalliances.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: Aside from major ports like London itself, the map is randomised for each game. Referred to as Alteration by the Londoners, and it's understandably something newsworthy whenever it occurs.
  • Real Time with Pause: Combat and zailing play out in pauseable real time. The clock stops when you have the Gazetteer open, which is usually in a port.
  • Resources Management Gameplay: Fuel and supplies are necessary to run the ship and maintain the crew, and their use and conservation must be balanced.
    • The integrity of one's hull must also be carefully monitored, as taking damage at less than 50% hull results in (among other things) the deaths of crew. If your ship has 50% or less than its maximum crew capacity, your cruising speed will be effectively halved, which is quite bad. Worse, if your crew count is 25% or lower, you'll take double terror damage.
  • Sanity Meter: The Terror and Hunger stats track the crew's mood. An unhappy crew is at greater risk of going mad and eating each other.
  • Schmuck Bait: "Do Not Do This". One of the locations found towards the edge of the world is a mysterious altar that is creepy even by Sunless Sea standards. Two of the options, as well as having activity descriptions that should give most players a clue, are clearly marked "Do Not Do This" by the game. Despite the fact the game has been completely honest with all advice the entire time, forums still contain confused players utterly bewildered at why their game just ended.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: How you "defeat" Mt. Nomad - as the "grand-daughter of the Bazaar" (yes, that one), it's functionally immortal... but isn't immune to serious injury. At zero Health, you inflict such a bad wound that the Genius Loci decides to cut its losses and submerge to safety underneath the zee until the next Alteration. While you can loot it, it's not so much you harvesting its corpse so much as sending your crew to get as much from the sinking island as they can before it is fully underwater.
  • Shout-Out: The schematics for the Irrepressible include mention of protective measures "to guard against the bites of sharks".
    • The Finknottle Abyss. Perhaps there are newts there.
    • There's also a Shout-Out to Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner if you ate your crew at Kingeater's Castle.
      • On the note of the Ancient Mariner, it's possible to shoot a white bat that follows your ship. Since the white bat is a symbol of Salt, like the Mariner shooting the Albatross, this is a VERY bad idea that will give your crew a giant stress increase.
  • Silent Running Mode: Useful for evading enemy ships and slumbering zee-monsters - unfortunately, it requires cutting the lights, and Darkness Equals Death.
  • Submarine Pirates: The Pianolist, one of The Set and captain of the Irrepressible.
  • Temple of Doom: The Vault of the First Emperor was built by monkeys who attempted to imitate this trope as seen in human culture, and as such is something of a Deconstructive Parody of this sort of level:
  • That's No Moon!: Lifebergs and Mt. Nomad look like bits of island. They are not. What they are is large, malicious, and extremely hazardous to shipping.
  • The Ghost: The three gods of the zee - Stone, Storm, and Salt - are never encountered in the flesh. It's possible they don't even exist, but several game mechanics reflecting their attention or displeasure seem to indicate they're quite real.
  • Threatening Shark: Bound-sharks are enormous and attack any ship that gets too close.
  • Turtle Island: The Chelonate, a city built on the floating carcass of a colossal turtle. Its inhabitants subsist largely on the the products of the zee - they wear sharks' skin and drink their blood.
  • Weakened by the Light: Neath-dwellers are harmed by The Power of the Sun, which makes any kind of extended trip to the surface risky. However, that same risk also makes it potentially very profitable.
  • What the Hell, Player?: The game chastises you if you attempt to toss human passengers overboard like cargo. "Captain! What are you thinking?!"
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The ships are iron with hearts of steam, but the vast, dangerous and largely unexplored Unterzee is a setting much more like the Age of sail.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: If the player makes a trip to the surface, a splash image of a sunrise is shown in place of the regular Zee map for as long as they remain.
  • Villain Protagonist: The player, horrifically so, depending on their choices. The poor Sigil-eaten Navigator.