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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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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing to keep in mind... What's acceptable in one locale may be unacceptable in another \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Nov 10 '11 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Ace. Fortunately, I've been using the Iron Cross in most of my handouts. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Nov 13 '11 at 19:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strafgesetzbuch_section_86a . Still, the use of nazi organisations might get you some strong negative feedback there. \$\endgroup\$ – Exilyth Jul 17 '12 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure you really want to play a WWII game, when you feel that uncomfortable with that? I find it a bit strange to chose such setup when trying to avoid it. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins Nov 18 '16 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I said in the question, in bold: "The difficulty comes when writing up the setting for others to enjoy". \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Nov 18 '16 at 14:02
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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well put. Nazis are prevalent villains in video games just because they're so easy to hate. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason White Nov 10 '11 at 20:06
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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Nov 10 '11 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 11 '11 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – GMBill Nov 11 '11 at 21:06
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An Anecdotal Response

I had this same concern when I ran a "Pulp Hero" Hero system game along the same basic principles. One of my players was Jewish and his grandmother was in an internment camp so naturally I wanted to stay as far away from that aspect of WWII as much as possible. I focused on the occult side and the beginning time frame of WWII, keeping the players away from mainland Germany, and any conflicts that were part of the fighting there.

This allowed me to write adventures that took place in Africa, Tibet, and other places that still had a Nazi presence, but not as prevalent. This was the basic "out of sight, out of mind" approach. It worked really well for quite a while. All of the player feedback I received was positive. Then one day, my friend, mentioned above, came to me to me with an idea. He wanted me to write an adventure where the group had to infiltrate an internment camp to rescue a Jewish scientist. Yes, that was his grandmother. I've yet to have another player be moved to tears while roleplaying as my friend did that day.

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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, pretty much what I said at the same time as you. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 12:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...And somehow Captain America wins more upvotes than SS-Obergruppenführer Von Essen... ^_~ \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Gotta go geek. :) But I upvoted yours as well. \$\endgroup\$ – BBlake Nov 11 '11 at 19:27
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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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"Secret History" is your friend here. The public history of WWII is the way things actually came out, and the campaign deals with things that can never be made public, because they're too weird, frightening or unbelievable.

I've been playing an occult WWII campaign like this for a decade, and it works really well. The campaign log is here (warning: long). One thing that works well with the most evil of horrors is to let the PCs destroy them. Don't make this easy, but when they come up with a good plan, don't block it.

For example, in the last session, we were a few days after D-Day, and the Germans had come up with a new kind of super-soldier who were wrecking tanks north of Caen in quantity. We found they were rather tough to fight directly, but called in an airstrike that killed some and wounded more. One of the spirits in the party (a PC who died at Stalingrad) managed to follow a wounded one back to his base, and we got more information by other means.

It was a kind of necromancy, burning the lives of young Germans to empower them for a few hours. And they were based at the HQ of 12th SS Panzer "Hitlerjugend" which we now had a precise location for. It was within range of the heaviest naval gunfire available, a 15" battleship. An SS Panzer division HQ is a worthy target for that, so we didn't have to explain the necromancy.

Addendum: providing an occult reason for the Holocaust is extremely perilous. Anything that seems to offer a shred of justification for it is likely to cause trouble. I can't explain it better than Ken Hite did in GURPS: Weird War II (PDF available here, and highly recommended):

Presenting any explanation, or providing any sorcerous or mystical background, for the Holocaust besides the reality is quite likely to offend players. Many, many people believe that any campaign or story-line that attempts to portray the Nazi genocide as anything other than the mad acts of a pathologically evil cadre of men is completely out of bounds. But the dark temptation remains – secret histories of the Holocaust can seem to let us off the hook. Here, then, are some reasons those explanations don’t work:

  • The Nazi genocide cannot be a mass magical ritual. Negative energy generated by non-believers in the crowd – which those in the death camps certainly were – renders mass-magic spells impotent.
  • The idea of the Holocaust as some mass sacrifice to curry favor from the Aesir makes no sense. No self-respecting deity or demon is going to accept an “impure” offering – and if there’s one thing the Nazis believed in, it was the impurity of their victims.
  • Why would a conspiracy that supported the Nazis make them waste billions of marks, vital rolling stock, and immense reserves of manpower in a senseless atrocity? The only conspiracy involved is the real Nazi conspiracy to commit genocide.

The campaign I'm playing in had a fine example. A bunch of Nazi magicians attempted to use human sacrifices to gain more power for a ritual working. But a sacrifice has to be of something that the sacrificer values, and loses through the sacrifice. They ended up killing themselves, and it didn't work either.

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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – Dr Rob Lang Nov 10 '11 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @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. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Nov 11 '11 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @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. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Nov 11 '11 at 12:40
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You can never ever be respectful to any victim, and enjoy WW-II at the same time.

You need to choose between having fun, and paying respect. Visit the nearest war grave, better yet, pay tribute to real, alive veterans near you.

Then feel free to mock WW-II in your imaginations, go as far as you like, e.g. transform Jews into Goblins if that makes you feel less unconformable.

It is BEHAVIOR that counts (paying respect is a good start), not the fantasies you might enjoy. Same applies to adult material, enjoying is different than producing. Be a lunatic, but act responsibly.

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