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Forgotten Futures

Entry updated 16 January 2021. Tagged: Game.

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Role Playing Game (1993). Designed by Marcus Rowland.

Forgotten Futures is a game of possible pasts and discarded futures. It consists of a core set of rules and a number of "collections", each of which defines a storyworld or subgenre based on published works of Scientific Romance or contemporary fantasy. A typical collection contains reproductions of out of copyright fiction and illustrations, sample scenarios and a sourcebook on its subject; many of them recast nineteenth-century visions of the future as Alternate Histories. The histories typically expand upon and rationalize the original material into a larger-scale vision, in an interesting if occasionally somewhat pedantic fashion. The rules themselves are fairly streamlined, concentrating on maintaining the flavour of the original works. Violence, for example, is possible but not encouraged, and frequently proves lethal to all concerned. Where Space: 1889 (1988) is a Steampunk game which reinterprets the nineteenth century with reference to modern sf, Forgotten Futures might be said to approach Scientific Romance on its own terms, though the source material is often treated lightheartedly.

The majority of the published collections, all of which are designed by Rowland, are sf. The first, The ABC Files (1993), contains the full text of Rudyard Kipling's With the Night Mail (November 1905 McClure's Magazine) and "As Easy As A.B.C." (March-April 1912 The London Magazine), and is set in their future "airship utopia" (see Pax Aeronautica). The Log of the Astronef (1994) is similarly based on George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space (January-July 1900 Pearson's as "Stories of Other Worlds"; exp 1901), while George E. Challenger's Mysterious World (1994) is inspired by both Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger sequence and his "The Horror of the Heights" (November 1913 Strand). Goodbye Piccadilly (1998) is not set in a specific storyworld, but is instead concerned with the destruction of imperial London in general; it includes stories by Fred M White – the six Doom of London Disaster tales (January 1903-October 1904 Pearson's Magazine) – and a variety of less famous authors. Tsar Wars (2001) returns to Griffith, incorporating the text of The Angel of the Revolution (21 January-14 October 1893 Pearson's Weekly; cut 1893) and Olga Romanoff (23 December 1893-4 August 1894 Pearson's Weekly as "The Syren of the Skies"; rev 1894) and presenting a Future History inspired by their description of the creation and later overthrow of an anarchist utopia. It's My Own Invention ... (2004) is again based on a concept rather than the works of a particular writer; it concentrates on Victorian and Edwardian era "weird science", including thinking Automata and Time Machines, and reproduces stories by Griffith, Edward Page Mitchell and others. Planets of Peril (2010) temporarily abandons the scientific for the Planetary Romance, concentrating on the works of Stanley G Weinbaum and featuring the texts of almost all of his science fiction, including "A Martian Odyssey" (July 1934 Wonder Stories), "Valley of Dreams" (November 1934 Wonder Stories) and "The Lotus Eaters" (April 1935 Astounding).

Forgotten Futures is notable as an early example of an independently published Role Playing Game (see Independent Games); it is primarily distributed as "shareware", meaning that it is freely available but regular players are morally obliged to pay a fee. Currently it can be downloaded from the Forgotten Futures website or purchased outright on CD-ROM; the CD contains a great deal of contemporary fiction and illustrations not included in the individual collections. Several volumes have also been published in print: Forgotten Futures (2000; the core rules); Log of the Astronef (2000; the sourcebook and scenarios from the eponymous collection); Stories of Other Worlds and A Honeymoon in Space (2000; the fiction from the Log of the Astronef collection) and Tsar Wars Episode One: Angel of the Revolution (2003) and Tsar Wars Episode Two: Syren of the Skies (2003), the novels from the Tsar Wars collection. The complete set of Forgotten Futures publications not only presents an interesting and evocative game but also serves as a valuable resource for sf scholars and others interested in less well-known works of Scientific Romance.

Related works: Several other Forgotten Futures collections exist. The Carnacki Cylinders (1996) deals with the supernatural, and includes the text of William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki stories. Victorian Villainy (1999) focuses on the tradition of Victorian melodrama, and reproduces stories by Fred M White and Guy Boothby (the first of the Dr Nikola sequence), among others. Fables and Frolics (2002) is fantasy, based on the children's stories of Edith Nesbit. The Tooth and Claw Role Playing Game (2008) is an authorized adaptation of Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw (2003). (The original is a homage to Anthony Trollope's novels of Victorian society: here the protagonists are intelligent dragons, and the manners observed by Trollope are enforced by the details of draconic biology.) The Original Flatland Role Playing Game (1998) designed by Marcus Rowland uses a simplified version of the Forgotten Futures rules to present a satirical role-playing world based on Edwin A Abbott's Flatland (1884); players adopt the roles of two-dimensional inhabitants of the planar world Flatland. [NT]


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