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Tabletop Game / Crimson Skies

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Hey, there, kiddo! You ever wanted to be a Sky Pirate? Well, then have we got the game series for you! Created by Jordan Weisman and Dave McCoy, Crimson Skies is a media franchise and fictional Alternate Universe in which the United States of America collapsed in the 1930s into a bunch of quarreling nation-states. With the collapse of the federal government comes the collapse of the interstate network of roads and railroads; but goods still need to be transported across state lines. Stepping up to the challenge are air cargo services based around massive cargo zeppelins; but with modern air shipping comes modern air pirates!

Basically, the series is an excuse to - in Jordan Weisman's words - "take the idea of 16th century Caribbean piracy and translate into a 1930s American setting." So far the series consists of a board game from FASA, a collectible miniatures game from Wizkids,a series of books and three arcade flight-based video games published by Microsoft Game Studios: Crimson Skies for the PC, an arcade version and Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge for the Xbox.


Setting contains examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Entire series is based on this trope with several of the main characters being one. For instance, Nathan Zachary is a World War I Flying Ace.
  • Acrophobic Bird and Aerial Canyon Chase: both these tropes are present for Rule of Cool reasons: It's just more interesting to have a battle in a canyon and low hills instead of open air.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The novel Rogue Flyer retells some of the events of the first video game from another point of view, and as a result things unfold a little bit differently. Some secondary characters from the game, such as Fortune Hunter "Brooklyn" Betty, also play a larger role.
  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: A number throughout the series. The Fortune Hunters operate out of a carrier zeppelin, the Pandora, and most pirate gangs have one or two. Then there is the fact that each air force of the American successor states is bound to have at least one in their arsenal.
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  • Airstrike Impossible: Nathan Zachary cannot resist a juicy target no matter how heavily guarded it is.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: And vice-versa! Pirates are especially popular. Jonathan Kahn's picture shows him with two women, the Black Swan has lots of admirers... And of course, there's Nathan Zachary.
  • All There in the Manual: There is a series of books and an official website that can give you much more in-depth background information about the setting.
    • The novel Pirate's Gold, written by Stephen Kenson, chronicles the life of Nathan Zachary, the protagonist of the video games, from his experiences as the youngest American ace during the Great War, up until the formation of the Fortune Hunters two decades later.
    • The story of the novel Rogue Flyer, written by Loren L. Coleman, runs parallel to the events of the first video game, painting said events in a different light, and adding depth to the rivalry between Blake Aviation and Sacred Trust.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: The outlandish aircraft designs in the game are largely based on real outlandish aircraft designs engineers experimented with in the early days of commercial aviation.
  • Alternate History: the divergent timeline begins after World War I with a "Regionalist movement" that grew out of the Isolationist movement. Prohibition failed as a constitutional amendment and states were left to create their own liquor laws dividing the nation between wet and dry states. Then an influenza epidemic forces states to close their borders, further dividing the Union. And shortly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Texas seceded from the Union and formed the Republic of Texas on January 1, 1930. New York quickly followed. By 1931, the old United States was gone and the successor states were well on their way to becoming the new Balkans.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Medusas, an all female pirate gang with a hate for men... incidentally, their leader is Zachary's ex.
  • Badass Crew: The Fortune Hunters.
  • Balkanize Me: Happens to the United States and Canada. Examples of the successor states include: The Kingdom of Hawaii (Hawaiian Islands), Pacifica (Washington State and Oregon with parts of Canada and northern California), the Nation of Hollywood (most of California along with parts of surrounding states), Arixo (Arizona-New Mexico, now mostly inhabited by Native Americans-with planes), the Industrial States of America (the Great Lakes States), the ISA's main rival The People's Collective (Christian Communist Nation formed out of the Mid-Western States) the Republic of Texas (self-explanatory) Empire State (New York) and the Confederation of Dixie (Guess). If you have any questions, please refer to this helpful map.
  • Battleship Raid: Any mission where you had to face an enemy zeppelin. This is also an option in the create-a-mission.
  • Betty and Veronica: In Rogue Flyer, Trevor Girard is engaged to Amanda Rassmussen, but is attracted to Betty Charles. He gets neither.
  • Big Applesauce: As seen above, the game's box depicts a battle over Manhattan. One of the game's supplements, Wings over Manhattan, describes New York and the surrounding "Empire State" in detail.
