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The Skies of Sitari is a science fiction air combat setting designed for the After\Burner TTRPG. Need a change of pace from fantasy dungeoneering? Give this a shot!

Sitari

Sitari was once an agri-world, a planet dedicated wholly to food production. It fed a dozen worlds at its peak. However, as the logistics of the galaxy improved, food production became more centralized and closer to the galactic core, and Sitari was left fallow.

The order of the galaxy has now shifted again. The once-great Galactic Commonwealth has splintered into several competing factions, the trade routes have broken down, and the Walpurgis Federation has laid claim to Sitari.

Unfortunately, during the fallow years, a colonization ship from the alien species known only as the “Insectoids” or “Bugs” landed and claimed large parts of Sitari for themselves. In response to this discovery, the Federation has sent what few resources they can spare: A small ground force, a few artillery pieces, and to no surprise, a rag-tag crew of the best pilots the Federation could spare.

This article focuses primarily on the air war on Sitari, and implementing it in After\Burner. Many of the scenarios should be applicable to other air combat games, and this article also contains some suggestions for playing out other forms of combat.

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Airbase Deimos

Airbase Deimos is built near the Grand Delta, the prime farming area on Sitari. The base is home to a fleet of aircraft with no space capabilities named “mud shakers”, pulled out of storage from an ancient Commonwealth arms depot. Most have been retooled with spare parts, but the Federation is small and has little to spare, even for projects like this.

Deimos is not a new base, and before the abandonment of Sitari, it had been used as a logistics hub for cropdusters and a landing point for off-world transports. The military detachment here has done its best to restore the buildings, but the barracks is a rotting wooden apartment-like building with substantial holes in the roof. New transfers tend to get the worst of the rooms.

Commander Lukas Gabrelis, head honcho. Commander Gabrelis is a broad-shouldered man with a brick-like jawline. His hair is short and stark white. Around his neck, alongside his dog tags, he wears a chain with a diamond ring on it. This is his wedding ring. His husband was declared MIA in an operation on another planet two years ago.

Commander Lukas Gabrelis

Karolus Vladis, mechanic. Vladis is a talented mechanic who has been heavily augmented, by choice, during his time in the service. His left eye is cybernetic and displays the feeds from various sensors implanted in his hands, and this is what allows him to be a whiz at mechanical diagnosis. He is a prideful man and firmly believes that he knows the aircraft better than their own pilots. He sleeps in a freight container in the hangar, and the closest thing he has to a hobby is reading maintenance manuals, so he may be right.

Karolus Vladis

Simon “Weatherman” Jones, pilot. Weatherman Jones is a middling pilot, but he seems to have an uncanny ability to predict incoming attacks “like the weather”. For this reason, he is near-permanently assigned to patrol duty and while his frantic predictions are not always accurate, a warning from Weatherman is usually enough to get another plane or two in the air. He practices magic tricks in his spare time.

Simon “Weatherman” Jones

Bishop-5, robot pilot. Bishop-5 is a “virtual intelligence,” a machine whose thought processes are patterned after a real human being. A fighter pilot, specifically. Bishop is aggressive and cocky, firmly believing that he’s the best fighter pilot on base. Nobody plays cards against Bishop anymore. He says it’s because of his “superior robot brain,” but it’s mostly because he’s insufferable when he wins.

Bishop-5

Larry “Lizard” Lizarraga, pilot. Lizard is a short, pale-skinned human man with shaggy green hair. His tongue has been split, allowing both for a variety of fun party tricks and an enhanced ability to speak Wokroni. He keeps a violin in his room and plays it just well enough to be endearing.

Larry “Lizard” Lizarraga

V’zop “Vee” Tacan, Wokro pilot. Vee is a purple-skinned humanoid from the planet Wokrona. He is a prim and proper aristocrat and always wears either his Royal Wokrona Aerospace Force uniform or his Walpurgis Federation flight suit. His starfighter is built for vacuum combat, but he refuses to let the local mechanics retool it for atmospheric operations. He considers his assignment here to be a form of punishment. Like all Wokro, he has a split tongue.

V’zop “Vee” Tacan

Owa “Sardine” Kula, communications officer. Kula is the voice of the Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft with the call sign Sardine. He is a dark-skinned man with curly black hair. His duty cap is permanently deformed from wearing a communications headset for 12 hours daily. In his off time, he builds small-scale dioramas of historical battles.

