Warbirds is Outrider Studio’s latest RPG. It is a diesel-punk air combat adventure game that focuses on fighter pilots as they chase after fame and fortune. It combines the action and excitement of early adventure serials with chaos and heroism of World War 2 dogfights.
The game is set amongst the sky islands of Azure. It is an alternate reality version of the Caribbean islands (and the Florida and Yucatan peninsulas), floating in the sky above an endless murk. The islands are populated by fascinating characters and rich cultures which are both familiar and slightly alien.
A Dieselpunk Game of High Flying Combat [ edit ]
Warbirds is set in an alternate universe where the islands of the Caribbean, as well as parts of Florida and the Yucatan, were somehow magically transported to another world in 1807: Azure. The water between those islands was not transported however, and the islands now float above the "murk", a cloudy, oxygen-less area.
After more than a hundred years in Azure its inhabitants learned how to use "floatstones" to create aerial vehicles, to travel between the islands. A mercenary group of pilots known as the Esteemed Guild of Combat Aviators (aka "The Guild) formed to serve the various warring islands, and its members quickly became a form of celebrity in the world of Azure.
In Warbirds the PCs get to play as members of that guild, with each creating their own unique pilot/aircraft.
Warbirds Role Playing Game, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
Like many RPGs, Warbirds begins with the basics of selecting a name, concept, and background for your character. After that you choose your character's stats.
There are three stats in Warbirds (and its parent "Rapid Fire" system): Body (the character's physical prowess), Mind (their wit and intelligence), and Spirit (their faith and will). All stats begin at a -2 level, and each character can spend seven points to raise stats (potentially to a max of +2).
Players can also opt not to spend all their points on stats, in which case they get to spend double the number of unused stat points on skills instead.
Next, you select skills for your character, with more than twenty to choose from. Players start with 1 point in a regional skill and 10 points to spend on other skills (plus any bonus that weren't spent on stats). Each point adds one to the skill, with skills normally having a max of 2.
Two other "skills", Piloting and Gunnery, are handled separately in the plane-creation phase. Normally each character starts with a 1 in both of those skills, and the player can spend a single point to increase one of them to two.
After skills are chosen the player calculates three derived stats, Defense, Resist, and Health, based on their stats/skills.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Finally, the character is allowed to select up to one major advantage, and up to three minor advantages ... but to chose an advantage a character must also gain a corresponding major/minor disadvantage.
As in many systems, advantages describe some unique ability or benefit the character has (eg. fame, fortune, or beauty), with minor advantages being ones that only impact gameplay occasionally, and major ones being more character-defining. Disadvantages instead describe a hindrance or limitation (eg. the character is greedy or vain).
After selecting advantages and disadvantages the character selects their starting gear and decides any file role-playing details of the character, and then they are done.
However, the creation process isn't yet finished, as the player also has to create their character's plane.
To create the character's plane the player starts with a basic fighter plane, and then decides on weapons (machine guns, cannons, and/or heavier weapons like torpedos or bombs).
Next, they choose a trait for the plane. Traits are divided into five categories: Gunnery, Ordinance, Dogfighting, Strafing, and General. Gunnery traits include things like armor-piercing or incendiary shells, Strafing traits include things like extra brakes or improved armor, and so on. Some traits are restricted, and can only be taken by experienced (ie. "Ace" or "Elite Ace") pilots later on.
See this link for a more detailed description of Warbirds character (and plane) creation.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
Most rolls in Warbirds are skill rolls, which are made by rolling a d6 and adding the relevant stat and skill. The player must beat a difficulty number set by the GM, ranging from 2 (for a task that is trivial to any skilled person) to 14 (for truly "epic" tasks). Alternatively, if the roll is opposed by another character, the difficulty number will instead be that character's roll.
Every character has a "Guts" score, which is equal to their highest skill. Players can spend up to three Guts points on any roll, with each point adding a +1 bonus to the roll, and Guts points can be spent even after the roll has been made.
