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Saturday 15 April 2023

Quick-Start Saturday: War Stories

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?
The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset is the quick-start for War Stories: A World War 2 RPG, the roleplaying game of the stories of the men and women whose desperate missions and harrowing exploits would help win the greatest conflict of the twentieth century.

It includes a basic explanation of the setting, detailed descriptions of the various elements which make up a Player Character, rules for actions and combat, details of the arms and equipment fielded by the Player Characters, the mission, ‘Cut the Lines’, and five ready-to-play, pre-generated Player Characters.

It is a forty-five page, 20.42 MB full colour PDF.

The quick-start is well illustrated and the artwork is uniformly excellent, especially that of the pre-generated Player Characters. The maps for the scenario are also good and like the newspaper-style layout for the quick-start, they grant the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset a pleasing verisimilitude.

The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset is published by Firelock Games.

How long will it take to play?
The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset and its adventure, ‘Cut the Lines’, is designed to be played through in one session, two at the very most.

What do you need to play?
The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset requires six-sided dice, no more than ten per player, as well as a single ten-sided die each. Ten cards from a standard deck of playing cards, numbered Ace through ten are also required. They will form the Initiative Deck.

Who do you play?
Four of the
pre-generated Player Characters consist of members of the 101st Airborne. They include an ex-baseball player turned intimidating sergeant, a farm boy who is an impatient scout, an unlucky ex-police officer now rifleman, and an educated, but naïve medic. The female Player Character is a French ex-con artist turned partisan.

How is a Player Character defined?
A Player Character in War Stories: A World War 2 RPG has four Attributes—Strength, Agility, Intelligence, and Empathy. These are rated between one and five. He also has several skills, rated between zero and five. These are associated with each of the four Attributes. For example, Calisthenics is a Strength skill, Ranged Combat an Agility skill, Insight an Intelligence skill, and Guts an Empathy skill. Specialisations, such as Grunt, Stealth, Sharpshooter, Born to Lie, and Counsellor add dice to Action Tests. Talents like Intimidating, Fast Reflexes, Hardy, Polyglot, and Intense Focus: Empathy provide further bonuses. For example, Polyglot grants a chance to understand the basis of other languages, whilst Fast Reflexes enables a player to draw an extra Initiative card and chose the best. All five Player Characters have Flaws and Virtues, but these not defined in the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset and the Game Master will need to consult the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG core rules if she wants to bring them into play mechanically.

In addition to Endurance, a Player Character’s capacity to handle the physical and mental stresses of combat and other challenges, he also has a Conditions Tracker which measures the effect of damage suffered. The Conditions Tracker has four categories, one for each Attribute, and each category has three ranks. Wounds is linked to Strength and a Player Character can either be ‘Gashed’, ‘Cut’, or ‘Nicked’. Weariness is linked to Agility, Fear to Intelligence, and Morale to Empathy. Each rank levies a penalty on all rolls made with its associated Attribute.

How do the mechanics work?
Mechanically, the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG uses the Year Zero Engine first seen in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, published by Free League Publishing. To undertake an action, a player must roll an Action Test. The player rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the skill value and its associated Attribute. Each six rolled counts as a Success. Only one Success is typically required to succeed at an Action Test. Extra Successes can be used to generate additional effects, for example, bonuses to damage in combat or extra Lucky Strike tokens.

If no Successes are rolled or if he wants to generate more Successes, a player can chose to ‘Push Your Luck’. This enables him to reroll any dice that did not roll Successes or results of one. He can only this once for any Action Test. However, a ‘Push Your Luck’ attempt turns any result of a one—on either the original roll or the reroll, into Duds. Any Dud results after a ‘Push Your Luck’ earn the Player Character a FUBAR point. A Player Character can hold up to a maximum of two FUBAR points, any excess going into a pool that the Game Master give out to a Player Character when narratively appropriate.

