Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon

Another victory for the dollar spinner from Half Price Books. Did a quick check on Amazon and see no ebook there but no dice. On the other hand, the Black Library has a ton of stuff but their organization is crazy and most of the ebooks there go for $7.99 which is well outside my comfort range for most ebooks.

Anyway, Fifteen Hours isn't in a genre that I often read but let's be honest here, Warhammer 40K is about as far away from hard science fiction as you can get and still be sci-fi. It probably has more in common with Star Wars than Star Trek with it's prayers to machines, orks, and other assorted oddness.

Mitchel does a good job of bringing the setting to life with a hero who is indeed a farm boy but unlike so many of his fantasy counter parts, isn't actually the son of a god of a chosen one. Just some poor bastard who learns that war is hell. It's a solid novel and if you like the setting, it's another selling point. I'll be hitting some spoilers below so if you'd rather not know about the actual events in the book and how things shake out, read no further.

First off, the book uses a lottery of sorts to drawn and draft people into the Imperial Guard. This is a classic way of raising troops and with all of the brain washing that goes on in the Empire, it's often not problematic when those being called up for duty don't know any better due to their limited education. You see, despite being in a far future setting, most of the people have little technical knowledge.

Mind you, today we aren't much better off. Sure, many of us can drive a car or turn on a computer, but actual working knowledge of how these things do what they do and how to fix them? Well, much like the main character, Arvin Larn  we might be praying to the machine spirits to start. I know in horror movies we see it all the time. "Come on you stupid car, don't fail now of all times!" and such other great sayings.

Anyway, the book's real strength is in showcasing how damning bureaucracy can be on all levels. As a person who works in a factory that at one time had over a thousand people, as an inhabitant of Chicago, as a person who has had to deal with phone customer support, yeah, we all know this one.

But when you're in the military? And that bumbling sets you off into a war zone that you were never supposed to be? And when the supplies and news and all information is FUBAR because of this poor management? Well, the fifteen hours of the book title is exactly how long new soldiers to this planet are supposed to last.

While some of the material here is mundane, and isn't appropriate for all campaigns in terms of tone and feel, some fantasy campaigns like Midnight, the OGL and d20 versions, got a lot of mileage out of the standard things in the setting. How are you set for supplies? How are you set for healings? How are you set for general knowledge? How dangerous is the world around you?

In a setting like Star Wars, you can easily see the Empire falling into this type of decadence. Poor training, unmotivated employees and a host of other problems effect many corporations in the day to day activities that go on around every day. How much worse when they happen in the military? Wars have almost been started due to false information or a lack of proper communication. Allies can quickly turn into enemies and live soldiers into dead heroes.

When looking at your own campaign, don't forget the bumbling bureaucrats. They can add layers of complexity that the players won't appreciate but will remind them of the real world for sure.