View Full Version : Super-Powered WWII Campaign?

Mr. Mask
2015-11-12, 09:07 AM
Had a concept for a super-powered WW2 setting, and wondered if it'd be worth pursuing. Also wondered if there was anything good out there in that genre worth taking note of (particularly RPGs that handle the concept well).

The idea is that in 1850, aliens make contact with Earth. They state they want to make a peaceful visit to Earth and talk with the natives. After some time, this is approved by several nations, and the aliens play tourist and talk with Earth's scientific men. These aliens are very polite, but their technology is so advanced that neither Earth nor the aliens know how to adapt any of it for Earth use. They have some gifts in other forms, though. They put a valley through a mountain range, just to make travelling through that area easier for he inhabitance. Another was a chemical which could only be ignited by an electrical spark, and burned hot enough to make air combust. And their last gift before they left, was offering to make humans powerful and intelligent like themselves.

Several thousand humans, from all tribes, underwent a process that was meant to make their offspring like the aliens in mind and power. Some children exhibited much stronger potential than others, and each generation seemed to have more and stronger children than the last. Thus the number of heroes multiplied. The source of their powers was poorly understood, but the basis of many of them seems to be stronger magnetic fields down to the atomic level. The body made use of these in ways seeming biologically impossible, including neurons communicating through their magnetic fields. The results of the body's incomprehensible ability to make use of these changes, included increased strength, increased resistance to damage, telekinesis, electrokinesis, extrasensory perception, increased IQ, greatly increased multi-tasking potential, a few could even levitate, and some developed more unusual powers. A subject could have different strengths of any of these powers, having one or several of them.

In the American Civil War, many of the original subjects fought and died, decreasing the number of available heroes America had during the world wars. For fear of cause of rebellion, subjects in colonies showing signs of power were moved to Europe and made citizens with full rights--many who exhibited powers were also given titles. As the number of heroes increased along with their powers, so did their their importance with war. The Great War saw an exponential presence of heroes compared to previous war, though measures were taken to ensure they would have children. With the beginning of WW2, many of the young heroes who survived are ready to fight again, alongside a new generation of heroes stronger than any before.

The main question, is how these heroes would be utilized in the setting, what would the players be doing? The really powerful ones, they can telekinetically force tank turrets to swivel and miss, can run and jump in excess of 60MPH for long periods, can carry 200 pounds in equipment without tiring, can survive getting hit by several rifle and machine gun rounds, and the strongest of them can tip a Tiger tank on its side. They're also very intelligent, extremely quick-thinking and able to understand their surroundings. Those with electrokinetic powers could also try stuff like shorting out tank turrets, so they can't turn.

I figure they'd be good for making breakthroughs in the enemy lines, jumping over barbed wire and sowing chaos among the enemy trench line so the rank and file can attack safely. They could also carry a heck of an anti-tank rifle, and try harassing armour. Add in any spec-ops missions, where they ought to be good at fulfilling special roles.

So, does this sound interesting or worth pursuing? Have any ideas to add to this, like what players would be doing? Any good examples of settings or stories in this genre?

2015-11-12, 02:11 PM
You might want to take a look at Wild Talents, a game about superheroes in WWII. It seems relevant.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-12, 02:14 PM
Figured there must be some out there. Will have a look, thanks.

2015-11-12, 02:47 PM
That sounds awesome!

I wonder how you'd create many opportunities to roleplay, though. Since as a soldier in war, you don't take much time to talk to the enemy before you shoot them. Would be cool if you sent them undercover into the enemies strongholds. You could also add a villain on the "good team" that'd be like a double agent or something, or maybe just a really big douche undermining their efforts to make himself look better.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-12, 03:29 PM
Thanks, Douche! ....Errr, that came out wrong :smalleek:.

Roleplaying is a good question. You can talk to the enemy after they're captured or over the radio. There are some cases of downright barbarically civil chat between the British and Germans in WW2, discussing swapping prisoners for cigarettes and all sorts. Interestingly, with the extreme multi-tasking and intelligence/awareness of the heroes, they could probably talk and discuss during combat (this being absurd for normal humans). They're also quick enough that you could have some Mexican stand-off discussions (where as soon as one of them acts, the others will react in the same tenth of a second, so they feel comfortable talking till they're ready).

