Designer's Notes: GURPS WWII Dogfaces

by Shawn A. Fisher

"They wish to hell they were someplace else, and they wish to hell they would get relief. They wish to hell the mud was dry and they wish to hell their coffee was hot. They want to go home. But they stay in their wet holes and fight, and then they climb out and crawl through minefields and fight some more."
--Sergeant Bill Mauldin, Up Front


Bill Mauldin's words could apply to virtually any American soldier, be they Continental, Billy Yank or Johnnie Reb, Doughboy, Dogface, or Grunt. Mauldin understood the American soldier. As a cartoonist, writer, and actor (starring alongside Audie Murphy in The Red Badge of Courage), his observations of the lowly footsoldier of WWII have often been hailed as an exceptionally revealing look at war. Mauldin, along with fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner and GI journalist Ernie Pyle, depicted the GIs as they really were: tired men far from home doing a brutal job.

Those weary GIs that returned after the war didn't seek thanks. They viewed their job in the war, almost to a man, as a necessary evil. There were parades and grandstands, and more valuable rewards like the GI College Bill. But there were few monuments. They didn't need a national monument to recognize what they had done; a nation still standing was thanks enough.

In our time, director Steven Spielberg paid homage to Mauldin's gritty version of the war with Saving Private Ryan, awaking America's curiosity in WWII yet again. And true to its forebears, that movie presented a fictitious situation that said more than any simple truth could convey.

Dogfaces was intended to portray the war in much the same way, to capture the gritty, sweaty, and terrified lives of citizen-soldiers some 60 years ago. There was much debate over the title of the book between myself and Gene Seabolt. As the GURPS WWII line editor, Gene insisted on "Dogfaces" all along. I had other ideas, but Gene did not relent, and I'm thankful for it. No title could have better captured the tone of the book.

Dogfaces was many years in the making, both in research and life experience. As an Army dogface myself, I marched through jungles in faraway places, worried about having enough toilet paper in the latrine, and treasured perfumed letters from home at mail call. As a historian and certified gun nut I fired many small arms from the war, climbed on various WWII tanks, rode in a DUKW, explored a WWII-era battleship and sub, and even parachuted from an airplane. I traveled the Ardennes in winter while studying in Europe, and trod hallowed ground among eternally sleeping GIs in Italy and France. Steve and Gene may claim this was all "reality testing," (and I confess that my wife may have been given that excuse a time or two . . .) but I can't blame it on them. I've been in love with WWII most of my life.

During my research I discovered that for many contemporary Americans, WWII is not just a fleeting time gone by. It's tangible. My grandfather stormed the beaches at Normandy, and later manned a half-track. Another relative was a Merchant Marine in the Pacific, and yet another an Army cook in occupied Japan. Thousands of Americans can recite the deeds of their forefathers (and mothers too!) during the war. The Internet is crawling with sons and grandsons begging for information about this unit or that battle. This thirst for knowledge is flattering to the quiet men whom seldom discuss their role in the world's greatest conflict.

Despite my research and background, I needed help. And lots of it. I received invaluable assistance while writing Dogfaces, from friends that scoured old book stores for me while they were on vacation, to WWII veterans tolerating my pesky questions. Brandon Cope was the head engineer, contributing vehicle color text and designs. Hans-Christian Vortisch offered his usual fare of crunchy and tasty weapons data. Pyramid playtesters, among others, provided help on both content and style that added immeasurably to the strength of the project. Unfortunately, I neglected to credit two of those foxhole buddies, Garrett "Whitestreak" Roberts for his aircraft carrier esearch, and accomplished GURPS writer Brian Underhill for support and advice.

Of course, the ramrod of the operation was Gene Seabolt, whose direction, encouragement, and hard-edged advice often found him in role of the crusty old sergeant while I played opposite as the na´ve recruit. I don't feel like I've earned my stripes quite yet, but if I ever do, it'll be in part because of his guidance. Thanks, Gene.

Now, in fine Design Notes tradition, I offer you some juicy outtakes from GURPS WWII: Dogfaces.

A Setting By Any Other Name . . .

Roleplaying in a modern war may seem impossibly deadly. The lethality of the environment intimidates even the most talented GMs. In this, simulationists and storytellers alike seem united: how can a player enjoy a game where their character can be obliterated seemingly at random? Admittedly, this is a question that must be addressed, but thankfully the answer is simple: Treat war like any other setting.

