Title: Weird War Two: The Western Front
Author: John R. Hopler
Creator: Shane Lacy Hensley
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Year: 2001
128 pages

Product Rating: 3 (***)
Game Play Rating: 2 (**)

Review by John H. Kim (Copyright 2001 John H. Kim)
cf. other reviews by John

         Weird War Two is a sourcebook for adventure in an alternate history WWII with supernatural horrors. It is for use with the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook, published using the "Open Gaming License" from Wizards of the Coast. The book includes background plus a new set of basic classes and other rules modifications. I have read this in detail, created characters, and played out some combats, but have not done a full-fledged adventure or campaign.

         Most of the background is details about historical WWII rather than about fictional events and the supernatural. The PC's are initially supposed to be regular soldiers who know nothing about the supernatural. Thus, all of the player material is purely historical, and much of the GM's material is as well.

         A major hurdle of this book is trying to do a modern-era game of war and horror using a core rulebook for heroic fantasy. Much of the space is spent trying to handle firearms, artillery, and so forth. This is organizationally difficult since you have to reference both the fantasy rulebook for the basic rule and the sourcebook for changes. Add in some editting gaffes and it gets tricky.

         Overall, I see this as a basic flaw in concept. As a sourcebook on historical WWII it is OK, but any trip to the library should get you a better one. As a rules system for WWII action, it is mediocre at best. As a horror sourcebook, it is also pretty weak. If you are set on using the D&D system for WWII, then obviously this book has some merits. However, compared to other RPGs in similar genres it has major problems.

Material

         The rulebook is full-size (8.5x11) and 192 pages. There is a detailed 1-page Table of Contents, and a 2-page index. There are small black-and-white illustrations on most pages. These are primarily historical photos, but also include some comic-book-style drawings (usually for supernatural events).

         The book starts with a 3-page short story to set the mood. It then gives a 12-page history of WWII in Europe and Africa up to D-Day, followed by the basic character classes, followed by a 14-page introduction to military life and general background. The next 90 pages are mostly rules: covering skills, feats, equipment, combat, vehicles, vehicle combat, prestige classes, and magic. It then goes into the GM's section, which starts with a 7-page history of the war after D-Day and then moves into the weird background. At the end is a 10-page bestiary and a 10-page introductory adventure.

Mechanics

         The basic mechanics are the same as in 3rd edition D&D. The key changes are:

The most extensive of these are the equipment, vehicle, and heavy weapon rules.

Character Creation

         Character creation is based around using the 5 new basic classes. The initial list mentions a sixth class, "Pilot", but this was apparently removed from the game. The classes are Grunt (including enlisted men and NCO's), Officer, Medic, Resistance Fighter, and Scout.

         All starting PC's are supposed to be regular personnel in the Allied invasion of France just after D-Day. Thus, none of the basic classes have any supernatural knowledge or abilities. Four of the classes are military, with the last being Resistance Fighters who aid them. The table below shows their basic stats.

ClassHit Die# SkillsSkill Pts AttackFortRefWill
Gruntd10174 +1.00/levelGoodPoorPoor
Officerd8174 +1.00/levelPoorPoorGood
Medicd8104 +0.75/levelGoodPoorGood
Resistance Fighterd6196 +0.75/levelPoorGoodPoor
Scoutd8174 +1.00/levelGoodPoorPoor

         There are several potential problems with the character creation.

  1. The abilities have a different balance than in D&D3. Since firearms are the primary weapons, Dexterity is used for both attack and defense as well as for initiative and stealth skills. Dex is listed as a primary attribute in 4 of the 5 classes.
  2. As seen above, the classes are far more similar in abilities than the classes in D&D3, especially the three military classes. The military classes all get Weapon Specialization at 4th level, and all get bonus Feats from the same list (Grunts every 2 levels, Officers and Scouts every 3 levels). They all get 4 skill points per level. All five classes have 8 skills in common: Driving, Hide, Jump, Move Silently, Search, Spot, and Swim. The three military classes also share Demolitions.
  3. The Medic class is problematic for play. By regulation, medics are not allowed to carry weapons and in turn are not supposed to be targetted by the enemy. This fits history, but it makes playing a medic high restrictive. The Medic class has fewer skills than the others, and no unique skills other than Combat Medicine. However, Combat Medicine is an exclusive skill which is the only way for PC's to recover hit points. Thus, medics are virtually required for the party.
  4. The Resistance Fighter is a more workable alternate. Their primary features are 2 more skill points per level, four unique skills (Bluff, Disguise, Gather Information, and Innuendo), and the ability to call on contacts for aid, weapons, and information.
  5. The combat Feats are primarily balanced for fantasy melee combat. With firearms and no armor, certain feats are much more useful than others. Point Blank Shot is required for all 5 of the other ranged Feats. With high-damage firearms and no armor, Rapid Shot (which gives 1 extra attack for -2 to-hit) is extremely useful. The new Deadeye Feat is also overwhelmingly attractive (see below). When using knives, bayonets, and rifle butts, the melee feats are hardly worth it by comparison.
  6. The Deadeye Feat is severely unbalanced, either that or it is mis-written. According to the description, it allows you to add your level to the damage of every shot fired in a round as long as you use a full round attack.

