For me one of the best things about RPGs is the way they can transport you to another time and place like nothing else. Mostly I experience this with games that are set in a favourite universe of a book, movie or videogame; things like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars being major examples. But as a history nerd I’m even more excited by the possibilities to explore a certain period of history this way. When compared with any other medium, even videogames, RPGs give you greater freedom, immersion and potential variety than them all. Combine these possibilities with a GM who really knows their stuff and a willing group of players and you could get some really interesting insights into a historical period or event. This is something that I experienced first hand when playing a viking in Mythic Iceland in one of the best roleplaying campaigns I’ve ever been a part of.
So there seems to be a few historical RPGs out there, and I’ve found plenty set in and around medieval periods, something I will undoubtedly make a post on in the future. But there seems to be a strange lack of RPGs simply set during World War 2. Not to say that there is a complete lack of games out there however, there are plenty that are set in WW2 but there is always something extra. Usually it seems to be supernatural elements such as Cthulhu horror, zombies, alien technology or superhuman powers. Apart from game systems that are very light on rules or those meant to be used for general modern combat, there’s nothing that really fits the bill of a standard RPG set in WW2 with decent rules for both combat and non-combat situations, and fairly authentic if not realistic historical accuracy.
Perhaps you may think that the reason for this is that WW2 in terms of tabletop games is far more popular in wargaming and has little reason to be an RPG when it should be all about battles and combat. Well apart from the fact that popular tabletop wargames have such as Warhammer and Battletech have very extensive and successful RPG spinoffs, I think that the setting of WW2 actually provides a lot of interesting opportunities for an RPG both with and without heavy use of combat. You could be a group of spies or double-agents trying to find information from within Axis command. A small squad of Commandos or other special forces sent on covert missions behind enemy lines to disrupt and sabotage. You could be sent on special missions involving some of the new inventions of the war, or even be a character that develops them. You could be the crew of a bomber shot down deep behind enemy lines, or the surviving crew in a naval battle trying to survive on an enemy controlled island. You could be resistance fighters or partisans in an occupied country. You could even easily combine a few of these into one campaign.
As far as historical settings for RPGs go, a WW2 setting should really be one of the easier ones, as it doesn’t necessarily have to be set in 100% real events. There could easily be fictional battles that still give the feel of WW2. Also, everybody knows a little bit about WW2 to get by in a game. Whereas with Ancient or Medieval historical settings there is a lot of information that would be a bit obscure to most people, with WW2 it is very recent, the general landscape in terms of countries and nationality are very similar still, and even then, everybody has seen a few war films that depict the war in a reasonably accurate way, at least for the purposes of a game. Saving Private Ryan comes to mind as a good example. Its a very well made and authentic WW2 film that is placed within a real event, the invasion of Normandy, but the details are entirely fictional. This is exactly what would happen in an RPG. The structure of the film even suits it, as it revolves around a small group of characters that all have their own specializations and distinct characteristics sent on a mission that allows them the freedom to take their own initiative, but with a clear goal.
Anyway before I ramble on any longer I’m going to briefly go through the WW2 RPGs I have found, none of which are entirely what I’m looking for, but do provide some useful rules and ideas for perhaps chopping up and homebrewing my own game someday.
This game was released in 2013 by Modiphius Entertainment. As the title suggests it is one of the many many RPGs based around the whole Cthulhu mythos. I can’t for the life of me understand why there needs to be so many games based on it, and how they are so popular but that’s beside the point.
A good thing about this game is that it is made using two different existing rules systems, Call of Cthulhu (pretty much Basic Roleplaying) and Savage Worlds, which allows you to choose the one you are more familiar with or whichever you think is better suited to the style of game you want to go for.
The rulebooks feature some good detailed rules and information for things such as different skills that are appropriate to the period and different types of soldiers and jobs of the war. There is also details of military and secret service structure, a timeline that features both real and supernatural events (thankfully easily identifiable to remove), and an extensive list of equipment and vehicles which give you key information on each thing, such as from what date they are available to use.
Character creation has plenty of options right from the start, with tables for everything all with corresponding information and advice for the effects it would have in game. This includes options such as nationality (as well as displaces nationalities), both civilian, military and covert occupations, some background character story, and military ranks sorted by nation and service branch.
Weird War II
This isn’t just one game, but a few different ones, and Achtung! Cthulhu seems to be based on them as they are all meant to be horror/alternate history versions of WW2. The original game called Weird War II: Blood on the Rhine was released in 2001 and used the D20 system. There are other versions and supplements made later that use the Savage Worlds system as well as GURPS.
The version i have the PDF for is the savage worlds version core book. It has a similar level of detail and options as Achtung! Cthulhu but with not as much polish and good presentation in my opinion. However, there is still everything you would need here to run your own WW2 game with information for all the character options, equipment and vehicles you could want. There is also an extensive timeline that involves some supernatural elements than can be avoided if you wish, as well as information on particular campaigns, battles and missions of the war that can be used to set up a game for characters of any type.
