The War of the Rock: Adventures in World Building

Now that Dauntless #1 is finished, I’ve been working on the second issue, tentatively entitled “Wild Blue”, focusing on aviation adventures. It covers a lot of ground, from character profiles of Meteora, Skyman, and Airboy to Kipling’s ABC, air pirates, Conan-Doyle’s “air jungles”, cargo ‘digs, gravity-defying Nefs, Ley Line gliders, and even more unusual aircraft.

Swashbuckling pilot heroes were hugely popular back in the Golden Age of comics, and aviation pioneers like Robur and Frank Reade were icons of the age of pre-pulp adventure. Alas, the sub-genre has lost its grip on the modern imagination. Even though I personally hate flying, I’m hopeful that Dauntless #2 can reignite some of that excitement.

Because flying has become routine, it struck me that many Game Masters probably don’t think about how to incorporate it as the adventure, rather than simply the way to get to the adventure. Thus, I also wanted to sketch out a ready-to-use adventure sandbox with an aviation-centric theme. That’s what this post (and probably future posts) will be about.

Simultaneously, I’ve been reading Alexander Macris’s “Arbiter of Worlds“, by far the best book on GMing that I’ve ever read. In it, he describes his system for creating a sandbox suitable for any setting or genre, starting with the “Mega Setting”, world map, timeline, recent to forgotten history, and so on, increasing in detail and resolution as you come closer to the time and location of the adventures you want to run. I wanted to follow his model closely and see how it compared with the decidedly unorganized, instinctual methods I usually follow.

Since I’m writing this for the Ascension Epoch, the first part involving the Mega Setting and history took me no time at all (OK, it actually took something like 10 years, but it was a sunk cost!), so I could get right down to the immediate situation.

At any given time, there’s a lot of opportunities for airborne adventure in the Ascension Epoch, but what to pick? It needed to be something where flying was central to the adventure, not just a means of getting there. In other words, it needed dogfights, skyjackings, crashes, rescues, and the occasional encounters with a Sky Kraken. I wanted the campaign to have room for super-powered characters, but not require them. A group of PCs could be a military fighter squadron, an ABC Mark Boat crew running search and rescue operations, smugglers shuttling around priceless cargo in stealth helicopters, or executive bodyguards protecting VIPs from kidnappers and assassins. I wanted there to be opportunities for both “here we come to save the day!” altruism and filthy lucre.

What I settled on was the War of the Rock, aka the Anglo-Spanish War of 2011.

I’ve never written about this before, but if you’ve read Copper Knights and Granite Men, you have heard of it: West Side Siren makes an off-handed mention of it to Mr. Sand in the last chapter. Something about her planned vacation to the Riviera being canceled “because the Spanish can’t win a war.”

For a long time, that’s all that I had, other than the vague idea of a botched Spanish attempt to recapture Gibraltar, leading to Republican England invading Spain and kicking them around a bit. (I’m pretty sure I got the idea from an old Harpoon Battleset. Can anyone help me identify which one?). So to help me figure out who all the belligerents were and what sort of interesting events would be going on, I needed to establish a prelude to the conflict. This is what I came up with:


Two thousand ten was a bad year in England, and particularly so for Prime Minister Stephan Flynn. Flynn’s coalition government was on the verge of collapse due to the question of Cornish secession, and the Socialist party faced the first real possibility of electoral defeat in a generation. Meanwhile, the republic was in the midst of a banking crisis, double-digit inflation, and a looming default due to a financially unaffordable, yet politically untouchable, welfare state. Hoping to forestall default, the government entered into secret negotiations with Spain, offering to sell Gibraltar for £3 billion. The Spanish agreed and even advanced several tens of millions to help with the forthcoming elections, with the deal to be announced afterward. News of the deal leaked, however, and the reaction was fierce. The election was a bloodbath for the Socialists, and a right-wing coalition government stormed to victory.

In case there was any doubt about the illegality of the deal, the new government publicly repudiated the Gibraltar deal. When Spain replied that, as far as they were concerned, England had accepted the deal by accepting the advance, Foreign Secretary William FitzWilliam’s famous response, caught on a hot mic, was: “Bugger Spain. We’ll keep the money, too.”

It’s national honor wounded, Spain seethed for nine months. Then, at 3 AM on April 1, a flight of tilt-rotors loaded with commandos stormed the Gibraltar airstrip while Spanish warships blockaded the harbor. The fortresses on The Rock held out for three more days, but when the relief flotilla was repulsed by Spanish submarines in action off Cape Spartel, the defenders accepted the inevitable. The rest of England, however, did not.

At last! The stage is set for the first major war in Ascension Epoch Europe since the 1970s! In the next post, we’ll start filling in the recommended 45 Points of Interest in our adventure sandbox.


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