Tags: crimson skies

Game News 2

One thing I picked up recently via RPGNow/DrivethruRPG was a game called Wild Skies- Europa Tempest. It's a dieselpunk 1930's game where the Great War never really ended, just broke down into a series of regional skirmishes while former soldiers turn mercenary in order to make ends meet. One big game changer was the discovery of a metal called Vrillium, which in it's natural state is lighter than air and can be used to make incredibly strong lightweight alloys. Further, if a current is passed through it it develops much greater lift, allowing vast floating dreadnoughts to be built. There are a few other changes, America is completely isolationist, holding itself apart from the chaos happening in Europe, Britain is now virtually a communist state called the Hegemony, France is split into two separate Republics, Russia and Germany are Empires, Hungary is a Kingdom and hordes of barbarian rabbits infest the wastelands.

Yes, that's right, rabbits.

This an anthropomorphic game, or "furry", if you prefer, everyone is some sort of mammal, bird or reptile, which quirks and abilities appropriate to their species. The game was funded by a Kickstarter Campaign a little while ago and has now seen a release, I thought it looked interesting and picked it up.

Not sure what to make of it yet. The art is ok, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more, and I'm still getting to grips with the skill mechanic. This is initially percentile, based on the difficulty of the task, but the roll is then modified by your Primary or Secondary attribute (for example, Smarts for a Primary, Know-How for a Secondary) and then further modified by a D6 dice pool of up to 5 dice assembled from your skill dice, assisting players and various other factors, you can use any dice above 5 to offset penalties, but you can't roll more than 5. There THEN exists chances to reroll, once a session, per attribute.

It seems a little clunky, but I'm sure it'd flow well enough with practice. One intriguing mechanic is something called a moral compass. This is a wheel with four axes, forming eight spokes. Each axis is a pair of competing qualities Truth and Falsehood, Defence and Destruction, Compassion and Power, etc. You choose your "True North", the quality that is most important to your character and then through the game progress towards it, earning bonuses, perks and experience as you go. The True North can be changes at certain points to reflect chancing circumstances and life goals, with different benefits for each quality. There are eight Axes presented, allowing for very diverse characters. It's sort of an alignment chart and experience key and ultimately a map showing how the character has developed and changed through the game. Like I said, intriguing. Again, not sure how it would work in practice.

So, I'm not sure If I like the game or not. The addition of Vrillium seems unnecessary, surely airships could work just as well, but I suppose some technological oddball like this was needed to change the state of the world. I wss thinking you might be able to use the game to play in a "Crimson Skies" setting, the Black Swan could actually be that, a black swan. We'll see, still might pick up "Warbirds" for that instead.

In other news I see that Esdevium, the old Games Distribution company, has now been submerged completely into it's owner, the large publishing group Asmodee (who also own Fantasy Flight and Catan amongst others), they still have the domain name but it's the Asmodee brand at the top of the page. I remember when Esdevium was just a games shop in Aldershot, with the name made of the first initials of the owners, "S. D." and "V. M.". A little bit of gaming history has finally gone and, while I doubt it will make much practical difference I was a bit sad to see it go.

From Azure to Crimson...

Turns out there's possible a better bet for a Crimson Skies hack than using the Airship Daedalus XPG system. Take a look here- http://www.warbirdsrpg.com/

This is a new game from the Outrider Studios set in the 1930's era deiselpunk realm of Azure, where islands float over an endless storm and the skies go on forever. The interesting point is that the islands are those from the Caribbean, plus bits of the Florida and Yucatan Peninsulas, that somehow got ripped from Earth in a terrible storm in 1804 and ended up in this strange pocket dimension.

Bermuda Triangle, makes people... er, whole sections of your planet disappear...

Practically everybody who's reviewed this seems to think it's- 1. Good. 2. Really reminds them of that old Crimson Skies game from FASA. It's a print-on-demand title from RPGnow/DriveThruRPG, so pretty easy to get hold of and I will probably do so next payday. There's a whole bunch of stuff to supplement it already, WW2, Jet Age, Space Age and Weird Science Sourcebooks (the latter two also being print-on-demand), but the main game seems to deliver what I want. Pilots who are basically their world's celebrities, sky pirates, a 30's pulp aesthetic, cool deiselpunk aircraft and goood aircraft construction and dogfighting rules. The "Airships" are held in the air with the same floating stone that seems to keep the islands up, so no Zeppeins as such, but I doubt it would be difficult to fit them in.