First, GMs must forget about haphazard PC death. Most Game Masters would never kill off a party of subterranean adventurers in a tunnel collapse or gas explosion, yet both of these are dangers faced by real miners every day. Likewise, a modern campaign would rarely feature a character slain by a drunken driver, even though such occurrences claim thousands of lives every year.

Minefields, snipers, and artillery attacks should be viewed in the same way. They are plot devices, set dressing, tools for the GM. Though a common source of casualties for real-life soldiers, they have no more prominent a place in WWII setting than a capricious lighting strike killing a knight at a joust. This approach dovetails nicely with another misunderstanding, casualty rates.

Casualty rates in all wars are, to be indelicate, greatly overblown. Of the nearly 16 million men that served in the U.S. military in WWII, less than 10% were casualties. With rare exceptions, throughout history the death rate in battle has held steady at roughly 10% of the fighting forces engaged. Those wounded are normally two to three times the figure of those killed. A GM wishing to run a campaign based on front line troops would do well to remember that many troops survived multiple campaigns untouched, and many of those wounded suffered multiple light wounds in the course of a campaign. In terms of deadliness, the front lines should be no different than Huruk the Barbarian's next dungeon crawl.

So, how do you exploit the setting? Frontline campaigns have the capacity for intense combat, sure, but also for character interaction and conflict. The stereotypical WWII squad, with a soldier representative of every corner of the USA, may be straight out of Hollywood . . . but it was a real possibility in an army made up of exuberant volunteers, leery draftees, and hardened professionals. Perhaps nothing could be more frightening than to be saddled with an ambitious officer bent on promotion, willing to unnecessarily risk the troops lives, or sweat, for his gain (see James Cagney in Mister Roberts, or Eddie Albert in Attack.)

And of course, a modern war epic is not restricted to front-line fighting (though the TV series Combat! was). The troops may choose to rob a bank, as in Kelly's Heroes, or rescue horses -- on Patton's orders -- as depicted in Disney's The Miracle of the White Stallions. GMs may steal a riff from John Ford's 3 Godfathers and saddle the unsuspecting GIs with a baby. There are hundreds of movies, books, and comics to mine for ideas. With ruthless adherence to plot and story over random violence, virtually any story can be set on the front lines.

Character Design


According to the Social Security Administration and the Census Bureau, only half of the names listed as the top 100 most popular names of the 1940s are on that same list today. Although names such as James, John, and William were popular then, as now, players and GMs should consider using some of the more popular names from the period. Names listed below include those of heroes and heroines, and entertainers.

Male: Archie, Audie, Belton, Benny, Bennett, Bing, Bud, Buster, Carwood, Cary, Chester, Clifford, Dee, Doyle, Elbert, Ellery, Elmer, Eugene, Herbert, Ira, Lyle, Orville, Otis, Marion, Milton, Norval, Sid, Slade, Uriah, Virgil.

Female: Betty, Clara, Dora, Dorothy, Dulcie, Edith, Edna, Eleanor, Esther, Gladys, Laverne, Lorna, Lucille, Mavis, Mildred, Myrtle, Ruth, Sadie, Violet.

Among pals, few men would call each other by their proper name; nicknames were the rule among GIs. These could be descriptive -- Red, Beanpole, Stumpy, etc. -- or just shortened forms of their given names (Bert for Herbert, Art for Arthur, and so on).

Movie Star

55 points

Hollywood answered America's call to war because it was both popular and profitable . . . and because it had to. The Army took over hundreds of motion picture backlots and soundstages to make training films, and then drafted actors and directors ruthlessly. By the end of 1942 about one-third of the movie industry was at war. For those that weren't, the Office of War Information closely scrutinized their products.

Some stars joined on their own, such as Jimmy Stewart, who became a squadron commander with the 8th Air Force, flying 20 missions into Germany (his pre-war pilot's license was put to good use). He was promoted to general after the war.

John Wayne tried half-heatedly, but never served. Clark Gable enlisted at the age of 41, became an officer, and flew combat missions in Europe. Douglas Fairbanks was a Captain in the Navy, leading commando missions to confuse the enemy about the location of Allied landings. Henry Fonda won a Bronze Star while serving in the Pacific.

Those that didn't serve visited the front in USO shows. Humphrey Bogart, himself a sailor during WWI, visited Italy and North Africa. A seemingly endless string of actresses wound their way through all the theaters; Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, and Rita Hayworth all visited troops overseas.

