Life During Wartime, TL 7/8 Aleppo Edition

From: We live in Aleppo. Here’s how we survive.

ALEPPO, Syria — There weren’t any bombs today, or the day before. That’s good, because it means you can leave your apartment, see your friends, try to pretend life is normal.

There are different kinds of bombardment, which all have their own ‘flavour’:

  • iron bombing
  • smart bombing
  • drone bombing
  • artillery
  • catapults (for those medieval moments)
  • laser bombardments
  • meson bombardments (a.k.a. “Things suddenly blow up for no reason”)
  • particle accelerator bombardments (a.k.a. “Ultra-Lighting strikes”)
  • low-yield (kiloton) nuclear bombardments
  • high-yield (megaton) nuclear bombardments
  • meteor strikes (a.k.a.”Rock throwing from SPACE”)
  • orbital rods (“Now in two flavours: mass and undirected, or selective but guided!”)

And bombing/shelling depends on their warheads: explosive, anti-armour, gas, incendiary,  fletchette, clusterbomb, fuel-air, multi-warhead, grinning truck drivers and air/raft pilots who are moving really fast…

This is quite a lot for a civilian-reared Traveller referee to keep track of!

If you want to stay alive in Aleppo, you have to find a way to keep yourself safe from explosions and starvation.

Here’s how.

First of all, to survive the many different kinds of airstrikes, shells, rockets, phosphorus bombs and cluster bombs, you’ll need to live on the lower floors of a building. They’re less likely to be hit than the upper floors are. When a smaller bomb lands on top of a building, it often takes out just the top two or three stories….[but] in the most recent airstrikes, the jets have been using a new kind of bomb that demolishes the whole building.

Science marches on!

Or, in the Traveller universe, perhaps an off-world trader made a good case for some higher-tech off-world artillery shells/bombs to the local government.

Stay out of any rooms near the street. Because light in a window attracts bombers or snipers, I keep our front rooms empty or use them for storage. My wife and I seclude ourselves in interior rooms. We have no electricity, which means it’s usually dark. Before the war, I was studying Islam at the University of Aleppo, but the campus is in a government-controlled neighborhood, and I can’t get there anymore, so I dropped out. Now we almost never leave the apartment. If we’re going to die, we prefer to be together when it happens.

Everyone makes their call, where they will make their final stand, when the time comes.

For a lot of Travellers, maybe 90%, their last stand is on their starship: on the bridge, or in engineering. But, I can see certain merchants make their stand in the cargo bay, defending their goods against all comers…

If you have kids, they’ll have to stay off the streets most of the time, or they’ll be killed.

Note the distinct lack of qualifiers in that sentence.

Occasionally, they can go outdoors to play or get to school, but then their parents have to listen carefully for the sound of warplanes or shelling — and these days, for cluster bombs, which are even more dangerous.

Bad business, raising a family in a warzone. But of course, it isn’t a matter of preference for most…

Schools and hospitals have been moving underground for several years, and almost every neighborhood has an underground school operating now.

This won’t work for meson bombardments.

Still, meson artillery ain’t cheap: that usually means that the guys gunning for you are a wealthy high-tech world, or a serious interstellar power like the Imperium, the Solomani Confederation, Zhodani Consulate, etc.

(And in that case, I’m curious to know: why haven’t you surrendered already? Assuming that this is just an average world against a 80,000 ton gorilla fight.

Seriously: large stationary cities are sitting ducks, and while it is possible to make that gorilla bleed, it’s far more likely that the locals are going to bleed out first. Even in the famed guerilla wars — the Chinese Civil War, Vietnam, Iraq, etc — the cities were left in the hands of the more wealthier power, while the opposition built up strength in the countryside.

Then again, perhaps you’re on the frontline of an empire-vs-empire clash, a la the Solomani Rim War. In that case, my intense sympathies.)

So in most wars, even in Traveller, meson weaponry doesn’t enter the equation. Even nuclear strikes — far less pleasant, but far more cheaper, than meson bombardments — are something of a rarity, due to retaliation risk.

Maybe you have a car. You’ll have a hard time getting gas for it. If you’re hoping to keep it from being blown up or damaged by shrapnel, you might store it inside an empty garage or shop. Open the windows, too. Otherwise, the glass may crack from the pressure of bombs exploding nearby.

Air/rafts are a great way to escape a city, in the midst of a TL 7/8 bombardment. Of course, it’s not easy to find one. But some PCs looking to make a quick buck and an air/raft (or a set of grav belts) could make quite a nice pile of money…

Listen for scouting planes, which sound different from fighter jets on bombing runs.

People get really good at picking out different sounds, when their lives depend on it.

The scouts fly lower, and they make a constant buzzing sound. If you hear them, you’ll know that shells will be falling soon, bringing death with them.

(Scribbles notes.)

