Monday, December 21, 2009

The Five Fingers, terrain and encounters

My gaming is rather curtailed until after the 25th, what with family obligations and real-world activities all competing for space in the final run-up before Christmas day. Plus the traffic situtation in the city I live in is just horrendous. Christmas season in my city always brings the inevitable choking of all roadspace with cars, cars and more cars. I guess I'm just witnessing the inevitable result of a government that consistently failed to implement a (1) rational urban planning system and (2) a workable family planning program since I was a little kid.

Pardon the rant above, I just needed to get that off my chest. This is not the point of this post.

I'm halfway through my much used, dogeared and tattered copy of The Five Fingers. This book is essentially one long wilderness crawl by a group of seven of the baddest bad-ass fighting men in the Southeast Asian theater of war (ok, ok so I'm over-simplifying this and stating it in D&D terms). I did not post this to debate the veracity of The Five Fingers as a military account (I recall an old argument to this effect in the Twilight 2000 forums sometime back). I posted this to relate it to my current gaming experience.

What really hit me was that the seven operatives of The Five Fingers practically walked from Northern Thailand, through most of Laos, part of North Vietnam and ended up just inside the Chinese border - then they walked back again, down to South Vietnam. Nothing stopped them: not the horrendous jungle terrain, the massive tropical rains (I've seen all that rain and dengue fever living here in the tropics) and the multitude of tribal mercs, enemy regulars and anybody else with a gun who happened to get in their way.

Without meaning to denigrade the book, reading it for the nth time made a part of my old school mind see the parallels between the Five Fingers' trek to and from China as a massive, difficult wilderness hexcrawl. Suddenly, looking at the map of the Five Fingers' route to China at the beginning of the book made me imagine a hexgrid superimposed on it. Yes, the book really had a lot of great qualities which made for a very absorbing wilderness trek in the old school tradition.

The NVA, Pathet Lao and tribal merc patrols they would collide into and promptly exterminate reminded me so much of wandering monsters generated on a DM's die roll. More signficantly, what impressed me was that the Five Fingers' biggest enemy was the terrain itself. Mountain ranges and ridges had to be crossed. Dense wooded slopes had to be penetrated. Grasslands of razorgrass, rain (and leech) swollen streams, malarial jungles, muddy slopes - name it and they encountered it.

This got me thinking that maybe I'll be modifying my Mutant Future encounter tables to include environmental and terrain obstacles and challenges. Now that I'm pretty much re-immersing myself in old school gaming, I am beginning to realize how absorbing a wilderness hex crawl overland can really get - and the terrain itself can be the biggest, baddest adversary.


  1. I may have to look this book up.
    What part of the world do you live in?

  2. It's a pretty good read Bill, although many believe it's more of a work of fiction than fact. I live in Manila, in the Philippines. Gets harder and harder to get by every year... oh yeah.

  3. Wow the Philippines we are on opposite sides of the world. I'm in Memphis, Tennessee USA

  4. Truly Bill! It's hot here but its Christmas. Then again, this is nothing compared to summer's heat. I take it the weather is pleasantly cool over there this time of the year?

  5. Weather varies quite a bit around here.
    Right now its 52 degrees and raining, last week it got into the 20's. February is cold lowest I ever experienced here was 4 degrees, but that was the extreme. Summer is usually hot upper 90's and very humid (some summers with heat index its well over 100++ degrees for days on end).