Unless the heroes are working undercover (which is possible, they're likely skilled at learning other languages and mannerisms), it is true most of their time will be spent talking and working with their own side, or with locals who have been recently liberated/occupied. Having a weasel on your own side is definitely a good idea for a villain, as it fits the setting perfectly.

Oh, I didn't get to mention this, but the particle which causes air-combustion was intended to make one heck of a flamethrower. You can shoot out a very tiny amount of the particle through a spark-gap, and it will create a huge blaze. On that note, the aliens might've left behind some artefact gifts that can be used to interesting effect in adventures (say, one which warps gravity could make for a nice encounter).

2015-11-12, 04:34 PM
I've run several games set during wars (Scion's WW2 setting, a space mercenary game inspired by Forever War, A Last of the Mohicans game, and WW1 game occult horror).

The hardest part of them for me was understanding that the war becomes the setting, and in world building you do doesn't really matter without that framework. So, lets say this world has Atlantis...why does Superfly McGrunt care? He wants to not be dead more than he cares about world politics, so unless an Atlantean flying armor column in coming up that road, hes gonna smoke a cigarette and eat some chow.

The Clone Wars solved this by having every Jedi be an officer, and most as generals, forcing them to look beyond the now into the important future.

This brings up the idea of rank, and where they sit in the command structure. It would be interesting, and convenient imo, to have the party as part of a separate force and ranked as something akin to Warrant Officers. If its multinational, all the better! More chances for character RP.

Roleplaying can be hard if you look at it from a normal RPG perspective. That being said, Apocalypse Now, Enemy at the Gates, Saving Private Ryan, Catch-22 and MASH all did it, so...

Keys to that IMHO: The enemy is mostly a target. Dramatic Enemies can become people, but if you allow the players to dehumanize the standard soldiers they kill, you set them up for a whole list of great "what have become" and "he was a good man" type moments. Nothing quite like sitting in a mixed pile of limbs to make you rethink who you are.

Command is always trying to get you killed. The absurdity of war can be fun to play up too. I once had the players get orders to take a hill, mine all the approaches, and fight to the last...For 2 hours. Then they got an order to match back over the mine fields and run. The ones who stayed got a medal. Why did this happen in game? Miscommunication and Stupid leaders. (out of game, I really needed them to stop trusting command for the plot to work, and to really hate one guy)

You can always trust the enemy, you can never trust your allies. Who's a spy? Who's just not working to the best interests of your country? Is the russian team member getting a little too into the specs for that mech? And why is he so close to that fire?

Your roleplaying comes from your interactions with the military, each other, and whatever byzantine personal politics you want to throw in!

Mr Beer
2015-11-12, 04:55 PM
In the context of war usage, these guys would be ideal for strategic missions and terrible for main battle purposes.

They are like the SAS on steroids: they can infiltrate (and subsequently extract) themselves rapidly and stealthily via personal flight, evade detection or overwhelm platoon level resistance and deliver large amounts of explosives. They can organise partisan resistance. They can spy. They can assassinate.

What they are not good for is going toe-to-toe with battalions of enemy soldiers, since they will get shot to pieces quickly. I think they would be far too valuable to be under command of any mere general. They might fall under the purview of the military High Command but just as likely, they are under civilian control, ultimately reporting through ministers up to cabinet level.

If they're spending any time at all on some kind of major battlefield as some kind of shock troops, they are being completely wasted. If they must risk their lives facing direct military opposition, it should be during the course of blowing up vital fuel supplies or something similar.

Honest Tiefling
2015-11-12, 08:42 PM
I'd chuck them into occupied territory, personally. Plenty of that to go around. They'd have to talk to the enemy to pass for being normal, and have stealthy missions for a change of pace. And a VERY good reason not to split up. Not to mention, you'd have ample opportunities for wanton destruction! That tends to appeal to players. Oh, I'm sorry, did I blast your train off the tracks and cause a massive fiery explosion? Clumsy me!

Mr. Mask
2015-11-12, 09:16 PM
Mr. Beer: Would they be so bad in conventional warfare? Alvin York took on a whole Regiment single-handed, and he had no super powers.

