Designer's Notes: GURPS WWII: Weird War II

by Kenneth Hite with William H. Stoddard

"Train them! Excite them! Arm them! . . . Then turn them loose on the Nazis!"

-- tagline, The Dirty Dozen (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1967)

And that, pretty much, is what I did. Captain Kinder calls the original Dirty Dozen "the most twisted, anti-social bunch of psychopathic deformities I have ever run into!" to which Lee Marvin responds, "Well, I can't think of a better way to fight a war." And with "cadre of professional writers" being the understood modern polite term for "twisted, anti-social bunch of psychopathic deformities," I can't think of a better way to write a game book.

This was, in fact, the approach I had decided on ever since Gene Seabolt first proposed GURPS World War II as a separate line. I wanted to see a book covering everything from Operation Sealion to the Hollow Earth, from Projekt Saucer to Superman, in one swell foop. But I didn't want to write the whole thing -- I didn't have the time then, and I still don't have the hard smarts now, needed to boil Goering's heroin dreams down to GURPS' brass tacks. So I proposed an "anthology book" like GURPS Y2K. I'd assemble a crack team of ragtag heroes -- er, top game writers -- to put the weirdness boot into the Axis. Then I'd write the outline, cherry-pick the easy stuff (the campaigning chapter and the four sample settings, including One With Everything), and set everyone loose with a chapter. Once they'd finished, I'd edit the thing together, insert box text and page references where necessary, and index the whole megillah from "Abwehr" to "Zombies." (As it turned out, I indexed it from "A-bomb, German" to "Zuse, Konrad.") Gene liked the idea, put me in touch with the only slightly less maniacal "Wild Bill" Stoddard (see "The Stoddard Narrative" box), and sold the package to Steve.

The Stoddard Narrative

In somewhat the same way that the United States and Germany both came up with the idea of an atomic bomb during World War II, Ken Hite and I both came up with the idea of a "weird science" supplement to GURPS WWII at about the same time. I submitted a proposal for an entire book on WWII alternative technology; Ken submitted a proposal for a book on all the weird aspects of WWII, with alternative technology as one section. Gene Seabolt, the line editor, asked us to talk with each other -- and happily we managed a more peaceful settlement than Germany and the United States! [Plus, Bill is way smarter than Hitler. -- K.H.]

Originally I was just going to do weird science and alternative technology. But knowing my enthusiasm for superheroes and aliens, Ken offered me the chapter on monsters, supers, and aliens as well . . . and found me unable to resist. [I also made him write mechanics for the Philadelphia Experiment. Sucker!! -- K.H.]

In fact, I ended up doing that chapter first; it didn't involve designing GURPS vehicles, which made it go a lot faster. It did involve some new mechanics, some monster template design, and some interpretation of cultural themes. The new mechanics was mainly the Giant Monster Design System, intended to produce GURPS WWII-compatible stats for everything from the Giant Rat of Sumatra to Mothra; to produce it I started with the GURPS Robots design rules, tweaked them to so that a 150-lb. human being would have exactly standard human stats, and then provided rules for creatures with odd numbers of heads and limbs. Templates came from a variety of sources, but the most important were the German horror films of the 1920s, many of which I saw for the first time. Finally, I tried my hand at Hite-style interpretation of themes, with monsters as embodiments of natural disasters (or, for the Japanese, the atomic bomb), supers as idealized images of military men, and aliens as symbols of foreign invaders (as they have been since H.G. Wells).

The technology chapter involved a lot more research, variously conducted at the nearby university library, over the Web, and by sending frantic e-mails to Ken and Gene asking for sources. [Mwah-ha-ha-ha! -- K.H.] The creativity of the German aviation industry gave me most of my designs, usually with barely suitable statistics. Probably the most perplexing was the Triebflügel, a bizarre German VTOL experiment that I could only approximate by combining the Vehicles Expansion 1 rules for two or three different nonstandard designs. By contrast, Willy Ley alone gave me more material than the book could hold (and in some cases, more than GURPS Vehicles designs require!) on German rockets and spacecraft designs. Ken's draft outline for this chapter covered very nearly all the topics I had on my list [This is Bill's polite way of saying "Ken is stark staring mad, and there was no way to fit it all in." -- K.H.]; the only thing I added to the outline was a short overview of the real role of science, technology, and industry in the war. Looking into this further turned up any number of strange things, from the Pingfan Institute's biological warfare program in Manchuria to Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer, an analog computer so sophisticated that it blocked any effort to develop digital computers for solving mathematical equations.

