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“Welcome to Earth!” is a pulp-inspired jet fighter combat campaign, written for After\\Burner. Want to show your players some high-flying, thrilling heroics? This might be the article for you.

“Welcome to Earth!” is a setting inspired by pulp science fiction, and fighter jet games like Ace Combat. In this setting, the party flies experimental aircraft that combine alien technology with human ingenuity.

This article will give you a solid basis for letting your players play valiant pilots on the front lines of humanity’s resistance against a technologically superior foe.

This article is written with the LUMEN fighter combat game After\\Burner in mind, but the majority of its content should work with other fighter combat tabletop games set in something resembling the 1940s-50s.

This article was written by Garmbreak1 and is in no way affiliated with Ryan Lucas, the writer of After\\Burner.


1945: Humanity detonates its first nuclear bomb. The electromagnetic signature from the detonation is picked up on Mars. The Martians fast-track their plans for the invasion of Earth.

1947: The United States Military releases a series of balloons designed to float in the atmosphere and detect nuclear detonations, as part of “Project Mogul.” Within 24 hours, contact with one set is lost. Days later, a flying saucer is found crashed into the ground on a ranch, surrounded by the remains of the Project Mogul balloons. It is quickly recovered and stored at Groom Lake Air Force Base.

1948: A series of experiments are carried out on the wreckage, identifying each part and starting to reverse-engineer them. Finally, in late December, the mysterious craft’s engine is activated, providing enough power to make the wreckage hover.

1950: A device known as the Lucifer Engine, based on the mysterious craft’s engine, is implanted into a F-86 Saber. The mammoth power of the interstellar craft, combined with the aeronautical engineering expertise from World War 2, results in the first instance of a craft breaking the sound barrier. After landing, the plane is re-designated the Δ-001 Sonic Sabre.

1951: Three more Sonic Sabres are built, and more tests are carried out. Several novel airframes, designed specifically for the Lucifer Engine, are tested. Only one, the Δ-005, makes it through the trials. Due to the distinctive high-pitched sound its engines make, it is designated the Δ-005 Screaming Eagle.

1952: The first Martian invaders reach Earth. In less than 24 hours, a dozen cities across the world are razed to the ground by flying saucers and used as beachheads. Washington, Moscow, London, Jerusalem, Berlin, Cairo, and others now serve as bases for the invaders.

Project Lucifer

Project Lucifer is the code name for military scientists reverse-engineering captured alien technology. They were originally based out of Area 51, but during the Martian Invasion, they operated primarily from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.

Clayton Babcock, scientist. Dr. Babcock is the man in charge of Project Lucifer. He is an obsessive man and cares little for the state of the war, as long as he can keep tinkering with the Lucifer Engine.

Eugene “Slad” Sladkowski, engineer. Slad is a short, blond man who is responsible for making sure the airframes of Project Lucifer are sufficiently strong. This is an incredibly stressful task.

Rudolph “Rudy” Chumak, base security staff. Rudy is an MP assigned to guarding the pilots of Project Lucifer. He is the NPC the squadron is most likely to regularly interact with, as he is assigned to be with them at all times. He tries very hard to keep the pilots on the base and on task, but he can’t be everywhere at once. He’s also responsible for briefing the pilots.

Walter Mykula, mechanic. Walter is a broad-shouldered former quarterback with the difficult job of bringing Slad and Babcock’s designs to life. He sleeps on a couch in the hangar and will yell at the pilots if they break their planes too often.

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The People of Mars

The Martians are a dying people, long past the peak of their civilization. Their world’s resources are almost completely used up, and they’ve set their sights on what they call “Planet B.” Earth. Their invasion plans were already being drawn up when they first detected the telltale electromagnetic signature of a nuclear weapon detonation, and they decided to fast-track the invasion.

The Martians are grey humanoids with large heads and bulbous black eyes. The classic “Grey Alien” archetype. Physically, they are quite weak, but their advanced technology still makes them a substantial military threat.

Flying saucers make up most of their arsenal initially, but once on Earth, they begin to build factories for legged tanks and other strange machines.

The Martians are ruled by an authoritarian regime that relies on propaganda and punishment in equal measure to keep everyone in line. There is no distinction between military and civilian life on Mars, all live to serve the people. This government is headed by the Iron Council.