Guts points are restored when the GM decides, or when a character does something "stylish".
Doing it With Style
Because Warbirds is a game about daredevil pilots, whenever a player attempts something that the GM considers to be flashy or stylish, the player gets a +1 bonus to their roll AND recovers a point of Guts.
Combat [ edit ]
Combat in Warbirds is divided into rounds, which are defined as "small snippets of time" (enough time to take an action and jog a few meters). Rounds are in turn divided up into four parts.
Initiative is re-determined every round, by having every character involved make a Mind+Awareness roll, with the highest roll acting first (ties go to players).
To attack in Warbirds a player makes a Body+Skill roll, opposed by the defender's Defense roll. If the attack succeeds, the amount it beats the defender's roll becomes the "Lead".
3. Damage and Resist
That lead is then combined with the weapon's damage (eg. 2 for a pistol) to determine the damage dealt. However, the defender can reduce that damage by their Resist score, with each point reducing the damage by one (potentially even down to zero).
4. Health and Penalties
Any damage that is not resisted is applied to the character's health. The character sheet has a track for health/damage, and it shows the penalties a character incurs from the damage.
If a character's health track is filled they are not yet dead, but every action they take has a 1 in 6 chance of taking them out of the fight. If they fail that check, or if they take further damage (beyond filling their track) they are out of the fight, either unconscious, trapped, or otherwise unable to participate for the rest of the fight.
Death and Permanent Injury
Because Warbirds is a pulpy RPG, a character can only be taken out of action, but not killed ... under normal circumstances.
However, in critical fights a player (or NPC) can opt to "put their life on the line". Doing this adds +1 to all dice rolls and defense, but if the character is taken out of action they will acquire a permanent injury (ie. a Disadvantage). Furthermore, if they take twice their health track in damage, they actually die.
A GM can force players to put their life on the line, but only if the player is warned before the fight, and has a chance to flee instead. As a result death is never a forced option in Warbirds.
Fighting in the Sky
Much of the combat in Warbirds won't happen between the characters themselves, but instead will happen between their fighter planes. Aerial combat is similar to regular combat, with a few differences.
First, instead of initiative each combatant makes a "Dogfighting" check, which is based on their plane's performance as well as their Piloting skill and their Situational Awareness (ie. the sum of their stats) . If one side has more planes than the other, the side with more planes gets a +1 bonus for each extra plane (up to a max of +3), and the final total determines who acts first.
To attack a pilot makes a Gunnery Skill + Situational Awareness + Weapon Accuracy roll, against the defender's plane's Performance + their Pilot Skill + Situational Awareness. Any resulting damage can be resisted using the plane's Resist score, and any unresisted damage is applied to the plane's structure (ie. health) track.
If a plane takes it's full structure track in damage it is crippled, if it takes further damage it is "going down", and if it takes 2x the structure track in damage it is destroyed outright.
But is it Any Good? [ edit ]
Aggregated Review Scores
|Source||Average Score||# of Reviews||As Of|
|Drive Thru RPG||4.7 / 5||24||1/27/2022|
|Good Reads||4.5 / 5||2||3/2/2022|
|RPG Geek||7 / 10||4||1/27/2022|
Warbirds was first published in 2013, but even so (as an indepent RPG) it hasn't managed to wrack up a large number of reviews. RPG Geek only has a four reviews for the game's core rulebook (with an average score of 7/10). Similarly Good Reads only has two reviews (4.5/5 average), and the game isn't even available on Amazon.
However, there is one strong positive sign for the game: on Drive Thru RPG (where only customers who purchase the game can leave reviews) the game has a more significant number of reviews (24), and they paint a very positive picture, with an average of 4.7/5.
If the idea of high flying dieselpunk adventures in a fantasy Caribbean setting sounds like fun, it seems safe to say that Warbirds will give you just what you desire.