Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thornkeep, War at Sea short list, South China Sea

Hi, folks! Welcome back!

I guess the interesting news of the day about me is that I’m working with Paizo/Goblinworks to design Thornkeep, a sourcebook that will be available as an exclusive reward for pitching in on the Pathfinder Online Kickstarter. I’m delighted to have the chance to work with the great folks at Paizo, and I’m pretty proud of the design work I’ve done so far on Thornkeep. It’s a great little setting for a small campaign, with a hundred different adventure hooks and storylines for an enterprising DM to pick up and play with. The Goblinworks gang has some great ideas about Pathfinder Online, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

Gaming: This week, I thought I’d take a look at a handful of interesting ships and planes that haven’t yet made it into an Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures set. I couldn’t tell you if they will be included in a set 7, or when a set 7 might come out; they’re just some units I think might be good in the game. In no particular order, here they are: USS Texas, HMS Valiant, the BV-138, and the Krakowiak.

USS Texas is one of the “missing” US battleship classes, and more importantly, she’s a monument you can go visit today if you want. In fact, the impressive battleship guns pictured at the top of my blog page belong to USS Texas. While she didn’t take part in any naval battles, she participated in amphibious assaults and provided shore bombardment on several occasions: Point du Hoc on D-Day, Battery Hamburg at Cherbourg (a heavy shore battery of 9.4” guns), Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Her battery of ten 14-inch guns would be pretty close to the main battery of the British King George V. Battery Silencer and Shore Bombardment would be pretty reasonable special abilities.

HMS Valiant is a sister ship of Warspite. The WW1-era Queen Elizabeths were all refitted in different ways in the 1930s, but Valiant’s profile came close enough to Warspite’s that you could use the same miniature to represent either ship. Valiant helped to inflict the single worst defeat the Regia Marina suffered at sea during the war: The sinking of three heavy cruisers at the Battle of Cape Matapan. Valiant could easily merit the Night Fighter special ability for her part in the battle. The British fleet could probably use a few more Night Fighters, since that was one of their key advantages over the Italians. They were probably the second-best in the world at night fighting after the Japanese, at least before the US Navy developed effective radars and radar doctrines in 1943.

The BV-138 is a long-overdue German flying boat. The Germans actually built more of the Bluhm and Voss patrol bombers than the more famous Kondors. As far as flying boats go, the BV-138 would probably be close to the PBY Catalina in size and armament, although apparently they never carried torpedoes. Like other flying boats, the BV 138 would gain Loiter, something the Germans don’t have yet. And it might also get some form of Defensive Armament, since it was reasonably well armed (although not a “porcupine” like the Sunderland or Emily). ASW Pinpointer might be a good fit, too.

Finally, Krakowiak is a British Hunt-class destroyer escort (Type 2) that was operated by the free Polish navy during the war. The Hunt class destroyers are one of the larger and more important ship classes not represented in the six existing War at Sea sets: The British built 86 of these guys, and a group of Hunts participated in some hard fighting in the English Channel against German torpedo boats right up to D-Day. The Hunt type 2 carried six 4-inch guns and could make 27 knots, so they were pretty capable for escort destroyers. Krakowiak amassed a sterling war record, steaming over 140,000 miles and escorting hundreds of convoys as well as participating in some of the fierce fighting in the Channel.

Politics/Current Events: A post or two back I took a look at the Falklands dispute and the worrisome tone of bellicosity creeping into the news from the South Atlantic. Well, there’s another trouble spot people ought to be paying some attention to: The South China Sea. This is the arm of the Pacific Ocean that lies between Vietnam, Borneo, the Philippines, and the southern coast of China. The South China Sea is trouble because there are a number of tiny islets and reefs more or less in the middle that are currently claimed by no less than six different countries: The People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. These islands are spectacularly useless piles of sand, scrub, and coral, and no one would really care much about them except for the fact that all the nearby nations count on fishing in the South China Sea, and there may be extensive reserves of oil and natural gas in the area.

The dispute is really pretty fascinating, because it’s a mess. Vietnam says it owned the islands during its imperial days a few centuries back. The Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei more or less base their claims on proximity—if you use the 200-mile limit in the Law of the Sea Treaty that most countries have signed, most of the islands would belong to those three countries. But the People’s Republic of China actually claims the entire damned sea, right up to the 12-mile limit of all adjoining countries. This is like saying you own every square inch of the cul-de-sac, and all your neighbors’ driveways right up to within a foot of their garage doors. Taiwan, not to be outdone, makes the exact same claim, because they view themselves as the historic heirs of the old Chinese republic’s claims. Accordingly, each of the involved countries currently has handfuls of soldiers standing on just about anything that isn’t covered at high tide (and a few things that are) occupying as much of the disputed areas as possible.

