July 31st, marked the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres. This battle was part of a campaign in the final years of World War I, stretching from the end July 1917 until mid-November 1917. This battle, like many of the major offensives that were launched by either side in this global conflagration was a massive and bloody affair made up of numerous individual battles that chewed up the lives of everyone that was caught in the middle of it, shattering an entire generation. One battle within this campaign is particularly striking however, for a number of reasons. The weather in Belgium is typically dry, especially towards the fall. However, this year, it rained almost constantly from October 4th through the 12th, turning the clay and silt of the Ypres Salient into a thick and sticky mud. This mud made moving men and artillery even more difficult than usual and the guns would get stuck and the mud made the high explosive shells of the British artillery less effective. This is to say nothing of the horses and men who would get stuck in the shell holes and literally drown in the mud in the middle of no-man’s land. While the final casualty numbers for this campaign are hotly contested, one thing is clear – it was a slaughterhouse. Former British Chancellor David Lloyd George wrote of the battle in his memoirs “Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war … No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign …” And so to commemorate this battle, and the monumental cost in human suffering and sacrifice, I bring you this –
The planet of Aepruh exists in the Outer Rim, nestled near the edges of Wild Space. It’s no great marvel of a planet. Sure it’s pretty enough, but there aren’t a whole lot of resources to be found without digging deep into the planet’s crust, a prospect made more difficult by the heavy deposits of thick sand and clay that exist just below the surface. The population, while not primitive by any stretch of the imagination, has largely been able to stay out of the greater galactic conflicts because they have few resources and even less worth as a strategic position unless one is looking to disappear from the grid in one of Aepruh’s grasslands or temperate forests. They produced enough that they could trade with offworlders to keep up with technological advances, but they were never a modern military power and have yet to master hyperspace travel, though they are close. A moderately well stocked planetary defense force could have fairly easily held position against their forces for some time.
No one really remembers how the conflict on the planet started. The people of Aepruh had developed different civilizations over their collective history that had carved out various territories in an order to consolidate power and identity. With an eye towards amassing the most power, the greater territories turned towards smaller sovereign territories, swallowing them up while promising protection in return for service and the like. These various national identities proved to be more than a little bit dangerous. While they were all of the same blood, over the years their nationality began to become more and more important to them, sparking fierce debate and oftentimes conflict. A common story tells of a botched assassination attempt that set off two of the major territories enough so that armies were marshaled. The territories that weren’t directly involved soon found themselves having to respond to maneuvers that took aggressive forces through their lands or the lands of territories that they controlled, ending up fighting a battle that they definitely didn’t provoke but were now honor-bound to fight to defend their nations and their borders.
Before long, it seemed much of the planet was embroiled in a war as the great powers traded blows on various fronts and smaller territories were forced to fend for themselves against smaller military actions or even break away from rulers they were dissatisfied with. No matter what they tried, there was never a clear victor in many of the early battles. Time after time they fought to a stalemate, trading land back and forth in small skirmishes before throwing assaults of many men at defensive positions. All it served to do was grind down the armies. Reserves were called up, but before long, even those were beginning to thin, and so heavy conscription took place among the civilian population along with the hiring of off-world mercenary outfits. And with those outfits came technologies that they didn’t necessarily have, ratcheting up the death count of this already costly war even higher. At first, no side was willing to concede. Now, several years into the conflict, they know they cannot concede. This will be a fight to extinction, and the victor will inherit a planet that may never recover from the devastation it has suffered.
Years of constant artillery barrages and atmospheric engagements between fighters along with experimental weapons have altered the weather patterns and rain comes much more frequently than it used to, turning the plains to mud holes during the rainy seasons. Much of the planet’s population lives in one of the major population centers, or they have fled to being their own communities where the war may not be able to touch them, surviving however they can. Much of the rest of the land has been carved into more and more elaborate defensive structures as the years wear on. Temporary installations are built and abandoned by the mercenary groups that are still brought in by the credits the governments have to offer, and various criminal organizations are lending money to the various governments almost as fast as they can spend it in order to keep the fighting going, knowing they’ll be able to swoop in after everything is done and leverage the planet to their hearts’ content.
Times are not good on Aepruh. The leaders know this, but they know at this point they cannot risk stopping or they and their kingdoms and their way of life will be erased from history.
Aepruh was written to fit into a Star Wars game, but it can easily fit into any science fiction game or setting. With some work it could be adapted into a fantasy setting by replacing the technology with magic and monstrous forces. But it loses some of its scope in a setting like that. Regardless, there are numerous ways that you can use this setting to get adventure after adventure out of the conflict, and I’m going to spend the rest of this article detailing a few hooks that you could use:
Unconventional Weapons and Indirect Fire
General Erett has been in contact with numerous contacts looking to acquire the more dangerous natural predators that he can locate, hoping to weaponize them and throw them at the enemy defenses, letting them batter each other into submission before coming in behind to clean up whatever is left. You can use the war as either a backdrop, letting the PCs hunt the biggest game they can bring in alive, or you can put them in direct charge of making sure these beasts make it to Aepruh.
R&D Before R&R
If war is good for anything, it is good for industry, especially in terms of developing more effective and more efficient ways to kill your opponent. Here the PCs are part of a weapons manufacturer and have been tasked with researching new weapons technologies. Like the last one, the war on Aepruh can be utilized as a backdrop as the PCs undertake missions to obtain rare supplies or negotiate other contracts for the manufacturer or they can be in charge of directly testing the weapons and delivering them in exchange for payment. These last two hooks are great for more fringe focused characters that don’t particularly care about getting caught up in the war themselves and have bigger concerns than where their credits are coming from or who their work hurts. Though moral integrity can always be restored in a game like this.
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate
A more altruistic adventure hook puts the PCs in the role of diplomats, ambassadors, and the soldiers that protect them as they attempt to navigate the byzantine nature of the treaties that make up the various allied forces in an attempt to negotiate a ceasefire. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians that are in desperate need of food, medical supplies, building supplies for those that choose to stay, and transportation for those that choose to leave the planet. Extracting them, however, could be its own challenge. This hook is perfect for an Age of Rebellion campaign where the characters can represent the forces of another military, be it galactic or sovereign.
The War to End All Wars
There is something else going on with this war. Something… darker. It turns out Aepruh is host to a powerful dark side nexus, one that several deranged dark side adepts are attempting to empower further using the mass death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. The war won’t end until these mad sentients and the cult they have built around the nexus have been dealt with. And even then, it might be too late for Aepruh. The taint of the dark side might be too much for the planet, leading to a new kind of war after everything is said and done. This hook is, of course, perfect for a Force and Destiny campaign and can take place on many other places as the PCs track down artifacts to help them deal with the deadly results the cult has already obtained, allowing them time within the war to remind them of the very human cost, while allowing them to pursue deeper mysteries within the Force.