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Sanctum: The Great War

by Clint Krause
Aug 01,2005


Sanctum: The Great War

by Clint Krause

This month, Clint Krause brings us Terror in the Trenches. There's plenty of zombie-ridden, pulpy goodness to be found herein, but the psychological costs of trench warfare shouldn't be over-looked. It's an interesting combination of flavors. Clint's the author of two indie games (the 3fold System and Don't Walk in Winter Wood) and an all-around stand up guy. Enjoy!

World War I was a bloody conflict that pitted the forces of the "triple alliance" of Germany, Austria, and Italy against the "triple entente" of France, England, and Russia (and later the United States). The globe-spanning nature of the war makes it a very dynamic time-period in which to set a one-shot Sanctum session or even an entire campaign. Player characters could run the gamut from dog fighting bi-plane aces to agents of espionage or rifle-toting trench poets.

During this conflict, the growing divide between military technology and tactics led to a slaughter the likes of which the world had never seen. The overall result of the military unbalance of the age was trench warfare: a never-ending orgy of destruction that exposed soldiers to suicidal offensives, chemical weapon attacks, and the relentless pounding of enemy artillery.

WWI games work best with a gritty, violent feel to them. This war was ugly and almost every piece of film or literature about the war reflects that. For an example, you should check out the classic WWI film "All's Quiet on the Western Front." Call of Cthulhu BRP or Unknown Armies would be ideal systems for this style of play as they can handle both gritty combat and insanity (such as shellshock) very easily.

Setting a game in the trenches is a bit tricky, but can be really interesting if you pull it off. A strong emphasis should be put on the insecurity and constant danger of the trenches. At any moment the enemy could mount a massive charge or an artillery shell could strike home. You might want to keep a troop of red shirts around, just so you can demonstrate the suddenness of death without having to put a machinegun round in a player-character's brainpan. Games set in the trenches should aim to create an atmosphere of tension and paranoia among the player characters. In the trenches, as in gaming, the difference between life and death often relies on nothing more than a roll of the dice.

The Cult of the War Angel

What if all the terror and destruction of the Great War were bi-products of the machinations of an evil, globe-spanning warlock cult?

The Cult of the War Angel is a particularly cunning cabal of warlocks who seek the extermination of all mankind. The "War Angel" could be any evil and malicious entity bent on world destruction. It could be some tentacle-bearing Lovecraftian monstrosity or a more traditional Judeo-Christian style demon. The important thing is that the War Angel is hell-bent on exploiting mankind's greatest flaw: the ability to murder their own kind. If the War Angel's agenda succeeds, humanity will be destroyed and demons will assume dominion over the Earth.

The Cult of the War Angel has been behind every major military conflict in human history, pulling strings and turning nations against each other. In the case of the Great War, the Cult is a secret supporter of the Serbian nationalist group called "The Black Hand," who assassinated Franz Ferdinand (the heir to the Austrian Empire) and started the chain reaction that ultimately led to the war. This war is on a greater scale than any previous human conflict; it seems that this may be the cult's greatest success! They are now dedicated to maintaining the war for as long as possible, goading humanity into suicide.

During the Great War, the War Angel is particularly strong and membership in its cult has swelled to immense proportions. Cultists can be found everywhere from the highest political offices all the way down to the lowliest soldier in the trenches. The cultists have no particular loyalty to any one country. Their agenda is simply to keep the war going until humanity ultimately destroys itself. The War Angel gifts its warlocks with the dark abilities of necromancy. War Angel warlocks should be insane, murderous, and obsessed with the darkest side of human nature.

Dietrich Schneider

Dietrich Schneider is a middle-aged German warlock. Before joining the Cult of the War Angel, Schneider was a general in the German Imperial army. His travels around the globe brought him into contact with the occult teachings of the War Angel and after his discharge from the army he rose quickly through the ranks of the cult, showing a natural talent for the dark arts. Schneider's current lair is located deep underground, beneath the no-mans-land that lies between the French and German trenches. Schneider's lair is guarded by a slew of dead soldiers that his henchmen (shell-shocked deserters of the armies above) gather from the battlefield for him to animate with his necromantic rites. The lair features a complex series of tunnels that allow Schneider and his henchmen to visit the surface occasionally
to gather new "recruits."

