Thursday, April 3, 2008

Shell Shock's War Reporter

War correspondents have been around since at least the Crimean War, but their presence is rarely acknowledged by wargames.

So the appearance of the "Reporter" special guest in Shell Shock is quite noteworthy, even if the presentation misses the mark a little bit.

Shell Shock, like it's predecessor solitaire game Ambush!, takes a somewhat Hollywood-ized approach to World War II ground combat, so the game might be excused a little bit of hyperbole. In truth, however, the "Famous War Correspondent" in Shell Shock behaves much more consistently with the general public's somewhat jaded 1989 view of the media than in any way like actual World War II-era reporters.

As written the rules make the reporter an independent actor not under the player's control (good) and have him attempting to interview each soldier during the firefight (silly). If the war correspondent survives and exits the map then he is worth some victory points for the player, so he's not a completely negative special guest like the courier from headquarters who merely provides an unwelcome interruption.

The reporter is unarmed except with his pencil and notepad (the pencil is mightier than the sword?) but has a very high initiative of "5." He can't engage in combat and will surrender if assaulted, so he's of no use to the squad in accomplishing its mission, which is also authentic.

An actual combat reporter would not, of course, have attempted to interview soldiers under fire. The interviews would always come later. Trying to conduct an interview with bullets cracking overhead is ridiculous. Even Geraldo wouldn't try that.

A more authentic treatment is available, however. The true value of the war correspondent is as the independent witness. Participants have valuable perspectives to offer, but also can't be expected to be objective about their experiences. They're also untrained in observation and their accounts are likely to have enormous gaps that will leave the reader with questions. Their accounts are indispensable, while limited, but most of the time they will be all that's available.

What the war correspondent brings is a witness who knows what to look for and is not so personally invested in the events he witnesses. This adds credibility to his account, although like anyone, there are variations in the skill and talent of the reporter which will affect how well he does his job. The very best, like Ernie Pyle, can become beloved and respected figures in their own time and ours.

It's making the reporter a witness, instead of an interviewer, that Shell Shock could be changed to better reflect the real role of war correspondents.

The reporter should still enter the map as described in the special rules but when he arrives to the first soldier's hex it should be the reporter who spends an action. Once the reporter has spent an action In a hex, he should move onto the next one, as stated in the rules. Once the reporter has visited every occupied hex and spent actions in those hexes, he is free to leave. The player can use a commander's action in order to persuade the reporter to stay. On an even die roll the reporter becomes a member of the squad. The reason why the player might want to do this is because the reporter could be worth a lot of victory points, as explained below. At any time after the reporter joins the squad the player can have the commander order the reporter to leave by spending an action, at which point the reporter reverts to independent action and attempts to leave the map as per the rules.

The printed PC for the reporter is "0." When the reporter appears the player should draw a roll call card and use the PC value only from that card to determine the actual PC for the reporter in that scenario.

Every time the player scores victory points in the scenario he should conduct a free perception check with the reporter, tracing the line of sight to the hex where the victory point was scored. A successful check means the reporter has noticed the achievement and a side note made. If the reporter survives the scenario and exits the map then any VPs he noticed are worth double points due to the extra publicity. This could conceivably change a defeat into a victory, of course, but such is the power of the press.

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