Saturday, December 31, 2011

Print Cover for In Harm's Way: Pigboats

Here's my current candidate for the print cover for Pigboats. Comments are very welcome!

In Harm's Way: Pigboats Playtest Session 10

This session started out with working up to Will Montgomery's wedding, and ended up in the Yellow Sea.

Lamarr had arranged with his friend - Mrs. Lockwood, the Admiral's wife - to have the ceremony at the garden of the Admiral's house. He hoped that might impress Amanda's mother, and ease some of the pressure her mother was putting on her. Will went to collect them for the rehearsal, and saw an envelope on the hallway table addressed to Amanda from Bo Larsen, her old boyfriend. While waiting for the women, he lifted the envelope to the light and tried to read it through the envelope, but that didn't work too well. Despite being severely tempted to snatch the letter and read it later, he didn't and put it back on the table.

The women went with him in the Admiral's staff car out to the Admiral's house. Lamarr, talking costs over with Mrs. Lockwood, determined that getting the rich Vanderbilt to pay for this wedding would a just compensation for his hideous practical joke the day before, and began scheming ways to make him foot the bill. Amanda's mother was subdued, awed by the Admiral's obvious blessing for the wedding, though it didn't make her like Will any more.

Back at the Coelocanth, Lamarr suggested to Will that they should make Nick Vanderbilt pay for his practical joke through his wallet. Will decided to use his skills learned in a bad childhood to sneak into Nick's room and steal the money. Will got into Vanderbilt's room with no problem, and began picking opening the lockbox in his footlocker. It wasn't easy, and by the time he had the lock picked and the lockbox opened, Will heard Vanderbilt in the corridor outside conversing with Beau Tambeaux. Sweating bullets, Will went through the contents - a bag of gold double eagles, a bag of dut diamonds, and four checkbooks with apparently over a million in each one. Will tore out a check from one of them, locked the lockbox back up, and put it back into the footlocker. He got up and bluffed his way through as Nick came in the doorway through the curtain.

Using the logbook, Will and Lamarr forged his signature on the check, made out to the caterer for the expenses, and sent it off to them. Later on, Lamarr confessed what they had done to Vanderbilt, who laughed it off, and said he would have been happy to pay for it., but next time, just ask.

After the wedding, and a short honeymoon on a dude ranch on the Big Island, Will returned to the ship walking bowlegged, having never ridden horses before. This was, of course the occasion for much ribald humor at his expense. Meanwhile, the skipper ordered Will to get a canary for each of the Torpedo Rooms, as they were carrying a partial load of wakeless Mark 18 electric torpedoes, which generated hydrogen when they were recharging. They had also mounted a new 5 inch deck gun aft to match the one forward.

The crew gathered and headed off to their new patrol area, the Yellow Sea between Korea (called Chosen at that time, and a part of Japan since the last century), Manchuria (Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet-state), and occupied China. The Yellow Sea is pretty shallow throughout, being filled with sediment from the huge rivers that drain into it.

The Coelocanth poked around in the middle of her patrol area for several days without a sniff of a convoy. The Skipper, perusing the maps, tried to figure out where the huge amount of traffic which should be going through the area was hiding. Making a Strategy check, he decided the traffic was running up between the mainland and the chain of steep-sided islands off the southern and western corner of Chosen, north of Quelpart Island. The water was fairly deep there for the Yellow Sea, and he ran the Coelocanth up between two islands where any convoy would have to run straight along across her bow, silhouetted against the cliffs.

A couple of nights later, they struck paydirt. A small convoy of two big tankers, at 10,000 and 7500 tons, a smaller tanker of 3000 tons, a big cargo ship of 9000 tons, and an enormous whale factory of 16,000 tons; all escorted by a pair of corvettes. First came a corvette, ahead and to the right, then the whale factory and the biggest tanker, followed by the small tanker, then the cargo ship and the third tanker, with the other corvette taking up the rear.

The Skipper ordered two electric fish each fired at the lead corvette and the whale factory, with two Mark 14Cs fired at the big tanker after a wait to make sure the faster Mark 14s hit at about the same time as the slower electrics. After all fish were away, he ordered a turn to starboard to line up his aft tubes at the rear of the convoy. Then the lead corvette vanished in an explosion, with simultaneous multiple hits on the whale factory and the tanker following quickly. As the trailing escort picked up speed and swung out towards where the Coelocanth had to be, the skipper ordered two electrics fired down her throat, with a second pair fired at the third tanker.

The whale factory and leading tanker were on fire and heavily damaged, and were only able to make about three knots each. The trailing escort also went up in an explosion from the second torpedo. Then the trailing tanker exploded and went down in a rush. This left only the small tanker and the big cargo ship able to maneuver at any speed. They began booking it out of the trap as the Coelocanth turned to port. Mr. Montgomery made a terrific success on his combat reload, getting four tubes ready to fire before the captain needed them. The skipper put a torpedo into the cargo ship and a pair into the small tanker, with the tanker exploding and the cargo ship damaged.

The Skipper ordered the two five inch deck guns manned, with the aft deck gun under Mr. Montgomery shooting at the whale factory and the big tanker, and the fore deck gun under Mr. Vanderbilt aiming for the cargo ship. With some excellent gunnery, The three ships were polished off, giving the Coelocanth the rare distinction of a clean sweep - an entire convoy sunk.

Meantime, Tokyo Rose began mentioning the Coelocanth in her nightly broadcasts, starting a war between her and the skipper. More on that later.


Friday, December 30, 2011

In Harm's Way: Pigboats Playtest Session 9

Session 9 began with the USS Coelocanth's crew at liberty for two weeks in Pearl. Mr. Montgomery went to see his girlfriend of two years, Amanda. Amanda originally was seeing Montgomery alternately with an Army Aviator named Bo Larsen, but had been going out only with Montgomery for the last year. Amanda informed Will that she was pregnant. He went out and bought a ring and proposed to her.

Now Amanda was a very sweet, pretty girl, but not too many lights on in the upper stories, so she said yes. Amanda's mother hated Will Montgomery with a great and consuming passion, and she tried to put her foot down, but Amanda was old enough to marry on her own, so a date was set.

Lamarr Bullock, the XO, decided to throw Will a bachelor party. He invited Will, Tom Wiggins, Nick Vanderbilt, and Beau Tambeaux out. They went to a swanky Italian restaurant and had a terrific meal, with various wines - Nick went on at length about each one - but Will was slipping deeper and deeper into depression. They left and got into the cab, and as they drove down to the the sub base, Will let slip that he thought there would be more to his bachelor party. The cab driver took a wrong turn and stopped at a dive where everyone got out.

The crew of the Coelocanth boiled out of the bar and pulled Will Montgomery in, followed by the other officers. They laid him down on his back, put a funnel in his mouth, and began pouring in drinks as the first stripper started dancing. I will leave the rest as an exercise for the student.

Early the next morning, the four officers poured out of the cab doors, followed by Nick Vanderbilt, who looked impeccable, as always. Interestingly, it wasn't at the Royal Hawaiian, where they were staying, but at the Coelocanth. An admiral paced back and forth. Will Montgomery collapsed at his feet, groaning.

"Gentlemen! The Coelocanth has been ordered out immediately on an important mission. Your Skipper, Commander Mardukas, will not get here in time, and Mr. Bullock will be the temporary commanding officer. Mr. Bullock, your orders." he hands a very surprised Lamarr a packet. "These are not to be opened until you are out of the harbor and on your way. As your own crew cannot be located in time, the Replacement crew will have to do. Good luck, Lieutenant Commander Bullock." Will puked over the admiral's shoes. the admiral was very upset.

They pulled away from the dock, the officers groaning and bitching, Will semi-comatose. As they left the Loch through the narrow entrance, Lt. Cmdr Bullock opened his orders. They said: "You have been had, courtesy of Lt. Nicolas Vanderbilt.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Resistance: Cross of Lorraine

This project looks very cool, and I want to bring it to your attention:

It's a game based on the French resistance in WWII. The author, Robert Oglodzinski, is trying to gain some traction in his effort to get the game development funded, but it's salmon time - upstream all the way - for an unaffiliated indie designer from Poland. He's done a hell of a job reaching out to folks - there's wikis and Q&A sites and all kinds of information flowing from him. I personally love the concept - hard, dangerous, and tense work, but with hope, so it's not misery tourism. I have hope he can pull this one off!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Submarine Novel Research Continued!

Today I will cover the five Periscope! novels.

The Periscope! Series

I figured Halsey Clark was a pseudonym before I read any of the series, but I found out from Google that "Halsey" is a common name with Clarks, and has been for some time before WWII. OTOH, the Halsey Clark of the Periscope! series is definitely a pseudonym, for at least four if not five different authors! This series was like a roller coaster...

Pacific Standoff

Set in the Pacific in 1943, Pacific Standoff was an excellent book! It was reminiscent of Harry Homewood's work - great characters, exciting situations, and well-written. This book can stand on its own with the best sub novels ever written. The hero is Jack McCrary, but several other side characters referred to or appearing in this book become main characters later in the series, like Jack's Cousin Bob DuToin, who comes aboard as PCO - or a Prospective Commanding Officer, a final bit of training before command - Jack's rival, the engineering genius Ben Mount, and Jack's sister Helen.

Deepwater Showdown

Set in the Atlantic and Mediterranean in Late 1944 until April 1945, this book follows Ben Mount, a Jewish submarine officer, who is shunted off to work with the Royal Navy, though he repeatedly applies for action in the Pacific. Ben works developing special weapons for the RN, though he occasionally gets temporary command of a British sub for special missions. New important characters are introduced - Moxie Mulford, a British sub commander who is close friends with Ben, and Betsy Kirkland, the love of his life and daughter of the admiral commanding of the sub force, a noted anti-semite. This is a solid novel, though not as good as the first, but be warned, this novel has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the series! The characters re-appear, but in later novels, Mount is in the Pacific or Washington while he is simultaneously somehow in Britain in this one. It's as if the roller coaster stopped, you got out and went onto another coaster, then went back and continued on the first coaster. Bizarre!