I agree they'd have immense utility in more specific operations.

Note that the premise is they can shrug off several rifle and MG bullets. How many would probably be a matter of balance to the setting for what they're intended to accomplish. The ones who can carry a hundred pounds of steel armour can probably survive more.

As you point out, the heroes would be extremely valuable, so they'd get to operate under direct command of pretty high figures. They'd quite possibly get some autonomy and sway over nearby officers/generals, too. Which is handy for player characters.

Gorilla: Ooh, that sounds really neat.

I see your point. Why should anyone care about aliens who appeared almost a hundred years ago, when you could instead focus on killing (and not being killed by) your fellow man? There would be some bits of lore that have a more direct impact on the setting, like an immortal coat the party can get: It has been burned, bludgeoned, hit with sabres, hit by cannonballs thrown in the sea, and pounded by artillery, and not one of its fibres were scratched--though all of its previous wearers have died from being burnt, bludgeoned, stabbed, smashed, and blown to pieces. Details about how all those previous generals, soldiers and officers died but were otherwise immortal would be interesting, and infer the superior technology of the aliens and how it has effected history.

Another element is having an adventure or two set around a valley that leads right through a major mountain range. One which doesn't exist in our world, because the aliens dug it out as a present. This changes the tactical situation of the war substantially, in that region (say if it was in the mountains between Austria and Russia). The strategic importance of that landmark reflects the aliens effect on the world again. As does stuff like no heroes living past 40, when the aliens said there should only be a 15% chance of not living past 60 for the first few generations (personal roleplaying dilemma that relates to the aliens).

I think multinational is a good idea, and it fits with the structure of recruiting heroes from colonies. Make it so they have universal rank within the Allies.

Building up the enemy as inhuman and evil and then twisting it to them being human is a classic way to start the game. Have some mustard gas attacks, 24/7 artillery bombardment, maybe a few burnt villages and tons of refugees, and it'll be easy to assume the gas-masks on the other side of no man's land must be inhuman machines.

Though there was a lot of hype for spies in WW1&2, were there that many spies? There were some, certainly. And in this setting, you could easily have more since there are highly intelligent heroes who, if implanted to the right spot, could unleash terrible damage. Regardless, your own side will be among some of the worst enemies, quite possibly putting artillery on your position for the third time that week (I might get the players to really hate a certain artillery unit, that has a bad habit of doing that).

On the mention of fire, it'd be a lot of fun to put all sort of suspicious thoughts into the players' heads. Someone gets upset that he can't bring his lighter or cigarettes into the meeting. Someone keeps playing with a little charm on his wrist, etc..

Honest: Very true. To be honest, you can do both. Some spies were going back and forth across the border, and for hero players it shouldn't be that hard.

Mr Beer
2015-11-12, 09:53 PM
Mr. Beer: Would they be so bad in conventional warfare?

No, they would not be useless at all, but using them in almost any battlefield role would be a criminally wasteful misuse of resources.

They would obviously excel in many battlefield roles, what they would be 'bad' at would be directly engaging masses of heavily armed enemies, as in, 5 heroes vs. 500 Waffen SS kind of thing. Obviously they would be better than any humans at such a thing but not good enough to reliably beat the enemy.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-12, 10:29 PM
Well, 5 Alvin Yorks would be pretty scary. If they could also fly, I think I'd surrender.

While I agree you would be putting them at risk, I figured their ability to get into enemy lines and break up the enemy would make paratroopers look like a kid's ballgame. Attacks that might've failed and resulted in major casualties will instead break through and cause a lot of damage to a disordered enemy.

2015-11-12, 10:49 PM
From what I'm reading, it sounds like you want to try to move towards the smaller battles and combat theaters, such as North Africa. That I would consider a nice change of pace from the usual "D-Day" fiesta we usually see.

On the other hand, it would be interesting to see what kind of an impact they could make in some major battles, such as....oh...let's go with the 900 day siege of Leningrad. Among others of course. Perhaps as 'play testing' single shots prior to campaign or as bonus missions if the players want something REALLY hard?

