Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 17 September 2010

Pacific, But Not Peaceful...

Back in May of 2010, I talked about how you get trends in gaming with a review of Operation Rascal, a scenario for Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946 from Arc Dream Publishing. This time in a review of another supplement for Godlike, I am going to start with trends in history, or rather trends about history. Right now here in the United Kingdom, the trends have been about World War II, specifically the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, both of which took place seventy years ago this year. If you follow these anniversaries, then there are going to be a lot of them about World War II in the next few years, just in time for the seventy-fifth anniversary to be celebrated. It should be pointed out that Godlike itself came out in an anniversary year, 2001, the sixtieth anniversary of the USA’s entry into World War II. As did a number of other World War II themed adventures.

Not all of these trends are dictated by anniversaries, some are determined by other media sources. One such was The Pacific, the HBO television series that followed the story of three marines as they fought against the Empire of Japan from basic training right up to the Battle of Iwo Jima. Accompanying the broadcast were several books on the history of the conflict, yet in gaming, the war in the Pacific rarely receives any attention. Not so in the miniatures or board wargaming hobbies, but certainly when it comes to roleplaying. This is due to two reasons. The first being that when most people think of World War II, they think of the war in Europe and against the Nazis, and if ever there was an easier enemy to beat up it, it was the Nazis. Second, the Japanese as an enemy are not as well known and not as knowable. Then there is the danger that in portraying the Japanese adversely you stray dangerously close to racism.

Fortunately, this does not happen in Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan, a scenario for Godlike that takes place during the Battle for Saipan in mid 1944. It is part of the Southern island hopping campaign through the Marianas that will drive the Japanese back across the Pacific to their home island. Two Marine divisions and one Army division have been assigned to take Saipan, with one of the ten USMC Talent squads being assigned to the Army division on Saipan to support its efforts during the invasion and beyond. This is the players’ squad, Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan providing SIS 308, a complete, ready-to-play nine member set of player characters.

If the players decide not to use the squad provided in Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan, then in order to create their own marines, they should have access to Talent Operations Command Intelligence Bulletin No. 3: Marine Talents in the Pacific. This specifically describes USMC operations Talent operations in the Pacific Theatre and gives the rules for creating marines who become Talents or Talents who become marines. Either way, the USMC talents who graduate from the Corps’ Special Instruction School -- “Hell’s Motel” – are a cut above most soldiers.

All nine members of SIS 308 were born south of the Mason-Dixon line, so its new commanding officer has nicknamed the squad, “The Confederacy.” All nine are nicely detailed, and all of their talents are built using the standard twenty-five point allocation for characters. This allocation showcases both the limits of the superpowers that can be built for the characters and a certain mechanical artifice to design the powers in question. It also demands a degree of inventiveness, to come up with interesting powers, and while the author is inventive in terms of character background and history, the powers he has created not necessarily so. Most of them are very physical in nature – hyperskills, hyperbody, heavy armour, and so on, though some will have to call upon a certain degree of inventiveness upon the part of the player if they are to use them during the game. Especially the Talent with the ability break anything with his teeth.

The scenario starts with the squad aboard the USS Fremont, the only marines attached to the 27th Army Division awaiting deployment while the landing takes place. Very quickly the Talents find themselves ashore and supporting the Marines and later the Army as their units got bogged down. Initially, their opposition will be ordinary Japanese Imperial soldiers, but as the Americans advance across the island, the situation for the Japanese grows ever more desperate and members of the Japanese Imperial Army manifest as Talents or Gaki. There are plenty of opportunities for heroics, but the adventure is not all combat.

There is at least one moment of quiet terror where the best thing that the Squad can do is nothing. There are opportunities for roleplaying and character interaction, and although not many of them, they are a welcome diversion from the dangers of the fight. There is also a particularly nasty morale conundrum at the scenario’s end, which is something of a grim anti-climax, but then this is in keeping with the whole of Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan. The GM will be kept busy throughout the adventure. Not just in running the scenario itself, but also in running innumerable enemies, the US squads, the Gaki, and the NPCs.

It might well be just coincidence to note that the climax to the scenario is similar to that of Combat Orders No. 1: Donar’s Hammer. In that scenario an Allied ship is threatened by an Axis Talent and it is up to the player Talents to stop him. In Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan, an American ship is threatened by a Gaki and it is up to the Player Talents. The nature of the Allied Talent or Gaki is different in both cases, but given the number of supplements and scenarios for Godlike, or rather the lack of, it seems an odd coincidence.

Physically, Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan is a well presented book. The text is easy to read, the choice of photographs is decent, and the maps and tables of organisation are all very clear. If I have a complaint here it is that the non-historical elements are not illustrated. In general the house style for Godlike avoids the use of illustrations over the use of period photographs that are often reworked to add a Talent element. What this is means is that there are no illustrations of the members of SIS 308 or the Gaki, and in the case of the latter, they might have helped.

Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan should provide at least two good sessions of tense play. Even the non-combat scenes are tense, and it is in these scenes where this scenario shines. World War II scenarios are never easy to write, but Combat Orders No. 2: Saipan is an example of how to do it well and is an excellent addition to the Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946 line.