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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dawn Patrol 6 FEB 1917

Pictured-Royal Naval Air Service Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter

I brought Dalton and John to their first wargame at Big Darryl's house, it was pretty much their first wargame ever. John had played some Axis & Allies with me before, which wasn't any help, but Dalton was totally new to the genre, having only played D&D and other RPGs before. When we got there Big Darryl and Little Darryl were waiting for us, so I had the new guys take pilots off my roster to play with, essentially my Dawn Patrol characters, so we could jump right in. I started going over the basics of how to play the game with them while we also figured out how to divede up the teams and Darryl Jr. determined a scenario for us to play. A key weak point in Dawn Patrol is the random scenario generation doesn't always give you compatible mission results, and we could not remember how we used to do this back in the day; which was, admittedly, over twenty years ago.

We also had seriously house ruled this game with lots of different things like spotting rules, phased movement and pass-through attacks, so by the end of our Dawn Patrol experience we weren't playing Dawn Patrol at all, but rather a game that was initially based on Dawn Patrol and used the Dawn Patrol counters and aircraft stat cards, although sometimes they were modified or superseded too, and we had made some of our own aircraft as well. We still have lots of extra charts and tables and copious amounts of hand-written rules in all of these Dawn Patrol boxed sets that we are playing out of, but mercifully, we decided by unanimous vote before the first game to relearn the rules as written before we attempted to add-on to, or modify them in anyway. Phased movement, for instance, fundamentally changes the nature of the game.

But, back to the report. The teams got divided up into Big Darryl, Dalton and me, and Little Darryl and John. I figured that was about as fair as it was going to get, both Darryl's are more experienced at aerial combat games than me, but both John and Dalton were total newbies. My side was the Allies and we drew British, and it was a photo-recon mission. We were getting two Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters, which are two-seaters, and a Sopwith Pup, which is a fighter. I suggested to Dalton that we let Big Darryl fly the fighter, he agreed. Big Darryl pulled his pilot Jr. O'Brien* from his roster, which is noteworthy only in that he was the same pilot that he used last time, so he is starting to rack up experience, which is important. I had never used either of my British pilots before, since I played the Germans last time, so I took my least experienced British pilot, Lt. Tom McGregor, just because he was on two-seater duty**, and gave my slightly more experienced pilot to Dalton simply because I wasn't thinking about the fact that he would also be flying a two-seater.

You see, when you create a pilot for Dawn Patrol, you randomly determine a few things about him. The most important mechanically is that he might have some experience at start. Something like half, maybe more, of all pilots start out with zero missions, zero kills; some can start out with missions under their belt and if you are really lucky at character generation, maybe a kill or two. The rest of the character generation stuff is nice to know, what year you were born, where you are from, what your rank is; really bare bones, your only game stat is missions/kills. Now over the years we added not just birth year, but month and day random rolls, at one point I had hair and eye color by nation based on national averages; that was not easy data to research in the pre-internet days. Height and weight, skewed towards short and skinny because they were WW I fighter pilots. Now, we added back the whole birthday, but the rest is up to the imagination, make your pilot have as much life as you want. I do think the nationality chart is fun though, our French squadron has two Serbs and a Belgian in it. Our British squadron has two South Africans, a New Zealander, a Scotsman, an Irishman, two Americans, two Canadians and an Englishman. Our German Squadron is from all over Germany, the tables favor Prussia, but until John and Dalton made their own guys and I made my replacements, Prussia was under represented.

I digressed again, sorry about that, The Germans were on a Fighter patrol flying Albatros D IIIs. There was a 10 MPH wind from the north, and no clouds. All of the fighter aircraft started at 17,500 feet, the two-seaters at 13,500 feet. Just one of the oddities of random scenarios again, we were deep inside German held territory (20 turns), and at these altitudes all of our aircraft performed like boxcars. I couldn't help but think to myself how damnably cold it must be for those poor pilots at that altitude, in their open cockpits. The Germans failed their surprise roll, so they didn't get to dive on us and attack, that was nice, we completed our photo-recon mission before they got near us and, in all likelihood, we could have just turned for home and called it a day, but that would have made for a boring day, so I climbed up to meet their attack, while Big Darryl dove with them to mix it up; Dalton followed my lead for the most part.

