Designer's Notes: GURPS WWII: Hand of Steel

by Shawn Fisher

An Alternate History for GURPS WWII

The original, and much shorter, blurb was written for GURPS WWII: Hand of Steel, but playtesters suggested it belonged in the designer notes, so here it is. The basis for this is a campaign I ran for several years. It was inspired by several sources, including a few of Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmissions, the Call of Cthulhu vignette in GURPS High Tech, the original In Nomine game and its GURPS conversion notes, and several old comic books that I can't remember the names of anymore. In addition, I might add that a good bit of it is based on real history, such as the real Sanger orbital bomber, or Himmler's own disturbing occult ramblings (such as an SS priesthood). Recently, alternate World War II products have suddenly come out in force. Pagan Publishing's Delta Green (and more recently, Godlike), Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine, Dream Pod 9's Gear Krieg, and Fat Messiah Games' Hard Vacuum have all hit the shelves. Fiction in this area includes such excellent reads as Robert Harris's Fatherland and the various Harry Turtledove novels. Even PC games, like Return to Castle Wolfenstein, are cashing in on the phenomenon.

If you've been keeping up with all this, you'll see right where this article is heading. I like to call all of this Panzerpunk.

The Backstory

When Hitler takes charge of Germany in 1933, he puts Albert Speer in charge right away to build the infrastructure and industries necessary to feed his military machine. He also charges Himmler with finding something useful in all that Nazi occultism (see Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's The Occult Roots of Nazism).

Speer handily chooses to put the Third Reich science in the deft hands of Werner von Braun. After a stunning exhibition of Von Braun's rocketry, Hitler backs the proposed Nazi space program, and Nazi "vakuumflieger" make the first suborbital flights in manned rockets in August of 1939. Shortly after Poland is invaded, the Reich tests its first atomic bomb. Thanks to the foresight and energy of Speer, von Braun, Willy Ley, Eugene Sanger, and others, suborbital spaceplanes are skipping across the upper atmosphere by the spring of 1940.

The Allies do not stand idly by. The British take the lead in Allied rocketry, under the guidance of Frank Whittle and A.M. Low, until the Nazi war machine rolls through the streets of Paris. High-altitude rocket planes of the RAF manage to beat back the Nazi onslaught, but only barely. Russia burns in flames, its Pact of Steel shattered when rocket-powered FW-313 Saengers bomb Moscow into atomic ashes.

The U.S. displays its typical isolationist stance, until Japanese rocket planes sink American battleships, and carriers, at Pearl Harbor. With British support they play catch-up in the Space War; the US Army Rocket Corp has Curtis PX-40s protecting the stratosphere above North America by late 1942.

Warships increase in size and capability as the Space War heats up. Allied and Nazi scientists develop the ultimate brute-force rocketry, the Atomic Drive. Using atomic bombs for fuel, Axis and Allied warships battle each other in the cold vacuum of space, relying on cranky radar and low-tech binoculars to spot each other before a salvo of shells rips through their armored skin. GURPS Space meets GURPS WWII.

By 1945 the war is being fought all across the inner Solar System. The Moon and Mars are both prizes, and battles for them force men to bleed and die there the same as their earthly counterparts. Transfer orbits between the Earth, Moon, and Mars are the shipping lanes of the Solar System, brimming with heavily laden transports stalked by atomic-propelled warships.

The devastation brought on by the Atomic Age wrecks Earth. Cities are mangled carcasses of concrete and iron. Roads and rail networks are demolished. The U.S. military develops an all-purpose engineering vehicle, the Thug, to help rebuild the shattered countryside. A walking tank with crude arms, the Thug greatly sped up the process of clearing rubble. Soon, however, resourceful GIs mounted weapons on the arms, and welded armor to the cockpit area. Thugs, sometimes called "stalking tanks," or "stanks" (a reference to the smell left inside the cockpit after a few days of continuous use), became frontline vehicles. Panzerkampfanzug is what the Nazis called theirs, and they built them by the thousands to support their gargantuan Maus supertanks.

A Deal with the Devil

Reichsfurher Heinrich Himmler's bid for Nazi supremacy comes from a totally different angle. Ahnenerbe (Himmler's mystical research organization, which Spielberg depicted in the Indiana Jones' films) finds the answer to their quest: human sacrifice in exchange for all-consuming supernatural power locked in the soul of the Aryan master race. Himmler jumps in with both feet, and in and makes a deal with the Devil. He sacrifices a few Nordic virgins, or whatever, and gets an army of darkness in return. Demons, undead, vampires, long-dead Germanic warriors, black magic, etc. It doesn't matter how, really, just as long as we get undead Nazis. GMs can make great use of GURPS In Nomine, GURPS Spirits, GURPS Undead (Independent Body Parts is a must!), and the GURPS World of Darkness titles for this. Stir in GURPS Black Ops to taste, just to make things fair for the players.

The disease that the undead carry spreads on to any troops scratched or wounded by the creatures. They arise as undead as well, unless clerical magic is used to stop it. Some areas of the world are completely overrun with undead, such as France and England. Only walled villages and towns that endured the initial onslaught have survived.

