IMAGINE a world of two dimensions; a world in which length and width exist but the concept of height is a dangerous heresy, where the words “up” and “down” are almost meaningless and everything is based on plane geometry.
In 1884 Edwin A. Abbott introduced this world in Flatland, a novel and treatise on multi-dimensional geometry. But Flatland is much more than that – it’s a political and religious satire, a comedy of manners, and an exploration of the nature of thought. By modern standards it isn’t the most gripping of works – Abbot’s writing is at best a little turgid, at worst virtually unreadable – but it was extraordinarily influential in its day, leading to several imitators, parodies, and sequels. Since then immense ingenuity has gone into solving the problems Abbot didn’t cover; the minutiae of two dimensional biology, chemistry, and physics, from the nature of two dimensional chemistry and atomic structure to electronics and the most complex and sophisticated forms of engineering.
In 1998 I was asked to write a simple game system for publication in the programme book for Baroquon, the 1999 British Roleplaying Society convention at New Hall in Cambridge. I’d been thinking about a Flatland game for some time, and took the opportunity to write the first (and considerably shorter) version of this game as a way of exploring the possibilities of the setting. I based the rules on my own Forgotten Futures RPG (1993), making some simplifying assumptions and adding new rules reflecting the world I was describing.
The game wasn’t an instant success – I doubt that anyone actually played it at the convention – but I began to get feedback suggesting that the idea interested people. As a result I expanded and tidied up the rules, added another scenario, and eventually published it as part of the Forgotten Futures CD-ROM, a collection of games writing with supporting articles by Victorian and Edwardian authors. It has not previously been available as a separate publication.
In 2005 RPG authors were asked to contribute scenarios to a charity product in aid of victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. My contribution was a generic adventure based on this setting; Flatlander, The Thickening.
For various reasons the original charity project died stillborn, but having written the scenario with it in mind I decided to go it alone, rewrite the Flatland RPG, incorporating the extra material from Flatlander, and sell it as a PDF in aid of charity. Since the original Tsunami appeal is more or less over I’m donating all of my income from this game to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a charity that is usually in the front lines of most international aid operations, and will undoubtedly spearhead rescue work in any future disaster of this type.
Welcome, then, to Flatland; a world of length and breadth but lacking in height, in which geometry is the overwhelming natural force, and characters are actually meant to be two-dimensional. I hope that you’ll enjoy your visit.