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H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Roleplaying Game
Reviewed by Marcus L. Rowland, © 2005

Format: Game
By:   James Stubbs
Genre:   Science Fiction
Review Date:   September 15, 2005

H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is a small, quirky roleplaying game sold as a downloadable PDF by Deep7, who have the advantage of being an American company and can produce this game without worrying about European copyright and royalty problems that have stopped the production of a British game based on the book. Designed under Deep7's 1PG system — as in one-page, which is all the space needed for the rules — it's a low-cost, "beer ‘n’ pretzels" RPG intended for an occasional evening of play rather than a lengthy campaign.

Having said that, and even considering the relatively small size, it's still a surprisingly complete game, with a simple six-sided-die-based system for resolving actions and skills including combat, technology (including a rather unlikely "pilot" skill given the Victorian setting; presumably this is for balloons and airships), and social interaction. Nearly half the pages are scenarios, emphasising attempts to fight the Martians (generally by sabotaging their machines), evade the invaders, or simply stay alive. Often humans are a greater danger than the Martians, their motives ranging from insanity and mind control to greed and hunger.

The game system uses four main characteristics, a few skills, and ratings for Blood (hit points), Guts (courage), reputation, etc. Character generation uses a rather confusing assortment of die rolls (1d3, 1d6, 3d6+10) and modifiers to generate initial statistics, but after that everything uses a modified 1d6 "roll under a skill/characteristic combination" to do things, with 1 always a success and 6 always a failure. The character generation system isn't explained completely clearly, and I occasionally got the impression that the explanatory page and instructions were written before the character sheet was finalised. This is most obvious in a reference to a characteristic or skill called "Wits" that doesn't appear on the character sheet, but a more subtle flaw is that the total number of points available for skills seems a little too low for the number of different skills available; it's easy to end up with a character with only one or two good skills, the rest on zero or minus values. This may represent the average man's relative helplessness against the Martians, and since it applies to NPCs as well as the adventurers it isn't a crippling problem, but referees may want to consider adding a point or two. In contrast, hit points are high compared to weapons ratings. An average 21-22 Blood Point character can survive being shot twice or blown up by a stick of dynamite. However, Blood Points are still low compared to the power of Martian weapons, which are usually instantly fatal.

The Martians are described in a single page, mostly consisting of stats for their machines that refer to another product, the 1PG Companion (available from Deep7 for $1.95), which contains additional rules along with scenarios for other 1PG titles. However, the most important statistics are the power of their weapons (lethal), limbs (nasty), and armour, all of which are covered by the rules in the War of the Worlds game. Since the reaction of any rational character should be "Run away! Run away!" that's probably all that's needed. This section also discusses the classic "end game" of the invasion, the death of the invaders by disease, and has some ideas on making it a good deal nastier.

There are six one-page scenarios: "The Strange Case of Charles Milford" deals with a man with an unusual psychic connection to the invaders; "The Destruction of a Martian Cylinder" and "In a Puff of Green" are resistance operation with complications; "Those Who God Would Destroy" shows a case of religious mania and misguided scientific ingenuity; "Feast or Famine" features a rather nasty example of the madness of crowds; and "Martian Britain by Rail" is a cross-country rail trip with characters who are not all that they seem. The PDF ends with two half-page character record sheets for players.

H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds probably doesn't have a lot of long-term playability, but I doubt that many people will buy it for that. Given that this game is excellent value for the money it's difficult to find many flaws; the most obvious are the rules ambiguities described above and occasional anachronisms (at one point a character is described as carrying a butane lighter, at another there's a reference to lobotomy), and the lack of a character advancement system, which isn't unreasonable since most will die horribly, sooner rather than later. Other than that the worst fault I could find was an occasional typo and a couple of minor factual errors about The War of the Worlds. Overall I'd recommend it.

Marcus L. Rowland is author of Forgotten Futures, the Scientific Romance Role Playing Game, a tabletop RPG based on Victorian and Edwardian science fiction and fantasy.

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