Flying Circus is a roleplaying game about air combat in the early days of flight. The system is designed to capture the thrill and danger of taking an overworked and overloaded aircraft into battle, risking death not just from the enemy but mechanical failure, the elements, or losing control of a rickety and barely understood aircraft.
In other words, you're a traditional fantasy adventurer, but instead of a sword and spells, you have an antique airplane and its rusty machine-guns. And you might still have to fight a dragon.
Flying Circus features 8 character playbooks, a detailed air combat system, and the ability to freely customize your plane or even scratch-design new aircraft from a set of layouts, components, and materials. It uses ten-sided dice for resolution, twenty-sided dice for certain random elements, and a combination of tokens and printable aids to track game elements.
The game combines the elegance of Powered by the Apocalypse with unique and detailed systems for designing and flying a wide variety of aircraft. You can take to the air in conventional wood-and-canvas biplanes or build unusual vehicles resembling the wildest designs of early flight. The result is a system with enough meaningful crunch to sink your teeth into, while still boiling down to a set of simple moves that can be understood at the table.
The game is set in an industrial-fantasy world, where aircraft and air travel are central to life and the fantastic and magical lurks just below the surface. It casts the players as mercenaries trying to hold the world together after the collapse of civilization. Running a company of cutting-edge aircraft in the post-apocalypse is expensive and dangerous, and you're always one mission away from either fortune or ruin.
Flying Circus uses a heavily modified Powered by the Apocalypse engine, running on d10s and with a variety of unique mechanics to flesh out air combat and the finances of running a mercenary company. The Powered by the Apocalypse system centers the gameplay around a series of Moves, small mechanics which are triggered by the narrative and which send things off into new directions. This keeps the core rules of the system simple; you can do anything you can imagine in an airplane, but air combat is still summed up with three major Moves.
These systems center around a printable Instrument Panel, on which is all the information a pilot needs for their aircraft. This panel focuses air combat on what matters. You don't have a map that tracks airplanes in two dimensions, and you never have to check your turn radiuses or anything like that. Instead, you just keep an eye on your speed and altitude while you describe your actions in freeform. When you make combat maneuvers, it costs you speed. To get more speed, you accelerate or dive, which costs fuel or altitude respectively.
If you run out of speed, you stall. If you run out of fuel, your engine dies. If you run out of altitude, you hit the ground.
This simple framework allows the game to explore real-world tactics and maneuvers of dogfighting. Do you climb above the enemy to keep them at a disadvantage, or dive like a hawk from out of the sun? Do you use your powerful engine to outrun retaliation, or turn gun turrets on the enemy until their plane is in tatters?
On the ground, you play the fast and exciting life of these mercenary pilots, finding work, getting drunk, and making terrible decisions. These rules are unintrusive enough that you can get through them quickly and get back in the air, but you can also play out the interpersonal drama of characters burning out at the edge of human tolerance in-between their death-defying missions. Gain and break each other's trust, hire help to keep the planes running, fall in love in every town, drink away the stress before you break down, and then get back into the air the next morning and do it all over again.
Flying Circus isn't just a game about combat; it hinges on themes of identity, how we build, adopt, and discard identities as we move through life. The game's eight character types each explore a different corner of the world of Flying Circus, showing the unique perspective of a survivor. From trained soldiers raised in military holdouts to talented farmboys and farmgirls taking their first steps into a larger world, each character has a different approach to stress, survival, and intimacy.
These characters start from very different places, but as they come to trust one another and grow closer they can begin to take on aspects of one another. You will go from a group people from very different backgrounds brought together by circumstance to close friends, comrades, and lovers, forging new identities in the skies.
The playbooks in Flying Circus are called Backgrounds, and they represent the different places and cultures in Flying Circus' world that pilots come from. Flying Circus' world is a Germanic pastiche, inspired by a mixture of pre-WW1 Wilhelminism and the pre-unification princely states. There's a lots of isolated alpine communities, spiky helmets, and beer steins, with the background of a Ghibli-esque soft apocalypse where the end of industrial civilization has lead to somewhat idealized rural living.
There are eight playbooks, variety enough to give even a large groups plenty of options. Each has their own uniquely styled playbook.
- Farmers come from idyllic rural communities, and are natural pilots taking their first steps into a larger world. They have a sort of Luke Skywalker-esque hero's journey ahead of them.
- Soldiers hail from mountaintop holdouts, where the soldiers of the last great war took shelter at the end of the world. Raised with discipline and pride, they are outstanding fighters.
- Believers come from isolated communes lurking on the frontiers of the civilized world, where outcasts and radicals hid from the old governments. Their gameplay revolves around their strong beliefs; invoking them, questioning them, and trying to spread them to others.
- Airborn were raised in the generational airship convoys, the equivalent of being born at sea in a world that relies on air travel. These dashing wing-walkers are little understood by the distrustful people on the ground.