Depths of Danger

Set in the pacific in late 1944, this was a low point in the series. Jack and Helen McCrary, Ben Mount, and Bob DuToin all return, but there is little submarine action, and what there is of it is ridiculous and unreal. It's more an espionage story whose characters are involved with submarines. The characters are different than they were in the previous two novels, working for different motives. It was was OK, but not what I was waiting for. Mount is throughout supposed to be an engineering genius, but the only thing he actually invents is a way to mount an existing camera to a periscope to get high quality pictures for recon purposes. Helen McCrary is probably the star here. Where the first coaster had lots of corkstrews and dramatic drops and tight curves, this is a bunch of bunny hops.

Grand Finale

With the fourth installment we're back in a cracking submarine novel. This one is set in the Pacific in 1945, and brings together the McCrarys, Ben Mount, Betsy Kirkland, and Bob DuToin. This is almost as good as the first, and might have been written by the same person, but unlike the first novel, this novel's sub action is all closely based on real events, particularly that of Gene Fluckey and Barb and the big wolf pack sent into the Sea of Japan at the end of the war. The wolf pack boats were equipped with a new device, FM Sonar AKA Hell's Bells, to penetrate the vast mine fields sealing the sea off from the Pacific.


Now we go into the Land of Strange! Supersub is set from VE Day to the seventies, and concentrates on Ben Mount. This novel is just strangely written - I found it annoying - with abrupt changes of scene and again, no relation to the first four novels besides the names and relationships of the main characters. The editing was awful, and made me wonder if any of the other books were edited at all, and the differences were due to the quality of the writers. the whole things is told in flashback, with Ben Mount a thinly disguised Admiral Rickover. The stuff about nuclear subs is well realized - this guy knows nukes, and it shows - but it gave me headaches to read. The characters have almost nothing in common with their previous incarnations, changes in their personal lives are abrupt and senseless, and there is no real development. Avoid this one!

The whole thing reads like someone had a sketched out plan with no real timeline, no character studies beyond names and a couple sentences about their relationships, and sent it out to five different authors to write simultaneously. Each one went their own way, and while some were very good, and others competent, there was no overall tracking and reconciliation between them.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Too Many Notes, or the Fear of Skills

In the film Amadeus, there's a scene in which the Emperor criticizes Mozart's latest composition:

Emperor: "My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."

Mozart: "Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?"

I always think of this when I hear someone say - of my games or of anyone else's - "There are too many skills." What does this mean?

What I think it means is that the person saying this is afraid of having to learn a whole bunch of new limits and special cases. Understandable, perhaps. The classic way of defining skills is to describe the skill, list its benefits, then list what it is not, and what it doesn't apply to. This is what I call Definition by Boundary, or Edge Defined Skills. It is in effect a description of a special case by describing the limits to that case. Everything inside those limits is, therefore, the skill. In order to properly use the skill, one must know the applicable and non-applicable skills for each situation.

One way designers get around this is to use Professions as Skills. You were a shoemaker, so you know anything a shoemaker would know. You were a hunter, so you know what a hunter would know. This is nice, because the Professions are self-defining - whatever the profession, so long as you know what the Profession entails, common sense and group consensus tells you what would be applicable. It also has another benefit - it is overlapping. A Hunter has to know something about butchering an animal. So does a Butcher, and so does a Cook. Yet no one worries about that! A Cook doesn't know how to hunt, and a Butcher doesn't know how to cook, and a Hunter is not going to be nearly as good at Butchering an animal as a full-time Butcher. Common sense!

We can also define a Profession by the Skills the Profession uses - a Hunter uses knives and firearms, can track animals, can butcher them, is knowledgable about the weather, and can set snares. So we have the Hunter eligible to learn the skills Blades, Firearms, Tracking, Butchering, Weather, and Snares. Some Hunters are better than others at Firearms, some are better at Snares, some are better at Tracking, etc. This is what Skill Ranks are for. They don't just tell us what someone is good at, like Binary Skills or Professions, they also tell us how good they are. This differentiates one Hunter from another.

There is another way to define Skills than Definition by Boundary. This is Definition by Center. A Center Defines Skill is one which is self-defining, in which the name describes what it focuses on - the Firearms skill is about using Firearms. The Tracking skill is all about tracking creatures. The Snares skill is about setting traps. The edges are not described. Edge conditions are left up to common sense and group consensus.

What happens when you have two skills which are applicable in a situation? Say you have a broken firearm! Would you use Firearms or Repair to fix it? If your skills are overlapping, the answer is either one. Repair can fix most anything broken, but it doesn't automatically allow you to use Firearms to shoot a pistol. Firearms allows you to do most anything with a gun, but it doesn't automatically allow you to fix a car or a lamp. Why not? Common sense and group consensus. You no longer need to worry about memorizing special cases and limits, you just have to know in general what the Skill is about, and that should be in the name.

But why not have just a few skills? Define them broadly and from the center, and it shoud cover everything, right? Flavor. More Skills means more differentiation, more shading, more subtlety. Some games work great without a lot of subtlety, and some don't. Let the game itself tell you how subtle and flavorful you want these characters to be.

In effect, Center-Defined Skills are miniature Professions, and Professions are made up of these Skills. You can play any game which uses Skills by using Professions instead, if you prefer. just consider that listing of Skills to be a sort of definition of the Profession. The two concepts are mutually translatable.

There is no need to worry about how many notes are in the music, you can just relax and let the song flow.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Playtest Session 8

Last session ended with the Coelocanth two days southwest of the Bonins, with one Mark 14 reload forward and four Mark 10 fish left in the aft tubes. This session picked up where the last session left off, and veered quickly into Hollywood Thriller-land.

The Skipper ordered a course change towards Chichi-jima, on a hunch that small convoys might be using the harbor there as a stop-over on the way to and from Japan and the Marianas. Chichi-jima itself was protected by a big radar station - where Lt. j.g. George H. W. Bush would later earn the DFC as an aviator from the San Jacinto - and it was mostly avoided by subs. during the first night of the transit, RADAR picked up a small, single target dead ahead. The Skipper ordered the speed increased to catch up, and soon the OOD caught sight of the target, a submarine on the surface heading directly away from the Coelocanth, towards Chichi-jima.

In the moonlight, the OOD swore he saw a swastika on the conning tower fairwater of the sub ahead when the Skipper joined him on the bridge. Observing the boat, and making no effort to shoot or catch up, the Skipper confirmed this, and noted she also had a net cutter - a serrated, angled steel beam propped up on the rear end by two support beams - on the bow. A German U-boat, either out of the Indian Ocean, or all the way from the Atlantic, was right in front of them.

In spite of the fact that a single torpedo from the U-boat's stern tubes could easily sink the Coelocanth, the Skipper decided to follow the U-boat to wherever it led, a very dangerous course of action. The U-boat gave no sign that she knew she was being followed, and continued on course, as the Skipper ordered two large tasks from the crew - one from the Engineer, and one from the men. The Coelocanth was just in sight of the U-Boat in the darkness, and directly behind it, where the U-boats hydrophones could not hear her due to the sound of her own screws.

The Coelocanth followed the U-boat through the next day - both submerged, with the Coelocanth tracking the U-boat by hydrophones - and night. Still, the U-boat gave no sign of noticing her shadow - a series of really terrible rolls by the GM compounded by the night penalties and the inability to hear behind her - until the U-boat began transmitting just west of Chichi-jima a couple hours before dawn.

The Skipper was expecting this, and had the Signals Officer, Mr. Bullock, search the radio spectrum to find any plain language transmissions on low power. Mr. Bullock found the transmissions, and the Skipper listened in. Besides being fluent in Japanese, the Skipper was also fluent in German and Italian - the son of peripatetic linguists who taught all over the globe before the war, including Germany and Japan, and spoke many languages. The conversation was in German, and brief. After trading codewords, the sub was to await an escort into Chichi-jima's harbor just west of the island at dawn.

When the transmission ended, the Skipper ordered the Coelocanth to turn sideways to the U-boat, so that both the 5 inch gun on the fore deck and the 4 inch gun aft would bear. He then gave the order to the Weapons Officer, Mr. Mongomery, in front, and Mr. Bullock on the 4 inch gun, to fire. The two guns fired at the same time, both shells hitting the U-boat at the same moment, obliterating it.

The Skipper then ordered his two surprises - a false net cutter fashioned by the engineer to be mounted in the bow, and his new Kriegsmarine uniform and flag to be brought up from below. While he dressed, the flag was run up the SD RADAR mast. Lt. Wiggins was sent out to paint a swastika on the side of the fairwater - on his own, without orders, he painted over the Coelocanth's collection of Japanese Asahi and meatball flags, denoting her kills. Good thing that! It might be misunderstood by the Japanese! Wiggins was an artist in his spare time, and did a superb job with the painting.

The skipper was gambling that the Japanese could not tell an American sub from a U-boat after erecting the false net cutter. This was not an unreasonable gamble - Germany was half a world away, and had many different modles of submarine, like the Japanese, and US subs were almost never seen in broad daylight, and the form follows function of a sub's shape was pretty universal. Still, it was a hugely dangerous gamble perched on a knife-edge - but that was typical of the Skipper. In any case, at dawn, the Coelocanth in Kriegsmarine drag met a Japanese destroyer just west of Chichi-jima.

The Captain of the destroyer took the appearance of the Coelocanth in stride, and shouted "Follow me!" to the Skipper through a bullhorn. The destroyer preceeded the sub past a corvette and into the horn-shaped harbor of Chichi-jima. The destroyer anchored in the southern, wider part of the horn, while three small Japan-bound tankers huddled together in the sharp nothern tip. As the Coelocanth followed, the destroyer let down a small boat, which putted over to the sub, a junior officer guiding it. The Skipper, with Mr. Bullock in jeans and t-shirt beside him, left in the boat, and came onto the destroyer to meet with the Captain.

The conversation was in German, which the Captain pronounced badly and with a thick accent, and of which Mr. Bullock knew next to nothing. "You have the mercury?" asked the Captain. "Ja" replied the Skipper, thinking 'It's atill on the U-boat, under the ocean'. "And for me?" "We will load the mercury, then transfer the uranium when that is out of the way." state the Captain.

The Skipper knew he was in trouble. It only made sense to transfer the mercury first, as the sub had far less space to stow stuff than a destroyer. The Skipper bent on all his charm, and used Convince to argue that it would be simpler for him to load the uranium first, as the sub was so very delicately balanced. The Skipper won the argument and went back to the boat to bring her alongside the destroyer. The uranium was transferred in lead lined boxes, then the sub swung around and shot the destroyer with the single torpedo in her bow tube, and simultaneously fired three torpedoes at the tankers sinking one and damaging another.