While looking around DriveThruRPG I also came across a sourcebook, usable with any system, for a late 1930's setting where your players fly a Grumman Goose around South Pacific islands getting into all sorts of weird trouble.

Now where have I seen that before?

No, before Tailspin.

Tales of the Gold Monkey anyone? Loved that show...

Zeppelins and Jetpacks...

Found a copy of the Crimson Skies boxed rules on the Oxfam site (another useful little backwater away from the big boys like ebay and Amazon). For a week or so we stared at each other, but I blinked first. Got it now. For a while I was wondering if it was going to be my old set coming back, but the box is a bit more battered than mine was. All the contents in mint condition though, aircraft counters unpunched, three rulebooks, maps, dice, even the FASA product list and authentic aviation clothing catalogue were present. Enjoying reading through it all once more.

The copy of "Behind the Crimson Veil" was in reasonable nick after all, so I'm happy there, and the others I found are essentially new. Got them from the Ral Partha Europe site. Yes, the old Ral Partha metal figures company is still going, having got the moulds for a lot or old game figures they're churning them out in their Liverpool branch and also scooping up any old stock of rulebooks while they're over in the states. So I've got it all back more or less. I might even get the Crimson Skies PC game and see what that's like (there was a later Xbox release, but I don't have an Xbox and, frankly, I like the look of the earlier game more).

At the back of "Veil", this being the sky pirate sourcebook, are rules for Zeppelin boarding. With no helicopters as such and parachutes being too slow and open to wearers being shot out of the sky, the basic technique is to have a cargo plane fly low and slow over the top of the Zep, with other planes running interference, while the boarding party jump out and try to grapple on to the upper structure. A tricky manoeuvre. Been thinking though, what would make this easier? Jetpacks!

Well, rocket packs actually. And "Jump Packs" would be a better term for them. The first rocket pack design was Russian and actually dates back to 1919, there was a patent issued, but no examples were ever made as far as is known. This used an oxygen-methane mix so pretty explosive and potentially moreso if your Zep is full of hydrogen. The later late 50's Bell "Rocket Belt" used a monopropellant, hydrogen peroxide forced by nitrogen through a catalyst filter which produced an exhaust of steam and oxygen. Still very hot, but no actual flames and much less risk of an explosion. Only had a duration of 20 to 30 seconds though, so you wouldn't exactly be hurtling through the sky like in the "Rocketeer" film, but for a quick hop over to the top of a Zeppelin...

Coincidentally the current process for producing the sort of high grade H2O2 you need was invented in Germany in 1936, just in time for the Crimson Skies world of 1937. You'd still need to invoke "rule of cool" for any Crimson Skies RPG to employ these, but it's not stretching believability too far to have a particular pirate group to have stolen or otherwise obtained a batch of prototype "jump packs" and put them to good use in Zeppelin raids, and it certainly fits the whole pulp era ethos.

Still considering using the Airship Daedalus XPG rulset for this, but another option is the Savage Worlds multi-genre RPG, who's default setting is pulp. One early supplement was a pulp toolkit, but Adamant Entertainment have got a whole series of 30's pulp supplements for the system, their "Thrilling Tales" range, which certainly seems worth a look. Zeppelins and jetpacks certainly feature heavily. I gather that someone once even wrote a Savage Worlds/Crimson Skies Conversion called "Aces High" that was available on the "Savage Heroes" website, but this seems now defunct and I can't find it anywhere now, alas (although Utherwald Press' "Frozen Skies" setting for Savage Worlds does look as if it would be extremely useful...).

Wonder what else just the other side of plausible you could fit into a Crimson Skies game? Most weird science and supernatural elements would have to be toned considerably down or removed completely. I was thinking of working on one concept called "The Phantom Fighter", a strange plane seen in the skies, piloted with extreme skill. But the few surviving pilots who get close enough before being shot down report that the plane's cockpit is empty!

