Author Topic: Review of Warbirds  (Read 601 times)

Offline Nanshork

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Review of Warbirds
« on: August 18, 2023, 09:24:55 PM »
Apparently people still want me to do reviews so here we are.  Originally this was going to be a review of Eclipse Phase 2E but less than a tenth of the way into that 400+ page book I found out that players had the ability to control the narrative flow of the game so I just scrapped that review entirely, what I had written was already super long for the page count I had covered and I do not like storytelling games as everybody who has read my previous reviews already knows.  If you want a review of Eclipse Phase 2E you'll have to get it somewhere else.

Instead you get WARBIRDS!

I remember liking this one when I first got a copy of it a long time ago but I have no idea how well I'll think it stands up.  I remember the setting for this one is odd.  I also remember that this is a game mainly about airplane dogfights, pew-pew!

Table of Contents:
 - Credits
 - Comic
 - Welcome
 - Chapter 1 - The World of Azure
 - Chapter 2 - The Nations of Azure
 - Chapter 3 - Major Organizations
 - Chapter 4 - Rapidfire Rules
 - Chapter 5 - The Characters
 - Chapter 6 - Warbird Creation
 - Chapter 7 - Go Gonzo
 - Chapter 8 - Running Warbirds
 - Appendices
 - Supporters

The comic replaces the standard intro story that a lot of games have except it's a little comic book.  Neat but skippable.

Welcome to Warbirds

I am vaguely annoyed that the title doesn't match what it says in the table of contents.

I remembered correctly, the party is a group of elite fighter pilots in the world of Azure.  You are members of powerful mercenary group known as the Guild.  Your plane is called a warbird (hey look, that's the name of the game!).  Azure is an alternate reality universe made of floating islands above an endless Murk.  Basically in 1804 in our world there was a giant hurricane and it picked up islands in the Caribbean and part of Florida and transported them to Azure.  If this sounds dumb you can just replace it with something else (and maybe skip the first few chapters).  It's about 200 years later but technologically Azure is around our 1940s with diesel-powered airships.

Warbirds is cinematic (think pulp movies), there is no battle map.  It's about airplane dogfights, quick snap decisions, and life or death situations, not sitting around planning your turn for a few minutes and calculating squares.  There is also some rules for doing things on the ground (aka not shooting planes with your plane).

Chapter 1 - The World of Azure

Okay, I guess the game assumes we know what dice are and how to roleplay.  I'm not complaining, I've just done this enough to notice when those sections are missing.  I'm just going to give broad strokes here because this is all setting.

At the bottom of the "world" is the Murk.  It is like a dark ocean made up of dust and gasses and other stuff, planes can't fly in it and people can't breath in it and pressure increases as you descent into it (like the ocean) so it hasn't really been explored although people have tried.  Some of it can be "mined" to make heavy diesel fuel and no bottom has been found.

Above the Murk is the Sky which is pretty identical to our sky except it has giant floating islands that don't all float at the same height, there are roughly three layers.  Also the sky is much "higher" than our sky, space is a lot further away.

The Eye is at the middle, a giant invisible pillar of air that rises out of the Murk and extends hundreds of kilometers into the air.  If you want to fly up to a higher island, use the Eye.  It is also Magnetic North, emits radio interference, and the magical rock that makes the islands float (called Floatstone) both rotates around the eye and stops working inside of the eye.

We then get some information about the different groups of islands (Lowlands, Midlands, Uplands, and others), information about how to travel around, and a history lesson about what has happened in the past couple hundred years.  Also there are two Popes.

Chapter 2 - The Nations of Azure

This one is a deep dive into fluff.  I'll just list the nations here so you get an idea of what you're in for.  Each one includes an overview of the island/nation and information about its culture, politics, and places of note.

Jamaica, The Minor Principalities, The Guild Keys, Haiti, Cuba, Santiago, Puerto Rico, Yucatan, Tegesta, Nassau

Chapter 3 - Major Organizations

Here's a list of the major organizations in this chapter.  Each one includes origins, objectives, and other information.

The Guild (the main mercenary group), Pirates, Mercenaries (that aren't a part of The Guild), Prensa Libra (news-people), Errant Observations Inc (a company that finds new islands), Exploration Companies (explore new islands), The Fundamental Catholic Church, and The Reformed Catholic Church.

Chapter 4 - Rapidfire Rules

Warbirds is a 1d6 system, higher is better.  The stats are Body, Mind, and Spirit with modifiers that go from -3 to +3 (-2 to +2 during character creation) with 0 being average.  Skills are added to an associated stat and go from 0 to 6 with difficulties ranging from 2 to 14 (+2 if untrained).  There are no automatic successes or failures.

There are also some new twists on things.  Every session each character gets a number of Reserve points equal to their highest skill +2, points can be spent to increase rolls or do other cool stuff.  Also if the GM thinks someone is doing something awesome they can grant +1 to the roll and a reserve.  If you roll a 1 and failed by 3 or more then the player can ask the GM for a critical failure in which something extra bad (but not lethal) happens and the player gains a reserve and also an XP for the skill being used (no more than one critical failure per scene).  There are also rules for helping others with rolls.