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! the Coelocanth sped away toward the harbor mouth as the stricken destroyer tried to rush to battle stations and fire her guns. The Skipper fired her last torpedo in the aft tubes, and the destroyer went down in two pieces. The little corvette came on at the sub, but Mr. Montgomery at the 5 inch gun forward put two shells into his hull and sank him. The boat dove right outside the harbor mouth to avoid planes swarming up from the airfield, and headed for Pearl, all torpedoes expended.


Monday, December 5, 2011

IHW: Pigboats: What Is My Character really Doing When ...

This next bit is from a section of Pigboats called Extra Credit. In it I talk about things perhaps buried in the abstractions of the game. One part is called "What Is My Character Really Doing When..." which explains what is happening in the game world when a character does something - for example:

What Is My Character Really Doing When...
I make a periscope Observation check?

Your character is reaching down to grab the handles of the scope as soon as they clear the well. Snapping them down, you put your face into the hood, and rise with the scope in order to see as soon as the lens clears the surface, minimizing exposure time. If this is a non-shooting observation, you twirl all the way around once at the highest setting first, then again lower, then once more at the horizon in order to look for planes and ships before surfacing.

Getting the Range

If it’s a shooting observation, your assistant will turn the scope to the expected bearing, where the hydrophones or the plot says the target should be. You find the range by splitting the image with a device called the Stadimeter, and bringing the top of one image against the bottom of the other. Then the estimated height of the target is input into the system. This tells you the range by knowing the angle and the opposite side. You also estimate the target's "Angle on the Bow", the angle made by the target's bow to the viewpoint, for example a ship heading exactly asoss the scope from left to right would have an "Angle on the Bow" of port 90. A ship headed right to you would have an Angle on the Bow" of zero. The longer you leave your scope up, the better the chance the enemy will spot it.

Identifying Ships

You can give a decent shot at estimating the height of a ship’s masts because the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) has given you two books - ONI 221, which covers warships, and ONI 208-J, which covers Japanese merchant ships. These books use a classification method which uses the positions of funnels, deckhouses, turrets, masts, and other structures, and the shapes of bow and stern, to identify the class of ship, if not the actual ship itself. This will tell you the tonnage and masthead height.

Paths Not Taken

I was originally going to use the ONI books and make the PCs identify the ship class using them, but I didn’t want to either copy the whole books - they are public domain - or make the group purchase them, so abstracted the whole process.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

IHW: Pigboats Research: Submarine Novels!

I've been researching for IHW: Pigboats, my WWII submarine RPG. One of the things I am doing is re-reading old WWII Submarine novels, and seeking out and buying more to read. I want to get the atmosphere right! WWII submarine novels? Don't laugh! It used to be a fairly popular sub-genre. The first one was Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward Beach, which was a huge commercial and critical success back in the fifties.

Beach was the Marryat ( of the genre. Like Marryat, Beach was the thing he wrote about. He was a submarine officer throughout the war, ending up in command of the Piper, which reached the Sea of Japan just as the war ended. RS,RD is excellent - great characters, and wonderful action. I first read it in the early sixties, along with the two sequels, Dust on the Sea and Cold is the Sea, neither of which were as good as the original, though they were good.

Harry Homewood wrote three WWII submarine novels in the 80s - Final Harbor, Silent Sea, and O God of Battles. I have read the first two, and they are excellent. Silent Sea is a sort of side sequel to final harbor, as the protagonist is a fairly important character in the previous book. Real seeming characters, awesome action, and complex, yet organic, plots. They are highly recommended! Homewood was a WWII submariner himself, though not an officer. Post-war, he ended up as a newsman- bureau chief for Newsweek, Editorial writer for the Chicago sun times, etc. These books were very popular when they were written, but are pretty much unknown nowadays - unjustly, in my opinion.

J. T. McDaniel is a modern writer of the genre, and Bacalao is a great book. It is apparently his first novel, though he has been published as a submarine fact writer. The book has a charming flow to it, and lots of technical detail. Again, wonderful characters that work together marvelously. this is really typical of WWII submarine novels - they are very much character driven.

Another currently active writer is R. Cameron Cooke, who was, like Beach, a submarine officer who retired and began writing. His two WWII books are both very very good - Rise to Victory, and the sequel, Sink the Shigure. I think his plots and his characters are not up to the previous writers I mentioned above, but maybe a notch below them. Still very well written.

Some other books I am exploring but have yet to read are Halsey Clark's 5 book "Sweeping Saga" the Periscope series, Claude Pearson's Gunfish, and Charles Rush's Battle Downunder.


Monday, November 28, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Playtest Session 7

When we last played, the Coelocanth was just north of Sofu Gan - AKA Lot's Wife, a pinnacle island in the Nanpo Shoto used to calibrate radar by both sides. The Coelocanth has a full load of torpedoes, Mark 14cs in the bow, Mark 10s in the stern. She had just gotten a RADAR reading from extreme range to the north and west, Japan.

Inexplicably, the Skipper decided to dive. Standard protocol now - early 1944 - was daylight submerged attacks, and night surface attacks. This was night, yet he decided to close a very long distance underwater, under slow battery power. He ordered a course change to the west, under the assumption that the convoy would be heading roughly south towards Saipan and the Marianas, as an intercept. Underwater, of course, he couldn't use the RADAR, and the convoy was well out of hydrophone range. He proceeded at 2 knots for a couple of hours, then asked the Exec, Mr. Bullock, for a hydrophone check.

Mr. Bullock returned three successes on this check, and with great surprise, he announced that the convoy was still at very far range for Hydrophones, and that they were just a bit north of west. The convoy was moving far faster than the Skipper had anticipated - normally a convoy moves between 8-10 knots, and this one was moving at maybe 16 knots, depending on the zigzag. Still, it would be easy to surface and run ahead, but the skipper refused, and doggedly kept under the surface, though he increased his speed to 5 knots, turning southwest to intercept.

As they closed to the contact, Mr. Bullock reported five sets of screws - two quadruple screws, one set of twin screws, and two single screws. This was no convoy! It was most likely a Japanese Naval task force, with two big ships - cruisers, battleships, or carriers - and support ships, with an escort. The Coelocanth swung into night periscope range just as the task force went by. There was an old four piper destroyer in the lead, a smaller, 5000 ton support ship following, then a cruiser, another ship part the cruiser, mostly masked by it, and a big cruiser sized ship in the rear. This ship had it's rear deck cut down flat, like a carrier.

Mr. Montgomery, at the scope, called the skipper, who was acting as Assistant Approach Officer, saying "God, Captain! You gotta see this! I've never seen anything like it!" The skipper took the scope and immediately recognized it, having seen it two years ago south of Davao - the destroyer and cruisers who had tricked him and almost caught the Thresher with torpedoes! "Open the forward torpedo outer doors! I'm going to put all six into that bastard!"

The Coelocanth shuddered as 6 mark 14cs - 18 thousand pounds of torpedos, shot into the murky night. The skipper called for the Coelocanth to make a sharp turn to starboard to bring the stern tubes to bear on the leading cruiser. Fish seven, eight, nine, and ten shot out.

Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! Four fish hit the cut down cruiser and exploded! The four great screws still churning, it plowed itself under in minutes. "Surface the ship!" cried the skipper - again totally against standard practice! Once you were underwater, you didn't surface to face gunfire! As the Coelocanth burst through the waves, water cascading over her decks, both the cruiser and destroyer turned to attack - a mistake for the cruiser! Three torpedoes hit in succession, drastically slowing her down and making her sink deep in the water.

Mr. Montgomery dashed to the forward torpedo room to supervise the emergency loading of the forward tubes. Normally, it takes about five minutes per torpedo to load the tubes, but Montgomery got three fish in the tubes in a fast combat load. The Coelocanth continued its curve to the right on the surface, with six and five inch rounds splashing in on either side, and as the last fish was loaded, the skipper fired them off. Two streaked into the wallowing cruiser, and one into the destroyer. Only one of the two in the cruiser went off, but it was enough! The big ship sank by the head, the stern pointing up in the air as she slipped below.

The destroyer tried to avoid its fate, but the torpedo slammed in amidships, slowing the destroyer to a crawl. The Coelocanth swung away, out into the night and completing her reloading, before coming in from the side, putting two more torpedoes into the struggling destroyer, finishing him off with a blast. One unconscious prisoner was taken from the water, and the skipper, coaxing in fluent Japanese, persuaded two more to surrender. Several that were approached chose to swallow seawater and drown themselves instead. The skipper ordered them shot.

The two auxiliaries had booked it away, fleeing as the warships turned in to attack. After the prisoners were taken, the skipper ordered a pursuit, heading west and south. Before dawn the cargo ship was found and two torpedoes were on their way. When they hit, there was a spectacular explosion. The ship was carrying munitions. The skipper, when he recovered, used the frequency he had used two years ago, and announced that he was done, and was letting the last ship free to carry word of his vengeance.

The next night, after a long, stealthy approach, the Coelocanth launched the last two fish in the forward tubes into the remaining ship of the task force, a seaplane tender. Just before the torpedoes hit, the skipper announced over the same frequency in flawless Japanese "I lied."

Now the weird things. The skipper decided to make the entire approach underwater. I don't know why! He did not surface until both cruisers were sinking. Now most Japanese destroyers didn't carry RADAR - particularly old four pipers. Cruisers, on the other hand, did. If the Coelocanth has pursued their quarry in the standard RADAR guided night attack, which was the skipper's favorite mode of attack, the cruisers would have been prepared - you can see the interference from other RADAR on the screen - and a trap may have been possible. Yet that is not why he dived, and then stayed underwater at night. He could have had no idea there were large warships in the group until at least the XO discovered they were far ahead of where they would be expected to be if they were merchant ships, and that was only confirmed when the propeller noises were heard.

By making what was a strange choice and almost missing the attack because of it, he managed to preserve surprise and destroy the whole unit. That was just bizarre! I will never understand it.