Attributes: ST 10 [0]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 10 [0]; HT 10 [0].

zzAdvantages:xx Very Wealthy [30], Reputation +4 (Everyone, all the time) [20] and a total of 20 points chosen from Alcohol Tolerance [5]; Appearance [Varies]; Charisma [5/level]; Voice [10]; or National Advantages (see p. W68).

zzDisadvantages:xx A total of -30 points chosen from National Disadvantages (see p. W69) or Alcoholism [-10]; Compulsive Carousing [Varies]; Extravagance [-10]; Laziness [-10].

zzBasic Skills:xx Acting (M/A) IQ+1 [4]-12; Bard (M/A) IQ+1 [4]-12; Carousing (P/A - HT ) HT+1 [4]-11; Performance (M/A) IQ+1 [4]-12.

zzSecondary Skills:xx Area Knowledge (any) (M/E) IQ-1 [1]-12; Sport (Golf, Polo, or Tennis) DX-1 [1]-9; Fast-Talk (M/A) IQ [2]-12.

zzOptional Skill:xx Spend 5 points on any of Motorcycle (P/E); Boating, Driving (Automobile), Powerboat, Riding (Horse), or Sport (any) (all P/A); Cooking or Savoir-Faire (all M/E); Gambling or Photography (all M/A); History or Literature (M/H).

zzCustomization Notes:xx This template represents the non-combatant but wildly popular movie star. If visiting the front, celebrities will likely wear a military uniform; during their acts the stars usually wore their trademark attire.

If the character is in the military, add Extremely Hazardous Duty [-20] and use the resulting points to buy the primary skills appropriate for the template. While the character probably went through basic training, it's doubtful that the quality and frequency of training would be equal to that of other recruits. Generals, senators, and the press frequently intruded on the stars during their training. To represent a skilled star, buy the military template first, and then use the remaining points to purchase this template.


80 points

Financiers and profiteers made a killing during the war, with most of the contracts going to less than 20 corporations. General Motors alone produced one-tenth of all American production, followed by Ford, DuPont, U.S. Steel, and General Electric. But the few contracts that did go to the little guys made those company owner's rich. One machine tool company with only 50 employees in 1939 had 1,500 in 1945, and increased its value from $100,000 to $5 million.

The businessmen worked hard to deliver the goods during the war, building more and larger facilities and opening second and third shifts. Sometimes it took more than elbow grease. Henry J. Kaiser (who had never built a ship before the war) applied mass production techniques to ship building. Henry Ford did the same with aircraft, which had been hand-built in years before. These advances required a leadership in constant motion to insure that raw materials, production, and transportation all ran smoothly. This took a monumental effort of cooperation. Competing companies, despite a few incidents of conflict, worked together to share time-saving ideas and improve efficiency.

This production increase was financed by the government's "cost plus" method of procurement. For both the companies and the government the "plus" was easy to deduce; it was plainly written on the contract. The problem was getting the "cost" right. Businessmen consistently underbid, then bumped the cost up until someone screamed. The Willow Run Facility, built by Ford outside of Detroit, was such an operation. Initial projections for the B-24 plant were just over $10 million, but final cost was almost $50 million. Ultimately it was successful, cranking out a B-24 every hour, but until 1944 it was "Will it Run?" to the critics.

In some cases the business community stalled, citing excessive taxes, unfair buying practices, or any number of other problems with government contract requirements (specifically the Fair Employment Act, one of the first labor laws to deal with discrimination). The response was seldom pleasant. In the worst cases the government simply bought the company, in others it took over the operation of the company during the war. The War Production Board was not above sending khaki-clad officers to replace balky managers.

Attributes: ST 10 [0]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 14 [45]; HT 10 [0].

zzAdvantages:xx Filthy Rich [50]; Status 1 [0]; and a total of 15 points chosen from National Advantages (see p. W68), or Lightning Calculator [5]; Single-Minded [5]; Voice [10].

zzDisadvantages:xx A total of -30 points chosen from National Disadvantages (see p. W69) or Age [-3 per year over 50]; Code of Honor (Merchant's) [-5]; Bad Sight [-10]; Overweight [-5].

zzBasic Skills:xx Administration (M/A) IQ+3 [8]-17; Area Knowledge (any) (M/E) IQ-1 [1/2]-13; Detect Lies (M/H) IQ-3 [1/2]-11; Fast-Talk (M/A) IQ [2]-14; Merchant (M/A) IQ+3 [8]-17; Psychology (M/H) IQ-1 [2]-13; Savoir-Faire (M/A) IQ [2]-14.

