Handling Operation Overlord in Fate

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord: the World War II operation where the Allied forces invaded Normandy. Probably better known as “D-Day” (though that’s a general military term), Overlord is this highly romanticized moment just on the edge of our living history. When I was younger, I was swept up in it, in no small part because of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers—which fed into the GURPS WWII games that I played in my mid-20s.

I’ve mentioned that I took on the job of Achtung! Cthulhu Fate edition because of my comments about horror in Fate and my love of horror, but that’s only half of the story. See, I also loved the sort of stories you get in the romanticized view of WWII, and I knew that to make the Fate edition feel right, I would have to (and want to) address playing out such dramatic moments in a way that doesn’t stop being a Fate game.

That turned into a chapter in the Achtung! Cthulhu Fate Keeper’s Guide called Warzone Conflicts. Chris Birch of Modiphius and I thought it would be cool to, on this day, share a couple excerpts from that chapter relevant to playing out moments like Easy Company parachuting down or soldiers storming Omaha beach.

Airstrikes, Artillery, & Other One-Sided Conflicts

One of the biggest perils in warzone conflicts is the raining down of fire and shrapnel from the sky. That’s a one-sided conflict, and not something you can shoot back at if you are a grunt on the ground. In Fate, that’s modelled by blending together contests and conflicts (Fate Core System, pp.150 & 154).

One-sided conflicts against the PCs are easy to model in Fate! Because these conflicts are unequal, each side has a different goal: typically the superior force wants to take out the other force, and the other force is trying to get out of the situation. In terms of rules, the superior force is using the conflict system to assault the other side and take them out, and the other force is using the contest system to escape or achieve some goal before being taken out.

Start by treating the whole of the superior force as a single character with one attack skill (as all it is going to do is assault) and no stress boxes (because the PCs cannot attack back—otherwise it wouldn’t be a one-sided conflict). Rank the skill somewhere between Average and Good, depending on how harrowing the moment is.

This then represents the adversity the PCs must face. To represent their goal, state what they need to do and the number of victories they need to accumulate to do it. “Get out of range” is always a noble goal, though others are possible, such as “repair the anti-aircraft gun” or “find the exit out of these catacombs before they cave in on us”. Assign a number of victories for the goal, somewhere around 2 to 4 if the goal is individual in nature (such as escaping), or possibly more if the goal is collective in nature (such as repairing something).

As far as adjudicating the conflict, play more or less as normal: when the superior force attacks, it rolls once and everyone separately defends against it. These situations often involve offensive scale, so keep that in mind whenever defenders tie. On the other force’s turns, they do the actions needed to achieve their goal.

This framework is intended to be flexible, allowing for characters to change goals or help each other out if one person falls, and for GMs to implement zones or other obstacles as needed.

Artillery & Zeroing In

Artillery isn’t exacting, and one way to handle that is to have the first attack start at Average. If the enemy is observing their fire and making adjustments, then each round the artillery’s effective skill increases as the artillery zeroes in on the PCs location, up to a limit of Good. If the PCs can find ways to nullify this (typically by moving away from the centre of concentration), then the attack falls back to Average.

Airstrikes & Pure Survival

Unlike artillery, which can seem relentless, airstrikes are finite. A wave of planes will pass over, drop their payload or unleash hell from their cannons, and flee; while there may be more on the way (or the planes coming around for another pass), it’s not strictly the same as a continuing artillery barrage.

Instead of handling this situation as a conflict/contest, you can use an action timer—have one to three rounds of bombs raining down as attacks, with defences being purely about avoiding harm. Succeeding with style on a defence could mean finding a location that is fortified enough to mean not having to defend during the rest of the raid (from a Survival defence), though it could just as well mean a boost during the next moment of bombing (from an Athletics or Drive defence).

Conceding in a One-Sided Conflict

Conceding in a one-sided conflict is possible, provided you describe your concession in a fitting manner. You could describe being pinned down by fire, unable to join your comrades as they flee into the treeline. Or you could be unconscious and thought of as dead, only to be found hours later in the rubble. However you describe it, the concession should remove you from the action for a considerable length of time—that’s the cost of conceding in a fight where you are just trying to survive rather than one where you are able to overcome your opposition. (Naturally, that time cost is one the GM will take full advantage of, for the forces against the characters are tireless in their pursuit of power.)

The PCs as the Superior Force

You can use the same framework, but instead of making a proto-NPC as the threat, the characters get to use their own skills and resources. The GM should draft up the NPC groups as having skills and stress boxes, but otherwise the framework is unchanged. (Some GMs might also abstract it further, rather than rolling for many NPCs, of course. Do what is the most exciting for your group.)

Parachuting & Other Daring Feats

Normally, when it comes to basic heroic moments like jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane, it’s not worth any sort
of skill roll—the amazing agents of Section M and Majestic know how to get onto the ground and get the job done! But
sometimes the situation works against them, like when dealing with incoming flak or landing in dense terrain where it is easy to get lost. And for those poor sods that aren’t trained for such action (like a nebbish antiquarian who is the only expert available for this mission), the very act of parachuting at all is itself a trial.

For those moments, the characters must use Athletics to overcome a Fair (+2) or higher obstacle, with the following sorts of outcomes:

Those who succeed get a boost relevant to the jump and landing, possibly from being close to an enemy and able to surprise them, or being positioned near convenient cover.

Succeeding with style makes that a situational aspect rather than just a boost.

Tying grants a boost against the character, such as A Bruised Ankle.

Failing can either deal stress from landing poorly as if an attack (or, if dealing with an active attack from a flak cannon, genuine stress that likely has scale) or the GM can inflict a situational aspect on the character. Wait, Did I Lose My Gear in the Jump? is a fun aspect for that.

If the characters would, after the jump, have time to recover before engaging in any action, you might not want to roll unless you want to just showcase differences in character competency. If that is the case, don’t have players waste fate points on what is essentially a colourful moment. And even then, those who succeed should get some benefit that rolls forward.

This rule works well for other daring actions that characters can make in a warzone conflict, such as ploughing through a barbed-wire fence with a motorcycle, jumping from a ledge down to a moving tank, climbing sheer cliffs, rappelling down ropes in the middle of a firefight, flying gliders, swimming to a sinking boat during a storm to rescue sailors, piloting landing craft in the dead of night, and so on.

I hope you enjoyed this preview. The Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter backers already have the PDFs for the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide, and Chris Birch says that others should be able to buy them on DriveThru later this month. I’m looking forward to that, in no small part because the Fate rules are released under Creative Commons. (See the legal text on both books for the details.)

– Ryan

Legal: This work uses Fate rules and material from Achtung! Cthulhu: Fate Keepers’s Guide to the Secret War designed by Ryan Macklin, published by Modiphius Entertainment Ltd., and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/deed.en_US).

Photo: From Band of Brothers, Damian Lewis playing Major Richard Winters.