The plane is in fact an experimental fully automated fighter that uses radio triangulation and photo-receptor "eyes" to navigate and see. Its base is also completely automated and well stocked with fuel and ammo, the scientist who created it having lost control and been locked out, watching helplessly as the machine he built to prevent needless human deaths keeps taking to the skies and racking up kills.

Did you know that one of the first companies to produce radio controlled aircraft was started in the USA by an English ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot called Reginald Denny, who tried and failed to become a Hollywood actor. Between 1936 and 1940 they gradually produced a workable craft, called a "Radioplane" for use by the US Army as gunnery targets. They were quite successful, with newer and better models being produced over the following few years. However, radio controlled aircraft are not the most memorable things to come out of their factories. On a visit to one in 1945 an Army photographer saw a young girl on the production line who he thought had the potential to become a model. He took a few pictures of her and these eventually led to a screen test and the start of a successful film career.

Her name was Norma Jeane Dougherty, later Marilyn Monroe.

Odd things you find when you're doing research for an RPG idea.

Crimson Skies Redux

I have been doing a bit of Crimson Sky book recovery after all. Two of the supplements I needed were so cheap it was worth getting them just for background info. The lack of a copy of Behind the Crimson Veil was annoying though. Undertook a huge trawl of the internet and thought I found it, for a tenner even, on an online sales site in France. My boss is a lot more fluent in French than me so he took a look at it and reckoned he could easily pick it up and would do it that evening, postage would only be £7-£8. Huzzah! This was possibly the only copy of this for sale in the entire bloody world.

The day after he texted to say it was apparently unavailable now. Bummer. In desparation I actually contacted some of the authors, one had no copies and wished me luck but the other reckoned he had a few spares knocking around and would go and see if he could find them.

As it happens my boss's earlier log in to the French site had put the book in the basket tagged to the computer at work, thus making it unavailable to any other buyer. He thought this might be the case, looked it up again today and yes, it was there, so he got it and it should be on it's way shortly. Hope it arrives ok and is in decent nick now.

In the meantime the author had found his spares and offered one to me at a very reasonable price (plus postage from the States). I might actually take him up on that, firstly for taking the trouble to find it for me in the first place and secondly because this thing is so rare it's worth having a spare copy in case (or I find another poor soul trying to get hold of one).

The main rules now, that's a different kettle of fish. Have to keep looking.

Incidentally, the first author happened to have her contribution to "Tinseltown Expose", the never released Hollywood sourcebook on her blog, so I grabbed that. I'm wondering now who the other contributors were and if they too still have their chapters on file somewhere. "Zeppelins and Bombers" was finally made available, perhaps "Tinseltown Expose" could be too.

Pointy Rockets and Crimson Skies...

A little while back I ruminated on how it might be fun to adapt the Savage Worlds Pulp "Slipstream" setting to Deep7's Red Dwarf RPG, as a "holodeck adventure" or alternate universe (or any one of a number of ways you could drop the boys from the Dwarf into it).

Well, that's just got a whole lot easier with the latest in Deep7's Airship Daedalus RPG supplement, the "AEGIS Interplanetary Guidebook". This takes the basic 1930's setting with its occasional wierd science and demonic magic and turns the dial up to 11 by placing the H. G. Wells "War of the Worlds" into the timeline and the subsequent reverse engineering of abandoned martian technology leading to a thriving space race with bubble helmeted space suits, pointy finned rockets and more rayguns that you can wave a proton disintegrator at. It's a nice addition to the series, but... I have some issues with it, mainly with the art.

Deep7 have a habit of using "photo realistic" computer graphics in their books nowadays. Now this is fine for technology; spaceships, vehicles, technology, robots, even the occasional alien, but try to depict a human (or human-like alien) with it and it just dives straight into uncanny valley. It looks both wrong and ugly. I like it not. I didn't like it in the main Airship Daedalus rulebook and I don't like it here either. The other thing is some of the spaceship designs. OK, every pulp era source like Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers (the old Larry "Buster" Crabbe ones) has been raided, fair enough, but there are a few there that raised an eyebrow. Like at least three Gerry Anderson craft. Seriously? You didn't think anyone would notice? I certainly did, putting a few bubble canopies on Thunderbird 3 does not disguise the fact that it is still Thunderbird 3. A few others I noticed as well, like a Mysterion "vertical rocket cycle" being suspiciously close to a Trade Federation Single Trooper Aerial Platform from "The Phantom Menace" or a Nazi "TX-25 Teufelbach fighter-bomber" being a dead ringer for the Alliance Fast Attack Ship from the "Keep Flying" Firefly Online website. It just smacks of laziness, surely a halfway decent graphic designer could have knocked something original together with little effort. Let's just hope the copyright lawyers don't catch wind of it.

