Tuesday, April 05, 2011

D is for ...

Dawn Patrol. What, that’s not an RPG?

Dawn Patrol is a WWI airplane combat game. What most people know about WWI aerial combat is confined to A) Snoopy’s Dog House and B) Frozen Pizza. But in miniatures terms, it a perfect genre to simulate, since you have 1:1 scaling, little need of terrain (except maybe clouds), and brightly colored historical models (long ago you could readily get them at the local hobby shop, don’t know now). 

The challenge of flight games was handling elevation. The mavens in Lake Geneva did it by vertical dowels on wooden bases, with the planes held aloft at the proper altitude by clothespins. The end result was an elegant, wonderful game, and one that miniatures were just made for.

And the game has a shared mindspace with a lot of the early RPGs in its design process. It was a small game (originally called Fight in the Skies) created by a group of people who lovingly tended and developed it before being unleashed on a wider world. The full story, well worth reading, is here.

But a role-playing game? Even if it says so on the box? The first published version was just “A realistic game simulating World War I aerial combat”- I love the "truth in advertising" of early RPGs and wargames. Well, it is a simulation where you play one character, who is in one plane. So you are controlling a character who is controlling a plane. So the level of attachment is greater than, say, if you're suddenly in charge of the Afrika Korps and blitzing across North Africa.

And there are rules for keeping your pilot through multiple missions, and improving his skill over time. That’s early character creation and advancement, that slender of threads that could attract a few more sales by making it an RPG at a time when RPGs were exploding on the scene (and indeed, its sales were much higher than for a "realistic game simulating World War I aerial combat".)

In truth, Dawn Patrol sits on the event horizon of RPGs. If you move further away, you get into more into wargames. If you move a hair closer, you are drawn relentlessly into the black hole/time suck of role-playing games. It is a sentinel, that last signpost up ahead before you pitch head-first into the Twilight Zone.

At least I never had to write any modules based on it, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. 

More later,