         One other note: the book gives starting equipment and rank for 1st level characters based on class. However, it has no notes on creating characters above 1st level. I found this particularly annoying because the introductory adventure calls for five 3rd-level characters. I gave the 3rd-level characters the 1st level equipment kits for my mock run, however, and it seemed fine.

Combat

         There are several things which stand out about combat. There are some major issues which the rules need to address, since the core rules are focussed on fantasy melee combat. On the one hand, WWII combat is fairly deadly. However, there are many problems with suspension of disbelief.

         Most firearms (pistols, rifles, and machineguns) do 2d6 or 2d8 damage. Machineguns and submachineguns do not get extra attacks, but they do hit with an extra round for every 5 points that the attack roll hit by. They can also be used for "suppressive fire". This sprays 10 rounds over an area, but doesn't usually do damage. Instead, targets in the area must make a Will save or lose their action for that round (unless they have used it already).

         The hit chances are quite high. My 3rd level Grunts had 50-50 odds to hit most targets at 500 feet with a rifle as a regular attack action. There appears to be no rules for spending time aiming. The rules for telescopic sights say that they give a bonus only for "aimed fire attacks", not "unaimed attacks". However, I cannot find these terms explained anywhere in either the PH or WWII.

         Damage in general is the same as in D&D3. There is an optional rule for severe wounds, which gives penalties to characters who drop below 0 hit points -- taking a week or so to fully recover, and risking death if unlucky. On the other hand, Medics are given a new skill which lets them restore 1d8 hit points per medical kit used (effectively making medkits into healing potions). In addition, players are given 1 "benny" per session plus extra bennies as rewards from the GM. Each benny can be used either to reroll one roll, or to immediately restore 1d6 hit points.

         There are also rules on artillery and tank combat. The artillery rules are mainly for the PC's calling in strikes from artillery support. Artillery is strikingly accurate in how it is centered: it just takes a DC15 skill check by the forward observer to be exactly centered on the desired spot. To make up for this, each round deviates by 2d10 yards from the center: i.e. the shells come in fairly evenly over a large area.

         The tank-vs-tank combat appears to work fairly well. Each tank has an Armor rating which is subtracted from damage, as well as the usual Armor Class. Weapons have a Penetration value which is subtracted from armor. i.e. A Sherman tank's main gun does 8d10 with 85 Penetration vs a German Tiger tank with 100 turret armor.

         However, infantry against tanks seems to be broken. Tanks have roughly the same Armor Class as humans. Thus, a tank gunner can hit a human target just as easily as another tank. The same applies for soldiers with bazookas. It appears to me that infantry/tank combat was not well tested.

         Overall, the combat is fairly deadly due to high hit chances and medium-to-high damage. However, the organization and balance are very iffy, and there are many rules which strain on suspension of disbelief.

Magic

         There are two forms of magic in WeirdWarTwo: miracles and rune magic. Miracles are cast by chaplains and faithful laypersons in the war who suddenly found that their prayers started being answered (aka the Chaplain prestige class). Rune magic is a secret learned either from sources in the Third Reich or from the Office of the OSI in the U.S. (aka the OSI Adept prestige class).

         Miracles use essentially the Cleric spell list with about 25% of the spells removed. Each Chaplain only knows a limited number of miracles, with a known miracle chart similar to the Sorcerer known spell table.

         Rune magic uses a special spell list based on the 24 runes of the Futhark alphabet. Each Adept knows a number of runes equal to his Int mod plus his Adept level. Each spell has a set of required runes, increasing with level. i.e. Magic Missile requires only the Thurisaz (Giant) rune. However, Hold Person requires Fehu (Cattle), Mannaz (Man), and Nauthiz (Need). Thus the particular combination of runes you know gives an adept a distinct spell list.

         Both of these use the same spell definitions as D&D3, but they have different mechanics for casting. Spells have a fatigue cost rather than using up daily "slots". Fatigue is represented by hit points of subdual damage equal to the level of the spell times 3, although some circumstances can reduce this. In addition, casters must make a successful skill roll (using a "Prayer" or "Runes" skill) against a DC of 15 + 2 times the spell level.

         An intriguing extra is rules for "Haunted Vehicles" (mainly tanks). Haunted tanks are intended for use by the PC's rather than as opponents. Essentially, the ghosts give the tank special abilities for the PC's to use -- with some drawbacks, of course. The haunted tank shares XP with the PC's, and gains additional abilities as it goes up in levels.

Background and Adventure

         There is a 15-page GM's background section: about half of this is the real-world history of the war after D-Day, while the other half is the fictional history of Hitler's occult exploits and the OSI (Office of Supernatural Investigations) in the U.S. There is also a 10-page bestiary of supernatural baddies such as Gremlins, Werewolves, and Brutes ('sometimes called "Nazi Orcs" by OSI agents').

         The introductory adventure is fairly simplistic, supposedly designed for five 3rd-level PC's. The PC's wander in the woods in search of the crew from a downed plane. After two very minor encounters, they come upon the main villian with five 1st-level guards and 2 minor supernatural pets. The bizarre part is that the villian is 12th level with supernatural powers (!). In my mock combat, even a modicum of intelligence on his part sufficed to slaughter the PC's. The only way that I see for it to work is for him to behave incredibly stupidly.

Conclusion

         I can't recommend this book. While the concept is intriguing and I would consider a game of this genre, there are too many problems with the execution. My top complaints (in no particular order):


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Wed Mar 15 14:44:32 2006