Monday, November 21, 2011

IHW: Pigboats playtest 6

We continued on from the last game for the first half of the night. The Skipper recieved orders to head for the harbor at Manado, on the tip of the scorpion tail of Celebes, to reconnoiter the situation there. Cruising on the surface one night, the ship was attacked by two big patrol planes - Emily flying boats - while the Weapons Officer was Officer of the Deck. He elected to try to shoot down the lumbering planes rather than dive, but failed. The Thresher was rocked with repeated bomb explosions, throwing the startled skipper out of his bunk.

He ran to the Conning tower and ordered the OOD to take the sub down IMMEDIATELY and to never, ever, try this trick again! The men piled town the hatch, and again, as on the first day, the hatch jammed as they dove. The OOD pointed out, rightly, that one of the Thresher's Traits was "Slow-diver", so he was able to get it opened and reshut before too much water poured in. On the other hand, one of the last brace of bombs from the Emilies really hit hard, as teh slow diving boat was nto far underwater. The Captain elected to lose the brand new dual Light AA gun mounted on the cigarette deck rather than take that many dings, and took what I offered.

The harbor at Manado is open to the west, but that had a big submarine net stretched accross it. To the north are two steep islands with deep passages between, being covered by a corvette. The skipper timed the passage and slipped submerged by the corvette and into the big harbor. Inside was a huge convoy - fifteen ships and five more escorts - with the merchantmen at anchor. They looked like they might be fitting out for an expedition.

The skipper did a panorama of photos through the scope, but set up on several merchantmen while he had the chance - two torpedoes for a mammoth troop ship of almost 20,000 tons, and one fish each at four others. He also prepped the aft torpedo room for a couple of salvos as well, and warned the crew to be prepared to surface!

As the last section of harbor was being shot - with the big number one scope - SONAR reported five sets of fast screws speeding up. It was obvious they had been sighted. The skipper ordered the boat to surface, and the six bow torpedoes fired at the preset targets. When the torps were all away, he ordered a hard left to swing back to the north, and the bow tubes reloaded. This took a short while - and a successful Operation check by the Weapons officer. One torpedo hit the huge troopship and exploded, one hit a big cargo ship, and one hit a tanker. Two more hit their targets but were duds, and the rest carromed off in random directions across the harbor.

Heading north, he had the stern towards the harbor, and ordered all four stern tubes fired - two at the troopship, and two at the cargo ship already hit. By this time the escorts were firing at the Thresher, with shot spouts leaping up all around the boat. There were an armed yacht and a frigate in the lead - being much faster - and two corvettes and an armed trawler behind. The captain had planned it this way, knowing the Thresher could outrun the corvettes and the trawler. He called down to the forward torpedo room. There were three fish loaded, with one more left. About then the troopship and the cargo ship were again hit, this time both sank.

The skipper turned right and sent the three forward fish off at 90 degree deflection shots, two at the frigate and one at the yacht. Meanwhile, the Signals Officer ran out with a crew to man the rear 3 inch deck gun. Once the fish were away, the skipper swung back north, heading for the rightmost of the two channels, between the innermost island and the shore. One fish hit each of the lead escorts, sinking both. The 3 inch gun hammered away at the pursuit, scoring two hits.

The last fish was loaded, and it was a neck and neck race for the channel with the corvette they had eluded to get into the harbor. Again they were bracketed by shell spouts, with one shell actually hitting the Thresher, but one of the guys used a LUCK point to make it fail. The last torpedo ran hot straight and normal, and the corvette blew up, the Thresher flashing by and into the open ocean. They were out of torpedoes, and headed for home. For this daring attack, the skipper got the Navy Cross, and lesser decorations were awarded the other officers.

The second half of the session was involved in setting up for our next session, but it went so fast we actually got a bit of play in afterward. The gang elected to play a couple sessions later in the war, with the new radar and better torpedoes, before going on to test Wolf Pack play. They created a new sub, a Balao class boat called the Coelocanth. and drew the Nanpo Shoto - the chain of islands (including Iwo Jima) stretching up from the Marianas to Japan - as their patrol area. The Skipper was advanced to Commander, the Lieutenants were bumped to Lt. Commander, and the jgs to full Lieutenant. The Exec decided his character had taken over the Thresher, and would be back for the Wolfpack game. The rest stayed with the boat, which was totally unreal, but in the interests of saving time it was fine. This is a playtest, after all!

As the boat was calibrating radar on Lot's Wife - a spire of rock of known position and height that everyone used for this purpose - we had a fun encouter with two flyboy characters from their old pilot game mistaking us for a Jap sub - they really, REALLY wanted to sink the Coelocanth! - but since the PCs were in control, there was no real danger of that. Oddly enough, the Skipper is the older brother of one of their squadron - not one of the two that found the Coelocanth. As the planes flew away to the south, the SJ radar picked up a blob to the north, coming from Japan. End session!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Wolfpacks

One thing I am thinking about was raised by Klaxon in the game Saturday Night. This is a different form of play for later in the war - wolfpacks. What I am thinking is a natural evolution - each PC would be a Commanding Officer or an Executive Officer. The CO and XO would split the Approach and Assistant Approach Officer duties between them, with everything else run as defaults - a standard +3 skill level.

The US didn't use wolfpacks until late in the war - 1944 and 1945, but that is time for quite a few patrols. They were generally made up of usually 3-4 subs - though there was at least one 6 sub wolf pack I know about. This would nicely cover a standard PC party, with NPCs to fill in the cracks if needed. In effect, the subs could be operated like fighters, cooperating on hunting down convoys and Japanese naval task forces.

What do you guys think?

Monday, November 14, 2011

IHW: Pigboats Playtest Session 5

The game did not go well. El was sick, and she had to leave before it got going well. Klax was late, as he had a meeting with his game development group. Then we discovered a problem with the rules, which was great for me, but not so much fun to play through.

We started off with a chance meeting between the XO and the Admiral. Since the XO had been beaten within an inch of serious injury a couple days before, the Admiral almost didn't recognize him. The Admiral was very angry, and told Lt. Jerkin that such brawling was conduct unbecoming an officer, and that next time, if he just had to fight, he should at least win. Then we skipped forward to the Christmas party, which was fun enough - three different people spiked the punch, and it all degenerated from there. Meanwhile, in Pearl, Thresher's cigarette deck was cut down, the plating replaced by stanchions and ropes. The plating over the periscope shears was also removed, altogether cutting down her silhouette considerably.

The Thresher left port on December 27, under orders to go to Surabaya in the Dutch East Indies and work out of there until otherwise notified. The boat was given a full load of the brand new Mark 14 torpedoes before leaving - a special honor, as they were still scarce - and the transit was uneventful. The Admiral at Surabaya had felt his commanders were too timid, and given the superb results the Thresher had shown on her first patrol, was specifically sent out to "Show what an agressive attitude can do to the enemy".

Given the area between Mindanao, Borneo, Celebes, and Halmahera for patrol, the Thresher cruised back and forth fruitlessly for several days. Then one night they got a big reading on the SD RADAR - which was usually used as an aircraft warning radar because it didn't give a bearing. Knowing the contact was no airplane, because it didn't get stronger, the Thresher's lookouts strained their eyes all about, and finally saw a darker smudge against the horizon. The Signals Officer reported that there was RADAR interference, so whatever it was, it was carrying RADAR. Hydrophones detected multiple sets of fast screws nearby. The Thresher drove toward the contact.

At two miles out, they could see pagoda masts - a battleship, and a wierd cruiser that looked like it's rear end had been planed off. There were destroyers as well. The Skipper decided to use subterfuge, and hailed them over the voice channels they had heard used by the convoy they attacked last patrol. Speaking fluent Japanese, the skipper told them he was the Japanese submarine I-121, and had an emergency. The replay came quickly, a friendly sounding Japanese voice asking specifics on how they could help.

It was a ruse to keep the Thresher occupied. One of the destroyers had immediately launched torpedoes due to the lack of authentication - no code words, no proper signals. The OOD, the XO, spotted the torpedoes and swung the Thresher parallel , and they shot by on either side. The Skipper ordered a crash dive as the destroyers leapt into action and the sea around them exploded with 8 and 14 inch shots.

The two destroyers got a SONAR lock on the Thresher, and maintained it even though the Skipper found a thermoclyne. They took a careful and methodical approach, dropping just a couple depth charges on a run, while the second circled the area to maintain the lock. The skipper ordered them below the sub's test depth, and still the hammering continued.

At this point, the skipper ordered a sonar shot at the circling tin can - A spread of six Mark 14 torpedoes from the bow tubes. Every one ran erratically - two circling around, but LUCKily, they were climbing up to the surface in a helix, and missed over the sub. More depth charges. Another spread of 4 from the stern tubes. One ran erratically, one exploded prematurely, one hit the destroyer and was a dud, and the fourth ran hot straight and normal, and exploded, wounding the destroyer. The Thresher escaped before they could be locked again.

After sending off a radio report to Surabaya, they got a nasty reply from the Admiral - they had fired the torpedoes from far too deep, and it was no wonder there were abnormalities.

The problem we encountered was the Gunner, who had nothing to do during this whole episode. Did subs ever use their guns? Yes, but only on small craft and wounded transports, or while bombarding a shore installation. How often did those things happen? Well, early in the war, not frequently, but as the Japanese merchant marine was hammered by the subs, later on it became very important. So, through the first couple years of the war, the Gunenr did nothing? Ummm - yeah... pretty much.

We talked it over and deciced to merge the Gunner and Torpedo Officer into one Combat station - Weapons Officer. I also folded Gunnery School and Torpedo School together into Weapons School. Since the Torpedo officer would be shooting the torpedoes, this would involve him from the start.

I love finding problems before my games get to market - especially if they can be easily solved! I sent the new and improved version immediately to the Beta Testers.


Friday, November 11, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Angle On the Bow

I released IHW: Pigboats to beta testers this week. If you are interested in playtesting the game, let me know. It's not finished, but it's fully playable.

I'm slowly working on how best to incorporate AOB - or Angle On the Bow - into the game. AOB is the angle of the target's motion in relation to the direction of the sub's motion. So, if the sub is heading due north and the target is heading southeast, the AOB is Starboard 45. Most of the time, you - as the Approach Officer on the sub - want an AOB of 90 either way. However, the game abstracts that out, and you don't actually need to know the AOB out of character to shoot. Bill Downs, a gamer over on the RPGSite, gave me directions on how to make a neat AOB solver, and damn, I want to use it!

