Sunless Sea is a Lovecraftian roguelike sea exploration game that manages an impressive narrative voice amidst its immersive gameplay. To see my full thoughts on the game, see my review. This unique game has many challenges, chief among them figuring out how to survive long enough to achieve anything. Given the slow pace of Sunless Sea, and the treacherous adventures that lie in wait, it can be frustrating to many starting out on the zee. To help those struggling, I’ve compiled this tip guide that addresses such issues as money, survival, and basic ship management. This isn’t comprehensive by any means–there are many ways to survive on the Unterzee. What I provide instead are tried and true methods that I have both heard of and discovered on my own. This guide won’t focus on character creation or provide guidance for any particular quests. That all said, let’s begin!
- Curiosities – These are the things that cannot be categorized as your typical inventory items. Some are physical, others not. An “Iron Clad Will” is a basic curiosity. Certain curiosities fit into subcategories such as:
- Knowledge Curiosities – Secrets, Recent News, Port Reports, and Zee-stories fit here.
- Colour Curiosities – Refer to items of one particular quest, like THE NEATHBOW.
- Plot Curiosities – Important plot items for various quests.
- Resource Curiosities – Such as the Solacefruit.
- Echoes – The currency of the Neath.
- Fragments – Whenever you encounter something of interest, or unveil a small part of a larger mystery, you get “fragments.” Gain enough, and you gain a “Secret”, which can be used to upgrade your captain, purchase items, or unlock story opportunities.
- Gazetteer – Your book of interactions comprising of six tabs (Story, Hold, Journal, Officers, Shops, and Shipyard) where much of the gameplay is experienced and manipulated. You can open this by pressing G, or clicking on the red cross in the top right corner of your screen.
- Neath – As in the “underneath.” This is the world below the Surface, where London was dragged down to after the Traitor Empress sold it to the Echo Bazaar.
- Storylets – Scenes read under the Story tab of your Gazetteer come with special titles that Sunless Sea players use to understand what portion of a storyline they are progressing through. Larger storylines are comprised of many storylets, while shorter adventures may be comprised of one or two.
- Unterzee – This is often used to refer to the map at large. Basically the dark ocean below the Surface, where ancient monsters lurk.
- Sometimes referred to as “zee” for short.
- Qualities – These are found in your journal and list the events that affect a particular storyline. May also be referred to as “circumstances.”
- Zailor – Anyone who sails the Unterzee.
The User Interface
When you close your Gazetteer, you’ll be faced with the user interface for the first time. Below is what you’ll get:
In the upper left is your ship and crew information. The large circle with the numbers shows your engine speed and your ship’s hull health. The center of the circle is also a visual representation of your fuel reserve, and around that the visual representation of your hull.
Just to the left of this are three bars. The top bar is the fuel gauge, which slowly descends towards the left. The number at the end of the gauge shows how many fuel barrels you have. Below that is the hunger gauge. This increases to the right. The little division you see in the screenshot above is the current hunger limit. When the red hits that limit, you use up one of your food supplies. Below the hunger gauge is the terror gauge. On the end of the gauge is a little skull with dots around it. These dots fill up as terror increases. When the dots are green, terror is decreasing, but only till the dial is empty. The overall terror value does not decrease further (so if you have 49 terror, you will still have 49 terror after the dial has emptied). When orange, it’s at medium speed. At red, terror is increasing rapidly. When all the dots have filled around the skull, the gauge to the right fills up by a point. You can mouse over this bar to see what the exact number of your terror is.
In the lower left corner of the screen is your log book. This fills automatically with relevant information. The fragment bar is located over your log book. When this bar fills up, you gain a Secret. The gray portion of the bar comes from your Pages skill, which reduces the amount of fragments you need to find in order to get a Secret.
On the bottom center of the screen, is your basic action bar. From right to left the buttons are: Send zee-bat, turn on deck light, repair ship (uses up supplies), full engine power, pause game, Gazetteer, open map, and settings. When not near a docking location, the long rectangular button over the action bar activates combat mode. You can also just enter this by hitting E, or if you’re spotted by an enemy, you enter combat mode automatically.
