a V for Victory d20 WWII campaign for military action at squad level
Welcome to a new game! Today kicks off a squad-level military RPG using V for Victory d20 rules. Our GM is the esteemed SM whose previous GM credits (featured in blogs) include Surplus Heroes, Keep on the Bountylands, Capes and Lankhmar.
The characters, in order of rank or seniority
Backgrounds are bolded.
Cpl Bryn Williams: Bryn was a teacher in South Wales, leading his classes rather than directing them. This ability stood him in good stead on being conscripted and he gained two stripes quite easily. He is ambitious for more! He is wiry in stature, dark-haired and with intense dark eyes. By the time our campaign begins he is aged 24 and is following the Command class path. He speaks with a mild Welsh accent.
This player previously played: Fennec, Iceman, Vic Creed, Paul Birkby, Morath.
LCpl Archibald “Pinko” McLean: As a younger man Pinko’s sheer physical presence behind them made unionists and Communist Party orators feel much safer. Before the war Pinko’s leftist loyalties were a strength to shop stewards and a nuisance to management. But in a wartime Wiltshire aeronautics factory, they became intolerable. Pinko finds himself in Burma with the automatic rank of LCpl since he is strong enough to wield the Bren easily. He has just received a letter from his wife, telling him she has a bun in the oven. Pinko is strapping (to put it mildly) and the climate makes him as pink as his moniker. By the time our campaign begins he is in his mid-20s and is following the Combat class path. He speaks with a very mild Scots accent for he grew up in England of Scots parents.
This player previously played: Pras, Widow, Martel Guerra, Mola, Sandi.
Pte Colin Harding: Harding is an old sweat – in other words he has been a soldier in the unit since peace-time – which accounts for his seniority over the other privates in the section although he is only 21. Harding lived a knockabout life and found the peacetime army a good way to avoid commitments to women. Harding is tan and sturdily built, and as our campaign begins he is following the Recon class path. He speaks with a generic lower-class-English accent.
This player previously played: Jotunn, Pip, Doc Samedy, Cliff, Celo.
Pte Tony Cade: Young Antony grew up mostly fatherless in semi-rural Kent, bending his path into increasingly criminal ways despite his mother’s opinion that he is a good lad, just misunderstood. By his late teens Tony Cade promoted himself from poacher to break-in man. Inevitably a stretch loomed and it being wartime, Cade was thankful to volunteer into the regiment. As our campaign begins he is aged 22 and is following the Recon class path. He is lean but well-muscled and speaks with a generic lower-class-English accent.
This player previously played: Crompton, BJ, Arbie, Banjo Carrick, Dan Hewstone.
And now to the story. I shall use green for in-game mechanics, blue for combat and something bright for inits, dark orange for technicalities outside of those, purple for me editorialising, and indigo for historical notes.
Packing it up then papers needed
Rangoon, March 1942
I’d think this will no make it past the censors, but even so. It’s a sultry hot day as you would not credit, the lads (Harding and Cade) and I loading officer’s treasures to the Bedford. You will maybe no have heard of Sittaung Bridge but here, it’s common news that the brass are all agley, most of the 17th Indian is abandoned, wrong side. Air-raids here as the RAF seems away.
Cpl Williams nips away round corner as CSM Windridge hails him to hear what the Burma Police gentleman has to say. We learn later that Important Documents are at stake.
‘Have you looked inside that chest yet,’ I say to Cade. After all, property is theft. I stand betwixt he and any onlooker then just as Williams is stepping foot back there’s a nasty wee crack as Cade makes a bollocks-mess of it. [Cade’s first roll of the campaign, it’s a natural 1]
I can tell Williams has dekko’d what’s afoot so I just give Cade a wee jab in the short ribs with my elbow like, and tell Williams ‘Cade’s taken a turn Corp’l he’s gone all white.’ [McLean has STR 18, Cade takes 4 temporary damage. Williams rolls a nice 16 and has good Notice but decides not to press the issue.]
It does not get Cade to the sick list and sharpish we are issued our combat kit. Williams even comes back from QM with half a dozen Mills bombs. [Williams uses the Logistics skill, a very important skill for gaining re-ups and extra gear: he scores well] One for you, one for you, four for you McLean he says. Now get your ordinaries and particulars, we have papers to find for this lovely gentleman. By which I take him to mean the Police gentleman, Inspector Edson. So swelter or no we march to barracks and pack kit. I keep your letter close by. And I tuck a chiv down my boot, a little thing I picked up in a market. Then off to the docks and what-for.
