Gen Con Highlights: Periscope depth

WARNING: This post is rated PG-13. I have accepted the editorial responsibility to bring this entry to you uncensored and raw. Be warned, expletives and bad grammar ahead!

My name is Martin Schwartz. Herein you will find my account of the events which transpired on the USN Submarine SS-495, “Saddleback” on or around June 2nd, 1941. I write this of my own volition and free will. To the best of my knowledge, everything contained within this description is accurate and true.

The Navy recruiter promised me an easy tour – one in the South Pacific, well out of the way of the Krauts and their damned ships and Stukas. The extra pay for working on a sub was an added bonus; a guy can always use more cash ya know? So I signed the dotted line and sealed my fate.

Somehow my asshole brother ended up on my boat. Stephen loved to rub his education in my face at any opportunity – and I don’t think it coincidental that his “experiment” on a tropical island required an escort involving my boat. In any event, 5 days ago we moored off the shore of an uncharted island, while Captain sent a rowboat to the beach and picked up a bunch of civvies – including my damned brother. All of them a bunch of doughy schoolboy types except for one; Lars. And ya know what? Lars turns out to be our Executive Officer’s son and some Navy bigwig! Again – coincidence? No way.

So the next thing I know we’ve overloaded our boat with my brother, 4 scientists and the XO’s kid – all for reasons no one could talk about due to “national security”.
Eh – makes no difference to me. I keep the engine running, and the craps game flowing. I’m sure Cap’n is following orders like the rest of us. Even with an extra six bodies on board, things weren’t too bad as we were able to steam on the surface – heading east all ahead full for destination unknown.

It was 12hrs later that the shit hit the screws.

Kowalski and I were hunkered down in our berth, talking about how damned weird it was that our boat had turned into a limo service for a bunch of paunchy science types. I was doing my best to avoid dealing with my brother – which is pretty hard to do when cooped up on a sub. Out of the blue, a loud bang rattles through the boat. Within 5 seconds the dive alarm is sounding and an all-hands announcement echoes through the boat that we would be emergency diving due to an advancing German ship.

An ostrich hides his head in the sand. A submarine hides its ass in the ocean.

So down we go – but the chaos continued. BANG! roll. BAM! pitch. WALLOP! The boat begins to be buffeted HARD from depth charges from above. Lucky for us, that first shot while surfaced missed. Unlucky for us, one of the depth charges pretty much knocked out our main power bus – disabling the engine, and apparently blowing our tanks – causing us to descend uncontrolled.

Like a moth drawn to a flame, Kowalski and I headed towards the bridge to try and get a handle on what was going on. Bathed in the eerie red glow of our emergency lighting system, we were greeted with utter chaos. The XO was barking orders furiously; there were civilians all around and the captain was in the corner taking it all in with an uncanny amount of calm.

“Schwartz! Kowalski! What the HELL are you doing up here?” barked the XO,  “Get down to the engine room and find out what the hell just happened to our power!”

So we rush down to the engine room in the pitch black as the boat begins to groan with that sound no submariner ever wants to hear – the noise of a hull under too much stress. We had apparently touched bottom – a little too deep.

We’re taking water by this point, listing about 30 degrees port and nose down. Our descent appears to have stopped – which is the only bit of good news at this point as we still don’t have power, and the bunk room ahead of us is under water meaning we would have to swim through into the galley to get to the engine room.

Deep breath. Dive. Swim. I feel my way up towards the galley, gasping for air when I finally breach the surface. I fumble around in the dark for the emergency flashlight I know should be strapped to the hull and finally find it. Turning it on, I play the light around the room and reveal the first unsettling image of the night – one of the civilian scientists in the corner, a large wooden box in his lap – and holding a German made Luger pistol. From the box a rapid beeping could be heard.

“Your only chance to live resides here in this box my friend,” says the scientist, “Once my people locate us down here, the tide of the war will turn. The Fatherland will be victorious!”

At that moment the boat shuddered violently, and began an obvious rapid ascent. Simultaneously, Kowalski appeared next to me – likely wondering what the hell had happened to me up here. Equipped with his coveted pipe wrench, he shot from the surface of the water with a gasp and sputter, “what are you doing up here Schwartz?”

Caught by surprise, the (apparent) German Spy wheeled his pistol at Kowalski and pulled the trigger. With a deafening roar, the gun expelled its charge and fired a bullet straight at Luke – just as he raised his wrench. Striking the wrench with a clang, the bullet ricocheted almost 180 degrees back towards that Kraut and lodged right into that beeping wooden box.

Which then stopped beeping.

“Ach! You dummkopf! Now it will come after US! I must get a message to the surface!” screamed the spy, dropping the box and diving into the water apparently heading towards the radio room.

I stared at the box, outlined in the dim glow of my flashlight and quickly snatched it up – thinking it must be important.

Seconds later a noise like I’d never heard before was heard reverberating through the entire boat – a kind of low pitched roar, culminating with the boat being rocked – hard – and abruptly halting our ascent.

