This month is Military Month on a Character for Every Game. Since the beginning of the RPG industry, the military was home to a lot of gamers for whatever reason. In turn this meant that a lot of the early RPGs that moved out of the Dungeons & Dragons mold were of a military bent. For the duration of the month, with a few exceptions, I’m going to focus on characters for military RPGs, and my Monday lists will have a military RPG theme to them.
Military gaming has a distinct appeal in that the whole game is typically mission-based – as the Game Master you don’t have to provide a real “reason” or “hook” for the PCs to get involved – instead you just give them orders or a mission briefing and send them on their way. The other appeal to the mass market is from players looking for something more “realistic” than classic D&D. And some of the military games went out of their way to be heavy modern combat simulations, with combat systems so complex that playability and fun often became the first victims to this hunt for realism.
And of course, military RPGs let the gun fetishists run free.
Here are the top five military RPGs I played “back in the day”.
T2K was my introduction to milsim games (until then, I got my firearms fix through Top Secret).Through three editions now, this is the game of world war III soldiers surviving behind enemy lines after the war was for all intents and purposes over. The world half-destroyed through a limited nuclear exchange, the characters start the game as members of a US led coalition stuck deep inside Poland when it was wiped out by a Soviet tank army that was supposed to be located on the Soviet / China front, not in the heart of the Western Front.
One of the few (only?) Palladium books to not use the Palladium house system, Recon was also the first entry on the market I was aware of that focused specifically on the Vietnam War. As a Canadian, I learned most of what I knew about the Vietnam war through this game. Unlike the rest of the Palladium offerings, the lethality of this game was much higher than most other RPGs on the market, with explosives being particularly nasty (anyone within a certain range was instantly killed, no save as they say).
I seem to have a nearly complete set of Fantasy Games Unlimited products, and MERC was one of the ones I only actually played significantly later than when I bought it. Merc is interesting on two fronts. 1. it puts a lot of emphasis on character “voice” – the ability to be heard, understood and obeyed on the battlefield. This is a vital stat in game when team members are supressed or otherwise unable to go through with what is needed. 2. It introduced a hit location system where you used a body template and a clear hit template that went over it and then moved the hit template around based on the to hit die roll to determine what body part was struck. This came back out in the more recent Aces & Eights western RPG and even made an appearance as the vehicle combat rules in the late first edition of Rogue Trader / Warhammer 40k. However, like a lot of games from it’s era, Merc feels quite bare-bones overall.
I don’t know what possessed anyone to write a game this incredibly complex. Seriously, you got shot in location XXX (roll d1000), which in turn has you check the armor rating of your wrist watch, and then the hit table indicates what internal organs are hit by the attack in what order… Even worse, I have no clue what possessed myself, Jim and Marcus to play this for a whole summer. We used every single optional rules booklet and weapon, every enhanced hit location and combat effects chart, and pulled out adventures from Recon and Delta Force (a milsim game that we never played, but that I still own for whatever reason).
After an abortive attempt at a Mechwarrior game, we pulled out the Robotech RPG by Palladium in 1987. Several of us had watched one or more of the Robotech TV series and the game gave us the best of both worlds – military characters in alien environments, and giant transforming robots to run amok in! The first campaign we played was a classic Veritech Fighter game like the original Macross TV series. The second one was far more rewarding though – after thouroughly learning the system we started over with level one destroid pilots holding the fort in out at Mars base. We only actually were in our giant fighting robots about every second session, and then only for the big fight scenes – most of the game involved dealing with micronized Zentraedi spies, politics, and rebuilding the RDF presence on Mars with limited hardware.
What were your favourite adventures into milsim gaming? What games clicked for you and which ones didn’t? Was it mechanics or setting that played the trick?