zzSecondary Skills:xx Accounting (M/H) IQ-2 [1]-12; Economics (M/H) IQ-2 [1]-12; Leadership (M/A) IQ [2]-14; Research (M/A) IQ [2]-14.

zzOptional Skill:xx Spend 2 points on any of Swimming (P/E); Boating, Driving (Automobile), Powerboat, Riding (Horse), or Sport (Golf, Polo, or Tennis) (all P/A); Cooking or Savoir-Faire (all M/E); Bard, Gambling, or Writing (all M/A).

zzCustomization Notes:xx This template illustrates the men that orchestrated what David M. Kennedy called the "War of Machines": the Fords, Kaisers, and other industry greats. It would be appropriate for union leaders, like John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, or even Roosevelt's dollar-a-day men. In the latter case, add Administrative Rank 6, but since these men were appointed and removed at the president's whim, one could argue that the appointees had the rank only in name. Lower ranking governmental employees were much more stable, of course.

Businessmen served in unofficial but important governmental positions overseas. Business leaders negotiated for raw materials in Central and South America, Africa, and even India on behalf of the United States. These business meetings were often conducted aboard Navy ships, with grim-looking Marines prowling the docks as a show of force to sometimes fickle foreign companies and governments.

Odds and Ends


More so than in the Pacific, the U.S. military relied on heavy artillery to kill the enemy in Europe. One of the techniques used was the time-on-target, or TOT (p. W43). For veteran and newbie alike, the TOT was a grisly experience. If executed correctly, the whole sheaf, or barrage, of shells would impact at precisely the same time. This impact would sound like a single large explosion to those far away. For those at the point of impact, it was hell on Earth.

A TOT barrage requires all guns involved to be in contact with an FDC and to have synchronized timepieces. Every gun must fire at the exact same instance. This combined all the advantages of the U.S. artillery system at once. For those in the strike zone, Fright Checks on the order of -4 or more are certainly in line with descriptions penned by German survivors even decades later. Even the most battle-hardened kraut shivered at the thought of a TOT courtesy of Uncle Sam.

As great as the American artillery system was, artillery shell production was reduced in 1942-43 to cut costs. Well-meaning but squirrelly congressmen howled about wartime waste. As a result, US forces suffered a shortage of artillery shells in October 1944. Daily shell use was curtailed to only seven shots per gun in some divisions. By November new production had made up the shortfall and artillery units returned to firing shells in prodigious amounts.

D-Day: Mulberry and Pluto

The Allies' plans at D-Day relied on getting men and materiel on shore and in battle as soon as possible. Over-the-beach operations using DUKWs and landing craft would only suffice for a short time. Logistics needs for each of the divisions could exceed 700 tons per day, while the six U.S. amphibious truck companies (with 50 DUKWs each) could only unload 500 tons a day each. The armies would run out of supplies.

The Anglo-Americans planned to create artificial harbors, code-named Mulberries, by sinking more than 50 ships along with large concrete caissons to create a breakwater called a Gooseberry. With this in place, a floating pier was built that would allow trucks to drive from shore to ship. The plan worked, providing 15,000 tons of supplies daily at each of the two harbors. A violent storm June 19-20 destroyed one and damaged the other, but even with one operating, supply needs were met.

The Gooseberries proved a useful base for landing craft, since the superstructures of the ships were still above the waterline. These naval halfway houses were used as temporary barracks and kitchens in the first weeks after the invasion.

Also useful was PLUTO, the pipe line under the ocean. Several 3" lines were unreeled from giant drums across the channel. The pipeline transported 300 tons of gasoline daily. This was insufficient, however, since a single armored division could consume 200 tons of gas daily. Tanker ships were required to handle most of the fuel, pumping 600 tons of gas per hour through an off-shore mooring system once they reached the landing areas.

D-Day: Peppermint

Manhattan Project scientists had suggested back in 1942 that radioactive salts be used over Germany, killing the population by radioactive means. When concern began to rise about the Nazi atomic-bomb project, those involved knew that it was far more likely that their 1,200 tons of uranium ore might be used as poison, rather than in a bomb.

A team, Codenamed Peppermint, was assigned to search for signs of radiation poisoning among Allied troops at D-Day. The scientists and chemical-warfare officers used Geiger counters and unexposed photographic film to check the area. If the film became foggy or began to blacken, the team would be alerted.

Fortunately, no radiation was detected. The team spent much of their time after D-Day inspecting V-2 bomb craters near London for radiation, at the request of Roosevelt and Churchill.

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Article publication date: June 6, 2003

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