The Obvious Question

Can there be peace with the people of Mars?

Sure. Probably. Maybe. But that kind of peace-making is well outside of the scope of an After\\Burner campaign. We’re talking about two species that know very little about each other. Even lasting peace between neighboring countries on Earth often eludes us.

But I hear your barking, big dog. This is pulp, where reason is often suspended in favor of emotional satisfaction of one sort or another. If you want to portray the Martians as a more nuanced force than the destructive conquerors they are shown as here, the most important thing to understand is what they want. And that’s simple. They want a stable home, with food and open space, two things they lacked in the last Martian settlements.

Perhaps, for you and your players, the Martians will settle on some part of Earth and integrate into human society. The differences between them and us may prove vital assets in the struggles that follow. Maybe one of your pilots falls in love with an enemy pilot. Maybe one of the pilots is treated well in captivity. Regardless of the circumstances, both sides are terrified and see the complete elimination of the other side as the only way to a prosperous future. The squadron will have to win over not only the Martians, but also the governments of Earth.

But if your players want to walk this path, I encourage you to let them. Don’t make it easy or simple, but make it possible. Make them earn that happy ending.

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Below is a series of missions. Aside from First Contact and Venture Capital, they can be done in whatever order you see fit.

First Contact

July 13, 1952.

“Good evening. I understand that it’s unusual for a group of test pilots to be given a formal briefing like this, but I have to make this quick. 30 minutes ago, a number of unidentified flying objects were reported on radar at the Washington National Airport. 20 minutes ago, a commercial pilot reported eyes-on contact with, and I quote, “white, tail-less, fast-moving objects.” 10 minutes ago, conventional jet fighters were scrambled to intercept the objects. They proved unable to match their speed or maneuvers. Now, we’ve been ordered to deploy the aircraft of Project Lucifer to Washington, DC, to intercept these objects and ward them off or, if need be, destroy them.

Final checks for each of your aircraft should be wrapping up as we speak. Godspeed, pilots.”

The primary purpose of this mission is to introduce the players to the most common Martian ship, the flying saucers, as well as giving them a relatively easy scenario to learn the basic mechanics of After\\Burner.

Their opposition is six flying saucers, with three in each enemy visual zone. These saucers should move toward the Furball zone and engage the pilots from there.

After winning this engagement, the squadron will be instructed to land at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas for debriefing. This is a great opportunity for roleplaying. Ask the squadron what their impressions of the enemy forces are, all that kind of stuff.

Then let them know that contact has been lost with Washington, DC, and the city presumed to be destroyed. Every state bordering Maryland has been fully evacuated.

The Battle of Atlanta

“We’ve spotted a column of Martian tanks heading for Atlanta, along the interstate. We can’t afford to lose such a major manufacturing zone. Your objective, above all else, is to destroy the tank column before it reaches Atlanta. However, we do have a secondary objective: If we can take out the tank column fast enough, we’re going to push back. We’ve identified a Martian factory-hive which we suspect will be unguarded during this operation. With that in mind, there’s a small group of soldiers in the area, armed with bazookas and other explosives. At your discretion, you can call them in to disable some of the tanks— air support won’t notice them, and they’re quite familiar with anti-armor operations— but this will take the factory-hive mission off the table.

Remember, while we would very much like to destroy that hive, protecting the city of Atlanta comes first. Choose wisely, this one rides on you. Mount up, pilots.”

Demolition Team Thunderbolt

The demolition team is a group of four men operating under the call sign “Thunderbolt.”

Arthur “Art” Kolitch, communications officer: Kolitch is the radio operator for Thunderbolt, and the main point of contact for the squadron. He’s calm under fire but has a nasty habit of understating situations.

Riley “Reno” Fowler, demolition expert. Reno is an African-American World War 2 veteran who fought in the Pacific Theatre. He considers himself a kind of artist.

Ewen “Mac” McCarthy, soldier. Mac is a young man with a clever mind, but not enough experience to sort the good ideas from the bad. Still, he’s a good shot and he knows how to keep quiet, which makes him invaluable for missions like this.

