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I am running a pulp WW2 campaign where the players are deep inside Germany in 1940 uncovering secret projects, getting involved in the occult and discovering ancient powers that the Third Reich are trying to harness.

The Nazis are portrayed in an Indiana Jones manner and I have avoided using any real people (apart from Herr-toothbrush-moustache-himself). It is quite easy to retain separation in my group because we sat and agreed the boundaries. There were horrors in WW2 that all our families are the sharp end of and we didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable by going anywhere near those.

The difficulty comes when writing up the setting for others to enjoy. Equipment is agnostic and easy to do without offending anyone but as soon as you get into describing organisations and the people in charge of them, it gets very difficult. It is a difficult line to tread between making it feel like WW2 and offending anyone. For example, I want to use the SS in the region to mark how important the research projects are but the SS did despicable things.

How do I ensure separation between historical events and the game world while still feeling historical?

Or am I being too sensitive?

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One thing to keep in mind... What's acceptable in one locale may be unacceptable in another – AceCalhoon Nov 10 '11 at 20:45
Thanks Ace. Fortunately, I've been using the Iron Cross in most of my handouts. – Rob Lang Nov 13 '11 at 19:24
I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I know, germany has the strictest laws regarding the use of nazi organisations and symbols in publications. This wikipedia article is relevant to the issue: . Still, the use of nazi organisations might get you some strong negative feedback there. – sarahm Jul 17 '12 at 18:54
up vote 11 down vote accepted

It's not a general separation from historical events that you need, it's putting historical events in the right place. Two ideas spring to mind:

  • Keep the real horrors of the era out of the game entirely.
  • Make the military events part of the background.

I'd make these two points explicit in your writeup, so that the next GM running this setting has some guidelines for getting the right feel.

Real Horrors = Too Horrible for Fun

The Nazis make great enemies for a pulp, Indiana Jones style game. They're evil and twisted, with tons of personality and detail, and everyone already knows who they are. As a GM, your job is made far easier -- you don't have to do anything to show the players how evil the Nazis are. For the kind of game you're trying to run, leave the actual horrors of the Nazi regime out of the picture. Getting the Holy Grail away from the Nazis is a great victory for the team, and it feels good. Trying to end the Holocaust is on too large a scale, and it means getting into horrors your team probably doesn't want to see, so leave it out entirely.

The War Is Off-Stage

Your game doesn't sound like it's a military game, so leave battles as part of the background. Sure, your characters might hear some snippet of news about some battle on the radio, but if they're in Belgium, the battle happened in Russia. If they're searching for some artifact in the Ukraine, the papers are talking about an attack on Britain. There's a war on, but it's just for color, for details to make the world feel real. Accurate news is hard to come by, so the players don't actually know how the war is going. If you need the Nazis to hold the Caucasus so you can have a mission there, just assume they conquered it a while ago. Don't even define where the front lines are except as needed for the story. The players aren't playing a military game, so they never actually see the battlefield.

Keeping these two points in mind, feel free to include the SS. You need bad guys for the players to contend against; the SS works perfectly for that. Don't show their atrocities, just tell your audience that these are the elite troops of the Nazi regime, and everyone will understand that they're Nasty and Evil.

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Well put. Nazis are prevalent villains in video games just because they're so easy to hate. – Jason White Nov 10 '11 at 20:06

You could strive for historical plausibility instead of accuracy. So, you could create your own SS division (translate into German: Occult Investigation Unit for the name for example), your own personality (SS-Obergruppenführer Von Essen as the character arch-evil nemesis), and even locations (the castle of Crows in Southern Germany as their HQ). This way, you can make up what you need to while keeping a historical feel to the setting. Sure, it is not real and anyone will know it. But as long as it feels real, that should be enough for a good game.

Doing a lot of reading on the subject would be vital. There are many good (and even more bad books) on the subject.

As a side note: Be careful about art work. Some countries explicitly forbid Nazi imagery.

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I think if a group is willing to sit down and play a WW2 game, they're willing to face some of the realities of that war.