So anyway, the torpedoes can be set to run at different angles once they leave the tubes, using a gyro mechanism. Usually, you'd try to hit the target at 90 degrees. This allows the best chance for a torpedo to hit and destroy the target, as they are coming in straight onto the broadest profile, with no deflection.

However, the Mark 14 torpedoes had some awful quirks - it was a horrible mess, with four major design flaws. One of them was that the contact exploder - there was also a magnetic exploder - was prone to jamming when it hit, producing duds. However, the sharper the angle of incidence when the torpedo hit, the more likely it was that the torpedo would go off properly, as the contact firing pin was less likely to jam.

So, what I'm working with now is bonuses and penalties to the chance that the torpedo would hit - and that it would explode if it hit - depending on the AOB in relation to the TORPEDO, the Angle of Incidence. So you can solve the AOI for the torpedo, and get bonuses and/or penalties to the shot.

This would be an OPTIONAL RULE! You don't need to use it at all, but if you do, there is a reason to play with the AOB solver. :D


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A short note!

BTW, the Haiku Pineapple Company, their athletic field taken over for internees, the prisoners at the Lahaina police station - all were actually there in the real world. The actual prisoners, of course, were not real - though one of them was indeed a Shinto priest. The Coconut Grove was actually located in Boston, and was destroyed in a huge, deadly fire, but the name fit, so I put it in Honolulu. :D


Sunday, November 6, 2011

IHW: Pigboats Playtest - Session Four

Ran a playtest session of IHW: Pigboats last night. We started off with the party split. The XO, Lt. Jerkin, stayed in Pearl along with Lt. Montgomery, while the skipper, Lt, Commander Mardukas, went to Maui along with Lt. Bullock and Lt. jg Tambeaux.

Lt. Jerkin went looking for a fight with the bastard that bombed the Thresher as she came into Pearl. All he knew was that he was an Army Air Corps zoomie named Joe. He figured the guy was flying from either Hickham Field or Wheeler Field, so he went first to Hickham, then to Wheeler. Each time he was refused entrance without valid orders or an appointment, due to the heightened security since the raid. He then placed a call to his buddy Frankie, an Army captain at Wheeler. Frank agreed to meet with him for a few drinks at the Coconut Grove, a nightclub in Honolulu. He spent the day at the private section of Waikiki behind the Royal Hawaiian reserved for submariners.

Lt. Montgomery met up with his girlfriend Amanda, whom he was currently sharing with an Air Corps flyboy named Bo. This was Montgomery's day with Amanda, so he took her out to lunch, then some surfing lessons from Amanda at Waikiki, then dinner and off to the Coconut Grove. They shared a cab with the XO to the nightclub, and Montgomery dreaded the trouble he knew was coming - he was very well aware the XO was spoiling for a fight.

The skipper and the others landed in Lahaina, Maui from the daily ferry, and found their way to the police station, where five Japanese detainees were being held. The skipper showed the cops his orders detailing him to interrogate the detainees - he is fluent in Japanese - and they gave him a room to do the questioning in.

The first detainee was a Shinto priest who had lived a long time in Hawaii, and who spoke some English with a terrible accent. He had been on a walking tour of the island when the raid on Pearl happened, which the police were a bit suspicious of, so they kept him separate from most of the detainees, who had been sent off to a camp. He explained that he went on a walking tour to visit and sacrifice to the kami of the islands every year, and that they stayed up in the mountains the whole time, to be with nature. The second two were his companions, who seemed quite honest.

The fourth one was a Harvard grad, who had made a fortune selling wholesale groceries throughout the islands. He had been on his yacht, and had, in fact, reported an encounter with what he claimed was a submarine on the sixth of December. The last one was a young engineer, fresh from Japan, who had a flawless American accent. He had been flying about the island on a water-hunting expedition for the Haiku Pineapple Company - looking for aquifers that could be tapped for irrigating the dry side of the island. His pilot, he said, could vouch for him.

Lt. Bullock was getting very bored with the jibber-jabber. He was expecting the skipper to rescue his Jap girlfriend, not talk to a bunch of obviously innocent Japs. He did a lot of yawning and eye-rolling. At the end of the questioning, the skipper requisitioned a car from the police to visit the camp. Lt. Tambeaux drove them, looking wistfully at the beaches along the road with Lt. Bullock. The camp was on an athletic field at the Haiku Pineapple Company canning plant along the north coast of Maui.

There he met with the Professor and his daughter - mostly talking about the people he had questioned earlier in the day. The Skipper was bothered by accents - the atrocious accent of the priest, and the impeccable accent of the engineer. The professor - of Philology - agreed. The priest had been there far too long to have such a terrible accent, unless he had been totally isolated from haole culture. As for the engineer, he could have learned English very well in Japan, but what was taught would have been British English, not American. The skipper told the professor he was totally convinced of their innocense and would work to have them released. After the professor left, his daughter thanked the Skipper, and kissed him before running from the room. The rest of the detainees there were very low risk, and a short interview with each was enough to convice the Skipper that the Police had segregated the most suspicious ones very well. They stayed overnight at the camp, and left in the morning.

Meanwhile, back at the Coconut Grove, the XO met with his buddy Fred, and Lt. Montgomery danced with Amanda to some excellent live swing. he tried ranking on Bo, but Amanda wouldn't hear of it. "He never said anything bad about you, Will!" that shut him up. Lt. Jerkin asked Fred about any zoomies who might have claimed sinking a Jap sub the day before - then explained that the scumbag had almost sunk the Thresher. Fred said he knew who it was, and not to pursue it any further, He was just a kid who was scared and excited, and that they had received no notification from the Navy that the Thresher was due in. Fred explained what it was like during the attack, how frustrated the guys were with all their planes being destroyed on the field, where they had been parked wingtip to wingtip to protect them from Japanese saboteurs.

Jerkin finally accepted this, but a drunk young army officer insulted him in passing. Chris insulted him back, calling him a filthy name. The officer punched the XO, and got a bottle upside the head in return. The officer screamed and leapt on Chris, getting him around the throat and crashing him back through the table, smashing his head into the floor. Will excused himself from Amanda, having been waiting for this, grabbed two beer bottles, and swung them from both sides into the drunk officer's head from behind. The XO stabbed the man with the broken bottle, almost killing him. At this point the Shore Patrol's whistles sounded, and panic ensued. Jerkin got everyone out by hiding in the fridge until the SP passed, the out through the loading dock.

Back on Maui, Mr. Tambeaux was driving the group back to lahaina, when he was startled to see a naked girl on the beach. Lamarr poked fun at him, inferring he'd never seen a naked woman before. The rest of the trip went without incident. When they got to the police station, the pilot was there. After some questioning. he admitted he was not always with the engineer, and that he would often wait with the plane while the engineer went off alone to do his exploration. One time he came back with a scroll with Japanese characters on it. He described the scroll. At this, lamarr thought the skipper may actually be onto something, He began getting interested.

The engineer was called back in. He had answers for everything. He had written the scroll. It was love poetry for a married woman he was seeing. She had it, and he would not give up her name. he had learned English in Kyushu from New York Jesuits - his family was Christian, like many in Kyushu. The skipper hmmmed. Lamarr walked about the room nervously. The skipper called in the field laborer who had been with the priest. Yes, the priest would often go away alone to pray. Yes, one time he went into a village to get some food when they ran out. Yes, he had a scroll like that for a while. He was thanked and sent back.

The skipper called the priest in. Yes, he had a scroll like that. No, he lost it when he stumbled crossing a stream. The skipper templed his hands in front of his face. "Let me paint a picture in words, about a priest who is passing information gathered on his walk to an engineer from Japan, who transmitted that information with a radio disguised as a sample case to a submarine offshore. this priest is being left to hang by the spy-engineer, who could care less what happened to the priest, this priest with a wife and children who would suffer greatly for what he had done." The priest broke down and confessed.

Lt. Bullock chortled as the engineer was brought in. The skipper told him what had been discovered. The engineer smiled. He was not afraid to die. He was happy to die for his Emperor. Lamarr clapped him on his shoulder, saying "You're done for, good buddy!" as the skipper explained that he would not die, that he would rot in a prison cell instead for the rest of his life. The engineer grinned and insisted he would indeed die. They heard a crack from the engineer's head, and the skipper reached across the desk to yank open the man's mouth, just as Lt. Bullock punched the engineer in the solar plexus. He breathed cyanide into the Skipper's face, but the skipper held his breath. The spy was dead, and wouldn't be talking any more.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Third Playtest Session

We ran the third of our playtest sessions Saturday, in spite of Mother Nature. Klaxon telecommutes for the sessions from Orlando via Skype on my iPad, which normally works out very well, but the nor'easter knocked out the internet connection halfway into the game. Luckily, one of the players had a phone with free nights and weekends, so we propped it up in the center of the table, and Klax was with us audio only the rest of the night.

We started out where we had ended last session, with the sobering news of Pearl Harbor, and the notice that we were to exercise unrestricted warfare on Japan. The Skipper decided to try and trace the convoy that had left the night before, and the officers threw in their guesses as to the destination. It could have been to the west to the Dutch East Indies, south to Australia, or north east to the Philippines. The gang decided that the Philippines was the most likely, as the convoy left the encircling reef of Palau through the northern exit. The Thresher went in pursuit.

Not yet having surface search (SJ) RADAR, the Thresher depended on visual and auditory clues, and the lookouts finally sighted smoke in the late afternoon. Catching up with the convoy as night was falling, the Skipper decided to go in on the surface at night. There were six marus in the convoy, three each in two columns, along with six escorts of various types. They were running a simple zig pattern. The skipper ordered the Thresher up the port side of the convoy until it got ahead of the flanking escorts.

It being peacetime when the sub left, the Thresher was loaded with ten old Mark 10 steam torpedoes, one in each of the six bow and four stern tubes, and eight practice fish, with dummy warheads weighted with water, four in each torpedo room. The skipper ordered three bow and two stern tubes loaded with dummy fish, all in the even tubes - that is tubes 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10.