In the upper right corner you can see your captain’s portrait, and below that the number of zailors in your crew. Clicking the arrow next to the portrait expands the drawer that displays your current officers in command, as well as your full stats below that.
Any active story events will appear in the lower right corner of the screen. Click on these to open them in your Gazetteer.
There are five primary skills for your captain, and these skills determine the ease with which you overcome certain obstacles out on the Unterzee. Getting officers to join your crew increases these skills. Here are the stats in detail:
- Hearts – the skill of healing and morale. If you want to increase Hearts, talk to a Surgeon officer and spend a Secret.
- Iron – the skill of damage dealing and fight strength. To increase Iron, speak to a Gunnery officer and spend a Secret.
- Mirrors – the skill of perception and detection. To increase Mirrors, you can speak to any First Officer and spend a Secret. Increases speed of firing solution in combat by lowering the cooldown by 0.06 seconds for every 5 points.
Level your Mirrors to 100, and a deck or forward weapon is able to fire every 0.8 seconds.
- Pages – is the skill of trickery and knowledge. To increase Pages, just speak to The Plausible Surgeon (a specific officer) and spend a Secret. The higher your Pages skill, the less fragments you need to gain a Secret.
- Veils – is the skill of subtlety and evasion. To increase veils, speak to any Chief Engineer and spend a Secret. The higher your veils skill, the easier it will be for you to sail past enemies of the Unterzee undetected. This can be useful for beginners having trouble accruing enough Echoes to upgrade their ships for advanced combat.
Before Shipping Out The First Time
Before you even set sail for the first time, you should remember to do these things:
- Read the newspaper. Always do this when docked at London! This can be done at your lodgings. Reading the newspaper gives you one Recent News (the maximum you can have at any time) and sometimes one supply.
- Use starting Echo to buy these things: Hire more crew once, then buy more fuel and some supply. Preference goes to fuel. If you have Echoes to spare, I’d suggest getting a cheap lamp from Bultitude’s House of Vision. You can sail without a lamp at first, so it isn’t necessary, but having one makes combat quicker, and discovering places of interest at zee easier too. OR, if you prefer, you can buy some mushroom wine to sell at Venderbight for a small profit. (See under “Making Money” for more on the latter.)
- Sell your ADVICE FOR CAPTAINS book at Mrs. Plenty’s Shipside Provisioners. No really! It’ll net you 50 Echoes, and all the information in it (about the interface and other game elements) you can find both here and elsewhere online. If you choose to read it, the final story option will let you sell it and net you the 50 echoes..
- Visit the Admiralty Survey Office under the London! storylet. This place is important as you sell your Port Reports here. You also can get special missions from them that earn you money and Admiralty Favor. You can trade these favor points in for fuel, repairs, and later, spies.
- Accept the quest to take Tomb-Colonists to Venderbight.
Surviving at Zee
For our first trip out at zee, we’re going to want to head north. Our route will be: Hunter’s Keep, Venderbight, Whither, Codex, then back to London. On our way, keep these tips in mind for this trip and future trips!
- Plan Your Trips – We’re already doing this for our first trip, but always try to plan your trips. This is harder to do at first when your sea chart isn’t filled out, but you can still have a goal in mind every time you set out to zee. Try to include more than one port in your route, and if these ports have shops, take note of what they sell and buy there. Some shops sell fuel or supplies at a cheaper price (or more expensive) while others have items you might not be able to get anywhere else. It’s generally a good idea to make one profitable venture the focus of your trip, such as Admiralty missions, passenger transportation, or smuggling jobs. If you plan around such goals, you can easily increase your funds without using up as many resources.
- Keep Track of Your Fuel – Be sure to get a good feel of how much your ship consumes fuel. Your starting ship, the Ligeia-class Steamer, consumes the lowest amount of fuel. Buying more high-powered engines mean you move a little faster, but at a cost of faster fuel consumption, so keep that in mind. You also want to keep your deck light off unless it’s needed, like during combat or when wanting to illuminate certain places of interest. Keeping your light on burns through your fuel, so it’s not a good way of slowing terror rate. It also doesn’t help much to keep the light on in foggy areas.