Right now, China and the Philippines are engaged in a standoff about a speck of rock called Scarborough Reef, which is 120 miles or so from Luzon and almost 500 miles from Hainan (China).  Mostly this is about fishing rights, but China hasn’t been shy about pointing out that their navy outnumbers the Philippine navy about 100 to 1, and that maybe they should “defend their sovereignty” with military action if the Filipinos can’t see things China’s way.

So why does this matter to the United States? The short answer is that we have a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. There are rumblings of some weaseling about whether we would consider ourselves obligated to protect disputed territory, and it seems unlikely that we’d risk a shooting war with China to protect Philippine claims over tiny rocks a hundred miles from their shores. But it seems to me that we also ought to be thinking about the message we send if we *don’t* stick up for people who sign treaties with us. Maybe other countries in the area would strengthen their own ties and try to look out for each other… or maybe they’d give up and try to make the best deals they can with Beijing. The world’s a dangerous enough place already without China being rewarded for intimidation and brinksmanship.

The Finer Things: Wow, Avengers was a fun movie. If you’re any kind of comics geek, you have to see this. Now, DC, can you elevate your game a bit? Your Batman movies are pretty good, but I’d like to see a Justice League movie at some point, and your recent Superman and Green Lantern movies don’t inspire a lot of confidence.


  1. Yeah, Avengers was excellent. I'm actually planning on seeing it again, and the last time I did that for a movie was Batman: Dark Knight.
    Stark: "...tell me what you see..."
    Rogers: *shrug* "It runs on some kind of electricity..."

    Good to see some WAS talk from ya, the troops needed it, prolly me the most (although others might claim the same). I would like to add, though, that the BV-138 also shadowed convoys quite a bit, and the Euro-Axis could really use a shadowing SA on a unit IMO. But this is all hypothetical talk anyways, right? ;-)

  2. its good to hear WAS talk, those units sound really good and I actually have a painted BV 138 unit scaled to WAS hehe. Germany has lots of great aircraft left the DO 217, BF110, ME410 would all be great.

  3. I was reading a bit on another Germany floatplane, the twin/tri engined He115, it was used as a torpedo bomber. Barely had time to skim over an article though, first time I'd heard of it. Does anyone reading this know it was a good aircraft?

    1. That should read "Does anyone reading thins know IF it was a good aircraft?" Without the 'if' in the there the question took on a whole new mood lol

  4. Glad to hear you're still thinking about the little ships from time to time! Bv138 has been on my wish list since between set 1 and 2. I was interested to learn about Krakowiak, but also a bit surprised you'd choose a Polish Hunt over the British ones that had their moments of fame in the Med & North Sea (esp. Pedastal and PQ17). I'd love to know what kind of card you'd come up with for a Hunt, I felt like they seemed fairly hard to stat (i.e. fit into the ranges, make somewhat unique and playable, etc.).

    We're all hoping that Wizards decides to profit a little more from us history-buffs who have already maxed out on Sets 1 to 6--and draw on your talents when the time comes! I am working on some custom ships (painted up a nice Neosho if I do say so myself) but I just don't have the time to put into it to make 40 new ships a year on my own. I know the world of corporate mass merchandising marches to its own drummer, but we're all keeping our fingers crossed for some good news sometime... thanks for keeping your hand in!

  5. Oh hey, if the Phillipines does get into a naval scuffle there's a chance the USS Atherton, a cannon class destroyer from WWII, might be in it. I can't remember what the Phillipines renamed her to, but she's still in service to this day as a fully active warship, even looks like new.

  6. One more comment: over the course of sets 2-6, I have appreciated that you have resisted the pressure that I'm sure you felt to use reprints to represent ships with major visible differences.

    There were a few borderline cases like the flipped turrets on Fuso/Yamashiro or treating the Sangamon CVEs as a reprint that did raise some comment, but I felt your decisions on these were quite reasonable. (I will, however, always be curious about what happened with HMS Re[nown]pulse).

    In that vein, Valiant is a great choice. Warspite needs a reprint, but I personally would be very disappointed if that mold was pressed into service as Barham or Malaya as has sometimes been suggested.

    Good call once again!

  7. Yeah, we just missed on Renown/Repulse. And I had no idea about the Fuso/Yamashiro turrets until folks on the boards mentioned it. But I think the CVE's were pretty close, really -- close enough that commissioning a new sculpt would have been tough to justify.

  8. Renown is the one I wanted most of the two, so it was cool with me :)