Tano “Tee” Takeshi, soldier. Tee is a Japanese-American who fought in Germany during the Second World War. He’s a crack shot, a skill that has proved invaluable over the course of the Martian invasion.

PHASE ONE: Intercept

30 Hull Points worth of tanks move down the highway. If they are not destroyed within six-minus-total-players rounds, they will enter firing range of Atlanta and begin shelling the city.

They are supported by eight flying saucers, which start in the enemy-side Visual ranges. Two more flying saucers arrive every other turn.

If the entire squadron agrees, they can use the demolition team to do 10 Hull Points of damage to the tank column with their explosives, but this will make them ineligible for Phase Two.

PHASE TWO: Demolition

The factory is about 40 miles from the intercept area. It consists of a large metal hexagon, surrounded by piles of wreckage. The squadron must cover the advance of Thunderbolt until they reach the building. After the second turn, Thunderbolt calls for an air strike on a tank guarding the entrance to the factory. Once 5 Hull Points of damage have been dealt to the tank, Thunderbolt continues their mission.

Thunderbolt takes four turns total to complete their mission, plus however long it takes the squadron to dispatch the tank in their way. The mission ends with one wall of the complex exploding, followed by a Martian tank with orange stars spray-painted on both sides. This is being piloted by the demolition team. A minute after they clear out of the building, the whole place goes up in a series of explosions.

Operation DERAIL

“Take a seat. We’ve got a doozy of an operation today. We’ve been monitoring Martian activity at a rail yard about 100 miles from here. At first, we assumed they were simply scrapping for parts, but recently they’ve started building something. It appears to be some kind of gigantic cannon, using the rail yard’s tracks to allow it to easily readjust its aim. You may remember Schwerer Gustav, the railway gun the Nazis used. This appears similar, and we cannot allow such a weapon to come online under Martian control. Destroy it and torch the area around it. If we’re lucky, its designer is nearby and we can take them out, too. Mount up.”

Martian Gustav reaches operational status just as the pilots enter the area. After six turns, it fires its first shot, causing substantial civilian casualties. The weapon’s base glows ominously for one turn before firing.

Martian Gustav

The emplacement itself has 15 Hull Points and must be fully destroyed for this mission to be a success. Five lasers surround the Martian Gustav emplacement. Each uses the stats of a standard Point Defence Cannon from the After\\Burner core book.

Enemy Fighters

Six enemy flying saucers are on the ground near Martian Gustav. They are immobile for the first round of combat, as the pilots struggle to get them in the air on short notice. If they are not destroyed, they enter the fight in the second round. If any survive, one of the survivors is always the BARON.

At the start of the battle, there are players+2 enemy fighters in the enemy-side DANGER ZONE range bands, split as evenly as possible.


“Da Vinci” is the code name for the member of the Iron Council who leads research and engineering projects. He’s not the most skilled pilot of the bunch, but his ship is loaded with experimental gadgets, including electronic countermeasures.

Use the stats for the Baron GEIST and the Oppressor fighter-craft from the After\\Burner core book for Da Vinci.

R&R: “The Red”

The invasion of Earth has made unlikely bedfellows of almost every polity on the planet, including the Americans and the Russians. A team of Russian scientists was given the schematics and theory for a functional Lucifer Engine and, now that they’ve got it mostly working, they’ve requested that test pilot Ivan Rzhevsky spend a month with the players’ squadron in order to acclimate to the Lucifer Engine’s quirks and bring back some hands-on experience His fighter is a heavily modified MiG-15.

The squadron is ordered to make Rzhevsky feel at home and show him the ropes of the Lucifer engine. Who takes Rzhevsky under their wing? Who resents his presence? Who doesn’t trust him?

For the Sky Marshals reading this, I recommend not telling your players what the NATO reporting name of the MiG-15 was when they try to come up with a callsign for Rzhevsky. It will not help.


“I’ll make this quick. One hour ago, a commando squadron designated Chameleon broke radio silence to request air support. They’re holed up in a post office, under siege from Martian infantry and armor. You’re being deployed to provide enough support to let them escape. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this is a dangerous operation, and we have no idea what support is already heading for their position. Mount up, and go save our boys.”

Ground forces: Martian tanks and infantry have surrounded the post office on all sides and are taking shots any time they see movement. They are positioned in the Furball Zone.