Loadouts: Our GM has provided nice ready-worked loadout sheets where the main stats and SV can be recorded and any small alterations in kit are easy to track. As the Bren gunner my character Pinko McLean expects to walk around in action with 73lb though of course if a pack can be shed, that will lighten the load. The extra four Mills bombs take the total to 79lb.
Driving to a what-for at the wharves
The Bedford is named Daphne and has a driver named Fishburn. [Drive is a skill which more than one character has as a core skill but at this stage of the war lorries were on the commissariat’s establishment and driven by specialists who were quite often, non-white.]
Daphne takes us through Rangoon towards the river and the docks there. Williams sits opposite we three and lets us know we are bound for Prome once we pick up the documents. Harding gets up behind the cab, he has sharp eyes for trouble.
Vehicles: All sides involved in this campaign prefer their motor vehicles to have right-hand drive. For my American readers: The gear shift on a lorry (truck) or car (automobile) is likely to be to the driver’s left hand. If he is right-handed, he can easily shoot left across the passenger seat, but will find it more difficult to shoot right, out of his own window. It’s also tricky for him to restrain a passenger, since that would be his weaker left hand. On the other hand it’s easier for him to extend a pistol out of his own window and fire directly ahead.
The buildings around the police station are turn of the century type of things, two stories tall I suppose. There’s sniper waiting for us opposite the station. Don’t you fret when I hear the shot I am out the back of the Bedford and into the monsoon drain like a flash. There’s a bit of nonsense then we trap the buggers and set them to rights.
A broad open street, at a four-way intersection. A hotel or similar stands opposite the police station and the sniper is on the 2nd floor (American 3rd floor). The hotel’s front entrance is at the corner, the police station’s entrance is flush to the street facing the hotel. A service alley runs off the street beside the hotel but is not immediately obvious.
Surprise round: Sniper shoots at the Indian police officer that greets Daphne’s arrival. Misses. Harding notices the shot [Notice is one of a number of 3.0 skills house-ruled into broader categories, rather like 4E and 5E] and calls the location; Williams also notices roughly where it came from.
Round 1: Cade stands in the cab and fires a full Tommy gun mag into the window where the sniper has foolishly remained in view.
A major shift away from d20Modern is that automatic weapons really are automatic and proficiency means they can be used as intended. Concepts like strafe and burst fire that in d20Modern require a number of feats and prereqs such as 13 WIS are available to beginning characters as simple attacks, either standard attack actions or full-round.
Full-round action, beaten zone requires DC24 Refl SV based on 30 rounds fired, less cover. The sniper fails [2d6 damage] and is seen to roll back out of line of sight.
As with most/all d20 rules, American-made weapons are more powerful than others but these have been house-ruled back down closer to reality. The Tommy gun and Colt M1911A1 are still powerful, just not as powerful as a medium machine gun.
From his seat at rear, McLean rolls out of the lorry and into the monsoon ditch behind Daphne’s rear axle.
Williams remains in the Bedford, though he does crouch, and issues orders.
From his position standing behind the cab Harding vaults out and covers the window.
“McLean, Harding – find the rear, enter, and turf the miscreant out!” – Williams
Two rounds tick by as Harding and McLean flank the hotel and Cade and Williams change aim. Cade keeps encouraging someone to toss a grenade at the window…
Round 4: Williams is ready for a shot with his Lee-Enfield, though he remains in an awkward position in the Bedford. Cade decides to toss one of his own grenades.
Grenade-throwing is reasonably simple though the penalties for range, at 15’ increments, are steep. The VfV rules provide a handy list of DCs for typical targets. The street is broad and Cade would be best off, so it eventually emerges, to jump down, run halfway across the street, and hurl with two range penalties. That sounds really dangerous and he tosses from his position in the Bedford. The GM decides to avoid further debate about how grenades work and goes with the flat book DC. Cade fails, the grenade-miss rules provide for the result. The grenade bounces off and lands quite near Daphne. Probably destroying a front tyre but no one thinks of that at the time. But luckily Cade did not advance into the open and is not in the blast.
The buildings along the alley seem occupied but quiet. Harding finds the rear kitchen service door easily enough. Then a grenade goes off in the distance! Harding kicks the door, his foot makes little impact. Then he pushes it open and sees the kitchen is abandoned. He moves through, McLean’s hefty tread behind him. A dead kitchen-wallah lies in his path. Not far beyond is a service hatch, he moves to that and through its slats sees three Burmese, two clumped and one further away.
Round 1: Harding moves 5’ to the connecting door and kicks it open, sprays a burst at the solo Burmese, and kneels. [Bursts get a simple +2 to hit] The burst misses. McLean swings the Bren up and fires over Harding. Full-round, full magazine. Neither make the DC and are thrown back against the wall, riddled with heavy rounds. [2d10 damage each] [In fact the damage is not enormous but these lowly NPCs do not appear to have many hp or be allowed MAS SV. And according to the rules we did not read properly, firing from the hip is limited to short bursts at -2.]