The Thresher then turned into the convoy, firing tubes 2, 4, and 6 right across the bows of the leading port escort. Immediately, the skipper ordered a hard left, and the sub raced across the front of the convoy. The escorts, as planned, bit on the bait and sounded the alarm, and the marus immediately zigged to the right. Meanwhile the crew in the forward torpedo room were busy reloading tunes 2, 4, and 6 with live fish. The port column was led by a 4500 ton tanker, followed by a big, fast troopship of about 10,000 tons. The skipper fired tubes 1 and 3 at the tanker, then sent torpedo 5 into the troopship. All three torpedoes ran hot, straight, and normal, and exploded with a satisfying whump. The tanker burst into flame and began sinking immediately, but the troopship was just slowed by the hit.

Unbeknownst to the Thresher, there was an escort out front of the convoy, who saw the Thresher against the flames of the tanker. He immediately cut in and raced toward the sub. The Officer of the Deck saw the escort, and informed the captain, who ran straight away through a gap in the starboard column. As the escort turned in towards the sub, the skipper fired tubes 7 and 9 at the escort. Torpedo 7 hit his port bow and blew his front end off, his screws driving him into the waves within a minute. Thresher then dove.

With tubes 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9 loaded with live fish, the Thresher surfaced half an hour later, having evaded the remaining escorts, and began another end run to catch up with the convoy. They did not find it, but did find the slowed, wounded troopship, with two escorts. The Thresher made another surface run, this time from the Starboard side, and planted fish 2, 4, and 6 into his side. The troopship, her keel broken, folded up into a V shape, and began sinking.

The Japs had set a trap for Thresher, though. As the two escorts began rescue operations, a third, unseen escort suddenly roared in from the night. Watching the troopship sink, the bridge crew might have been caught with their pants down, but the Signals officer caught the fast screws coming in and alerted the skipper. Once again, he turned away and dove, lining up a shot down the throat of the new escort as he went. with a satisfying WHANG! torpedo 9 hit, and the escort just exploded. The Thresher swam away, surfaced, and headed for Pearl. A nervous AAC pilot bombed them as they were on their way in to port, but the bombs missed. The crew were very rattled by this, and by the devastation at Pearl, where rescue parties used cutting torches to try and find any last possible survivors on the wrecks in the harbor, or at least to locate the bodies.

Once back at Pearl, the Thresher was refitted while the men took liberty. the Skipper learned that his Japanese friends had been rounded up and relocated, forcibly, to a camp on Maui. Lt. Jerkin, the XO, got stinking drunk before he even got to his room. Lt. Montgomery goes to see his girlfriend, and finds she has been seeing another man, an Army Air Corps pilot. The Skipper and the Lieutenants run into her and her new boyfriend at a nightclub, and a general brawl almost erupted, but the Skipper takes charge and defuses it. Before that, though, Lt. Bullock found the pilot who had bombed them as they came in - "An' after we sank ten Jap ships an' four escorts, too!" - publicly shaming him.

Lt. Montgomery finds his girl had heard of a sub being blown up at Cavite in the Philippines, and assumed it was his boat, not being very bright. Then she met her new boyfriend, who helped her get over her despair. She tells Will that she will share time between the two of them, as she couldn't bear to see either of them hurt, and Will's turn will be tomorrow. The Skipper announces he is going over to Maui to see his friends, and Mr. Tambeaux and Mr. Bullock volunteer to accompany him. Will Montgomery and Mr. Jerkin will stay behind at Pearl, each for his own reasons.

Session ended!


Friday, October 28, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Noises in the Deep

Speaking of Stress inducing events, depth charging is the main weapon of escorts against subs, and an utterly terrifying experience. A big part of the this is the sequence of auditory assaults the depth charging sets up on the crew.

First is the pinging, the active echolocation pulse emitted by SONAR. There were two types of pings used - long scale and short scale. Long scale pings were emitted when an escort suspected a sub was about, but not exactly where. They sounded something like this: Peee-eeep... Pee-eeep... Pee-eeep... as they searched for a contact below the waves. Short scale pings where higher pitched and came faster: PEEP! PEEP! PEEP! Hearing them meant the escort had a solid contact - most likely on your boat - and would soon be boring in for the kill.

Merchant ships almost always had a single screw - it just wasn't profitable for most to give up the space and mass a second boiler.engine and screw would need. The single screw sounded like this on the hydrophones: Thumpthumpthumpthump. If your boat was close, you could hear it through the water without the phones.

Escorts needed more speed, and economics wasn't really in the calculations, so they generally had dual screws. The slight asynchronization between the screws - no two screws are ever exactly in phase - created a phantom "beat" between them. When relaxed and going about their business, escorts had a sound like this: Shooshooshooshooshooshoo. When they got excited, as when they found a target for their depth charges, the pitch and tempo increased, getting louder as it came nearer, and dropping in pitch - Doppler effect - as it passed overhead and went away: ShumshumshumshumSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSUMESHUM SHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMSHUMshumshumshumshum.

You could sometimes hear the splashes made by the depth charges as they were dropped or shot to the sides. At any rate you could always hear the depth charges go off! Depth charges had a double actioned sound: click-WHAM! click-WHAM! click-WHAM! If they came fast and close together, the explosions cascaded into each other: click-WHAM! WHAM!WHAM-WHAM-WHAM! WHAM!

Torpedoes when they hit carried their own sound, different from a depth charge, sort of like hitting a boiler with a baseball bat: WHANGG! and WHANGG! And the sweetest underwater music of all were the breaking up noises made by a sinking ship - shrieks and groans and crashes and muffled whumps as the steel frame was tortured and twisted by the pressures of the deep.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Stress Checks

A new mechanic for Pigboats, to reinforce that claustrophobic feeling - Stress Checks. Up to four times during each session, when the GM feels it is warranted, he/she can call for a Stress Check. A Stress Check is simply a roll of 1d10. Any 1 rolled means the character is getting stressed. This means they mark off one Stress check box on their character sheet, indicating a new Stress Level.

If another Stress check is called for before they can relieve it, the Target Number for the Stress Check is increased by the current Stress Level. Thus a character with two Stress Levels has a TN of 3 or less, etc. Each Level of Stress incurs a Small Penalty to all rolls until that stress is relieved, so the character with two Stress Levels has two Small Penalties to all rolls.

Stress can be relieved by several means. The R&R between missions relieves all residual Stress. Getting stinking drunk relieves two Stress. The celebration after a successful attack relieves one Stress. Cracking up relieves one Stress. Being really nasty to others relieves one Stress. Going catatonic for a day relieves three Stress. The GM should approve all Stress relief as appropriate. Using these listed reliefs as guidelines, other types of Stress relief should be allowed.

Severe depth charging, tense combat, prolonged silent running, bad surprises, and the like can call for Stress Checks.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Playtest 2 of IHW: Pigboats

Had a great session tonight! We started out where we left off, with three characters trapped in a flooded conning tower, and a sub looking for us. The Skipper was running silent at our test depth, and it seemed the other sub was gone, when the cook dropped a bunch of pans. Immediately, the hydrophone operator heard screws speed up and head for us. the skipper was inclined to tough it out, but then the phones heard the sound of outer torpedo doors opening.

The skipper took the Thresher down below our test depth looking for a thermoclyne. The deck plates began to warp and the sub groaned and creaked with the pressure. He found one at 320 feet, and ducked under it. the other sub - presumably Japanese, pinged furiously, but it lost us and went away. After seven hours under, the skipper ordered us up to the surface,and we could pump out the conning tower.

As we headed towards the Makassar Strait - between the east coast of Borneo and the west coast of Celebes - to drop off Mr. Graves, our Australian Mystery man, we sighted a small convoy - two big ships and one little one - heading south directly across our path. We got in close enough to see a couple of passenger ships in dazzle camoflage and a small corvette type escort. If we had been at war it would have been an easy shot. As it was, the navigator projected theor course to Palau, a group of Japanese owned islands between the Philippines and New Guinea. The skipper reported the sighting and the presumed Jap sub that had tailed us from Pearl.

We continued on course, and entered the Makassar Strait on the morning of December 5. We cruised on the durface down the strait, then went under around noon, heading for the insertion point for Mr. Graves. We sere droppig him on the Borneo coast, about 20 kilometers south of Balikpapan. We waited for nightfall, then surfaced.

We sent the rubber raft in under Mr. Jerkin, the XO, along with Ensign Vanderbilt - yes, one of THE Vanderbilts - and Lt. jg Higgins, along with three ratings and Mr. Graves. On the way in, Mr. Graves told Higgins that he was going to walk to Balikpapan - a city and port - and get transportation to Sarawak and Brunei on the north coast. he felt sure the Japanese were going to invade to get the oil in North Borneo, and he wanted to be there to observe.

As the raft came in close to the beach under its small outboard, Mr. Jerkin saw a light ashore, and told the crew to cut the motor and row north. The current was setting south, however, and they made no headway against it, so they decided to row south. They found a beach about two kilometers south of the original landing point, and went in.

As the bow man was pulling the rubber boat up on the beach, a truck or car driving on the beach came around a headland and lit up the bowman, who froze. Ens. Vanderbilt and a seaman jumped off and pushed the boat out into the surf, and the bowman stumbled after as the vehicle roared up the beach. Mr. Higgins, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Jerkin hauled the three others back into the boat while the other rating started the engine and headed out.

Two men with rifles, apparently a dutch shore patrol, began shooting at the boat. Higgins went down fast with a chest wound. Vanderbilt, Jerkin, and one of the ratings were also hit, though lightly, as they wen tout into the night. The boat was punctured twice, but Mr. Jerkin was able to patch the rubber hull fast enough to keep most of the air in. He stopped the engine, and had everyone lay low and let the current take them, and they drifted south out of sight in the moonless night.

After another three kilometers, Eddie, teh bowman, offered to swim Mr. Graves ashore. Graves, who was unwilling to risk his life in such a clusterf**k any more, agreed. Between the teo of them, they got Mr. Graves and his luggage ashore, and off he went into the night. Eddie swam back to the boat, and Mr. jerkin tried to figure out where they were. As he had no charts and no navigational instruments, having failed to take any along on such a short ride he got lost. Finally, they figured out where they were, considerably to seaward of the Thresher, and made it back to the boat. The Skipper gave a severe dressing down to Mr. Jerkin, who had really messed up.

