Random RPG Thoughts #15: World War I RPG

It's November 11th. At the 11th hour, this day 94 years ago, WWI ended for many countries. For some it did not. For some historians it was no more than the start of a twenty-one year armistice in a prolonged war between Germany and much of the rest of the world.

In my country we don't remember this day. My country (the Netherlands) was what is called neutral. All our direct neighbours, UK, Germany, and Belgium, all were in the Great War. They do remember.
And it always gets me thinking... could you capture the feel of this war in an enjoyable RPG?

Are you Serious? A WWI RPG??
Yep, I am. As far as I know, there is no successfull attempt at an WWI RPG as of yet. Unless you count Call of Cthulhu variants, where the battlefields are infested with ghouls and unspeakable horrors of another kind. And you might argue that the Great War was highly un-enjoyable, and so not fit for a Role Playing Game.

Yet, we do have games about horror, we even have spying and post-apocalyptic military role playing games... why not a WWI RPG? It does not need to be pro-militarist at all. It could be pacifist in spirit.
Death rates might not have to be a problem either. They aren't in DCC, nor were they in old old school games, nor in CoC. A highly random death rate might even add to the fatalistic feel, combined with an "every day that we live counts" mentality. Your epitaph, or farewell letter might also work out as a special part of the character.

Experimental Storytelling in WWI?
You could even do the story backward. Start with the epitaph, then do the dying scene, then do what went on before, in scenes back to where the war started. It would demand a special sort of role playing, but if Pinter can do it in Betrayal, or Nolen can do something likewise in Memento, why couldn't we? Reverse story telling. And we as a player know how it will end.

Or another way to give it more connection is by introducing something like "the Angel of the Battlefield", where you as a player are an angel, following all sorts of souls during the war, each time up to their point of death. And when the die, you pass to another, perhaps even on another front, or at another point in the war. Or hey, maybe the hero you follow stays alive? That would be cool too.

I'm sure I'll get myself to writing it in due time. My question is, would any of you like it? Are you at least intrigued by the idea? Don't be shy. Let me know.


  1. I don't know why there isn't anyone tackling this. This is ground that is ripe for the taking. We're talking about a time period where the calvary still rode horses and caried lances and sabres while, at the same time, industialisation gave us mechanized tanks, airplanes, machine guns and chemical warfare. Not to mention the distinctions of a caste system that still existed within the ranks between the aristocracy and the common soldiers. There is one book I would suggest reading, that is "The General" by C.S. Forester.

    1. I very much agree! The combination between old and new, emperors and airships, and knights in aeroplanes, makes it a very intriguing mix. Thanks for the tip on Forester. Didn't realize he did more than Hornblower :-)

  2. There is also fertile ground for a steampunk rpg set in WWI. Technomancy is an often unused magical/scientific crossover that I think suits WWI very well. I had sort of an idea for a game like that.

  3. Search "dieselpunk"
    It makes for a better WW1 setting than steampunk does.
    Make the combat system(I.e. the die) simple to increase the brutality and futility feeling of the "Great" war.
    Trenches make excellent choke points, so when your in them, you get defensive bonuses.