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Entry updated 28 June 2019. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (2015). Wordplay Games. Written by Paul Mitchener, based on the Wordplay game system by Graham Spearing.

Small Press Horror in SF roleplaying game that mines the transition of the gritty, pessimistic tenor (see Optimism and Pessimism) of the UK-specific Scientific Romance to the mainstream of Television and Cinema in the wake of World War Two.

Giant, beetle-like Aliens dubbed "Scarabs" destroy earth's twelve most populous Cities in the autumn of 1951, fortifying the impact of their Invasion by use of superior Weapons and Technology to bring much of humanity into conditions of Slavery. As with the invaders from Mars in H G Wells's War of the Worlds (April-December 1897 Pearson's; 1898), the Scarabs have been observing the planet for some time, and have scheduled their arrival to occur at precisely the point between planetary depletion from War and developments in Nuclear Energy. Nigel Kneale-scripted dramas such as The Quatermass Experiment (18 July-22 August 1953 6 episodes) and Quatermass and the Pit (1968; vt Five Million Years to Earth) direct Starfall's comprehension of the thematic link between humanity's predisposition to fascistic behaviour [see "Nigel Kneale and Fascism" under links below] and the suitability of planet earth as a target for the Colonization of Other Worlds.

The game has a traditional set-up, with a Gamemaster and each of the other players controlling a particular character in an emergent narrative. Characters are assumed to be working for the Alliance Earth Organisation (AEO) and may pursue any one of five professions: Intelligence Agent, Official, Resistance Fighter, Scientist and Soldier; a scientist might easily become a Mad Scientist by picking the Trait "Scarab Technology" and failing to withstand the effects on their sanity. A player's hand of six-sided dice starts with a foundation Trait – "Obsessed Scientist" for six dice, say – and may be supported by one third of the dice in two supporting Traits, rounded down. In this case, "Physics" at five dice might add one more die, and "Fascinated by Scarab Technology" at three dice another. A single player may assist the player making the roll by adding one third of their dice in a single Trait. The pool of eight dice in this example could, for instance, be augmented by someone adding a die from their Trait "Eye for Detail" at three dice. Bonuses for equipment, such as "Electron Microscope" at two dice, can be added in their entirety, here granting an overall pool of eleven dice with which to attempt the task.

Each die showing four or five counts as one success, while each result of six counts as two successes. These are rolled against a pool of dice set by the difficulty of the task, or by an opponent's own combination of Traits. This makes for a fair bit of adding and subtracting but allows players to come up with creative ways to include their Traits. Margins of victory in roll-offs between players and opponents might affect the difficulty of the next roll, or result in a damage Trait that removes a number of dice from the relevant category of Mind, Body or Soul, or even (at a difference of seven successes) be enough to permanently remove a character from play.

The book includes some crisp and well-researched observations on the Politics and Sociology of 1950s Britain, a gazetteer of the effects of the Scarab invasion on the world, and two chapters on the ways in which Scarab Biology and behaviour reflects and is different from human and animal life on earth. Where Forgotten Futures (1993) used an understanding of the form of the scientific romance to depict a series of Alternate HistoriesStarfall, like Forgotten Futures, uses categories of Mind, Body and Spirit to divide its traits – and Ashen Stars (2011) the form of the television mystery procedural to direct the narrative agency of its Space Opera, Starfall combines historical accuracy and Hard SF to deliver realistic stories about a particular time and place. Visual design by Stephanie McAlea and atmospheric Illustrations by Jonny Gray are of a standard above many Independent Games, but it is the way in which Starfall combines evolutionary perspective with an attitude different from that of the Pulp-magazine-derived Heroes and Villains of Genre SF that helps the game deliver on the distinction of its premise. [MD]


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