Wednesday, June 19, 2013

War Games

I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned my interest and fascination with war and most things military in general...this despite being a real world anti-war conscientious objector type. I know…it’s a weird dichotomy that some might even perceive as hypocritical. I don’t. I can distinguish between doing violence to others in real life (“bad”) versus historically (“bad” but not much we can do except try to learn from our mistakes) versus in fiction and gaming (“good” and “fun” so long as it doesn’t carry over into real life).

Just to reiterate (from past posts): I don’t think humans are naturally violent, conflict-driven individuals. Sorry, I don’t. I know it can appear that way if one simply looks at the breadth of human history with a superficial eye (based on the murder and atrocity we’ve committed on each other over the years). But to write it off as “human nature” is ignoring the reasons behind the trends and trivializing the lives and choices of individual humans (you can reduce folks to “numbers” and “stats” and “trends” but within the mind of each person you’ll find someone who thinks of themselves as plenty unique and snowflake special with their own motivations for action).

ANYway…for whatever reason, I’m “into” war…as far as reading about it or watching films or the History Channel or playing games. I don’t think I’m sick or wrong in the head (I’m sure that most people who enjoy horror movies aren’t hoping to end up in a real life terror situation). It’s just how I tick. I don’t think I get it from my father…he liked old John Wayne war films but didn’t otherwise collect or research military history. No other family members or mentor-types in my life have shared this interest (and thus passed it on to me). And while I once upon a time (pre-college) considered enlisting in the military (or at least ROTC), I long ago decided (again pre-college) that the possibility of killing people…whether in defense of my self or my country…really wasn’t something I wanted to dance with.

[I did put up a new American flag outside my house ‘round about Memorial Day, but that was more about my old flag being completely old and ratty, then any particular celebration]

But whatever…the “mystery of me” is something for me to unravel myself. The game-related part of this post is that I’ve been thinking a lot (again) about running a military-style RPG…either at my table or at the upcoming Dragonflight convention…and it has nothing to do with Raggi’s Better Than Any Man 30 Year War subject matter.

[though I should also have pointed out earlier that I my interest in warfare is as eclectic as any of other interests…I’m interested in ancient, medieval, colonial, modern, whatever warfare…I’m not just devoted to, say, The Crusades or the American Civil War]

Nope, as with most of my brain tangents, my inspiration stems from recently viewed films…and nothing as high-falutin’ as Saving Private Ryan. No, the films (both of which I’ve seen in the last week) include the following cinematic masterpieces:

Red Dawn and Predator

Feel free to offer up your ridicule.

But as I said, I’m talking fun and fictional…I know “war is hell” and all that. The only place for it (as far as I’m concerned) IS in fiction, and in fiction one can make light of the subject matter. Is it offensive to someone that I’d like a game that pits an American mercenary team against a light-bending alien? Or that I’d offer a war game scenario that proposes a joint Russian-Cuban invasion of the American Midwest? Sorry…sometimes I’m prone to whimsy. 

War example of "whimsy"
To the subject matter at hand: some folks might say these films aren’t really “war movies” in the traditional sense of the term (Red Dawn is more of a survivalist fantasy-come-true and Predator is a straight-up monster film), but for MY purposes they both represent ideal scenarios for war-themed RPGs. Why? A couple reasons:

-        Both feature a small group of protagonists on relatively equal footing (i.e. the prototypical merry band of player characters).
-        Both have a compartmentalized setting (they only deal with small piece of the war rather than the whole damn theater of action).

Something like the Battle of the Bulge or Gettysburgh or the 2nd Crusade is really outside the scope of your average role-playing game…which is probably why games where some huge-ass war is the centerpiece (like Star Wars or Dragon Lance) seem to fail so often as RPGs.

[the Star Wars thing is not up for debate in this post, by the way]

You can re-run military campaigns using ACTUAL war games, but RPGs are for smaller scale actions, with more immediate stakes, and a more personal interest in the challenges at hand. Both these films…if used for scenario material…puts these things on the forefront:

Red Dawn: small group of high school kids with no military training must strike back at the invaders who’ve taken over their small town in Michigan, figuring out how to work as a cohesive guerilla unit.

Predator: small squad of veteran mercs must rely on their skills and training to survive an otherworldly menace with superhuman abilities.

Both adventure scenarios offer very specific and unique situations/challenges. The teenagers really have no advantage except knowledge of the terrain and their foes underestimation of their courage and bravado. The mercs have plenty of skills, weapons, and explosives but fight against a superior foe with a significant technological edge. However, as a mini-campaign (Red Dawn) or one-off scenario (Predator) both provide ample room for both role-playing (yay!) and getting your (virtual) gun off (double yay!).