- Survivors somehow clung to life in the remains of the old cities, despite clouds of poison gas and supernatural horrors. Hidden behind respirator masks and survival strategies are people yearning to finally connect to others.
- Students are the leftovers of the academic bodies left behind with the technological secrets of the Old World. Students wield almost magical pulp-like technology and are particularly adept at modifying their own airplanes.
- Sheltered are the descendants of the old nobility who hid away in underground bunkers at the end of the world. They reemerge to find that people have moved on, but their perfectly preserved technology give them a leg up as adventures.
- Fishers come from the isolated coastal enclaves at the edge of the Dark Sea, fishing from tethered balloons strung over the choppy waters. Something dark and ancient lurks under the waves, a primal force that whispers secrets and bestows gifts, and the fishers are devoted to these forces.
Though the game comes with a large number of premade airplanes which can be printed and played with immediately, Flying Circus also comes with a robust aircraft creation system. Following the design rules allows players to create viable and historically-plausible aircraft using a variety of different components, configurations, and building materials.
Want to build a blazingly fast racing plane? An advanced metal-framed bomber decades ahead of the competition? An ultralight literally made of paper? Maybe an exact replica of your favourite WW1 aircraft? All these options are supported within the plane customization system.
Best of all, this system scales accurately and easily to far past the nominal era of Flying Circus' setting. With a few tweaks, you can build, for example, WW2 aircraft or Korean War jets, and the rules will keep up with the addition of g-forces and altitude effects.
This Kickstarter goes towards finishing the game and producing Flying Circus as a printed product. The game will come out as a 300+ page softcover, black-and-white 6"x9" book, illustrated with ink-style art built from a combination of 3d models and hand-drawn elements.
In addition to the core rulebook, Flying Circus will come with a downloadable and printable set of rule guides, instrument panels, 8 character playbooks, 24 premade starter aircraft, and component index cards.
The majority of the funding will go towards a print run, with the goal of getting this book into stores, to conventions, and into the hands of backers. That's the big material cost here, and the reason for the Kickstarter in the first case.
Writing a roleplaying game, especially one designed to simulate something complicated like aircraft combat, is hard work. Add on the elaborate 3d art, balancing, playtesting, editing, background writing, and so forth, there's thousands of hours of work to get this book out the door. Thus, part of the funding will go towards partially compensating the time of the authors for all that hard work.
Another chunk is the emergency fund. If there's a problem with publishers or contributions or product or whatever else, this fund will be dipped into to paper it over.
Finally, there's the administrative overhead of Kickstarter and PayPal to deal with, and the remaining funds will inevitably be gobbled up by buying books for the purpose of research!
Flying Circus lends itself well to exploring historical settings, as the game mechanics are designed so that the aircraft can scale with historical advancements. Sets of playbooks can make some of these happen, while expansions can achieve others!
Every backer above the Observer level will get these PDFs for free! These PDFs will be released after the game comes out as paid expansions, so get 'em while they're hot!
$6000 - Dawn Patrol Playbooks - MET
The Dawn Patrol playbooks will detail a number of aircraft and character playbooks authentic to the First World War on the Western Front, and a PDF framework of rules and guidelines for creating authentic historical campaigns, including timelines of aircraft introductions and equipment. This will include a large number of premade aircraft representing many of the most famous early military planes.
$8000 - The Battle of Britain & Warriors of the Wind - MET
Flying Circus' aircraft system was designed to scale easily to other eras, so the first stretch goal will be the creation of two print-and-play playbook sets for World War 2-era games. The first, Battle of Britain, will allow players to play as British pilots in Spitfires and Hurricanes, and the second, Warriors of the Wind, will be an industrial-fantasy setting like core Flying Circus, with samurai-pilots in a setting inspired by Legend of the Five Rings.
$10000 - Shieldmaidens - MET!
In this silly setting, take to the air as magical girls manning summoned aircraft, taking on the forces of evil high above their home towns! Will include a special flexible playbook for creating a magical girl and tweaks to the ground rules for high school drama.
$15,000 - Blimpleggers! - MET!
In conjunction with System Mastery podcast, this airship-centric setting puts you in control of bootleggers smuggling magical booze under the nose of the Fuzz in your highly modified airship. Intended for team play aboard one balloon, with a series of special playbooks.
$20,000 - Aether Aeternum - MET!
A set of expanded rules for running the game as a space adventure instead of as atmospheric planes, customizable to run your favorite settings. Includes a steampunk space setting.
$35,000 - The Worker and The Witch
Two new playbooks for the core game will be added to the book! The Worker is grounded in a way no pilot is, with a family, community, and obligations, while The Witch comes from nowhere, connected to nature and magic more than their fellows.
Risks and challenges
This is our first Kickstarter, but we've finished and delivered many roleplaying games previously, including 4 print projects (Must be Tuesday, Patrol, Patrol: The Trench Raiders, and Blackout), and the game is already far along in development and playtesting. We also have a fallback source of capital to cover things if real disaster strikes, ensuring we will deliver so long as civilization persists.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)