There is also a Fame rating which can be used as a bonus to certain skill rolls once per session (and could be turned into a penalty if there is a Scandal).  In addition, Fame represent your income.

As all rolls are a stat plus a skill, unsurprisingly so are rolls in combat (which mainly covers initiative and attacking).  On top of that, here we learn that the amount that you exceed the target number is called the Lead, this gets added to damage rolls and can also help improve other things.  Defenders have a Defence score (like armor class) and a Resist score (like damage reduction). Special actions can be taken in combat and there are also rules for modifiers like surprise or fighting in darkness.  It isn't simulationist but it covers the basics, it's a plane game and there is still a section for fighting while riding a horse.  There are also some example combats which can be helpful.

There is a health track, the more wounded you are the more penalties you have on rolls.  Health ranges from 1 to 10 (normal people have 3 health).  If your health track is exceeded then you are out of the fight, death only happens when dramatically appropriate (as generally expected from a cinematic game).  Mainly this is when a player puts their life on the line (to get bonuses but increase risk) or faces certain death (because some things you just can't survive).  This also covers NPCs so you can have that asshole villain who always pops back up.

Next in this chapter we get the Rules of the Sky.  If you're in a dogfight, the only stat you care about is Situational Awareness and the skills you care about are Piloting, Strafing, Gunnery, and Ordinance.  Aircraft also have their own stats (Performance and Armor) and health track (called Structure).  Then we get a few pages about how dogfights work with the flying and the shooting and the falling, etc.

Chapter 5 - The Characters

You are assumed to be a a member of The Guild (a new, bottom-tier member).  The smallest unit in The Guild is a flight, all characters are part of the same flight and there is not a strict hierarchy so no one person is automatically declared the leader.  You are then in a squadron (there's a list of squadrons) and each squadron has a rival squadron (this changes a lot).  Then you get a rival flight just to annoy the crap out of the players I guess.  There's also support crew and a guild agent and some other stuff the GM gets to sort out.

Character creation follows these steps: Decide on a Concept, Pick a Name, Build a Background (which includes a lot of sample questions), Assign Stats (you get a single +1 and can assigned up to -2 for extra compensating plusses and you can save stat points for x2 skill points) (as an aside, the Situational Awareness stat for dogfighting is equal to your three stats added together), Choose Skills (10 points to spend, max starting skill level is 2, with two occupational skills at level 1 for free), do math to get Secondary stats (defence, resist, health, fame = 2), Choose advantages and disadvantages (advantages have to be balanced out by disadvantages, many are roleplaying related), Sort out gear, money, and fame.

Character advancement is gained through XP which is immediately assigned to skills which get improved when thresholds are met.  Stat points are awarded separately and have their own thresholds. There are also fame points, guess how they work.

Chapter 6 - Warbird Creation

Warbirds get their own character sheets with the Situational Awareness stat and the warbird skills which are all at least 1 and you get points for those like with your character's points.  You then take the normal statblock for a warbird and decide if you want to use light machine guns, heavy machine guns, or cannons.  You also get one heavy weapon (which could be a bomb).  Next are some lists of traits you get to choose from (all positive).  Lastly there's the math.

Getting kills in dogfights or strafing lets you eventually get more traits on your warbird to "level it up" (my phrasing, not the books).

Chapter 7 - Go Gonzo

Are floating rocks not enough for you?  Then it's time to GO GONZO!  Here are (optional) rules for magic!  Want your Catholic characters to exorcise demons or pray for miracles?  Bam, have some rules.  Want your Mayan characters to perform sacrificial rituals?  Bam, have some rules.  Want some Hatian Vodou?  Bam, have some rules.  There are also a few pages dedicated to mad science.

Chapter 8 - Running Warbirds

This is the GM chapter.  We get rules on arbitrating rolls (when to grant automatic successes, what to do with high Leads, etc), how to run the game (including what to do when the characters aren't in their planes and what places they could visit), how to manage time (both downtime and dogfighitng time), etc. 

One interesting thing to note is that this game has Sponsorship, if you want to be famous then find sponsors that will let you advertise their brand (which was apparently a real thing).  This is a relationship that has to be maintained, not something the players can get for free.

There's also the standard information about running missions and rewarding xp and how to run enemies and example statblocks (including airships and trains and buildings), etc.


These are pretty bare-bones, as expected.  Want to run a game where the players fly a transport ship and you all pretend you're in the cartoon Talespin?  There's an appendix about games based around being couriers.  There's an an appendix for helping track dogfighting initiative, and one for the glossary.  We also get the standard allotment of character sheets.

The supporters page is because apparently this game was funded on Indiegogo.

Final Thoughts

This system is way more story-tellery than I remember.  Probably too much, although I'll be keeping it around because it's just so unique, I personally haven't seen another system dedicated to flying around in planes and shooting other planes.  Also it isn't a cooperative storytelling game where the players have rules where they can make NPCs appear or otherwise mess with the narrative so it's not Eclipse Phase 2E.  So it's okay, not great but an interesting premise and has some ideas I can think of taking and using in other things.  I wouldn't be interested in running it.

As an aside, this clears out my review backlog!