The lone Burmese flees away and out the front… meanwhile at the hotel front both Williams and Cade are ready for this and Cade sends another full round of area fire at him. This Burmese drops as well.
Two rounds later Harding and McLean get to the sniper’s door, easily spotted thanks to the splintered bullet-holes through it. The sniper lies dead inside. Harding commandeers the Lee-Enfield and ammo, while McLean breaks the sniper’s pistol, a Nambu knock-off. [Mainly to see if it can be done using these rules. It’s a STR SV and McLean gets 21]
At this stage the Imperial Japanese Army is proving far more resourceful and mobile than the Imperial British and its colonial forces. A series of strategic victories is in train, forcing the British high command to withdraw as best it can, all the way back to India.
At this point in the war it is fair to say that both main armies – Japanese and British/Colonial – believe implicitly that they are superior and everyone around them, including allies, is inferior. Of the two, the Japanese are having their beliefs endorsed by events.
Strategic Japanese success has brought Siam [Thailand] into the war as an allied force directed into northern Burma, and allowed the Japanese army to at least partly-train a Burmese force. Since they hold the Burmese in the same contempt that they hold all other Asian races that is as good as it will get for General Aung’s ambitions. China’s Nationalist army is splintering into scattered divisions in the north and Britain’s retreat is taking its forces further away from China. Although America has entered the war Roosevelt is thinking purely long-term and China; and American materiel is directed away from the crisis.
Campaign concepts, d20 differences, and a short glossary
This is a very British based campaign so I will strive to use British-English unless it is very confusing to do so.
As virtually all readers speak d20, allow me to simply highlight how V for Victory (VfV) differs from other very similar open licence properties.
No arcane aspect exists at all. All related skills and feats are removed.
Characters have backgrounds (d20 Modern concept) that provide pre-training core skills. Skills irrelevant to campaigning are not offered. There are typically more core skills from a background than in d20 Modern. The background also provides one bonus feat or feat-like ability.
Characters then select one or other Class, which provides another set of core skills, sets the hp dice, the skill point factor, and feats progression. The class also provides the usual SV progression and the defence bonus concept, as seen in d20 Modern.
VfV has its own classes that have 10 levels, similar but different to d20 Modern. Out of a fairly small choice our GM has restricted classes further to Combat, Recon, and Command. The other dropped class, Intelligence, is suited to partisans and resistance fighters.
Finally the Level 1 character selects one Specialty, which provides a feat relating to that. For example Cade selects Scout specialty and gains the Tracking feat.
The rules offer a couple of reasonably familiar concepts for grittiness and massive damage. They do not offer a massive-damage-save feat track so, as our GM has chosen a mid-way grittiness where 20 triggers MAS SV and beginning HP = CON, feats like greater fortitude assume major importance.
Our GM has also chosen a middle course for disease. If we don’t go out of our way to be unhealthy he will assume we don’t catch any of the plethora of tropical diseases on offer.
As other areas of dissimilarity emerge I’ll highlight them as we go.
Bedford: 3-ton Bedford lorry.
Brass: Refers to senior officers with powers of deciding where whole formations go.
Bren gun: British light machine gun that features a top-mounted curved box 30-round magazine. Highly reliable. Firing the same .303 military ball round that the Lee-Enfield (cf) fires.
Burmese: refers specifically to the dominant inland element of Burma’s peoples. The Burmese population had no love for the many minorities present, and no great fondness for Britons; but especially loathed Indians. Some Burmese stayed extremely loyal to Britain and this should not be forgotten.
Coy: Company (abbreviation).
Cpl: Corporal, two stripes in the British system (abbreviation).
CSM: Company Sergeant-Major, the senior NCO of the company. There are several ranks of Sergeant-Major, the larger the unit the more senior.
LCpl: Lance-corporal, one stripe in the British system. Somewhat equivalent to PFC or Specialist (abbreviation).
Lee-Enfield: British rifle. At this time the No. 1 Mk III is in use, firing the same .303 military round used by the Bren and the Vickers Machine Gun.
Mills bomb: Fragmentation grenade very little changed in design since the Great War.
Pte: Private, the lowest rank in the British army (abbreviation).
QM: Quarter-master, or the store itself (abbreviation).
Raj: Out-dated term for British system of rule of South Asia, often including Burma.
Sten gun: Sten SMG, reliable, firing 9mm parabellum.
Tommy gun: Thompson SMG, (a variety of Marks) firing the .45 ACP round.