Owa “Sardine” Kula

Tanya Yardley, ground commander. Yardley isn’t based at Deimos itself, but she’s the most likely point of contact with the ground forces, so she’s listed here. If ground forces are reaching out to the pilots during combat or otherwise, it’s probably Yardley on the other side of the call. Tanya is muscular woman with short black hair. Her skin is reddish-brown, like terracotta. She considers crude and offensive language to be unbecoming of an officer like herself.

Tanya Yardley
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The Bugs

The Bugs are a hivemind-controlled conglomeration of several specialized subspecies, working to enact the will of their Queen. Each planet they invade gets its own Queen, and they seem to have very little coordination above the planetary level. Nobody really knows how many planets they are on, but the answer is assumed to be “a lot.”

While most are mindless drones, unique specimens colloquially referred to as “Barons” have been spotted in the past. They appear to display a higher level of autonomy and intelligence, as well as unusual combat capabilities. There are also unconfirmed reports of at least one Baron transmitting radio messages to Federation pilots, taunting them in a twisted mockery of a human voice.

Most, if not all, barons are the result of Bug experiments on captured pilots. This is very bad news for any of your pilots who are forced to punch out. This is not common knowledge, but it is a persistent rumor.

Bugs do not have shields, but they do have armor plating. In cases where shields would normally deplete, they lose one point of armor instead. Their armor cannot be restored during a battle.

Bug Types

Presented here are the designations of the common bug types relevant to aerial combat. Presumably, if the Bugs have any true language among themselves, they have their own names for each of these creatures.

Roaches. Roaches are gigantic, land-bound creatures covered in grayish chitin. Their heads rise far above the main body, allowing them excellent visibility and decent range for attacks with their mandibles, though a pilot would have to be very low already to be hit by them. They are most commonly used as transportation for ground-based bugs. They have 10 hull points, 2 points of armor, and no anti-air capacity.

Buzzers. The dragonfly-like “Buzzers” are long, sleek creatures with wide wings. They produce copious amounts of acidic or pyrophoric phlegm, which they spit downward at their targets. They are, in effect, organic bombers. They have 5 hull points, 1 point of armor, and no anti-air capacity. They are always deployed with at least one Spitter as an escort.

Spitters. The Spitters are beetle-like creatures that propel themselves with what appears to be some kind of methane-based organic thruster system. They spit flaming spikes of keratin at their enemies. Spitters form the bulk of the Bug air force, they have 2 hull points, no armor, and do 2 points of damage at range 0, and 1 point of damage at range 1.

Stingers. The most unique Bug air unit is the Stinger, a bee-like creature with no instinct for self-preservation. It will charge recklessly at its enemies, using its speed to move up to 2 range bands per turn. Its only attack is its stinger, which crackles with sparks of bioelectricity as it flies. The Stinger has 2 hull points, no armor, and does 2 points of damage +EMP at range 0.

Points of Interest

Antioch

Antioch is as ruined as the rest of the planet but, much like Airbase Deimos, rebuilding efforts are underway. A small group of civilian farmers have been paid by the Federation government to relocate here and restart agricultural operations in the delta.

Antioch is also home to a fairly spartan harbor. Sitari is not known to have any edible aquatic life, but a research ship from Apollo Surveying is currently based here and takes regular trips out on the ocean to analyze the local sea life.

If you want to give your pilots a shakeup, put them out in boats or submarines. The Stealth, Bomber, and Support classes make suitable submarines, while Superiority, Interceptor, and Assault make for suitable surface ships. If you decide to run surface ships and submersibles in the same combat, the Bomber would make a suitable anti-submarine ship.

The Slab

The main bar in Antioch is The Slab, a bunker-like building that survived the ravages of the abandonment.

Venom Jones, bartender: Venom is a skinny man with tan skin, a mohawk, and an eye patch. He has an extensive criminal past elsewhere, but here he’s staying on the straight and narrow. The eye patch covers his left eye, which is still present but substantially damaged. Rumors say he’s a crack shot and wanted by five systems and three syndicates. His daughter, Jennifer, can often be found at a table in a corner of the bar, doing schoolwork with the aid of an educational artificial intelligence.

Walter “Punch-out” Kazbekova, farmer. Walter is a light-skinned man with short, blond hair. Years ago, he was a starfighter pilot. When the Galactic Commonwealth dissolved, he left that life behind him. He has a tattoo of the emblem of his unit, the Belters, on his left bicep. Now he drives a tractor down in the delta, tending to the fields of rye and watching the flyboys pass by overhead.