If you do go outside, make sure you don’t wind up in a group of more than 20 people, or you might attract a plane to target your area.

Two platoons on the move? Or another wedding party? The PCs may well not care: but if they aren’t serving Imperial military — no Laws of War, there — they are taking a gamble.

Scouting runs were particularly dangerous in the summer, when there weren’t any clouds to obscure pilots’ vision. But they’re also bad on clear days in the winter.

Traveller is a pen’n’paper game, so it’s easy to forget the weather. Also, depending on the origins of the PC, a well-acted character may forget about it too.

(We all know the stories of  born-spacers who  freaked out when he first felt wind on a living world: “Hull breach! HULL BREACH!”

I am now tempted to put in a rule that 1% of all born spacers/domed city dwellers/underground hive dwellers undergo a mental breakdown when they step onto a garden world and look up to that vast, endless blue expanse…)

Anyways, the Referee shouldn’t forget the weather!

Going out at night is especially risky, because you can’t see the planes coming overhead, and you have to drive without headlights so you aren’t spotted from the air.

Should the Referee warn the PCs, the first time they try to pull this stunt? I recommend having a friendly local warn them: but if they won’t listen, just shrug and let the Law of Consequences kick in…

One night, I was driving through my neighborhood when I suddenly felt pressure in my ears, and the windows of my car cracked. It was an airstrike less than 100 meters behind me.

You need good windows, if you are living in a city under bombardment.

Or, just ditch the glass.

Staying cooped up at home all the time will get boring, and you’ll eventually want to try to live some semblance of your normal life — to see friends, to attempt to find food. People want to go out. But if you leave, remember that you might not make it back.

Parents should make sure that their kids have relatives and friends they can turn to.

You’ll be able to tell which days are safer. If there are peace talks going on in Geneva, there will be fewer bombing runs that day.

Civilians can be fast on the pickup, and may well be more clued-in than off-worlder mercenaries and traders.

It’s so easy to lose your mind here. You might go out one day to look for food and come back to find that your building has been destroyed and your family killed. I’ve seen people standing in front of bombed-out buildings, screaming and crying in disbelief.

People really do go mad in warzones. This includes soldiers who are not given relief from front line service, especially after the 60-day point.

Civilian women screaming in mental agony, with catatonic children holding her skirts, are one thing. Fire teams of over-the-horizon soldiers bearing heavy weaponry are something else again.

More and more people have lost their homes, and now they’re living on the streets asking for money. Before the war, they never imagined they would be beggars.

One thing I’ve given the Vilani in my writings: the ability to calculate the full cost of a war, before starting one. A surprisingly useful skill, if I may say so myself…

If you aren’t killed by airstrikes or shells,

…you might toss in “small drones” here — armed with guns, or explosive types — after 2020 or thereabouts…

your big worry will be food. Before the siege, there was enough for everyone. But now a lot of poor people don’t have enough money to buy food, because there aren’t jobs anymore, so every neighborhood has young volunteers whose responsibility is to get food and other supplies for their communities. Families that still have a father are lucky: His mission is to get food and other supplies every day.

A man is a man… and that’s that.

Food problems (and, perhaps even more important, electricity/life support/heating/cooling problems) are a serious issue, on high-tech settlements in hostile environments.

A daring trader with some compassion and generosity – even selective generosity – really can be a multi-generational hero in this situation: not just because of the food, medicine, and water he hauls in, but by keeping the communication lines open.

It’s quite possible that his power plant can be the border between life and death.

A pitiless, cold, and acquisitive trader can make far harder bargains: people can and do sell themselves and their families into slavery, in return for a chance to live. Space is very big, very dark, very cold, and very silent… able to hold more secrets than you really want to uncover.

(Someday, the PCs should buy a round of drinks for an off-duty Imperial Ministry of Justice investigator, in return for some of the stories that are kept off the wires. I won’t be joining in, as I plan on sleeping tonight.)

Bread is getting rarer and more and more pricey on the black market, because the economy has been destroyed. The Syrian pound is getting cheaper and cheaper against the dollar, which makes everything more expensive. There is some rice and pasta available from aid organizations. Some of them give it away, some of them sell it. A few families sell their extra food. But there is no meat, no milk, no yogurt.

No cannibalism yet, so there’s that.

<Insert grim Vargr joke here.>

Maybe you’ll try to grow vegetables in your garden. In my neighborhood, people are growing eggplant, parsley and mint. Many gardens have become burial grounds, though, because there isn’t room anywhere else to bury dead bodies after four years of war. But if the alternative is starving to death, you might not mind eating food that’s been grown among corpses.

The Vilani are surprisingly comfortable with this kind of gardening, once their dead started decomposing as a result of Contact with the Terrans. Dead bodies make good fertilizer, and people have to eat, so — after the food has been properly Cleansed by the shugilii caste — it’s time to chow down!

