Sunday, 16 March 2014

AviationPunk 1 (A brainstorm)


It isn't like I've got time to run a new campaign at the moment. Shadowrun takes far too long to prep as it is. After a period of abeyance, my DnD campaign looks to be starting up again - and in order to avoid another long halt, I need to set things up so we can easily run games without the entire group about. My solution is move the campaign into an urban sandbox, which needs to be constructed. I probably ought to put the time I've spent writing this post into creating a follow-up to the Alienation discussion (but I'd like to leave it another day to compile everything).

So the following post (and series) is really about constructing a fantasy, for now. 

THE SQUADRON CAMPAIGN

I want to run a game about fighter pilots and dogfights. About squadrons of aircraft clashing over familiar battlefields or far flung colonial vistas. About internal squadron interpersonal politics and character conflicts. About the fusion of pilot and machine into an indivisible whole. About casualties and heroes.

About beautiful fucking aircraft...!
A brief Appendix N might include:
  • Chōhei Kambayashi's Yukikaze, an existential novel about human pilots/systems being supplanted by their AI counterparts in a battle for control of an alien world
  • James Salter's The Hunters, about the competition between American pilots for status and glory in the Korean war
  • Jed Mercurio's Ascent, a novel about their Russian counterparts in MiG Alley, and the Soviet space program's obsession with secrecy
  • Walter Jon William's Hardwired, a cyberpunk classic where 'jacked pilots take on corporate privateers over a balkanized United States
  • Michael Stackpole's X-Wing series, in comics and novels (RIP Aaron Allston), following the adventures of Rogue Squadron beyond the battle of Endor
  • Dan Abnett's Double Eagle, following an Imperial squadron as they take on the dread forces of Chaos in the skies above a Warhammer 40k battleground
Plus: the complete works of Dale Brown, Wilbur Smith's Eagle in the Sky and a metric shit-tonne of bad airport techno-thrillers...

Also: the wonderful air combat sequences in Cowboy Bebop, and a group of anime I've never actually seen except in youtube snatches - Yukikaze, Macross, The Wings of Honnêamise... 

And the first Crimson Skies video game, beloved by all (who actually played it)! Not to mention Rogue Squadron and X-Wing Alliance and maybe even the X-COM series...


Any campaign would need (and apologies if this all obvious - this is really a brainstorm!):
  • A variety of character roles, in and out of combat: You couldn't have some players play pilots and some play ground crew, the way a Cyberpunk 2020 group might have musicians and roadies. That isn't to say players couldn't play more than one PC...
  • Varied combat rules: not necessarily the same as detailed combat rules. But fighter planes suffer from the old D&D "fighter" problem, all the more so because they don't (usually) face terrain obstacles like their subterranean medieval counterparts. 
  • A variety of enemies: the fighter squadron can't just go up against the same old TIEs or BF109s all the time. Some settings will make it easy to mix-up the opposition - Star Wars has a million different targets, while WW2 air forces were more varied than the films suggest. Other settings will have a more limited rogue's gallery. "Another MiG-21? Really?"
  • A variety of settings: some of the most iconic air combat stories take place over a fixed arena - think "MiG Alley" in The Hunters or the region around the Faery gate in Yukikaze. Notably, both those novels are about solitary existential crisis... which isn't easy or necessarily worth trying to simulate in a game. 
It also has to deal with the question that all "military" games have to deal with:
  • Player Agency: how to give the players a sense of free will and agency in a game where they may well be receiving orders from generals above them
Obvious rebels and mercenaries have more discrimination about how they act than the soldiers of a major superpower fighting a grinding total war. Furthermore, small air forces fighting bush wars may have more latitude in their actions than pilots in a "thousand plane raid" over Berlin. I've always found small wars more "inspiring" (narratively!) than their larger counterparts anyway.

A few obvious ideas come to mind - a Crimson Skies pirate gang, a Star Wars rebel squadron, neural-linked pilots fighting an arctic war in the near future, 1930s mercenaries in China or Spain... the next few posts in this series will go through the different campaign options. It'll also look through the different available existing rules options, such as they are.