The Vat Farm

Several hundred kilometers north of Antioch, there is a large concrete pad dotted with weather-beaten glass and metal cylinders. This is the Vat Farm, an algae farming complex once used to synthesize many types of chemicals, from artificial meat to synthetic plastics. Unfortunately, a Bug hive sits perilously close to it. Taking control of the facility would be a boon to the planet’s population, but the Bugs won’t let it go easily.

The hive near the Vat Farm has mutated strangely as a result of exposure to the chemicals at the Vat Farm. Its surface is covered in pimple-like growths that function like Point Defense Cannons, firing masses of acidic pus at incoming aircraft.

Pilots+1 reinforcements spawn every round.

Vat Farm Hive:
Harm Pool 4 \ Range 0

Hull ▯/10

Brood Hall

x3 PDCs

Cargo (1 RALLY when destroyed)

Provides reinforcements. If destroyed, no reinforcements are possible.

Hull ▯/10

Brain Chamber

+Plating

x1 PDC

Controls the entire swarm. If destroyed, the remaining Bugs (aside from Barons) lose the ability to do anything more complicated than fire their primary weapons and fly. No maneuvers, no other special abilities.

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Mission: LOSING LIZARD

Quick brief: Larry “Lizard” Lizarraga was sent on a scouting mission four hours ago, and has now missed two of his hourly check-ins. His last known position is about an hour’s flight north of the base.

Lizard’s fighter has gone down near a previously undiscovered hive, and the Bugs have begun pulling both him and his fighter toward the hive. They intend to make him into one of their Barons. A number of Roaches equal to the number of pilots minus one (minimum one) are being used to drag the fighter towards the hive.

If the party can destroy them within three rounds, ground forces will have enough time to reach Lizard’s fighter and recover him. This is considered a successful mission. Otherwise, the bugs manage to drag Lizard and his fighter into the tunnels around the Hive.

The Hive uses the same stats as the Vat Farm Hive, but sits in the north-east Visual band instead of the Furball. It is not a mandatory objective and, if the pilots decide to continue engaging it after the objective is resolved (one way or the other), the Furball should re-centre on it.

If the party fails to recover Lizard, he is converted into a Baron by the hive over the course of several days. The damaged parts of his fighter are replaced with organic equivalents. Organic plasma thrusters now power it, and the remains of Lizard still sit in the cockpit, kept alive in a state of symbiosis with the genetic machinery of these aliens. My recommendation for the Baron profile is Barricade, reflecting Lizard’s apparent hardiness. And besides, everybody loves jamming missiles.

Lizard’s horrible bug fighter thing uses the Superority profile, with wingtip “lasers,” now replaced with bone-shard cannons but otherwise functions the same mechanically. In lieu of the three SA, Bug-Lizard has three Threat, in line with the standard Barricade profile. His fighter is armed with three HEAP missiles (Which, in this case, give player-pilots +Spiked and, if they hit, +Breach.) and a Sensor Jammer.

Operation: SABERTOOTH

This operation details the finale of the air campaign on Sitari, and is best used as a campaign capstone or the last session of an arc, before moving on to another theatre.

Quick brief: Intelligence reports, aided by Walpurgis University’s xenobiology team, have pinpointed a specific hive as being the primary Hivemind for the Sitari swarm. Unfortunately, it has taken up residence in a tunnel bored through a mountain during the first round of colonization. Fortunately, scout drone footage shows that even with the hive taking up part of the tunnel, it is just wide enough for a fightercraft, with a whole three inches to spare on either side.

On the far side of the continent from Airbase Deimos stands Mt. Neolympus, a towering mountain in the Granite Range. During the first wave of colonization, a tunnel was bored through it, allowing rail travel from the farmlands and mines on the far side to the settlements closer to Deimos. Mines were dug, extending off the tunnel and extracting many valuable resources. Now, however, this tunnel system has been co-opted by the Bugs, and the pulsing mass of the Grand Hive occupies the spaces dug out by the hands of man.

Fortunately, it does not completely take up the main tunnel. A drone fly-through has shown that there is just enough space for a fighter to pass through above the main bulk of the hive and come out the other side. There are mere inches of clearance on every side, meaning that whichever pilot takes this mission will need nerves of steel.

Command has authorized the use of one high-yield nuclear weapon, tweaked to have a low arming distance and a long fuse. If dropped at an appropriate spot in the tunnel, it will annihilate the Grand Hive. And if it doesn’t, the remainder of the mountain falling it should.

Prior to the actual engagement against the Grand Hive, the Bugs will send out a fleet of Spitters, Buzzers, and Stingers, equalling twice the number of pilots and split as evenly among the three types as you can. The engagement against this fleet takes place over a forest with a river running through it. Going down here would not be ideal, but it could be worse.

