Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Flight of the Ophelia Vitrix

In 1685, eccentric nobleman, inventor and patron of the sciences, Sir Robert Abney was a wanted man. Implicated as a supporter of Monmouth during the rebellion against James II, his land holdings were almost certainly forfeit, and his very life in danger.  He hatched a bold plan to flee the country. His salvation lay in a product of his genius - the airship gunboat Ophelia Vitrix. With a band of loyal followers, and a few refugees from the disaster at Sedgemoor, he took to the skies, and headed out to sea, bound for the safety of the Continent.

But his escape was not to be as simple as he hoped. His enemies had leaked word of his plans to the authorities, and they had reacted as swiftly as they could. The fast revenue vessel, HMS Friday was set to intercept him, along with two more unusual consorts.

As Ophelia Vitrix headed out to sea, an ornithopter flapped into view. Invented by the Dutchman, Herman Van Klunk, this machine was fast and carried small cannon fore and aft. James II had expressed an interest in purchasing some of these machines for the Royal Navy, and Van Klunk saw the interception of Sir Robert as a way of showing their capabilities.

Van Klunk was, in fact, an indifferent pilot, but another of his machines was in more capable hands. The French crown had also tested the ornithopters, and one man, the Comte de Morcerf had become uncommonly adept with them. At the controls of his machine he had waged a successful campaign against smugglers and pirates around the French coast, acquiring a nickname: The Crimson Count. Although no friend of the English, he was keen to test his machine against Abney's airship.

Sir Robert had a difficult task ahead of him. With The Crimson Count approaching from the starboard, he steered Ophelia Vitrix for a channel between two islands, dropping low in order to use them as cover from the ornithopter's guns. The Friday moved to block the exit through the channel

In danger from HMS Friday's guns, Sir Robert ordered Ophelia Vitrix to climb. The Crimson Count fired a long-range shot as the airship appeared above the rocky islet, but missed.

Although his plan was to cut across the low island with the ruined fort on it, Sir Robert observed that HMS Friday had moved too far across the channel, and swung the airship around to cut across its stern on a more direct line of escape.

The Crimson Count attempted to follow, but in his eagerness to line up another shot on the Ophelia Vitrix his ornithopter clipped a rock outcrop and suffered minor damage.

The captain of HMS Friday corrected his earlier mistake, and swung his vessel around. As the Ophelia Vitrix climbed once again the crew of the cutter fired a deadly broadside, damaging the airship's hull and rudder.

The Crimson Count struggled to control his damaged aircraft ...

... but soon brought it round in pursuit of the Ophelia Vitrix.

The Crimson Count and HMS Friday both kept pace with the airship. Meanwhile Van Klunk struggled to bring his machine in on a course to intercept Sir Robert.

Even with a damaged rudder, Sir Robert was able to turn his ship into a more favourable position with regard to the wind. Although slower than The Crimson Count's ornithopter when running before the wind, he forced the Frenchman to expend effort in controlling his craft instead of lining up shots. In addition the chase had been forced onto HMS Friday's worse point of sailing, and its crew were pushed to maximum exertion just trying to keep pace.

The Crimson Count and Ophelia Vitrix exchanged shots ...

... and as the Count moved in close Sir Robert personally put a ball through his airframe.

But as the Ophelia Vitrix headed rapidly for safety, HMS Friday managed to get close enough for another broadside, crippling the airship and shooting away some of her spars.

Sir Robert ordert the crew to make one final push for safety, but at the moment Van Klunk appeared on his starboard bow. A couple of swift shots from the ornithopter's bow gun saw more spars shot away followed by a huge gash being torn in the Ophelia Vitrix's gasbag. Sir Robert, his ship and his loyal crew crashed into the sea.

The story of how Sir Robert escaped captivity, reunited his crew, and took the repaired Ophelia Vitrix to the skies to become the world's first airship pyrate will have to wait for another day. As it was, the story of his duel with The Crimson Count was the talk of the broadsheets on both sides of the Channel for many weeks. And rightly so.

And so ended my first lacepulp game using Galleys and Galleons. I wanted to try out the rules for aerial craft which, of course, meant making some. The ornithopters were scratchbuilt from matchsticks and card, in a similar way to the WWI aircraft I have produced over the years. Ophelia Vitrix is a 3D print from this model. I cut it up to reorientate the gasbag, and added card sails.

The game was the Blockade Runner scenario from the rules. The stats for the ships are as follows:

Ophelia Vitrix - Q3 C2 - Airship, Square Rig, Unarmed, Swashbucklers, Yare, Chasers, Derring Do

The Crimson Count - Q2 C1 - Ornithopter, Reinforced Hull, Chasers, Trained Gun Crew, Master Gunner, Yare

Van Klunk's Ornithopter - Q4 C0 - Ornithopter, Chasers, Yare

HMS Friday - Q3 C1 - Lateen Rig, Yare, Razee, Master Gunner, Shallow Draft

Ophelia Vitrix was a straight pirate design and for this scenario the Swashbucklers and Derring Do are of little use. With hindsight some Bombs would be a better fit for the daring inventor's attempted escape, and would cost the same.

I made a couple of rules assumptions. Firstly I allowed Master Gunner to apply to Chasers. I can't see anything in the rules for either Chasers or Master Gunner which suggests that the bonus from the latter is not applied to the former. Secondly I allowed ornithopters to use the Reduce Sail action. Since they always move a full Long stick normally, their scope for manoeuvre is very limited indeed; being able to expend an action to move Medium instead gives them a little more flexibility.

The game showed the differences between Square and Lateen rig very nicely as well, with the wind shifting to very much disadvantage the cutter in a pursuit of the airship. I also found it amusing that the weakest vessel on the board - Van Klunk's ornithopter - was the one that delivered the finishing shot as it had spent most of the game flying around in circles far from the action and had, at one point, almost flown off the board altogether.

On the whole, the game was good fun, and actually had a delightful feel, with plodding cannon-armed air vessels fighting it out whilst having to pay attention to both altitude and wind direction.

This is my sixth recorded game of Galleys and Galleons, which means that I have completed that particular part of my Six by Six Challenge. Each of the games has tried a different aspect of the game or size of action, whilst giving me a better understanding of how the rules work.

6x6 - Game 6-6


  1. Very cool, Alan. Whilst I'm heavily invested in my Doctor Who project at present, your posts have been an inspiration. I have a feeling some naval combat is not too far over the horizon, although i've a hankering for armed and armoured narrowboats duking it out on the Thames.

    1. There's a Very British Civil War report somewhere that has just that.

      May even be yours :)

      Here's some, though: http://hereford1938.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/april-big-game-witney.html

  2. Very nice write up. I really enjoy your narrative battle reports. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great looking airships and a really fun looking game!.....did i hear you say prequel?.


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