Every year for our anniversary, my wife and I travel somewhere in the United States. Usually a place unknown to us. This year, I suggested a road trip of the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas.
I’d never been there before, and reading the Twilight 2000 module Airlords of the Ozarks piqued my curiosity.
I was upfront about my inspiration, and my wife was onboard for that.
For any non-gamer stumbling on this post, Twilight 2000 is a game set in a fictional post-apocalyptic alternate history.
Airlords of the Ozarks, page 4:
“The Ozarks constitute one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, stretching from St. Louis to the Arkansas River. Not a particularly high range, it is characterized by deep-cut, sheer-walled river valleys in a tangle of woodlands and sheer bluffs which have resisted the encroachment of civilization for quite some time.
Those who settled here were tough, daring, and individualistic. Their descendants retain that toughness of character and tend to be independent, clannish, suspicious of outsiders, reclusive, and possessing a tradition-minded outlook on life. The mid- to late-twentieth century saw the region opened to the tourist and vacation trade, which brought more income to the area than did farming, but which did little to change the basic character of the people.
The onset of World War III affected the region even less. Many of the younger men answered the draft call or volunteered in the spirit of ancestors who had fought at Pea Ridge and Wilson’s Creek and the breakdown of transportation left these sons of the hills far from their homes. Marauder bands passed through the area following the breakup of the federal government, but there was little to attract them to stay.
The Ozarks actually suffered far less in the ebb of civilization than did many other parts of the country. Transportation suffered when stocks of gasoline and spare parts were requisitioned by the army and other agencies. Neighborhood mechanics made do with scavenged parts, however, and converted car engines to alcohol. When vehicle engines could no longer be repaired, horse- and mule-drawn wagons began appearing in greater numbers. It was not uncommon to see battered Fords and Chevys with their engine blocks removed and replaced by a juryrigged hitch for a team of mules. Neighbors looked after one another. Food became scarce but local agriculture was sufficient to support the slightly reduced population. As hospitals ran low on supplies and city garbage and sewage services faltered, disease (typhus and cholera especially) depopulated several larger towns such as Springfield and Poplar Bluff, but the villages and isolated mountain communities continued as they always had, often with little or no contact at all with the outside world.
Otherwise, life went on unchanged… until the ‘awakening’ of the New Americans.”
The terrain is very hilly, and the roads winding and roundabout.
There are scattered hamlets of a few buildings along the main roads. If they have any public structures at all, it’ll first be a church. I saw mostly Baptist churches, as well as other Protestant denominations I wasn’t familiar with.
The people of the region are intensely religious. This is an aspect the module overlooks. Our Airbnb hosts were devout Seventh Day Adventists, and their faith informed all aspects of their lives. Very industrious family, prosperous through years of work, building, and cooperation. They were quite friendly and hospitable.
The father offered to loan me one of his pistols to carry on our hikes, asking me a couple of times, which prompted me to inquire if there was anything I should be worried about. Just the bears, but they’ll usually leave you alone, he replied.
The forests are dense, with a lot of undergrowth. It’s a riot of species. I saw several types of conifers, and many sorts of broadleaf trees. Encounter ranges will be short.
Never did see any bears. Saw a few deer while were driving. Some cattle. Few horses, curiously enough.
Lots of bugs, though! Spiders in the forest here, and they like to cast invisible webs across trails.
It was late in the year, and our Airbnb host said we were mostly past the season of ticks and chiggers.
The weather is also quite variable. It was sunny one day and powerful thunderstorms the next, followed by a thick fog.
At the end, I discovered the precise location of the Airlord’s base. We avoided New America patrols, and fortunately the dirigibles were grounded due to weather.
Airlords of the Ozarks, page 45:
“When the experimental dirigible Columbia crashed southeast of Harrison in 1997, the prisoners and cargo were hauled by trucks down off the wooded mountain to Ponca, then into what had formerly been Lost Valley State Park. It was in a field nearby that the dirigibles were built and in Lost Valley that they are stored and refurbished between missions…
The New American base headquarters is established in ranger offices and facilities near the entrance to the park. Supplies, machine tools, quarters for personnel, and the salvaged stores from the Columbia — including five large tanks of liquid helium kept refrigerated through the efforts of relays of gasoline burning power generators — are all kept inside the Lost Valley caves near the dirigibles. A grass airstrip has been cut near the top of the bluff, which is reached by switchback steps carved into the limestone running up the face of the north cliff.”
I believe prolific author William H. Keith once again knocked it out of the park with this module. In Airlords of the Ozarks, the players must perform a low-profile expedition into the mountains, searching for the secrets of New America.
With that, the module dives into a tight overview of the towns, people, and New America.
From the trip, what impressed me was: In this rugged terrain, if a faction really did get ahold of a few dirigibles and armed them, they’d dominate the region – particularly the settlements – like nowhere else.
At one point, as my wife and I were hiking in the forest, a pair of C-130s flew overhead at low altitude. It was awesome.