I have always been interested in history and I always found it quite intriguing to play in historic roleplaying games. So it was of course no surprise that I backed Achtung! Cthulhu which combines Lovecraftian elements with the history of WW2. For most of my readers playing in such a game has no special significance. The vast of majority of my readers is from one of the countries who were known as the Allies in WW2. But for me – as a German – things are a bit different. My people were the bad guys back then.
I am usually a very mild-mannered and peaceful person, but there’s one thing I particularly hate: fascism. Fascists and Nazis make me terribly angry. For me (and probably you as well) the Hitler regime was definitely what we’d call the bad guys. So if I’d ever play in such a game I’d probably play an Allied soldier or something similar. It just wouldn’t feel right for me to play one of the supporters of said regime. I think I could portray Nazi NPCs as a GM, but never as a player. It just feels terribly wrong.
Because of our history I always hesitated to actually run a game set in WW2. I am sure there are many interesting stories to be told, but I fear it’s hard to do it in a proper way that also respects the victims of the war. I guess I might be overthinking things. Perhaps it’s because I always try to do the right thing. My question to you, my dear readers, is how do you see this? Would you play one of the bad guys? Do you think that topics like the Holocaust can be properly handled in a roleplaying game? How do you deal with your home country’s history in a roleplaying enviroment?
Since this is a very serious and complicated topic, please let me try to end the post on a lighter note:
A Spanish here, grand-grandson of The Bad Guys.
I’ve touched the dark and fascist history of Spain very few times with my table, and always from the loser’s perspective (In Spain, Fascists won the Civil War and established a Dictatorial Regime for 40 years). In a Call of Cthulhu setting, I used the history to increment the horror and the sense of impending doom. I let one of my best players portrait a fascist militar officer, mostly because I know that he can do a really complex portrait of a mostly taboo subject.
The most difficult part as DM was to present the facts and try to don’t be judgemental. Try to flesh the Bad Guys with realism, made them people. Bad, regrettable, abhorrent people, but people, not cut-outs of pure evil.
It’s far too easy for many of us to automatically assume all Germans in the 1930s and 1940s were goosestepping, Hitler-loving villains. That’s why I included the special note at the very end of Resolute, Adventurer and Genius about that not being true. Would it be difficult for me to portray a German person in that era who really did support the Reich? Probably, except as an NPC. Would it be difficult for me to portray a German person in that era who secretly hated the Reich and wanted to aid the Allies in taking down the Nazis, or a German person who had previously supported Hitler but had come to realize the truth? Hell no, not difficult at all. I’d relish the opportunity.
There were good people in Germany, Italy, and Japan, just as there were bad people in the US, Britain, France, et al. Humans are humans.
Given the current climate in my own country, I sometimes have a lot of sympathy for the good-hearted Germans of that era.
I would have difficulty playing a Nazi but a German patriot who does not realize how bad the Nazi are (at first). That I could probably pull off.
We have the advantage of hindsight and greater knowledge of what was actually happening than someone who grew up in the 30s, it would be easy to be ignorant of how bad the Nazis were if one was enmeshed in the propaganda system they created.
Thanks for the great comments, everyone!
“but I fear it’s hard to do it in a proper way that also respects the victims of the war.”
I found the same thing when I was all geared up to run a Weird Wars II savage worlds game. After a while of game prep the magnitude of the death and horror of this VERY REAL event sapped my enthusiasm to run a game and instead saw me visiting WWII memorials and trying to understand and hope we never see it’s like again. For me, there was nothing fun anymore about it.