World War II is remembered in the United States as both "the golden age of comics" and "the golden age of science fiction." It's easy to see why, but much harder to fit into two chapters and 58 pages.

For the Alternate History chapter, I knew I could count on my collaborators on GURPS Alternate Earths and GURPS Alternate Earths 2, Mike Schiffer and Craig Neumeier. I knew this because I'd already talked them into helping write the outline for that chapter. Bill Stoddard justly demanded the Weird Science chapter, and knowing a good thing when I saw it, I made him take the Monsters, Aliens, and Supermen chapter as well. (Those of you who follow Bill's campaigns vicariously on the message boards know that he's run some dandy 1930s-era games featuring superheroes and alien contact. That should teach you not to talk about your campaigns where developers can hear you, Bill.) For the Conspiracy chapter, I tapped Mark Cenczyk, an old hand from the twisty backstory of White Wolf -- if he could make sense of Wraith cosmology, he could track down the Fourth Reich's bank statements. And Patrick Sweeney, creator of Monster Island and San Angelo alike, was a natural for the Weird Places chapter. During the assignment process, I came up with a brilliant mechanism (if I do say so myself) for Cargo cult magic, so I snaffled the Magic chapter for myself, and my work was done.

The only hard part left was coming up with the name. By the time this book could be proposed, Shane Hensley had already used Weird War II (my original working title) for his d20 System line of wartime horror books. I knew there was no way Shane would let that perfect title out of his grasp, so I suggested World War Weirdness and World Weird II and other horrible ideas until Gene suggested I stop pestering him and just ask Shane's permission to use his title for our book. By a stroke of amazing good fortune (and Shane's amazing good fellowship) he gave it, and GURPS WWII: Weird War II was officially christened, launched, and under weigh.

Of course, like any other wartime project, plans changed once we met the enemy -- in this case, tight word count. Even "Slasher" Seabolt couldn't pound the whole book into its allotted VSPs; between Armanic Rune Magic, a "greatest hits" list of mysterious wartime assassinations, and psionic Power to electrical power conversion notes for Kirlian motors, cargo space was at a premium. (I also had to give topics like Japanese revanchism, military folklore, and German anti-gravity research short shrift. Plus, in the time since I finished the manuscript I discovered, among other things, an experimental WWII stealth technology called Project Yehudi, and a German expedition to Brazil in 1940 that can't have been up to any good. Perhaps for GURPS WWII: Weird War II 2. Or Weirder War II. Or . . . ) These two Stoddard-built vehicles, suitable for inhuman invasions, got cut from the Weird Places chapter, and Motor Pool 18 was already too full to take them, thanks to my giddy delight with experimental Luftwaffe aircraft. So here they are, in all their para-historical glory, left behind on the developer's beach:

Atlantean Crawler TL(6+n)

The crawler is the Atlantean equivalent of a tank: a war vessel designed to walk across the rugged floor of the deep ocean. The standard models are designed for warfare between Atlantean city-states; this model is adapted to warfare with air-breathers by adding some experimental technologies. The standard crew is a driver and two gunners, but there is sufficient life support for an additional passenger.

Subassemblies: Body +4, eight Legs [U:Body] +1.
P&P: Radium batteries, 45 kW, with 40-kW legged transmission.
Occupancy: 3 CS. Cargo: 0.
Body: 4/30
Leg: 3/15


2×Slow Autoloading Torpedo Launcher, 44mm [Body:F] (57 rounds each)
1×Extra-Heavy Water Cannon [Body:F].


Body: 5×Ink discharger; life support, water-breathing, 4 man-days; limited rotation unit for body, 11° per second; sealed body.


Size: 12'×8'×7' Payload: 1,067 lbs. Lwt.: 38,475 lbs.
Volume: 120 VSPs Maint.: 70 hours. Price: $6,500,000.
HT: 7.
HP: 405 Leg: 75.
gSpeed: 18 gAccel: 1 gDecel: 20 gMR: 0.75 gSR: 3
Low Pressure. Off-Road Speed 14.

Design Notes

The maintenance interval for the crawler is based on the cost of the vehicle excluding the radium batteries, which comes to only $8,000. The radium batteries are a sealed system that is maintained only by Atlantean scientist/priests. They weigh 13,000 lbs. and occupy 23 VSPs; only the nuclear programs of the major surface powers would be able to reverse-engineer them.