(And of course, the dead are typically recycled in closed-cycle habitats and orbital installations. This is true for everyone, from the Solomani to the K’kree…)

We have serious trouble getting hold of fuel or gas to cook with, so we use wood or some kind of dirty diesel. This is really bad for everyone’s health, especially the children’s.

Or, leave your food uncooked, and (worse) your water unboiled. Trade-offs, trade-offs…

Hope — or pray — that you don’t have to go to a hospital. They’re absolutely miserable. I don’t know how the doctors and nurses can stand all the blood, bones and bowels all over the floor. The smell is awful. Patients who can’t leave are constantly screaming in pain. Several weeks ago, I was shot in the hand by a sniper, and I have some broken bones. So I have to go to the hospital once a week to change my bandages. I can’t bear to be there for more than half an hour.

“Charity LIC — a leading supplier of medical care in the Empty Quarter — is willing to help! For a reasonable fee…”

Why am I still here?

Aleppo is my city. Syria is my country. This is my principle, really, and I insist on it.


After all that — the beatings, the airstrikes, the war, the bombings — I want to live in a free Aleppo. I want to stay here, where I was born, all my life. It’s my right.

As I said before, there is a point where people decide to make their last stand.

It isn’t always a physical location — for many women, it’s their children that they’ll die for, not a home — but sometimes, it is.

For most, it’s their family and their tribe, as they define it: blood or faith or land. (Vilani culture types: “…or corporation”) For a few, it’s an idea, a vision, a dream.

Yes, I’m perfectly aware that soldiers in the field are really dying for their buddies: to not let their team down, and to avoid shame. But you don’t have to wear a uniform to value something higher than your life.


About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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2 Responses to Life During Wartime, TL 7/8 Aleppo Edition

  1. Andrew says:

    Several comments, as usual.

    Fuses on slow or fast falling explosive thingy-ma-bobs (bombs, shells, etc) are important. If set to contact, only the, well, contacted object will be hit (top floor). Delayed fuses allow penetration through cover. Variable timed/radar fuses that blow up when they get near an object really suck for soft targets in the open. Good old timed fuses (TL4-6) can be real fun, as it gives the NPCs the faint hope that they can run away or remove the bomb before it blows up.

    Shaped Charged warheads are really fun to use against buildings due to the awesome spalling ability of the cone-of-death.

    The more esoteric the round is – guided, sub-munition, guided sub-munition, air-employed mine, etc., the harder it is not to be screwed. It isn’t like dumb munitions, where you’re dead or not, oh, no, you now have to worry about things like hang time (how long does that guided stuff float around out there) and the area effect of multi-rounds.

    Drop ordinance just will suck from a defender’s stand point. Once the droppers get bored, head out to the local asteroid belt, and start dropping car sized rocks, you know the end is nigh.

    Here’s a great link from a Bosnian War Survivor on, well, surviving a siege.

    Basically, to survive, don’t stand out. And have good people covering you.

    Dead air spaces, like that poorly ventilated underground bunker, are killers if gas is used, or if pollutants build up, or there is a flood of one sort or another (sewage, water, even molasses syrup (yes, look up molasses syrup flood, I dare you.)) Being above ground but bermed by debris, dirt or whatever is more survivable in a low-to mid-tech conflict. Look at what the Japanese did in WWII, or the Germans or Russians in the same conflict. Whole factories in hill/mountain sides, multiple levels of underground bunkers. Even the Vietnamese built tunnels with gas traps and ways to close off sections if flooded or entered.

    Via vehicle, don’t don’t don’t go faster than other vehicles. Too fast and you will get extra-special attention from the junior air-birds flying whatever their TL version of a strike aircraft is. A Fokker DVII will kill you as easily as a P-47 or a A1 Skyraider or an A-10 or…

    Don’t go too slow. The scavengers that live on the edges of conflicts will take you down and strip your vehicle and you as quickly as a hungry pack of vultures descending upon a lone living calf in the desert. It ain’t pretty. Human scavengers, Vargr, even the local wolf analogy, they will hunt and kill you if you go too slow (Ancient Russian Proverb says when attacked by wolves, throw baby (or old person) from the troika. Russian version of you don’t have to be fast, just faster than the slowest one.)

    Escaping by air is interesting. If you can somehow disguise yourself as some aid organization, good luck. Otherwise, the closer to the ground the better. Ground provides cover, scatter, to hide in or against. Altitude makes it easier to see you either visually or electronically.

    Leave way before it becomes one. The PC should have the ability (air-car, ATV, spaceship) to leave safely and the ability (via local and space merchants, Scouts, or Travellers Aide) to gain the intel that crap is coming down upon them. The fall of Saigon generated many horrific stories and photos. Try to leave before the fall.

    And if necessary, remember the end of Kiplings “A Young British Soldier”:
    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.


  2. Pingback: Survival During Wartime: A Guest Speaks | Stellar Reaches

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