Dingo’s Deep Cuts: Fear of Flying [Fearful Passages]

Fearful Passages

Author: Marion Anderson, Phil Anderson, et al
Publisher: Chaosium
Page Count: 126
Available Formats: PDF & Print
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Fear of Flying
Scenario by Marcus Rowland

In 1992, Chaosium released a book called Fearful Passages. Its nine classic-era scenarios all have the central premise of “transportation”, with the idea that they may be used as a conduit between other scenarios, or during the travel segments of a globe-spanning campaign. Despite this premise, the scenarios are written in a way that they may also be used as a stand-alone adventure. Each scenario focuses on a different mode of transportation: train, automobile, dirigible, diving suit (stretching the theme a little), canal boat, armored car, elephant, and Siberian sledge. The final mode of transportation covered is the aircraft, which is where today’s scenario comes in—Fear of Flying. As usual, prepare for spoilers as I dive in.

The scenario begins with a page of early aircraft history, which, speaking for myself, was very welcome, as I know practically nothing on the subject. It also sets the scene nicely for the “world” the scenario plays in. The next two pages then give details on the specific plane the scenario uses—the Tarrant Tabor. While being a real plane, it never saw commercial use due to a failed test-run, so this scenario posits, “What if?”. There is a lot of description here, as well as details on operation, which is great. There is also a sidebar with technical specifications for those who may appreciate such things. The most important detail here, in my opinion, is the maximum flight range, which is around 900 miles. That’s roughly Los Angeles to Seattle or London to Rome. In keeping with its flexible nature, the scenario doesn’t give any flight lengths or destinations, so the Keeper will need to plan ahead on where they can get to within that radius. (Note: Google Earth has a circle ruler that is perfect for the task!)

There are two more sidebars in this section. The first describes damage effects on the plane, which would be particularly useful for describing failed firearm rolls in the climax. It’s a little crunchy, so if that’s something that bothers you, I’d suggest simply narrating the results rather than working out hit-points, and rolling on tables. The second box describes parachute usage, which, again, would likely be most applicable at the very end of the scenario. It states that investigators don’t need a Parachute skill, but should have their success rely on Luck, as parachutes of the day had no means of control, and “even experts regularly break bones.”

Fear of Flying’s plot is a fairly simple one. The investigators find themselves on a plane that happens to have a magically-disguised serpent person on-board. While this may sound a little vanilla, the scenario focuses more on the journey, rather than on the destination. To that end, it includes a handful of unique NPCs to keep the journey interesting. The aforementioned serpent person, SSilith, is there to study a Swiss industrialist who he is planning on usurping the identity of. The industrialist himself is there to conduct a secret meeting with a mining magnate. Then there’s a beautiful (APP 90!) movie star, who is met with paparazzi at every stop. And finally, there’s a P.I., who’s been hired to follow the investigators by a previous enemy of theirs. If played as a stand-alone adventure, this backstory detail would need to be filled in by the Keeper. There are also three crew members, and five “extras”, should the Keeper want to fill any empty seats. Each has a decent write-up—including the extras—which is helpful. Still, while having this many NPCs makes for plenty of interesting roleplaying opportunities, it may also be daunting for new Keepers, as they would all be present in almost every scene.

The scenario opens with the investigators checking in at the airport. There’s a paragraph on stating their SIZ, as well as the SIZ of their luggage so that the plane can be evenly balanced, which I found interesting. I don’t think the luggage needs to be accounted for (especially now that weight and SIZ aren’t intrinsically linked like they were in previous editions), but deciding on seating position based on SIZ is certainly a novel use of the stat. Each NPC has an allocated seat, totaling 265 SIZ on the left, and 155 SIZ on the right, so the Keeper can use those numbers as a base to fill the rest, and perhaps use the unstatted extras to balance the difference. Even though it requires only minor calculation, it’s something the Keeper should work out ahead of time.

As an aside, I found it interesting that the eight NPCs in this scenario range from 45 to 55 in SIZ, despite the average rolled SIZ being 65. Considering that two of the NPCs are drawn as being overweight, I don’t think much thought was put into the numbers. It stood out to me so much that I had to check my older rulebooks to see if SIZ was rolled differently at the time. It wasn’t.

After a brief delay, while they wait for the movie star, Dawn Peachtree, to arrive, the investigators board the plane. Dawn is the NPC that is given the most focus throughout the scenario. This provides a good distraction from what is going on with the others, as their motivations are all nefarious. There is even a romance angle suggested for whoever sits in the seat opposite her on the plane, which sounds like it would be fun to play up, especially considering the attention she attracts at each stop. Imagine the scandal such a relationship would cause in the media.

The scenario is broken into seven sections, alternating between in-flight and ground. The first two sections are uneventful and are primarily for roleplaying, as well as laying seeds for NPC motivations. The third stage is when the first incident occurs, involving a flock of large birds hitting the plane. The scenario says, “Paranoid investigators wisely wonder what made the birds fly into the plane,” which I find unusual. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be assumed to be a natural, albeit unlucky occurrence. I feel someone would really have to be paranoid to assume otherwise. The reason the scenario frames it this way seems to be because it is a flying polyp that has chased the birds, and one unlucky investigator has a chance of spotting it as it passes underneath the aircraft. This serves no purpose in the story, and to me, it seems completely gratuitous. The birds themselves are what causes the damage to the plane, so I would be inclined to leave the flying polyp out entirely.

