|The Big Push|
Initial Premise For Players
Initially, the players will be kept in the dark about the exact nature of the scenario. Tell them only this:
"The scenario is set in Britain, in the early years of the 20th century. You should create 'normal people' characters who are now of normal adult age, typically in their twenties."
Give the players the standard 100 points to build their characters with. You should encourage the players to take their time over this part of the process, and to create detailed, intricate fleshed-out characters. Doing so will make the scenario more effective.
It is particularly good if players detail their lives. Nuggets of information such as girlfriends, best friends, jobs and so on will greatly enhance the roleplaying experience.
After Character Creation
Once the characters have been created you can reveal the basic setting. Explain that the First World War has just started, and that the characters have volunteered for the British Army.
If some of the more method-roleplayers amongst the group want to know their motivations for doing this, offer the following:
Pressure from peers.
Pressure from family.
About to get arrested by the police.
Got drunk and went to the recruiting office.
Note to non-British readers:- Unlike most other countries, the British did not introduce conscription under around two years into the war.
The characters then undergo basic training. This does not have to be roleplayed through, although doing so can enhance the effect of the eventual scenario.
Allow the players to spend an additional 30 points on new skills. They should select skills which fit in with their chosen military specialisation. This would typically be infantry, but they can choose any specialisation which works alongside infantrymen, such as medic, signaller and so forth.
It is a good idea for one player to be given some kind of rank, either Sergeant or Second Lieutenant.
4 AM 1ST JULY 1916
The PCs have now been assigned to the 94th Infantry Brigade, under the command of General Rees. For several days now they have been in the trenches listening to a tremendous artillery barrage being fired on the German trenches. Something is clearly "up".
Then early one morning, they are told to report to General Rees. This is quite unusual, given that they are just soldiers. When they get to General Rees' headquarters they are taken in to see the man himself. He is sat before a large map table, surrounded by a bevy of intelligence officers.
He explains to the players that a huge Anglo-French attack is to be launched that morning with the intention of tearing a huge hole in the German line. However, he has a special task for the PCs.
Intelligence has received reports that a nephew of the Kaiser (the Emperor of Germany), a Prince Lothar, is currently on a visit to the German lines on the Somme, wanting to experience what it is to be "under fire".
The PCs mission is to go in with the main attack, but whilst the infantry mop up resistance in the first trench line, continue on to the second trench line. Somewhere in a bunker off the second trench line in front of their sector they will find the Prince. They are to capture him, and then transport him back to the British lines.
LAYOUT OF THE TRENCHES
The British and German front lines are around 200 metres apart in this sector, with two belts of barbed wire, each around 20 to 40 metres thick. The British wire has had holes cut through it, but the German wire is largely undamaged.
The German second line is around 500 metres behind the front-line trench.
This link shows a diagram of a section of front-line trench:
One important thing to note is that the trenches are not straight. They are highly zig-zagged to prevent attackers from firing along their length.
For the attack, most soldiers will be carrying rifle and bayonet, entrenching tool and webbing containing a variety of personal equipment, water, food supplies, wire cutters and so on. The PCs can - since they are on a special mission - make their own decisions as to what equipment they carry.
7.30 AM 1ST JULY 1916 - THE ATTACK
The artillery barrage stops, and for a moment there is silence. Then all the officers blow their whistles and the troops climb out of the trenches and begin walking towards the enemy.
(They have been told to walk because senior officers are worried that if they run over ground which has been churned over by shell fire, they might trip over, lose formation, or begin tired).
Obviously, this is a mass battle, so you need to abstract things a little, but for the purposes of the attack it is best to assume that single German weapons are firing at the PCs only, with the remainder firing at the other soldiers. Assume also that whatever happens to the PCs is also happening to the other soldiers (in other words don't roll for them).
If the PCs walk alongside the soldiers, then assume that they (e.g. the group of PCs) are being fired upon each one-second round by one heavy machine gun and one heavy artillery piece. The PCs will have to walk around 120 metres to the barbed wire, use wire cutters to cut their way through the barbed wire belt (which will probably take around 60 seconds) and then walk the remaining 40 - 50 metres to the German first-trench line.
The heavy machine-gun is directly in front of PCs in a bunker protected by sandbags. It is effectively invulnerable to anything the PCs can throw at it. The only way they can stop it is to get into the trench behind it and kill the crew. It will of course have to pause firing occasionally, for a few seconds, in order to reload.
If you want to be ultra-realistic, GURPS high tech has stats for the Maxim 0.303 (statistics on page 109, description on page 121). It does mention that the Maxim can only fire for 30 seconds before all its cooling water is exhausted (but that ought to be enough).
If the PCs choose to run out in front of the other troops then they will of course attract more attention. Double the attacks that are made upon them.
There are a number of shell holes in no-man's land (the area between the front-line trenches). If a player announces that he wants to run to a shell-hole and jump in, assume that it will take 5 1-second combat rounds to do this, during which time he can be fired upon.
IF THEY MAKE IT TO THE FIRST TRENCH LINE
If the characters make it to the German front line they will encounter a large number of armed German troops.
For every PC that makes it to the front-line, assume that two more British soldiers (e.g. NPCs) have made it too. To calculate the number of German soldiers, multiply the number of British soldiers by 5.
The German troops are armed with rifles and bayonets, pistols, clubs and sharpened entrenching tools.
John's character has made it to the German front line alive. Pete, Steve and Danny's characters have been killed, whilst Paul and Jack's characters are lying in a shell hole mortally wounded. Kenny's character has managed to make his way back to the British front-line from where he will be taken to a place of execution and shot for cowardice.
Alongside John are two other British soldiers. In the trench around them are 15 armed German soldiers.
The communication trenches leading away from the first trench line to the second trench line are also full of German soldiers.
IF THEY ARE WOUNDED
If a character is wounded and unable to move, they will have to wait until nightfall (about 16 hours later) when the medics will come out and attempt to retrieve the wounded.
PENETRATING THE GERMAN SECOND LINE AND CAPTURING PRINCE LOTHAR
Since there is not a hope in hell of the characters surviving both the advance across no-man's land and the assault on the German first trench line, the rest of this scenario has been omitted to save on development time and bandwidth.
If you think it is still safe to continue speaking, you might like to read this quote from General Rees describing the attack to the players (this is a true quote by the way, not something I made up):
"They advanced in line after line, dressed as if on parade, and not a man shirked going through the extremely heavy barrage, or facing the machine-gun and rifle fire that finally wiped them out. I saw the lines which advanced in such admirable order melting away under the fire. Yet not a man wavered, broke the ranks, or attempted to come back. I have never seen, I would never have imagined, such a magnificent display of gallantry, discipline and determination. The reports I have had from the very few survivors of this marvellous advance bear out what I saw with my own eyes, viz, that hardly a man of ours got to the German front line. "
I think this should have cured them of their desire for gritty realism.
BTW: The British Army (including Commonwealth troops) took a total of around 58,000 casualties on the first day of Somme, around 20,000 of those dead. It was the worst day in the history of the British Army. In the battle as a whole, the total British and Commonwealth casualties were 420,000, which I believe is more than the total British and Commonwealth casualties for the entire Second World War (both military and civilian, against both Germany and Japan). French and German casualties in the battle were an estimated 200,000 and 500,000 respectively.
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