Any System – Eleanor Roosevelt’s Commando Squad

I have a one-shot adventure concept that takes maybe two hours of prep time, and I want to share it with you, the three readers of my blog. Every time I run it with my group, people love it.

The premise is that, during WWII, Eleanor Roosevelt, known historically for being a pretty amazing person, secretly ran an all-woman commando squad for missions “the men” considered impossible. Each player in the game is one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s commandos on a secret mission against the Axis. I’ve run this both as a Guns of Navarone-style historical adventure, and as a Wolfenstein/Hellboy-style “stop the Nazi occult or super-science thing” adventure, and they’re both fun.

First, start with a “generic” RPG rule system, one that says it will simulate anything. I’ve had decent results with the second edition of Big Eyes, Small Mouth (BESM), less success (but still fun) with the diceless Best Friends, and next time I’ll likely run it with Savage Worlds.

An aside on system choices: BESM was really flexible, but the “tri-stat system” made the game a little flat; the game basically could have been diceless as either you were going to succeed in your roll or you were going to fail spectacularly. Best Friends was really designed for the players to combat each other, not Nazis; players with the higher versions of stats everyone wanted to use ended up hoarding the story points needed to do skills outside your range. I have high hopes for Savage Worlds, especially since the machine gun rules are the first I’ve seen in a while that have the visceral satisfaction of pumping someone full of lead that I got when playing Cyberpunk 2020 in high school.

Step two is to generate “archetype”-style characters for your players. This is a one-shot, don’t bother forcing the players to waste time reading the book. Any time I’ve made the players choose the characters have been a little rougher as it’s often the first time for them on a system or we just are in a hurry to play. The pre-gen have done a lot better.

These characters should be somewhat specialized; while they all should be able to hide in bushes and shoot at things, you should have some archetypes, usually more than there are players so they can have a real choice. Examples:

  • “The tank”: this is the commando who isn’t sneaking around anywhere because she’s carrying a BAR and possibly a bazooka and enough ammo for both to take on an entire division.
  • “The face”: this is the commando who packs an evening gown, heels, and a cigarette holder into her kit so she can (with her perfect German) talk her way into Schloss Burgberg without firing a shot.
  • “The mechanic”: usually also decent at driving vehicles, this is the commando who can fix or jury rig anything that could physically be fixed or jury-rigged.
  • “The pilot”: If there’s a flying component to the adventure; my adventures often have the commandos coming in by glider or stealing a plane to flee, because that’s fun.
  • “The saboteur”: An expert in sabotage. Probably carrying an unhealthy amount of explosives.
  • “The doctor”: Dammit, Jane, she’s a doctor, not a
  • “The capable soldier”: this is the one who’s good but not superlative at shooting, driving, etc., for players who can’t decide.

The first time I did this I based at least some of the characters off of famous women who could have been, before they were famous, in a WWII commando squad. Julia Child is the best example; she actually did work for the OSS in Burma in WWII. I also made a Heloise (as in “Hints From,” born in 1919 according to who was kind of a MacGyver character.

The adventure should be sketched out only in the most general terms. You can do as The Lazy Dungeon Master suggests and just have all the options briefly written on 3″ x 5″ notecards; I like to outline each potential scene and fill in with just enough bad guy stats so I don’t have to make up the baddies’ level of gun skills on the fly. An example outline scene:

You are in a glider being towed by a B-17 flying fortress. Once you clear the B-17’s normal bombing run over Germany (so you will be hiding with lots of other planes), you will be cut loose and fly the glider to Castle Burgberg. Takeoff is good, but you hit a lot of anti-aircraft fire while the B-17 towing you is doing its run, and it gets blown to bits.

Now it’s up to the players to prevent the B-17 from dragging their glider into a hostile German city, then, despite having been released too early, find their way in the dark with no engine to something approximating an appropriate landing zone. Let them figure it out.

Don’t stress about there being a “right” solution or the players having to do the adventure a particular way. To be honest, the more I’ve let the players in this scenario make their own solutions to these problems, the more fun everyone’s had (strangely, also the more collateral damage).