Along with FUBAR points, Lucky Strikes are the two types of luck or hero points in War Stories: A World War 2 RPG. A player can use his Player Character’s Lucky Strikes or FUBAR points to reroll ones on a ‘Push Your Attempt’, add more dice to an Action Test, reroll a damage roll, change a minor plot point, and so on. Thus FUBAR points are not necessarily as dangerous as they first appear or sound, but the Game Master can use them in three other ways that a player cannot. This is ‘Push an NPC Test’, essentially a ‘Push Your Luck’, but for NPCs; impose narratively suitable Condition on a Player Character without the need for Endurance loss; and introduce a Random Bad Luck Event into the current scenario. The latter is not explored in any detail in the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset and if the Game Master wants to use this aspect of the rules, she will have to improvise.

All sixteen skills in the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset are described in detail and include the results of Success, Failure, and extra Successes. In each case, several options are given for the latter.

How does combat work?
Combat in the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset uses the same rules as Action Tests. Initiative is handled by drawing cards from the Initiative Deck, and can be altered as the result of Talents, such as ‘Fast Reflexes’ or Extra Successes generated on certain Action Tests. In one Round, a Player Character can undertake one Slow Action and one Fast Action, or two Fast Actions. Slow actions include Close Combat Attack, First Aid, and Rally, whilst Fast Actions include Aim, Go On Overwatch, and Operate Vehicle. The rules cover aiming, rendering first aid, rallying an ally, and overwatch, as well as range, obstructions, visibility, and zones. The latter are combat areas which vary in size according to the needs of the narrative. Thus, one room in a house-to-house fight could be a zone, as could a wheat field outside a village. The rules also take into account rapid fire by semiautomatic weapons, burst fire, and full auto, along with suppressive fire, explosions, protection, cover, and personal armour.

When an attack is successful, a roll is required on the Damage Table. This is made with the ten-sided die. Bonuses to this roll can come from the weapon used, depending upon its lethality, and any extra Success rolled on the Action Test. Damage is deducted from the Player Character’s Endurance and applied to his Conditions Tracker. The first Condition is determined by the Game Master as narratively appropriate, whilst the player is free to assign the damage elsewhere on the Conditions Tracker. Rest, First Aid, and Rally can also be used to restore Endurance and remove Conditions. (Amongst other rules the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG core rule book also covers Critical Injuries, Stress, Fatigue, and more, which are not included in the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset.)

In addition, the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset includes a table of the weapons used by the Germans in the scenario as well as a glossary of the various Qualities that the arms and equipment used by both sides can have. 

What do you play?
The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset includes
‘Cut the Lines’. This set in Normandy on the morning of June 6th, 1944 shortly after members of the 101st Airborne have parachuted into enemy occupied territory. Scattered, they have met up, together with a French partisan and are investigating a town which is currently ablaze. After foiling an ambush attempt on advancing Allied troops, the squad is assigned a mission. This is to knockout an enemy communications post based in the town post office and recover as much intelligence as possible. The squad is given free range as how they do it, though the involvement of French civilians may complicate the situation.

Is there anything missing?
For the most part,
the War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset is complete. However, a table of the Allied arms and equipment for the benefit of the Game Master would be useful. Similarly, given the relatively short length of the scenario, some scenario hooks or a link to sequel scenario would be a nice bonus for a group playing at home. Lastly, although mentioned in the rules and each Player Character comes with at least one Virtue and one Flaw, there is no explanation of how Flaws and Virtues work in the game. To bring them into the game, the players will simply have to roleplay them.

Is it easy to prepare?
The core rules presented in the
War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset are relatively easy to prepare. The Game Master will need to pay closer attention to how combat works in the game as it is the most complex part of the rules and highly tactical in play. There is decent advice for the Game Master on how to run the scenario.

Is it worth it?
The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset includes everything necessary to play out a desperate mission at the beginning of the greatest military invasion ever seen. The rules are clearly explained, the mission straightforward, the players are given free agency for their characters to approach it however they want, and the consequences of how the choices made by the players and their characters explored for the benefit of the Game Master. The scenario, ‘Cut the Lines’, is short, but that also makes the perfect length if the Game Master wants to run it as a convention scenario. Plus if run as a convention scenario, there is also scope to scale the scenario up into a skirmish roleplaying scenario, complete with terrain, miniatures, and maps.

Where can you get it?
The War Stories: A World War 2 RPG Quickstart Ruleset is available to download here.

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