January 2020, Question 2

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  1. What are the strengths of Gone to Sea in a Bucket? What are it's weaknesses?

Comments

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    Not really a strength or weakness, but a very characteristic narrative style was Black's habit of describing in considerable detail the run-up to a major encounter... which then for some reason fails or is called off before enactment... after which we jump to the aftermath without seeing the actual denouement. I was never quite sure if this worked or not, especially when repeated so often.

    The only other book I can think of which so consistently deployed a similar tactic was ER Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, in which battles were routinely treated this way - a lot of build-up to the point where the two sides were about to clash, after which we jump to the narration of a survivor.

    That aside, I found it a strength that Black was clearly committed to the writing of this series for the long haul - he makes no attempt to tidy up the many loose threads (eg which girl will our hero choose?), and pushes a lot of these matters out to a later book. So the main storyline was satisfyingly finished, but the larger world still remained to be addressed.

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    Personally, I liked this tactic - I was never sure whether there was going to be this anticipated encounter or not, which was in a way much like real life... :D

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    I didn’t mind that so much, and I rather liked the detail. As I mentioned in another thread, I wonder how many books can be sustained before it starts to get repetitive. And this is something I’d like @clash_bowley to address specifically in this or another thread, because he made a sub based RPG and I wonder if you eventually run out of things to do. I know that in the game, as in this novel, there’s potential to deal with surface affairs and family life to spice things up. But what if you’re not patrolling your own waters?

    Strengths - good attention to detail, which I like. Also I think the author did a nice job sustaining the tension when the boat was under threat and basically hiding.
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    In general, I liked the tactic of skipping the confrontations. It made Harry Gilmour's big landing-party action on the Russian tug surprising in its immediate detail, but then also allowed Black to fake us out with thinking that he was dead and then filling us in on his survival retroactively.

    For me, one of the strengths of the book is how it's only partially about the military adventure of wartime submarines. So much of the adversity comes from the social landscape of the Royal Navy culture, the particular culture of "the Trade" and the emotional upheaval falling out from that. Stuff like: Can Harry learn to fit in with the other officers? Can he work up the courage to go back down after Pelorus' sinking? How will the Bonny Boy get his revenge? I don't read much military fiction, so this aspect was an unexpected treat.

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    @Apocryphal - Do you run out of things to do in a D&D game? I ran a campaign for 20 years, and this is no different. If you are creative, you never run out of things to do. As for home waters, I ran my subs out of Surabaya, Java; Perth, Australia; Brisbane, Australia; and Cavite, the Philippines. As long as there are people ashore there is potential to get involved.

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    @Michael_S_Miller - Absolutely! The internal RN conflicts are extremely interesting to me as well.

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    I didn't like the occasional wodge of unnecessary exposition, such as the several pages of the thought process of the ship officer, when he was deciding what to do about Harry request to transfer to submarines.

    The romance side story of Harry's girlfriend felt a bit tacked on.

    What I did like was the pace: there was plenty going on. The occasional viewpoint changes were a bit jarring, but did break up the story a bit.

    I also liked the process of team-forming in the crew. I think the author did a good job of showing how people were brought into the "family" over time on the submarine.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    The romance side story of Harry's girlfriend felt a bit tacked on.

    Probably a trope of the genre. Douglas Reeman's navy books (set in or soon after WW2) usually have a shore-side romance which always feels to me extremely stylised and unconvincing.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    @Apocryphal - Do you run out of things to do in a D&D game? I ran a campaign for 20 years, and this is no different.

    I would have said that D&D is pretty much the opposite of a WW2 sub game. For one thing, D&D requires not setting - it's the ultimate kitchen sink in which you can mix ninjas and longbowmen and nobody bats an eye. You can pull in elements from anywhere and anytime (even spaceships) and not break the setting. You can encounter almost every kind of monster and collect magic items and gain super powers. You can travel in mountains, deserts, jungles, or the open sea. You travel by foot, mount, flying mount, or boat - and sell you mount or vehicle in port when you don't need it anymore. You can even travel to other plains of existence. Your D&D game is likely not set on earth. You mostly operate outside the law and your enemies are doing the same.

