Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

GURPS World War II: A World Ablaze

Jerry Stratton, August 18, 2005

There are two places I look for immediately on walking into the San Diego Comic-Con on Wednesday night preview: the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Adventure Retail/Atlas Games booth. The latter always has something interesting waiting for me. One year it was a stack of new Judges Guild adventures; another year, a $5.00 boxed set of Everway. This year, they had a table full of GURPS sourcebooks for $5.00 each. I picked up several, including GURPS WWII: A World Ablaze.

This is not marketed as a GURPS sourcebook, although it is that. It is a complete game: it includes a “lite” version of the GURPS rules chosen for what will be needed to game in World War II. The book is written and illustrated by Gene Seabolt.

This overview of World War II is very readable, while at the same time highlighting the complexities of the war. If you are looking for a gaming-oriented sourcebook for a modern-era game such as a superhero campaign, a time travel campaign, or you want a simple game system for running a few one-off War Stories, I think that GURPS WWII is a great choice.

The book is broken into seven sections. The first two are the most interesting for those who don’t play GURPS: “The World at War” and “The Combatants”.

Because “roughly speaking, World War II began where World War I let off,” the first few pages overview World War I and the rise of totalitarianism in the years following “the Great War”, with small but powerful, information-packed paragraphs about the pre-war years.

Even before the Nazis took power, the German people had no intention of giving up their martial prowess. France had imposed severe restrictions on the size of the German military, for fear it would be left alone to counter a German revival.

This proved a great, inadvertent boon. The German army spent the money saved on non-existent regimental messes for secret research on cutting-edge weaponry. Unhampered by making existing equipment fit, the secret general staff developed a grand vision for the future of war.

When Hitler took power, he found a thriving military machine. He happily accelerated its efforts.

From Africa to the Rhineland to Spain, and Mongolia and Vladivostok in the east, the book quickly covers the incidents leading up to the war and how they affected the way the war played out.

In describing the war, the book goes from front to front, providing useful information on the major battles, the participants, and what history records were their reasons and perceptions at that point. It is fascinating to read, and will easily inspire adventure ideas for World War II campaigns.

In the next section, the book goes into what made a military in the war, and then provides an overview of the major nations: Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, and finally “The World at a Glance” which covers many of the other players.

This is not a canonical history book. It wasn’t meant to be, and for a book of its size some things need to be simplified. In history, as in most academic disciplines, there are controversies. One example would be the aid that Spain provided to Jews escaping German persecution. The book provides a simplified four paragraphs that describe one side of a very complex issue that is still under debate. In this case, the consensus appears to be shifting away from the position that the book contains. He makes some claims that I can’t find any reference to, and presents what appears to be speculation as fact.

While this particular example may seem egregious, in order to be interesting and concise the book has to do this. But it does mean that sometimes the position it takes will not be correct. That’s history.

Beyond the background, it contains a full set of rules for gaming in World War II. It uses a form of GURPS Lite that also provides expanded or modified rules for the full version of GURPS if you have it. It is written for GURPS Third Edition, as it came out in 1992.

There are several books in the series, some written by Seabolt and others overseen by him. I’ve listed some of the major ones here, that are most likely to be useful for someone looking for historical info for their modern-era campaign: England, America, Germany, and Italy.

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