Friday, 12 June 2015

Knights of the Air: Trail and the Great War

If you're looking for a video series to absorb hours of your time, I highly recommend The Great War, a YouTube channel that focuses on the events and personalities of that world-shattering conflict. The production team has chosen to focus on some of the undeservedly obscure elements of the war, like South Africa's role in the conflict, which makes it invaluable for Keepers wanting to set a scenario somewhere unusual.

All of which brings me back to Dulce et Decorum Est, and the air war. I've talked previously about mixing game types, linking several different Trail concepts in a single, overarching narrative. This time let's consider what it would mean to mix the air war rules found in Flying Coffins as well as Dulce, and the survival rules found in Mythos Expeditions.

The Middle Eastern theatre of operations is one of the least studied, unless you happen to be a fan of Lawrence of Arabia. However from an air war perspective it is very interesting. Germany began sending the Turks aircraft very early on, and by the end the Turks had the benefit of some of Germany's best fighter designs, such as the Albatros and Halberstadt. Even as the original Eindecker was making mincemeat of allied aircraft over the Western Front, the Germans were sending its latest designs to the Ottomans. They were opposed by the British and Australians, operating out of Egypt as part of the Expeditionary Force. From a Keeper's point of view, possibly the best time to stage a scenario in this conflict is early 1917, as Allenby is forming the Palestinian Brigade in a desperate attempt to stave off air defeat by a superior German-backed air force.

The Arab Revolt is already well under way at this point, Lawrence is busy blowing up train tracks, and the Ottomans are beginning to feel the pressure. The British are poised to take the Sinai Peninsula, and are looking hungrily at Rafa, an important military stronghold. Number 1 Squadron AFC is moved closer to the scene of the action to support ground assaults. The protagonists, it can be assumed, are part of Number 1 Squadron. They need to be able to establish and hold air superiority, which is going to be next to impossible since the Germans have very strong air combat capability. During the battle, German air raids are going to be a very difficult challenge for the allied attackers.

The Keeper might consider a few prelude scenes before the main action, perhaps set in Cairo, as these dashing young pilots arrive in the Middle East and begin training. Here they learn about Mordiggian for the first time, and discover that there is a small group of quasi-cultists within the Palestinian Brigade, blessing bullets, as they have been taught to do by home-grown Mordiggian cultists, possibly even agents of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh. These bullets require blood sacrifice to make, but if they are used against the enemy then their effectiveness is greatly increased. The protagonists may be intrigued by this, and even be tempted to use them, so long as the blood sacrifice is limited; goats, say, or other small animals. Of course, the most effective bullets require human sacrifice ...

Then battle begins, and the pilots are tested, perhaps even found wanting. German air operations are taking their toll, and allied command  is not happy at the losses suffered as a result of successful German bombardment. A big push is on to take Rafa; the protagonists had better up their game. At this point the Keeper ought to throw in several fierce air engagements near the scene of the battle, as troops begin to deploy. Personalize these defending German aircraft; perhaps one or two of them become nemeses for the attacking Australian pilots.

Close this scene with a demand from the cultists: perform a blood sacrifice, and all will be well; we can ensure you defeat your enemies. But if you don't, our curse be upon you! A personal appearance from an avatar of Mordiggian, or a particularly dangerous creature, would be very useful at this point. This is the entity that has to be fed. The protagonists don't have to find their own victims. The cult is happy to provide the sacrifices, but it has to be the protagonists who decide whether or not to carry out the ritual.

Then they take to the air, fighting over Rafa. If they chose to carry out the ritual, then they enjoy tremendous success, as their new bullets seemingly cannot miss, and do great damage. Perhaps those German nemeses go down in flames very quickly, now that the protagonists have access to these magic bullets. If they didn't, then the German forces are all but overwhelming. Attack after attack leaves the Australian planes in shreds, low on ammo, smoking and about to crash.

The scene should end with the aircraft forced down. If they didn't carry out the ritual then this shouldn't be difficult to arrange. If they did, then the pilots are horrified to discover that their own aircraft are turning against them, becoming monstrous things, demanding blood. If the protagonists don't immediately land and abandon ship, then these vampiric entities will drain them dry. This is definitely worth a Stability check.

Now the pilots are on the ground in Palestine, somewhere near the fighting. They don't have psychic powers, so there's no way to know who's in control of Rafa; they need to get somewhere safe, and eventually back to their squadron. They also need to avoid Ottoman patrols.

This is where the Survival Pool needs to be established, and I would base it on the number of pilots, on the assumption of 2 points per pilot, representing any charts, navigation equipment, and water that they may possess. Naturally they ought to destroy anything that the enemy might find useful, like documents which show current Allied positions, but since those are also the charts that they might be using to find their way back, they may be reluctant to do this. If they do, then feel free to reduce Survival by 2. The area around Rafa is best described as hot semi-arid, which means Survival tests are either Hostile (in the area immediately around Rafa) or Very Hostile (everywhere else).

Now the pilots have to make their way back. Possible challenges include desert Arabs (are they on our side, or in the pay of the Ottomans?), attacking enemy aircraft, dust storms, leaking water bottles, and mine fields. If the Keeper feels that the protagonists might be about to snuff it, perhaps those Arabs turn out to be friendly, or perhaps the protagonists find an unexpected source of water; say, from dead soldiers' canteens, which would mean a Stability test.

On their way they spot a landmark that isn't on the map. It is an abandoned fort, possibly dating all the way back to the crusaders. Nobody would establish a fort without ensuring it had a water supply, would they?

Here is where they have their final encounter with the forces of Mordiggian. Of course the fort isn't truly abandoned; this is one of the Old One's fanes, where it is worshiped in nightmarish, bloody ritual. Did the protagonists make sacrifice and get those magic bullets? Then they are welcomed with open arms, and the scenario may end with them descending into madness as they embrace the blood rites, and become one with Mordiggian's worshipers. If they did not, or if they choose to avoid the fort altogether, then they are pursued across the desert by the creatures that live within, and spend the final scenes of the scenario on a knife edge, low on Survival, throats dry, water out, no way of knowing how far away safety is, and pursued relentlessly by things they cannot, dare not, comprehend.

That's it for now! Enjoy. 


  1. I dearly want to play this campaign now.

  2. Are the air combat rules in the collection different from the ones in Flying Coffins?

  3. Not significantly, but there is an expanded list of aircraft. I also try to indicate which planes were used in which theater of operations.