Mortal: Military Role-playing in 1944

         This is a place for notes on a brief experiment of mine using the Nemesis/One Roll Engine rules for a straight WWII game. I pondered the idea based on watching the television series A Band of Brothers with the others in one of my gaming groups in September 2006. Since ORE was also used for the gritty WWII superhero game Godlike, it seemed like a natural fit -- and there was even a fair amount of WWII material available for ORE. NEMESIS was ostensibly the normal-human version of ORE. I discussed the choice online at:

A week or two later, we made up characters using the NEMESIS rules. All characters were made on a base of 50 points distributed among attributes (2pts per die) and skills (1pt per die). This is the standard the book recommends for a "Gritty" campaigns, with "The Exorcist" given as an example. Because I expected high lethality, each of the players made two PCs -- one private and one officer (a lieutenant and a sergeant).

Character Creation

         Character generation took a little longer than I thought, but was reasonably quick. Unfortunately, though, the characters were not well distinguished by the system. This is partly from our chosen setup. All of the PCs were regular joes who had been conscripted for the war. i.e. All young white men who had gone through basic training. It may have worked slightly better if there was more contrast -- i.e. a university professor alongside a commando and a mobster, say. As it stood, though, there was very little differentiation. Because of the cost scheme, it made little sense to put more than 1 point into a given skill, because you can buy up the attribute for just 2 times the cost. So if you are buying up any two physical skills, it made more sense to raise the attribute. As a result, the majority of points went into the six attributes, with primarily 1d in each chosen skill (to avoid the penalty for being unskilled). There was an option to buy "Expert Dice" in skills, but they were far too costly to be considered -- particularly on our scale. (It costs 4 points up front, then 4 points per die.) It was similar for most advantages.

Actual Play

         We played out a scenario based on "Operation Tonga" -- part of the airborne drop during D-Day. The PCs' squad was dropped off from the main group, and we played through hiking around and encountering German reinforcements. They saw up some others in their troop in the woods across a road, but then a line of German trucks with reinforcement troops came down the road. The first battle was with those Germans. Then they went into town and secured it.

         One of the interesting ideas was definitely using the Madness Meter for the horrors of war. Each time they were shot was a Violence check. In addition, though, each time they killed someone else was a Self check. None of the PCs had taken any Equilibrium skill, which made the rolls highly random and chancy. This seemed appropriate given the circumstances, but again the characters were not well differentiated from each other.

         As a general comment on the mechanics, particularly at the scale we were playing at, some things seemed odd. Since width is almost always 2, damage was very uniform, which didn't feel very gritty. For example, a rifle head shot always killed, but a pistol head shot never did. By comparison to BRP/Call of Cthulhu, the ORE dice pool resolution system was slower, but it was not noticeably more realistic though perhaps some people simply like the feel of the dice pool better. Outside of the roll mechanics, the combat systems were similar. There were no maneuvers, like offensive stance or defensive stance, so choices in combat were mostly position and who to shoot at.

         My conclusion was that under the system, the different personality and backgrounds of the characters didn't have a chance to shine. Our group mostly agreed that the mechanics seemed gimmicky. The plainer, simpler alternative of BRP would have more differentiated attributes (through randomness) and at least more finely-grained skills, as well as faster rolls.


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John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Fri Feb 16 10:00:01 2007