I assume Theodore Roosevelt was one of these fellows? :smalltongue:

Edit: Actually, in reference to that final statement, which leaders from each side are getting these boosts? Plenty of them deserve them. :smallbiggrin:

2015-11-12, 11:03 PM
I agree that people like that would work best behind the main lines of the battle. A force with the firepower of a regiment but the mobility, concealability, and resource needs of half a squad? Let them loose among the enemy's production/supply/command structure and they might just win the war by themselves.

Of course, the other side knows this too, and will undoubtedly have tasked some of their own supers to try and defend against just this sort of attack. So the major opponents of the PCs will be their opposite numbers, which is good because it means you can keep the numbers down to make combat more manageable, and because the enemy will be tough enough to survive even when they lose. That means they can be complex characters that the PCs can come to know, hate, and possibly respect rather than just nameless soldiers that die almost as quickly as they show up. Recurring villains also means less work for you.

For inspirational material, you should look at old issues of Blackhawk (DC), The Invaders (Marvel), and the first Captain America movie. There is also a Golden Age sourcebook for 2e Mutants & Masterminds and a World War II sourcebook for the old Mayfair DC Heroes game that might help in fleshing out the setting.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-12, 11:05 PM
Talion: Fighting Rommel would definitely be interesting. Though trying to break the siege of Leningrad would be pretty interesting also.

As for boost leaders, hmm... On one hand it would make sense, but then the aliens might've been looking for specific genetic (or, perhaps atomic or sub-atomic) make-up for the experiment. They might've also been concerned it'd create problems for the Earthlings, if their leaders died of old age and got god-like superpowers (they can't risk fighting in the field, so all it'd really be useful for is an ego-trip--though intelligence enhancements are of course very useful). Having short-lived, super-powered leaders could be pretty interesting, though. Or more probably the relations of world leaders (if that were the case, the monarchies mightn't have been deposed across Europe).

J: I was thinking of having a hero known as the Übermensch, an infamous child soldier during the first World War, his prodigious powers have only become.... more concerning (one of the major heroes of the allies was probably killed by this kid; a kid who might be a 5th generation hero). And of course, you can really have just about any heroes you want. Americans who decided to become German citizens, or neutral Brazilian heroes who sold their services to one side or the other in exchange for benefits. Sky's the limit.

2015-11-12, 11:24 PM
I agree that people like that would work best behind the main lines of the battle. A force with the firepower of a regiment but the mobility, concealability, and resource needs of half a squad? Let them loose among the enemy's production/supply/command structure and they might just win the war by themselves.

Of course, the other side knows this too, and will undoubtedly have tasked some of their own supers to try and defend against just this sort of attack. So the major opponents of the PCs will be their opposite numbers, which is good because it means you can keep the numbers down to make combat more manageable, and because the enemy will be tough enough to survive even when they lose.

And when you've done a few sessions in this vein, you can switch to fighting defensively - dealing with a team of enemy supers who are doing exactly the same things in the PC's homeland. Defending is always way harder than attacking, and it'd be an entirely different kind of adventure - big on investigation and planning, not much actual fighting.

However: if I were doing it, I'd want to limit the power of my superheroes to the point where they can still be overwhelmed by, say, a crack platoon of enemy troops, or a couple of suitably heavy tanks. Make it so that they can't just blaze their way across enemy terrain like armoured knights through a peasant rabble. Marvel's Invaders are overpowered to my taste.

Mr Beer
2015-11-13, 12:14 AM
Well, 5 Alvin Yorks would be pretty scary. If they could also fly, I think I'd surrender.

While I agree you would be putting them at risk, I figured their ability to get into enemy lines and break up the enemy would make paratroopers look like a kid's ballgame. Attacks that might've failed and resulted in major casualties will instead break through and cause a lot of damage to a disordered enemy.

If you have supers who can be injured and killed with weapons carried by any enemy soldier, using them to break enemy lines is silly if you can have them destroying army level fuel supplies or murdering divisional commands instead. Breaking an enemy line is something you can achieve with tanks and assault troops, which are frankly much more expendable in the kind of numbers needed. Or paratroopers if you insist, better to risk a company of paratroopers than these guys.

