GURPS WWII Capsule Review by Royce Day on 14/01/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
GURPS WWII is a reasonably complete overview of a tremendously complex historical period.
Product: GURPS WWII
Author: Gene Seabolt
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: 208
Year published: 2001
SKU: SJG02995 8001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Royce Day on 14/01/02
Genre tags: Modern day
For some reason or another, the Second World War has been a neglected subject in the field of RPG's. Aside from FASA's long forgotten "Behind Enemy Lines", and the Champions supplement "Golden Age Champions" it has been for the most part soundly ignored by RPG designers, and left to the imaginations of wargame designers and creators of computer flight sims. Perhaps in the early days of gaming, so soon after Vietnam, and in the face of an entrenched WWII board game community, didn't think it would be that popular.
Recently this has begun to change. The success of "Saving Private Ryan" seems to have woken up the RPG community to the idea that today's gamers might find the war fought by their fathers and grandfathers a viable subject for gaming. The first of the new games have injected an element of the fantastic into the proceedings, from supernatural horror to Japanese styled mecha. Steve Jackson's entry into the field however, chooses to concentrate on GURPS' strength as a realistic system and leave the fantastic to their other supplements.
GURPS WWII is divided into seven major sections: A quick overview of the entire war, a description of the societies of the major combatants, a series of templates covering the major specialization's of soldiery during the war, a chapter of equipment, weapons and vehicles, yet another quick and dirty vehicle design system, a chapter on campaigning, and finally a specialized version of GURPS Lite.
The first chapter, The World at War, is a very quick (34 pages) summary of the major events and battles of the war, including a fast overview of WWI and how the errors there led to the rise of the fascist states and the second "War to End All Wars". Despite it's brevity, it does manage to cover all the major fronts. It won't replace a proper history of the war (several of which are listed in the bibliography), but it will give people whose knowledge of WWII begins and ends with John Wayne movies a place to start their research. Further supplements are planned by SJGames for their WWII line, which will probably flesh out the history in specific theaters and time periods.
The second chapter, The Combatants, examines the components that make up a World War II army, from squad level all the way up to divisions and army corps. From there it goes on to look at the nations of Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan, and Russia. Each nation's particular cultural outlook, from basic training, to unit tactics, to intelligence services is given a brief overview. The last part of this section, The World at a Glance, is a gazetteer the remaining nations that participated in the war, the combatants they fielded, and how many military and civilian casualties the individual nations suffered.
Chapter Three, Characters, provides the usual templates for creating soldierly characters, from riflemen to aviators, commandos to medics. In a twist to the usual template process, the all have the designers choose from a list of "national" advantages and disadvantages, to create characters that reflect the common image (or stereotype if you prefer) of a soldier from a particular nation. In addition, there is also a rank table for the Axis and Allied combatants. Also, two new skills are added, Operations (for determining how to maintain and execute plans), and Soldier (a nice catchall skill for soldier who are performing routine duties that don't require in-depth knowledge, like how to properly dig a foxhole without the Engineering (Combat) skill). The skills of Tactics and Strategy are also given a re-write, to reflect their increased importance in this setting.
Chapter Four, The Armory, handles weapons and equipment. Not being a fanatical WWII buff, I can't say whether they left out any major war winning equipment. I can say that there is a four page, very closely written list of just non--combat equipment, and a very long table of pistols, rifles, machine-guns, cannons, and pretty much every other weapon that can carried by a man, along with accompanying footnotes.
The last section of The Armory is labeled The Motor Pool, and covers some of the more common combat vehicles used in the war. Here is where I began to have some issues with the book. Aside from the 'must-have' vehicles, like the Jeep, the Sherman Tank, and the Panzer IV, we also are given no less than six different fighter planes (the Mustang, Zero, ME-109, F4U Corsair, IL-2 Shturmovik, and the Stuka), along with the PBY Catalina flying boat. The inclusion of the Catalina is obvious from a gaming standpoint, as it's the perfect transport for PC's going on a commando mission. However, given that the write-ups are also supposed to demonstrate creating a real-world vehicle using the Vehicle Design System in the next chapter, it seems strange that there wasn't at least a PT boat included to give an example of a naval vessel.
Chapter 5, WWII Vehicles, was the most contentious when the original contents of GURPS WWII were announced on the SJGames web site. Many subscribers pointed out that, given the scope of the war, the thirty-eight pages devoted to the design system might easily be used to either add more historical background, or more pre-made vehicles, leaving the design system for a future supplement in the GURPS WWII line. Contention aside, the chapter is in the book, and for whatever it's worth, it does seem to work. A designer will have to fudge considerably to bring any historical vehicle he designs towards something resembling its real world vital statistics, but for designing purely fanciful TL6 vehicles it does work well. There are even options to design vehicles with leg drive trains (if not arms), and modern combat zeppelins for those who really want them.
Chapter 6, Move Out, covers setting up a campaign set during the war. There's a mature discussion over the levels of grittyness that a GM might want to consider, from the grimly realistic to Hollywood action fantasies, and whether such extremely sensitive topics such as the Holocaust or the internment of Japanese-Americans should be addressed in the course of a game. There's also a discussion of what the Home Front in various nations (focusing on the US, which was the furthest form the actual fighting), Resistance movements in countries closer to the fighting, and ideas for crossover campaigns ranging from Supers, to Time Travel, to Fantasy, to Space.
The last chapter is devoted to GURPS Lite, a streamlined version of the standard GURPS ruleset. It's focused on what's needed directly for a WWII campaign, so the discussion of Tech Levels ends and TL 6, and the entire section on magic has been deleted. Nevertheless it is useful for introducing GURPS to gamers who may be interested in WWII, but not familiar with RPGs.
In conclusion, aside from some odd choices in the sample vehicles, GURPS WWII is a good starting point for gamers who want to explore the critical period of the Twentieth Century.