So issues with the rulebook, but aside from that it does make a very useful toolkit for a Red Dwarf/Slipstream conversion, same XPG mechanics and and the same sort of pulp era science fiction setting. All you really need for bringing a bit of Raygun Gothic to complicate your Dwarfer's lives.

And of course Ace Rimmer would fit into this genre so so perfectly. "Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast". What a guy!

So that's one thing taken care of, however...

While looking through the Airship Daedalus material again I was also struck by what an ideal system it would be for roleplaying another 1930s setting, that of Crimson Skies.

Crimson Skies was a boardgame created by Jordan Weisman and Dave McCoy for the FASA game company, released in 1998 and set in an alternate 1930s where simmering resentments from the Civil War, influenza epidemics, prohibition and finally the Wall Street Crash have fractured the USA into several competing nation-states and the whole economic, technological and political shape of the world has been altered. The trans-continental railroads have been torn up, the nascent highway network never materialised and if you want to move anything anywhere you take to the skies. Cue the honking big airships!

It's an alternate universe Earth, of course there's going to be airships. Duh!

And where you have airships plying trade, what are you going to get? Sky pirates! Yes indeedy. The game is basically a minatures wargame pitting various milita, mercenary and pirate factions against each other in ever more improbable but utterly cool fighter aircraft. Basically what the authors thought was "what would it take to generate airborne pirates" and this balkanised America is what they came up with. It's a glorious setting, beautifully realised and filled with larger than life characters who are the superstars of this era. A lot of the aircraft are based on experimental (but generally hugely unsuccessful) aircraft designs of the time. But this world runs on rule of cool, so bolt on a few more fins and off we go into the pale blue yonder. It's pulp hero, but it's also deiselpunk, years before the term was even invented, "dieselpulp" if you will. Hardly surprising it won the Origins Award for "Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game" and "Best Graphic Presentation of a Board Game" of 1998. It went on to spawn a couple of videogames that stil have legions of fans, as does the original game.

 (Dieselpulp? Good word, must remember that).

I had it. And I got rid of it in the downsize. And I regret it.

Fortunately I still had a few books on the shelves,so I rescued those. Even more fortunately someone of teh interwebz had put up pdf scans of a load of it on Mediafire, bless em. So I have these and luckily the pdfs I don't have and the books I do match up perfectly.

I could get them back, found a site that sells most for not much more than I sold them for, but the main rules boxed set goes for silly money and the "Behind the Crimson Veil" pirate sourcebook is nowhere to be found. I've looked. Still, I have all the info I need for the setting, a little work and I can be hurling my little Bell Valiant towards the pirate fighter group threatening that airship with it's vital cargo of vaccine.

Not on my watch, you sons of bitches!

*dakka dakka dakka dakka dakka*


Additional- While browsing the net for Crimson Skies stuff I did find out some interesting facts, such as there was going to be a Hollywood Sourcebook, but it was never released. There was also mention of the Holy Grail of the Crimson Skies gamer community, the fabled Zeppelins and Bombers Sourcebook. Always conflicting rumours of this, there was a limited release, or there wasn't anything, or it was only ever produced in Germany (the Germans were HUGE fans of Crimson Skies). Turns out the guy who wrote it, Patrick Koepke (also did the Texas Republic Sourcebook), had indeed submitted a first draft to FASA just before the company shut down and eventually, hearing of all the fans who were desparately trying to find it, found all his notes, polished it all up and finally released it as a pdf.

If you're still looking, it can be found here- http://www.montanaraiders.com/zeppelinsandbombers.html

Very nice it is too. Interesting to see that in the CS world airships the size of the Hindenburg are considered among the smaller sizes available. Honking big airships, like I said.