I was out of my mind at this point – I had orders to restore power from my captain. There was an apparent German on our boat. SomeTHING was outside, apparently grappling our sub. I had to make some type of decision.

I decided to get the hell off of the boat.

I rushed to the battery room – figuring a breaker must have tripped to deny the ship of power – and sure enough, it was a simple fix to restore power to the ship. I hurried back to the bridge as the engines came back to life and the boat began a slow ascent – obviously fighting some force outside. Arriving at the bridge things had become even more bizarre. Our Captain was dead – apparently at the hands of our XO.

Conflicting orders were flying everywhere. Lars Manetti, the XO’s son, was shouting at his father, “We cannot let them get the device! It will turn the war against the United States. I would rather die than let them get it! I need to get them to turn the device back on.” As he ran off the bridge.

At that same movement, the sonar officer shouted above the din “SIR, I have engine noise on the surface – twin screws steaming at a high rate towards our position bearing 220. Range approximately 3000 meters! We are presently at about 100 feet from the surface, well within depth charge range!”

“It’s a Kraut ship! They are coming here to capture us and the scientists! We have a German spy on the boat – he sent a message to the surface!” I shouted.

“Do we have communication with the torpedo room?” asked the Executive Officer, “if so, arm the fore torpedoes and prepare to fire.”

“Sir, I don’t have any response from the torpedo room” responded the communication officer.

My plan became crystal clear at this point.

“I’ll man the torpedos sir!” I yelled, heading forward as the boat pitched and rocked with the force of the creature outside.

I arrived to an empty torpedo room “Sir, I need help with the torpedoes – send someone down to assist!” I shouted into the com tube.

I then proceeded to work myself into the port tube – box in hand; pulling the hatch behind me.

At this point, I can’t be sure what happened. Someone apparently came to my aid in the torpedo room, and not seeing me there sealed the hatch behind me, signaling to the bridge that the port tube was now armed and ready.

20 seconds later my tube flooded. I took in the biggest gulp of air possible, and held my breath as the salt water enveloped me – still clutching the box.

Two heartbeats later I was violently expelled from the submarine. Within a few seconds I was able to get my bearings and head towards the surface. Behind me I saw our boat – and behind that something dark and huge clutching the submarine.

I was able to surface easily to an early dawn light. Off in the distance I saw an island in one direction, and wheeling around on the surface of a calm ocean I could just make out the United States flag on the Navy Cruiser speeding towards the just surfaced crippled sub.

I was just able to make out the blurred form of a person racing to the foredeck – manning the gun – and opening fire on the friendly vessel. The explosion was horrific – the shells must have hit ammunition storage on the ill-fated ship, sinking it quickly. I doubt anyone survived.

Lucky for me, the box in my clutches made an adequate floatation device. The last thing I remember was seeing our submarine yet again, descending to the depths.

I do not know what happened to our boat. I am told our XO after realizing the magnitude of his actions, sealed the deck and flooded the boat via the torpedo room. No survivors other than I were reported found.

I awoke here in the Navy hospital in Panama. The beeping of the box on my end table disturbing my slumber.


What you have just read was my character’s view of our Fiasco session at Gen Con 2011. For those of you who don’t know Fiasco – it’s an absolutely fantastic role playing game wherein the players all take part in a series of scenes in which things go horribly wrong.

The game runs without a game master – the group collectively moderates the play. An opening set of relationships and situations are chosen in a semi-cooperative, semi-random way. Every player has some type of relationship with the two players on either side of him.

The particular “play set” used for the session determines the type of relationships. In our case, we were all part of a secret mission in WWII on the USN Submarine “Saddleback”.  For me specifically, I had a relationship with Peter on my right – as my brother, and Chad on my left – as fellow crew. A “need” for me turned out to be “To get away from whatever is out there lurking in the depths”. I named myself Martin “The Fist” Schwartz; dictating that Peter name his character a “Schwartz” as well.

We played the session in just under two hours in a series of scenes. During each players turn, they can opt to either frame their own scene, or resolve one.

If a player decides to frame a scene, it is up to them to make up a scene of about 5-8 minutes which ends in a cliff-hanger. The rest of the players then decide if that scene ends in a good, or bad way – describing how that scene ends.

If the active player decides to resolve, then the other players create a scene for the active player – ending at a cliff-hanger which the active player then concludes.

The game then has a tipping point (called the tilt) where some more complications are introduced, and some subtle game mechanics change. Two more scenes per player and then the finale. Realize that there is a very good chance your character will die. In a violent and horrific way. Believe me – you won’t be disappointed when it happens.

There is no ‘winning’ Fiasco – other than the collective joy the players experience in creating a unique and ridiculous story. There wasn’t one of us who didn’t have an ear-to-ear grin on our face at the end of the session. For me, this was my second time playing Fiasco – and I can’t wait to play again.