Town militias patrol the streets at night with IR-equipped BARs and halftrack-mounted searchlights. Sewer crawls and infested buildings are usually farmed out to mercenary outfits, who kill zombies and get paid by the head, literally. Chaplains with True Faith -- and shotguns -- lead villagers in defense of their homes. Special forces units take on the tough jobs of clearing cities and forested areas. Air support uses lots of napalm. One common creature is the spinne. This undead thing has a human head, to which is attached four or more arms from corpses. (The same concept, applied to a rat's head, using human fingers, makes a great surprise for a tank or Thug crew.)


This is a TL6+1 alternate history. Major differences in TL involve the addition of nuclear power, TL8 HO rockets, and the TL7 Orion drive. Most other gear is TL6. Sensors are limited to radar and sonar. This is important as it allows an element of stealth and stalking in space travel, since radar is one of the easiest sensor technologies to spoof, creating a space-warfare analogy to a submarine game of cat-and-mouse. This makes for exciting play. All vehicles should be created with the vehicle design system in GURPS WWII. The new additions include:






Arm Motor





HO Rocket





Full Life Support   





Atomic Drive





Atomic Reactor





Each Arm Motor provides a ST 300 motor with the cheap and striker options from GURPS Vehicles. For double VSPs, weight, and cost, the arm may have a crude gripper (-4 to DX). The power requirement has been doubled to account for the poor performance of TL6+1 arms. Arm subassemblies should be purchased as non-rotating superstructures, using the Subassemblies Table on p. W127. Note that arms do not require rotation space as it's included in the arm motor volume. For more details, see GURPS Mecha and GURPS Vehicles. The HO rocket (courtesy of von Braun and Robert Goddard) provides 5,000 lbs of vectored thrust and consumes 7,500 gph HO rocket fuel per module. HO fuel weighs 2.1 pounds per gallon and costs $0.2 per gallon.

The Full Life Support module provides oxygen and water for one person indefinitely. It does not provide food, however. That should be carried as provisions ($500, 100 lbs., and 1 VSP of highly nutritious food tablets supplies 300 man-days of sustenance). The Atomic Drive, created by R.J. Oppenhiemer and friends, provides 4 million pounds of thrust per module and consumes 3,600 nuclear bombs per hour. Each bomb costs $6,000 and weighs 60 pounds. Four such bombs take up 1 VSP, or 900 VSPs per hour of operation.

The Atomic Reactor module provides 5,000 kW of power and lasts for 1 year before needing an overhaul.

See GURPS Space for more information on spacecraft and performance calculations, and GURPS Mars for information on the Red Planet. Assume that any craft that is towed to 50,000 feet or more on Earth adds 1.5 MPS to its delta-v for purposes of getting into orbit. This is how most non-Atomic Battlesuits make a natural addition to a Panzerpunk campaign. Increase battlesuit control systems and arm motor statistics by 100% to reflect the crude nature of TL6+1 technology.

Personal Gear

Personal weapons and gear haven't changed a lot. If in doubt about availability, consult the Guaranteed Play Balance table (p. CII10) and pick a few appropriate modifications. TL7-8 items in GURPS Space, such as pressure tents, NBC suits, hand thrusters, re-entry kits, and enviro-bubbles can all be used with a simple 50% increase in weight, and 1/10 normal cost. Food tablets should be allowed as-is, however.

Sample Vehicle

Curtiss PX-40 Rocket Plane

Subassemblies: Heavy Fighter Bomber chassis +4, High-Agility Reconnaissance wings +2, 3 retractable wheels +1.
P&P: 10,000-lb. thrust HO rocket with 2,055 gallon ultra-light tanks [Body and Wings].
Occ: 1 CS Cargo: None

























Weaponry: 3x20mm Short Air AC [Body: F] (60 rounds each).*
*All linked to fire at once.
Equipment: Body: 0.5 man-day life support, medium transmitter, large receiver, navigation instruments, 10-mile radar, radar detector, bombsight.
Wings: 1,000-lb. hardpoint each.
Statistics: Size: [LxWxH] 65'x 25'x 15' Payload: 6,590 lbs. Lwt: 11,957 lbs.
Volume: 608 cf Maint: 47 Hrs Cost: $22,437
HT: 10. HP: 525 Body, 35 Wings, 50 each wheel.
aSpeed: 765 mph aAccel: 21 mph/s aMR: 1 aSR: 2
Stall Speed: 115 mph.
gSpeed: 362 mph aAccel: 18 mph/s aMR: 0.25 aSR: 4
Ground Pressure Extremely High. No Off-Road Speed.
sAccel 0.94 g, sDec 0.94 g, sMR 0.94 g
Delta-v is 3.22 MPS.

Design Notes: Full Speed endurance is 21 minutes. Statistics include two 300-gallon HO wing tanks. Routine operation reduces speed to 230 mph (0.28gs), but extends duration to 85 minutes. If towed to an altitude of 50,000 feet by another aircraft, it can reach orbit from the Earth's surface. It can easily make orbit on the Moon and Mars. Repeated re-entry of the Earth's atmosphere can cause the craft to disintegrate!

Article publication date: May 24, 2002

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