Of course, they each require a separate game systems to really do ‘em justice.

For Red Dawn, I’d adapt Twilight 2000 to the American Midwest (or Northwest…you’ll note I’m talking about the 1986 film not the 2012 remake set in Spokane, WA which I haven’t seen but which has been universally panned in all the reviews I’ve read. The Pacific NW has a lot of the same environmental conditions one might find conducive to a Red Dawn-type scenario, though I’d probably use Ellensburg or Moses Lake over “Spoka-Vegas”). Twilight 2000 has just enough info to be useful to a small-scale, modern war filled with non-traditional troops “drafted from the countryside” as it were. Sure, there’d be some necessary adjustments, but not many…ESPECIALLY if you considered the invaders to be a Soviet Red Army or even the Chinese and the PCs to be American freedom fighters armed only with the AK-47s and RPGs they could steal off their communist opponents (21st century weaponry has surpassed much of the US hardware listed in the 1st edition of TL2K). Besides, a Cold War era RPG for a Cold War era premise? That’s only fitting. Heck, maybe I’d set the scenario in 1986 anyway.

Character generation for PCs would, of course, have to be abbreviated since none of them would have any formal military training. I might limit the age of the PCs, too (real-life adults would only make an appearance as NPCs or opponents).

For Predator, I would of course use Palladium’s Revised Recon. Every time I see that film I think immediately of RR (at least, ever since I picked up a used copy a couple years back). As I’ve written before, the tough part really is converting the predator alien to Recon stats, because even though it is relatively easy to model using Rifts or Heroes Unlimited, RR uses a completely different system than any other Palladium game system. No SDC or HPs for example. Ability scores are based on a percentile roll (instead of a 3D6) and damage is deducted from a character’s “strength” score (reminiscent of Boot Hill…or more like Star Frontiers, really).

The conversion’s actually pretty sticky, now that I roll it around in my head. I DON’T just want to make the predator monster into “a tougher soldier,” and many of the super-powers found in HU would be incredibly appropriate…except that they use a different (non-percentile based) system. I suppose I could adapt HU to RR…bend light reducing shooting and alertness rolls by 85% instead of requiring a D20 roll of 18+, for example. But some things (like A.R.) just don’t really adapt well. Still, if a conversion could be done, a one-off session one could model pretty much the entire Predator film in a number of set-piece scenes. And it would be totally fun to write-up all the individual soldiers in Dutch’s team as pre-gen characters using the Revised Recon rules. Now THAT’s something I could take to the Dragonflight Con.

Hmmm…more on this later. I need to get home, but (internet willing) I might have something more to post about this tonight or tomorrow. Hasta la vista!
; )

[Post-Script Note: I ended up not posting this till this morning due to a Mariners game that went 10 innings and churned out a win...followed by me crashing about two minutes after my boy. Yes...I caught the nail-biting end of the Spurs-Heat game six down at Chuck's Hop Shop as well. I will get back to the war gaming brainstorm eventually]


  1. Didn't Revised Recon include a conversion for the Palladium house system? I thought it did. Anyway, I used to own the original Recon, which was where the percentile-stat system came from. I don't know what happened to my copy over the years.

  2. My copy of Revised Recon does not. The Rifts Conversion Book states there is conversion info in Revised Recon 2nd Edition; so perhaps I have the 1st edition of the book.

    This may be inaccurate but I believe "Recon" was originally a miniatures-based table-top war game, and "Revised Recon" was the first stab at turning the war game into an RPG...however, it was written prior to Palladium getting their "universal system" groove on (same as the Palladium RPG, for example).

  3. The fourth printing from1989 has the minis rules included. I have them as a PDF in my google drive.

    It does appear that the game was originally a tabletop game that was expanded into an RPG.

  4. As I recall, it was written in terms that made it a roleplaying game (it came as a couple of black books in a boxed set), though it concentrated on the combat rules. It required a referee to play, and it was labeled on the front of the box as a "roleplaying game".

  5. Not a fan of Basic Roleplaying? An Italian publisher sells (sold?) a booklet converting Aliens to Basic (the original version of Basic; the small booklet) and in game it works pretty well. Pretty fast, and lethal.

  6. @ Antonio:

    I DO like BRP as a system for some settings. But for an
    80s style special forces team (like the one in Predator) I think the Recon system is razor-focused.

    Just saying.
    ; )