After radioing his report to Pearl, Pearl ordered him to reconnoiter Palau, where the convoy had been heading. They made it there on December 6. There was a minefield about the entrance, with an unmarked narrow channel in. There were two corvettes patrolling the channel, so the skipper waited until a ship came in, a seaplane tender.

He followed the seaplane tender in underwater at periscope depth, keeping close astern so that the prop wash messed up the escorts' sonar. About halfway through the double dogleg channel, the escorts passed the tender from front to back, and one of them noticed something. He swung in behind the Thresher, and began catching up to the tender. The skipper decided to fox him, and drifted back to directly under the corvette. the corvette tried turning to port and then to starboard, trying to get a good reading, but the Thresher stayed right under him. The escort lost the ghost they had been chasing against the starboard minefield and turned back. The Thresher continued into the lagoon.

In the lagoon, the Thresher sighted many ships - tankers, troopships, cargo vessels, and destroyers, as well as several corvettes. She exited the harbor via a different exit, and lurked outside underwater until the sun went down. She surfaced and waited, and pretty soon in the very early morning of December 7, before dawn, the convoy began exiting the lagoon and heading north and west. The thresher stayed back and surfaced to send a message to Pearl, and got the reply that Japanese planes were attacking Pearl, and that this would mean war. She was authorized to go after any Japanese ship she could find.

Session ended.


Thursday, October 20, 2011


For today, various bits and bobs:

I have renamed StarCluster Light to StarCluster 2 Light, to differentiate it further from StarCluster 3 Light. I almost deactivated it, as the full StarCluster 2 game is also free to download, but some people prefer StarCluster 2 to SC 3, and would like the convenience of the small form for players.

StarCluster 3 Light, originally $3.00, is now free for download. I thought a lot of folks would prefer this format, but apparently not at any cost. It's now available for anyone who would like to look through the StarCluster 3 system without spending any actual money. This means it will get scads of downloads from folks who will never even look at it, but that's the price I pay...

Lots of stuff done on IHW: Pigboats, but not a lot of big interesting chunks I can put up here. Tons of little improvements throughout though!

I still haven't gotten my Gaming Genius award, or the winners' logo for the In Harm's Way: StarCluster web page. I'll take a pic when it gets here!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - Alterations to the Boats

While the crew are relaxing and recuperating between mission, the submarine itself may be modified. Some modifications are ordered by the Navy, and are called Mandated Modifications. Others are initiated by the sub’s skipper, and are called Optional Modifications. Mandated Mods are free, and required. Optional Mods are given as favors by the yard to successful skippers. Skippers gain mod points for tonnage sunk, successful clandestine missions, shore bombardments, rescues, lifeguard duty, and other successful missions.
Mod Point Table

Mission Awarded For Mod Points
All Patrols Per Mission 1
Per 2000 Merchant Tons Sunk 1
Per Escort/Submarine Sunk 2
Per Cruiser/Battleship Sunk 3
Per Carrier Sunk 4
Per Barge Sunk 1
Per Totally Ballsy Move* 1
Per Clean Sweep** 3
Clandestine Per Mission 1
Per Insertion 1
Per Rescue 2
Per Crew Incursion*** 2
Lifeguard Per Mission 1
Per Rescue 2
Radar Picket Per Mission 1
Per Kamikazi Intercepted**** 2
Other Per Shore Bombardment 1
Per Special Mission 3

* Like sinking ships in a harbor, and other hairy escapades.
** Sinking all the merchant ships in a convoy.
*** Like landing and blowing things up.
**** Detected and shot down before hitting a ship

Mandated Modifications

Date Range Modification
Early 1942 Cut Down Cigarette Deck
Late 1942 Remove Plating on Periscope Shears, Cut Down Bridge Silhouette
Early 1943 Installation of SD RADAR
Mid 1943 Additional Limber Holes for Faster Diving - Half the Time.
Early 1944 Installation of SJ RADAR
Mid 1944 Installation of ST (Periscope Mounted Range Only) RADAR
Early 1945 Installation of SV RADAR

Optional Modifications

Date Mod Available Mod Mod Point Cost
1942 Swap Light AA for Dual Light AA 2
1943 Swap Light AA for Med AA 3
1943 Swap Med AA for Dual Med AA 3
1943 Swap Dual Med AA for Quad Medium AA 4
1944 Swap Med AA for Heavy AA 4
1944 Swap Heavy AA for DualHeavy AA 4
1944 Swap 3 inch deck gun for 4 inch deck gun 5
1944 Swap 4 inch deck gun for 5 inch deck gun 6
1944 Swap 3 inch deck gun for 5 inch deck gun 7
1945 Add second 3 inch deck gun 10
1945 Add second 4 inch deck gun 15
1945 Add second 5 inch deck gun 20

Friday, October 7, 2011

Couple items of possible interest at RPGGeek

I did a quick interview at RPGGeek here.

Steffan O'Sullivan did a freaking AWESOME flyer for The Tools of Ignorance for a contest there! Check it out! That's the game right there! :D


IHW: Pigboats - Mission Area

Here's a table I made for determining the mission area for the subs. As the war went on, the action got closer and closer to the Japanese Home Islands, so I adjusted for that with the modifiers based on years.

Where Is Your Mission Area

Roll 1d% on the following table, adding 20 in 1944, and 40 in 1945

Roll d% Mission - Encounter Modifier
01‐05 Wake ‐1 Sm
06‐10 Marshall Islands ‐1 Sm
11‐20 Solomon Sea +0
21‐25 Santa Cruz Islands ‐1 Sm
26‐35 Bismark Sea + 1 Sm
36‐50 East Caroline Islands + 1 Sm
51‐55 West Caroline Islands +0
56‐60 Yap ‐1 Sm
61‐65 Papua +0
66‐70 Molucca Sea +0
71‐76 Celebes Sea +0
77‐80 Java Sea +0
81‐85 Makassar Straits + 1 Sm
86‐90 Marianas Islands + 1 Sm
91‐93 Sulu Sea +0
94‐100 Nanpo Shoto +2 Sm
101‐110 Japan +2 Sm
111‐113 South China Sea ‐1 Sm
114‐115 Phillipines Sea +0
116‐120 East China Sea + 1 Sm
121‐125 Yellow Sea + 1 Sm
126‐130 Formosa Strait +2 Sm
131‐135 Hokkaido +0
136‐140 Sea of Japan +2 Sm

Encounter Roll
StarPerc Target Number = 25
StarZero Target Number = 4
StarNova Target Number = 3

Monday, October 3, 2011

IHW: Pigboats - The Boats Themselves

The S-Boats
These boats were built from 1918 to 1925 as improvements to the WWI subs. 51 of this class were built, and though most served as training boats, several were found on the front lines when the war started. They were small and cramped, had no AC and poor ventilation, and were old by WWII, but they had a fair range, were decent seagoing craft, and served well in the beginning of the war, They could not fire the new Mark 14 torpedo, which was an un-mixed blessing. As the new Gato class subs came in, the S-boats were retired to training fleet.
1 X 4 inch deck gun, 1 X Light AA
Suggested Traits:
Rust-bucket, Veteran, Cramped, Tiny, Ancient, Hot, Grubby, Weathered, Brutal, Experienced, Well-Travelled, Sweat-soaked, Tattered

The Argonaut Class
The Argonaut - the single exemplar of this class - was designed as a minelaying sub, though by the time the war came, it was converted into a transport submarine. Built in 1928, she was a massive boat, and with her minelaying tubes removed, had a great deal of interior space. The Argonaut was slow and clumsy, particularly in the dive, but she was a rugged boat, and her massive deck guns came in handy for night shore bombardments. She - along with the Narwhal Class Nautilus - carried the 2nd Marine Raider battalion to Makin Island in the Gilberts in 1942
2 X 6 inch deck guns, 2 X Light AA
Suggested Traits:
Enormous, Cavernous, Hulking, Brutal, Sluggish, Powerful, Capacious, Hard-hitting, Ancient, Slow Diving

The Narwhal Class
Built in 1930, the two-member Narwhal Class boats were almost as large as the Argonaut, but faster, and generally more capable as classic submarines. Like the Argonaut, they had big deck guns, and served as transport subs. They were generally used in clandestine missions, but still managed to rack up 13 enemy sinkings between them.
2 X 6 inch deck guns, 2 X Light AA
Suggested Traits
Huge, Capacious, Powerful, Long-legged, Hard-hitting, Clumsy, Rugged, Old, Reliable, Slow Diving

The Porpoise Class
The 10 boats of the Porpoise Class were the first so-called ‘fleet” submarines for the US Navy. They were fairly big boats, with excellent range and good speed - fast enough to keep up with the fleet. These boats were designed to operate in advance of the fleet as scouts rather than commerce raiders. They were built between 1933 and 1937. The large size enabled a much more livable environment for the crew, which helped immensely on long deployments.
1 X 3 inch deck gun, 4 X Light AA
Suggested Traits:
Rugged, Long-legged, Fast, Weatherly, Strong, Slow Diver, Powerful, Veteran, Comfortable, Survivor

Sargo/Salmon Class
These two classes, 16 of which were built from 1936 to 1939, were really the same design, built in two lots. A bit bigger than the Porpoise Class, they had more torpedo tubes, and were faster. As an evolution of the Porpoise Class, they shared many of their elder sisters’ traits, but unlike the Porpoises, they had a direct diesel drive, rather than the diesel-electric drive of the earlier class.
1 X 3 inch deck gun, 4 X Light AA
Suggested Traits:
Rugged, Long-legged, Fast, Weatherly, Strong, Slow Diver, Hard-Hitting, Veteran, Comfortable, Cranky

Tambor Class
The best of the pre-war boats, the Tambors - 12 boats built between 1939 and 1941 - finalized the changes which were perfected in the Gato and Balao classes. Like the Sargos, Tambors had a direct diesel drive on the surface, and ten torpedo tubes, 6 forward and 4 aft, in the iconic USN configuration immortalized in the Gatos. The Tambors were only slightly larger than the Sargos, and were consequently a bit more cramped with the new tubes. Tautog, with 26 kills, was the highest ranking US boat in the war.
1 x 3 inch deck gun, 4 X Light AA
Suggested Traits:
Rugged, Long-legged, Fast, Weatherly, Strong, Slow Diver, Crushing, Modern, Cramped, Scrappy