  • Bigger Stick: Customizing your planes is a big part of the fun of the tabletop game.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Nathan Zachary sees himself and his Fortune Hunters as modern Robin Hoods, while the anti-pirate forces such as Blake Aviation see them as capricious lunatics. The novel Rogue Flyer alternates between the two points of view.
  • Call-Forward: In Pirate's Gold, during the chapters set during the Great War, Nathan Zachary helps smuggle a pre-teen girl named Natalia out of Russia. It is strongly hinted that the girl grows up to become the Black Swan.
  • Came Back Wrong: Subverted with "Fortune Tell" in the short story Fortune's Hunt. He was left for dead, but returns with Laser-Guided Amnesia. People who had met his old self comment that he was pretty much a Jerkass, with maybe a hint of a Hidden Heart of Gold; however his new, amnesiac personality is generally nicer and more heroic.
  • City of Spies: Columbia
  • Commie Land: The People's Collective.
  • Cool Airship: Several throughout the series. Let's start with Nathan Zachary's Pandora.
  • Cool Plane: Most aircraft of the thirties didn't look as cool as the aircraft in the games.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Johnny Johnson and Lucas Miles.
  • Crapsack World
  • Deep South: Confederation of Dixie.
  • Defective Detective: Trevor Girard in Rogue Flyer. A former pilot, he's now working as an investigator for Blake Aviation, but he has a lot of issues.
  • Divided States of America: The USA has dissolved into a bunch of bickering and quarreling nation-states. Over alcohol, even.
  • Diesel Punk: The series very much defined, and perhaps established, much of the modern style of this theme.
  • The Dragon: In Rogue Flyer, Ace Dixon is the Dragon to Black Hats leader Ulysses Boothe, who in turn secretly answers to Lucas Miles. The novel's Big Bad, Victor "Jackal" Caul, is trying to become Miles' Dragon and eventually get rid of both Dixon and Boothe.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The novel Pirate's Gold, first book of the Wings of Fortune trilogy, gets a few character names wrong: Jonathan Kahn becomes Jonathan Khan (a common mistake); Ilse Fassenbiender becomes Ilsa.
  • Eagle Land: the Empire State.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn is a ruthless Sky Pirate whose many misdeeds include starting a war between the Utah and the People's Collective simply to make some money. He does, however, have something of an honor code; when he gives his word to somebody he will honor it and if you save his life he will repay the favor.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": "Ace" Dixon is a recurrent antagonist in the first video game, and also appears in the novel Rogue Flyer, but he's never given an actual first name. Unless Ace is actually his first name...
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: the first state to secede from the Union in the 1930s and pretty much putting the final nail in the United States' coffin. Now it's an independent republic (again). The supplement dedicated to Texas is even called Pride of the Republic.
  • Expy: The increasingly toxic partnership between Zachary and Lucas Miles, as described in the novels, seems based on the similar relationship between Peter Blood and Levasseur in Captain Blood. Considering Zachary is often compared to Errol Flynn's movie heroes by other characters...
  • The Federation: The Industrial States of America and the Confederation of Dixie both qualify.
  • Femme Fatale: the Black Swan.
  • Follow the Leader: Much of the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow seems suspiciously similar or even lifted from Crimson Skies. Subverted as Kerry Conran started working on the short film that would become Sky Captain as early as 1994, several years before the release of Crimson Skies. Both works are basically inspired by the same things.
  • Foreshadowing: In Pirate's Gold, Heinrich Kisler, the Black Ace, warns Zachary that sooner or later he'll associate himself with "less honorable men" who will "stab him in the back". A few months later, Zachary meets Lucas Miles...
  • Fragile Speedster: the Hughes Aviation Bloodhawk is one of the fastest aircraft in the setting but that speed comes at the price of crappy armor.
  • Gangsterland:
    • Arixo
    • Free Colorado
  • Good Weapon, Evil Weapon: a lot of Pirate Gangs fly Fairchild F611 Brigands while air militias tend to fly aircraft like the William & Colt Peacemaker 370.
    • There is an aircraft company in the setting called the Blackflag Corporation. It is run by pirates and they actually raid other corporations for parts and weapons to build their aircraft. All of Blackflag's aircraft are designed and built by pirates for pirates.
