Thursday 28 December 2023

December '23 Miscellany

The same form of miscellany post as ever - nothing immediately festive, though I hope you have feasted.


I watched a film: Danger Close - about the battle of Long Tan, this being a prominent event in the Australian experience of the Vietnam War. 

The film is (in the nicest possible way) unexceptional. An interesting event, to be sure, and appealing in the way that films from outside Hollywood are - you've never seen any of these actors before, and can't attach stereotypes or type casting to them. And, of course, it's Vietnam shorn of the accumulated imagery and emotion of the American experience. Further, Danger Close has an utterly explicable but still faintly funny trait, in that it is a film from, for and by an English-speaking country about the Vietnam War that shows more Viet Cong faces than American ones. 

So why am I talking about it here? Well, it has some very fine procedural elements: we see the actions and reactions of platoons, of D Company (6th Battalion, Royal Australian Rifles), of the battalion's Lieutenant Colonel, of the task-force commander at Nui Dat. As well as the actions of artillery sections, fire control officers and air force liaisons. Communication, for artillery barrages, ammunition resupply and airstrikes - to say nothing of simple reports -  is a running feature. Hence, the title: Danger Close

Communication - accurate, timely, swift and clear communication - of this kind is a challenge.  Is this one that should be worked into tabletop play more? 'Roll a d20 to blow the correct notes on your bugle'?  Well, that's less satisfying. And I'm not sure the presence of (say) harmonicas or mobile phone keyboards at the table would be terribly pleasing either. 

One point of comparison is the video game Radio Commander, a strategy in which you keep track of units (once again in Vietnam) via conversations. Though the pre-recorded selectable responses there are a little dissatisfying when all else is raw and comparatively grounded.

I dare say this is the sort of thing that the more traditional sort of wargaming has worked out somewhere. More research needed.


The degree of 'punk' in Steampunk is a perennial discussion here and on associated other blogs. Generally, I've held that '__punk' is an artefact as a label and that Retrofuturist is a more helpful designation. 

Well, here's a gentleman tracing the history of Steampunk and making the case for punkishness. You might compare it with some of the ideas discussed in my Faufreluches posts. I can't say that I necessarily agree with the conclusions in the last part, but otherwise it's rather good. 


I found a second-hand Penguin edition of the Lais of Marie de France. They're pretty short, authentically of their time and nicely spiky. A useful reference point for Medieval Europe, as well as full of assorted supernatural happenings and vengeances. Read a couple over lunch.


Investigating Censor is a work on by Dave Greggs - AKA HCK, the chap behind Grand Commadore, whose work may be known to readers of this blog. You'll find a few samples over at Grand Commodore if you want to go over those before taking the plunge.

Anyway, 'Investigating Censor is a dark rules-light RPG wargame set amidst a campaign by oracular warrior monks to eliminate a sect of human-sacrificing pirates.' For more first impressions, here's some art. 

It's been interesting interacting with a piece of Greggs's work as a PDF rather than a blog post. Things have a little more room to breathe. Greggs writes a lot - and I like it! But I do sometimes idly wonder what would happen if a seven-foot hairy-chested Editor with a pick handle and a set of brass knuckles sat behind him as he wrote. 

"So, Dave, what are you working on this morning?"

A few things I like about Investigating Censor:

Player Characters Organisation - Players are the titular Censors. It's a wonderfully evocative set of ideas - the mix of legal, customary and religious authority could be quite heady. The very title of 'Censor' throws you into a different set of social expectations and ideas. This is a strength of Dave Greggs, I would say - the Investigating Censor, the detectives of Starling and Shrike. It's reminiscent of 40k's Inquisitors or Rogue Traders, and rather more successful than Mass Effect's Spectres.

Setting - A febrile coastal region, recently gone through regime change and approaching some measure of equilibrium. I suppose I associate it largely with South-East Asia, but it's clearly not a neat one-to-one comparison. Appendix N of IC urges readers to make and share regions for IC, so I may have to do just that! 

(I also quite like Appendix P's tonal variants.)

Framing - The various districts you move into are described socially with 'Centres of Gravity' and 'Key Personalities'. I quite like this encounter framing: whether the local magnate is Young and Feckless or Old, Careworn and Senile or a vigorous Capital-S Schemer to rival Iago, there's still an awful lot that has to go on around them. Whether the planet is volcanic or stable, it is a planet and the moons better recognise that.

Layers - Every level of social encounter has a variety of motivations proposed, with further reaching in as needed. Naturally, a Vice District has its own set of power struggles and problems and obsessions - but then there are region-wide political plays, or secret societies trying to accumulate clout and leverage - or just run-of-the-mill psychopaths. 
  Add to this the various tendencies of your NPC Allies, who do not have your monastic background. Antipathy, opportunity, infatuation, addiction, social pressure can all make them crack. (Maybe you could treat this like Darkest Dungeon's afflictions. The Investigating Censor sending out another expedition is not unlike the Heir sending out another band....)

Alchemy, Fetches and Fetishes - This is a world rich with low-level magics and wonders, without falling into the video game-esque problem of brigands carrying Claymores that shoot Ball Lightning. The presence of Alchemy and various charms enhances this, and feels apt. IC is about a prosperous land ill-used, rather than a blasted heath. This wealth finding its way into narcotics and easing nostrums works better than some potions in RPGs.

I disliked nothing immediately in Investigating Censor. Some worked examples might be good, but one has been released on Grand Commodore. I might care for a little more unifying detail for the Cult of Protection, though it's not strictly speaking a bad choice to keep them loosely sketched against the strong presences of the Censors themselves. (In any case, too strict a 'Pirate Code' will make them sound altogether too Blackbeard-Caribbean).

If the above wasn't quite clear, this may be considered a recommendation. 

1 comment:

  1. I've only ever seen analog wargames incorporate command and comms element through extreme abstraction. For example, cards in games such as UpFront! and Memoir 44, or the PIP die roll in the DBA/DBM games that tells you how many units you may move that turn.