The objective in this particular battle is just to break through, from one bugout zone to the other. However, if the party decides to “stay and play” and eliminate these fighters, there’s no particular consequence beyond the inevitable use of their resources.

In response to the incursion by Command’s spy drone, the Grand Hive has fortified the south entrance of the tunnel. It is now protected by a massive keratin plate, with batteries of bone cannons on either side. This “gate” needs to be destroyed before entering the tunnel from either side, assuming the pilot intends to survive, at least.

The Gate
Harm Pool 4, Range 0/1

Hull ▯/10

Bone Cannon Batteries

x4 PDCs above 5 health

x2 PDCs if at 5 or less health

Hull ▯/10

Tunnel Gate

+Plating

The Grand Hive itself does not have Emplacement statistics. If, for some reason, the pilots are unable to drop the nuclear weapon in the tunnel, at least 10 damage needs to be dealt to it by bombing runs. Attempting to fire missiles or primary weapons into the tunnel can contribute to this, but they only do half-damage due to the imprecision.

If Lizard was not recovered and has not otherwise been killed, this encounter is an excellent time to reintroduce him in his new, bugified form.

If the pilots are successful, they will earn some snazzy medals, some well-deserved R&R time, and new posts on some other deadly planet.

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R&R: The Sanctum of Atnus

The STAR of this scenario has been ordered to accompany a space wizard from the Commonwealth of the Third Spiral Arm on a mission to a place called the Sanctum of Atnus, an ancient ruin predating the first colonization by thousands of years. The space wizard is a short, reptilian humanoid with a snout-like mouth, named Saadd Sheerterk. He is accompanied by his “apprentice,” a cat-like humanoid named Kred. How does the STAR react to this extra charge?

The Sanctum of Atnus is a short transport flight away, uneventful enough for the pilots to talk with Saadd or Kred.

The Sanctum itself is mostly underground. After descending the stairs from the surface, the STAR and their charges find a square room with a crystal sculpture and a stone altar in the center. Various data media line shelves around the edges of the room. One object appears to be a sword whose blade has an iridescent sheen. Another is a cylinder that appears to be the hilt of a lasersword.

After a few moments of examination, Saadd declares that this place is an ancient evil space wizard’s cache, and it must be destroyed with either a bombing run or artillery strike. While Saadd is talking about this, the STAR sees Kred swipe the lasersword, and then look at them with a pleading look. How does the STAR react?

Finally, does the STAR take Saadd Sheerterk’s demands seriously?

Other Mission Ideas

A hive has been located in one of the districts being considered for reclamation. Due to the lack of a dedicated bomber pilot at Deimos, Spook Jones has been put into the pilot seat of the Flare, a bomber with a reputation for engine flameouts. Escort him to the target and, hopefully, back.

A large horde of roaches has been spotted by a patrol aircraft heading towards the farming town of Lamia. Take them out before they can damage the fields, or worse, the town itself.

A decommissioned nuclear power plant is being considered for reactivation, but it has been taken over by a hive of Stingers. Take them out so ground forces can safely approach and flamethrower the hive.

Other Campaigns on Sitari

While this campaign and its world were designed specifically with AFTER\BURNER in mind, Sitari can also be used for other games. A ground campaign against the bugs, whether on open plains, in tunnels, or both, could be great fun. Bust out your old Warhammer 40,000 Tyranids and Imperial Guardsmen and fight over an abandoned farming settlement, or crack open AFTER\BURNER’s older brother, LIGHT, to put some space wizards on the ground to fight the chitin-clad menace. Or, hell, pick up its sibling Blazing Hymn, replace the fighter pilots with singing, traumatized magical girls and run the missions above otherwise as normal, nuclear weapon and all.

Afterword

Sitari was written after playing After\Burner’s Operation Snowblind, a module that I really enjoyed. The break of pace from High Fantasy, Psuedo-Medieval Adventures was really refreshing and I was instantly barraged with ideas for campaigns and settings. This is one of those.

Sitari is written to fit nicely into the implied setting of my Ahl-Betan and Sothosa articles but, like them, it can hopefully stand on its own or fit well into any military sci-fi setting.

Clear skies, pilots.

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About the author

Garmbreak1

Former esports wannabe, current TTRPG streamer and TTRPG creator interviewer. I like science fiction and I have a soft spot for licensed tabletop RPGs. You can find all the campaigns I'm in and interviews I've done over on YouTube.

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Published: September 9, 2023

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