- Keeping Terror at Bay – While at zee, your terror will go up no matter what. Certain environments will see terror increasing more rapidly than others. You can hug shorelines and sail close to light buoys to slow terror growth, but ultimately, the best way to reduce terror is through shore leave at London. If your terror is over 50, returning to London reduces it back to 50. If you had a child with your sweetheart and upgraded your lodgings at least once, you can spend time with them to further reduce terror another 20 points. You can do shore leave at other ports, but there is always a risk of something bad happening when you try. Some locations offer other ways to reduce terror, but it’s usually at a cost. Hunter’s Keep (talk to the giggly sister), Pigmote Isle (if you side with the guinea pigs), Mangrove College (stay and have drinks), and any stationary friendly ship (so long as you have Recent News) are all such places that do this.
- Use Your Zee-bat – The zee-bat is literally just a bat that you send out from your ship, and it returns to inform you of any nearby islands. When you’re striking out in an unknown territory, the zee-bat is most critical. You can easily miss ports and waste fuel if you aren’t using it. To use your zee-bat, press the bat icon on your action bar. Remember that the map randomizes with each captain.
Making Money (and Saving It!)
So…you wanna make money, huh zailor? Well there’s lots of ways to do it, but some ways are faster than others, and while others still are more sustainable than others. Below are some of the ways you can make money starting out.
- Complete Admiralty Business – Whenever you visit a port, whether it’s new or not, always make a port report. These can be sold later to the Admiralty for Echoes and sometimes fuel. If you’re submitting a port report for a location for the first time, you get a point of Admiralty favor. If you have an Admiralty mission (which you always should) follow the directions to the location they want you to go, and retrieve the Strategic Information. Taking it back to the Admiralty office nets you more favor and a decent payout.
- Offer passage to a Tomb-Colonist – This is easy to start, and depending on certain factors, the result at the end of your trip will vary. You might see a payout right away, you might not. Still, it’s good to try, and even if you don’t get money right away, it can lead to a lucrative opportunity with a bit more effort.
- Sell Mushroom Wine at Venderbight – If you managed to buy a few bottles in London, you can sell the wine at Venderbight for 3 Echo profit per bottle.
- Accept the Shady Business Proposal – Perhaps when you return from your first trip, perhaps some other visit soon, you’ll be approached by a shady individual who will make you an offer. For the time being, you don’t need to do anything, but he will give you lots of fuel and supplies, which frees you up to sail even further from London. At a later time, he’ll ask you to smuggle some souls to Mt. Palmerston, which can be found somewhere along the northern edge of the map. My recommendation is to sail from Codex heading East. Sunless Sea randomizes the map with every captain, so Mt. Palmerston could be the first thing you hit, or the last thing just before the port of Irem in the top-right corner of the map. Either way, you might want to have a little extra fuel on top of what the shady man gives you to start with. Completing this job nets you 200 Echoes, 5 fuel, and 2 supplies. At this point you can either refuse any more work from the man, or continue to do his illegal jobs. Keep in mind that you run the risk of getting into trouble at London, as the local authority will do random checks of your Hold to ensure nothing illegal is being smuggled.
- Avoid Paying for Fuel – If you play your cards right, you can pretty much get through this game without paying much for fuel. As mentioned above with the Admiralty and the shady business proposal, you can earn fuel in other ways that leaves you more Echoes to spend on supplies, ship upgrades, and trade goods. Another way not yet mentioned is to complete the “A Delegation” event on Pigmote Isle (located east of London, usually somewhere in the center of the map). Whether you side with the rats or the guinea pigs, so long as you don’t double-cross the party that you side with, and you have the “Something Awaits You” quality active next time you’re sailing by, you can return to the isle to restore some fuel. The great thing is, this is repeatable. If you absolutely must purchase fuel, try to arrange your route so that you end up at these places where fuel is cheapest: Iron Republic (8 Echoes), Mt. Palmerston (9 Echoes), and London (10 Echoes).