This game is a spinoff published by Modiphius Entertainment of the wargame and boardgame Dust Warfare and Dust Tactics respectively, which are made by Fantasy Flight Games. The setting is another alternate history with supernatural elements where just before the war alien technology was discovered, I’ll let the game itself give you a brief rundown:
“The alien technology recovered back in 1938 led to the development of walking tanks, jet-powered aircraft, mechanized armour, and pinpoint accurate laser weaponry, among but a few new weapons made by eager nations. France, once liberated by the Allies following D-Day, has been re-occupied by the Axis. The Nazis, and their foul ideology, have been overturned and replaced in Germany. In Russia, genetic super soldiers fight alongside regular troops. Meanwhile, the Germans learned how to resurrect the dead and use them as soldiers.” At this point it is 1947 and the entire world is controlled by three factions in a perpetual World War 2.
The game itself has most of its rules fairy ingrained into the whole supernatural and futuristic technology idea, so this is one that would probably best be avoided if you wanted to convert it to a realistic setting. The game system is its own d6 dicepool system with its own symbol dice as well as standard d6. If you did want to go for the whole supernatural alternate history and crazy technology game, then this game does seem pretty interesting, with rules for creating your own tech in the form of weapons, vehicles or other things, as well as an extensive list for what each faction already has, most of which is based on real historical weapons, but just turned up to 11. It gives of a very C&C: Red Alert vibe to me if that was crazy WW2 instead of crazy Cold War.
Godlike is a game from 2001 that is yet another supernatural WW2 setting. I know, there’s a few. This time it is based on a regular WW2 mostly, with one key difference, there’s super-soldiers everywhere. Think Captain America but if every nation had a bunch of him and they all had more crazy powers.
The game uses a simple d10 dice pool system and has what appear to be some good rules here. There’s detailed descriptions of different factors in effect during combat and how they would influence rolls and different stats temporarily. This includes things such as aiming, taking called shots, covering fire, shooting at moving or zigzagging targets, and spraying with automatic fire. There’s plenty of rules for different weapons, their qualities, different levels of ‘armor’ that different cover gives you, and the different values for area and penetration of different explosives and grenades.
In character creation there is a lot of detail, going right from your character’s background in terms of nationality, family, and education. There’s a lot of different stats and skills. Then you have a lot of different options for ‘talents’ or the powers you can have. These can range from simple stuff like being super strong and tough if you want a slightly more powerful than normal game. Or you can have anything from flight, to teleportation, mind control, transformation, super regeneration. Pretty much anything you can thing of from DC or Marvel comics is here, and they all have plenty of detail, with things like optional modifications and flaws.
Like the other games, this one also has an extensive timeline with real WW2 events mixed in with fictional ones featuring superhumans. There’s also different profiles on some of these super-soldiers to take inspiration from or use them as key NPCs.
Saints and Sinners
This game was made in 2014 by a small group. It is a in depth rule system that is meant to be quick, brutal and deadly. It is intended to imitate real combat on some level, and can be used for any modern combat scenario but is perfectly suited for WW2.
There isn’t very much in the way of roleplaying material or things to aid you in making a campaign here, but if you want to learn a system that gives you robust rules to cover every situation in a combat scenario then this is what you’re looking for. Similar to the realistic medieval combat RPGs I covered previously, this game doesn’t do combats in turns, but in rounds where each combatant takes initiative every split second if they can and is constantly in action. It takes into consideration mental effects and pain thresholds on top of basic hitpoints for a more realistic approach to being hit. There’s a ton of rules here even in just the firearm combat section for things such as suppression, the modifiers to it based on cover and how to overcome it, there’s rules on the different uses for automatic machinegun fire such as area fire and walking fire, there’s different rules for damage with the effects of armour, cover, and infection of wounds.
Basically, like with all realistic combat systems, if you have the time and patience to learn a ton of detailed rules, then you will be rewarded with quick and deadly combat, if you can remember everything.
This is a game made in 2008 by Kobayashi. Like saints and sinners, this game is fairly focused and features a simple rulebook. Unlike that game however, Shell Shock is more of a rules light game and more focused on storytelling and character roleplaying in a war setting, taking into account the mental as well as physical effects of war on a person, and combat is usually based on simple rolls and how well a player roleplays and explores how far a character goes to survive.
Character creation is very simple and most of the point of it is to come up with a character that you can get a feel for and develop through the events of a war, if they survive very long at all. The character sheet is very small and all the stats are summed up as search, destroy, heart, mind, frustration, grit, health and stress. With some effects on your character based on events, called traumas, being fear, indifference, guilt and violence.
This sin’t a WW2 but can very easily be used as one or any war at all. It’s a very niche game that will definitely not be to everyone’s tastes, but I included it because its quite interesting in the way it explores the effects of war on a person rather than the usual things other RPGs are all about.
There are a few other RPGs out there set in WW2, but many of them appear to feature Cthulhu (for some reason). There’s also probably plenty of general systems that I could use for WW2, but I haven’t gotten round to searching through them all to see what I’d like. For if I was going to run a WW2 game out of these choices, I’d most likely end up making my own mash up of a few of these. I’d probably use the Basic Roleplaying system so I could use most of Achtung! Cthulhu, and then use parts of saints and sinners that I think add to the combat experience, and maybe take into account some of the character and storytelling aspecs of Shell Shock. If I was going to go for an unrealistic game with the WW2 feel then Dust is my pick, it looks like fun.
If anyone out there comes across any good suggestions then please leave a comment!