Gato Class
The Gato Class is the iconic American submarine, 77 being built from 1941-1943. The Gato class was vitually identical to the Tambors, with five feet of extra length allowing a bulkhead between the two halves of the engine room for extra flooding protection. They had a deeper test dive rating only because the Navy decided it was being too conservative. New was a negative tank, kept flooded while on the surface, to help speed the diving speed. This plus extra limber holes to help flood the outer hull cut the diving speed in half.
1 X 3 inch deck gun, 4 X Light AA
Suggested Traits
Rugged, Long-legged, Fast, Weatherly, Strong, Fair Diver, Crushing, Modern, Cramped, Scrappy

Balao Class
Almost identical to the Gato Class, the only big difference was a thicker hull, lowering the test depth. 122 Balaos were built from 1942 to 1945.
1 X 5 inch deck gun, 1 X Medium AA, 1 X Heavy AA
Suggested Traits
Rugged, Long-legged, Fast, Weatherly, Strong, Deep Diver, Crushing, Modern, Cramped, Scrappy

Saturday, October 1, 2011

IHW: Pigboats First Session

I ran a playtest of IHW: Pigboats tonight, and we had a blast! It is November of 1941, and the officers of the USS Thresher are invited to the admiral's Thanksgiving ball. The Skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Leonard Markakas, tells Lt. Will Montgomery, Lt. Lamarr Bullock, and Lt. jg Beauregard Tambeaux to get on their dress whites and their dancing shoes. The Skipper meets a Japanese girl, the daughter of a professor of Philology. Lamarr meets the Admiral's wife and gets her to do the two step. Will meets a young lady breaking up with her boyfriend, and gets into a fight with him. the Skipper cancels all his liberty and sends him back to the ship. Beau dances with half a dozen girls, and excites Will's envy and hatred - it turns out Beau is a spectacular dancer, like a young Fred Astaire.

During the ball, the Admiral takes the skipper aside and tells him he has to take a "passenger", an Australian man named Mr. Graves, and land him in a quiet spot on the Celebes coast of the Makassar Strait - without, of course, informing the Dutch of his presence. They are scheduled to leave on the 28th. Lamarr barely makes the departure, as he was entertaining a young lady named Cindy Lou. They set off to the Dutch East Indies.

As they are on their way, Lamarr notices the sound of twin screws paralleling the Thresher. The skipper ordered a course change, and the tailing ship soon copied the new course. The Officer of the Deck, Lt. Montgomery, sees a submarine's conning tower on the tailing ship's bearing, and Lt. Bullock confirmed it was not American, whatever it was. The Skipper orders a crash dive with a sharp turn to port, and silent running immediately after, creating a knuckle in the water.

Will sends the lookouts down below, and follows immediately, but mis-dogs the bridge hatch, so that there is a thin crack. Lamarr and Beau get up into the conning tower to help. Beau can't budge it, so he dogs the hatch to the Control Room, so the sub won't sink, whatever happens. Lamarr, who is quite a bit stronger than Beau and Will, is able to force the bridge hatch open, then shut it, leaving water knee deep in the conning tower. In silent mode, they cannot pump the conning tower dry, so they stay wet.

The Skipper orders the sub down to its test depth of 250 feet, and the other sub goes right over it, circles back, and eventually leaves. With the AC and ventilation off, the sub rapidly heats up to Death Vally hot with high humidity, except for the conning tower with its big-ass salt water heat sink. The Thresher continues running silent, hoping they have thrown the enemy off their trail.

The session ends there.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

IHW: StarCluster Wins Best New Setting

I just found out that In Harm's Way: StarCluster won a Gaming Genius Award for Best New Setting. That is very cool, but puzzling - if you had asked me, I would have said the game has no setting beyond some implied stuff. Still, pretty cool news and a total surprise!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Goodbye To Our IHW: Aces And Angels Campaign!

We'll be starting alpha testing on In Harm's Way: Pigboats this weekend, so I had to wrap up my current game. We have been playing IHW: Aces And Angels, as a WWII warm-up. It's sort of a sequel to the long-running game we had a couple years ago, which came out of the playtest of that game. The only character that remained the same was Iolani Kalani, the Flyin' Hawaiian, who has been promoted to squadron commander on the Escort Carrier Maui. Kalani was there as sort of a player NPC - he didn't fly at all. Kalani's old squadron mates had been broken up, off training new pilots or selling war bonds.

The replacements are mostly new ensigns, fresh from flight school. The Maui, as an escort - or jeep - carrier, has only one mixed squadron with a flight of six F-4F Wildcats and a flight of six SDB Dauntless dive bombers. The six fighter pilots, the PCs, are the flight commander, "Spic", and the kids "Tuna", "Spike", "Kraut", "Shark Bait", and "Moonshine". Spic is a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, Tuna's from Atllanta, Moonshine from Nashville, Spike's a Boston Brahmin, Kraut's from Pennsylvania, and Shark Bait is the son of a couple of professors who taught all over the world.

It is the end of 1942, and all looks grim for the US, but Midway was a huge turnaround, and momentum has slipped to the Americans, though things still hold in the balance. The new pilots practice and bond together, particularly at a party given by the Flyin' Hawaiian at his family's ranch on the Big Island. Moonshine and Kraut both get lucky with Kalani's younger sisters, and Moonshine is particularly smitten. Spike is already married, and stays a bit aloof from the others, and the others respond with relentless practical jokes.

Tehy get into action in a string of air assaults on Japanese air bases in the Solomons. Kolambaranga, Keita Point, and others. The PCs get deadly as the Captain and Kalani escalate the odds at each raid. Spic and Shark Bait both get 5 kills in a single mission on different missions. Last session was a raid on Kahili, the six fighters and the five remaining bombers of the Maui against 32 fighters at Kahili.

The fighters went in two sections, four planes at a lower level to provide cover for the bombers, and two flying top cover, higher than Zeros or Oscars could reach. The Zeros came in two gaggles - their top cover was between the PC's top cover and main body, and their main body was between the PCs and the bombers. The main body of Zeros dove on the bombers while the main group of PCs dove on them. The Zero top cover zoomed down to meet them, but the PC's top cover stooped on the Zero top cover.

In both cases, the PCs used their excellent, solid Wildcats to dive through and break up the larger swarms of Japanses planes, using vertical moves where the nimble Zeros couldn't follow. Kraut was shot down as he tried to follow Tuna on a one-man assault on the Zeros chopping up the Dauntlesses. He was later rescued by a floatplane. Shark Bait got a zero on his tail, but his wingman Spike shot it up. The smoking zero purposefully rammed Shark Bait's Wildcat, but the tough Grumman fighter kept flying, though it was hammered. Tuna had to break off when a shot penetrated his pilot armor and wounded him severely.

Only two Dauntlesses made it through, and their bombs did little damage, but the fighters did very well, destroying or damaging twenty Zeros. The planes were really chewed up, though. Shark Bait's plane could be used as a Grumman advertisement for toughness. The Maui retreated and set course for Pearl in a blaze of glory. The group loved their characters, and want to return some day.


Monday, September 26, 2011

IHW: Pigboats:- Escape!

Once your sub had had its shot, and the enemy escort knows you are out there, it’s time to get out of Dodge. You have two basic choices - get out on the surface, or get out underwater.
On the Surface
Usually this is the end result of a night surface attack, but not necessarily. Speed and confusion are your friend. Use them. The more chaos you have caused up til now, the better. The big danger with a surface exit is a shot from one of the escorts penetrating the hull. Submarines have so little reserve buoyancy that one hit in the hull will sink the boat. The big benefit is speed. Surfaced speed on the diesels is so much faster than underwater speed that sometimes it is worth the risk.
Japanese Escort Guns
Japanese escorts had guns ranging from 3 inch on frigates to 4 inch on covettes to 5 inch on destroyers. Cruisers in a battle group would have 6 or 8 inch guns.
A favorite tactic for larger escorts is ramming. Destroyers have a heavy sharp bow that can crush through a sub hull like paper. Mid-sized corvettes were known to do this also. Small frigate-type escorts had neither the mass nor structural strength to ram. A rammed sub is destroyed.
Japanese naval lookouts are very good, and their optical equipment is superb. Rate them at +4, with an endurance of 9.
Night Modifiers are -2 Large for dark nights, -1 Large for bright nights.
Chaos Modifiers are given by the GM, and should range from +0 for a bungled attack to -2 for a devastating attack.
Underwater Escape
For most of the war, this was the preferred method of escape until night surface attacks came into vogue in mid 1944. In this, the submarine attempts to creep away silently underwater after the shot. The faster the sub moves, the more easily it can be detected - 0-2 knots -1 Small Modifier, 3-4 knots +0, 4-5 knots +1, 6-7 knots +2, 8 knots +3, 9 knots +4 Small Modifiers.
Japanese Escort SONAR
Japanese SONAR was fair, though not as good as American equipment. Effectively, rate Japanese SONAR at Acquisition +2 to locate the sub. An escort needs 3 successes to lock the submarine, in which case depth charges have a +1 chance. If SONAR gets only 1 or 2 successes, the escorts can only get a general area reading with hydrophones, with the depth charges at standard effectiveness. If no successes are rolled, the sub escapes. Once SONAR is rolled, it is not re-rolled until the situation changes.
Silent Running
A sub can go to Silent Running mode, in which all pumps and AC is shut down. This gives a -1 Small Modifier to be detected. For each hour is Silent Running mode, all crew END goes down by 1, due to increasing heat and no ventilation.
The Knuckle
By accelerating fast underwater, then making a sharp turn, the submarine can create a hard “knuckle” of turbulent water in the wake of the sub, whereupon the sub rapidly slows to creeping speed.
The “knuckle” will reflect SONAR pings as if it were a sub underwater for several minutes. The Diving Officer needs to make a Tactics check when attempting to create the “knuckle”. Each success gives a Small Modifier penalty for the escort’s SONAR Acquisition check. On a failure, the escort will depth charge the “knuckle, letting the submarine escape.
A knuckle can also be created on diving from the surface.
There may be a thermocline - a layer of water at a very different temperature than the layer above it - which can reflect SONAR pings. The escort has -3 Small Modifiers to success in Acquiring a sub under the thermocline - if such a themocline exists.
A thermocline can be located by the sub’s Signals Officer with a successful Acquisition check and 3 or more successes.