Saturday, February 07, 2015

Centenary of Patrick O'Brian - a celebration

Slightly belated, the centenary of the birth of Patrick O'Brian on 12 December has prompted me to reread a few of the first books in the Aubrey-Maturin series, namely: Master and Commander ; Post Captain and HMS Surprise. I think these are all among the better titles in the series and contain plenty of inspiration for the wargamer with both naval and land actions included.

The inspiration for the main action in Master and Commander is Lord Cochrane's action in the sloop Speedy against El Gamo, which would be a small naval action as it only features two ships and therefore would need to be dealt with in detail of the boarding and manoeuvring prior to that. Morale would be key to the outcome as the much smaller crew of the British ship did manage to demoralise the Spanish crew and get them into custody before they were able to realise their advantage. It would make a tricky two player scenario as the Spanish player would be able to sink or board the British ship with their numerical advantage unless there were multiple ships controlled by the British player with them all being identical and the majority neutral merchantmen. The land action of attacking a port to cut out a ship from the dock and attack the gun tower is probably a better game scenario for something like Sharp Practice.

Post Captain again includes a larger cutting out expedition where the naval element is a more important part and a multi-ship action at the end which would be suitable for most naval rulesets for the period.

The naval action in HMS Surprise is more like a fleet action with the East Indiamen and the Surprise repelling a French naval squadron and is based on an historical action. Again for wargaming this the number and strength of the British vessels probably needs to be randomised to allow for the historical outcome with the French withdrawing believing they were facing superior forces.

These stories do give good inspiration for the Beat to Quarters role playing game that I have previously mentioned as that is specifically aimed at this type of action and more readily works with the unbalanced scenarios with one side controlled by the GM.

The novels do help give an introduction to the naval world of the Georgian period and society as a whole, particularly as in these earlier stories Dr Maturin not being a seaman gives plenty of opportunities for the sailors to be explaining terms to him. I think that on rereading the humour of O'Brian does come through more clearly as the reader is more aware of the character's foibles and the authorial digs at them

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