GURPS WWII: Iron Cross
GURPS WWII: Iron Cross Capsule Review by Funksaw on 22/08/02
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
A comprehensive look at Germany from the Weimar Republic to the Nuremberg Trials, Iron Cross reads more like a textbook than a role-playing suppliment. However, it reads like a very good textbook...
Product: GURPS WWII: Iron Cross
Author: Gene Seabolt
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Line: GURPS WWII
Page count: 128
Year published: 2002
SKU: SJG02295 8003
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Funksaw on 22/08/02
Genre tags: Historical
This review was originally scheduled to be published in Gaming Dispatch. Due to the Gaming Dispatch delay, the author has chosen to post the review here, removing it from consideration in Gaming Dispatch, while the material is still topical.
Nazi. The name itself used to simply be the nickname of the National Socialist party of the Weimar Republic. Hitler and history have turned it into a vile curse and the ultimate shame upon a nation. GURPS: WWII - Iron Cross: Nazi Germany and its Forces details the path of Germany’s damnation and it’s degeneration from a prosperous new center of culture to Hell on Earth.
Part of the GURPS: World War II series, Iron Cross is an in depth look WWII Germany, with emphasis placed on Hitler’s rise to power, the history of the war as seen by the German point of view, the role of the non-military German in Nazi life, the German military personnel, both on the fronts and it’s role in civilian society, the German military armory, the Nazi government, and the Holocaust.
The book itself reads more like a textbook than a typical roleplaying supplement. However, this is one of those few cases where such an approach is crucial to delivering the necessary information to portray a culture almost completely alien to the contemporary gamer. It is organized in a concise, thorough manner, and although due to page constraints, is regrettably not enough to get a full picture of all of Nazi Germany, presents enough information to serve as a quick guide to Nazi “kultur.”
The first section, “Germany at War” provides a quick overview to the European Theatre of WWII, primarily from the German viewpoint. Careful to keep separate what Hitler, his generals, the men on the lines, and the average German citizen knew, this section details how WWII was lost.
Starting from the days of unification and Bismark’s Realpolitik, and ending with the trials at Nuremburg, the first half of this section is a brief overview of German history and culture before the war, with a focus on those cultural mores, traditions, and axioms of the German people that led to the ascendancy of the Third Reich. Though this particular subject can, and has, been the subject of tomes of material (often of highly differing viewpoints!) Seabolt does a more than admirable job of condensing the crucial details into a few pages of the space-strained supplement, both refreshing those familiar with the material as well as informing the uninformed.
The second half details the rise of Hitler and his push towards conquering Europe, as well as the fatal mistakes he made in attempting to do so. It examines the motives of Hitler and his generals (aside from madness and megalomania) in deciding which specific goals they would try to achieve, and why they failed to meet them. It details the infighting among Hitler’s advisors, and shows a portrait of a madman slipping away into the delusions of his own manufactured deification propaganda as he murdered some, left others to starve, sent millions to die in war, and refused, even at the end, to admit his damnation in both the literal and figurative sense to himself.
Section Two, “The German Army,” deals with the German army of WWII, giving all the myriad details that a high-simulationist GM would desire. It includes details on the lines of command, the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, and Kriegsmarine, detailing the life of the typical low ranking soldier living life dying to fulfill his small part in Hitler’s mad plan. Furthermore, it gives information and statistics on all the arms and equipment of the period, and although heavy reading, provides the most detail you’ll find on German arms in a roleplaying supplement. It sacrifices fluidity for realism, and even provides some useful, (though admittedly highly specific,) tables for allocating armor, and determining what kinds of Panzers to expect to encounter in specific fronts and specific years of the war. The final part of this section is a quick overview of exactly who was responsible for what in Hitler’s ranks – including a biography of the notorious high command and other Germans who had Hitler’s ear. Statistics are not provided – although Adolph Hitler’s statistics can be found in the Who’s Who series of GURPS books.
Section three, “Characters,” should be familiar to anyone who has picked up a GURPS supplement (including the WWII core rulebook) in format. It is a bit of a departure from the soldier-focused core rules found in GURPS WWII in that it not only provides templates on elite German soldiers like the submariner. Gestapo agents, and the combat-experienced veterans of the Eastern Front, but also the people of Germany, from the Volkssturmmann (People’s Army Soldier – a civilian Home Guard) to the Hitler Youth and the Hausfrauen who looked after them.
This section also redescribes several advantages and disadvantages touched upon in WWII’s core rulebook to redefine their applicability in a German war campaign, sometimes altering the “original” version of the advantage or disadvantage pretty severely. For example, characters with Jewish features (including a circumcised penis, a concentration camp tattoo, or simply “looking Jewish”) may be considered to have the “Unnatural Feature” disadvantage - usually reserved for fantasy or sci-fi campaigns to represent something with a feature that’s inhuman, like green skin or elves’ ears - used here to portray the Reich’s racial intolerance and emphasis on race politics, as well as the high consequences of not “fitting in.”
The fourth section, “The German Armory” is an in-depth look at the German weaponry, including small arms detail of a similar nature to GURPS High Tech and an expansion of the modular vehicle building rules found in the WWII core. There are several examples of real German vehicles designed with the system – mostly tanks, planes, boats, and some utility vehicles. Appreciation of this section is determined mostly by what type of gamer you are – simulationist gamers may appreciate the detail, whereas more laisez-faire gamers will most likely look at the photos, read the general description of the vehicle, and move on. Gamers will typically feel similarly towards this section as they did towards the corresponding section in the WWII core or GURPS Vehicles.