The fact is that the kind of firepower these guys can deliver and the kind of enemy firepower that they can withstand, means that throwing them into the meatgrinder is basically a terrible idea. They can't deal out the same damage as a tank and they can't take the same kind of damage a tank can, now obviously they have capabilities that a tank doesn't but basically if you use them as a tank - breaking lines - you are wasting them.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-13, 07:39 AM
Well, some of the anti tank rifles and thermobaric bombs they carry might be on the level of tanks. The heavily armoured ones may have armour comparable with tanks. The idea of that combined with a small, fast target with much better awareness and mobility past enemy defences, seemed like it'd outdo a common tank for breaking a line. In particular, they can get inside the enemy's trenches and behind their lines, making it hard to make use of artillery, tanks and other effective weapons. And once the enemy is in chaos trying to fight the heroes behind their line, it becomes far easier for the troops to break through and support the heroes.

If they could simply destroy the enemy fuel depots and force the army to retreat or surrender, that would be even better. Though, if those are more valuable targets for heroes than ensuring a breakthrough, you'd probably set heroes to guard them, I suppose? Or just have hero-centred defences and traps?

2015-11-13, 11:08 AM
The phrase people seem to have on the tips of their tongue in this thread is comparative advantage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage). One for one, each of these super soldiers is better than an unenhanced solider at whatever military task you'd care to name. The problem is you don't have enough to staff your entire army with them. That means you want to assign your enhanced soldiers preferentially to duties where an unehnaced soldier cannot perform the same job at all, or where to duties where there is the greatest difference in results between enhanced and unenhanced soldiers. Minor preference also goes to putting the enhanced in segregated units - not out of powerism, but due to the simple fact that you don't put ordinary soldiers in the same squad as people who can fly and deflect bullets and expect them to somehow keep up.

An example would be breaking through the enemy line. Certainly a hero could do so far better than most other soldiers - but so could a tank. Given that it is easier to get more tanks than it is to get more heroes, you'd prefer to send the tank through than you would to send the hero. Another example would be intelligence. While a hero is in a far more survivable position if they are uncovered as a spy, the fact that some of them have ESP means that you're much better off using them as handlers and analysts than as field operatives.

If I were put in charge of finding a use for these soldiers in a WW2 environment, my first choice would actually be an artillery regiment. Call it six artillery batteries each divided into four troops of five sections for a total of 120 guns and 640 men (all ranks) in total. Attach to it a supply division of around 100 (all ranks, including doctors, cooks, mechanics, orderlies, messengers, HQ staff, drivers, etc.) and - here's the part where the PCs come in - an attached enhancile company consisting of ten platoons each containing five patrols of four-six heroes each. Enhanciles with powers not directly applicable to combat (particularly espers and thinker-types) would be given officer training and assigned either as sergeants in the firing sections or (if particularly potent) as part of the overall regimental command structure.

You'd field this unit primarily as support for other regiments on major fronts of the war. When the enemy is in a defensive posture, the hero patrols are used as forward observers for the artillery, and as scouts behind enemy lines. When the enemy goes on the offense, their speed, sensory abilities and concentrated firepower allows them to serve as a powerful mobile reserve to bolster any location where it looks like your defenses are failing. Plus, the morale effects are maximized. To the public, you have seemingly egalitarian mixed unit forces rather than favoritism and discrimination. To the units with enhanciles themselves, the differing tactical roles are obvious justification for the division between unenhanced and enhanced forces - it just makes sense to point the guys and gals who can fly and shoot lightning at the enemy while those trained to read maps and shoot howitzers are left in the back with the big guns. To all the front line regiments, it feels good to know that there's a flying telekinetic just over the horizon and that if things ever get really bad they'll be sent to bail you out.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-13, 12:01 PM
Mm, these guys will largely be in their own unit. They might attach themselves to conventional units at specific times, and might lead conventional soldiers, but they're likely to be moving from place to place and acting on their own capacity.