- Sell Curiosities to the Alarming Scholar – Chances are, you’ll accumulate such things on your adventures as Zee-stories, Memories of Distant Shores, or a Strange Catch. These you can sell to the Alarming Scholar, along with many more items. Beware though! Certain things, like the Outlandsh Artefact, can be used for other important things. Depending on your need and what your goals are, you can sell such items for a nice profit.
- Fight Pirates Close to Home – The pirate ships close to home waters tend to be weak and well within your basic ship’s ability to defeat. They can be a good way of earning starting Echoes, and they sometimes even net you useful items to use in quests or to sell.
- Wait for the “Something Awaits You” Quality – Before you dock at a port, be sure to wait for the “Something Awaits You” quality. Many events require you to have this before you can begin them. You’ll know you have it when there’s a bell sound and a lamp icon on the top right corner of your log book.
- For Combat – Use your deck light! If you focus the light on your enemy, your weapons ready faster. You can fire before the weapons are readied, but there’s a chance you’ll miss. Also, do not sit still. For your basic ship, the Ligeia-class Steamer, backing up is a slow way to go, so you’ll want to keep moving forward, then circle back to attack your enemy. Combat won’t be quick, starting out, but it gets better the more you upgrade your ship. If you need to run away, you can hit the full power button on your action bar. You can also do this by clicking the flame icon in the upper left corner of the screen at the end of the fuel gauge. I recommend doing this ONLY when you really need to escape from a fight (i.e. the monster/pirate ship is right on your butt and wailing on you) because you run the risk of blowing your engine every time you do this.
“I personally always fight big Zee beasts and bosses with my light off and enemy ships with it on. This is because Zee beasts hit like a truck as do the bosses, so it’s better to stay at max range, giving you time to dodge and hopefully keep them with a ? on their nameplate (which indicates searching) instead of a !(which indicates detection).
For ships you can circle constantly keeping them at the very edge of your deck gun to prevent them from ever firing at you. Occasionally moving closer and pointing the light at them to get your forward gun off.” –Provided by JustAFlicker from Reddit’s Sunless Sea community.
- For a Better Captain – Hire officers! When you return to London and have the “Something Awaits You” quality, you can take messages from the harbourmaster, and this will open up the opportunity to find an officer. Who you get is random, and sometimes you can choose from more than one officer. Just remember that you can only pick one at any time, and each officer comes with their own sign-on price. Hiring officers is the quickest way to boost your captain’s stats, and you’ll need them if you want to spend Secrets to manually increase a stat. Each officer offers one stat they can increase, and of course, they’re all different. When you’re considering which officers to hire, the Gazetteer will inform you of what stats they boost. The first stat listed is usually the one that they can increase with a Secret.
- Dealing with Death – Dying is a part of Sunless Sea. You’re just going to do it. But when you die, you can take one thing along with you. If you’re able, the best thing to take is the sea chart. It’s a huge help if you know where everything is at the start. Other than that, if you have a high stat in something, you can take that.
- Always Have Enough Crew – Losing too many zailors results in your ship not being able to go to maximum speed. I believe this number changes with every ship.
- For Your First Ship Upgrade – I recommend buying a better engine for your first ship upgrade. Maneuverability is very important in combat, and weapons aren’t quite as expensive to get later. You can either save up for the Leadbeater & Stainrod ‘Illyrian’ at 500 Echoes for an improvement of 200 engine power over the basic engine, or you can go for broke with Leadbeater & Stainrod ‘Boadicea’ at 1000 Echoes for a whopping 700 engine power boost! Keep in mind that whatever you choose, be sure to save up at least another 100 Echoes so that you’re not completely broke afterward.
Thanks to JustAFlicker and Shaper_pmp for their helpful corrections!
And that’s it for the Sunless Sea guide! If you have any tips for beginners you’d like to add (and I’m sure there are plenty I missed) then go ahead and share them in the comments below. Be sure to also check out some of Cliqist’s other game guides for your favorite crowdfunded games!