Air forces: At the start of the mission, four saucers are in the Danger Zone, one per quadrant.

Additional air forces, comprising three flying saucers and a breadbox, arrive on the third turn. The breadbox will prioritize attacking the post office, and if it attacks it twice, the mission will fail.

The players must do 15 points of damage to the ground forces before the breadbox destroys the post office. If they succeed, Chameleon takes the opportunity to flee the area in a mail truck. If they fail, Chameleon dies and the squadron is recalled to base.


“Good morning, pilots. I’ll cut to the chase: Our intelligence indicates that the remaining members of the alien leadership are gathering in Washington. We are not sure why, but this presents a clear opportunity to decapitate the Martian forces. Your mission is simple: Fly over Washington and drop a nuclear weapon on the Martian base there, and then get the hell out of there.

In order to draw enemy forces away from Washington, several other offensives are being launched. Our Soviet allies are hammering the Martian bases in their area, and our ground forces are launching a major assault towards Washington from the north. This is it, pilots.

You have one major choice to make before you take off: You can either attempt a straight shot at Washington, which will leave you vulnerable to anti-air fire as you enter Washington itself, or you can attempt a low-altitude flight along the last 40 miles of the Potomac River, bypassing the last line of air defenses at the risk of striking terrain.

On a personal note, it’s my birthday today, and an end to this war would be one hell of a birthday present. Make your final preparations, decide who carries the nuke, and mount up. Drinks are on me after you return.”

This is the final mission of the campaign. It consists of three phases: Crossing the Red Line, High Altitude Route or Low Altitude Route, and Final Strike

Crossing the Red Line

The Red Line marks the end of disputed territory and the beginning of true enemy territory. In this case, the crossing point is between Lexington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio. A dozen flying saucers are in this area, split between the Furball and the enemy-side Danger Zones. 2 Harm worth of anti-air emplacements are in each enemy-side Visual zone.

The objective of this phase is simply to reach the far Bugout Zone and keep it clear of enemy fighters for one round.

High Altitude Route

This phase does not use the LIDAR grid. Instead, it consists of three MANOEUVRE checks. On a 1-2, the pilot takes 3 Harm. On a 3-4, they take 2. On a 5-6, they take none. Each pilot can spend a point of SA to avoid the damage entirely.

Low Altitude Route

This phase does not use the LIDAR grid. Instead, it consists of a single MANOEUVRE check. On a 1-2, they take 6 Harm. On a 3-4, they take 3 Harm. On a 5-6, they take no Harm. Each pilot can spend a point of SA to take half Harm, rounding down.

Final Strike

This phase is simple. Whoever is carrying the nuclear weapon must reach the Furball Zone and spend an action to drop it. Then, the squadron must evacuate the area within 3 turns, or be severely damaged by the ensuing nuclear explosion.

The squadron is opposed by a dozen flying saucers split among the Danger Zones, plus one breadbox per Danger Zone.

If the pilots successfully drop the bomb and get out of the area, they see the classic mushroom cloud smoke plume behind them, and the shockwave rocks their fighters as they speed out of the area. Once they return to base, they’re welcomed as heroes, given medals, all that stuff.

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Enemy Aircraft

Saucer: Scouts, fast but weak. These are the classic flying saucers, designed to function equally well in space or in atmosphere. This is also the type that crashed at Roswell.

1 RNG 0
1 RNG 1
Take distant shots
Fight to the death

Breadbox: Boxier ground-attack ships, designed to raze buildings to the ground.

3 RNG 0
0 RNG 1

Secondary Weapon: Incinerator Ray, 3 Harm to a ground target at Range 0, +Siege

Burn the ground
Stay clear of enemy fighters
Strike valuable targets


This article was inspired by Ace Combat, War of the Worlds, and Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem series, specifically The Dark Forest and the concept of humanity drawing unwanted interstellar attention in a hostile universe. And, of course, Independence Day.

Much of this article was written while listening to The Tiberian Sons’ Anthems of Liberation, which is, in my opinion, quite good. The rest was written while listening to PUP’s Reservoir on repeat.

Thank you to Connor, one of our map artists, for the excellent title suggestion for this article.

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About the author


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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