War: What Is It Good For? In RPGs? Plenty!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not really one for Military role-playing games, not because I don't enjoy the genre, but the games associated with it tend to have obsessively crunchy combat rules and something of a gun fetish. All those stat blocks look alike to me. I'm not a gun person at all. And then there's the chain of command that tends to get in the way of role-playing fun (with players or NPCs having too much control over others). But if Inglourious Basterds reminded us of anything (and before that, movies like The Dirty Dozen), it's that the genre can be tweaked to do a heck of a lot more than Band of Brothers simulations (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Basterds, though it had a clear commander in Brad Pitt, is a lot more like an "adventuring party" than most units. Off on their own, chasing orc scalps and finding their way into all manner of crazy missions. The military uniform code means little to them and they might employ all manner of weapons, tactics and personnel recruited from other countries. That tells me you can run war stories with practically any system, and the level of crunch that's right for you. And once I got that thought into my head, it opened a lot of possibilities...

Declare war!
You've already got a game going in some game world out there. It could be fantasy, science fiction or even superheroes. Then, war breaks out! This could be an awesome test of your characters' mettle! A chance for heroics or for getting some physical or psychological scars, a refreshing temporary(?) upending of the status quo, and more trouble than your players can keep up with.
The draft! Unless the PCs are the types to volunteer, instituting a draft would create an instant myrmidon campaign where not everyone is a professional soldier. WWII and Vietnam movies are full of examples of roguish or incompetent archetypes causing trouble within a unit. Alternately, many adventures could be had around the idea of dodging the draft. Of course, some campaigns have the characters already enrolled in some military or intelligence unit.

Special ops! PCs tend to be highly skilled, highly motivated individuals perfect for dangerous, and dare I say suicidal, missions. These smaller groups are the perfect size for most role-playing groups and provide a wide variety of adventure types. Like the Basterds or Torchwood, they could be Black Ops and get to set their own agendas for sandbox games. The same goes for...

Vive la Résistance! The PCs don't have to be enlisted men and women to suffer the pains of war. Their patch of ground could be invaded, forcing them to mount an underground resistance, turning the tide of war from the inside. There are plenty of role models in history and fiction, from ze French to the Bajorans to Luke Skywalker and friends.

On the fringe! Nomadic campaigns could prove problematic because PCs are unlikely to have an attachment to whatever land they're in, but declaring war while they're behind the lines can be a truly harrowing experience. Borders close, checkpoints are posted, and both sides might fire at them. Do they keep their neutrality or throw in with one side or the other? What will they have to do to get out of the area? How far are they willing to go?

Bottom line: War is a chaotic thing full of role-playing opportunities whether it's anguishing over the death of that Substitute Super-Legionnaire, sniping at kobolds off parapets, stealing German secrets from under the Fuhrer's mustache, or soldiering on in gritty battles against the Chigs, Kafers, Shadows, Storm Troopers or Jem'Hadar. Make the best of an inglourious time.



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