That said, you can inject a measure of fiction to create some separation. Instead of naming actual people or organizations, use stand ins. Also, you can shade actual history. Instead of describing the horrors of Wake Island (and the aftermath for the survivors) concentrate on the battle of two warring factions. The experience of warriors meeting on the battlefield instead of the ideologies that got them there.

Escapism- One of the reasons I really like gaming is the 'getting away from it all', so for me, a successful WWII game would showcase heroism and shy away from making political statements.

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The use of stand-ins is not a bad idea but if you use stand-ins for too much then it ceases to feel like you're playing in WW2. For example, I can't really have a stand-in for the SS. EDIT: I'm also keeping away from political statements but it is quite important for the setting that the invasion of Britain is imminent. – Rob Lang Nov 10 '11 at 21:23
Is "Nazis were bad historically" really making a political statement? I mean, one that would cause any controversy whatsoever, it's not like you are making a necromancer named Barak Oomama that's stealing all the villagers' gold via his arcane writings and thus bringing "real world politics" into it in that sense. – mxyzplk Nov 11 '11 at 16:53
You've answered your own question. While something like 'Nazi's are bad' doesn't generally offend, a running theme of something like: The world needs America to save them, the french are nothing but scared surrender monkeys, socialists would allow nazis to rule as long as they pay into the banking system, <race> is inherently <quality>... that's all lying there, and even if it's a nazi making claims, it could strike a nerve. – GMBill Nov 11 '11 at 21:06

One good approach I've seen is to take the Captain America approach. Create a fictional organization that's only loosely tied to the enemy, has it's own agenda and is operating outside the bounds of the rest of WWII. That way you keep almost entirely clear of the true historical events, while at the same time keeping in that time period.

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Yeah, pretty much what I said at the same time as you. – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 12:48
...And somehow Captain America wins more upvotes than SS-Obergruppenführer Von Essen... ^_~ – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 16:08
Gotta go geek. :) But I upvoted yours as well. – BBlake Nov 11 '11 at 19:27

I think you're being too sensitive. I've played many WWII RPGs and none of them really bother trying to bowdlerize the Nazis; heck even the modern day Germans don't like Nazis.

Depending on your target audience, there may be a general realism/ick level you are targeting - some RPGs don't pull any punches, like Grey Ranks and Poison'd, others downplay it, so you should determine what level of human skin lampshades you plan to include - but part of the cachet of fighting the Nazis and playing a WWII game is the sense you're really fighting true evil in a modern setting, and not just trying to "beat the other team to the widget."

As a potential player, disassociation of the Nazis from historicity is entirely undesirable. If I'm just fighting someone because of their funny accent... I'm not sure what offense is realistically being avoided. Very popular: Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, etc... If someone is going to be "offended" by any mention of the horrors of war, then let them play a game not about WWII.

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The easiest way to do this I believe (and the way I think it is done well in movies and games that I have played) is by making real monsters out of the Nazis. If the Nazi leader is a mutant who can absorb energy, or a zombie, or a partially mechanized robot, or possessed by demons or any other sort of completely fiction construct then the whole experience takes place in the realm of fiction and most people's minds will completely dissociation it with anything resembling reality, while still having that historic feel.

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That's a cool idea but wouldn't quite fit into the setting I'm writing. I want the feel of humans meddling with things they don't understand and, in this case, the Nazis doing it for evil. I think that would work, though. – Rob Lang Nov 10 '11 at 21:22
I find it much more horrible that the Nazi were humans, just like us. Who can say that under the right (read: very wrong) circumstances one would not have fallen for it?... Here lies distilled nightmares. – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 8:53
@Sardathrion the point is to take it out of the realm of reality, not to bring it into the realm of horror. Some of the games / movies I've seen are actually quite comical. – GMNoob Nov 11 '11 at 11:37
@GMNoob: Oh yes. I did not mean that it was a bad idea -- HellBoy springs to mind -- just that a horror element can be done with just reality. – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 12:40

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