The listed statistics are for performance underwater; the crawler's body is filled with water, but the weight of the water does not affect its performance, being at neutral buoyancy. For performance on land, add 18,750 lbs., which reduces HT to 6, gSpeed to 14, off-road speed to 11, and rotational speed for the body to 8° per minute.

The torpedoes have speed 20 yards/second, endurance 2.5 seconds, and range 50 yards. Damage is 20d and is purely concussive, since fragmentation is largely ineffective underwater. A set of 6 torpedoes occupies 0.1 VSP, weighs 25 lbs., and costs $45. The water cannon normally causes 4d damage as knockback only (a human target is knocked back 1 hex for each 8 points of rolled damage), with SS 5, Acc 8, 1/2D 90, and Max 120; it can also be set to produce a narrow stream, which causes 1d cutting damage and has 1/2D 180 and Max 240. Either use requires 25 kW and sprays out 0.11 VSPs of water per second (34 lbs./second); spraying for 550 seconds will empty the vehicle of water.

Martian Tripod TL(6+n)

The tripod is a variation on the mecha concept, designed to represent the vehicles used by the Martian invaders in Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds radio broadcast (and in the H. G. Wells novel it was based on). This version is modified from the version in GURPS Mars (p. MAR97) by using more primitive technologies that would have made more sense to World War II engineers. As a result, its capabilities are impressive but not beyond any hope of Earthmen fighting back. It provides space for a driver/gunner, a loader, and an observer.

Subassemblies: Body +4, three Legs [U:Body] +2.
P&P: Atomic pile with 600-kW power tap and 600-kW legged drivetrain. 20,000-kWs batteries for auxiliary systems.
Occupancy: 3 CS. Cargo: 37.5 cf.
Body: 4/200
Leg: 4/100


Heat Beam [Body:F] (18 chemical power slugs) with stabilization.
1×81mm Mortar [Body:T] (64 dispersal shells with Black Smoke).


Body: Life support for three Martian-days; minicomputer with Compact and Genius options (Complexity 2); navigation instruments; radio transmitter (30 miles) and receiver (×3). Body and Legs: Chameleon system (-3 to be seen or hit if still, -1 if moving); sealed.


Size: 12'×12'×40' Payload: 2,840 lbs. Lwt.: 71,685 lbs.
Volume: 170 VSPs Maint.: 10 hours. Price: $734,000.
HT: 6. HP: 525 Leg: 90.
gSpeed: 41 gAccel: 3 gDecel: 20 gMR: 0.75 gSR: 2
Moderate Pressure. Off-Road Speed 27.

Design Notes

The tripod is designed using three pairs of legs for a Very Heavy Walker, but each nominal "pair" is actually a single leg. Cutting the weight, cost, HP, and size by 20% exactly covered the change in design.

Two systems are especially designed for the tripod: the chemical infrared laser and the chameleon exterior. The atomic pile is a TL(6+n) spacecraft design to minimize weight. The armor is made of advanced materials that multiply weight by 2/3 and cost by 6.67. The body is roughly cylindrical, 12' in diameter and averaging 4' high, though it rises to nearly 6' in the center; this suits the relatively squat Martian body plan.

The heat ray inflicts 6d×7 burning damage on its targets. It has SS 20, Accuracy 20, 1/2D range 4,200 yards, and maximum range 12,600 yards. It fires one shot every other second, using chemical fuel cartridges that must be reloaded; if one of these is forcibly opened, it inflicts half damage on anyone in the same hex in the form of corrosive chemical burns.

Black Smoke

The deadly Martian Black Smoke can be represented as a dispersal weapon (p. W:WW77); since its particles are extremely finely divided, it has 10 times the standard range. Black Smoke is a respiratory poison that coats the lungs. A HT roll is required each turn while breathing the smoke; failure does 2d damage to the victim. Survivors who have inhaled Black Smoke may suffer crippling respiratory injury (see p. B129). The smoke is totally opaque and vision is effectively zero while in the cloud (-10 to combat and orientation).

A wet, finely woven cloth covering the nose and mouth provides some protection against its effects; halve all damage results, rounding down, and treat critical failures as normal failures. A TL6-7 gas mask grants a +3 to the HT roll, plus the above protection. An airtight room, vehicle, or garment, or a TL8 or better gas mask, offers total protection from the smoke. GMs may wish to have Black Smoke inflict radiation damage as well; as for giant monster attacks (p. W:WW104), 10 rads is a suitable dosage, but multiply dosage by 1d if the smoke is inhaled.

Cost of Black Smoke is $1.00 per dose.

Article publication date: July 11, 2003

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