In the case of tanks breaking through the lines, I figure the heroes have several advantages. Defences arranged against tanks don't really worry the heroes. They can scale tank traps and pits like gymnasts, and will notice laid artillery and anti-tank guns and evade them with their agility. Potentially, you could just drop a hero out of a plane behind the enemy lines, no parachute required, so they can subvert or make difficult all conventional defences (as anti-air defences are made to shoot parachutes, not sky-divers). Their ability to place themselves near to enemy infantry and make use of enemy bunkers gives them a huge advantage over an attacking tank, and their ability to focus most of the power of a tank into an infantryman gives them a huge combat advantage. In a straight fight, a hero can take on several tanks. In penetrating enemy defences and causing chaos, even against immaculate defences, you need very large contingent of tanks to match the ability of one hero (and while the hero may likely survive, you'll definitely lose a portion of your tanks attacking strong defences). Not to mention a hero can be transported at the cost of one plane, truck or train raid without the enemy realizing, whereas gathering a column of armour large enough to make a breakthrough could easily cause them to strength defences and defeat your attack. True that the heroes are somewhat irreplaceable, but not using them would be ignoring a tremendous resource.

Well, their ESP has some limitations, I figured. Namely being too vague and close range to simply make them a radar dish. A hero operating at artillery ranges would be less accurate than conventional methods, and might mistake your own men for targets. Trenches and bunkers still work just as well against heroic artillery as conventional artillery. Their intelligence and speed would make them good artillery officers, where they could adjust quickly and lay the shells as quick as anyone could, but it won't really be a spectacular advantage. It's similar for working as handlers. Those with particularly strong examples of ESP and/or weak examples of combat ability would likely be better suited for these roles, namely advisement to officers and as warning systems, but most heroes don't have ESP on a level that makes them game changers outside of the thick of things (most of it is just detecting nearby sources of electricity, or getting helpful prickly neck feelings).

What you describe for helping out in a pitched battle is what I imagined they'd do. Go to where the fighting is rough and support the troops. Once the enemy is broken up at the friendly soldiers are again in a good position, they'd move to the next area that needed their help, rather like air support. You could give them the option to split up and try to help several areas, potentially. Would be interesting to try and cover a battlefield this way. Now certainly, breaking up and distracting an enemy line in preparation for an allied attack is a lot riskier than their usual support duties, but I still figure they could be utilized for that purpose in times of need. They're a bit like the doppelsöldner, men with large swords who got double pay to break enemy pike formations. If it worked, it made all the difference in the world--though sometimes it didn't, and fatality rates were high even when it did work. Their chances wouldn't be quite that grim, yet the rewards involved all are the more extreme for the course of the war.

On this note, I ought to work out how the Übermensch will turn things in favour of the Axis. You could potentially go really extreme with him, where he's basically routing whole divisions single-handed, and forcing armoured columns to fall back. A mixture of being very tactically clever along with more intense powers. As a major feature to make him interesting, I planned on him being proficient in all major attributes common to heroes, but especially electrokinesis. If done right, you could build him up to be a great antagonist.

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-11-13, 12:50 PM
For fear of cause of rebellion, subjects in colonies showing signs of power were moved to Europe and made citizens with full rights

Britain is going to steamroll (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_India#British_Raj_.281858.E2.80.931947. 29) Germany.

(Assuming supers will be important in this setting.)

Mr. Mask
2015-11-13, 01:42 PM
Germany might be able to make use of Spanish and Austrian heroes in the first and second world wars, along with Italian and Japanese in the second, but it does seem like things are heavily against them (or, even at not, the massive scale of the first world war may've made heroes less important). Of course, in the first world war, that generation of heroes was less powerful, so that probably helped them.

If you go with German hero breeding programs giving them a hero advantage, that could help to balance the odds in their favour. There were some actual breeding programs to that nature, with cows and people, which were surprisingly successful. An interesting twist might be to have it that the Übermensch was not born of these experiments.

Honest Tiefling
2015-11-13, 01:46 PM
"Hello there, strange foreigner. I see you are working for the country that has enslaved, murdered, and poisoned many of your countrymen. Allow me to make you a counteroffer to fight them. Or shall I read 'The White Man's Burden' to you?"

Germany might not do that, but I can see someone getting the idea to yoink some of the people away from England using that tactic.

Mr. Mask
2015-11-13, 02:17 PM
True, Germany and all nations would be doing their best to steal/recruit supers (there might be some laws attempting to prevent this, treating them like national property, but they'll probably be overstepped). I can imagine Germany recruiting some Russian supers and turning them against Russia, just as they did with Bolsheviks.