Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Military Game

The good thing about all-night drinking on a Friday night is that it means you can legitimately spend all day on Saturday being hungover and doing self-indulgent things. Yesterday I spent much of the day playing Steel Panthers: World at War!, a freeware remake of an old PC WWII tactical wargame, and probably the most realistic and accurate of them all. Like all wargame junkies I have graduated from the marijuana of fighting the AI to the pure heroin of PBEM against human opponents; I've found that this game is just about the best online experience you can get, offering just the right level of playability and challenge - you can take your World of Warcraft and shove it.

It's got me thinking about role playing in a wartime setting. I've not played in many modern-era military-set games (I suppose Twilight 2000 is the only really noted example of the genre); I'm reasonably sure that their relative paucity in the hobby is that people assume that the Chain of Command takes away from player freedom.

This needn't necessarily the case and I would argue that many of the major wars of the last two centuries (especially the Napoleonic wars, the American civil war, the Russian civil war, the Chinese civil war, World War II) offer plenty of opportunity for adventure, primarily if the group of PCs are set up as either deserters, brigands or guerillas. For example:
  • The Kelly's Heroes campaign (or Three Kings campaign, if you will), in which the PCs go AWOL from an armed force to find fame, fortune, or something else.
  • The The Ants campaign, where a group of soldiers (the PCs) are left behind deep in enemy territory after an armistice.
  • The Russian-or-Chinese-civil-war campaign, in which the PCs are a band of mercenaries in a gargantuan country splintered into different political entities.
  • The Sharpe campaign, in which the PCs are ostensibly members of an army and have to follow orders, but seem to spend most of their lives somehow contriving to go off on special missions and generally buckle their swashes.
I like the idea of the Kelly's Heroes and Sharpe campaigns best, myself.


  1. One of my long-cherished-probably-never-run-it campaign ideas is to do a WWII game that starts with the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Call it "Red Dawn 1941": The PCs are all locals living in a town close to the border and are quickly cut off behind enemy lines. The campaign would then (ideally) play through the remainder of the war as the PCs evolve from regular civilians to cold-blooded partisan guerrillas. The tone, of course, would be super grim, with lots of moral dilemmas, double- and triple-crosses, Nazi reprisals, Communist meddling, and so forth. It's for this reason that I don't think I'll ever run it--who wants to get together for a few hours every week just to get super bummed out? Might work as a PBeM/PbP...

  2. Huh, so _Ants_ is a _Warriors_ riff? Or probably, an _Anabasis_ riff like _The Warriors_.

  3. sirlarkins: Yes, it might! ;) I like the idea. One of those "could probably only work via PBEM" things.

    trey: Kinda like The Warriors, but The Ants is a documentary about thousands of Japanese soldiers who got left behind in China after the end of World War II, and ended up fighting as mercenaries for the Nationalists.

  4. Ah! Interesting. I'd never heard of it.

  5. I'd say that Godlike is an example of a military game also.

    It's ostensibly about superheroes, but it seems to me the superpowers are really an excuse to get the players to agree to play the game.

    "Hey, let's play an RPG about the Normandy landings." vs

    "Hey, let's play an RPG where you have superpowers and can fight Nazis!"