After the flock has pummeled the aircraft, the investigators are asked to assist the flight crew. It’s not explained why they would be chosen over anyone else, so it requires a dash of meta-gaming. The co-pilot has been knocked unconscious, so one investigator is asked to man the controls, which thankfully requires Hard STR and CON rolls rather than a Pilot roll. Another has to man the engine controls while the engineer climbs out onto the wing to patch a fuel leak, requiring a Mechanical Repair or Hard INT roll. The third investigator is asked to help revive the co-pilot with a First Aid or Medicine roll. It’s a nice little action scene, with no long-term consequences, that should help raise the tension a little.

That night, the passengers stay in first-class accommodation, all dining together. It is another opportunity for roleplaying and getting to observe the NPCs, which, as I mentioned earlier, new Keepers may struggle with, though the scenario does a good job of describing what each NPC is doing during this time.

After everyone has retired for the night, SSilith leaves his room to find something to eat, as the dinner wasn’t really to serpentine tastes. Upon returning, he accidentally climbs into the window of one of the investigators, instead of his own, and the scenario calls for a Listen roll for them to wake up. As SSilith has a Sneak of 80% (now called Stealth), I feel that a straight Listen roll is a little too generous, so I would suggest opposing it against his Sneak. If they do wake up, SSilith will pounce, casting a Mesmerize spell upon them, requiring an opposed POW roll. If successful, he compels them to “sleep and forget”, while if unsuccessful, he will attack. Now, I have a couple of issues with this scene. First of all, while a “sleep and forget” command may work on the investigator, the players will now know that there is possibly an antagonist in their midst. Not only that, but one who knows magic. The room is dark, so they won’t know who it is, but it still changes the dynamics of the game considerably. The only way to avoid this, that I can see, is for the Keeper to ask for both Listen and POW rolls up-front—or roll themselves without the player even knowing. Two of the three outcomes result in nothing happening as far as the players are concerned, so it’s only the third that would need to be narrated and is the one that ends with a fight. This leads me to my other concern, and that is that there’s a chance—though slim—that the investigator will win the fight, forfeiting the climax of the scenario. This might be a non-issue if only being used as a interlude between other scenarios, but as a stand-alone adventure, the rest of the flight wouldn’t really be worth finishing. My suggestion here is that if the player does happen to get the upper hand in the fight, have SSilith jump out the window, and disappear into the night, so that he may show up again later.

The next day, the plane takes off again. This time, they run into a storm. Nothing substantial comes of this, though each investigator needs to make STR, CON, and SAN rolls, the failure of which results in minor damage, nausea, and Sanity point loss. It’s a much less exciting scene than the flock of birds, so the Keeper will need to describe it in detail to have an impact.

At the next stop, a photographer snaps a group photo before SSilith is able to hide. Knowing that his true form will be revealed once developed, he spits venom onto a claw and inconspicuously scratches the photographer. After he collapses, SSilith “accidentally” exposes the film plate, ruining the photo. The investigators won’t be privy to any of this, however, so for them, the scene will be little more than a photographer collapsing and needing medical assistance, so the Keeper may need to add some flair. Perhaps a Spot Hidden roll could allow them to notice SSilith’s “accident”, and they could confront him about it? Or maybe they notice that the photographer’s clothing has been cut, leading them to suspect foul play?

Once the plane is back in flight, the engineer is offering everyone coffee from a thermos, when some turbulence causes him to spill some on SSilith, breaking the spell, and revealing his true form. After realizing his cover is blown, he stands up, grabbing Dawn as a hostage. I’m not entirely sure how he would manage this, as he is four seats behind her, and on the opposite side of the plane, but the situation could pretty easily be orchestrated. The scenario provides four courses of action for SSilith, so the Keeper can choose which they prefer. All seem like they would be suitably exciting, though one—jumping out of the plane with a parachute—would only be exciting if the investigators decided to follow suit.

As another aside, the stats for SSilith give different numbers for serpent and human forms. I’m not sure why this would be, as the Consume Likeness spell is merely an illusion, which is why SSilith needs to avoid his shadow being seen or having his photograph taken. It makes no sense that any stats other than APP would be different. The only time this will likely come up in play, is during the potential fight in the bedroom, and during the climax, when SSilith will be using the Mesmerize spell. In his human form, his POW is listed as 50, while in his serpent form, it is 95. This is a big variance, and would significantly affect the spell’s success. The serpent person stats in the rulebook list their POW as 65, which is roughly in the middle, so I’d be inclined just to use that for both instances here.

One final thing I need to bring up, the Mesmerize spell used in this scenario is different from that in the 7th edition rulebook, which is now called Mental Suggestion. Mesmerize took no Magic points to cast, 1D6 Sanity, and took a DEX rank to cast, whereas a basic command using Mental Suggestion costs 5 Magic, 1D3 Sanity, and takes 3 rounds to cast. While the Magic and Sanity costs are trivial, the change in casting time would drastically alter its use in this scenario, so I would simply ignore the changes, and stick with the rules as they were when the scenario was written.

Overall, I think Fear of Flying would make for a fun interlude in a campaign, as well as a one-shot, though the latter will need a few minor changes. It appears at first glance to have very little meat on its bones; however, the interesting NPC interactions and motivations are where its true value lies. This aspect may deter an inexperienced Keeper, though the NPC numbers are not ungainly, and there is plenty of descriptive text to support roleplay. All in all, Fear of Flying is a decent scenario that would require very little tweaking to provide an enjoyable session of play.

~ Dingo

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