The fifth section, “Inside the Third Reich” is lain out in a similar manner as the first chapter, detailing the life of the German citizen in the police state that was Nazi Germany. With details on the NSDAP, (National Socialist German Labor Party / Nazi Party,) the Nazi police and court system, the economy of the Reich, and the city of Berlin itself, this will be most useful to roleplayers attempting to get into the mindset of Depression & Wartime Germany. In contrast, the second half of the section, dealing with the POW and concentration camps, is useful for realizing how deeply the German travesties went. Finally, the chapter ends with discussion of Germany as battleground as the Russians and Anglo-American armies advanced.
The final section, “Campaigns,” details multiple campaigns – mostly dealing with Nazis as player characters. Most of these tend towards the “Gritty Realism” aspect of the campaign – one can feel empathetic for the characters in “Das Boot,” because of their flawed humanity and the very real fear of death they constantly lived under. A couple suggestions for campaigns, “The Aryan Elite” and “Faceless Foes” may offend some players sheerly out of subject matter – the former deals with a “real-life cinematic” campaign based on Nazi aces and “heroes” that Germany seemed to have a monopoly on during the war, and the latter presents a slapshtick version of the Nazis that would make even Col. Klink blush. The matter is handled as tastefully and tactfully as the subject allows – the Nazis were not tasteful and tactful people in real life. Several “Alternate Reality” campaigns were discussed, including the obligatory “What if the Nazi’s Won WWII” campaign, as well as discussing German inventions that could have changed history had they leapt off the drawing board and into the production lines, or had simply been used earlier in the war.
A list of references and an index rounds out the book, which clocks in at 128 pages, softcover, black & white interior, monotone Grey-Green exterior. With a $22.95 sticker price, it results in a page cost of $0.17.
The book itself provides plenty of material for GMs to use Nazis for whatever genres, styles, games, and stories on them that have appeared in post-1933 literature. Those looking for a comic version of the Nazis as cannon fodder won’t find it in this book, however, and the emphasis of the book is quite clearly on the war – the GURPS WWII series is focused on warfare.
As an interesting quirk, there was a conscious decision to avoid using references to the GURPS Basic Set or Compendia, instead preferring to reference the GURPS WWII core book – as a result, the supplement can be used by GURPS players with no need to pick up the WWII core book, or by WWII players who do not own the Basic Set. Iron Cross comes with no core rules systems of it’s own, although a compatible version of GURPS Lite may be downloaded from the Steve Jackson Games website.
The material in Iron Cross is mostly history and setting, and may be used with any system, however there are several sections specific to GURPS itself. The many vehicles, for example, and many of the templates will most likely be most appreciated by GURPS or GURPS WWII players. Regardless of system preference, it is interesting reading on the Third Reich, and history buffs and students looking for cliff notes to wartime history will actually find this an ample substitute for more “serious” books on the world’s worst empire.
Gear Krieg and various WWII themed miniatures games in particular will benefit from this supplement, and it may even be a worthwhile companion or replacement for the (as of this review) unreleased Godlike supplement Will to Power.
Caveats and Failures:
Of course, it’s controversial to write any book on the Nazis, it’s even more controversial to make a game out of it. Such a subject is not for everyone. Some people might think that the information on the Holocaust was too sparse, others, too emphasized. The book alternates between painting a picture of the “flawed human” soldier who followed orders because he had little choice, and the inhuman monsters-in-real-life who lived and died for der Führer. In the end, however, as both types of men existed, so both are discussed in the book.
I personally thought not enough emphasis was placed on the Weimar Republic, and the von Papen administration – it does not do to discuss Hindenburg at length as the man who gave Hitler the keys to power, without discussing von Papen in similar detail – the man who created the power in the first place. The culture and economy of the Weimar years, I think, should have been given a more prominent role in both explaining Hitler’s rise to power and providing another setting for adventures to take place in – with it, the book may have fit in better with many other GURPS products, including Cliffhangers, Alternate Earths, and Steampunk.
An unforgivable failure is the artwork, both on the cover, and between the pages – all artwork is based off of photos of the time, and these photos, instead of being published as-is, were altered, probably using a Adobe Photoshop filter too called “Poster Edges” or “Posterize.” The end result is a lack of detail, contrast, and depth – at best this can be distracting, at worst, it destroys the critical detail on tanks, weaponry, personalities, and setting of the time that most historical games provide. With the exception of a single line-art map, all images in the book have this same filter applied on them – since the same effect is used on the core rulebook, I think it can be assumed that all the books in the line will use this effect on the imagery. Whatever one may say about the filter’s aesthetic effects, it is said without question that an image printed in 256 shades of grey will capture more detail and more information than one printed in 4 shades of grey. For some, this will mean that the book loses some of it’s most important value – painting a picture of Nazi Germany – in this case, literally. The WWII themed Superheroes game Godlike uses a similar filter on it's artwork, only there the detail is slightly better preserved.
GURPS – WWII: Iron Cross is a comprehensive look at Germany from the Weimar Republic to the Nuremburg Trials. Although it reads more like a textbook than a role-playing supplement at points, it makes a very informative game – or, if someone is so inclined, it makes a very good textbook that just happens to mention a little thing called GURPS in it. It sticks to it’s goals of presenting the Third Reich as it was, and although it suffers from the flaws inherent to the source material which is, by nature, controversial, it still is a welcome addition to anyone interested in WWII and it’s combatants. The artwork is sub-par, even for a typical GURPS supplement, but for those interested in the material, this flaw may be negligible.