  • Handsome Lech: Nathan Zachary is quite the ladies' man. Although depending on the lady, he can act more like The Casanova or a Chivalrous Pervert.
  • Heroic BSoD: "Brooklyn" Betty Charles gets one in Rogue Flyer, during the assault on the "Promised Land" zeppelin. Seeing Boeing field in flames makes her realize that the Fortune Hunters and Black Hats are maybe Not So Different.
  • High-Altitude Battle: What the franchise is all about.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Paladin Blake. According to the supplement Blake Aviation Security, Paladin is his actual first name.
  • Historical Domain Character: Being by far the most eccentric character in the history of aviation, it would be surprising if the setting didn't make good use of Howard Hughes.
  • Hollywood California: when California secedes from the Union it forms the Nation of Hollywood. Note that not all of California belongs to this new nation (Pacifica occupies the northern part of the state). As expected, most important events in this new nation tend to take place in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  • Injun Country: Navajo Territory and the Lakota Nation.
  • Inspector Javert: Paladin Blake seems obsessed with taking down the Fortune Hunters, instead of taking care of more dangerous threats such as the Black Hats. Subverted as Rogue Flyer reveals that Boeing, one of Blake Aviation's biggest clients, is forcing his hand.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Outside of North America the world is pretty much exactly the same as it was in real life at the time. Justified in that the series takes place less than a decade after the point of divergence, not enough time for any particularly major changes to take place.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Blackflag Firestorm; the plane earned its name when one of the first prototype fighters' guns were loaded with magnesium rounds and it spread so much fire across the sky that onlookers had thought the air itself had burst into flames.
  • King Incognito: It is hinted that Natalia, the Black Swan, is somehow related to the Romanovs, explaining her personal vendetta against the Bolsheviks.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Played straight with "Fortune Tell", the protagonist of the short story Fortune's Hunt. He has forgotten his own identity after being shot and left for dead. Yet he retains all his skills as a pilot and proves quite knowledgeable about the world.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Blake Aviation Security.
  • Lawful Good: Paladin Blake, as his name suggests.
  • Legally Dead: Amanda Rassmussen's situation by the end of Rogue Flyer. Everybody believes she was killed in a crash, when in fact she's a prisoner of the Black Hats.
  • Lightning Bruiser: the Focke-Wulf Hellhound qualifies.
  • The Lost Lenore: Played straight with Trevor Girard, the main protagonist of the novel Rogue Flyer, who is haunted by the gruesome murder of his beloved Faith. Subverted with Nathan Zachary, who gets over the betrayal and later death of his first love Hanna Ullen relatively quickly.
  • Loveable Rogue: Nathan Zachary and a few others.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The most common pirate fighter plane is the Fairchild F611 Brigand.
    • The "Blackflag" corporation.
    • Paladin Blake.
  • Mighty Glacier: Examples include the McDonnel S2B Kestrel, the British Balmoral and the Sikorksy SB-3 Mako. These planes might not be fast and maneuverable but they more then make up for it in terms of thick armor and heavy firepower. All three of these planes also have tail-gunners to discourage close pursuit by enemy aircraft.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: the series is practically loaded with this trope. First you have people with these names like air pirate Jonathan Genghis Kahn; then you have aircraft with names like Hellhound, Devastator, Brigand, Fury; then you have ships and zeppelins like the Machiavelli; and lastly you have entire organizations like Die Spinne (German for The Spider) in the Xbox game.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In Rogue Flyer, after the Black Hats' assault on Boeing field, Trevor Girard tries to get in touch with his informants within the pirate gang. Unfortunately his actions end up blowing their cover, leading to their execution by the Black Hats, as well as the apparent death of Trevor's betrothed, Amanda. Understandably, Trevor is not in a good place after that.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Nathan Zachary, captain of the pirate airship Pandora and known throughout the Americas as the Gentleman Pirate.
  • The Other Rainforest: The nation of Pacifica, formed from Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. They have some territorial disputes with the Nation of Hollywood to their south, but are otherwise considered one of the more peaceful areas. However, their natural resources, Pacific-accessed ports, and industry (including the extremely powerful Boeing aircraft corporation) they have a strongly self-sufficient economy and military.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: the few Real Life '30s aircraft that make it into the setting tend to be overshadowed by the fictional aircraft.
  • Pinkerton Detective: Paladin Blake's job before founding Blake Aviation Security.