Zombie Soldiers

Schneider has gathered many fallen soldiers from the battlefield above his lair and animated them to serve as his personal entourage. These zombies are slow and clumsy but retain all of the weapons knowledge that they had in life. Schneider uses these zombies as sentries in his lair and he is capable of sending hordes of them after those who cross him.

The Erntemaschine

Of all Dietrich Schneider's undead creations, none is more deadly or more terrible than the Erntemaschine, a fifteen-foot tall undead golem fashioned from the body-parts of fallen soldiers. The Erntemaschine has no mind of its own and obeys Schneider's commands without fear or remorse. Schneider's plan is to eventually unleash the Erntemaschine on the surface, allowing it to wreak havoc on both sides of the battlefield, all the while advancing the ultimate goal of the War Angel. To better equip his creation for destruction, Schneider has mounted a German-made heavy machine gun into the creature's right arm, allowing it to shred its enemies with a hail of deadly bullets.

Misc. Cultists

The Cult of the War Angel has followers of all professions, nationalities, and ethnicities. The one thing that they all have in common is their fanatical devotion to the cult. If you'd like to work some moral ambiguity into your game, you might have the PCs deal with a group of cultists who were brainwashed against their will to be a part of the cult.


In this setting, Sanctum is a secret society that has opposed the Cult of the War Angel since ancient times. The organization is led by a council of seven elders and it's the elders who choose new recruits. Since the beginning of the Great War, the elders have been recruiting soldiers who have proven their bravery, skill, and heroism on the battlefield. In short, they are looking for the cream of the crop.

Troops could be recruited into Sanctum from whatever country you decide to have the player-characters come from (to best fit with the villains above, French or German characters would be ideal). To make things interesting, you might try having the Elders recruit troops from different nations (even enemies). The intent here is to have a sort of dirty-dozen-style team in which each member has his or her own specialty and is an expert at it. Here's a Pre-Fab Sanctum Squad...

The Hardened Vet

The Hardened Vet has been in the trenches as an infantryman since the beginning of the war. In the trenches, fate isn't kind to the weak or stupid; the Hardened Vet is neither. He has learned how to kill without thinking and to think without getting killed. He's seen every horror the war has too offer and he's damn sure that no cultist is going to rattle his chain. The Vet may be past his prime, but his experience is his greatest asset.

The Baron

The Baron was recruited for his skill as an ace bi-plane pilot. He's never been shot down and his fuselage is crowded with kill-marks. Enemy pilots speak his name in a worried whisper. The Baron promotes his mysterious persona by covering his face with his goggles and scarf at all times. Very few people have seen the Baron's face and no one has lived to tell about it.

The Infiltrator

Originally a spy for his home country, the Infiltrator is a master of disguise and subterfuge. The Infiltrator was recruited into Sanctum to help the team when they need to blend in with the locals. In addition to his knack for anonymity, he is a master linguist and can fluently speak many languages (that is, any that happen to show up in the game).

The Code Breaker

Before joining the Sanctum team, the Code Breaker was a blazingly successful intelligence officer. Unfortunately, his time spent in the trenches has left him shell-shocked and partially insane. He still excels at code breaking, but now he specializes in ciphers of a more arcane variety.

Plot Hooks

The Fissure - A strange earthquake has collapsed a trench into a cave system below the battlefield and several soldiers are missing. The Sanctum operatives are sent to investigate the caves and find the missing troops. What horrors will they find below ground? What force caused the earthquake?

A Traitor Among Us - A deserter was recently caught trying to steal the bodies of his fallen trench-mates. Who is this traitor and what does he want with the bodies? Furthermore, what's that strange tattoo on the palm of his hand?

Undying Assault - The player-characters' trench is attacked head-on by a platoon of zombie soldiers! As a seemingly endless stream of the undead begins to besiege the trench, the troops are horrified and begin to talk about deserting. Where did these creatures come from and why did they attack? Can they be stopped?

The Beast from Below - The Erntemaschine has gone haywire and destroyed its master's underground lair! The creature is now going on an indiscriminate killing spree. Unfortunately for our heroes, the only one who knows the spell to bind the creature is the warlock Dietrich Schneider. Will Sanctum work together with a warlock to stop this beast?

Next Stop: The hallowed halls of St. Rychen's Academy to enroll with Generation Hex! TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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