We had about the same mix of good luck-bad luck as last time, with the exception that Darryl Junior kept calling his bad luck, and I found it quite humorous. He didn't at the time I am sure, but I think in retrospect probably does. He probably should have shot me down, his aerial tactics were impeccable, he dropped below my observer's gun and shot me from underneath several times and his guns kept jamming and he kept missing at extremely close range; I would have been frustrated too. Darryl Senior didn't fare a whole lot better, he won initiative every single time it didn't matter and lost it every single time it did. My son John hit him with a brutal head on attack, causing a critical hit to his engine, that seriously impeded his performance for the remainder of the game. He eventually suffered another critical hit, this time on a lucky shot, that further damaged his performance, but he stayed to the end of the fight, trailing smoke for half the game.

My decision to let Dalton have my more experienced pilot bit me on the ass repeatedly, a pilot with zero missions under his belt can not tail the enemy, I lost tailing opportunities repeatedly in this game, much to my frustration. All this dogfighting, we were slowly moving closer to allied lines, but were still well behind German lines, when ultimately, both of Little Darryl's guns jammed on the same turn that I shot John down with a lucky two engine hits. The game had gone on for a good many turns when this happened, both John and Dalton acquitted themselves quite admirably, especially considering it was their first time out. I have to admit though, that the aerial victory was bittersweet for me, John was playing my most experienced German pilot- Max Von Seydlitz-Preussen***; and he died in the crash. Our battle had never dropped below 11,000 feet, OK, Dalton was briefly at under 11,000 feet, but I think I shot Max down at 11,250 feet. This would have been Max's 5th mission.

*The name alone is a taunt to the Germans, his most famous pilot from our old Dawn Patrol campaign was named O'Brien, and he racked up, I think, 36 kills and killed Little Darryl's most famous German pilot Dirk Ettle in an aerial duel; he survived the war. He got five kills in one day when I was his wing man and I took a critical hit to my wing strut and had to leave the fight, he covered my escape, shooting down the guy that was pursuing me as I could not maneuver, then returned to the fray and shot down the rest of the German planes, although, to be fair, two of them collided trying to dogfight with him.

**By agreement we decided that the least experienced pilots in the squadrons start in two-seaters, if they are available and it is mission appropriate. Obviously, a guy with zero missions is still going to get a fighter aircraft if that's the only one of your pilots available and the mission you draw is fighter patrol. This convention is mostly used to settle arguments about who gets stuck flying the two-seater, because they usually fly like buses or refrigerators.

***Yes, all of my German pilots are named after German ships. The Prussian ones especially, the Bavarian ones I often name after beers. Max here got named after two German ships because I thought it looked cool. My last pilot that died, when he crash landed, was Ernst Grolsch. I figure it's either that, or I start naming them after WW II generals, or just use the common German surnames from the US. My wife's maiden name is Shaffer, from the original German Schaeffer as near as I can tell, because we can't spell here in the US. I have seen, in my county alone, Shaffer, Shafer, Schaffer, Schafer and Shaeffer. My mother's maiden name went from Bernier to Barney over the course of one generation, her older siblings had various other misspellings on their birth certificates. Bernier was the name her father was born with, but not the one he died with; at some point in the early 20th century he and his siblings apparently sat down and decided to anglicize their surname. All that being said, I figure ships and generals are probably a better source of names for German WW I pilots than common German surnames of Oswego County because the common German surnames of Oswego County are going to reflect the peasant class of Germany, which, the film The Blue Max notwithstanding, is not well represented in the German air forces of the first world war and this isn't really a German rich county, we have way more Irish, Italian and Polish surnames to choose from; those would be the "big three" ethnicities here, and Irish has a lead over the other two, German comes in in an "also ran" place. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of odd considering my own ancestry, parts of my father's family have been here for a long time, the rest for over a century; his ancestry is Scottish and English on his father's side and English, Scottish and Dutch on his mother's. My mother's family is 100% French Canadian; which of course means that her father's mother was half American Indian, but nobody cared to remember what nation, Mohawk would make sense, given the area, but Ojibwe is suspected, given the only artifact we have a picture of; but they only moved here from up north after she was born.

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