Friday, August 21, 2009

On Butchering Bastards and Bastogne Battles

Since today's the opening of Quentin Tarantino's super-sized World War II mayhem and adventure flick, I figured I'd kick off Friday morning with a little discussion about, you guessed it, "Killin' Nazis".

There's a modest, but appreciable number of games out there that cover World War II. GURPS' line of books comes foremost to mind, as does Weird Wars, a supernatural horror d20 game set during the war. There's also Gear Krieg, the Indiana Jones RPG, and a number of "pulp adventure" RPGs that either specifically cover World War II or touch upon it in supplements.

However, the question arises; how many people out there actually put these games through their paces and ran a full-on campaign set in World War II? More specifically, has anyone run a game that wasn't so much "pulp adventure" as it was OSS thriller/espionage, or "special operations" along the lines of The Guns of Navarone?

I've always wanted to run a WWII campaign using a roster of PCs that the players could pick and choose from for each mission, and run OSS / special operations type missions (yes, I thought of this idea around the time I was obsessing over the Medal of Honor and Ghost Recon computer games...yes, I know that's a little sad...). I wanted to blend in a little occult weirdness, but not turn it into Hellboy or Call of Cthulhu meets the Third Reich. I always thought it would be a pretty cool campaign to run, but sadly it never got off the ground.

So, my Friday blog-reading crowd, what's your opinion on World War II campaigns?


Timeshadows said...
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Timeshadows said...

While not fond of the cartoonification of the Wehrmacht forces or the German peoples of that era, I do find that conflict to be enormously interesting.

My problem is that few players I have encountered are interested, or worse, they know 10x as much about the period as I do, and would feel slighted that I didn't run a 'comprehensive' game.

As I have written on my blog a few times, FASA's and then The Companions': Behind Enemy Lines is my g-to game for WWII source material, if not the actual running of a game. It even has the module The Guns of the Navarone.
--Mix in a little AMBUSH! and SHELL SHOCK! by Victory games (Squad-level RPG-like chit-based war board games), and one has everything necessary.

I'd love to run a campaign like that.

PatrickWR said...

I'm a WWII history buff, and I could see myself running a game like Godlike or Gear Krieg for my group. I'd be able to bring a decent dose of historical realism to the game, which would probably temper their otherwise zany approach to most RPGs.

Chgowiz said...

I would probably want to explore the far darker aspects of WW2. We've all seen the hero movies and even the blood fests, but the horror - the simple horror of life in Nazi Germany would be something interesting to explore.

Mike D. said...

I would rather run a Band-of-Brothers kind of game. Mostly running a game based around a small squad as it travels through the war (patrols, routine barracks duty, r&r, typical stuff).

I am a world war 2 history buff, but my bread and butter would be the Pacific (as a former Marine - I love the history of the Corps).

However, for war role-playing, I think Vietnam would offer the best possibilities with long range recon (via RECON rpg) or over the border incursions with the Special Operations Group (CIA's SOG) into Cambodia and Laos.

I would love to run a Marine fire team (or squad) level game set during the battle for Hue during the Tet offensive... actually that would work well for a Soviet or German game set during Stalingrad too.

rainswept said...

'not turn it into...Call of Cthulhu meets the Third Reich'?

I sure would!

There are a couple of short pieces on The H. P. Lovecraft Collection V2 DVD that explore this subject.

Experiment 17 (5 min) and Experiment 18: The Hexenhammer-Projekt (10 min) are narration over silent b&w footage mixing Eva Braun material and modern material that duplicates the style perfectly.

Hmmm... maybe rather than a whole campaign, a pair of time travel sessions inserted into a regular CoC campaign. This would give the players lots of RP material when they return to their 30's present, knowing all about WW2.

Footnotewise, these two shorts are strong enough to justify the rest of the DVD, which ranges from poor to mediocre.

Darkwing said...

The plot of Saving Private Ryan would make a good campaign--as the cast of characters is relatively small, making it easier to handle than a large formation. It also has the "quest" element, so the PCs would have a mission, but one that the PCs don't know where it will end/what they will have to do to get there (as opposed to set-piece missions like "go there and blow up the bridge."

If you add in a little occult, but not dominate the game with it, you start to enter Indiana Jones territory. Replace the good doctor with a squad of special ops guys, and you have a campaign right there.

An issue with WWII games is the lack of a defined goal other than "win the war", which by itself is probably out of the PCs' capabilities. Giving them an set piece adventures with an overarching goal in mind (such as Saving Private Ryan), gives the campaign a sense of closure.

Games where "survival" is the main goal start tend to start out great, then fade away as people lose interest.

Tacoma said...

I'm leery about running anything remotely realistic. I've found most argument in the game comes when a player knows a bit about the subject and feels that things should go a certain way.

For this reason I'd just steal all the ideas and run it as a fantasy thing.

The downside is that you can't incorporate all the lovely symbolism, the names of things, that sort of thing.

Badelaire said...

@Chgowiz: Not a bad idea, but would have to be executed extremely carefully, otherwise you'd wind up with a Vampire: the Masquerade type experience where an attempt at a very mature, adult, edgy campaign dealing with dark emotions and deeply personal issues just becomes a parody of itself.

Personally, if I was going to try a campaign anything like that, I'd have the PCs be partisans of some sort, either in Finland or more likely in France, working with the OSS and other Allied forces. There's a whole host of really serious issues you could deal with; what if a family member is working for the Nazis? What if you're suspected as a collaborator? What if your family is taken hostage and will be killed if you don't give yourself up? What if an American pilot is seeking refuge, but helping him escape might endanger your own efforts? A lot of really good role-playing could come of such a campaign.

In a similar vein, if I ever get the Grapeshot & Grognards supplement written, the first adventure I'd want to run, and where I think the game would actually be the strongest, is if the PCs were Spanish partisans fighting against the French.

@Mike D: Vietnam would also be a really cool campaign premise. Like Chgowiz's idea though, you'd have to do it right, otherwise it would just become a parody of itself. Has anyone ever really done a good solid Vietnam-era RPG (not wargame)?

I remember even when the Vietnam version of Call of Duty came out, people were a little on edge about it, and that's just a FPS. Doing a real, serious RPG about Vietnam would set a lot of people's teeth on edge. I'm sure it could be done right and played right, but it would not be an easy victory.

@Tacoma: I know what you mean. Whenever a "historical" RPG or real world RPG campaign gets rolling, the inevitable worry is going to be; is someone at the table going to be a "realism lawyer" or armchair historian the entire time, and wet-blanket the campaign because of it?

This one issue is probably why purely historical RPGs are so rare, and when they come along, they just aren't that popular; realism with excitement takes a LOT of effort.

Darkwing said...

re: grapeshot & grognards, the time period is a little off, but you could also do American rebels vs. the British, or any number of things during the French & Indian War.

And regarding dealing with history fanatics, you can deal with that by announcing at the beginning that while your game bears a resemblance to the WWII era, you as GM are exercising complete creative control over historical events, and that if anything seems 'unrealistic' or 'not how it REALLY happened', then that was part of your 'plan' for your game world.