    However, in a WW2 sub game, you are very firmly on earth, and very firmly within 3 years of 1942, and very firmly attached to a sub, and very firmly operating with a set of rules in mind, and very firmly a human, and very firmly dealing with other humans, none of whom have spells, magic items, or psionics, or super powers.

    I don't know how you can say it's no different.

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    edited February 6

    Well, my longest campaign was about 30 sessions - 6 months or so of weekly play, and I never felt like it was repeating, but you would need to ask one of the players. I meant I felt no different about coming up with new things, not that the games were the same.

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    Sadly, your players aren't club members, so your reticent self will have to do. :-)

    What kind of situations did you get up to over the course of those 30 sessions? How much was naval action, how much terrestrial? What excuses did you find for the PCs to go ashore? Did they spy, seek supplies? Was there diplomacy? Prisoners and rescues I imagine. What else?

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    edited February 6

    There were standard patrols, lifeguard missions (rescuing downed aviators), recon missions (photograph things through the periscope), targeted missions (specific ambushes from codebreakers), commando raids, rescuing overrun civilians, clandestine missions (usually supplying guerillas), wolfpack attacks, shore bombardments, and shore raids; and that was just the stuff at sea. We also had pub crawls, dances, locating spies, romances, weddings, funerals, inter-service fights, swimming, practical jokes... a hell of a lot of fun ashore!

    The US sub service - which is the only one I have done - required a minimum two week (IIRC) R&R stint ashore between missions. This allows for lots of fun ashore. Crew and officers are routinely rotated in and out between every mission, forcing a constant flow and turnover with crews, neither of which seem to be true of the British sub service. They seem to keep crews and officers together preferably, and the R&R was just what you could do while resupply, repair and rearming was going on. Sometimes no more than a day or two ashore. I am not sure of this, but that's what the British fiction seems to say.

    Added: I say 'seems' a lot in the above paragraph, but I seriously don't know - the fiction may just be dropping out non-action sequences.

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    The dad of my closest childhood friend had been in submarines: thinking about his age, I am pretty sure he would not have served in WW2 but in the early post-war years. He almost never talked about it with us kids... the only thing I remember is him talking about underwater evacuation training. Black's description is very similar!
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    @clash_bowley That sounds like a pretty broad range of activities. But I would hazard that the casual player would never be able to recreate it from their imagination - they would have had to have been exposed to the library of books that you have in order to come up with it. Or, better yet, bought your game and had it all spelled out to them by someone who did the research!

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    edited February 7

    Well, at least the Brits had the Davis gear, which was practical. The US used the Momsen Lung , which probably killed at least as many as it saved. The US used a similar water tower in training, though! :P

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    @Apocryphal said:
    @clash_bowley That sounds like a pretty broad range of activities. But I would hazard that the casual player would never be able to recreate it from their imagination - they would have had to have been exposed to the library of books that you have in order to come up with it. Or, better yet, bought your game and had it all spelled out to them by someone who did the research!

    Indeed! Having such a list of missions would be an important part of the game, as the rest of the fiction hangs off what happens with these.

    @clash_bowley , is the game available from somewhere?

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    edited February 7

    Yes, @NeilNjae, it is available. There is a list of mission types, but it is shorter than what I gave above. My reasoning? Wondering whether it was too much, concern for stepping on the toes of GMs, even moar and betterer complexity even... some combination of these I expect.

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    It's quick and pacy, with interesting detail. Many of the characters didn't stand out very strongly, such as most of the crew of the first sub (the second were better).
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    Understandable - this was Harry's first patrol, and the ship was under the command of a drunk.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Yes, @NeilNjae, it is available.

    Available from..? Don't be coy!

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    edited February 7

    Sorry - not trying to be coy. I am just generally shy away from anything like self promotion... typical Old Yankee trait.

    Print at Lulu - http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/clash-bowley/in-harms-way-pigboats/paperback/product-20319624.html
    PDF at DTRPG - https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/104236/In-Harms-Way-Pigboats

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