  • Pirate/Sky Pirate: Just about every major character. Nathan Zachary is definitely a Type 2 pirate. Others, like Ulysses Boothe and Lucas Miles, are firmly in the Type 1 category.
  • Pirate Booty: The novel Pirate's Gold is named after a stash of gold stolen to the British by renegade pilots during the Great War.
  • Point Defenseless: all zeppelins have point defense turrets armed with flak guns, machine guns and rocket launchers. They pose more of a threat to AI controlled aircraft then to you.
  • Private Military Contractors: Several examples. First you have Law Enforcement, Inc. outfits like Blake Aviation Security that field fleets of zeppelin carriers and battleships in addition to several squadrons of fighter planes and regular ground troops and naval forces. Then you have pirate gangs that hire themselves out as mercenaries to the various American nations from time to time.
  • Privateer: Bands of aerial privateers have been awarded letters of marque by the new nations of North America to reward loyalty and direct piracy against that nation's enemies.
  • Ranger: Of course Texas has Air Rangers.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: In Rogue Flyer, Paladin Blake, the boss of Blake Aviation Security, does not dismiss Trevor Girard's claims about the Black Hats and Sacred Trust actually working together. But he can't do anything without proof, and in the meantime their client Boeing is forcing him to deal with the Fortune Hunters first.
  • Released to Elsewhere: Victor Caul likes to play this trick to pilots who disappoint him. "You're being kicked upstairs" does not mean you're being demoted to crew the zeppelin. Victor has another "upstairs" in mind...
  • Scoundrel Code: Most gangs of pirates have one. The Fortune Hunters' is very clear about never attacking civilians.
  • Series Continuity Error: "Sparks", the Pandora's mechanic, is given the real name Simon Conroy in the novels, while in the video game his name is revealed to be Eugene Rasmussen. To add to the confusion, an article published on IGN shortly before the release of the PC game gives him yet another name, Eddie Conroy.
  • Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility: Difficult to categorize; the designers proudly admit that they started with "an alternate history in which Sky Pirates would be plausible" and worked backwards(Type III). However, it only took three little changes to create the world they wanted(Type I); a failed vote for Prohibition, an interstate military incident, and a second influenza pandemic was enough to Balkanize the United States. However, after that Rule of Cool took over with the aircraft designs, which drops it solidly in Type II.
  • Spiritual Successor: Jordan Weisman later founded a video game company, Harebrained Schemes. Their first game was called Crimson: Steam Pirates, and is essentially Crimson Skies at sea and with a Steampunk vibe. It also bears similarities to another of Weisman's creations, the tabletop game ''Pirates of the Spanish Main''.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Blake Aviation Security for the Fortune Hunters.
  • Trauma Conga Line: In Rogue Flyer, poor Trevor Girard watches his loved ones get killed one after the other by Victor Caul and his Black Hats. No wonder he disobeys his orders and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: The beating heart of the series, especially High Road to Revenge.
  • Vestigial Empire: Columbia, the last remaining seat of the old USA's federal government, with Calvin Coolidge as President.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Big Bad air pirate Lucas Miles hides his operations behind a well-known private security firm: Sacred Trust Incorporated.
  • War for Fun and Profit: One of the first acts of the Red Skull Legion involved escorting a zeppelin supposedly full of Mormon refugees from the Industrial States of America. It wasn't, but the ruse allowed the zeppelin-loaded with a small army of pirates-to slip past Utah's air defense network. Once inside, the Red Skulls seized control of an airport and stole the zeppelin carrier Moroni (later renamed Machiavelli). Then the Red Skulls repainted their planes in the colors of the Utah Air Militia and launched a series of raids into the People's Collective. Utah got blamed and the People's Collective launched a series of punitive expeditions. While the Collective and Utah were at each others throats the Red Skulls slipped away scot-free with a brand new carrier zeppelin and a cargo hold of loot. Ladies and Gentleman, there is a reason that Red Skull founder and leader Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn is considered a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Wretched Hive: Arixo, a desert nation-state formed from the remnants of Arizona and New Mexico. Its vast desolate and lawless expanses makes it a natural haven for bandit activity.
    • Which is nothing compared to the pirate kingdom of Free Colorado.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Somewhat appropriate considering the time period of the setting, but they were used far more than in real life.


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